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#ELRPROMO: “Other Codes / Cóid Eile: Digital Literature in Context”

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In a few days the event “Other Codes / Cóid Eile: Digital Literature in Context” will take place in the Irish city of Galway. The organizer Anne Sofia Karhio, a researcher in the field of electronic literature, accepted the invitation to participate in an interview to promote the event.

This is the first #ELRPROMO, a new topic in the blog that aims to the announcement of forthcoming events in the field of electronic literature.

ELR: Anne Sofia Karhio you are a researcher in the field of electronic literature. When did you start studying electronic literature and what are your main research interests in this field?

Anne Sofia Karhio: I have, like many others working on electronic literature, been trained in more traditional literary scholarship. I studied comparative literature at the University of Helsinki, and then English literature at Trinity College Dublin and finally at the National University of Ireland, Galway, where I got my doctorate and where I’m still based.  I’m not sure whether “traditional” is exactly the right word here, though, as I was always drawn to the more quirky or experimental. My initial interest in electronic literature was also a result of that: I simply became curious about what happens when words move from page to the digital domain, all the strange shapes and forms they can take, and what this means for how we understand language and literary expression. It was only after my PhD that I really started looking into digital literature, and I have to admit that it has been quite a learning experience, though a really rewarding one.

My postdoctoral research project, co-funded by the Irish Research Council and the European Commission via Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, took me to the University of Bergen to work with Scott Rettberg, Jill Walker-Rettberg and other researchers in electronic literature and digital culture there. It is difficult to explain how life changing that experience was – the research community in Bergen is quite amazing, and really welcoming for newcomers. Due to the Bergen connection I have also been lucky to be able to connect with many well-known scholars, authors and artists, some of whom have since visited Galway – these include Scott Rettberg, Rod Coover, Maria Engberg, Jason Nelson, and Alinta Krauth.

My current research focuses on poetry, technology and landscape, and I’m therefore particularly interested in the shifting border between verbal and visual expression in all kinds of multimodal environments. My research has been largely focused on form, aesthetics, and close reading and analysis, and there has been less of that practical or creative input that characterizes the work of so many scholars of electronic literature. At the same time, practice has started infiltrating my research in all kinds of small and perhaps unexpected ways – like trying out augmented reality apps to explore how these technologies frame the visual environment, and so forth.

ELR: What is your approach to electronic literature? Do you see electronic literature as experimental literature? Do you make a comparative study with other artistic practices?

Anne Sofia Karhio: I have no background in IT or programming, so I have had to learn a lot of things from scratch just to get beyond the level of surface aesthetics of many works. I also continue to work on print poetry as well as digital literature, and want to consider questions of landscape, for example, thematically as well as through the technological platforms and practices. To jump to the last part of that question first, the concept of landscape has its historical roots in the visual arts, so this is a constant point of reference. Overall, I guess it is safe to say that the borders between art forms are currently in turmoil, which means that cinematic expression, music and sound, and all kinds of embodied and haptic technologies are also increasingly relevant. It can be a little bit of a balancing act, sometimes, to retain an openness to these developments, and still keep a focus on the specific topic of one’s research. But I suppose as a researcher I’m most comfortable in inhabiting that transition zone, historically as well as aesthetically. For me, the new digital homes for literature were never a sign that literature would be discarding print to embrace the digital; rather, there is a range of transformative exchanges between these two domains.

It is hardly controversial to say that experimentation often characterizes electronic literature, not least because of the relative novelty of the medium. Many dislike the term “new media”, as computer technologies as well as electronic literature have been around for decades. I speak of “new media technologies” in my own research, but more in the sense of technologies that are new, rather than New Media as shorthand for late 20th-early 21st century digital technologies. This also allows for a historical perspective: I’m quite interested in the work of poets who relate the current historical moment to how writers and artists engaged with the technological changes in the Victorian era, for example – the “new media” of that period. The Northern Irish poet Sinéad Morrissey is a wonderful example of that.

I suppose that like any other art form, electronic literature can be conventional or experimental, depending on whether it repeats pre-existing forms and practices, or finds new ways of challenging them. But one does encounter particularly many practitioners who are drawn to the idea of testing new methods of creativity and dissemination. There is more than a hint of that eccentric scientist mentality, and of course the question is how patience with scholarship and aesthetic craft relate to the fascination of the “new”. And then there is the issue of aesthetic and artistic communities, and the national and cultural institutions that foster them (or fail to do so). Experimentation and artistic license are not part of the culture in quite the same way in different countries. Ireland, for example, has produced pretty revolutionary experimental writers, like Beckett and Joyce – but they did their experimentation elsewhere, for reasons that relate to the culture and society here. Experimental literary communities may have found it more challenging to prosper in Ireland, for various reasons, though there are individual scholars and practitioners who are testing new platforms here, too, like Jeneen Naji in Maynooth, the electronic literature author Michael J. Maguire, or James O’Sullivan who runs New Binary Press. Not to even mention quite a few younger researchers that are curious about the field.

ELR: In 2015 you co-organized the ELO2015 Conference “The End(s) of Electronic Literature” and co-edited the Conference Program and Festival Catalog. What are in your opinion some of the most important outcomes of that event?

Anne Sofia Karhio: The ELO2015 conference was quite an overwhelming experience, partially due to the sheer number of proposed papers and art works. The diversity of the material covered in the catalog, for example, makes it quite difficult to make any kind of a generalizing statement on the conference contributions thematically or even technologically. But the conference topic or title, “End(s) of Electronic Literature”, does suggest a certain coming of age of the field, I think, though perhaps those who have been a part of the organization longer might be better equipped to evaluate that. I believe there were varying opinions on that title, and whether it reflected some kind of pessimism regarding the future of electronic literature, e-lit being “done”. But more than that, I’d say it reflected a historical moment of a kind of coming of age – now that electronic literature has been practiced for decades, and has more institutional recognition, there is also a need to reflect on its purpose, its changing forms, and perhaps even its key concepts in a way that may not have been similarly possible before. What the ELO2015 conference certainly highlighted for me was that the sheer variety of what is now covered under the term “electronic literature” is such that it raises all kinds of questions, mostly very interesting ones, on what we understand even by the term “literature” in a wider sense. The question is far from new, but we can now approach it from new perspectives.

ELR: From 11-12 May 2017 the conference “Other Codes / Cóid Eile: Digital Literature in Context” will take place. What will be the topics discussed on this occasion?

Anne Sofia Karhio: I spent quite a long time trying to find the right phrasing for the title of the conference. The term “context” is not entirely groundbreaking, of course, but here it partially stems from this sense that formal, aesthetic and technological questions still overshadow an awareness of that extra-literary (or extra-artistic) terrain from which electronic literature, too, emerges. It is interesting – and sometimes slightly frustrating – to see how the old debate regarding formalism and aesthetics versus cultural identity or context still keeps repeating itself, even in the field of electronic literature. But I’d like to go beyond that and seriously consider how literature in the digital domain can offer a new aesthetics for social critique, how new technologies make it possible to examine the more sinister aspects of the new digital society from within in the context of globalization, for example, and how questions of linguistic difference now also assume a new relevance. The bilingual title of the conference, “other codes” as well as the Irish language “cóid eile”, is not there just for a bit of exotic cultural flavor! I’d like to think that the approaches of the invited speakers that we will hear from at this event reflect the variety of ways in which “context” can be understood: Sandy Baldwin, Jessica Pressman, María Mencía and Scott Rettberg have all engaged with it differently, like looking at non-Western electronic literatures and global issues, questions of gender and sexuality, precedents in literary movements in the 20th century, multimodal art practices, and aesthetic communities or new genres.

