Cultural Recycling in the Postdigital Age

by Miriam Llamas Ubieto (Volume editor) Johanna Vollmeyer (Volume editor)
©2024 Edited Collection 304 Pages


This volume explores the development towards mass digitisation and datafication and its transforming influence on our way of organising our cultural knowledge and heritage. In this context, cultural recycling plays a crucial role, even if it is in itself not a new phenomenon. However, the quality and quantity of recycling processes have altered profoundly in the postdigital age. The contributions of this volume consider various manifestations of these recycling processes and practices by providing the reader with a wide range of different case studies. Their authors highlight characteristic features of postdigital recycling that differ from the qualities of recycling processes and practices in previous periods. What the case studies show are the different recyclings of canonical texts, folktales, and cultural productions in new postdigital environments, but also what happens to history and memory in today’s times and even how self-declared pre-digital authors cannot escape postdigital strategies for cultural recycling.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Cultural Recycling in the Postdigital Age: An Introduction
  • Postdigital Cultural Recycling
  • Postdigital Recycling – Doing Memory and the Narrative
  • Whatever Happened to History? Cultural Recycling and Notions of the Past since Postmodernism
  • Predigital Narratives for a Postdigital World: The Case of Amélie Nothomb
  • The New Art of Making Books Revisited: Postdigital Recycling of the Literary
  • Postdigital Remediation and Recycling off the Page: The Collaborative Work Besmette Stad
  • From Memes to Literature and Vice-Versa: The Recycling Canon
  • The Precession of Monoliths: Planetary Recycling of a Space Age Mythology
  • Recycling of Haunted House and Spiritualism Motifs in two Postdigital Narratives
  • Incarnations of Little Red Riding Hood in Board and Video Games
  • Literary Recycling of Traditional Tales. The Path towards the Postdigital Traditional Tale
  • The Creation of Memes Based on Traditional Folk Tales in a Teacher-training Degree Classroom
  • Cervantes and Bécquer in the 21st Century: Literary Recycling of Texts as Educational Tools

Johanna Vollmeyer and Miriam Llamas Ubieto

Universidad Complutense de Madrids

Cultural Recycling in the Postdigital Age: An Introduction

This book attempts to provide an understanding of the possibilities and restrictions of current cultural recycling phenomena in the postdigital age. The contradiction of an age when massive digitisation projects make our cultural and literary heritage more accessible than ever is that the awareness of that heritage appears to be constantly shrinking. This poses new challenges in postdigital studies: understanding and analysing new continuities between the analogue and the digital (as well as the alterations of collective and identitarian narratives within them); new cultural recycling strategies and practices; and the traces that the postdigital leaves in the recycling processes and in their outcomes. We offer material for the exploration of how the awareness of the cultural heritage can be increased in a conscientious and meaningful way. This collection also contributes to a better understanding of the technological ecosystem in which we are immersed and to which we contribute through our practices. Finally, this volume interrogates specifically the possibilities of the literary within a postdigital framework.

The use of digital technologies has become a quotidian practice in which the analogue and the digital can no longer be seen as separate. Our lives are computerised in a way we have never experienced before, leading to a new analogue-digital continuum (constant connectedness, immediacy, accessibility etc.). However, the ‘new’ digital media have become less visible, and therefore less “new” the more they have become ubiquitous, due to their massive use since 2006/2010. This postdigital condition has provoked unprecedented qualitative changes in our daily cultural practices, in our media production and use, in the way art reacts to these changes, but also how art relates to these new technologies. For this reason, the digital should not be understood as something counter to our analogue reality, but as something that permeates it as our ‘reality’ is increasingly infused with digital information (Internet, algorithmisation, AI, big data, virtual simulations). In this process, the Internet itself has changed as we experience a growing personalization of the digital grid, we are moving in. We rely on semantic webs with platform structures that foster a culture of participation, propagation, and convergence, where we can observe content flows through multiple media. All information seems both personal and omnipresent concurrently. The postdigital condition implies the transformation of experience and perception, a transformation caused by technological changes that impact the forms of (tele)communication; the storage and reconfiguration of knowledge; and the production, reception, and circulation of cultural and literary elements.

