‘KAFKA’S WOUND’ RE-IMAGINING THE LITERARY ESSAY FOR THE DIGITAL AGE (RILEDA)
Submitting InstitutionBrunel University
Unit of AssessmentEnglish Language and Literature
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Information and Computing Sciences: Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
Summary of the impact
Kafka's Wound', a response to Kafka's short story `A Country Doctor'
(1919), was created as part of the `Re-imagining the Literary Essay for
the Digital Age' (RILEDA) project. The essay is available at www.thespace.lrb.co.uk.
Commissioned from the London Review of Books (LRB), an
independent literary publisher, RILEDA was supported by £45k from ACE who
invested £3.5m in 51 commissions. The work was `located' in the Space, an
experimental digital arts service, itself a major project within Arts
Council England's creative media policy and its Public Value Partnership
with the BBC.
Headed by Will Self, novelist and professor of contemporary thought at
Brunel University, RILEDA involved over 70 collaborators drawn from the
School of Arts and many other departments (especially Computing,
Engineering and Design) in a collaborative, interdisciplinary, practice-
based, research project. Institutional contributors included the BBC
Radiophonic Workshop, the Imperial War Museum, and the National Centre for
Jewish Film. The research was carried out between March and July 2012 and
the essay was `published' in August 2012.
Highly innovative and of high artistic quality, RILEDA has impacted
diverse audiences worldwide, evolving the multi-media digital literary
essay while encouraging innovative approaches to digital arts and
supporting the case for future public digital arts services. It raises
important issues about the nature of authorship, collaboration, and
co-design in digital forms which frame broader questions about the nature
of creativity, intellectual property rights, and the processes and
experience of reading.
The high artistic quality and innovative user interface engaged a
significant worldwide audience with 49,208 visits in 12 months, 57% from
outside the UK.
Many of the key figures of the English literary tradition have been
essayists. From the eighteenth century onwards the form has been
associated with the vibrant periodical literature (Addison, Johnson,
Steele) that reaches its zenith in the nineteenth century (Burke,
Coleridge, De Quincy, Hazlitt, Lamb). The twentieth century has also seen
important practitioners (Eliot, Forster, Huxley, Orwell, Woolf). Formally,
the essay is highly diverse: in its early stages it was characterised by
ratiocinative processes strongly linked to the linearity of prose, while
later exponents have enjoyed its more associative dimensions. Ranging from
the rigorous testing of an idea (assay) to more personal explorations of,
or reaching towards the expression of, ideas and experiences (essay), the
form has been adopted in literature, politics, and philosophy. More
recently other media have appropriated the concept (cinema, music,
photography). Self, the creative orchestrator of Kafka's Wound, is
himself a prolific and distinguished essayist.
`Kafka's Wound' evolved the long-form, transliterative, multi-media
digital literary essay to provoke debate, disseminate expertise, and
encourage innovative approaches to digital arts. The research engaged with
the following questions:
- Could there be a way to embellish the unadorned line of the text
without losing the impetus and coherence of the reading experience?
- Could we create a rhythmic flow in and out of the sequence of
sentences, to take in other texts, video and audio material, pictures
and photographs, so that reading becomes multidimensional not merely
- Will enriching the line deepen it or confuse it, energise it or
dissipate its élan?
The research was interdisciplinary, multi-disciplinary, collaborative,
and practice based, involving a wide range of creative practices in
addition to literature, including: theatre and performance; film,
television and digital media; music; translation; creative technologies;
and computer-mediated communication. It engaged with questions in cultural
production, the roles of media and cultural texts, forms and practices,
and with issues of consumption and reception, media dissemination and
publication, media and cultural audiences, and the potentials of digital
The digital output includes the virtual, textual, non-textual, visual,
sonic, static, and dynamic, across the following categories: electronic
resources and publications, digital and broadcast media, films, videos and
other types of media presentation (game, machinima, music, documentary,
dance, puppetry, animation, interviews), software design and development
(micro-site and user interface).
