Magdalena Kempna-Pieniążek

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MAGDALENA KEMPNA-PIENIĄŻEK Homo Irretitus in the 20th and 21st Century Literary Culture (book review)

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CyberEmpathy - Visual Communication Studies ISSN 2299-906X ISSUE 1 / 2016 (12) The Archetypes of Cyberspace www.CyberEmpathy.com


Magdalena Kempna-Pieniążek Literature – new media. Homo Irretitus in the 20th and 21st Century Literary Culture (Homo irretitus w kulturze literackiej XX i XXI wieku) by Bogusława Bodzioch-Bryła, Grażyna Pietruszewska-Kobiela and Adam Regiewicz (book review) Abstract: The book by Bogusława Bodzioch-Bryła, Grażyna Pietruszewska-Kobiela and Adam Regiewicz, which is published as the third volume of the series Audiovisual Aspects of Culture in Postmodernity, combines qualities of a compendium of knowledge on media circumstances accompanying the evolution of literature and of a collection of interpretations directing the reader’s attention to concrete realisations of contemporary artistic trends. This perspective leads the authors to synthesise tropes derived from media studies and literary studies in order to discover tools which would be effective in analysing hybrid forms emerging in the dynamically transforming area of the borderland between the art of words and the art of new media. What is more, the volume calls for such type of literary research which would closely connect it with cultural studies.

Tags: Audiovisual Culture, Postmodernism, Literature, E-Literature, Media,

MAGDALENA KEMPNA-PIENIĄŻEK Doctor of Humanities in the field of Literary studies and an assistant professor in the Department of Film Studies and Media at the Faculty of Languages at the University of Silesia in Katowice. Previously, he was a graduate of the Interdepartmental Individual Studies in the Humanities , University of Silesia (Polish philology , cultural studies ) . Author of many books and articles .

CyberEmpathy - Visual Communication Studies ISSN 2299-906X ISSUE 1 / 2016 (12) The Archetypes of Cyberspace www.CyberEmpathy.com


Homo irretitus goes to a (virtual) library Reading the work by Bogusława Bodzioch-Bryła, Grażyna PietruszewskaKobiela and Adam Regiewicz is a real challenge. And it is not only due to the monumental size of the publication, being the third volume of the series Audiovisual Aspects of Culture in Postmodernity, but also due to the density of its texts and contexts. Literature – new media. Homo Irretitus in the 20th and 21st Century Literary Culture is a book which wants to be both a compendium of knowledge about the media circumstances in which contemporary literature (and poetry in particular) evolved (and continues to evolve) as well as a collection of interpretations which direct the attention of the reader to particular realisations of artistic currents that come to life at the interface of the word and the image, the body and the machine, sight and hearing (not to mention other senses). The complexity of the project and its guiding ambitions put the critic in a difficult position. Multiplicity of the issues touched upon by the authors (cyberculture, e-liberature, net art, mail art, convergence, liternet, cybernetic, digital and visual poetry, Perfokarta, ergodicity, immersion, interactivity, interfaces, intermediality, virtuality and many other) makes it impossible to refer to all of them, or even most of them, in this review. On the other hand, the overwhelming size of footnotes related to the whole range of issues makes it virtually impossible to read the book in a fully attentive way and without being disturbed by secondary threads. Thus, the recipients of Homo Irretitus should perhaps ask themselves a question on how to read the work so as not to miss any of its assets. This doubt can be dispelled in a few ways.

CyberEmpathy - Visual Communication Studies ISSN 2299-906X ISSUE 1 / 2016 (12) The Archetypes of Cyberspace www.CyberEmpathy.com


Reading from the middle As an expert on culture with a strong inclination for film studies, I only begin to engage myself in reading Homo Irretitus around page 200. The first two parts (Homo irretitus – an overview of contexts and Narratives – audiovisuality – new media) bring to mind concepts and categories which provide background for the threads discussed in part three (Ars poetica or @poetica. About poetry using new carriers) and fourth (The image of literature and books/the image from literature and books). The long theoretical and historical “run-up” is a peculiar compendium of media studies under the auspices of: Marshall McLuhan, Henry Jenkins, Lev Manovich – to mention only the most important ones. The compendium is unique as it emphasises “transformations at the interface of the art of the word and new media” (p.58) with an emphasis on, needless to say, the art of the word. A media expert could say nihil novi, breathing a sigh when forcing through the massive (by the way, earnestly constructed) references. Work performed by the authors has hallmarks of a titanic effort. The initial parts provide a summary of knowledge and refer the reader to canonical texts and categories in media as well as literature studies. Due to the attempt at covering so many issues on two hundred densely printed pages one reads particular chapters as if they were complex encyclopedic entries (the form is even evoked by titles given to subchapters: Literature on the TV screen, Cybernetic novel, Hypertextual novel, Blogosphere…), in which literary works are often mentioned in the same breath without information about their content.

