Posts Tagged ‘Electronic Literature Organization (ELO)

#ELRBOOKS: Book reviews by Kathi Inman Berens

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The ELR is delighted to share a very generous contribution by Kathi Inman Berens that she defined “Five Books About E-Literature Interfaces”. The Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities and Publishing in Portland State University’s English Department chose books that were all published between 2015-2018 to bring to our attention the concepts of materiality and interface in both electronic and print literature. More importantly, what really shows how central the print book as a medium is in digital culture, is the concept of liberature (with b) which reveals in which ways a book conveys literary meaning to the reader.

Good read!

These five books declare new aspects of e-literary interfaces as material sites of inquiry and cultural intervention. Challenged to write short reviews of five books about e-literature, I selected these recent books written by authors living in Poland, Denmark, Norway and the United States paying particular attention to interface as a site of encounter. In addition to being erudite, these books are all immensely pleasurable to read. I sequence them to tell a story from general to specific and back again: from a definitive overview of electronic literature, to the medial history of one interface, to playable books as genre, to a close reading of one e-lit work from three vantages, to a critical treatment of mobile and pervasive literary interfaces.

  • Electronic Literature, by Scott Rettberg
  • The Book, by Amaranth Borsuk
  • Liberature: A Book-bound Genre, by Katarzyna Bazarnik
  • Reading Project: A Collaborative Analysis of William Poundstone’s Project for the Tachistoscope {Bottomless Pit}, by Jessica Pressman, Mark C. Marino, and Jeremy Douglass
  • The Metainterface – The Art of Platforms, Cities and Clouds, by Christian Ulrik Andersen & Søren Bro Pold

In Electronic Literature (Polity: 2018). Scott Rettberg offers a definitive introduction to e-literature suited for classroom use and field overview. Rettberg’s comprehensive vision attends to origin stories that make the claim for e-literature as an essential component of 21st-century literature and art by connecting e-literature to print-borne avant-garde literary movements such as surrealism, Dadaism, Flarf, concrete poetry, and metafiction; and to performance art movements such as the Situationists, psychogeography, Happenings, and various installation artists. Compendious in scope and playful in tone, Electronic Literature is that rare book that can teach things both to specialists and newcomers, inviting everybody to the banquet that is e-literature’s generic diversity. “The Internet is the most important contemporary communication network, but earlier discourse networks, such as the postal system, have also been used for literary art” (156) Rettberg writes, noting postal art as a precursor to network fictions such as netprov, cellphone novels and codework.

This is just one early example in the book of how “commerce-driven communication technologies can be configured as venues [where] the network can take the place of the gallery.” The history Rettberg traces from local or embodied spaces to networks, is structurally replicated in chapters on “Hypertext Fiction” and “Interactive Fiction and Other Gamelike Forms.” E-literature is perhaps still most associated with hypertext in the cultural imagination, which Rettberg calls “a strange situation” because it’s “the genre that has been most written about in the field while simultaneously the genre least actively pursued by writers in recent years” (86). (Don’t worry, Twine fans: Rettberg devotes a good chunk of the “IF and Other Gamelike Forms” to discussing this open-source hypertext framework and community, which Rettberg depicts in his discussion of Porpentine’s works as a lovechild between hypertext and interactive fiction.) The traffic between community formation and technopoesis is an abiding theme of this book, attending carefully to who made what and when. That kind of documentation is especially important because e-literature works are highly ephemeral. Rettberg masterfully charts a field of literary influence with emphasis on nodes; his work distantly reading e-literature dissertations and citational practices, and his curatorial practice of exhibiting significant media archeological archives such as PO.EX, supplies a bird’s eye view of a field that Scott Rettberg knows intimately, having founded the Electronic Literature Organization in 1999, an organization now global and multilingual. “In spite of the short life span of many works of electronic literature,” Rettberg notes, “genres of electronic literature don’t die, nor do they fade away. It is more appropriate to consider how genres and forms . . . serve as building blocks for other forms that follow them” (201).

