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The digital affect: A rhetorical hermeneutic for reading, writing, and understanding narrative in contemporary literature and new media

, University of Pittsburgh, United States

University of Pittsburgh . Awarded


The Digital Affect is an exploration of ways to improve the teaching of reading and writing using digital media and technology. This requires a fundamental reexamination of digital narratives, building on and updating Espen Aarseth's seminal work in Cybertext and N. Katherine Hayles' recent work in Writing Machines. It also requires a critical appraisal of the technology of the personal computer as an environment in which writers compose - an environment that introduces possibilities while imposing constraints that materially influence the writer's efforts. This exploration is best undertaken, I argue, from the perspective of literacy studies, not literary theory. Rather than assuming the literary nature of digital narratives, my examination of the literacy requirements and effects of digital media and digital environments allows for the construction of a more nuanced and precise typology and genealogy of digital narrative. Focusing on the hermeneutical demands of digital media and environments reveals a narrative tradition that extends back to the earliest days of oral storytelling and that manifests itself not as a generic or historical formation, but rather as a poetical and rhetorical mode in which the narrative material is fragmented and distributed across media and throughout the virtual space of the story. Probing the hermeneutical act of interpreting digital narratives suggests the operation of what I term the "distributed mode" of composing narrative, an authorial mode I examine in works as varied as Stuart Moulthrop's hypermedia story Reagan Library, Italo Calvino's novel If on a winter's night a traveler, Godfrey Reggio's film Koyaanisqatsi , and Laurence Sterne's novel Tristram Shandy. This attention to the hermeneutical requirements of works composed in the distributed mode reveals two important features: first, the inadequacy of the widely-used term "digital literacy" to describe the range of activities undertaken by the interpreter of such works; and second, the inextricability and simultaneity of "reading" and "writing" during the interpretation of digital and non-digital works alike. Throughout The Digital Affect, I argue that digital media disrupts and reconfigures our standard literacy practices, presenting an invaluable opportunity to make those practices visible and teachable in literature and composition classrooms.


Parent, R.E. The digital affect: A rhetorical hermeneutic for reading, writing, and understanding narrative in contemporary literature and new media. Ph.D. thesis, University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved October 17, 2019 from .

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