electronic literature collection - vol. 1 10.27.2006, 12:52 PM
posted by ben vershbow
Seven years ago, the Electronic Literature Organization was founded "to promote and facilitate the writing, publishing, and reading of electronic literature." Yesterday marked a major milestone in the pursuit of the "reading" portion of this mission as ELO released the first volume of the Electronic Literature Collection, a wide-ranging anthology of 60 digital literary texts in a variety of styles and formats, from hypertext to Flash poetry. Now, for the first time, all are made easily accessible over the web or on a free CD-ROM, both published under a Creative Commons license.
The contents -- selected by N. Katherine Hayles, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg and Stephanie Strickland -- range from 1994 to the present, but are stacked pretty heavily on this side of Y2K. Perhaps this is due to the difficulty of converting older formats to the web, or rights difficulties with electronic publishers like Eastgate. Regardless, this is a valuable contribution and ELO is to be commended for making such a conscious effort to reach out to educators (they'll send a free CD to anyone who wants to teach this stuff in a class). Hopefully volume two will delve deeper into the early days of hypertext.
This outreach effort in some ways implicitly acknowledges that this sort of literature never really found a wider audience, (unless you consider video games to be the new literature, in which case you might have a bone to pick with this anthology). Arguments have raged over why this is so, looking variously to the perishability of formats in a culture of constant system upgrades to more conceptual concerns about non-linear narrative. But whether e-literature fan or skeptic, this new collection should be welcomed as a gift. Bringing these texts back into the light will hopefully help to ground conversations about electronic reading and writing, and may inspire new phases of experimentation.
bowerbird on October 27, 2006 1:45 PM:
> this sort of literature
> never really found a wider audience
> Arguments have raged over why this is so,
> looking variously to
> the perishability of formats in
> a culture of constant system upgrades
> to more conceptual concerns
> about non-linear narrative.
don't forget "lack of compelling content"... ;+)
Gary Frost on October 28, 2006 10:00 AM:
Good point on content. Legacy electronic literature uses legacy single authorship rather than collaborative authorship or machine writing that connotes screen reading. I enjoy duplex or double Babblfish.
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What happened here is a duplex translation from western to eastern to western. An autopoesis. This isn't Aramaic to Greek to Latin by humans. This is autotranslation to autotranslation, a mono-culture accentuated. Never a second thought or sequiter. (it gets better)
gabriel on October 29, 2006 11:52 PM:
I don't know if that is real literature (lat. letter). Maybe if that definition is changed for another more semiotic. But it isn't the same. I like anime, and if we consider the side narrative, that would be literature. (like a narrative genre). But the question is: is it really literatura? With the old canon, I don't think so.
I think that is media-ture more that litera-ture.
dan visel on October 30, 2006 12:22 PM:
There's a very nice meditation from Ron Silliman on this (and a number of issues germane to the Institute) here: http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com/2006/10/imagine-how-much-harder-it-would-have.html
alex itin on October 30, 2006 2:48 PM:
this is a great link and look forward to reading through Volume I
sol gaitan on October 30, 2006 5:24 PM:
A fortuitous an very superficial "reading" of the Electronic Literature Collection, v. 1 yielded a heterogeneous array of "electronic literature," in which none of the works had a great deal to do with words, but a lot to do with meaning. Reiner Strasser and M. D. Coverley's "In the White Darkness," does not have text, it's a visual poem where photos and sounds surface and fade like lost memories. In Patrick-Henri Burgaud's "Jean-Pierre Balpe ou les lettres dérangées," the algorithm plays the central role in the "writing" of the poem. Giselle Beiguelman's "Code Movie 1" doesn't use words but the hexadecimal code of JPG images, set to music, as a signifier in its own right. So, as Ron Silliman says:
Imagine how much harder it would have been for Gutenberg to have invented the Western version of the printed book if he had also had to invent the literature this new technology was to print.
What struck me while looking at the ELC was the notion that electronic literature, at least in this version, is intimately related to its electronic format. The notion of writing then goes well beyond words, turning from semiosis to semiotics. Systematization becomes even more elusive.
scott on November 2, 2006 4:12 AM:
Ben, Thanks for the great write-up. The collection didn't include any of the earliest hypertext written in Storyspace because that work still being published by its original publisher, which Eastgate has every right to continue to do. We expect that future volumes will continue to look both to the past and to current work. While we did select the works, the editors were doing so from within a pool of works that were submitted by authors who agreed to the Creative Commons license. Anyway, some interesting discussion here. I think that literature has historically taken a variety of forms, and that whether something is literature or not has as much to do with whether or not the community of practice in which it is produced, and the authors themselves, consider it to be literature, than it does with any kind of strict definition we could apply. A lot of this work is on the border between writing and something else: conceptual art, visual art, artificial intelligence, game, animation, performance. That formal diversity is one of the reasons why I find the (still relatively young, in historical terms) field so intriguing.