The London Review of Books wanted to create a digital literary work that pushed the boundaries of the literary essay well beyond its traditional form; using digital technology to loosen and enhance the structure of the essay, changing the way the reader interacts with the text.
The project depended on the engagement of a writer who was both a leading exponent of the literary essay and inspired by the potential of digital media to expand and deepen the essay form; the London Review of Books commissioned novelist and essayist Will Self.
The inspiration for ‘Kafka’s Wound’ came from Will Self, but collaboration has been at its heart. While Will Self wrote the main essay, taking as his point of departure Franz Kafka’s story ‘A Country Doctor’, much of the additional content was researched or created by over 70 others:
- In his role as Professor of Contemporary Thought at Brunel University, Will Self, in an unprecedented inter-departmental collaboration, challenged staff and students to produce creative digital responses to the Kafka story. This inspired music, animations, films and texts that can be found via multiple routes through the essay.
- Archival material was unearthed (much of it previously unavailable in digital form) and added into the text providing both depth and context.
- Readings, interviews, translations and debates have also been interwoven, as has the process of creating the essay, documented in blogs and videos, allowing readers a unique insight into the writer’s intellectual journey. The developments of the first two months of the project are recorded in Will Self’s ‘Writer’s Blog’.
Working within the limits imposed by time (fourteen weeks) and budget (generously awarded by the Arts Council/BBC Space project), and under the direction of Nicholas Spice and Helen Jeffrey from the London Review of Books, a group of web developers, editors, researchers, academics and artists, with Will Self at their head, have explored the possibilities offered by digital media to fashion a different kind of literary essay.
This is hardly the end point. The possible futures for the digital literary essay are multiple. Experimentation needs to continue; exploring and demonstrating the creative possibilities. The pioneering nature of this project will almost certainly provoke assessment and comment which will itself lead to new endeavours in this emerging genre.
The London Review of Books and the project team would like to thank the Arts Council and The Space for their support and for making ‘Kafka’s Wound’ possible.