Born-Again Digital: iPoe

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)

iPoe on iOS and Android

In the next few weeks, a series of entries will appear here that will concern themselves with the notion of a digital rebirth, a sort of digital reincarnation of printed texts. These entries will not refer to merely digitized versions of classic texts. Instead, they will highlight digital publications that present printed texts in a completely new light and that share with born-digital literature the need to be read in specialized devices.

In March last year, my attention was caught by iPoe, an edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories specifically designed for mobile devices.  In turn, this sparked my interest in other similar publications and my involvement in the CantApp, an edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales conceived for reading in mobile phones and tablets which will be published this year.  This reimagining of classical texts for modern multimedia devices is what I refer to as born-again digital literature.

There is a verse by Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, that reads “Él vierta añejo vino en odres nuevos” (May he pour mature wine in new wineskins) and which the Spanish publishing house, Editorial Castalia, used to name its collection of Spanish language classic texts (Odres nuevos). The allusion refers to presenting old content in new containers. In part, this is what we are interested in: how the new container might reshape the way in which we perceive its contents.

Regular readers of this site know that electronic literature allows multiple stories told from different perspectives, that it is not limited by the linearity of the printed narrative and that can make use of graphics, animations and sounds. In some cases, eLiterature can remove almost all written text to replace it with stories mainly based on images (just as Donna Leishman does in Deviant and RedRidinghood). It was only a matter of time before born-digital literature started to influence the way we represent the classics when presented in digital format.

The touchscreen editions of Edgar Allan Poe’s tales, iPoe and iPoe2, are great examples of new ways to present the interaction between text and images. In the case of Poe, however, this is not a new phenomenon. There are many illustrated versions of his stories and several graphic novels based on his work. For example, French illustrator Benjamin Lacombe produced an edition of Tales of the Macabre with detailed drawings.

Tales of the Macabre, illustrated by Benjamin Lacombe
Tales of the Macabre, illustrated by Benjamin Lacombe

Yoanna Roussel has also produced an illustrated edition of “The Black Cat.”

"The Black Cat," illustrated by Yohanna Roussel
“The Black Cat,” illustrated by Yohanna Roussel

These are examples, among many others. In this way, one could say that iPoe belongs to a long tradition of illustrated books, with the difference that it also includes sound, music and animation. Each of these features serves the purpose of emphasizing different aspects of the texts.

Next entry: iPoe: “The Oval Portrait”