One implication of Rettberg’s comment on genre is that the traditional literary standard for canonicity is imbued with the technopoetics of print as a durable technology. Amaranth Borsuk’s The Book (MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series: 2018) historicizes “the book” as a medial creation space whose capacities stretch beyond genre or canon in a well-scoped, -designed and -executed “pocket” book written in accessible language. Like Rettberg’s book, Borsuk’s is also ideal for classroom use. The book ushered forth a number of significant and enduring literary relations: between author and reader, author and publisher, publishers and readers. Borsuk grounds each chapter in book materiality; the first, “Book As Object” includes hand-drawn illustrations depicting the evolution of writing technologies. Chapter two, “Book as Content,” focuses on the book as “body,” an “intimate” space, and attends to the paratextual cues that have evolved over time and made the book a remarkably efficient random-access interface. (I like Borsuk’s clever demonstration of a pointing-finger manicule on p. 87). An avant-garde poet herself, Borsuk’s chapter on “The Book as Idea” distills how artists’ books depart from the book-as-commodity. The book is a surprisingly stable category given the bold experiments with book size and today’s multiplication of commodity formats. “Amazon offers us the same ‘book’ in paperback or Kindle edition, at slightly differing prices . . . . When books become content to be marketed and sold in this way, the historic relationship between materiality and text is severed” (112). Borsuk tours through artists’ books by William Blake, Stéphane Mallarmé, Ed Ruscha, Ulises Carrión, “theatrical” bookmakers like Fluxus artist Alison Knowles, and Bob Brown’s “Readies.” Her personal fascination with computational book arts manifests in this chapter’s extended rumination on moveable books of all sorts: the recombinant poetics of Queneau; CYOA books, flipbooks and unbound books; and “ephemeral” books, such as Marcel Duchamp’s wedding present to his sister, a geometry textbook to be suspended by strings from a balcony during their honeymoon in Buenos Aires, “where the elements would gradually wear away at it” (185). Borsuk’s emphasis on book materiality moves discussion of “the book” away from well-worn notions of books as “a space of fixity, certainty and order” (194) and springs the radical potential, in the digital era, inherent in a stable publication format. Borsuk’s untaming of the “book” is evident in both grand and quotidian gestures, such as noting the Renaissance readers who used the book as a storage system: “pressing flowers, copying recipes, keeping photographs, compiling clippings”—personalizations that persist today. “Defining the book involves consideration for its use as much as its form,” Borsuk argues. “Our changing idea of the book is co-constitutive of its changing structure” (195).

What are the definitional implications of books’ changing structures? Katarzyna Bazarnik’s Liberature: a Book-bound Genre (Jagiellonian University Press: 2016; Columbia University Press distribution 2018) culminates two decades of work as both book arts practitioner and theorist. The “b” in liberature draws attention to the book’s active role in co-producing literary meaning with readers: print-bound technotexts. Popular versions of liberature in English include Danieleweski’s House of Leaves, Johnson’s The Unfortunates and the amusing graphical oddities of Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. The preëminent Polish liberatic author, poet Zenon Fafjer, launched his career with the liberatic poem Oka-leczenie [“Mute-Eye-late;” “healing/hurting of the eye]” (2000, co-authored with Bazarnik); and his 1999 manifesto “Liberature: Appendix to the Dictionary of Literary Terms.” The manifesto sparked a literary movement that Barzarnik’s book classifies as a genre. In Liberature: a Book-bound Genre, Bazarnik tests generic parameters, taking up phenomenology debates of mid- and late-twentieth century about how sequential space supports reader decoding, and more recent scholarship of genre that examines why generic boundaries are unstable but still useful. Bazarnik defines liberature as “spatialized, multicoded writing inextricably bound up with the material form of the book” (46). Bazarnik’s focus on physically playful books pivots on spatial metaphors: book as “meaningful space,” “navigating device,” “buildings” and “bodies.” These spaces are made meaningful by the creative ways they require people to read (in sections on book as “event” and “performative space”).

Bazarnik’s definitional work in parts one and two sets up the final section on “The Question of Genre.” This one challenges fundamental principles of e-literature scholarship because, as Rettberg’s book and many others make clear, technotexts’ generic parameters can be vanishing points. Bazarnik defends the value of genre as “an important analytic instrument” (110) of technotexts because genre is a common “frame of reference” that rewards efforts to “modify regulatory conventions in the literary field” (117). In her survey of genre’s theoretical contexts, Bazarnik finds common ground by yoking genre to readerly performance, a “repeated verbal behavior that is meaningful in social situations . . . a way of doing things in the world” (168). This relational, contextual definition of genre makes good sense, and does battle with strict enforcement of generic markers that invalidate liberature as “too liberal to be functional in any serious sense” of literary classification (21). One can finish reading Liberature: a Book-bound Genre and wonder why genre is a noun, a thing, as opposed to an adjective: liberatic qualities of engagement. Agnieszka Przybyszewska proposes grading a technotext’s playable properties as varying degrees of liberatic encounter, as do other scholars. Bazarnik’s turn to interactive reading validates liberature as genre, refurbishing genre for an age when reading is interactively heterogenous.  

