Posts Tagged ‘aesthetics

Interview with Reham Hosny

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What do Scheherazade, a Persian mathematician and the Rochester Institute of Technology have in common? Electronic literature!

The Arabic culture has contributed in many different ways to the history of electronic literature and there are many works of Arabic electronic literature. The ELR has interviewed Reham Hosny, the director of the Arabic Electronic Literature research group which aims to the creation of a network of Arabic authors and scholars and the promotion of Arabic electronic literature.


ELR: Reham Hosny you are a member of the Arabic Electronic Literature research group. How did you get involved with electronic literature and what is your role in the research group?

Reham Hosny: Well, it just so happened that I started working with Sandy Baldwin at WVU and then RIT in my Ph.D. project, which focused on digital poetics in the Arabic and Anglo-American contexts. I am lucky to be the first Arab scholar to study e-lit internationally with a prominent professor like prof. Baldwin who has become my role model and mentor. By the time, I have participated in many conferences focusing on the development and pedagogy of e-lit and proposing new perspectives on e-lit such as my newly presented concept of Cosmo-Literature.

This start opened many avenues for joint projects in the field; an important one of them is Arabic Electronic Literature (AEL) network. It is the first project of its kind ever that is interested in globalizing Arabic e-lit and putting it on the world map of the field. Prof. Baldwin and myself noticed that the Arabic e-lit and the Arab e-lit authors are not represented in the world e-lit scene. Much of the digital poetics is drawn from a small range of Anglo-American texts and critics. To get a broader understanding of the field, we should reflect upon different perspectives on e-lit from different parts of the world. We felt that it’s the time to shift the world e-lit community interest from the western e-lit to e-lit in other parts of the globe such as the Arabic e-lit as well as propose new concepts and ideas on e-lit derived from the Arabic culture specificities.

In September, 2015, we launched arabicelit website with many goals in mind: Firstly, uploading the data of Arabic e-lit writers and their works upon the world databases of ELMCIP to be available for researchers. To do that, we created connections and networks with all the Arabs interested in e-lit. The first stage was completed by uploading the personal data of Arabic e-lit writers. The second stage will include uploading data about their creative works. Secondly, considering holding a conference on Arabic e-lit at RIT Dubai in Feb. 2018. There might be a follow-up conference that will take place a year later at the RIT-Rochester campus. Thirdly, creating academic programs and workshops, publishing research papers on Arabic e-lit works and making comparisons with the world e-lit works to define the place of Arabic e-lit on the world map of e-lit. We will deliver the first of these workshops in the Dubai conference. Moreover, some research papers in English have come out recently addressing Arabic e-lit aesthetics.

Our efforts in the field have already started paying off. For the first time, the Arabic e-lit community was represented on a world interactive map designed by Scott Rettberg depending on the data that we uploaded on ELMCIP. The Arabic e-lit is more recognized now in the world e-lit community than before.

ELR: You participated in the ELO Conference 2017 which took place last July in Portugal with a paper entitled “Roots and Shoots: History and Development of Arabic Electronic Literature”. The Arabic culture has an important influence in the electronic literature. The word algorithm, for instance, derives from its inventor Al-Khwarizmi, a Persian mathematician and also the literary work “1001 Nights” is often quoted as an early example of hypertextual work of literature. What is your point of view on this matter?

Reham Hosny: The Arabic culture is one of the richest cultures that has its effect on different literary and scientific fields. The Arabic language is the official language of 22 countries and one of the most spoken languages around the world. The Arabic calligraphy undergone many changes to arrive at its present shape with three components: The plain unpointed letters, a pointing system above or under some letters to differentiate them from other similar letters which is called “i’jam”, and supplementary diacritics that control pronunciation which are called “tashkil”. These three components of the Arabic calligraphy along with its writing from right to left in a cursive way make it a visual language that can be used in decoration and artistic works.  

In “Roots and Shoots: History and Development of Arabic Electronic Literature”, I addressed the printed genealogies of Arabic e-lit. The reason behind my interest in following these precursors is the fact that “innovative e-poetry will continue to exist in relation to innovative print poetry” as Glazier believes.  

