Research Group Electronic Literature


Discussion of Álvaro Seiça's PhD project on digital poetry

Dr David 'Jhave' Johnston will lead a master class on Álvaro Seiça's PhD dissertation as it nears completion.

Image  showing a mass of text on a black background.
Here, the text of the dissertation has been used as the corpus for a mod of Nick Montfort’s Una Página de Babel.

Álvaro Seiça plans to submit his PhD dissertation after the summer, and the Electronic Literature Research Group is hosting a Masterclass to provide feedback and discussion of his final draft. The masterclass will be lead by Jhave Johnston.

Seiça's dissertation is article-based, and consists of six articles, of which the following four are published or forthcoming:

  1. Seiça, Álvaro. “Kinetic Poetry.” Grigar, Dene, James O’Sullivan and Sandy Baldwin (eds.) Electronic Literature: Contexts, Forms, and Practices. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press (forthcoming, 2017).
  2. Seiça, Álvaro. “Chapter 9: Experimentalism: The Freedom Adventure of Portuguese Experimentalism and Kinetic Poetry.” Tabbi, Joseph (ed.) Handbook of Electronic Literature. London: Bloomsbury Academic (forthcoming, 2017). 
  3. Seiça, Álvaro. “The Digital Diasthima: Time-Lapse Reading Digital Poetry.” ISEA2015: Disruption. Proceedings of the 21st International Symposium on Electronic Art. Vancouver: ISEA, 2015. http://isea2015.org/proceeding/submissions/ISEA2015_submission_315.pdf
  4. Seiça, Álvaro. “Digital Poetry and Critical Discourse: A Network of Self-References?” Matlit 4.1 (2016): 95-123. http://dx.doi.org/10.14195/2182-8830_4-1_6

The main topic of discussion at the Masterclass will be Seiça's kappa, which will contextualise and present his project as a whole. The title of the dissertation is setInterval(): Time-Based Readings of Kinetic Poetry.

Dr. David Jahve Johnston is a well-known digital poet and critic, who recently published the book Aesthetic Animism: The Ontological Implications of Digital Poetry 1994-2014 with MIT Press. Johnston has been an assistant professor at the City University of Hong Kong since 2012 and is currently beginning a stint as a digital poet-in-residence at McGill University in Montreal.

The master class is arranged by the “PhD Research School in Literature, Culture and Aesthetic studies”, which is a collaboration between the Department of Foreign Languages and the Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies.



This study focuses on digital kinetic poetry by English, French, and Portuguese-speaking poets. It emphasizes a historical overview of kinetic poetry written in diverse media. These forms include film poetry, videopoetry, holography poetry, and digital poetry. Moreover, it researches temporal and spatial dimensions of kinetic poems, that is, poems that are time-based and animated. Poems written and read in computational media require interdisciplinary expertise, because they often integrate text, sound, image, and interactive functions. Creative works that are reviewed include poems by E. M. de Melo e Castro, Marc Adrian, Silvestre Pestana, John Cayley, Stephanie Strickland, Ian Hatcher, Philippe Bootz, Philippe Castellin, Rui Torres, Jörg Piringer, Jhave, and Zuzana Husárová. This selection aims to engage with a polyglot perspective, as these works demonstrate diverse linguistic, literary, cultural, and artistic traditions. Even though these authors work within similar production and reception contexts—a global community framework, shared networked and programmable setting—there are rich differences among them at the level of language, local, and national themes. The case studies presented throughout the dissertation intend not only to provide a sample of different practices within the field, but also to possibly extract features, themes, and techniques that are common to kinetic poetry developed and released in digital systems.

The study is an article-based dissertation, presenting six articles that situate kinetic poetry in cultural and technological context; analyze in detail poems by Stephanie Strickland in collaboration with Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo, and by Ian Hatcher; and address issues of canon and self-referentiality in the field of digital poetry, between 1995 and 2015, via network and visualization analyses. Poets create kinetic poems with computers, via networks, and compose them by scripting code with timers that influence modes of presentation and reception. The tempo set in programming for screens and media output, which allows for text to move, can determine whether a poem can be read and viewed, or only viewed. This poses the main problem addressed throughout the investigation. As such, how can the critic analyze surfaces of inscription that can be on the verge of unreadability?

The research addresses three levels of analysis. These levels are micro-, meso-, and macro-reading. They investigate modes of reading kinetic poems, their literary and artistic context, and their reception context. Why and how is the history of kinetic poetry embedded in literary and artistic movements? A relocation of the entanglement of literature with technology and media suggests that 1950s-60s experimentalist authors played a crucial role in approaching the creative process in a quest for transgression, invention, and recreation. The notion of the creative act as a research, and synthesis process meant that all types of media could be used to materialize and expand the literary field.

The theoretical methodology used in this study combines perspectives from materiality and media-specific analysis (Glazier 2001, Hayles 2002, 2004, 2008, and Pressman 2014), critical code studies (Marino 2006), media archaeology and interface studies (Emerson 2014), collaborative and multi-approach studies (Douglass, Marino, and Pressman 2015). Moreover, this study contributes to the analysis of kinetic poems with an “exploratory” (Montfort 2016) reading, by manipulations of the code, interface, and display of creative works in a line of methodology that entails “operating” them, as Stephanie Strickland and Nick Montfort (2013) invite readers and scholars alike. Therefore, it proposes a new method for enriching an analysis of digital literary works, at the level of scripted code and interface, by developing experiments with modifications of output in terms of temporal and spatial transitions.

Thus, the versioning of works constitutes a practice-based strategy that demands modifying and deforming them in order to analyze text behavior. This interventive practice engages with experimental criticism theorized and practiced by Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann (1999) in order to read and interpret literary works. Findings suggest that a modifying deformance approach can pave the way to resituate assumptions in the field of digital poetry regarding the criticism of aesthetics, and literature that moves across time and space.


Keywords: Digital Culture; Electronic Literature; Digital Poetry; Kinetic Poetry; Time-Based Reading; Modifying Deformance; Network Analysis; Literature and Technology; Stephanie Strickland; Ian Hatcher