Poetic fingerprints: digital literature’s countercultural and metamedial integration of vision and touch

Quand nos yeux se touchent, fait-il jour ou fait-il nuit?

Jacques Derrida, On Touching—Jean-Luc Nancy.

I can track your username on a website on a form somewhere, I can track your real name, I can track associations with your friends and I can build what’s called a fingerprint which is network activity unique to you

Edward Snowden.

Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature

George Lakoff, Metaphors We Live By


This paper reflects on the transformations of reading and writing literature promoted by digital environments by presenting some examples created by Serge Bouchardon between 2010 and 2016: Hyper-tensions. Exploring antinomies such as functionalism and controlability versus loss of grasp, desire for transparency versus need for opacity, willingness to leave and disseminate traces versus discomfort in permanent exposure of disseminated traces, the three artworks deal with the integration of sense modalities like vision and touch. This is a core question at a special moment in occidental history characterised by the fact of it being less and less dominated by writing, taking us to a new illiteracy triggered by the rising of an elite that expresses itself by means of programming of cybernetic data banks and computational facilities. Also, exploring the visual and gestural metaphors in Bouchardon’s works as a synonym for transparency, imperceptibility and inoperability, I argue that this countercultural strategy is his way of subverting the increasing interest in tangibility and immediacy by digital media industries.

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  1. 1.

    http://www.utc.fr/~bouchard/works/Hypertensions.html, last accessed August 16, 2016.

  2. 2.

    Most of Serge Bouchardon’s digital interactive fictions are created in a collaborative process of coauthorship, taking advantage of the different capabilities of people of several professional backgrounds. The first two artworks which compose the Hyper-tensions trilogy have a shared coauthorship with several people from a group of artists known as the I-Trace collective (http://i-trace.fr/). Further considerations on Bouchardon’s understanding of the notion of trace are to be understood by also having in mind the way in which the webpage’s interface design is thought as an artwork in and of itself. For a descriptive analysis of the I-Trace’s webpage design, please refer to Marques (2016).

  3. 3.

    My idea of a “machimanipulation” is to be understood as a way of expressing a literal manipulation of text by both human and machine. Please refer to Marques (2016).

  4. 4.

    In each chapter of Untrace a new musical instrument is introduced by the author. In it, like in many digital interactive artworks, the audio component is significant in the way that it can influence the reading experience.

  5. 5.

    While several authors of digital literature, like Serge Bouchardon, seem to prefer the term “user” over “reader”, I believe the process of experiencing a piece of digital literature still has several compatibilities with the traditional use of the words “reader” and “reading”. While I acknowledge that, in digital multimodal environments, such a process is far from being resumed to the reading of verbal content, my understanding of reading, both applied to humans and/or machines deals with the way stored information is retrieved from its different media. Still, the use of alternative terminologies is proficuous, wreader and vuser being two examples of how terminology can turn into a never-ending debate.

  6. 6.

    On literalizations of touch and gesture and the fetishization of the hand, please see Marques (2016).


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Diogo Marques is a PhD Fellow, Advanced Studies in the Materialities of Literature, Faculty of Arts, University of Coimbra. This article was sponsored by the Centre for Portuguese Literature at the University of Coimbra under project PD/BD/52249/2013, funded by FCT–Foundation for Science and Technology.

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Marques, D. Poetic fingerprints: digital literature’s countercultural and metamedial integration of vision and touch. Neohelicon 44, 55–64 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11059-017-0380-2

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  • Digital literature
  • Serge Bouchardon
  • Vision
  • Touch
  • Metamedia
  • Transformation of writing