“Alf  Layla wa-Layla” (“One Thousand and One Nights”) which is considered a canonical text in the Arabic cultural heritage since the heydays of the Islamic civilization represents, with its succession of linked stories, a hypertextual precursor to e-lit. The concrete and visual poetry of the Andalusian age in the Twelfth century and the Mamluk and Ottoman ages after that represent rich precursors of e-lit. Moreover, the experimental modern Arabic poetry has many examples that could be considered precursors to Arabic e-lit.

ELR: The Manifesto of Arabic Electronic Literature reads that the community intends to look beyond the hegemony of English language. One interesting development in this respect concerns the creation of a programming language in Arabic as we can see in the code work of Ramsey Nasser and also in the work of the Quwaiti company Sakhr Computers that arabised the programming languages BASIC and LOGO back in the 1980s. What is your opinion about the development of an Arabic code language?

Reham Hosny: Unlike the languages that change every century, the Arabic language is consistent and rich language to the extent that texts from 1400 years back are still readable and understandable. The English language is the dominant language of programming; however, there are some infamous Arabic programming languages. One of the objects of AEL is to create a network and connections among Arab e-lit writers and programmers for future joint collaboration.

Qlb by Ramsey Nasser is an artistic piece that mocks the hegemony of English language in programming to show how biased the field of computer science is. This ambitious work is a good step upon the way of developing programming in languages other than English.

Sakhr is the first leading software company in the Middle East that depends on the Arabic language as its main medium. It has played a great role since 1980s in Arabizing some programming languages, manufacturing computers, and providing different kinds of Arabic language-based software.

I believe that one day, an Arabic code language will be developed to provide many potentials and privileges to the computer science field.

ELR: Another point of the Manifesto is that the community of the Arabic Electronic Literature wishes to expand its field of work and influence. In 2018 the city of Dubai hosts the first conference dedicated to Arabic Electronic Literature. Could you tell us more about the event?

Reham Hosny: As I stated before, holding an international conference on Arabic e-lit is one of the AEL project goals. The conference will be hold on Feb. 25-27, 2018. We already launched a CFP and received many submissions from all over the world in Arabic and English on the topic of Arabic e-lit. The prominent digital critic Kate Hayles will be the keynote speaker of the conference as well as the Moroccan critic Zohor Gouram. We also organized a meeting with many Arab and international scholars in March, 2017, at RIT Dubai to figure out the details and logistics of the conference.

The first workshop of its kind in the Arab World will be delivered at the conference to highlight the digital tools used in creating e-lit and featuring new e-lit genres that are not famous in the Arab World. Additionally, a digital cultural project focusing on the theme of Dubai and Arabic heritage will be coincided with the conference in collaboration with RIT New York and RIT-Dubai. It is supposed that a model of the project will be presented at the conference and Expo 2020 after that. The scientific and organizing committees of the conference include renowned international and Arab scholars. The conference is organized by RIT, New York, hosted by RIT, Dubai, and sponsored by many great foundations like ELO.

ELR: What do you foresee or wish for the future of Arabic literature?

Reham Hosny: The field of Arabic e-lit still needs many sincere efforts to explore its potentials and specificities. We need much collaboration with the world e-lit community to get more experiences on the ways of employing digital media in literature. We also need to close the digital divide in the Arabic e-lit community to compete internationally by training young writers how to use advanced software in writing. A lot of attention should be paid to the Arabic e-lit pedagogy because teaching e-lit in Arabic universities will guarantee its development and circulation. Most Significantly, we are in a bad need of adopting an archiving project because software like Flash is no longer in use that is why some Arabic e-lit pieces were lost.

I dream of Arabic electronic literature that helps rediscover the potentials of the Arabic culture and to be represented and appreciated internationally . AEL is a leading initiative in this vein and our future hope is to get more support to complete achieving its message and join the great project CELL as a partner.


#ELRPROMO: ELO Conference 2017 “Afiliações, Traduções, Comunidades”

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No próximo mês a Universidade Fernando Pessoa, da cidade do Porto, receberá a edição de 2017 da Conferência anual da Electronic Literature Organization, neste ano sob o moto “Afiliações, Traduções, Comunidades”. O blog ELR realizou uma entrevista com o presidente da organização desta edição, Rui Torres, professor associado da Universidade Fernando Pessoa e autor de várias obras de literatura eletrônica.

