(Post)Modern Peculiarities: The Production of Electronic Literature in Colombia

 

The production of electronic literature in Colombia obeys at least four patterns of cultural behavior, each with its own tensions and challenges. It is also increasingly co-opted by the requirements of an emerging consumer market of cultural and educational digital content. This essay shows how these conditions of production emerge and what type of study of these conditions is necessary.

It is curious that Colombian electronic literary works such as ones by Juan B. Gutiérrez have been considered pioneers in the field of Latin American cultural production, but have not been able to generate a dynamic in this field, i.e., sustained development of this type of production in the country. It is very possible, as I indicated elsewhere (Rodríguez 2004, 54), that his situation may obey a pattern of cultural modernity that is very peculiar to Colombia, one which responds to what some authors have called pseudo-modernity (modernization besieged by blockades of different kinds) or postponed modernity, or even partial modernity.  The truth is that, on the one hand, Colombia offers very important milestones in its artistic production, while on the other, these milestones do not manage to sustain themselves over time and end up becoming singular examples, very isolated from what could be in other areas an engine of artistic development.

In relation to what Corredor sets forth in his dissertation about notes for a history of digital literature in Colombia (Corredor 2015) , this essay seeks to add an observation that may help characterize electronic literary production in Colombia: the identification of four patterns of behavior: 1) the already-identified one about an adventure without continuity (the work by Juan B. Gutiérrez); 2) a larger corpus developed over a period of years (work by Jaime Alejandro Rodríguez); 3) individual works by an author taken as an exceptional model of authorial production, and finally; 4) production that comes from fields other than literature, but which can be considered literary works since they were supported by competitions and institutional economic stimulation projects, especially since the establishment of the “Crea digital” prizes in 2012. Let us take a look at these four patterns of cultural behavior in more detail.

 

Pioneering Works by Juan B. Gutiérrez

Juan B. Gutiérrez is the author of two hypertextual type novels: Condiciones extremas and El último vuelo de los hermanos Wright. The first one is an experiment that begins as a comic book and evolves until it develops the most important potentialities of the fictional hypertext: complexity of plot that offers the reader at least eleven possible versions, a local environment pressured by a more global tendency: science fiction that reflects on environmental impact in our cities, along with multi-media components (graphic ones, in this case) that enrich the story.  The second story uses the puzzle format as its structural script.  As a result the reader has to activate relationships between the various narrative elements in order to reconstruct the potential totality of the story. Both novels constitute what Susana Pajares called an exploratory hyperfiction (1996). This is precisely the kind of readerly experience that is the objective of another “work” by Gutiérrez: the portal Literatrónica. This is a website that integrates an artificial intelligence element that recognizes the reading mode and the preferences of the reader as their exploration of the hypertext progresses. It proposes paths that may suit them so that they can achieve narrative totality and thus avoid becoming disoriented and making the unfortunate decision to abandon the hypertext. While the first two texts of the portal are the two works by Gutiérrez himself (structurally reworked for this experiment), other authors also published in Literatrónica. Regrettably, the author abandoned literary production as well as his narrative experiments, and his initial path therefore lost continuity, likely because Gutiérrez left the country to live in the United States (at present he is a researcher at the University of Georgia) and dedicate himself to other fields.

 

The Works of Jaime Alejandro Rodríguez (JAR)

To discuss the works of Jaime Alejandro Rodríguez one must go back to 1994, the moment of publication of the first version of Gabriella Infinita, a fragmentary, print format novel that was not well received, but which led the author to a remediation process that initially transformed Gabriella into a hypertext and subsequently into narrative hypermedia.  The step from a print text to a hypermedial one (via remediation) developed what was difficult to achieve in the print version: exploratory and participatory interactivity of the reader through a story that is set in a potential (local) scenario of a near-futuristic war, and which unfolds a story of searches and absences that are structured by a narrative loop strategy by way of which the mystery about Federico (the absent protagonist of the story) is resolved.  The hypermedia objectified that which in the novel is a verbal narrative: Gabriella’s encounter with the objects that Federico left behind, such as video and audio recordings, computer files, manuscripts of a personal project, and a an outline for a cinematographic script.  All these objects are represented audio-visually and appear in the hypermedial version as interactive objects.   

The collective authorial experience that this remediation implied permitted the Gabriella production team to undertake a process of hypermediation: the development of a second interactive work, Golpe de gracia. This work strove to consolidate and improve that which was learned from Gabriella and this is how this project features a narrative that is linked more to games than to reading. The levels of participatory interactivity are also maximized, as is the greater involvement of the users. The story proceeds from an initial situation: a character (who varies according to the user’s selection) in a hospital has been attacked and is in a coma, but can hear his visitors’ reproaches. In a second phase (here called the digital world), the user recognizes the mental process suffered by the main character (in this case already focused on one character in particular: the priest). Finally, in the third world, the user carries out a role play that will allow them to discover the truth about the attack.  An additional fact is that Golpe de gracia, in contrast to Gabriella Infinita, produced a literary corollary: the publication of El infierno de Amaury, a novel that narrates some aspects of hypermedia in a traditional format.