If Bazarnik aims to situate liberature using existing generic tools, Reading Project: a Collaborative Analysis of William Poundstone’s Project for Tachistoscope {Bottomless Pit} (University of Iowa Press: 2015) underscores the limitations of strict classification in parsing even one e-literary work. Collaborative authors Jessica Pressman, Mark C. Marino and Jeremy Douglass braid together media archeology, critical code studies and visualization as they exfoliate William Poundstone’s Project for Tachistoscope {Bottomless Pit} (2005). Attribution matters in Project, but the authorial divisions are deliberately, productively messy. Identifying who wrote what discloses the edges of expertise and allows readers to chart the progress of the authors’ mutual influence. Writing very much for each other, such openness requires emotional “vulnerability” (140) as discoveries “reroute individual interpretive efforts and [lead] to group epiphanies” (138).

The result is a suspenseful book of literary criticism. Chapter one teaches the reader how to read media archeology, visualization and Flash. Chapter two excavates the tachistoscope as a media instrument and Flash as an authoring tool. In chapter three, Douglass’s “core samples,” volumetric readings of Project’s screen output, segue into readings of the “optical unconscious” and the “detritus” of Poundstone’s code, a materialist reading of authorial intention where .fla files [production files] are an “archive of writerly process and intention” (79). Chapter four, “Subliminal Spam,” is the analytic pièce de résistance where the critical limitations of any one vantage on Project dramatically play out then give way to a satisfying synthesis. “I had been foolish to rely too much on my eyes,” Douglass confesses. “Project’s fixed sequence of words had been flickering by me the whole time, disappearing behind video frames and hiding in low contrast black-on-black changes. On reflection, I realized that [his and Mark’s] conflicting viewpoints lead to greater understanding” (97) because the results were neither random, nor fixed, but both: an insight that siloed expertise would not have yielded. Reading Project: A Collaborative Analysis shows that “collaboration is not just a trendy practice but a powerful sea change in academic knowledge work” (140).

In The Metainterface – The Art of Platforms, Cities and Clouds, Christian Ulrik Andersen & Søren Bro Pold track what it means that “today’s cultural interfaces disappear by blending immaculately into the environment” (10) and propose net art and e-literature as materially self-conscious practices that reveal “fissures” in “habitual” (159) ubiquitous computing. What is the “metainterface’? It’s the movement of human/computer interaction from the desktop to the smartphone and cloud. Humans are both agents and quarry, where they use smartphones to electively inscribe themselves on the network, but also shed enormous quantities of data harvested by media companies such as Facebook and Google. For Andersen and Pold, e-literature resists the mostly invisible ways interfaces manage us. Chapter one renovates Benjamin’s theory of art’s “tendency” to reveal “fissures” in the smooth surfaces of technical revolution (24). Resetting Benjamin’s “The Author as Producer” essay in our contemporary media ecosystem, where shifts in the culture industry preview the broad shifts from owning to licensing, sharing and leasing, we see loss of of ownership as also a loss of the vernacular web, and the privacy it fostered. Chapters two, three and four canvas a range of metainterface manifestations: cloud-based computing as a “grammar” of interface aesthetics and algorithms that anticipate behavior (chapter two); the ongoing “territorialization” of the urban landscape (chapter three); cloud interfaces touching everything (general) everywhere (global).

Fissures made visible by art call attention to the evitability, the choices, that undergird our engagement with technical architecture. Metainterface highlights many art interventions that make labor and production visible in examples such as Super Mario Clouds (Arcangel, 2002), Summer (Olialina, 2013), Toxi*City (Coover and Rettberg, 2014) and SNOW (Shelley Jackson, 2014-present), among others. Metainterface also surveys how a database art can intervene in the war on terror or climate change by using “interface tactics” for reading (172, emphasis in original). A final chapter on “Interface Criticism By Design” teases out how self-conscious interface design shuttles between use and context. Articulated in case studies of the Poetry Machine (Anderson, Pold and others 2012-present), and A Peer Reviewed Journal About ___ (Cox, Anderson and hundreds of participants, 2011-present), this final chapter shows the radical potential of mindful interface design as an intervention in the black boxes and hidden processes that characterize corporate-owned metainterface materialities.


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.