Publications about similar concepts such as intertextuality, adaptation, appropriation, hypertextuality, transmedia, remix, sampling, etc. exist, but their conceptual approach and their epistemological conceptualization are different from ‘cultural recycling’. We introduce an innovative way of conceptualizing these and other new phenomena. Our hypothesis is that ‘recycling’ is a notion that inherently implies time and memory (repetition, iteration, and dissemination) as well as movement (circulation), therefore going beyond similar studies noted above. Its potential for exploring cultural phenomena of the postdigital age has not previously been unveiled. It allows us to rethink this particularly extended tendency of ‘putting into use again/reuse and relive’ in our postdigital age. Not only is the bibliography relating to media studies considered, but also the (few) studies about ‘recycling’ and ‘recycling’-discourses in other fields, such as economy, ecocriticism, and memory studies. What is particularly new in our interdisciplinary contribution is that it bridges the gap between cultural recycling, literature and the postdigital condition by providing an approach that unites the fields of media studies, cultural studies, and literary studies, which allows for the creation of a new research field where only a few, indirect contributions currently exist.

Cultural recycling is intimately related to the postdigital condition because it is one of its expressions. The replicative reproduction and circulation of textual production and visual content in the current media ecosystem have increased, since they are part of the altered communication methods that form the basis of the postdigital condition. We understand by postdigital recycling a processing action on a used material, waste, or product that implies its detachment from its initial context and its subsequent return to a new life cycle in ways affected by the postdigital condition. This operation implies circulation as well as revaluation. The action of processing can be creation from or reuse of something pre-existing. It involves a technical application and implies iterativity, because it circulates by replicating itself between producer(s) and receiver(s), albeit with variation. This variation can be minimal and be only a change of function, or it can be a transformation in production, circulation, or reception. The concept of postdigital recycling – understood as a typical cultural practice of the postdigital condition – allows the interrogation of practices that have become an everyday trend due to the specific form of reproduction and the form of postdigital recurrence. These characteristics of reproduction and recurrence are inherent to analogue-digital practices in the postdigital era, so that the notion of postdigital recycling is based on an important temporal component in a double sense: reiteration and circularity, situated between distribution and circulation, between event and continuity.

The book addresses academics and researchers from humanities and social sciences, students and university professors who might use this publication for educational purposes. It is also of interest for cultural and media institutions, as well as cultural agents that deal with digital media. It is particularly relevant to media studies, cultural studies, comparative literature, literary studies, arts and visual studies, communication studies and digital humanities.

The contributions of this volume focus on cultural recycling in the postdigital age articulating both theoretical approximations and case studies. The case studies gathered here provide a wide range of unique approaches, but they are all interrelated by highlighting characteristic features of postdigital recycling that differ from the qualities of recycling in previous periods. They are also bound together by the intention to illuminate how these phenomena have become global and how similar developments can be observed in different languages and cultural spheres.

In order to address each of the contribution’s particularities with respect to the initial question, the contributions are structured so that more theoretical works appear first, followed by case studies. The first chapters deal with more theoretical approaches to postdigital cultural recycling and its impact on memory and history. Miriam Llamas Ubieto explores the development towards mass digitalisation and datafication that transforms our way of communicating and organising our knowledge in the postdigital age. Recycling has become a dominant trend because it is also part of the inherent dynamics of the postdigital age. Additionally, cultural recycling practices have acquired specific characteristics driven by unique features of the postdigital condition, including AI, platformisation, rendering, robotics, physics simulations, etc. The contribution first explains the notions of postdigital, recycling and cultural recycling and compares them with other associated terms. Then, it explores the specificities of the present phenomenon of postdigital cultural recycling. Finally, it addresses the epistemological productivity of the notion for understanding communicative phenomena characterised by the postdigital condition. For this purpose, Llamas Ubieto analyses various discourses and conceptualizations of the term ‘recycling’ and explores cultural and literary examples of postdigital cultural recycling applying a mediological,1 a cultural theoretical and a philological approach.

The changes in postdigital culture described in the first chapter have an immediate effect on the way we do memory. Remembering and creating memory – be it individual or collective – is highly influenced and dependent on growing digitalisation and datafication. In her contribution, Johanna Vollmeyer puts the focus on literary texts as cultural products that are recycled in and through digital media and contribute to the creation of memory. Through two examples, she analyses how digital media appropriate these texts and adjust them to their algorithmic logic, and how literary texts reflect this process.

