Cyber pioneers

NOV cyberculture Latin American Cyberculture and Cyberliterature
Edited by Claire Taylor and Thea Pitman
2007, Liverpool University Press
256 pages, hardback, plates

THE focus of this volume is Latin American cyberculture with an emphasis in the latter half of the book on a particularly important subgenre of this: Latin American cyberliterature. The contributors of this volume consider cyberculture in broad terms to examine new ways of engaging in socio-culture practice online. The cultural products studied by the various contributors are, in many cases, ones that maintain links with previous practices – literature, film, art, performance art, etc. Many of the avenues researched in this volume include connectivity, accessibility, blurring of boundaries, locality, and cyberliterary forms such as weblogs, among others.

In “The New New Latin American Cinema: Cortometrajes on the Internet”, Debra A Castillo examines short films on the internet and charts what she calls “the transformation” in our concept of cinema brought about by increased access to affordable, high-quality means of producing and editing film. When speaking of cortometrajes, there are three main issues which frame and define this practice: 1) the nature of the material, 2) the nature of the audience, and 3) the nature of the medium.

In “Cyborgs, Cities, and Celluloid: Memory Machines in Two Latin American Cyborg Films”, Geoffrey Kantaris analyzes two Latin American “cyborg films”: the Mexican “urban vampire movie” Cronos (1993) and the Argentine sci-fi film La sonámbula (1998), and focuses on the transgression of boundaries through technology. Cronos is a postmodern urban vampire movie with a twist whose title indicates an obsession with time and whose narrative simulates the violent compression of the archaic, the modern and the hyper or postmodern. In the case of Argentina, La sonambula represents a tradition of cultural engagement with cinema as the mechanical simulation of absent bodies, or, in more complex terms, as the disavowal of the disappeared body behind the screen fetish of the mechanically reproduced image.

In “The Cyberart of Corpos Informáticos,” Margaret Anne Clarke looks at a Brazilian cyberart project, Corpos Informáticos, whose productions explore the interaction between the embodied subject and technology. Clarke highlights the group’s engagement with philosophical debates and their imagining of spaces in which boundaries may dissolve and transform again. The author claims that this group, founded in 1992 at the University of Brasilia, strongly challenges ideas well-established by Anglo-American theorists concerning the nature of human embodiment and its relation to technology.

In “Latin American Cyberprotest: Before and After the Zapatistas”, editor Thea Pitman moves into the field of cyberprotest. She aims to dispel pessimistic visions of the internet in Latin America as a potential site of social exclusion by detailing the successful political activism of groups such as the Mexican Zapatistas. Pitman argues that through the internet, the Zapatistas have greatly expanded their potential audience and she is optimistic about the potentially positive impact of the internet on social activism at grass roots level.

In “Body, Nation, and Identity: Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s Performances on the Web”, Niamh Thornton discusses the performances of Mexican artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña who deals with issues such as race, class, gender and national allegiance in order to achieve radical social change. Gómez-Peña tackles issues of the locatedness of cultures and the significance of borderlands through an interrogation of the concept of a fixed nation space and an exploration of identity issues associated with a conceptualization of space.

In “Cyberspace Neighbourhood: The Virtual Construction of Capão Redondo”, Lúcia Sá writes on the Sao Paulo bairro of Capão Redondo, two of whose inhabitants have created a website for the neighborhood. Sá suggests that this online community may be able to influence the offline community by giving voice to a variety of forms of expression. Sá focuses on the website founded in 2000 by brothers Leonardo and Allan Lopes to inspire pride in the neighborhood.

In “Literary E-magazines in Latin America: From Textual Criticism to Virtual Communities”, Shoshannah Holdom looks at literary e-magazines from Peru, Venezuela and Chile that share a desire to bring like-minded people together in a productive way by providing online communities for writers and readers. Holdom points out that access to the internet in Latin America is by no means universal, but despite this, online literary communities nevertheless provide valuable opportunities for the promotion of Latin American literature.

