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Cyberspace Textuality: Computer Technology and Literary Theory

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Computers were once thought of as number-crunching machines; but for most of us it is their ability to create worlds and process words that have made them into a nearly indispensable part of life. As Jacques Leslie puts it, if computers are everywhere, it is because they have grown into "poetry machines." The term "cyberspace" captures the growing sense that beyond - or perhaps on - the computer screen lies a "New Frontier" both enticing and forbidding, a frontier awaiting exploration, promising discovery, threatening humanistic values, hatching new genres of discourse, and alerting our relation to the written word. The purpose of this book is to explore the concepts of text and the forms of textuality currently emerging from the creative chaos of electronic technologies. The essays gathered here address several needs in cybertext criticism: they engage in a critical, though not hostile, dialogue with the claims of the first generation developers and theorists; they search for a middle ground between a narrowly technical description of the works and general considerations about the medium; they outline a poetics tailor-made for electronic textuality, and they relate cybertexts to the major human, aesthetic and intellectual concerns of contemporary culture. Within the general territory of electronic textuality, they focus on three areas. The first section examines how postmodern thought has theorised the textual products of the recent electronic revolution, and how, conversely, these new forms of textuality challenge postmodern thought and call for an expansion of the analytical repertory of literary theory. The second section debates how, in an age that ties the sense of self to a sense of embodiment, identity is affected by the power of electronic technology to create virtual doubles of the body, and how it can it be constructed through electronic writing. The last section gathers three "performance texts" which complete a feed-back loop between electronic and print culture, as they turn the critical investigation of cyberspace textuality into a quest for new forms of literary theoretical writing.
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