ELR: What do you hope or foresee for the future of electronic literature?

Anne Sofia Karhio: I think as humanities scholars we are naturally equipped to defend the importance of art and literature and have a sense of how they shape the human experience, and how they profoundly interrogate our relationship with the non-verbal as well as the non-human domain. But the more I learn about how digital media technologies impact on our environment, and how their connections to all kinds of questions of economic and political power, surveillance and control work, the more convinced I am that literary scholars and practitioners, as well as digital artists in other fields, have a huge responsibility to make visible (sometimes literally!) what these technologies do what they are used for, and what possibilities of expression, agency, or resistance they give us. Digital arts and humanities are too often understood merely as applying new technologies to humanities research on established forms of cultural expression. This might sound a little bit bombastic or lofty, but I think if we are at all worthy of calling ourselves humanities scholars, we also have to do the opposite (and this is what so many practitioners of electronic literature already do): we must apply the rigor and critical force of humanities creativity and scholarship to all aspects of the digital. Too much is at stake for us to leave the digital for the engineers alone. The old joke applies: science can tell you how to clone a dinosaur – humanities can tell you whether it might be a good or a bad idea!

 

Interview with Jessica Pressman

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ELR: Jessica Pressman since 2012 (?) you are member of the Board of Directions of the Electronic Literature Organization. How did you get started with electronic literature and what fascinates you most about this literature genre?

Jessica Pressman: I actually worked from the ELO far before 2012. I served as the Programs Director for the ELO back in 2001-2 and then took on more responsibilities as Associate Director (2002-4). I did this while I was a graduate student at UCLA. ELO was then housed at UCLA, and N. Katherine Hayles was the Faculty Director. I was the sole staff member, and I got a first-hand education in the ELO and in non-profit organization.

But this is not how I started with electronic literature.

I applied to graduate school to study Victorian Literature. I wanted to study the Pre-Raphaelites; image and text are inseparable in such work (think Dante and Christina Rosetti). I was also interested in what I now understand to be the social networks that configured and propelled that artistic movement. Multimedia, multimodal, social networks: it was all there.

But, I was unhappy at UCLA, so I took a leave of absence. I went to Boston and worked for a company (Cognitive Arts, founded by AI pioneer Roger Schank) that then (in 2000, the height of the dot-com wave) was making interactive training simulations for companies and schools. We basically were making narrative teaching games (again, using language from today to describe the past). I liked the work but wanted to understand it from a more critical perspective. So, I read George Landow’s Hypertext. And, bam: that book hit me. It gave me a critical vocabulary and framework to approach that stuff that I was making, to understand what I was doing and what I wanted to do. I wanted to study hypertext.

Well, it just so happened that the foremost scholar of hypertext and this new thing called “electronic literature” was back at UCLA: Katherine Hayles. So, I returned to UCLA, shifted my focus from the first industrial revolution to the second, and then worked with Kate Hayles in all things e-literature and ELO. Kate is really how and why I started, learned, and loved the field of literary criticism focused on electronic literature. She is a role model and a mentor.

ELR: In your article “Electronic Literature as Comparative Literature” (2014) you state that electronic literature is comparative because it combines text, image, sound, movement, interactivity and design. As a researcher and teacher of experimental American literature would you say that electronic literature is experimental literature, too?

Jessica Pressman: I think electronic can be experimental. More often than not, it is, but this is because right now we are still accustomed to thinking about “literature” with terms and conceptions derived from print. But, “experimental” does not describe a platform or media; it describes use of that platform and media. Some books, films, sculptures, play, etc. are “experimental;” some works of electronic literature are too.

ELR: In your latest book “Reading Project” (2015) you explain how to analyse e-literature. Could you explain why it is necessary to use different methods?

Jessica Pressman: Reading Project does not aim to explain how to analyze e-literature—I would never presume or desire for there to be any one way to analyze anything—but, rather, to offer a model of how digital humanities (DH) practices can produce literary criticism. Jeremy, Mark, and I were tired of hearing critiques of DH that its creation and use of tools doesn’t lead to interpretative payoffs; most of these critiques are valid, by the way. We also wanted to experiment with pursuing literary criticism that employs the actual affordances of computational media to address a digital work; thus, we read the programming code (Mark’s Critical Code Studies approach) and created big data visualizations (Jeremy’s Cultural Analytics work), and we built a Scalar tool (Scalar Workbench) to assist others in practices similar types of collaboration. Finally, we had a professional goal and critique as well: we wanted to show what is gained by collaborating in literary criticism, by eschewing the scholarly model of a solitary researcher pursuing hermeneutics by instead having three scholars work collaboratively and dialogically towards building a single interpretation.

The reason why electronic literature elicits different critical methods is because such work often defies a single genre or disciplinary category. Is Tender Claws’s Pry (2015) a work of film, game, novella? The answer is not interesting but the question compels different approaches, which leads to (or should) interesting opportunities.

Just by designating a work (Pry, for example) as “literature” already implies how one will approach and value it: through a focus on its text. But many of the works that I spend my life reading and teaching could (and often are) identified and understood as other types of cultural objects: visual art, film, games, performances, etc. One of the reasons I love electronic literature is precisely this: because it invites and rewards multiple critical perspectives and practices. In so doing, it pushes literary critics towards reflexive consideration of our normative practices and towards experimentation with new ones. That is exciting to me.

ELR: In the description of the ELO’s role you can read that the organization aims to create “a network of people who produce works of electronic literature and people who read, discuss, and teach e-literature”. How successful has the ELO been in this attempt so far and how do Universities collaborate with the ELO?

Jessica Pressman: I think the ELO has been invaluable. The very fact that we have an annual conference, an archived volume of works (the Electronic Literature Collection), and a website for interpersonal connection means that we have a field. We have a community.

ELR: What do you foresee for the future of e-literature?

Jessica Pressman: I am a literary historian more than a prophet or visionary. But, from this perspective, I believe I can proffer that whatever comes along that seems completely new and futuristic will offer us new ways for understanding our past and for appreciating our seemingly “old” media.

 

 

 

Interview with Judy Malloy

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ELR: Judy Malloy, you have engaged in three decades of creative work in the field of electronic literature, beginning with the publication of “Uncle Roger” in 1986. What in your opinion are the most significant moments in the history of electronic literature thus far?

