David Thomas Henry Wright, Chris Arnold
The Perfect Democracy is an Australia Council for the Arts-funded born-digital novel that takes as its subject the entire population of contemporary Australia. It is also about the impossibility of representing this subject. Therefore, a digital format has been used to traverse the polyphony of voices. Visible images of Australian currency have been employed as a structural device to represent the whole society from the richest to the poorest in the quickest way possible. A multitude of simultaneous writing formats and voices have been used to precisely depict characterisation. These include digital palimpsestic writing, 3D formatted writing, scrolling stream of consciousness, text-based conversations that are interjected with stream-of-consciousness, and kinetic text. As a digital object, the novel adopts an ‘O’ or frame-like shape, with no set point of entry.
This project responds to the theoretical issues raised in the paper ‘Beyond Maximalism: Resolving the Novelistic Incompatibilities of Realism, Paranoia, Omniscience, and Encyclopedism’ (2021), which was presented at the 2021 ELO conference. In that paper, we addressed Stefano Ercolino’s definition of the ‘maximalist novel’, which he characterises as displaying multiform maximizing and hypertrophic tension. He classifies the maximalist novel using ten elements: length, encyclopedic mode, dissonant chorality, diegetic exuberance, completeness, narratorial omniscience, paranoid imagination, intersemioticity, ethical commitment, and hybrid realism. In our paper, we argued that these elements are incompatible with one another, which has resulted in criticisms of maximalist novels, as well as a number of maximalist novelists to abandon the form. In particular, we focussed on the literary career of British author Zadie Smith, following her maximalist White Teeth (2000), and subsequent creative responses to criticisms by literary critic James Wood.
Our position is that digital literature allows the reader to traverse the ‘maximalism’ of contemporary life (i.e. an existence overloaded with information), by integrating digital formats into the literary text. In this sense, our creative project, The Perfect Democracy, takes a maximalist novelistic form and, to borrow Italo Calvino’s term, lightens it using a unique interface. Calvino defines lightness in opposition to ‘weight’. Calvino’s preference for lightness is driven by a desire to write in such a way to represent his own time without being ‘weighed down’ by the enormity of collective and individual energies propelling the events of the century. In an information age, contemporary weight has produced the maximalist novel. Calvino’s solution to such weight is drawn from Greek mythology. Weight, Calvino argues, is represented by the Medusa, whose stare paralyses its subject, while lightness is represented by Perseus on his Pegasus. In defeating the Medusa and carrying its head, Perseus carries ‘weight’ without depicting weight itself. In both of these projects, the weight of ‘too much’ data or ‘too much’ language is made light. So, too, here. Digital tools enable the reader of this work to ‘lightly’ traverse the weight of the maximalist novel. This work takes the impossible polyphony of contemporary society, and attempts to educate readers of the various ‘icastic’ figures that emblemise Australian culture.
Wright, D.T.H. (2021). ‘Beyond Maximalism: Resolving the Novelistic Incompatibilities of Realism, Paranoia, Omniscience, and Encyclopedism through Electronic Literature’, Electronic Organization Conference 2021. Accessed at: https://tinyurl.com/2p82j5kn
Calvino, I. (1988). Six memos for the next millennium. London: Vintage.
Ercolino, S. (2014). The Maximalist Novel: From Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow to Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 (trans: Sbragia, A.). New York: Bloomsbury.
About the Author(s):
David Thomas Henry Wright is an author, poet, digital artist, and academic. He won the 2018 Queensland Literary Awards’ Digital Literature Prize, 2019 Robert Coover Award for a work of Electronic Literature (2nd prize), and 2021 Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award. He has been shortlisted for multiple other international literary prizes, and published in various academic and creative journals. He has a PhD (Comparative Literature) from Murdoch University and a Masters (Creative Writing) from The University of Edinburgh, and taught Creative Writing at China’s top university, Tsinghua. He is currently co-editor of The Digital Review, narrative consultant for Stanford University’s Smart Primer research project, and Associate Professor (Comparative Literature) at Nagoya University in Japan. Through a 若手研究 Japan Society for the Promotion of Science KAKENHI grant, he is researching new approaches to the interpenetration of born-digital and print literature, and has just completed a born-digital novel funded by an Australia Council for the Arts grant.
Chris is a poet and software engineer living on Whadjuk Noongar country in Perth, Western Australia. At the time of writing, he’s completing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Western Australia.
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