The research was approached as an exercise in co-creation and
collaboration. In terms of the central literary text, there was to be no
compromise in quality, depth or length. Self wrote: "We aim to produce a
digital literary essay that is 'through composed', weaving together all
media: computer graphics, music, filmed performance, video diary and
linked data into something that will hopefully fully express the praxis
involved in composing a literary essay." Researching archival
media/material happened in parallel and some archival content was
digitised for the first time. A number of documentary films were made as
the project progressed and these were also integrated into the digital
Led by Will Self the project included major contributions from Akram Khan
(Particle Physics and e- Science), Jayne Wilton (artist, funded by a grant
from the Leverhulme Trust), Broderick Chow (Theatre), Johannes Birringer
(Drama and Performance Technologies), Mary Richards (Theatre), Olinkha
Gustafson-Pearce (Graphic Communication), Peter Wiegold (Music), Sean
Gaston (English), Tanya Krzywinska (Screen Studies), William Leahy
(English), Vanja Garaj (Digital Design), and Camille Baker (Multimedia
& Broadcast Media Design). Input in the area of German translation
came from Dr Karen Seago (Director, MA Translating Popular Culture) and
Amanda Hopkinson (Visiting Professor, Literary Translation), City
University, London. Further archival and technical materials were offered
by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (in association with Matthew Herbert), the
Imperial War Museum, and the National Centre for Jewish Film.
LRB (via Helen Jeffrey) retained overall project management,
technical, and editorial responsibility. Quality assurance was monitored
by the LRB and the Managing Editor of The Space had overarching
responsibility for the quality and compliance of all commissions. ACE and
the BBC specified high standards for audio, image, and video files,
suitable for broadcast on HDTV, and all media files are hosted by the BBC.
The submission processes transcoded submitted media files for playback on
a range of devices. The commission contract required adherence to
procedures to control content licensing and ATFOD compliance. Interactive
content was required in HTML5 to support the specified digital platforms.
References to the research
W. Self et al, "Kafka's Wound: A digital essay", 9th August
Funding and Commission:
London Review of Books, grant towards the costs of The Space to
commission RILEDA (Arts Council England, March-Oct 2012, £45,000).
Digital Humanities Award 2012, Category "Best Digital Humanities blog,
article, or short publication", 2nd runner-up. http://dhawards.org/dhawards2012/results/
Future Glimpses session: Digital Research Conference 11 September 2012,
University of Oxford http://digital-research-2012.oerc.ox.ac.uk/programme.
Slides here: http://www.slideshare.net/imhelenj/digital-research-conference-oxford-3-2
Details of the impact
The independent evaluation for Arts Council England stated: `A small
number of projects [including RILEDA] were consistently identified, by
arts organisations and audiences alike, as showing innovation in terms of
art form development and production, creating genuinely new experiences'
and "[RILEDA] is both a high quality artistic experience and highly
innovative." RILEDA was short- listed for a Digital Humanities Award in
the category: "Best Digital Humanities blog, article, or short
publication" and awarded 2nd runner-up (Feb 2013). The awards
recognise talent and expertise in the digital humanities globally and are
decided by public votes.
Impact and Reach: RILEDA is principally distributed via the
internet. Significant global audiences have engaged with the digital essay
(9 Aug 2012- 8 Aug 2013); 49,208 visits, 118,165 page-views, 30,569 unique
visitors. Average visit duration is high (7+ minutes) and bounce-rate low
(2.6%) evidencing positive engagement. Returning visitor numbers are high
(39%); readers are re- engaging with the content. The UK represents 43% of
visits with USA, Canada, Germany, Australia, India and Brazil sending high
levels of traffic. Referral traffic is the strongest driver of visits
(49%) and social sharing sites perform well. The `Writer's Blog'
documenting the early part of the project had 3,239 visits, 6,988
page-views, and 2,100 unique visitors from 10 May 2012 to 8 August 2012,
mainly from the UK (62%). Social media provided insight into public
sentiment. Analysing tweets from the first month showed 96% of comments
expressing an opinion were positive.
In September 2012 The Space became available on Freestat channel 908. On
9 September 2012 the RILEDA documentary of Prof Self's research trip to
Prague, directed by Ian Potts (BBC), was broadcast on the Community
Channel (Freeview channel 87).
`Kafka's Wound' also generated various live iterations and performances
including a CD version (Kafka's Wound, Peter Wiegold and Notes
Inégales), itself a studio re-composition of material embedded in the
essay and improvised live performances. There have been performances at
Club Inégales in London (http://www.clubinegales.com/),
and the Cheltenham Literary Festival (August 2013), and the CD was well
reviewed by The Telegraph and The Independent.