Judy Malloy: This is a welcome question. The long and rich history of electronic literature in toto is what is most significant. But there are so many significant moments that I can only mention a few — and even then, it is perhaps a longer answer than expected. Another day the list might be somewhat different. Today this is what I am recollecting:

To begin with: significant computational processes in word structures can be traced from Wibold, Archdeacon of Noyon’s 10th century dice-mediated Ludus Regularis, to the circa 15th century dice-generated collaborative narrative of vice and virtue, Chaunce of the Dyse, to formative computer-mediated work in the 1950’s –- including the generative love letters that Lytton Strachey’s nephew, Bloomsbury-bred computer programmer Christopher Strachey, created using Alan Turing’s hardwired random number generator, as well as the work of Stuttgart computer scientist student, Theo Lutz, who entered words from The Castle into a program that generated politically-charged remixes of Kafka’s vocabulary.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a map of significant moments, in France would probably pinpoint the founding of Oulipo, Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes, and George Perec’s Die Maschine, among many others. Pierre Boulez’ Troisième sonate pour piano Formant 3: “Constellation — Miroir” would surely appear on this map, as would – experiments with the cutup method in the work of Bryan Gysin, Williams Burroughs and Burroughs’ partner, computer programmer Ian Sommerville.

Meanwhile in New York City, after composer James Tenney gave a workshop on FORTRAN to Fluxus artists in 1967, Alison Knowles wrote the brilliant generative poem A House of Dust (realized by Tenney), and Dick Higgins created and programmed the edgy Hank and Mary, a Love Story, a Chorale.  Additionally, the lists of words that Fluxus poet Emmett Williams chose for IBM, first created without a computer in 1956, were computerized in this time.

And in Massachusetts BBN (ARPANET contractor Bolt, Beranek and Newman) computer programmer Will Crowther wrote the pioneering Interactive Fiction, Adventure, and then at MIT Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling created Zork and went on to found Infocom, the primary source of classic Interactive Fiction — while in Connecticut, at Yale, Joseph Meehan created Tale-Spin.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, based in Canada with strong roots also in Austria, IPSA (I. P. Sharp Associates) and IPSA’s ARTEX made node-to-node communication possible — we called it “telematics” in those days — hosting collaborative works such as Bill Bartlett’s Interplay and Roy Ascott’s La Plissure du Texte.

Beginning in 1986 in Berkeley, CA my own Uncle Roger, the first realized hyperfiction, was significant in that rather than a game-centered or communications approach, I wrote and programmed it as a work of computer-mediated literature, and it was the first realized work of electronic fiction that was both written and programmed by a woman.

There followed — beginning with Michael Joyce’s classic afternoon, a story and the work of the StorySpace team — a flowering of hypertext. The writers came from many different places; the center was the Massachusetts-based Eastgate Systems, headed by Mark Bernstein. Hypertext literature was central in what Robert Coover called the “golden age”. The four works Coover singled out are Joyce’s afternoon, my its name was Penelope, Stuart Moulthrop’s Victory Garden, and Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl.  It should also be noted that in the field of digital poetry, Jim Rosenberg’s spatial hypertext was primary in the pre-web era.

In the period of widening development (1995–2010), places on the map are clustered all over the world, as works of potential significance were created in generative poetry (the work of John-Pierre Balpe and Nick Montfort, Fox Harrell’s GRIOT System, Nanette Wylde’s Storyland, for instance); in Interactive Fiction: (Emily Short’s Bronze, Andrew Plotkins’ Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home);  in hypertext (my The Roar of Destiny, Mark Marino’s a show of hands, Sharif Ezzat’s Like Stars in a Clear Night Sky, Deena Larsen’s Marble Springs Wiki); in electronic manuscripts: (Noah Wardrip Fruin et al’s Screen; J. R. Carpenter’s Entre Ville); in concrete and digital poetry (William Harris’ Armistice, Maria Mencia’s Birds Singing Other Birds’ Songs); and in performative, filmic, and collaborative works. (Ingrid Ankerson and Megan Sapnar’s Cruising; Judd Morrissey’s The Last Performance). There were many others.

I am disinclined to mention works from 2011-  because the dust has not yet settled, but for my own work I like From Ireland with Letters and my generative “the whole room like a picture in a dream”: Dorothy Richardson and Virginia Woolf Writing“.

ELR: In another interview you name four authors of print literature as influences on your works of electronic literature: Italo Calvino, Marcel Proust, Dorothy Richardson, and Laurence Sterne. Can you comment on analogies and differences between electronic and print literature?

Judy Malloy: This is a difficult question, and the answer can be framed in many different ways. Primarily electronic literature is work that utilizes computer-mediation to create literature that is only possible to read on a computer. But the boundaries are becoming somewhat blurred. Many of the strategies developed by writers of electronic literature can influence print literature and even in some cases have been utilized in print, while at the same time we see writers of electronic literature incorporating print components in their work.

I have always believed that print literature is such a powerful interface that it will continue, but that electronic literature is equally powerful and will flourish and run side by side with print literature, so to speak. In the 21st century, the fact that electronic literature and print literature are each influencing each other is greatly enriching both fields!

ELR: In August 2016 you edited “Social Media Archeology and Poetics” a book featuring essays of 28 artists, scholars, and curators who describe computer networks and online platforms. What are your current opinions/thoughts about archiving works of electronic literature and digital art?

Judy Malloy: Social Media Archeology and Poetics is media archeology about how social media platforms with cultural components were developed and flourished in the days before the World Wide Web.

To create Social Media Archeology and Poetics, which was three years in the making, I primarily asked pioneers in the field to write about their work. This is different from archiving works of electronic literature and digital art. However, it does dovetail with my vision, which is that in addition to the work of critics and curators, it is important to make early works themselves accessible and also to encourage creators of electronic literature to document their own work. In this respect, we are in the tradition of conceptual art and performance art, and — in this field that lies between computer science and literature —  we also document electronic literature in the tradition of sci/tech researchers. It is vitally important to publish peer-reviewed first person documentation from the creators or researchers themselves. Thus, the primary source for Strachey’s love letters is Christopher Strachey, “The Thinking Machines,” Encounter, 3 (1954): 25-31. The primary source for Lutz’ work is Theo Lutz, “Stochastische Texte,” augenblick 4 (1959):3-9.  And the primary source for Uncle Roger is Judy Malloy, “Uncle Roger, an Online Narrabase”, in eds. Ascott, Roy and Carl Eugene Loeffler, Connectivity: Art and Interactive Telecommunications, Leonardo 24:2, (1991): 195-202. This does not mean that criticism and theory are not very important.

Contingently, as regards archiving works of electronic literature themselves, when the original platforms are not available, I prefer to translate my own works to contemporary platforms. But I also highly respect and appreciate the curators and archivists in our field, such as Dene Grigar, who have approached this in many creative ways.

ELR: In the year 2003 you edited the book “Women, Art & Technology” a compendium of the work of women artists who have played a central role in the development of new media practice. How do you consider the role of women in new media today?

Judy Malloy: As Jaishree Odin’s Hypertext and the Female Imaginary and Maria Mencia’s forthcoming #WomenTechLit clearly demonstrate, contemporary women artists and writers are equally as important and influential as male artists and writers.