Co-edição por Maíra Borges Wiese


ELR: Rui Torres, pela segunda vez Portugal organiza uma conferência internacional de literatura eletrônica. Em 2015, estudiosos e criadores de literatura eletrônica de vários lugares do mundo reuniram-se na Universidade de Coimbra na conferência “Digital Literary Studies“. Como surgiu a proposta deste ano para a Conferência da ELO ?

Rui Torres: Uma pequena nota, antes de responder à pergunta: eu fiz parte da comissão científica do DLS, em Coimbra, e espero que ele continue por muitos anos. No entanto, esta conferência (ELO’17) talvez seja um pouco diferente, desde logo porque é especificamente sobre literatura electrónica, ao contrário do DLS que é mais abrangente, ligando-se por isso às humanidades digitais. Os temas DLS foram análise computacional de texto, filologia digital, ensino, acesso aberto… É verdade que também se abordou a criação literária, mas não como ponto base de reflexão.

A proposta de organizar a ELO’17 no Porto surgiu como reconhecimento de um trabalho que temos vindo a realizar na Universidade Fernando Pessoa desde há  duas décadas. O Pedro Barbosa (ex-professor da UFP, fundador do Centro de Estudos em Texto Informático e Ciberliteratura) trabalha na criação, e também na teorização, da literatura electrónica, desde os anos 1970.

Esta conferência surge também no seguimento da publicação que fiz com o Sandy Baldwin com ensaios portugueses sobre intermédia e ciberliteratura traduzidos para inglês, “PO.EX: Essays from Portugal on Cyberliterature and Intermedia by Pedro Barbosa, Ana Hatherly, and E. M. de Melo e Castro” (West Virginia University Press, 2014).

Por fim, como membro do Board of Directors da ELO, cumpro uma das minhas funções, que é organizar eventos relacionados com a ELO.

ELR: Qual foi o maior desafio encontrado na organização deste evento?

Rui Torres: A mediação entre culturas diferentes (a ELO, por um lado, com as suas raízes norte-americanas; e o Porto, em Portugal), mas também a organização de múltiplas tarefas (Conferência, Festival, Exposições), alguma dificuldade em encontrar patrocinadores para as exposições, e a organização e preparação das exposições elas mesmas. Se fosse apenas uma Conferência científica… Mas não: são 5 dias de actividades, das 9h até às 23h… em cinco espaços distintos.

ELR: Um dos tópicos da Conferência é «Comunidades».Pode-se dizer que há um desenvolvimento das pesquisas acadêmicas nas universidades de Portugal? O que diria sobre a atual situação dos estudos sobre literatura eletrônica no país?

Rui Torres: O programa de doutoramento em Materialidades da Literatura, coordenado pelo Manuel Portela na Universidade de Coimbra, é talvez o mais importante espaço de investigação nestas áreas, pelo menos nestes últimos anos.

Eles (MatLit) são, aliás, um dos parceiros da Conferência, nomeadamente pela participação de vários curadores com origem ou sede de trabalho na Universidade de Coimbra, mas também nas comissões científicas do Festival e da Conferência.

Há depois duas revistas que têm dedicado o seu espaço para a divulgação de pesquisas nesta área: a Revista Cibertextualidades, que eu fundei e coordeno, com sede na UFP; e a revista MatLit, associado ao programa com o mesmo nome da UC.

Há muito trabalho sobre artes digitais, nomeadamente nas Faculdades de Belas-Artes do Porto e de Lisboa, há o Future Places no Porto, o Artech, etc. Mas são abordagens muito abrangentes, que acabam por não se focar (intencionalmente) num tema específico, como é o caso da ciberliteratura.

ELR: Outro grande tema da Conferência é «Afiliações», que parece dar especial atenção às práticas de re-leitura, recriação e remediação digitais de obras criadas em materialidades diversas, mas não-digitais (com ênfase nas criações mais experimentais características do século 20). Como percebe a importância da materialidade digital para a preservação, divulgação e revisitação da tradição literária e de obras de movimentos de vanguarda e experimentais ainda pouco conhecidas?

