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Leonardo Flores, Close Reading 2.

0 Leonardo Flores, PhD Associate Professor of English University of Puerto Rico: Mayagüez Campus

Close Reading 2.0: Reimagining Critical Practices for E-Poetry
Introductory Remarks: Digital media is transforming the way we read, write, and study literature, and literary studies need to embrace that which is native to digital media in order to stay relevant in an increasingly post-literate world. The problem is that many literary scholars and students cannot relate to these discussions because they don’t have the specialized training required or are not aware of its existence. Another problem is that our creative and scholarly work in electronic literature isn’t reaching mainstream audiences and therefore doesn’t have the desired impact in the discipline of literary studies. I propose that we bridge this gap by employing some basic critical practices– such as close reading, biographical study, and bibliographic scholarship—and updating them by combining them with media-specific analysis and critical code studies. Why Close Reading? This presentation will focus on a critical practice brought to mainstream attention with the Formalists and New Critics in the first half of the 20th century. With its seductive (but misguided) interest in thinking of the text as a closed system that resulted in a single correct interpretation, New Criticism became the literary theory that every subsequent literary theory sought to refute. Still, the practice of paying close attention to texts with the goal of explicating them became a staple of literary education. This critical practice is making a comeback, particularly as digital media has been making us aware of the materiality of print and electronic texts. I seek to update close reading by incorporating media-specific analysis, critical code readings, and by a typology of textual behaviors that arises from my study of bibliographical and textual theories (especially Tanselle, McGann, and Shillingsburg) in my dissertation Typing the Dancing Signifier: Jim Andrews’ (Vis)Poetics (available for download at: We can describe and analyze print texts by their linguistic and graphical texts, but electronic texts can also be analyzed by their programmed behaviors. What is the text?  Traditional print documents offer a single text, defined as "a sequence of words."  Traditional close reading only focuses on linguistic texts.  Electronic documents may generate multiple texts.  For that reason, we must distinguish between source code and the texts they produce.  Model presented by Mark Marino & Jeremy Douglas: o Data layer- source code, data sources, etc. o Logical layer- platforms, operating systems, software, etc. o Presentation layer- input & output devices, generated documents, etc. Why and how to read source code?  It contains data & instructions to generate presentation layer: o Data set o Formatting o Scripts o Variables

Leonardo Flores, Close Reading 2.0 Input Randomization Documentation Structure It allows you to see if code is being interpreted correctly by the presentation software (i.e. a browser) It is a text worth reading critically: o Critical Code Studies o Quotes & Allusion o Genres o Voice
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Close reading textual behavior:  Static - what we're used to in print. o Under what conditions are texts static? o Why are they static? o Which texts are static?  Kinetic - texts move on the screen o Why do they move? o How do they move? o What cultural associations are evoked by the movement? o How does the movement affect the text? o How do we interpret the movement?  Mutable - text can change or be generated through permutation, randomization, or interaction. o What are the variables? o What is/are the data set(s)? o What causes change? o What is the rationale for variation? o How are the variations significant? o What is the authorial intent behind the variation?  Responsive - contains input cues and responds to user interactivity. o What are the input cues? o How do they affect the text? o What parameters have been extablished for the reader/user? o What is the role of the reader/user in the text? o What agency does the reader/user find in their interaction? o How is the textual responsiveness significant?  Scheduled - time-based presentation. o How is the text presented over time? o Is the scheduling linear or looped? o Is there a pattern to the scheduling such as rhythm? o What events get triggered and at what time? o What is significant about the scheduling?  Aural - texts, sounds, and music presented audibly o What is the relation between the aural and visual components? o What does the aural component contribute to the text?  Tone  Rhythm  Text  Global questions: o What behaviors are exhibited by the text?

Leonardo Flores, Close Reading 2.0
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How do the textual behaviors combine? What strategies can we intuit from the behaviors designed into the text?

Close reading graphical text:  Textual formatting  Graphical elements o Images o Video o Background o Color  Design o Interface o Navigation o Layout - juxtaposition o Layers - superposition o Sequence - montage  How is the visual information significant? o Information o Frames of reference o Cultural associations o Tone  How does it shape the experience of the work? Close-reading media  What programming languages or authoring software were used to create the work?  What are its capabilities and limitations?  Is it open or closed source?  Are there any compatibility or obsolescence issues?  How consistently is the code interpreted and executed across platforms and browsers?  How is the resulting work shaped by the tools used to create it? Final observations on close reading e-literature:  Pulling it together: o What patterns emerge from examining all these aspects of an e-poem? o Are there any meaningful variations from the patterns? o Do any of these patterns or variations converge to emphasize a portion of the poem? o What is the poet trying to achieve with the work? o What strategies is the poet using to reach that goal? Recommendations: o Avoid reducing the poem to a single possible interpretation. o Write about your vision of the poem without invalidating other possible perspectives. o Make a case for how your discoveries are meaningful. o Respect the work. To see this method in practice visit I ♥ E-Poetry (, a daily e-poetry blog.