Linda Maeding deals with the past from a different angle. Her contribution focuses on history and its meaning in a postmodernist age. Through the Instagram account of Sophie Scholl, she raises questions about continuity in an age of radicalised technological reproducibility. Against the backdrop of Frederic Jameson’s critique of postmodernism, Maeding elucidates how cultural recycling is now frequently conceived as an ahistorical practice that plays with nostalgia and retromania instead.

A strong focus on narratives is on the fore of Amelia Sanz’s analysis of Amélie Nothomb’s novels. Sanz focus lies on the clearly predigital narratives of the literary texts of this French author that nevertheless are made for a postdigital world. Taking advantage of the selective, performative, and collective features of the concept of recycling, Sanz examines how an author such as Amélie Nothomb, who determined to show herself as predigital, develops a storytelling by means of postdigital strategies for cultural recycling.

Questions about the use of canonical work in artistic practices for postdigital publishing are the topic of Maria Goicoechea’s contribution. Taking Ulises Carrión’s pioneering manifesto “The New Art of Making Books” (1975) as a starting point, she draws readers’ attention to the work of artists that use canonical literature as raw material for their pieces, such as Jesse England’s E-Book Back Up (2009), Jason Huff’s AutoSummarize (2010), or Mimi Cabell and Jason Huff’s American Psycho (2011). Goicoechea explores the different strategies involved in the process of cultural and literary recycling that these artists employ. A special focus lies on the use of print affordances as subversive and performative gestures that open a dialogue about contemporary notions of authorship, and originality.

The presence and recycling of canonical works is also at the fore in María José Calvo’s analysis “Besmette stad” (infected city), a Gesamtkunstwerk inspired by the poem collection Bezette stad, 1921 (occupied city) by Flemish poet Paul van Ostaijen. His poems describe the German occupation of Antwerp during the First World War and are now recycled in such a way that the verses are reproduced unaltered but put into a new context – the Covid-19 pandemic. There they are remediated into new cross-media artifacts. As a result, the historical past is appropriated creatively by not only recreating the original in the present but also by embedding it into a new media context where a new message can arise.

The example of “Besmette stad” also shows how recycling can be understood as the basis for the creation of a canon. Adrián Menéndez de la Cuesta takes up this aspect of recycling processes when he focuses on how literary works are remediated in social networks through memes that help to reinforce or create a literary canon. He analyses how contemporary literature incorporates references to memes that, at least partially, have become ‘canonical’. His research is guided by questioning which canon of literary works is most likely to be recycled and how do literature and memes interact in this recycling loop.

The importance of social media for the development of postdigital recycling is also highlighted by Antonio Domínguez Leiva. His case study deals with the proliferation of monoliths as an homage to S. Kubrick and A. Clarke’s classic 2001 Space Odyssey (1968). Only the massive distribution of images that show a monolith found in Utah made a meta-recycling of previous recycling processes employed by Kubrick and Clarke possible. This evokes a citational game that raises questions about classical issues of authorship and attribution. With Kubrick’s monolith, contemporary art rediscovers some of its origins and evokes the original film and that of the works from which it was inspired by means of the same hypermodern quotation method.

Changes in the postdigital narratives are also at stake in Rafael Vidal Sanz’ contribution about the recycling of ‘the Ghostly’ and Spiritism. Throughout time, ‘the ghostly’, the search for contact with a disappeared or invisible world, has found different media in which to nest. At the end of the nineteenth century, a new typology of photography emerged, ‘spiritual photography’, which through overexposure sought to print spirits on a photosensitive plate. Now, the new postdigital media, characterized by their virtuality, can serve as a medium for the ghostly. In his contribution Vidal Sanz analyses the way in which films, such as Personal Shopper (2016) by Olivier Assayas or Host (2020) by Rob Savage, introduce elements such as spiritism and ghosts into a recycling process by means of postdigital technologies.

The postdigital is also characterised by its interactivity and the double role of consumers as producers simultaneously. In this context, Silviano Carrasco analyses various recycling products of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood in board and video games. The author focuses on the active participation of prosumers in the development and marketing strategies of video games, hence in the creation of both the content and the appearance/design. Nevertheless, the same players seem to be hesitant when it comes to incorporating apps into classical board games that are frequently considered as invasive, for example.