CyberEmpathy - Visual Communication Studies ISSN 2299-906X ISSUE 1 / 2016 (12) The Archetypes of Cyberspace www.CyberEmpathy.com


Two subsequent parts of the book oscillate around interpretation of selected phenomena at the interface of the word and new media art. The parts contain not only titles but also quotations from various works, whereas particular threads are subjected to a detailed analysis. The works by Joanna Mueller, Zenon Fajfer, Roman Bromoszcz or Łukasz Podgórni become symbols of changes related to the current understanding of literature and its place within new media art. What is more, both parts have been supplemented with a varied and attractively presented graphic material which enables a more careful tracing of interpretation of subsequent works. The world presented by the authors of these fragments is a complex and fascinating one. The analyses by Bogusława Bodzioch-Bryła of the works by Zenon Fajfer, Roman Bromboszcz or Łukasz Podgórni reveal a new dimension of contemporary poetry with its characteristic reconfiguration of the palimpsest concept. When confronted with the work Matko zawrotna by Podgórni, the work lunago by Joanna Mueller (as well as its multimedia adaptations) in the interpretation by Grażyna Pietruszewska-Kobiela becomes the motivation to reflect upon the fact that “the cybernetic dimension which has influence on the psychic sphere of life brought about changes in spiritual life. This is because a contemporary man often moves into a virtual dimension (...) and religious values have also been moved into this dimension” (p.355) All this constitutes only a fragment of a wide spectrum of phenomena evoked by the authors who did not stay indifferent to such original endeavours as Screen by Noah Wadrip-Fruin, projects by Perfokarta (including a digital version of The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki) or making use of the QR codes idea in the works by Andrzej Głowacki. Readers planning their journey

CyberEmpathy - Visual Communication Studies ISSN 2299-906X ISSUE 1 / 2016 (12) The Archetypes of Cyberspace www.CyberEmpathy.com


into the borderlands of literature and other media may treat Homo Irretitus as a carefully prepared guide on the territories. From the beginning As an educator I go back to the initial parts of the book where literary studies meet media studies. Homo Irretitus can probably be used as an academic textbook during classes devoted to intermediality in culture, borderlands of media or literary communication. The layout of content is transparent and its substantive value is undeniable. In this respect nothing can actually be imputed to the authors – minor faults such as the one on page 193, where the authorship of film adaptation of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) is assigned to Tim Burton (whereas the film was directed by Timur Bekmambetov), are insignificant, so are the occasional misprints which are probably unavoidable in such an extensive publication (on page 376 Ezra Pound became “Ezra Paund”). A brief summary of the covered issues located at the end of each section facilitates orientation and navigation in the book. Homo Irretitus is undoubtedly a publication worth recommending to students who want to organise their knowledge about the interface of word art and other media, and to learn practical possibilities of operationalisation of media studies categories in the research on the contemporary shape of culture. As expected of an honest academic textbook Homo Irretitus also includes a carefully developed name index and – what is particularly valuable in the case

CyberEmpathy - Visual Communication Studies ISSN 2299-906X ISSUE 1 / 2016 (12) The Archetypes of Cyberspace www.CyberEmpathy.com


of a book so rich in content – an index of terms. The publication is completed by a bibliography containing 610 entries which makes the reader realise the enormity of work performed by the authors. All of the above mentioned additions make the book a handy tool in teaching, however, in the case of the first two parts, rather in teaching literature than media. Owing to literaturecentred perspective adopted by the authors, the two parts – at least in some aspects – may offer too many simplifications to media researchers. For instance, the one present on page 102 which states that “feature cinema begins with David Griffith’s works” (a film historian would rather say that Griffith’s works mark the beginning of the narrative integrity cinema; the plot had already existed even in Georges Méliès’ phantasmagories which are inscribed in the paradigm of the cinema of attraction). From the end? The back cover of Homo Irretitus recalls one more aspect of the project undertaken by the authors. A short note describes the book as “a kind of instruction guiding (in macro- and microscale) how to »be oriented« in hypertextual borderlands of »words and media, spirit and machine«”. Indeed: the problem of the method is one of the recurrent issues which emerge through the authors’ reflections. From time to time it actually takes the form of a directly thematised reflection on both literary studies – facing the fact that “the century ceased to communicate and learn about the world by means of books giving way to mass media” (p. 200) – and more general difficulties connected with searching for tools which would be adequate for the hybrid, inconstant and often simply undefined matter of the works discussed in the book.