#ELRFEAT: Interview with Stuart Moulthrop (2011)

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In 2011 Judy Malloy made this long and extensive interview with Stuart Moulthrop in which they discuss different topics related to electronic literature from IT, to language, programming language and the relation between narrative and games. With the permission of the author the ELR adds this interview, that was first published on her website narrabase.net to the series of #ELRFEAT.


About Stuart Moulthrop: One of the first creators of new media literature and a distinguished new media writer, digital artist, and scholar, Baltimore, Maryland native Stuart Moulthrop is the author of the seminal hyperfiction Victory Garden, (Eastgate, 1991) a work that Robert Coover included in the “golden age” of electronic literature.

His works — that include Hegirascope, (1995) Reagan Library, (1999) Pax, (2003) Under Language, (2007) and Deep Surface (2007) — have been exhibited and or published by Eastgate, The Iowa Web Review, the ELO Electronic Literature Collection; New River; Media Ecology; The New Media Reader; Washington State University Vancouver; and the Digital Arts and Culture Conference. Two of his works have won prizes in the Ciutat de Vinaros international competition.

Stuart Moulthrop has served as a Professor in the School of Information Arts and Technologies at the University of Baltimore where he was the Director of the undergraduate Simulation and Digital Entertainment program. He is currently a Professor in the Department of English University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

He has also served as co-editor for Postmodern Culture, was co-founder of the TINAC electronic arts collective, and was a founding director of the Electronic Literature Organization. He is co-author (with Dene Grigar) of the forthcoming MIT Press book, Traversals – The Use of Preservation for Early Electronic Writing.

In this literate and cyber-literate interview, where, as in the reading of poetry, the reader must occasionally interpret the allusions to other works — from contemporary literature to philosophy to computer manuals — Moulthrop recounts the founding of TINAC, the writing of Victory Garden, the founding (with Nancy Kaplan) of a department of Information Arts and Technologies at the University of Baltimore, and the creation with Flash ActionScript of his textual instrument Under Language. And he looks to the future of electronic literature.

More information about Stuart Moulthrop is available on his home page at


Judy Malloy: Writer and critic Robert Coover has called your Victory Garden one of the early hyperfiction classics. What were the influences, ideas, paths that led you to create hyperfiction?

Stuart Moulthrop: I take very seriously the idea of life-stories “broken down, and scattered,” as one book of revelation has it; or self-assembled into “small pieces loosely joined,” to quote another.

“Life’s too short because we die,” Weinberger and Levine memorably say in the opening verse of the Cluetrain; and while I can’t dispute this raw truth, it has always made more sense the other way round. The life we have (or at least, our life in language) tends to expand, or had better do, because we have so far managed to keep breathing. Breath released is utterance, and out of uttering (through confusion, and false consciousness, and metaphysics) come words, and writing, and code, and media, and all the other outerings that mark our distributive humanity.

Cyberspace may be literally everywhere and nowhere, but my connection to hypertext is curiously placebound. My understanding comes in large measure from having weathered the 1970s inside the 200 Megaton High Score Zone of the Chesapeake Basin. To survive the Cold War within tolerable aiming error of the Puzzle Palace (with its semi-mythical Memex) was to receive, however haltingly, a certain insight; McLuhan riffing on Vico says any technology pressed to its limit reverses. Bring the heat of the sun down to earth, (or threaten) and you end up cooling it on the anything-but-final frontier, which is not outer space after all, but an even stranger dimension called the infosphere. Where extinction had been, I realized, we would need to install information, or networks. Having come to “cogito ergo boom,” in Susan Sontag’s memorable formula, there was nothing left but to invent the Internet, and see what that might gain us.

I did not invent the Internet anymore than Al Gore did. As the non-appointed President might better have said, we have all invented the Internet, loosely joining up what small and scattered peace we can salvage from the globalized military edutainment terror multimart. To be sure, some of us have simply discovered a shortcut to the convenience store (or obscurity) while others have revealed new vistas and horizons, passages that lead where no mind has gone before. I have known more than my share of major navigators: Michael Joyce and Jay Bolter, Gail Hawisher and Cindy Selfe, Mark Bernstein, Cathy Marshall, Robert Coover and George Landow, John Cayley, Janet Murray and Kate Hayles, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Nick Montfort, Ian Bogost, Eric Zimmerman, Espen Aarseth, and even the father of Civilization Sid Meier, and the great name-giver Nelson himself. (This list is merely suggestive; the names one drops are never equal to those one carries.)

