Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Randall L. Beebe


Digital technology is changing the landscape of literary studies. In essence, the proliferation of computer technology and hypertext is forcing literary scholars to look at how the expanded role of the visual in our society is influencing the way we read and disseminate texts, especially hypertexts, while they also come to a better understanding of the role of the reader in a digital environment and the overall value of electronic literature. Literary studies is witnessing the birth of a new paradigm through digital technology in textual production and dissemination that will not only raise new questions, but further examine age-old literary issues. The following thesis will then explore several ideas concerning digital technology and literary studies including: ekphrasis, authenticity 'and value, and the nature of narrative.

The introduction of digital technology onto the literary landscape has forced the re-evaluation of several aspects involved with literary studies, but more importantly it has forced scholars to examine archaic ideals concerning reading, writing and teaching literary texts. In a hypertext environment readers and writers to enter into a more informal discourse, examine the signifier in a more direct way, and come to a better understanding of how culture influences our ability and means to communicate and replicate ideas. The new paradigm is born out of the idea that the reader can make up a text and the message of the author can still be disseminated.

In the following thesis I suggest that the new paradigm will mark a definite change in the way literature is both written and disseminated; however, it will also simply add new twists to old problems. The place of the reader will certainly be debated with digital literature, as will the value of this unmediated form of textual production. Yet, above all, the role of the visual in digital literature will most likely be questioned as our culture continues to further embrace graphic images in favor of extended text and dialogue.

The first section will focus on ekphrasis and the use of graphics in relation to literary studies, while also looking at the implications of losing textual descriptions to describe a scene. I will look specifically at how the use of graphics is compounding in society today, especially through the proliferation of computer technology, and how the increase in visuals is moving us closer to the "natural" sign. The second section will focus on the ideas of Walter Benjamin, specifically questions he raises in his 1935 text "The Work of Art in the Mechanical Age of Reproduction." Using this work as a guide, I will examine the phenomena of the Internet and the presence of the original as the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity - something in the forefront of scholarly debates about the "value" or "role" of the Internet. Roland Barthes' text S/Z will anchor the third section, where I will use Barthes' notion of readerly and writerly texts to illuminate the differences of narrative in an on-line environment, while trying to better understand electronic texts and reading practices.