ELR: Have you any thoughts about the future of Electronic Literature?

Judy Malloy: As the rich history of electronic literature begins to be acknowledged, and the field comes of age, it has been a pleasure to both work with students in the creation of electronic literature and to continue to develop my own work.

I look forward to new work from the field as a whole and to a more central place for electronic literature in the literary world.

 

Written by ELR

February 20, 2017 at 7:30 pm

Interview with Christine Wilks

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ELR: Christine Wilks as you can read on your website crissxross.net you published your first works of electronic literature in 2004 “Sitting Pretty” and “Social Dis-Ease”. What was your motivation to start creating works for the web and where did your inspiration come from?

Christine Wilks: I started out as a visual artist but I couldn’t bear turning my back on storytelling so I quickly moved into filmmaking (and animation). It was difficult to make indie films in the UK, there was so little funding, and, although I tried, I didn’t feel at home in the TV world. What I really wanted was a multimedia creative practice but it seemed like you had to specialise. Then, when I came across the internet, the world-wide web – wow! Here was a medium that encompassed all other media and there were few, if any, barriers for a hard-up independent multimedia-maker to create and distribute their work – no gatekeepers, nothing stopping me – theoretically.

At first I hadn’t a clue how to create anything for the web, but I came across the trAce Online Writing Centre, set up by Sue Thomas, and lurked around that creative community for a while. Then I took part in their pilot online course, ‘Digital Writing: an Introduction’, led by Tim Wright, and I was absolutely blown away by it. At last, I had found my element! Not only could I work with multimedia but interactivity too. I loved that! I made my first work, ‘Sitting Pretty’, during that course. It was a tongue-in-cheek reflection on my condition at the time, flouting ergonomic advice, forever hunched over my desktop computer, my portal to another world. Way back in my pre-internet days, I got a grant to make a short science-fiction film called ‘Zombie UB40’ in which I depicted aliens whose form had evolved to be perpetually hunched over computers. Oddly prescient, now I think about it. Actually, it’s just occurred to me that the film bore some aesthetic similarities with my animated multimedia poem, ‘Out of Touch’. There’s a network of invisible threads connecting the works I’ve made but I’ll avoid getting tangled up in that for now.

ELR: From 2007-2013 you were as a core member of the collective R3M1XW0RX (Remixworks, 2006-2014), which was conceived as a collaborative space for remixing visual poetry, e-poetry, playable media, animation, art, music, spoken word, texts and more. What were the main challenges in the creation of a network and why did it stop in 2014?

Christine Wilks: Actually, R3MIXW0RX is still active here – remixworx.com – although not in the same way. But I’ll come back to that.

R3MIXW0RX was started by Randy Adams (runran) after the trAce Online Writing Centre closed down. He missed the collaborative creative environment of trAce, as did other people, such as Chris Joseph (babel) and myself (crissxross), who also joined the group. For the first year or two Remixworx was a stunningly productive, fertile environment – new works being created, remixed and posted online every week, almost every day at some points – it was fantastic! A great place to learn and develop. For instance, I learnt to love the random and to really appreciate Dada through collaborating in R3MIXW0RX. I talk about it more fully in my crissxross trail through Remixworx. However, with busy lives to lead and other creative projects to work on, that level of almost feverish productivity couldn’t persist. The initial whirlwind of creativity gradually calmed and new works blew in on the breeze or in occasional gusts. It might have carried on in this manner for some time if Randy hadn’t died (too young, from cancer) in 2014. It took the wind out of our sails. Randy and I collaborated on our last piece for R3MIXW0RX, ‘A Revolution of Words’, while he was undergoing chemotherapy.

Chris, however, is still doing wonderful stuff for R3MIXW0RX . He now maintains and hosts the site. His new remixes are created in HTML5 and JavaScript, whereas, in the past, both he and I worked almost exclusively in Flash. I’d love to start remixing again but until I finish the major interactive digital fiction I’m creating for my practice-based PhD, I haven’t got time. The great thing now is that, with platforms like Codepen.io, the ability to remix using HTML, CSS and JavaScript has become even more accessible. Currently, I’m using my Codepen for tests and research, but I’m really looking forward to having the time to use it for pure creative remixing fun!

ELR: In your works you use a wide range of different media like sound, ambient music, visuals and videos. How important are these audio-visual effects in your works and how does multimedia content effect the reading process of a work literature?

Christine Wilks: Marie-Laure Ryan says, “The ultimate goal of art is to involve the whole of the embodied mind, the intellect as well as the senses” (Ryan 2014). She argues that language most readily engages the intellect, whereas sound and imagery appeal to the senses, so combining them is a way of striving towards that goal, and that’s what I aspire to.

Multimedia content is vital to my work, and I’ve experimented with different forms, but what I’m most interested in is how the multimodal elements operate within the user interface to create an engaging interactive experience. I always think in terms of reading imagery as much as text, indeed, reading the whole interface, including audio – everything is part of the reading process. For my current interactive digital work, I’m aiming for something akin to the experience of having a conversation. In human-to-human interaction, you communicate through language whilst simultaneously reading the signs – facial expressions, body language, what’s happening in the environment, etc. – the context and the subtext, all of which affect the choices you make.

Film and TV are also plurimedial art forms and you ‘read’ those media too but not in the same way. Interaction demands a more attentive reading of the user interface (that is, until you become familiar with it). In a game or interactive narrative, it’s often the case that the player must read the interface rigorously in order to work out how to interact and how to progress. It’s part of the pleasure. This kind of vigilant or scrupulous reading is not a requirement of moving through the narrative of screen drama. Although, in some viewing situations, you can choose to close read film and TV – you can pause a video, study still frames, re-run a scene over and over – screen drama is not usually designed for viewing like that. All the same, with interactive works, it would be too much to ask the reader-player to constantly pay equal attention to every modality within a given work. Some modalities should, by design, affect the reader-player more subliminally (e.g. ambient sound or motion, colour schemes) depending on what effect the author/s want/s to achieve.

ELR: Your works Inkubus (2014), Underbelly (2010), A Revolution of Words (2013) and Rememori (2011) are game-like works in which the reader becomes a player, as you explain in the description, and thus is invited to play a poem or play on words. What strategy lies behind the use of ludic elements in your works and what is, in your opinion, the difference between a work of electronic literature and a videogame?