Anything I’ve done, or may go on to do, belongs to the context of their accomplishments, and to the big job we all have, which after hearing me go on for a while about hypertext, a very wise person once defined to me thus:

“You will have to create a new language.”

Her name was Dorothee Metlizki, Professor of Linguistics at Yale, and she said this to me about a year before I started Victory Garden.

Judy Malloy: Ah -, you send forth a cyber-literary collection of allusions in answer to my question — techno-poetically telling where you are coming from and setting the stage for the beginnings of cyberspace narrative, reminding me of a story that there was a young woman who read your Hegirascope and simply got on a train and went down to see you. (Do I remember this correctly?)

The incredible way that the Internet — with hypertext at its core thanks to the web — has pervaded our lives in only a few decades was perhaps predicted by such individual journeys of discovery; I am also reminded of what a University of California plant pathologist once said to me about science being a river that was fed by many streams of research and documentation, which brings us to the next question:

TINAC has always been a seminal yet mysterious entity to me who arrived on separate paths: library data systems, West Coast cyberculture and in particular Art Com Electronic Network on The Well because art space curator Carl Loeffler — who had hosted Kathy Acker, Taylor Meade, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Willoughby Sharp, and Lew Thomas, among many others who used text in their work — was one day visited in his office by Canadian telecomputing artist Bill Bartlett and immediately deciding that the online environment was the place for text artists, enlisted Fred Truck and then, knowing we were on parallel paths, convinced John Cage and then me and Jim Rosenberg and many others of his vision.

Meanwhile, parallel things were happening in other places in the world, and one of them was the group you were associated with: TINAC — Textuality, Intertextuality, Narrative, and Consciousness. For many years, I have wanted to know more about TINAC. Can you tell me about its founding. Who was involved? How did it evolve?

Stuart Moulthrop: On the drop-ins: Donna Leishman got off the train once, around the turn of the century, and I remember how impressed I was with her work; much the way I’ve felt about yours, especially on first seeing. Ingrid Ankerson and Megan Sapnar, who founded Poems That Go while they were in Baltimore, also stopped by my classes once or twice, though I never had the chance to work with them closely.

I recall feeling in the early years that there wasn’t much of a “there” to electronic literature. People seemed thinly scattered across the invisible landscape, and I often felt I was writing for a small circle of friends. (Maybe still the case, and see below.)

The ACM Hypertext conference once described the literary crowd at their conferences as “small but fascinating,” a phrase Michael Joyce particularly cherished, if that is the word. But things changed with the Millennium, and I began to meet people like Espen Aarseth, Markku Eskelinen, Adrian Miles, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Nick Montfort, Jill Walker, and Scott Rettberg, who seemed to think electronic writing had some coherence, and a more substantial connection to history. Efforts like Sue Thomas’ work on the trAce collective, and Deena Larsen’s tireless teaching and workshopping, also helped me to a broader understanding. Many streams, as you put it. (Many muddy streams, my Michael Joyce Emulation Module wants to say.)

First of all, TINAC is almost entirely mythical. I made up “This Is Not A Conference” in the fall of 1988 to describe what Nancy Kaplan might have been thinking by inviting John McDaid, Michael Joyce, and me to spend several days in her house, and maybe teach a class or two. At that point we were neither small nor fascinating, but had already grown tired of academic conferences — to be fair to the Association for Computing Machinery, mainly with Apple’s Macademia events, where we felt increasingly subject to Marketing. I think Michael came up with “This Is Not A Cabal.” The reading you cited (Textuality, Intertextuality, Narrative, and Consciousness) is pure McDaid. I suppose there may have been something Oulipian going on — some conspiracy of art-inventors — thoough with the exception of Michael, I wouldn’t compare us either to those Parisians, or your friends from the WELL. We were an odd and autotelic assembly, not so much Kids in the Hall (undiscovered talent) as Folks from Downstairs — a term I borrow from the late, wonderful Diane Balestri who wrote a book called Ivory Towers, Silicon Basements, about introducing computers to college writing instruction.

Back in those days, computer labs were almost always in sub-surface, windowless rooms. Maybe it was something to do with bomb shelters. Our day jobs at that point, had we been able to see daylight, all involved some form of College Composition and Communication, another Conference whose badge we sometimes wore; which meant that, again with the exception of Michael, we did not identify primarily as writers or artists, but as teachers. Nancy was and remains a developer of scholastic software for collaborative reading and writing. Michael helped reinvent reading, writing, and the Library at Vassar, and other things besides. John has spent a lot of time defining new communication practices in a high-level business consultancy, and publishing science fiction stories that take on very interesting overtones if you know where he works. After a couple of decades in stranger waters, I have come to rest once again in a Department of English.