CyberEmpathy - Visual Communication Studies ISSN 2299-906X ISSUE 1 / 2016 (12) The Archetypes of Cyberspace www.CyberEmpathy.com


Despite these concerns the authors do not display any signs of methodological confusion. The perspective chosen in Homo Irretitus makes them prone to synthesising tropes from media studies and literary studies. The clash of these disciplines reveals their significant weaknesses – they can be observed in confrontation with works requiring intricate analyses, for example those by Zenon Fajfer and Roman Bromboszcz. On the one hand, as it turns out, media studies tend to appropriate the phenomena discussed in the book in the area of new media at the expense of a textual element (Bogusława Bodzioch-Bryła presents this problem using the example of an interpretation, or rather an under-interpretation of the Text Rain installation in Ryszard Kluszczyński’s Interactive Art. From Artwork-Instrument to Interactive Spectacle, p. 313). On the other hand, however, placing such artworks by literary studies “solely in the context of digital poetry results (...) in reduction of the sphere connected with other important components of the artwork” (p. 316). In this context Homo Irretitus can also be understood as a call for proper recognition of interdisciplinary studies of phenomena which are in themselves – for a number of reasons – located in the “inter” spaces. The authors do not hide the fact that the perspective of literary studies is closer to them than the one of media studies. They even introduce film theory by referring to concepts stemming from research on literature and language, such as Roman Jakobson’s or Roman Ingarden’s theories. It is no coincidence that in the field of film studies the concept of a camera pen by Alexandre Astruc seems to appeal to them strongly and in the sphere of film semiotics – slightly controversial (who actually still believes in the possibility to describe film language by analogy to natural language?) theories by Seweryna Wysłouch

CyberEmpathy - Visual Communication Studies ISSN 2299-906X ISSUE 1 / 2016 (12) The Archetypes of Cyberspace www.CyberEmpathy.com


(regretfully not by Christian Metz). In the scope of film adaptation they prefer Maryla Hopfinger’s proposals to Alicja Helman’s or Brian McFarlane’s (although the latter authors are quoted). It is clear that the authors of the book set off from literary studies to “poaching” trips to the terrain of media studies in search of a new method or ways to reconfigure old methods to help them reflect the nature of changes taking place in contemporary culture. The search is motivated by a crucial and relevant diagnosis of the fact that “changes caused by new technologies gave rise to homo irretitus living in two worlds – a real one in which they support themselves by means of technical and technological novelties, and a virtual one, in which they are much more dependent on the novelties” (p. 32). Thus, on one of the deeper levels, the book by Bodzioch-Bryła, PietruszewskaKobiela and Regiewicz also demonstrates ambitions of anthropological nature trying to give account of the state of contemporary culture in which: “A human being develops new media, introduces various innovative solutions, at the same time they shape his/her mind, axiology, they affect the way of perceiving the world” (p. 47). The authors are particularly interested in relations between senders and recipients of texts, which become complex in the face of “difficulties not as much with separating important bits of information from the unimportant ones, but with extracting valuable content from the content which is of less importance for a literary scientist (a cultural scientist), with extracting literary phenomena from phenomena of sociological nature, and with extracting phenomena generating aesthetic meanings from all of the phenomena

CyberEmpathy - Visual Communication Studies ISSN 2299-906X ISSUE 1 / 2016 (12) The Archetypes of Cyberspace www.CyberEmpathy.com


mentioned above” (p. 43). The words “a literary scientist (a cultural scientist)” are worth noting in the quoted fragment. In fact, Homo Irretitus is a book which calls for such a shape of literary research which would be closely connected with cultural studies. In the circumstances of increasing specialisation of scientific disciplines the authors remind us of the cultural aspect of literary studies which is today, unfortunately, probably underrated. *** In the opening part of the volume the authors quote a proverb related to the oral culture: “When an old person dies, a library burns to the ground” (p.13). In the days of the expansion of digitality and social media we would rather say that when a man is born, a new library comes into being – a library composed of commonly shared photos, videos, links and tags, the whole cloud of audiovisual things surrounding every representative of the homo irretitus species from the very first moments of their existence. The book by BodziochBryła, Pietruszewska-Kobiela and Regiewicz presents plenty of aspects of our functioning in the world composed of these more or less virtual libraries. However, first and foremost, it poses questions about navigating through them in a fully conscious way. The answers the book gives to the questions – despite its impressive bulk – are not comprehensive, of course. And it is fortunate that they are not because understatements and doubts reveal areas awaiting new recognition.

CyberEmpathy - Visual Communication Studies ISSN 2299-906X ISSUE 1 / 2016 (12) The Archetypes of Cyberspace www.CyberEmpathy.com


Magdalena Kempna-Pieniążek

Literature – new media. Homo Irretitus in the 20th and 21st Century Literary Culture (Homo irretitus w kulturze literackiej XX i XXI wieku) by Bogusława Bodzioch-Bryła, Grażyna Pietruszewska-Kobiela and Adam Regiewicz CyberEmpathy - Visual Communication Studies Journal ISSUE 1 / 2016 (12). The Archetypes of Cyberspace. ISSN 2299-906X. Marika Wato. Mode of access: Internet via World Wide Web: www.CyberEmpathy.com

CyberEmpathy - Visual Communication Studies ISSN 2299-906X ISSUE 1 / 2016 (12) The Archetypes of Cyberspace www.CyberEmpathy.com


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