In 1966, a certain Olof Johannesson published a book with the title Sagan om den stora datamaskinen (The Story of the Big Computing Machine), provided with the fitting subtitle – ”A Vision”. And, for sure, it was a vision, a story about the future, a speculative essay, to which the factual ground seemed secured by the person hidden behind the pseudonym – the Swedish Nobel laureate in physics, Hannes Alfvén. Just like all science fiction, based as it is on extrapolations of already established knowledge and technology, the vision of Alfvén contains a number of pertinent observations. More interesting today, however, is to read Sagan om den stora datamaskinen as an early response, in literary form, to a new cultural situation – a situation marked by the intensified presence of digital technology.
The research project Representations and Reconfigurations of the Digital in Swedish Literature and Art 1950–2010 – RepRecDigit, for short, or RRD, even shorter – has had as its ambition to investigate how postwar Swedish literature and art (in part) have mapped, processed, and produced new imaginaries in a historical situation marked by the emergence and expansion of a digital media ecology. How has everything from main frame computers and early computer languages to mobile phones, server farms, and sensor topographies affected the content and form of literary works and, conversely, how has literature shaped and problematized the material configurations, ideologies, and phantasies of this brave new world?
Crucially, we have wanted to historicize a contemporary moment, which often risks blinding us by the flood of new shiny gadgets and technologies. A culture of increasing speed and instant access – and its ideological imaginary – needs to be confronted with a material history fraught with friction, failure, detours, and dead ends. The emergence of the digital is no linear success story, and we have, thus, rather approached it as a site for media archaeology excavations. It is also worth reminding that these histories did not begin with Facebook or blogs, or the World Wide Web of the 1990s or the PC:s of the 1980s, but lead back at least to World War II, to cybernetics and information theory as well as the earliest analog and digital computers outlined by people such as John von Neumann and implemented by larger ensembles of mathematically and scientifically trained women and men.
This tripartite publication is then an ABC of RRD, or an Archive, Book, and Conference volume, that attests to our explorations, during the years 2013 to 2018, of these histories as they have been materialized in Swedish literature. It is a manifold journey that leads to a variety of literary and artistic works – by writers and artists such as PC Jersild, Ulla Wiggen, Lotta Lotass, Johannes Heldén, and many others – and which takes different shapes and forms. On the one hand, we have followed the digital traces on the surface and in the cracks of texts – in their motifs and metaphors, themes and tropes – on the other hand, we have traced the gestalt of the digital into its material and conceptual underpinnings – the aesthetic logic – of novels, stories, and poetry of the period. Thus, the title of our project: Representations and Reconfigurations.
While the research performed by the four scholars involved in the project – Jesper Olsson, Jonas Ingvarsson, Jakob Lien and Cecilia Lindhé – has resulted in and will result in printed articles and monographs (see Publications in Archive), this digital publication aims to transcend and supplement the standard material output of a research project in the humanities. Produced in collaboration with designers and web designers Christopher West, Maximilian George, and William Hesseldahl, it has a slightly different aim. As mentioned it has been divided into three parts – 1) Archive, 2) Book, and 3) Conference – which are constructed and designed for different ends and marked by different forms and temporalities.
Archive (A), then, is intended as a somewhat fluid and heterogeneous documentation of the research process as it evolved during a five-year period. As such it is also tainted by a certain open-endedness and a spirit of trial-and-error; hopefully it manifests the dynamic movement between idea and plan and realization, between fantasy, failure and successful implementation.
Part B, on the other hand, is presented as a more coherent and complete Book, containing four essays that are emblematic of the work that the project’s four participants have pursued. At the same time, this digital Book is also an attempt to employ the media specific affordances of digital technologies in order to explore and develop new methods and modes of writing an academic essay. Thus, we have tried to find a form and form of argument that is consonant, even resonant, with the subject matter of our project.
C, or Conference, finally, is a publication engendered from the research project’s final international conference, Thinking Through the Digital, held at Linköping University on November 29 to December 1, 2017. This is a collection of papers, talks, essays, slides, and films that from various viewpoints elaborate how the digital ecology of today has affected, and has been affected by the writing, reading, publication, and distribution of literature. We think that it translates some of the energy and curiosity of the live event.
More broadly, it is our hope that some of the findings and insights of our RepRecDigit-project are embodied and enacted in the setting of this digital publication – and that it guides you through some of the transformations of writing and reading that comes with the emergence and explosive dissemination of digital media in our culture during the last half-century.
After this, we welcome you, dear reader, with the worn but not worn out Augustinian call to “take and read” – even though we are well aware that grasping, scrolling, and interpreting takes place along different routes and in other rooms in this context, demanding other forms of navigation and understanding than the printed book. Hopefully some guidelines on how to proceed are offered, and equally hopefully there is still space left for inventions and ideas of your own.
/RepRecDigit, August 2018