Christine Wilks: My strategy? Well, it just seemed to me that as soon as I started ‘playing’ with interactive elements – creating interactive works – ludic elements arose, as if naturally, without me consciously trying to include them. In other words, while creating a work, I would become aware that the feature I was developing or thinking about was game-like in some way, so I went with it. Why resist the affordances of the medium? I’m of a generation that didn’t grow up with videogames, so I don’t tend to think in terms of videogame mechanics, but interactivity feels playful to me, and playful interactivity tends towards the ludic. At least, that’s been my experience. When my narrative works include gameplay, I try to meld the two together somehow. I’d rather avoid chunks of narrative interspersed with gameplay or vice versa. However, it all depends on the central idea behind the work. It’s entirely possible that an idea might be best expressed with gameplay and cut-scenes, for example. Never say never…

What’s the difference between a work of electronic literature and a videogame? I’m not a theorist so it’s not something I think about very much – apart from when I struggle to explain or describe what I do or create to someone whose unfamiliar with it. As a maker of works, the distinction is mainly useful in so far as it helps to inform a potential audience – to make the thing being offered understandable in broad terms and therefore potentially attractive to them. One difference is that a videogame has to have some form of gameplay but a work of e-lit need not have. ‘Videogame’ is a more commercial descriptor and is likely to attract more people, but may also repel others – and there’s possibly a sizeable audience among them for e-lit. However, outside academia, I doubt if many people have heard of ‘electronic literature’. Both categories are so broad, we need more focused terms, more genres to emerge.

ELR: In your critical writing “Interactive Narrative and the Art of Steering Through Possible Worlds” (2016) you discuss the disparity between men and women in the field of game development through your latest work “Stitched Up” (in progress). Would you say that there is a similar issue of gender discrimination also in the field of electronic literature?

Christine Wilks: I haven’t specifically studied the issue of gender discrimination in the field of electronic literature and I haven’t experienced any personally. Certainly, there are a lot of great women creative practitioners, researchers and theorists in the field and there seems to be a pretty fair gender balance amongst the artists, writers and editors represented in the various anthologies of electronic literature produced by the E-Lit community. Also, I’m really thrilled to be part of a forthcoming book, #WomenTechLit, a volume of essays by pioneering female creative practitioners, critics, historians and scholars, edited by María Mencía (West Virginia University Press). Look out for it!

Reference: Ryan, M.-L., 2014. Narration in Various Media | the living handbook of narratology. the living handbook of narratology. Available at: http://www.lhn.uni-hamburg.de/article/narration-various-media [Accessed December 2, 2016].

 

 

Written by ELR

January 20, 2017 at 9:00 am

Interview with Jason Nelson

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ELR: Jason Nelson you have been creating works of digital poetry since the early 2000s and since 2005 you have been teaching Net Art and Electronic Literature at Griffith University in Australia. Could you tell us how you got started with Electronic Literature and where your inspiration came from?

Jason Nelson: Curiously, I began adventuring into this world very much by accident. Prior to 2000 I was a City Planner type, working with GPS, GIS and other mapping playthings. And while I adore the idea of planning, good, creative, freethinking planning of cities and places, the reality of paperwork and politics and mindless development sapped by interest, away, away, so far away.

And as the anxiety of my un/sad/dis-satisfying career built, I revisited my creative brain, attempted to find ways to combine my interest in the textual and my technical prowess.

Holy cats…I can see this just might be a very long story. A tale filled with grand gesturing cliff falls and long swims to the shore led by apologetic dolphins. So I’ll reduce it back a bit.

So after deciding to leap into creative waters, I finished an MFA in Poetry at Bowling Green State University. And honestly, the program was rather conservative, rather bland, so I was forced to find fuel for my experimental synapses elsewhere.  And as I already had considerable experience with tech/code/software, and could think/build spatially from my Cultural Geography/Planning Days, I explored ways of combining screen wonders with my abstract writing.

At BGSU there was a graduate computer lab, with six old Macs. At the time I didn’t know how to crack software, so I figured I had six months to learn Dreamweaver and Flash, with a 30 day trial on each computer, moving from the window to the door.

And yet even when I started creating my interactive poems/fictions, I had no idea there was anyone else creating such things, no notion of Electronic Literature or even digital art more broadly.  My inspiration instead came from maps, 19th century engineering, early magicians, L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poetry (I took a creative writing class with Elizabeth Robinson at the University of Oklahoma during my Cultural Geography days) and a general interest in the way technology worked and didn’t work.

Ok, ok….I’ll stop there. As I’m started to ramble, ramble on, a horsey car, doors flapping in the dust of gravel roads, the wires, the telegraph wires are still there, waiting for some future/past day.

Briefly, I , very much, started creating digital literature without any idea such a world existed. Perhaps, just perhaps, that explains my unique style, that…or a bike ride concussion.

ELR: Most of your works are similar to video games. What is the purpose of the use of ludic elements in your works?

Jason Nelson: Hmmm. Actually. I’m not sure I agree with the word “most”. Statistically only a small percentage of my over 50 digital poems/fictions are directly related to games, or use, what others would call, game engines.

Sure, all, or most, of my digital creatures have play and interactivity, interface and movement as central textual elements. But only, around ten of my works would be considered games, or game-like by the game masters, those Ludic overlords who require the gates to art-games be held fast by those who alter game rules, not those who use game land/screen-scapes.

Admittedly my most well known works tend towards the game end. The idea that my game-works have spread so much more, so widely (to the millions) is interesting. What is it about a game that draws in readers/players, holds them in the creatures gaze, and compels/propels them into sharing/re-visiting?

I suppose. Hmmm. Maybe. Hmmm. Ok. How about this. When you play a game you live inside the game (at least partially). So readers tend to inhabit the gameish digital poem, they internalize the textual elements

Sidenote:  By textual elements I mean more than just words. I consider all the facets, the movement and image, the sound and interface, the video and code, the words and animations to be critical, integral textual elements of a digital poem/fiction.

Indeed, I was asked recently, during an interview for an academic position at the Rochester Institute of Technology (for which I placed second unfortunately…sniff…sniff) what makes a good digital poem. My response was, in part, that the words of a digital poem should be inter-related/connected/bred with the other textual elements (mentioned above). And if the words could be ripped out, forced on to a page, and they formed a perfectly happy poem, there was something wrong.

Jeez. I have segued massively. Back to games.

I love the language of games. It’s one of the languages I, and so many others my age and younger, learned from adolescence. A game’s grammar fires forth from triggering and gathering, from exploring/adventuring/deftly tussling, the same mental play that great/good/readable books/stories/poems entice. The world is a sad and exciting little/big game, one we lose and lose and lose and lose. And yet, holy hello, we keep playing.

ELR: You clearly establish a relationship with your readers by inviting them to actually “create a poem” as in Series Eleven or Five by addressing directly to them in the instructions as in Evil Hypnotizing Mascotte or by providing them with different options of interaction. What do you think about the apparent freedom of the reader in the digital context and how important is it for you that readers sort of “dive” into your works?

Jason Nelson: I want to reach the back of a reader’s brain. To snake my hand through the vessels in their arms/hands/ears, past all manner of organs and bones, crawling up the spinal cord/chord, past the brain’s more logical homes, and grab the grey matter home of the subconscious.  Dearest gawd I want to shake the hell out of your subconscious.

This is, of course, a baffling thing for many readers/critics/reviewers. Most people equate game with puzzle or fiction with story as treasure hunt. So when my work attempts to bypass all that, and thrust itself directly into your dreamy, floaty hidden voice that makes you, ummmm…you, it’s difficult to dissect, analyse and then re-assemble.

I’ve been told by writers, famous and beginning, my creative creatures are hard to encapsulate in an article. Hurrah me thinks.

