Umberto Eco's Opera aperta and the birth of Italian electronic literature

Emanuela Patti*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The convergence of electronic media and literary forms during the digital revolution has produced a variety of new hybrid genres which we call today ‘electronic literature’. In Italy, electronic literature has a rich history. It was born in the cultural milieu of the Neoavanguardia in the early 1960s and, since then, it has produced a significant number of experimental works and practices. In this article, I take into consideration the cultural milieu in which it originated and I examine some of the works of the first Italian “electronic” writer, Nanni Balestrini. I will first contextualise Umberto Eco’s Opera aperta in its cultural context, with a special focus on some of the foundational concepts of the “open work” (crisis, interactivity, entropy). In section 3, I argue that Opera aperta does not only coincide with the birth of the first Italian electronic literary work, namely Nanni Balestrini’s Tape Mark I, but it also provides a theoretical and methodological framework to analyse Italian electronic literature across decades from both an aesthetic and critical perspective. In my analysis of some of Balestrini’s key works and collaborations in electronic literature in the following section, I emphasise how formal experimentation and political intention are strictly intertwined and critically address some important questions about our relationship with technologies, such as automation and alienation. Finally, in the conclusion, I highlight the points that make the modern concept of ‘opera aperta’ an effective methodological tool for exploring the ‘open textuality’ of electronic literature and how artists have come to terms with the new forms of expression offered by new media.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalModern Languages Open
Early online date17 Dec 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Dec 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • digital culture
  • electronic literature
  • Umberto Eco
  • Nanni Balestrini
  • Italian Neoavanguardia


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