Rui Torres: Esse é o aspecto central da nossa abordagem nesta conferência.  As três strands da Conferência (Afiliações, Comunidades, Traduções) pretendem estruturar diálogos e debates, criando um diagrama da literatura eletrónica e ampliar a consciência da história e da diversidade do campo. Nesse sentido, pretende-se contribuir para deslocar e re-situar os pontos de vista e as histórias sobre a literatura eletrónica, construindo desse modo um campo maior e mais expansivo, mapeando relações textuais descontínuas entre histórias e formas.

O tema “Afiliações” relaciona-se com o facto de entendermos a literatura eletrónica como trans-temporal, com histórias (anda) por contar. Para tal, propomos abordar perspectivas diacrónicas e genealógicas, possibilitando os estudos comparativos, dando espaço para uma arqueologia das relações ​​entre a literatura eletrónica e outras práticas expressivas e materiais, como a poesia barroca, o futurismo e dada, o concretismo, a videopoesia, etc. Claro que nos interessam estas arqueologias no sentido de identificar o modo como essas formas expressivas são recriadas e transcodificadas em formas digitais de literatura, mapeando assim os antecedentes estéticos e materiais da literatura eletrónica.

ELR: Serão os participantes portugueses maioria nesta edição da ELO Conference? O que você espera da receção do evento e de seu impacto para o desenvolvimento do interesse – desde por parte de alunos na fase escolar ou universitários às pessoas da comunidade em geral – por literatura eletrônica?

Rui Torres: Apenas 10% dos participantes são portugueses. Temos 20 participantes de Portugal, principalmente alunos de doutoramento. São principalmente investigadores de Coimbra, mas também do Porto, de Braga e da Madeira, e há pelo menos 4 portugueses que estão a trabalhar ou a estudar no estrangeiro que também vêm ao Porto falar sobre o seu trabalho. Temos ainda representantes da língua portuguesa, de Cabo Verde e do Brasil. Considerando que temos aproximadamente 250 participantes de 35 países diferentes, julgo que podemos concluir que se trata de um evento internacional, mais do que orientado para participantes portugueses.

O facto de o Festival e as Exposições serem abertos à comunidade, sem necessidade de pagamento de fee, pode ajudar a disseminar um pouco estas novas formas de escrita. A ver vamos!

Written by ELR

June 18, 2017 at 10:00 am

#ELRFEAT: Entrevista a Joesér Alvarez (2017)

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O ELR – Electronic Literature Review (Revista de Literatura Eletrônica) tem a felicidade de publicar esta entrevista realizada por Maíra Borges Wiese, doutoranda do programa “Materialidades da Literatura“, da Universidade de Coimbra. A entrevista com o multiartista brasileiro Joesér Alvarez inicia a nova série deste blog, a divulgação de entrevistas escritas por outros.  #ELRFEAT


Maíra Borges Wiese: Poderia nos contar como chegou a se interessar em criar poemas, no começo do anos 2000, com os recursos multimídia do computador?


Joesér Alvarez: Depois de um flerte com alguns poemas concretos e outros visuais, bem como, ao abrirem-se as possibilidades de novas experimentações com animação em flash e vídeo, ou seja, quando os recursos necessários (hardwre & software) começaram a chegar em minhas mãos é que comecei a fazer os primeiro experimentos em poesia digital.


Maíra Borges Wiese: O seu manifesto «Escalpoético» (2002) tem um caráter notadamente antropofágico, mas poderíamos dizer também “digital” (por ser algumas das principais características presentes na produção de objetos digitais a remediação, o aproveitamento, a colagem, etc): “interferência e apropriação”/ “ponte entre o tipográfico e o eletrônico”/ “sincronia-diálogo com o estabelecido”/ “o passado presente”/ “autoria contrautoria diautoria transautoria”/ “palimpsesto virtual”/ “take it new!”. Como você vê esse aspecto em suas experimentações digitais?


Joesér Alvarez: Principalmente com os olhos. Mas, brincadeiras à parte, a antropofagia, depois de 22 é uma regra sem excessões para quem quer criar algo dentro de uma cultura tão diversificada como a brasileira. O digital é antropófago por sua própria natureza: saber utilizar um sampler talvez, seja o espírito da coisa.


Maíra Borges Wiese: Para você, qual o grande diferencial dos recursos digitais na produção de poesia? Em outras palavras, por que criar poemas multimídia, e não os “tradicionais”, impressos? (poderia comentar tomando como referência alguns de seus trabalhos, como “Oraculum” (2004) e “Scalpoema” (2001)?)