It’s been said ten trillion times by ten trillion scholars, across ten trillion dimensions, that interactive work makes the reader part of the writing process. My digital writing doesn’t really exist until someone adds themselves, moves and chooses, and each experience will be very different, deviant from others.

The directions thing is curious. Adding directions into my first few dozen creations came from insecurity. I was alarmingly worried my readers wouldn’t understand where/how/when to move and click and write and select and push and run and jump and fire and cry, so much crying. So I added directions and signs, like arrows pointing to critical moments, or endgames.

And now I include an arrow or arrows in everything I create. It’s become an internal meme. The directions have shifted from useful to meta-play, self-disregarding and ego-booming. The reader is driven to the park, shown the various paths, wooded or concrete or muddy hollows, and then pushed into the grass while dogs come running, come running, their digitally paws leaving growling, barking marks, go play, go play.

ELR:  One of the major innovations brought by New Media technology concerns the literary aesthetics. Along with the ludic elements and the possibility of interaction mentioned above there are audio-visual effects and hypertextual links which transform the plain text into a work of art and the act of reading into a complete new experience. Could you describe your concept of aesthetics in digital poetry?

Jason Nelson: I so totally want to just say “No”. In a kind-of curt, aren’t I an arrogant and superior bastard whose work is unapproachably beautiful and self-perfect. And the aesthetics can only be described by seeing/reading/playing the work itself.

But that is an easy place to live, one devoid of discourse. And as my work is too messy and broken and playful and frayed and strange to be allowed seating in the Perfect Club, aesthetics are the crutch my digital poems/fictions use to cross the swollen river (the deer enclosure was empty, but the horses still expected apples).

Nothing about the world, the land/city/nature/culture-scapes around us is clean and well formed and exacting. Despite roads and the square shapes of buildings, the networks and calendared schedules, most of our surroundings are tethered to chaos theory, to incomplete stories, brief visions/expressions heard while galloping past.

And yet so much of New Media art/literature borrows from the clean lines and perfectly proportioned, complementary colours of design. It pretends to work, everything intentional and inter-locked and design-porn perfect.

So my aesthetic comes from this place. This imperfect, messy, collided swirl of clanging ideas, smashed together stories, brief and disconnected phrases/visions. Sure there is always a strange attractor, always a hovering point, around which the theme of my literary creatures swarms.

And yes, sometimes my works  (odd using the term work for creative digital text play) do collapse into straight narrative, direct point, simple and clear visuals. But always with the hand-drawn, the organic line and carolling poetics in mind (in the back of my mind…mind you….minding…ok ok. I’ll stop)

Did I even answer your question?  How about this.

When all the various media, interface, texts, words, coding, interactivity hold hands, gather up power tools and build treehouses for wolves with jetpacks, I’m super darn chuffed (happy in Aussieland).

ELR: You have launched the new website dpoetry.com for the Dispersed Digital Poetry Project. Could you illustrate the process with an example and use this very blog to host one of your poems?

Jason Nelson: Of course I can and will!  Your site/audience rocks.  The notion of the Dispersed Digital Poetry project is somewhat simple. I’m creating a series of digital poems, possibly up to 50. Each of those digital poems will be hosted on a different website, with all the various sections then inter-linked and connected. So there will eventually be 50 different entry points, and as the reader moves through the series, they will be continually entering new domains (literally).

I have around 20 or so started, and will launch the series soon. Part of the process comes from my ever-experimenting creative methods. On my hard drive there are dozens of half-started/finished digital poems/fictions. Some of them are ambitious giants and others are smaller inventions, playful gizmos. The Dispersed project will give all those orphaned interactive poems homes, and in turn, bring new audiences to both my work and the sites that host a section.

So, yes, do come and play.

 

Written by ELR

September 20, 2015 at 8:22 am

Posted in English

Interview with Erik Loyer

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ELR: Erik Loyer since the mid-90s you have been creating and studying works of electronic literature. What was your approach to this field and where lies your main interest?

Erik Loyer: Early on in my career, I was interested in using interactive media to explicitly recreate the mindset of the author in the reader. This is a pretty universal goal for an artist, but I had a theory that interactive media might be particularly good at doing this in a more literal way. Like anybody, I’ve got a network of associations and memories that give context and meaning to my experiences, and I wanted to find out if I transcribed those relationships into an interactive work, whether it would convey more of that authorial perspective to a user/reader than other art forms could.

After following this trail for a while, however, with “The Lair of the Marrow Monkey” and “Mnemonic Membrane” in particular, I felt like I got an answer—that in interactive media, as with many other art forms, translation (processing and transforming my internal landscape with an eye towards evoking a specific response from the user) was a more powerful technique than transcription (attempting to recreate in digital form a set of relationships that were in my head). And so at that point I more or less left the “built it and they will come” mode of making behind.

“Marrow Monkey” crystallized my approach in other ways as well, with the poetic, graphic use of words, an emphasis on tactile interaction and real-time animation, strong musical and rhythmic influences, and narrative. An all these are still very much the sandbox I like to play in! It reminds me of the line from that Steve Reich piece “Proverb”: “How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life.”

ELR: On your profile on Patreon.com your short biography reads that you create “stories that are played like instruments. Combining elements drawn from video games and comic books with dynamic music, gestural control, and synaesthetics (…)”. What is the purpose of the use of such features a how do they affect the reading experience?

Erik Loyer: Well, I enjoy playing the piano because it’s fun, because you can make beautiful sounds with it, and because it has a powerful effect on the emotions. Those are all the same reasons why I make the kind of work I make. I have a reasonable amount of facility with the piano, so I can step right into that experience pretty much whenever I want, but it took years to get my skills to that point. What I think interactive media can go is lend the user a bit of “instant fluency” with a voice or instrument that is unfamiliar to them, and through fun, beauty, and emotion, lead them through an experience that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. I often compare the sensation I’m after to what it would feel like to live inside a musical. Characters in a musical can break into song and express with complete fluency exactly what they are feeling and thinking, with seemingly no effort. I’m trying to create that experience for users, both literally and metaphorically—what would it feel like to be in a musical where you got to sing all of the songs, and where each song was its own instrument, its own possibility space constrained by circumstance and character?

ELR: Your latest work is a digital graphic novel called Upgrade Soul which is “built using a new engine for digital comics”. Could you tell us how Panoply works?

Erik Loyer: Sure. Panoply is an add-on for the Unity game engine that combines the visual language of comics with the dynamism of games. I think comics have a lot to teach us about how to design for screens, which are increasingly subdivided and increasingly being used to show us multiple streams of content at once, and so I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and playing with digital comics lately. The basic premise of Panoply is that each panel is its own camera in 3D space, and what the tool allows you to do is to choreograph what those cameras are looking at and where they are rendered on the screen over time. You can use it to create multi-panel layouts that change and develop as the user swipes from step to step. Some creators use the tool to emulate traditional comics, with each camera pointed at a separate piece of 2D artwork, while others are experimenting with creating 3D environments and dropping the cameras into them at different points.

