1. Textual engines: 'the work is a system whose reading is one of its internal functions'2
One of the most important European groups of electronic literature, L.A.I.R.E. (Lecture, Art, Innovation, Recherche, Écriture), was formed in France in 1989. Philippe Bootz, a founding member of L.A.I.R.E., is one of the leading practitioners and theorists of programmed literature in Europe. His theoretical writings address the pragmatics of writing and reading programmed works, a topic that is also a thematic and structural element in several of his works. He has attempted to model digital textuality by describing the relations between author's field, work's field, and reader's field in programmed works. For Bootz, the grammatical productivity of computer code and the perceptual display of transient signifiers should be studied in their interrelations. Electronic literature requires the consideration of both programmability and the material instantiation of code in a given form: [End Page 305]
La programmation est un nouveau matériau sculpté et modelé par les artistes. Dans la visée de Transitoire Observable, ce modelage passe par un travail sur la forme. Il s'agit d'une approche formaliste de cette dualité algorithmes/processus qui constitue la pro-grammation.c Ce qui est visé dans cette approche n'est ni le programme en tant qu'ensemble de lignes de textes ou de code bien formé, ni l'événement produit à l'exécution en tant que réalité audiovisuelle, mais le rapport qu'entretien cet événement avec, d'une part, la réalité algorithmique du code, et d'autre part la pragmatique de la lecture.
Bootz describes the materiality of the display, i.e., the multimedia screen features of works, as 'le transitoire observable', and he uses the concept of 'formes méta-stylistiques' to refer to the programming codes. Transient observable forms are seen as material instances produced by meta-stylistic implicit forms ['le non-dit du programme'], i.e., by the code that is not immediately accessible to readers. Authors of programmed works move between these two levels: on the one hand, the physical process of executing the program ['le processus d'exécution physique du programme'], and, on the other, the pragmatic reality of the reader's activity ['la réalité pragmatique de l'activité du lecteur']. According to Philippe Bootz, reading becomes an internal function of the meta-textual device that instantiates the text – a conception that can be related both to Aspen Aarseth's notion of cybertext (1997) and to N. Katherine Hayles's notion of technotext (2002; 2008). Reading acts co-generate the 'transitoire observable', which means that, as acts of reading, they become scripted in the work's virtual field at the meta-textual level.
Bootz has favored a poetics of programming that explicitly works at the level of code, rather than with the 'video metaphors' graphically embodied in software tools. His aesthetic position – as that of other 'code workers' – highlights one important aspect of electronic literature: there is a software layer that defines its rhetorical tropes and its multimedia materiality, and this layer should be part of a poetics of digital media that 'relocates programming at the core of electronic art' (2005). If electronic materiality consists of a series of cascading abstractions with several layers nested on each other (Kirschenbaum 2008), it is clear that certain properties at the level of formal materiality will depend [End Page 306] upon specific codes and hardware capabilities. According to Bootz, the author's field includes the programming code, since this is what is particular about digital media. Writers of programmed works should move beyond the pre-defined expressive features embedded in a given program and they should, instead, consider programming itself as their material. It is through this conscious intervention at the programming level that the specificity of the 'transitoire observable' ['transient observable state'] may be grasped and fully explored. For him, the pragmatics of authoring electronic literature engages with its algorithmic nature, and not merely with transient screen effects.4 Bootz's work is concerned with...