Folktales not only play an important role in games, but in contemporary child literature, too. Teresa Cañadas García takes a closer look at the basic features of classical tales that are oral communication: universality and cohesive capacity. Both features that enhance their propensity for re-elaboration, re-appropriation, and re-use processes. In this context, recycling is nothing totally new but a typical narrative strategy in children’s literature. However, recent remediation adapt traditional tales to today’s world of technology in an unprecedented way as Cañadas shows.

Likewise, María del Pilar García-Carcedo is interested in a didactic approach towards the recycling of classical texts, in this case folk tales in social media. She analyses the production of memes created by students of the Faculty of Education at Complutense University, based on various versions of some of the best-known folk tales in the world (Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Sleeping Beauty, as well as on a lesser-known tale in the Hispanic tradition, Blancaflor). By means of her student’s production she shows how traditional folk tales have been the object of a wide variety of versions and transformations through the ages, but that their skeleton, structure, and archetypes do not vary. That converts the stories into perfect material for modern digital recycling.

Begoña Regeiro Salgado also puts predigital narratives at stake. Her case study focuses on texts written in a predigital age that are now recycled for educational purposes. She shows how cultural recycling has not only become a key mechanism in the processes of production and reception of literary texts but is also a key strategy in the didactics of literature. A frequent critique is that teachers often fail to present classical texts to students in an attractive or meaningful way. In her contribution she proposes that literary recycling with postdigital tools can help establish a contact with the text as it was originally conceived by the author.

This volume, along with the contributions contained in it, is the result of the studies carried out within the scope of the REC-LIT (REC-LIT Cultural Recycling: Transliteratures in the Postdigital Age, RTI2018-094607-B-I00) research project, funded by the EU’s ERDF/Spain’s Ministry of Science and Innovation – AEI: an interdisciplinary project based on theoretical and applied research, with the purposes to identify cultural recycling strategies of the literary, and to find traces of postdigital culture, as well as postglobal and postdata tendencies.

1 A form of media theory that is based on the interdependency of technical mediality and semiosis. See Albrecht Koschorke: Körperströme und Schriftverkehr. Mediologie des 18. Jahrhunderts. Fink: Munich 1999, p. 11.

Miriam Llamas Ubieto

Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Postdigital Cultural Recycling

Abstract: Given that we are now in a postdigital condition (Cramer 2014, Cox 2014, Berry 2015, Jordan 2020) that affects all our daily cultural practices, we have to ask ourselves how this affects the production, circulation and reception of cultural elements. As the shift towards the postdigital condition involves using mass digitisation and datafication to transform the way we communicate and organise knowledge, these practices of production, circulation and reception show that content recycling is now the dominant trend. This trend is driven by several specific features of postdigital culture. This chapter investigates the extent to which these recycling practices and phenomena have acquired specific characteristics as a result of this postdigital condition. Using various discourses and conceptualisations of the term ‘recycling’ applied to culture, it addresses the question of whether “cultural recycling” is an appropriate and productive conceptualisation of certain communicative phenomena characterised by the postdigital condition.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2024 (April)
Cultural recycling Postdigital Recycling processes Transliterature Digitisation Datafication Literature and media Digital Writing / Digital Reading Social media Meme Algorithmisation Digital Culture Postdigital Culture Virality Circulation
Lausanne, Berlin, Bruxelles, Chennai, New York, Oxford, 2024. 304 pp., 8 fig. col., 27 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Miriam Llamas Ubieto (Volume editor) Johanna Vollmeyer (Volume editor)

Miriam Llamas Ubieto is a senior lecturer at Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM), where she has taught German literature and comparative literature since 2001. She is a member of the research group LEETHI (Spanish and European Literatures from Text to Hypermedia, UCM). Her publications deal mainly with contemporary German literature; literary theory, interculturality and transculturality; globalisation and literature; memory studies and digital humanities. Johanna Vollmeyer is a lecturer at Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM). Her publications deal with memory and its relation to trauma, power and violence, as well as constructions of identity and alterity in contemporary German literature. She is currently researching a new conceptualisation of time and memory in the postdigital era. Her PhD was awarded with the Premio Extraordinario (Award for extraordinary achievements) from the Universidad Complutense. She is a member of the research group LEETHI (Spanish and European Literatures from Text to Hypermedia, UCM) and head of the research group ReOTi (Rethinking the Order of Time).


Title: Cultural Recycling in the Postdigital Age