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Will Self re-imagines the literary essay for the digital age


Will Self, Brunel’s Professor of Contemporary Thought, has developed a new form of literary essay re-imagined for the digital age.

“Kafka’s Wound”: A Digital Literary Essay is a subjective examination of Franz Kafka’s work through the lens of one of his stories, A Country Doctor (1919), and in particular through the aperture of the wound described in the story.

The essay was commissioned and directed by the London Review of Books, the largest literary magazine in Europe, and brought together a group of web developers, editors, researchers, academics and artists, led by Self. The team explored the possibilities offered by digital media to fashion a different kind of literary essay, interspersed with music, animation, film and text inspired by Kafka's story.

The innovative project is highly collaborative, with over 70 contributors researching and creating much of the additional content. These contributors included a host of Brunel staff and students who Self challenged to produce creative digital responses to the story, including readings of Kafka’s work by Brunel School of Arts Professor Johannes Birringer.

Archival material was unearthed and incorporated, and readings, interviews, translations, debates and videos documenting the creative process were also interwoven with the essay, allowing readers a unique insight into the writer’s intellectual journey.

“I began by talking to people about my own ideas, about where I might be going with this piece before I had written it,” explained Self in an interview featured on The Space. “It became an exercise in extended collaboration in thought in real time”. 

The essay is available online and through smartphone, tablet and connected TV, and will be exhibited at The Space, a new digital arts platform developed by the Arts Council in partnership with the BBC.