Joesér Alvarez: O grande diferencial é  a variação de mídias, efeitos estéticos e sonoros que encorpam uma proposta aparentemente simples, complexificando sua recepção. Por que criar poemas multimídias? Por que a possibilidade está posta – é um desafio. Por que ir aonde todos já foram? Por que não conhecer outras possibilidades? E, se vc pode abrir novos caminhos ou tecer novas tramas, eis um desafio interessante, melhor que trilhar os já consolidados caminhos. Oraculum e Scalpoema, por exemplo, são possibilidades poéticas e estéticas que não se dizem da maneira tradicional, impressa, e são mais ricos em sua forma digital, plástica e sonora. Penso que uma das  missões do poeta, se é que essas existem, seria criar um cardápio variado, inusitado, que provoque não só a reflexão, mas também um estranhamento crítico. E esse tipo de reação tem que começar com o próprio criador em seu fiat lux.


Maíra Borges Wiese: Seus últimos poemas digitais foram feitos ainda na primeira década dos anos 2000. Alguma razão por não ter desenvolvido mais trabalhos desse gênero? Considera ainda restrito o interesse por obras literárias digitais?


Joesér Alvarez: Não. Meus últimos poemas digitais estão sendo realizados desde 2013, e são hiperlinkados através de um vocabulário semântico em construção – chamando-se provisoriamente de “Haikunins”, ou “haikais bakhunianos” – versos com pretenções anarco-políticas. Um processo, projeto, enfim, uma experimentação. Outras experimentações tem se dado com a utilização do unicode, na própria página do projeto e em outras plataformas, mas sem pretensão alguma a não ser a experimentação pessoal, uma escolha estética, também em processo.

Razões para não desenvolver mais trabalhos nesse gênero não faltam – o que falta muitas vezes são razões para desenvolver novos poemas digitais, novas abordagens. Então, como essas razões tem mais a ver com intuição, deixo que aterrisem no devido tempo, quando surgem, sem me impor qualquer rtitmo de produção que não seja o do desejo. Sem dúvida penso  que o interesse por obras literárias digitais é restrito, que há um reduzido público, e que esse panorama pode mudar futuramente. Mas, como meu foco não tem sido o público, e sim a obra, não perco muito tempo pensando a respeito, pois para mim, essa seria uma questão secundária – em 1º a criação.


Maíra Borges Wiese: Mantém algum interesse pela literatura/poesia digital? Se sim, quais autores, no Brasil e no mundo, mais lhe chamam atenção?


Joesér Alvarez: Sim, sem dúvida. Gosto muito dos trabalhos de Jorge Luiz Antônio, Regina Pinto, Mello e Castro, Jim Andrews, Clemente Padín, bem como de muitos outros autores ligados à poesia visual e concreta.


Alguns trabalhos de Joesér Alvarez:

«Scalpoema» (2001)

«Agora» (2001)

«Oraculum» (2004)

«Cuba» (2004)

Participação em «Ovelhas de Quixotes» (2006)


Resumo biográfico

Natural do Rio de Janeiro/RJ, 1962. Vive e trabalha na Amazônia (Rondônia) desde 1982. Criador e Coordenador do Coletivo Madeirista, e Coordenador do Ponto de Cultura ACME, atua principalmente nas seguintes temáticas: net.art, network, cinema e vídeo digital, intervenções urbanas, site specific, performance, fotografia, literatura, gravura, design gráfico, cerâmica, artivismo, patrimônio imaterial e produção cultural.



Bacharel em História pela UNIR – Universidade Federal de Rondônia, Porto Velho/Brasil, 2002;

Pós-Graduação em Jornalismo e Mídia pela UNINTES – Porto Velho/Brasil, 2003;

Pós-Graduação em Artes Visuais, Cultura e Criação – SENAC, Pólo Cuiabá, 2013;

Pós-Graduando em Cinema – Estácio de Sá/RJ, 2017;


Written by ELR

May 20, 2017 at 10:00 am

#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 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.

Interview with Andy Campbell

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co-edited by Maíra Borges Wiese

ELR: Andy Campbell, since 1999 you publish your works on your website Dreaming Methods. How did you get involved in the field of digital fiction?