In “Negotiating a (Border Literary) Community Online en la línea”, Paul Fallon focuses on Mexican border authors whose works enable possible links with limited, temporary communities that represent both shifts and continuities in reading culture by engaging with new technologies to negotiate new forms of literary practice. Several authors have forged ahead with their own sites and have tried to lay the groundwork for continuing online writing as a practice.

In the second part of the volume dedicated to cyberliterature, Stefan Herbrechter and Ivan Callus focus on the work of Jorge Luis Borges who, they argue, is a major literary precursor of contemporary interactive and multimedia works in “Posthumanism in the Work of Jorge Luis Borges”. The authors suggest that exploring Borges’ literary imaginary may enrich meditations on cyberculture. The authors claim that Borges is an exponent of what might be called “posthumanism without technology” which brings to the forefront the precariousness of the human; the human not so much threatened by “his” technology but by its very humanity, imagination, and existence.

In “Julio Cortázar’s Rayuela and the Challenges of Cyberliterature”, Rob Rix inquires as to how the web publishing of fiction may alter our understanding of the genre, given factors such as “the readers” or “the users” – freedom to rearrange, recombine, and even abandon any specific text at any time. This, he argues, creates the possibility to engage new kinds of readers in the elaboration of new fictional spaces. Rix says that Rayuela is a hypertext, an embryonic cybernovel which both anticipates and lays down challenges for today’s manifestations of cyberliterature.

In “Contemporary Brazilian Fiction: Between Screens and Printed Pages”, Ana Cláudia Viegas explores the relationship between literature and information technology in Brazil, asking how new technologies have affected print literature. Viegas provides examples from works by Luis Ruffato, which, she argues, show a relationship between cyberculture and post-1990 Brazilian literature through the author’s creation of fragmented, multi-linear narratives. Viegas questions the changing of roles of reader and author made possible by the hypertext as well as the practice of the collective creation of texts.

In “Creative Processes in Hypermedia Literature: Single Purpose, Multiple Authors”, Doménico Chiappe examines collective novels on the internet, an interactive approach to literary creation, which, Chiappe states, is producing new concepts of authorship and readership. With the arrival of digital formats, changes have occurred in the process of literary creation. In the traditional book, the point of view corresponded solely to the author who worked alone – this is no longer the case. A hypermedia work will not usually have a single author, given the complexity of this conception.

In “Hypertext in Context: Space and Time in the Hypertext and Hypermedia Fictions of Blas Valdez and Doménico Chiappe”, Thea Pitman’s essay on hypermedia fiction aims to assesses the ways in which works in the genre relate to the Latin American literary canon. Pitman critiques the notion that digital culture is disembedded from its national origins (therefore risks losing its cultural identity) and discusses the emancipator potential of hypertext.

In “Virtual Bodies in Cyberspace: Guzik Glantz’s Weblog”, Claire Taylor explores the relationship between the weblog and the embodied subjectivity of its creator using examples from Guzik Glant who, Taylor asserts, shows the fragmented body to be a result of both cyberspace and contemporary society, presenting a tentative Mexican cyborg consciousness. Issues of corporeality and subjectivity are explored in the interplay between text and image in Glantz’s work as she frequently examines the status of the body in cyberspace and in the contemporary world.

In “A Cyberliterary Afterword: Of Blogs and Other Matters”, Edmundo Paz Soldán comments that Gustavo Faveron was recently elected the winner of the most influential literary critic of contemporary Peruvian literature. Even though Faveron has published essays and articles in prestigious academic journals and has been the editor of an important cultural review in Peru, his influence is due, above all, to Puente aereo, the blog that he has been writing for a several years. This is a sign that times are changing and not only that, having a presence on the web is becoming a key way to disseminate critical discourse and to contribute to literary and cultural debates.

In the closing section of this volume, “Conclusion: Latin American Identity and Cyberspace”, editors Claire Taylor and Thea Pitman acknowledge the complications associated with the broad scope of the essays in this collection and the problematic terminology used to describe online activity. They suggest avenues for further research in this field which could center on the relationships between theory, culture, and the multiple identities being expressed by internet users in Latin America.