Abstract

ABSTRACT:

If experimental literature consistently challenges us to think through the relations between language and the social, how might experimental electronic literature likewise challenge us to think through those relations within the context of the digital in particular? What unique critical purchase might the experimental dimensions of electronic literature provide on the political, and moreover on the politics of the digital? In this paper I pursue these questions through Shelley Jackson's Snow, an ongoing work consisting of images that Jackson has posted to the social media site Instagram since 2014. Each photograph in Snow (of which there are 428 at the time of this writing) documents a single word carved in snow by Jackson; taken together, these words form the beginning of an as-yet-unfinished story, thus far largely comprised of a girl's monologue describing different types of snow.

I suggest in this essay that Snow is a slow-media intervention into the temporal dynamics of technology and ecology. Jackson's slow publication of the text subverts the normative temporality of social media, locating and implicating it within the longue durée of geologic time. Collapsing text and image, her multilayered inscriptions take snow as both message and medium, and as suggested by the gaps, pauses, and delays in her feed—moments where there is no snow to write in and photograph—the project's implication of social media is not only narrative but also material and ecological. On one hand, these images capture and preserve a series of profoundly ephemeral inscriptions, words written in snow that are otherwise deeply subject to the contingencies of local and global climate change. Yet viewed in light of the increasing ecological impact of data centers built by major technology corporations, this digital preservation is itself an ecologically fraught practice. In an uncanny double bind of the digital archive, the preservation of snow within Jackson's project—every image, every like, every comment—cannot be separated from the ecological depletion of that same snow. I situate Snow at the intersection of critical thinking about ecological change, electronic literature, media studies, and experimental writing, arguing for the ways in which the inscription that Jackson's work exemplifies serves as a critically productive means for thinking through ecomedia aesthetics and the stakes of the Anthropocene. At the overlap of these multiple complementary practices, Snow stages an urgent engagement with the relations between text and image, heat and cold, nature and infrastructure.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1542-4286
Print ISSN
0093-3139
Pages
pp. 67-95
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-09
Open Access
No
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