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Limit Texts Mattering, 41 Tweets

Lance Olsen

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1In the context of his plenary lecture during a 2012 Sorbonne conference, Lance Olsen gave the following powerpoint presentation which is presented here in pdf form together with the videos that were shown.

LANCE OLSEN Powerpoint

limit texts mattering 41 tweets
Theories of Forgetting
House of Leaves

2Lance Olsen shared with us his insights on « how texts matter » and engaged with the question of intersemioticity in texts, primarily novels, dwelling on the mattering of texts: “that is, how they can be — but usually aren’t — aware of their own materialization, & why.”

3This talk took the form of a sequence of “41 Tweets” punctuated with video animations. Lance Olsen went on with the screening of a short “text-film” created by his wife, visual artist Andi Olsen.

41 Tweets

4In this highly quotational presentation, Lance Olsen chose to “begin with a question : what can the novel do that film, TV, the internet and the Xbox can’t ? (#1 & 2)

5One answer (inspired by M. Bakhtin and Mark Danielewski) was “eat them” ! (#3). The novel is adaptable and omnivorous… As he observed, a novel like House of Leaves is, in a sense, a hypermedial project about our culture of data excess, raising questions through its excessive page layout: which is the vital data, which the trivial, what is the difference, and how can we tell?

Using various examples including Steve Tomasula’s digital novel TOC, Lance Olsen insisted on “words mattering on the page” (tweet # 16) and elaborated on the idea that “words matter not just for what they are, but for how they are” (# 17).

“Page mattering as a conflicted stage, a troubling canvas, an unfolding visual hermeneutic problematics” (#19).

This led him to mention what Espen Aarseth calls “ergodic literature” (#20) in which “nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text”.

6Making part of the novel we have forgotten how to see into another mode of delivering meaning. (# 22)

7He quoted Katherine Hayles’ point about “media-specific analysis” (#26), “a mode of critical attention which recognizes that all texts are instantiated and that the nature of the medium in which they are instantiated matters.” “E.g. Art books mattering as a reaction against mass reproduction, digital disembodiment, pressure of the electronic on the print novel.” (#27)

8This reflection was related to the novel Lance Olsen was writing at the time, Theories of Forgetting (published in 2014) and he concluded the talk on the notion of « entropology » (from entropy and anthropology) used by Land artist Robert Smithson in reference to Lévy-Strauss, meaning « highly developed structures in a state of disintegration ».

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Référence électronique

Lance Olsen, « Limit Texts Mattering, 41 Tweets », Sillages critiques [En ligne], 21 | 2016, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2016, consulté le 22 septembre 2018. URL :

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Lance Olsen

University of Utah, USA

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Sillages critiques est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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