Maybe an analogy or two will help. The legend that is TINAC seems less like some intensely obscure indie band whose members are all now shepherds, and more like a college-town FM station that flourished for a year or two before the supremacy of News-And-Talk. By which I mean, there was really not much “there” to TINAC, except as a point of circulation and convergence through which some interesting projects happened to pass — Michael’s afternoon, Nancy’s annotation software P.R.O.S.E., John’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse, Jay Bolter’s Writing Space, Jane Yellowlees Douglas’ End of Books, or Books without End, and my own early tinkerings. TINAC left the air long ago. The call letters are remembered only dimly, the DJs are all forgotten, but somewhere out there, doubtless on the Net, we’ll always have the music.

Judy Malloy:

>The call letters are remembered only dimly, the DJs are all forgotten,
>but somewhere out there, doubtless on the Net, we’ll always have the music.

Yes, and I would also note that such groups of artists and/or writers who got together and created a school — I’m thinking of the Impressionists, the Macchiaioli, the Society of Six, the Bloomsbury Group, Oulipo, Group f/64 and many others — have had a lasting impact on art, literature and culture, although their importance is not always immediately apparent to the wider world.

Now, there are virtual gathering of artists and writers in this Internet world: Cathy Marshall and I sharing meals virtually as we included the details of our daily lives in our correspondence for Forward Anywhere; or the information about the creation and exhibition of new electronic literature in Canada and in California which Fortner Anderson and I exchanged, after we “met” on Art Com Electronic Network. (Actually we have never met in person).

Yet there is nostalgia for a world where the Society of Six went painting together in the hills of California and returned to Selden Gile’s cabin, spreading their work around the room and drinking red wine while Selden cooked dinner. It is nice to hear that TINAC began with an actual gathering at Nancy Kaplan’s home.

So, in this global village of our pasts, you were born in Baltimore, went to George Washington University, got a PhD at Yale. And then?

Stuart Moulthrop: And then fell predictably and more or less happily off the Yale tenure track, where I’d unaccountably landed after my doctoral work, then pitched up in Austin, where Victory Garden was born and largely written. I came down with a severe allergy to Texas politics, and for some reason decided the air would be nicer in Atlanta, so left UT for Georgia Tech, where I stayed three years and did a lot of thinking about hypertext, though relatively little creative work. After that it’s yet more academic CV, I’m afraid. Two generous job offers at the University of Baltimore sucked me, along with Nancy, back down the gravity well of my Old Neighborhood — I ended up working about three miles from my place of birth. During a decade and a half in Baltimore, we founded a department of Information Arts and Technologies, which has a graduate program in Interaction Design and Information Architecture, as well as an undergraduate degree in game and simulation design, which I built from scratch with my good friend Kathleen Austin, who had the original idea.

Being in a major center of the game industry, we’ve been able to place graduates with Firaxis, Big Huge, Bethesda Softworks, and other world-class studios. One of our finest alumnae now works for Sid Meier, who brought the world Civilization. I’m immoderately proud of her.

Building the game degree had other rewards, too: it gave me a practical stake in certain arguments about narrative and ludology, and Espen Aarseth’s notion of “ergodic” culture; it also led me to teach a bunch of things I’d never have dared otherwise, including 3-D graphics and game coding. These engagements promoted my tendency to arrested development, so that more than one recent ex-teenager has told me, “you don’t really seem that old.” More points of pride. Happy as the game program has made me, it was also clearly turning me into an academic administrator; and while I’ve gotten fairly technical late in life, spending six days a week in meetings meant I had no time to design or code anything. So when University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee went looking for a research professor with an interest in digital media, game culture, and electronic literature, I jumped, and ended up in a very happy place. Even if the state does tend to vote Vogon.

Judy Malloy: “The routes through Stuart Moulthrop’s new hyperfiction “Victory Garden” are almost literally countless,” Coover wrote about the work in The New York Times. Can you talk about the creation of Victory Garden? What was the role of the Gulf War in the work? How did you begin using Storycpace. How did you structure and interface the work? Or whatever you want to say about Victory Garden.

Stuart Moulthrop:

>Can you talk about the creation of Victory Garden? What was the role of the Gulf War in the work?

