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Workshop | Poetics and Aesthetics of Memetic Circulation

Jun 03, 2022

Organised by Michael Gamper and Paul Wolff within the project Digital Constructions of Authorship, Research Area 4: "Literary Currencies".

Internet memes have become one of the most popular forms of cultural expression of our time. Since memetic media are driven by collective production, circulation, reappropriation, and transformation, they defy traditional notions of singular authorship and literary creativity. However, internet language and recent forms of online literature are highly influenced by the rise of memetic media. Memetic writing can thus be conceptualized as the collective creation and variation of a Meme that is – at least partially – composed of language. Such mimetic writing, as practiced on platforms such as Twitter, Reddit, and 4chan, is on the one hand characterized by a strong orientation towards memetic patterns that are repeated over and over again. On the other hand, memetic writing often breaks open patterns by introducing new references and layers of reflexivity, thus allowing for innovation through repetition and transformative circulation.

Together with media scholar Ryan Milner, who is a Fellow at the Cluster of Excellence in June 2022, we want to engage in a dialogue on the intersections of memetics and digital literature. In exploring what media theory and literary studies can learn from each other, we ask questions such as: How are multimodality, reappropriation, resonance, collectivism, and spread – the fundamental logics of memetic participation according to Ryan Milner – reflected in the aesthetics of memetic media and literature? How do we read and interpret memetic texts despite their inherent ambivalence due to the diverse backgrounds and intentions of meme creators within various communities and platforms? How do memetic media and their underlying logics draw on pre-digital literary and artistic forms such as folklore, oral culture, emblematics, jokes and other kinds of small forms which usually circulate without attributed authorships. How do memetic media narrate stories?

In line with the research program of the Cluster's Research Area 4: "Literary Currencies", the workshop will focus on the circulation of memetic texts and its aesthetic, political, epistemic, economic implications: What is the specific aesthetics that goes with the unprecedented speed and reach of digital circulation? How does circulation create (cultural, economic, ethical) values, and how does this differ from established procedures of validation in the literary field? How, when, and why can meme circulation be aborted, shut down, and regulated, such as through watermarking and other authorship signatures of ›original content memes‹? Finally, the concept of circulation invites us to look at digital media from a transnational or even global perspective. Memes and meme patterns spread and travel through space within a very short time. Via worldwide transformative circulation, memes unfold into diverse online cultures in which they form new strands and knots within the memetic reference network. By employing a comparative perspective on memetic texts, we hope to step out of our own European and North American traditions and ideologic limitations.

The discussions will be based on a reader as well as on short inputs by the presenters. The reader will be pre-circulated among the participants. To receive the materials, please register with Paul Wolff (paul.wolff@fu-berlin.de).


13:30-13:45 | Welcome and Introduction

13:45-14:45 | Ryan Milner: Platform as Genre in Social Media Storytelling

15:00-16:00 | Paul Wolff: Functions of Meme Authorship and Original Content Memes

16:30-18:00 | Brigitte Weingart & Florian Schlittgen: Meme Culture and Relatability

Time & Location

Jun 03, 2022

Freie Universität Berlin
Room JK 33/121-123
Habelschwerdter Allee 45
14195 Berlin