Rodríguez, motivated by the question of how to transform the reader into a true co-author of his works, undertook a third project along with a technical and academic team: Narratopedia, a platform designed to facilitate the edition and publication of digital content and collective production, with the objective of creating and strengthening a community of digital narrators. The platform (in two versions) was online from 2010 until 2016 and demonstrated the power and challenges of collective creation as a way of managing digital narrative content. Two products stand out from this experiment: the  P25 electronic performance project and the wiki novel Desencuentros.

A fourth project (Atrapados: Simulador de Inteligencia colectiva) tested another type of management of digital content: transmediation.  In this case, a literary piece stemming from the novel Gabriella Infinita (trapped) was developed in three different formats: a videogame, a comic, and a role-playing board game. This development once again required a new technical and creative team that not only produced the transmedia artifacts, but also thought about and designed an experiment to put transmedia to the test as a gauge of awareness of intellectual challenges and collective creation.

A fifth project (Memorias y caminos) takes up the hypermedial format to highlight a strategy of collective dialogic creation. This involved pairing digitally-realized autobiographical texts and “readings” of those fragments made into an animated video version by a female artist who remediated them, joined together in a portal according to the logic of an exploratory labyrinth game. The platform also provides users with literary contributions of their own autobiographical texts.

Currently, JAR is developing a transmedia project (Ruinas digitales en Xanadú) that links comics, a literary piece, and a role-play game, integrated in a web application for storytelling that is will be available to middle school students motivated by an essential question: how to resist technological obsolescence? The project gathers what has been learned from the other five projects and adds the question about the ephemeral character of digitally-created cultural content.

In addition, the development of an interactive graphic novel titled Movilización en Cyberia awaits an illustrator.

 

Exceptional Authorship

Here I want to mention five works that correspond to the exceptional authorship category, that is, works of electronic literature that, at least for now, do not represent a sustained trajectory of creation in this field.

El Alebrije (Carmen Gil) is hypermedia work from 2002 that takes advantage of the rhizomatic possibilities of multi-media and a number of media resources in order to tell a story full of relationships that put us in contact with Meso-American spiritual currents, where the figure of the Mexican alebrije serves both as symbol and as artifact in order to deliver a message. In terms of technical resources, hypermedia demands and encourages interactivity from the user in a clear way. There is an equilibrium between that interactivity, the textual content, and the media resources used, such as sound, animation, or manipulated photographs.

Mandala (Alejandra Jaramillo, 2017) narrates the life and emotions of a woman and her comings and goings through literature, sexuality, and the universe of the Muisca. It is a novel with a randomized plot that can be read in the order of one’s choosing, one that has been suggested, or simply by chance. The universe of Mandala is constructed from an early Muisca image: a triangle that emerges from one side, moves towards the other side, and then closes again.  It expresses the idea of a world in which there is a “this side” and an “other side” (as an homage to Cortázar). All seven parts of the novel have a “this place,” which is the world of Amaura, the protagonist, a woman who has decided to leave her job as an editor to begin a new, life-changing search. The “other side” is made up of other stories that complement that world. Each one of the seven parts has a different “other side.”  In the first part, a female professor helps an inmate in the Modelo prison to write a novel; the second is a series of interviews about sexuality; the third is a short novel; the fourth is a chronicle; the fifth is a diary; the seventh is an essay, and in this one, “this side” and the “other side” unite into a single story of love between Amaura and a Muisca grandfather, which takes place in contemporary times.

Ars Poética (Alejandro Corredor). This work consists of a transcreation inspired by the poem “Hasta que el verso quede” by Francisco Hernández, in which silence is the only possible result of a task of verbal purification that is in itself poetic. It is about a poem in which text-code is the way to turn to a “new language” to make visible this poetic activity in a mechanized and transmedia environment, in which coding capable of crossing borders must be used in the globalized world. His first version was part of his poetry published in the code anthology, “code {poems},” compiled and edited by Ishac Bertran and published in 2012.

Caminando Bogotá (Carlos Torres) is a hypermedia work from 2008 that offers several interactive experiences and the recreation of diverse aspects of urban life in Bogotá. Each experience is “walked through” randomly (drifting), or by following a suggested sequence, resulting in an immersive experience in which the “reader” as player has an experiential rapprochement with the suggested events. The creative participation of the user leads to a minigame that allows him to “paint” a virtual graffiti wall, in which the user can integrate himself, and develop and modify the proposed work. Caminando Bogotá has the distinction of having been developed in an interactive design seminar at the Pontifical Javieriana University in Bogotá.