Digital Humanities Impact: LRB held a debate on the
`Digital Essay', in September 2012, with Prof Self, Helen Jeffrey
(Associate Publisher), Nicky Spice (Publisher) and Dan Franklin (Digital
Publisher, Random House), with an audience of 100, including two leading
figures from the BBC. The film is online (1,250 views to 8 August 2013).
The debate was reported in the Association for Management Education and
Development's `e-Organisations & People', in the article "Writing with
the internet: paradise or desert for developers?" by Clare Coyne,
concluding; "For e-O&P, then, the digital essay offers an exciting
possibility, and one that should be harnessed sooner rather than later." The
Literary Platform, an online magazine covering current thinking
about books and technology, featured RILEDA in two editorials by Kat
Sommers: `[RILEDA] shows that the fusion of associative thinking with
linear reading leads to an immersive reading experience.'
Helen Jeffrey (LRB) presented RILEDA in a `Future Glimpses' session at
the Digital Research Conference, University of Oxford (2012). Johannes
Birringer (Brunel) gave a keynote on RILEDA at the Digital Echoes
Symposium: The Digital Economy, Coventry University (2013), dealing with
digital archives and new modes of arts documentation and preservation.
RILEDA was referenced by Russell Bowden, in "New information and
learning landscapes — challenges to bridge the information 'gaps'",
presented at the IFLA World Library and Information Congress, Singapore
RILEDA is referenced by a number of academic institutions as a digital
resource for students; examples of transliterative text (University of
Alabama, USA), online resources (Edinburgh College of Art, UK) , `digital
writing' (Duke University, USA) and in the American Creative
Nonfiction Magazine article `Binary Truths: Creative nonfiction in
our electronic age: Required Reading' by Eric
LeMay. The Bodleian Library, Oxford, in requesting permission
to add RILEDA to their digital archive, stated that `Kafka's Wound' has
been identified as being of lasting research value and worthy of permanent
preservation for the benefit of historians and researchers.'
Technical and Intellectual Property Impact: RILEDA has already
changed archival and technological practice and policy. LRB
implemented technology developed for RILEDA to display footnotes within
their 34-year online archive and to incorporate audio and video into new
essays. RILEDA technology was adapted for a micro-site to showcase
`Enquirer', a site-specific drama performed in Glasgow, London, and
Belfast in 2012, and exploring the state of the UK newspaper industry
through journalists' testimonies (1,949 visits Oct 2012-Aug 2013).
Oliver Brock (digital archive researcher) gave a "Rights and IP" seminar
in the BBC Academy programme `Building digital capacity for the arts', in
July 2012, outlining his approach to rights clearances in the context of
He was invited to present the project at the International Federation of
Television Archives World Conference, London, in September 2012.
Cultural Innovation and Policy, Publishing Impact: the BBC College
of Production invited Helen Jeffrey to participate in a podcast, Arts in
the Digital World, November 2012, discussing the experience of working on
RILEDA. Helen Jeffrey (LRB) also presented RILEDA at the `Festival of
Publishing', London, in January 2013, encouraging independent book
publishers to engage with innovative digital projects.
The success of RILEDA has supported the case for a future development of
a public digital arts service. The ACE evaluation comments that The Space
has been a huge success, proving the concept for a digital platform that
offers the Arts.... we are actively exploring a new iteration of the
platform, which we aim to launch [in 2014]." RILEDA was noted as the
project most `consistently identified' by practitioners, arts
organisations, and the public as `showing innovation' and `creating
genuinely new experiences'.
Sources to corroborate the impact
`Statistics and Sentiment: A Report on the digital essay "Kafka's Wound"'
by Helen Jeffrey, LRB: http://www.slideshare.net/imhelenj/statistics-and-sentiment-a-report-on-the-digital-essay-kafkas-wound
BBC College of Production podcast; Arts in the Digital World
Ivan Hewett reviews a set from Notes Inégales featuring Jewish music
e-Organisations and People, 19.4 (2012) `Writing with the
internet: paradise or desert for developers?' Clare Coyne, Association for
Management Education and Development http://www.amed.org.uk/page/welcome-to-e-o-p-winter-2012
Creative Nonfiction Magazine, Issue #47 (Winter 2013), `Binary
Truths: Creative nonfiction in our electronic age Required Reading', Eric
Impress Books Festival of Publishing, 31 January 2013, Freeword Centre,
The Literary Platform report on the Digital Essay debate:
Letter requesting permission to archive received from Digital Archivist,
Bodleian Library, Oxford (September 2012)