Dérives. Bringing (digital) space back to literature.

3:45 PM, jeudi 16 août 2018 (1 heure)
Since its earliest materializations, literature has tried to not only describe space, but also to imagine new forms of it. Utopian literature has always envisioned a socio-political perspective in thinking about new societies, not only in a temporal manner – in an undefined future or past – but also through the invention of countries, maps, and even worlds. In the 20th century, it was via the works of science-fiction writers that things such as cybernetics, virtual reality, and cyberspace became a common imaginary, shared by all kinds of people.

If until the beginning of 1990s, literature was one of the prominent instances, along with cinema, shaping the spatial imaginary and its structures, throughout the 1990s the role of literature in building and shaping these common spaces was progressively replaced by a more technological and commercial discourse.

Nowadays, while the so-called GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft) system is driving the digital narrative basically unchallenged, it is from the literary field that new ways to look at digital and physical space come out. Echoing the Empire’s art of cartography in the Borges short story, Google’s aim is not only to represent the world, through its mapping system and its digital presence on the Web, but also to be the structuring principle of the Web and therefore to be the world. Projects such as Jon Rafman’s 9 eyes or Cécile Portier’s Traque Traces and Étant donnée, or the works of Pierre Ménard, Anne Savelli and François Bon try to thwart the technological and commercial foundations of contemporary space representation, showing flaws in the philosophy of digital and web mapping tools developed by such actors, mainly Google Maps and Google Earth. By hacking these projects, these authors intend to show their hidden ideology: by putting the mask of spatial representation neutrality on, they are on the other hand spreading their own dominant vision of space.

In my presentation, I will analyze one of the examples of how literature and authors are trying to mind the gap between the soft power of GAFAM and the literary one. I will talk about the Montreal-based multimedia collective project Dérives, which manifestly put space at its core by situating itself in the trail of the Debord philosophy and practice of situationism and dérive. Basing their poetic on the use of Twitter’s hashtags as paratext and geolocation technique, these authors participate actively in building the image of the city of Montreal, in reshaping the digital space of Twitter, and in imaging a new structure of contemporary space.

The aim of my presentation is, ultimately, to show how literature can play a fundamental role in rethinking the structures of space, spatial representation, and digital space.
Université de Montréal
PhD Candidate