e-Lit Resource
Beyond Taxonomy: Digital Poetics and the Problem of Reading

In his contribution to Adelaide Morris and Thomas Swiss' New Media Poetics, "Beyond Taxonomy: Digital Poetics and the Problem of Reading," Talan Memmott identifies a basic challenge electronic literature poses for the standard practice of literary criticism. Memmott explains that much of the early scholarship focuses on "comparisons between page-based and screen-based compositions" (293). However, Memmott asks readers to consider that the qualities of the digital work are not strictly "superficial" or "interfacial," but "integral" (294), requiring readers to play the text as one would play an instrument or game. The result of this observation is that pieces must be understood through an examination of their "applied poetics," not just understood through what they say, but how they work and what they can say (294). Memmott demonstrates this applied poetics through his readings of Seb Chevrel and Gabe Kean's You and We (2002), John Cayley's What We Will, and Peter Howard's Xylo (2001) and Ugly (2001). Tracing through the critical work of Espen Aarseth and Antonin Artaud, Memmott arrives at a notion of digital poetics that places the literary in a theatrical context, in which readings are performances that initiate thought processes rather than enshrine specific conclusions. Memmott concludes with a call for "technomadism" (following Deleuze and Guattari's call for "nomadology," a nomadic taxonomy). This transitory, dynamic approach to thinking about electronic literature would resist the tendency to define, structure, and institutionalize ways of thinking about texts. Taxonomadism, in Memmott's call, would be flexible and multiple, allowing, conceivably, for as many readings as there are players.