Traditional comics gone digital are kind of the Trojan horse for the tool, but I think the implications of this kind of media for “born digital” interactive storytelling are much broader. The great thing about bringing the visual language of comics to the digital realm is it enables you to create story-driven experiences whose interfaces don’t grow out of a traditional “game mechanic” but are instead heavily tied to the graphical presentation of the story itself. The presentation actually can become the interface. We’re starting to see this in interesting comic/game hybrids like “Storyteller” and “Gorogoa,” and it’s something I’m very keen to explore and enable with tools like Panoply.

ELR: Your first work Marrow Monkeys from 1998 is no longer available online and the last works you created run on iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch only. These restrictions raise questions about preservation and adaptation of the work of electronic literature. How do you cope as a creator with the fast changes in the digital realm?

Erik Loyer: Like many artists who work with technology, I’m lured by the promise of the new and shiny, and probably always will be. The ability to reach a broad audience with powerful, tactile forms of interactivity is one of the medium’s biggest draws for me—and why I’ve never felt especially led to do installation work. While I still have video documentation of my Shockwave-based works like “Lair of the Marrow Monkey” and “Chroma” online, seeing the work itself become increasingly inaccessible is definitely painful, and the specter of Flash going the route of earlier technologies is especially troubling given the number of works I and others have produced in that format.

I don’t regret my work in Shockwave and Flash, though, and I’ll always choose the ability to reach a wide range of people with innovative interactivity today over other approaches that may be more amenable to preservation. I am, however, quite fastidious about making backups (I have basically my whole output since 1986 stored in multiple locations) and when there’s critical data that’s in danger of becoming truly inaccessible I try to convert it to another form—this past summer I enlisted my son to help me rescue musical cue point data from “Chroma” that I feared would soon be lost, and without which it would be nearly impossible to reconstruct the piece in the future.

ELR: Last March you were at the International Comics-Festival Fumetto in Lucerne in Switzerland where you taught a digital comic workshop. Could you tell us more about this project and what your next projects will be?

Erik Loyer: This was a week-long workshop in “Motion Comics” that I taught at the Hochschule Luzern during the Fumetto comics festival, and it was a blast. First of all, it was a real luxury to have that kind of time to devote to exploring split-screen media and digital comics in so many forms, and to have students who were so eager to dive in, especially given that “motion comics” are often misunderstood, if not outright derided, in the traditional comics and media worlds at large. To avoid the baggage that comes with trying to call anything “comics,” I’ve taking to calling this practice “timeframing”—the art of choreographing boxes of time. My goal with the class was first, to get the students to think deeply about what it means from an expressive standpoint to put time in a box; whether freezing it with a still image, repeating it with a video loop, or constructing it algorithmically as video games do. Next comes the ability to think critically about the creative potential inherent in juxtaposing boxes of time: what does it mean to put two GIF animations next to each other, and what can we say by doing so? We looked not only at digital comics, but at parallax scrolling websites, split-screen movies from the 1960s, video games, and more.

The students produced their own projects over the course of the week, with really fascinating results. One of them decided to use Panoply to do her project because she already had a 3D environment built in Unity as a first-person “walking simulator”-type experience. She adapted the navigation from first-person to a multi-panel swipe-based interface with captions, and felt that as a result she was able to convey the story more effectively. For me this was a great example of how the singular perspective that tends to get privileged in video games, whether first-person or third-person, isn’t always the most effective way to tell a story.

I’ve started a site at Timeframing.com where I’m very gradually adding my thoughts about this practice of choreographing boxes of time on digital screens, which I don’t believe has really been explored systematically before. In addition, I’ve been working towards the commercial release of the Panoply tools, and developing an open source framework for one-button performance of electronic literature called Stepwise that I hope to release next year. Beyond that, I’m doing a lot of experiments in split screen, in music-driven interaction, and in storytelling—my intuition is there’s something powerful in that combination of elements, so I’m noodling around trying to find it. We’ll see!

Written by ELR

September 14, 2015 at 12:44 pm

Posted in English

Interview with Alan Bigelow

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Co-edited by Maíra Borges Wiese

ELR: Alan Bigelow on your website you have published your flash works from 1999-2011 and your HTML5 works published from 2011-2015. Could you tell us how you got started in the field of digital literature?

Bigelow: I got started in electronic literature for a very selfish reason: I owned the domain Cinema2.com, and I wanted to protect it from any corporation that might want it for themselves. This was in 1999, and the domain name craze was at its height, with names like Cinema.com selling for US $700,00 (I even called the sellers, Great Domains, during the auction for Cinema.com, and told them I had Cinema2.com and were they interested? A polite “no” was their answer). So I created a story based on the domain name. The story is about a moving company called Cinema2.com. They don’t physically move people from location to location, like a typical moving company does—instead, they emotionally move them to catharsis using unique and innovative practices. They even have special devices to test for emotional states and effect treatment. The piece was part HTML, part Flash, and it was my first introduction to electronic literature. But back then, I didn’t know it was called electronic literature. I thought I was doing something completely original and new to the internet. It was shortly after that I found other people doing the same thing online, and I realized there was already a community of writers doing what I was doing, and we had the whole web to talk to each other about it.

NOTE TO SELF: Hopefully, one day we won’t have to call it “electronic literature” anymore. What we do will be so commonplace as to be simply called “literature.”

ELR: Can you tell us where your inspiration comes from? My source of inspiration has changed over the years. Early on, in addition to the basic elements of traditional fiction like plot and character (which drove, for example, PamelaSmall.com, “Saving the Alphabet,” other earlier works), I was also driven by the thrill of exploration just to see where it would lead me next; the path was just as interesting as the story itself. Then the goal became (or was it always my goal?) to create a thing of beauty. I may have done this already, but I am not sure yet… Now my source of inspiration has come full circle to plot and character again. Despite the innovation of what we do, it seems that people still like a good story with a beginning, middle, and end (despite what order they are in). They also like a character who they recognize as themselves, someone they know, or someone they have never met before. A good character or plot can drive a story and give it enduring value. It also offers the reader what the French sometimes call attention: there may not be any pages to turn on the web, but a page turner can still keep a reader’s attention. Character and plot can move people, and in the attention-deficit world of the web, moving people with fiction is getting harder and harder to do. So it is back to basics for me. Perhaps this approach might help build a better bridge between the old and the new, from print readership to a readership expecting, and appreciating, multimedia stories on the web. Like the movers in Cinema2.com, my goal is to move people to catharsis. I am getting closer to that goal, I hope, with recent works like “Life of FLY” and “Protect the Poet.”

ELR: Is there a particular reason for the change from flash works to HTML5?

Bigelow: My reason for leaving Flash was simple: there was an iPhone in my pocket, and I could not see my own work on it. I resisted, though. I thought an app would come along to display Flash in a seamless and effortless way (there were some apps, but none were good). I emailed Steve Jobs about how Flash was great for creative work and an artistic tool unparalleled in the marketplace, but he never replied. (I understood—he was busy dying and had more important things on his mind). Finally, because it is adapt or die, I switched to HTML5. Thanks to a good coder I know who helps me with the difficult parts… Well, I have not looked back.