The first Gulf War grabbed my attention about as strongly as September 11 did a later generation’s. While my Texas boots were never on the ground — Victory Garden is largely about war As Seen On TV — there was one arguably related fight too which I was party: George H.W. Bush’s decision to launch a “culture war” (his words) against American progressives. After the horrors and excesses of his son’s regime, people tend to forget that rightward lurch by the old man — a somewhat feeble attempt to spin up the Nixon-Reagan Southern Strategy. I choose not to forget, just as I somehow can never overlook Mr. Reagan’s decision to curtail my teenage brother’s survivor benefits the year after our father died. True, as some of the Gulf War vets I’ve worked with have reminded me, you only really understand how stupid it is to call anything political a “war” when the first actual bullet goes past your ear. But words do not just go past, they enter the ears, and other orifices, and there we are.

>How did you begin using Storyspace. How did you structure and Interface the work?

I started playing with Storyspace in the late 1980s, when Jay and Michael handed me early beta versions. At the time I was more interested in HyperCard, largely because of its multimedia features. There are painters and visual artists in my family tree, I’ve always been powerfully attracted to comics, and HyperCard seemed a better solution for images, animation, and sound. I might have been stumbling toward something like the Miller brothers’ Myst, though clearly I was never going to get there, or anywhere very interesting, on my own. So when the intense desire to write something out of the events of 1990-91 presented itself, I turned back to Storyspace, which was and remains a marvelous tool for a certain kind of writing.

Moving to Storyspace initially took interface issues off the table. There were three sorts of reader module, and I chose the one that was closest to what we would now call an e-book, because Victory Garden was meant to be mainly a literary hypertext. Graphics sneaked back in, of course, in places like the cracked screen, and the graphical map; but these moments came later. The map, which was the very last thing I added to the project, represents the Return of the Repressed Interface. Somewhere along the line I had decided that Victory Garden would have about three dozen default reading paths, all of which could be accessed by repeatedly pressing the Return key after a certain point. (Michael had introduced this idea in afternoon.) Attempting to represent those paths in visual form led to the map, which bears only a highly metaphorical relationship to the actual arrangement of the text.

I also like to point out another component of the VG interface, which is the accreting sentence the reader may choose to construct, one word or phrase at a time, in following initial links into the work. For some reason — mainly, I think, the fact that the old Macintosh interface has been replaced by the more powerful scheme Mark Bernstein developed for Windows — not many readers notice the old forking-paths machine. This makes me a little wistful; though not really upset, since it means people are far more interested in following links than in flipping virtual pages: so much the better.

Judy Malloy: Thanks Stuart! As we move into the present, your words bring up the role of the writer and the role of the reader in new media literature. Having recently played with eliciting language in quite a different way — Andrew Plotkin’s Interactive Fiction Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home is currently featured on Authoring Software — I’m interested in the role of the writer/poet, the role of the software, and the role of reader in your contemporary works, such as Under Language. In Under Language, the idea of language and of a poet’s written words as gift is compelling. The reader participates in the creation of “the poem” (if he or she plays to win) while at the same time spoken “under language” challenges the reader to explore implicit meaning. There is a pleasure in the receipt of the poem, and the whole calls attention to the value of a poet/storyteller’s words.

What led you to work in this way?

Stuart Moulthrop: Simply put, an even-now-still-growing conviction that the idiom of code and the older idiom of human expression are both valid constituents of poetry. I won’t begin to claim originality for this idea — see the work of Jim Carpenter, or Daniel C. Howe, to cite two cases of prior art. I do feel, though, that this sense of convergence is important, especially as writers become increasingly familiar with procedural tools and methods.

Judy Malloy: “Actionscript spoken here” a voice informs me; clearly there is a relationship between the poem and the authoring system. Can you talk about the software tools you used to create Under Language?

Stuart Moulthrop: Under Language is a love-poem to ActionScript 2, written shortly before I eloped with her even more charming cousin A.S. 3, whom I have since dumped for an earlier paramour, JavaScript. The sordid lives of the software poets.

More seriously: I thought it was important to reverse the figure and ground of code and literary expression, because for me at least, the latter seems unimaginable sans the former. I should point out, though, that “ActionScript spoken here” is at least initially an option, not a prescriptive. That is, the player/reader/poem-operator may bypass this possibility and opt instead for “Plain English, please.” If thrown (or expressed) the plain-English switch (or gene) renders all audible/computable statements in pseudocode, which I tend to prefer.

