No one is going to tell this boy how he must be.
It also discusses the central critical issues raised by electronic literature, pointing out that there is significant overlap with the Close to the waters edge 2 essay tradition. At the same time, the essay argues that the practices, texts, procedures, and processual nature of electronic literature require new critical models and new ways of playing and interpreting the works.
Because this essay is the first systematic attempt to survey and summarize the fast-changing field of electronic literature, artists, designers, writers, critics, and other stakeholders may find it useful as an overview, with emphasis on recent creative and critical works.
Katherine Hayles opens the aperture more widely and the angle differs slightly as well. Her electronic literature "primer" is a wide-ranging essay that takes the pulse of the e-literature field at this particular moment, reminding us that "literature" has always been a contested category.
While both Hayles and Tabbi agree on many points and cover some of the same territorythere are also some interesting differences between the essays. Both strike me as equally important.
And most of us in the Electronic Literature Organization believe that the two critical orientations represented work together. Brother Paul, the precentor in charge, had detected a murmur from the back row and, furious that the rule of silence was being compromised, strode down the aisle just in time to see Brother Jacob tuck something under his robe.
When he demanded to see it, Brother Jacob shamefacedly produced a codex, but not one that the antiquarii of this monastery had copied — or of any monastery, for this Psalter was printed.
Moreover, if any Thomas, Richard or Harold could find his way into print, would not writing itself be compromised and become commonplace scribbling? And how would the spread of cheap printed materials affect the culture of the Word, bringing scribbling into every hut and hovel whose occupants had hitherto relied on priests to interpret writing for them?
The questions hung in the air; none dared imagine what answers the passing of time would bring. This fanciful scenario is meant to suggest that the place of writing is again in turmoil, roiled now not by the invention of print books but the emergence of electronic literature.
Just as the history of print literature is deeply bound up with the evolution of book technology as it built on wave after wave of technical innovations, so the history of electronic literature is entwined with the evolution of digital computers as they shrank from the room-sized IBM machine on which I first learned to program sporting all of 4K memory to the networked machine on my desktop, thousands of times more powerful and able to access massive amounts of information from around the globe.
The questions that troubled the Scriptorium are remarkably similar to issues debated today within literary communities. Is electronic literature really literature at all? Will the dissemination mechanisms of the Internet and World Wide Web, by opening publication to everyone, result in a flood of worthless drivel?
Is literary quality possible in digital media, or is electronic literature demonstrably inferior to the print canon? What large-scale social and cultural changes are bound up with the spread of digital culture, and what do they portend for the future of writing?
Note 1 These questions cannot be answered without first considering the contexts that give them meaning and significance, and that implies a wide-ranging exploration of what electronic literature is, how it overlaps and diverges from print, what signifying strategies characterize it, and how these strategies are interpreted by users as they go in search of meaning.
In brief, one cannot begin to answer the questions unless one has first thoroughly explored and understood the specificities of digital media.
To see electronic literature only through the lens of print is, in a significant sense, not to see it at all. This essay aims to provide some of the context that will open the field of inquiry so that electronic literature can be understood as both partaking of literary tradition and introducing crucial transformations that redefine what literature is.
Electronic literature, generally considered to exclude print literature that has been digitized, is by contrast "digital born," a first-generation digital object created on a computer and usually meant to be read on a computer.
The Electronic Literature Organization, whose mission is to "promote the writing, publishing, and reading of literature in electronic media," convened a committee headed by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, himself a creator and critic of electronic literature, to come up with a definition appropriate to this new field.
The definition is also slightly tautological, in that it assumes pre-existing knowledge of what constitutes an "important literary aspect. Readers come to digital work with expectations formed by print, including extensive and deep tacit knowledge of letter forms, print conventions, and print literary modes.
Of necessity, electronic literature must build on these expectations even as it modifies and transforms them. At the same time, because electronic literature is normally created and performed within a context of networked and programmable media, it is also informed by the powerhouses of contemporary culture, particularly computer games, films, animations, digital arts, graphic design, and electronic visual culture.
In this sense electronic literature is a "hopeful monster" as geneticists call adaptive mutations composed of parts taken from diverse traditions that may not always fit neatly together.
Hybrid by nature, it comprises a trading zone as Peter Galison calls it in a different context in which different vocabularies, expertises and expectations come together to see what might come from their intercourse.
Note 2 Electronic literature tests the boundaries of the literary and challenges us to re-think our assumptions of what literature can do and be. Digital technologies are now so thoroughly integrated with commercial printing processes that print is more properly considered a particular output form of electronic text than an entirely separate medium.
Nevertheless, electronic text remains distinct from print in that it literally cannot be accessed until it is performed by properly executed code.
Major genres in the canon of electronic literature emerge not only from different ways in which the user experiences them but also from the structure and specificity of the underlying code.
Not surprisingly, then, some genres have come to be known by the software used to create and perform them. The varieties of electronic literature are richly diverse, spanning all the types associated with print literature and adding some genres unique to networked and programmable media.
Smith and then licensed to Mark Bernstein of Eastgate Systems, who has improved, extended, and maintained it. So important was this software, especially to the early development of the field, that works created in it have come to be known as the Storyspace school.
Intended as stand-alone objects, Storyspace works are usually distributed as CDs earlier as disks for Macintosh or PC platforms and, more recently, in cross-platform versions.
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