Has switching to HTML5 changed the way you write?

Yes. First, not having Flash as a tool has forced me to revise my approaches as to how readers navigate through the pieces. I have simplified the navigational interface in some newer pieces, and often made them more linear in user interaction. This is convenient because with my renewed interest in plot and character, a linear approach to navigation can be useful. Second, adapting to HTML5, and particularly mobile devices, has forced me to renegotiate with a story’s text as it appears on the screen. Only so much text can comfortably fit on the screen of a phone, so where I can condense, I condense. Where I can cut, all the better. Third, in HTML5, since visual effects are not yet as easy and seamless as they were in Flash, I find myself using visuals where they will do the most good to support theme or action. I try not to include any extraneous visual effects or non-essential coding. The story is primary, and every element supports that, and only that. If a visual or audio element does not have a specific reason for being there, it goes in the garbage heap. The final product must have an expressive and efficient synthesis of all its elements to create the overall effect.

ELR: Where do you see the main challenge in such a fast changing and variegated field like electronic literature?

Bigelow: Keeping pace.

ELR: In many of your works the topic is life as in “The Human Mystery” and “Last Words.”

Bigelow: If it’s not life, it’s death. And anything in between. As a writer, I am not unusual in this.

ELR: Is life (or death) one of your favourite topics? What other topics do you write about?  

Bigelow: Death is a preoccupation in my daily thoughts, rather than a major theme in my writing. I also write about (************************************************************* ******************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************). NOTE TO SELF: Continue to vary the topics you cover in your work. It will stop you from being typecast and never working in Hollywood again.

ELR: Readers who are used to reading printed books may be surprised or even irritated and challenged by the audio-visual effects of works of electronic literature.

Bigelow: I am certain this is a temporary phenomenon. Children growing up now will have no problem with multimedia stories, because they are already reading them on their handheld devices. They are also reading and interacting with multimedia in virtually every aspect of their online life. I feel sorry for these kids when they get to college and some professor (like me, for instance) asks them to read stories from a print anthology. It is like they are taking one huge step back for humankind.  

ELR: How does multimedia change the aesthetics of literature?

Bigelow: Other writers about electronic literature have already addressed this question better than I can. In addition to the many individual articles that touch on this topic, two recent anthologies address this question in a variety of ways: The Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media (eds. Marie-Laure Ryan, Lori Emerson, and Benjamin J. Robertson) and New Literary Hybrids in the Age of Multimedia Expression (ed. Marcel Cornis-Pope). However, as a writer, one thing I have learned from the aesthetics of digital literature is the importance of conserving words. Saying more with less is a unspoken mantra on the web, where there is so much competition for the reader’s attention. I have always been a spare writer, but elit has forced me to make every word count and to treasure the sentence over the paragraph, the short word over the long, and the period over the comma. One day, I may return to text-based writing just to see how I can apply the lessons about language, graphics, and audio that are at the core of my digital work. Going retro to push print forward might be an interesting game to play.

ELR: Your Ten Predictions about Digital Literature are rather optimistic.

Bigelow: That blog post was published on August 28, 2010. I was too optimistic in some places, but in general, I could probably find up-to-date examples to support each of the ten claims. In fact, I might do a follow-up blog just to make my point… J

ELR: What would you say about the present status of digital literature in academia?

Bigelow: I have mixed emotions about the current status of electronic literature in academia. On the one hand, it is truly great how so many new media and literature classes around the world have incorporated elit into their curricula. It is also terrific how many scholarly articles, books, presentations, panels, and conferences have emerged in the field. This indicates an extremely healthy life for electronic literature within academia, a life I am extremely thankful for both as a writer and a lover of elit. But I have misgivings. Any new artistic movement (and in many ways, elit is still new) needs an expanding culture to incubate in. It needs to grow new readership, encourage new writers, and create an economic platform so it is commercially viable. In other words, the general public must be involved somewhere in the early or middle stages of any artistic movement.

NOTE TO READER: For purposes of definition, I distinguish what we in academia generally understand as electronic literature versus how it is seen in the wider public arena. For us in academia (and of course, I do not speak for everyone!) electronic literature might be described as the more refined fiction and poetry you see in journals, festivals, on and off-line galleries, and in the course readings for many colleges and university classes. In the wider public arena, electronic literature is already a significant presence in social media like Facebook, blogs, and Instagram, although not typically identified by the name “electronic literature.” In these, and many other online venues, images and text—and in the case of Facebook, audio and video and text—are already a common occurrence in the telling of stories and daily events. If our brand of electronic literature remains predominantly in the world of academia, and stays relatively removed from the general public, its academic incarnations, for the most part, will remain alive, but our brand of electronic literature as a viable art form will atrophy. It will atrophy because despite all the great analyses, books, presentations, and conferences (not to mention the dynamic works of elit themselves)—all of this will fade from public memory because they were never in the larger public memory to begin with. The elit movement, as we know it, will have been stillborn into academia. But the risk is really only for writers like myself and others whose work is recognized within academia but not so much outside of it. We (and by “we” I mean all of us within the world of elit) need to have contact with a larger audience because there already is a larger audience for elit—they’re just not reading the same things we are. The larger audience is gaming their stories, tweeting their traumas, and plurking their pathos, all without ever hearing the phrase “electronic literature” or knowing that writers such as myself, and so many others, even exist. And if they do not know about our brand of elit, whose fault is that? For sure, the ELO, I ♥ E-Poetry, and other organizations and individuals have done much to bring our brand of elit to the public eye. Their good work continues, and they have our lasting thanks. We would be so much worse off without their help and hard work. But in the end, it has to be a group effort if we want electronic literature, as we know it, to survive us.

So here is my call to everyone involved in electronic literature: if you are not doing it already, get the word out. Write about and talk about and teach as many different types of elit as you can because the young writers-in-waiting, the ones who are aching to try something new, must have the full panoply of creative works to model from. They must not believe that elit is just randomly generated poems any more than elit is solely stories with traditional plots and characters. We have to share elit in all its iterations and all its platforms, even sharing pieces we do not like. If these students and others see that elit is wide open in terms of form, and has plenty of space for new practitioners… Maybe they, as the next generation of writers, can widen the circle of creative works and engage a larger audience.

NOTE TO SELF: PUT YOUR POETRY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS! Make sure in your next literature class that you demonstrate a wide variety of electronic literature for your students (even the pieces you hate, because some of the students might love them), and give them opportunities to explore more. Encourage the ones with even the slightest interest in elit to come to you if they would like suggestions for further readings, or tips on how they can create and publish their own electronic literature. Make sure they know there is help out there and plenty of publishing, gallery, and festival opportunities.

IMPORTANT! FINAL NOTE TO SELF: Once a month, identify and reach out to at least one writer outside of the known elit community who is writing elit but may not call it by that name. Congratulate them on their work, introduce them to the ELO, and encourage them to get involved with our organization. Do this at least once every month, and more, if possible.