Campbell: When I was in my teens I worked in a large warehouse on night shifts unloading deliveries of sand and cement. During the daytime, when I wasn’t asleep, I taught myself to program video games for the Commodore Amiga, until eventually I became accomplished enough to make money out of it. I also started writing fiction.

I bundled a few of my games with prologues or epilogues that could be read from the screen or printed. I made disk-based short story collections for distribution in the Public Domain. My games and ‘digital writing anthologies’ were reviewed around 60 times during the early-mid 90s in the international computing press, and often featured on magazine cover disks and CDs.

During 1998-2001 my writing became heavily audio/spoken word-based, and I did a lot of performance gigs at local (and not so local) cafes, arts centres and theatres. I also began to experiment more seriously with ‘electronic fiction’ or ‘digital fiction’ – and in 2000 registered the domain name Digital Fiction which is now Dreaming Methods.

ELR: The visual composition in your works is very impressive, for its complexity, originality and high quality. How important is aesthetics in your works?

Campbell: For me, very important. I spend a lot of time on the visuals – months. I get many of my ideas and inspiration from the life and work of my grandmother, who was a painter, and even these days I imagine her sitting with me and looking at my work and commenting on its appearance and colours. If she approves, in my mind, then I’m happy. If she thinks it sucks, I work on it more, until I get the reaction I think she’d have if she were here.

ELR: Many of your digital fictions have game features, like Inkubus and #PRISOM, especially for using navigation and immersion tools to make the story progress.  How do you consider the ludic aspect of works of digital literature in general?

Campbell: Because of my background in programming games on earlier home computers, I’ve always had a ‘video game style’ approach to this kind of work. Dreaming Methods is about extreme experimentation, risk-taking, pushing the written word into unusual/unexpected digital places. It’s also about creating glimpses or ‘portholes’ into atmospheric, often short-lived worlds, where text exists as an integrated part of the fabric. The technology that powers video games provides a fantastic platform for that kind of realisation. Game-style mechanics allow for reader/player exploration through common control systems. And, for me, game engines allow many layers of media to be mixed in ways that would be very tricky through browser-based technologies alone.

ELR: Some of your works, like The Dead Tower and #Carnivast, mix programming code language with verbal language in the composition of their textual parts. How to read them, or interpret their functionality (especially to readers that are not used to programming code language)?

Campbell: You are referring here to my work with Mez Breeze, which began in 2012 with The Dead Tower.

I’m fascinated by the idea of ‘digitally born’ narratives that carry little or no obvious ‘baggage’ from the ‘traditional’ writing world. Much of my non-collaborative work (including The Flat, Glimmer and Dim O’Gauble) was written spontaneously into software GUIs (Graphical User Interface) and edited/modified ‘live’ as the work evolved. Mezangelle appealed to me as an entire poetic language born out of digital, and, after being lucky enough to collaborate with Mez, is now a beautiful part of a series of increasingly rich and evolving narrative worlds.

Although Mezangelle can exist in print, I see it primarily as a kind of ‘liquid’ or ‘quantum’ language; challenging to uninitiated readers, of course, but also infused with meaning and ripe with dazzling aesthetic potential. Mezangelle can be experienced in as many ways as it can be interpreted, from studious unpacking to an almost mesmerising visual flow.

ELR: Many of your digital fictions have a kind of enclosed atmosphere, like Glimmer, Duel and The Flat, and sometimes provoke a mix of feelings of curiosity, fear and anxiety. Why is this atmosphere common in your works?

Campbell: For me, digital is a multi-layered medium which invites a curious but also fearful exploration, a drawing back of curtains behind curtains, lies inside truths inside lies. Stories don’t just start at point A and end at point B, they ripple and twist and duplicate and rewrite and mutate and bend in on themselves, much like human memories and experiences. That can be frightening, but also compelling and rewarding.

My work started out extremely enclosed and dark (Fractured, Facedown for instance) – far more than it is now. Some of it is rendered in black and white. Chaotic, scrambled, enigmatic, bordering on horror. When I look back, I feel like that was my direction ‘being born’. I was finding my way, shedding a sense of confusion and anxiety about the world around me as a young person no doubt, but also as an artist getting to grips with a complicated medium.