Lucrecia Daphne (Enrique Rodríguez, 2017) is an digital story project, interactive in its network information flow and collaborative digital actions, which are multimodal and analogous. This project is built from fragments that unite the visual, the aural, and the linguistic.  The unity does not only depend on its original author, but also on several co-authors who enrich the story with new content that is multimodal, digital and analogous in social networks and physical spaces. The result is intended to be a constantly-expanding sum total of the new iterations of the initial story. Lucrecia Daphne is also an expanding intertextual cartography, open to the actions of the co-authors and collaborators, as well as to the unexpected correspondences between the fictional universe and the infinite stories present in cyberspace. The project postulates the possibility and viable practice of a digital literature that is unstable, transformable, in motion, and based on information flows and the collective creative processes that constantly reconstruct and re-create a work, blurring the notion of individual authorship.

It is important to note here that both Carlos Torres (co-author of Gabriella Infinita) and Enrique Rodríguez are defined as authors of a sustained trajectory. Carlos Torres has published two videogames: Hasta el cuello (2015) and Poder violeta (2018). He hopes to continue his creative work in the field of critical and non-serious videogames or for mobile devices. Rodríguez’s project is based on a continuous expansion of his early literary works and the collective and open character of his project (very similar to crowdsourcing). We could affirm that because this project is in essence one single work, it is an experiment that hopes to expand the possibility of narration on social networks, which constitute his work into sustained trajectory.

 

Expanded Literature: Transmedia Stories, e-books, animated series, video games and The “Crea Digital” Prizes

The seven versions of the “Crea digital” (Ministerio TIC, Colombia 2012-2018) prizes have served to invigorate the important production of digital content for educational and cultural uses. Although these productions are not strictly literary and do not derive from traditional or academic fields, they can be considered expanded literature; that is, they employ types of narration, fiction, and didactic materials that make use of narrative verbal expression as well as other integrated means from digital environments, generating their own cognitive, aesthetic, and transcendental functions from the possible worlds of fiction (Schaefer, 2000).

The prizes provide financial resources to finish projects that have already undergone a certain level of development and demonstrate economic viability, including their sale as a commercial product. These two conditions make the production process unique, since they appeal to production teams (not to individual authors) and operate under a logic of openness and consolidation of niche markets (the culture industry), which the Ministry supports as a strategy to energize production.

In the initial version (2012), eight videogames, five digital books, and two animated series were funded. In the following version, the prizes were distributed as follows: funding was given to four videogames, two e-books, and five interactive multiplatform games. In  2014, prizes were awarded to four videogames, four interactive books, five transmedia productions, and three digital animations. In 2015, the awards increased: funding was given to nine videogames, six interactive books, seven transmedia projects, and four animated series. In the 2016 version, twenty-one prizes were awarded: six videogames, four e-books, three digital animations, and six works promoting a culture of peace (a new category). In 2017 the winners were: nine videogames, six interactive books, and six animated series.  Finally, in the 2018 version of prizes, awards were given to five videogames, four transmedia works, and six digital series.

In its seven iterations, “Crea Digital” has awarded $12,528 million pesos, which have been invested in the development of 41 videogames, 28 e-books, 16 transmedia projects, five inclusive works for people with disabilities, six works promoting a culture of peace, and 18 animation series.  There are more than a hundred works that circulate today through cultural, educational, and digital circuits.

 

Conclusions

The “Crea digital” prizes have produced an important impetus in Colombia for the stimulation of the production of digital cultural content. The majority of this content can be linked to an expanded electronic literature focused on educational and cultural uses and motivated by the logic of the culture industry. Though the study of these works in terms of impact, final quality, and as a consolidation factor of a new cultural field (and of production) has yet to be carried out, the truth is that this funding opportunity has succeeded in generating interest, circulation, and visibility for the production of cultural content that is digitally-born. What is left behind is the creative individual effort, or even the academic support for experimentation, with all the positive and negative implications that this situation entails. This situation also raises questions about alternative modes of creation and production disconnected from institutionality, such as crowdsourcing and crowdfunding.

What remains to be seen is the reaction of a literary institution that either is not familiar with, or is not interested in, or prefers not to see these realities that could enrich its research and educational spaces. The truth is that electronic literature in Colombia is no longer produced by a literary institution looking to a digital field, but rather by a culture industry that is developing more from the fields of communication, education, and software development. There is nothing farther from and nothing closer to the literary than this new situation.

Jaime Alejandro Rodríguez
Pontificia Universidad Javeriana
Bogotá - Colombia

Translated by Rosario Drucker Davis

Languages

Latin American Literature Today No. 10
Number 10

In our tenth issue, we question the values of literature and journalism in the post-truth age through the words of Mexican writer Juan Villoro and we explore new territories of digital literature in a dossier curated by Scott Weintraub. We also feature memories of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre told through graphic narrative, new perspectives on the translation of Shakespeare into Spanish with an essay from Braulio Fernández Biggs, and Wayuu literature from the Venezuelan side of the border than runs through their ancestral lands.

Table of Contents

Editor's Note

Featured Author: Juan Villoro

Dossier: Digital Literature

Essays

Indigenous Literature

Fiction

Poetry

Interviews

Previews

Chronicle

On Translation

Graphic Narrative

Nota Bene