Judy Malloy: And then in a work where reader response can be quite different, there is the question of how the creator of the work knows what the reader will do. In the work that I am now writing, (Part II of From Ireland with Letters) the reader sees four parallel columns where text appears polyphonically at the will of the author, but the reader can also chose to click on any column and advance the text, while surrounding the text that he or she is controlling, other texts will continue to appear. When my work was disk based, and I saw it running in installations, I could watch people interact with it and sometimes I even made changes as a result of this. But on the web, I don’t know if most readers watch while the narrative produces the words, or take control themselves. I suspect the later, but I don’t know. The work was designed to work either way.

The question is: Do you know how readers play Under Language? Is this important?

Stuart Moulthrop: First, I very much want to see/hear/play the work you just described. Which is a way of saying what you just said, namely, How Does Such A Thing Work? I have no idea what anyone does with Under Language. User testing was confined to an N of one, (Jill Walker Rettberg) who crucially advised that the poetry was not good at all. So I stayed up all night, wrote something marginally better, then shipped. Which either makes me a typical software engineer or the evil opposite of one, depending on how long since your operating system last crashed.

Again, though I play here for (probably imaginary) laughs, there’s a serious point lurking. As e-writers, *we don’t know enough about what readers do with our stuff*, especially on the Web. Like you, in the very early days I had the chance to work with captive reader/players, mainly my own and others’ students. But not in a long, long time since, and I think this is bad.

It could be exceptionally important to create a testing program for electronic literature. I am not kidding. I would give huge kudos to anyone willing to operate such a thing. We should write a grant. Or someone should. Anybody?

Judy Malloy: And the last questions are:

What are you working on now?


How do you see the future of Electronic Literature?

Stuart Moulthrop:

>What are you working on now?

Right now I’m trying to teach two new courses in Milwaukee while running away to Australia, but in one of those classes, my first ever creative-writing workshop in newly-mediated lit, we are producing “poems of internet of novel.” These are partly found, partly hand-crafted, poem-like objects that begin life as Google searches using phrases from Michael Joyce’s “novel of internet,” known as Was. Since Michael wrote in part under the inspiration of the Searching Muse, (“Googlemena” as he names her) this is a curious exercise in reverse engineering. It’s also (in my mind anyway) a kind of response to the recent “flarf” outbreak in contemporary poetry, which I love and deplore; and also perhaps an experiment in writing-as-reading, or literary reception as (re)production. Also, historians of minor writing take note, this is my very first significantly multi-authored literary exploit, soon perhaps to be some kind of hypertext, or maybe even, who knows, words on actual pages.

Beyond that, I have plans for something called Videogame, a novel, which will of course be neither.

>And how do you see the future of Electronic Literature?

On the one hand, glorious and boundless so long as our species endures (arguably afterward) — because the literary impulse is really nothing but the respiration of language, which I affirm to be cosmic and immortal. On the other hand, perhaps extremely brief — I wouldn’t go beyond the 2020s — because as Kate Hayles points out, “Electronic Literature” is the opposite of an oxymoron, (not oxygenius, but pleonasm) since these days there’s effectively no Literature absent Electrons. In 1990, the computer scientist John B. Smith predicted the term “computers and writing” would seem increasingly ridiculous by the end of the century. Smart man, Dr. Smith. I’m not sufficiently cynical to suggest the Death and Transfiguration of Electronic Literature will stop the experimentation you encouraged me to try. You and I belong to an early generation (probably not the first) of Interface Artists. There are and will be others; but I wonder if they will come to regard the fundamental plasticity of the medium inevitably as an unmarked term. Can we imagine a mate of Proteus, and what s/he must have thought of the marriage?

Anyway, they’ll be on to neutrinos any minute now.


Melbourne, Australia

This interview was created via email and posted in October 2011

#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

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 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.


Kingston University's Literary Magazine

Damocle Edizioni Venezia

Bookshop / Casa editrice indipendente


Artists Books, Original Prints and Drawings


stories, poems & toys for the web…


Machines, noise, and some media archaeology by Jussi Parikka

Sonia Lombardo

Ebook editor, richiedi i miei servizi di formattazione, editing e SEO per i libri online


Un libro è per sempre.

Reading Digital Fiction

We aim to introduce more readers to digital fiction and investigate digital fiction reading using cognitive and empirical approaches (funded by the AHRC).

Poesia Ú~ ///// Dia Inú~ ////

o primeiro poema a ser escrito que serve realmente para alguma coisa

Coeva, the novel

by TheCoevas: Musicians of Words / Strumentisti di Parole