Technoscience / Ecomateriality / Literature


E-lit critique (general)

October 29th, 2014 | Posted by Cathy Li in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

We create literature and we flourish in it. In literature, our language never sets boundary for our imagination or limit for the superfluity of emotions. The power of logical and empathizing language in literature has connected each one of us closer than ever in novels, biographies, and scientific literatures. The electronic literature (e-lit), blooming since the end of last century due to the maturity of information technology, however, has opened another door to the verbal and other forms of expression of human thoughts and emotions. The emergence of such form of literature has pushed the boundary of what we would call “literature”, and it has brought us numerous benefits of reading that traditional literature cannot offer.

In contrasts to what people commonly think of e-lit as a digitized version of literature printed out on the paper, e-lit exists in its own inclusive form. Katherine Hayles commented that e-lit must be “‘digital born’, a first-generation digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer” (3). So if the piece of literature on your computer can be printed out without losing any feature of the original piece, it cannot be called e-lit. Hayles, in the same passage, quoted the Electronic Literature Organization’s formulation: “work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-along or networked computer.” (3) This explanation is particularly interesting because it not only points out that the media that present e-lit must be computer instead of papers, but the fact that the definition of e-lit cannot be pinned down metaphysically or timelessly, because it depends on the computer in our discussion. The update of information technology, which includes the hardware that produce, process and present the information, is in fact exponential. With each update of the information technology, the technological media seep into e-lit and change it. From the traditional and stick-to-the-paper-style Portable Document Format (PDF) that can be opened by Adobe Reader, to Electronic Publication (EPUB) that allows the reader to keep track of the reading speed, and from simple structured website City Stories by J. R. Carpenter, to the comprehensive interactive math learning website Mathigon, our digital reading experience has updated from both the increasing complexity of writers’ intention and the exponential tech-boosting from the technicians’ innovation.

The sudden injection of e-lite questions the never-changed definition of the word “literature”, and how e-lit sits with the traditional form of literature that we have been used to for hundreds of years. For example, think about what newspaper can do when it present news of massive deaths from a natural disaster or a war. The editor might deliberately insert words such as “heart-breaking”, “catastrophic”, “grievous” etc.; or at most a poet might write lines and lines to condole with the deaths and try to make the readers sympathetic. However, Death Moves It Forward, a website created by Jody Zellen, combines the written/pictorial representation and the vocal representation of the death news during the war (i.e. from the newspapers and the radio) with a simple Flash in which everything moves in a quick and erratic fashion. The combination of visual and auditory description impacts the reader as multiple sources of information to evoke the reader’s past experience and create a sense of chaos, which is what we usually feel when we hear death news of someone close to us. This piece of literature shakes the reader in a way that words on paper can never do, simply because it stimulates multiple senses we possess. It seems like e-lit embarks on an approach, which the traditional literature cannot substitute, to express authors’ intentionality and emotions.

Nevertheless, scholars have attempted to give out the characteristics e-lit, from which, I think, hints us in how to decide whether a piece of work is e-lit or not. Noah Wardrip-Fruin, an associated professor in the computer science department of University of California, Santa Cruz, says that “data, process, interactions, surface, and context” (Gould) are the paradigms of e-lit reading. All these paradigms of the e-lit requires the development of computer science, wherein it is the computer scientists who contribute, rather than the traditional writer. Wardrip alleged “Writers innovate on the surface level, on the reading words level – while computer scientists innovate at the process level, the algorithm level, perhaps without words at all.” (Simanowski 36) Here, the difference of e-lit and traditional literature resides not in how it affects us emotionally but the underlying creation processes. Hayles also argues that in e-lit, “human-only language and machine-readable code are performed as interpenetrating linguistic realms, thus making visible on the screenic surface a condition intrinsic to all electronic textuality, namely the intermediating dynamics between human-only languages and machine-readable code.” (21) This might hard to understand at the beginning but easy from the view point of a computer scientist. Four of the five elements, if not all of them, must be created by computer programs: data – possibly generated by the user but read and processed by codes, process – what codes do to transform input to output, interactions – how programs receive information from the reader and respond correspondingly, surface – mostly contributed from the writer but the digital representation still requiring technical support, and context – an immersive environment of reading created by “WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointers)” (Simanowski 43) which necessarily implies the presence of the computer. Particularly, the context computer programs provide are most well utilized paradigm and differentiates the traditional literature and e-lit, as it evokes multiple senses of the reader or different functions of the same sense. For example, in City Stories, Carpenter embedded the poem describing the living environment of a “Wohngemeinschaft”1 in a drawn flat with multiple windows that the reader can click on (i.e. interaction as well) to display a particular section of the poem. This helps the reader to actually visualize the quarreling couple upstairs and the view of all the linens hung-up… The unique features of clicking everywhere to get contextualized gives the reader the opportunity to explore the literature rather than passively receive all the information from the author.

Then what this particular experience – e-lit provides us with something that traditional literature does not – tell us, is captivating. The lengthy history of literature, associated mostly, if not only, with human language, modestly salutes the incredible capacity of human language that captures our imagination and emotion; but it has finally reached its limitation, or even its impossibility, achievable by electronic literature. The fact that e-lit echoes more emotions in the reader by evoking their other senses implies the imperfection of our language because there is a part of us that it cannot reach, but a song or an image or a video or a particular smell can easily capture. True that e-lit is created by machine language and simplistic axioms, but its effects, somehow possibly, recalls a part of us that cannot be reduced to language or, what really is humanity.



1. Wohngemeinschaft: apartment-sharing-community


Work cited:

Gould, Amanda. “A Bibliographic Overview of Electronic Literature.” Electronic Literature Directory. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.

Hayles, Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame, Ind.: U of Notre Dame, 2008. Print.

Simanowski, Roberto and Jörgen Schäfer. Reading Moving Letters: Digital Literature in Research and Teaching : A Handbook. Ed. Peter Genddlla. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag ;, 2010. Print.


Deena Larsen’s Firefly is a fascinating electronic literature piece that enriches and adds valuable depth (quite literally) to a traditional structure of written poetry to augment the reader’s experience. Although Firefly may at first appear to be a normal poem, Larsen challenges typical linear narrative structure and utilizes Flash hypertext to add interactive layers to the piece. The digital poem consists of six stanzas, each “five lines ‘long’ and six lines ‘deep’” (Larsen). The “depth” derives from the hypertext – each line of the stanza is clickable and rotates between six possible strings of text for that line. Larsen uses this affordance to take Firefly beyond the bounds of linearity and provide self-described “multi-dimensional spaces for meaning, subtext, and context” (Larsen).

Creating a meaningful reader experience is critical for crafting a successful electronic literature project, and Firefly puts the reader experience first and foremost on its list of priorities. Larsen strikes an effective balance between authorial intent and open interpretation by providing a malleable, responsive work that still manages to fit within the atmosphere she desires. The content itself of Firefly exists within a certain haunting, mysterious aesthetic. Larsen uses a dark, murky color scheme of greens and browns for the background, with eerie brick structures reminiscent of a graveyard. The poem itself describes a narrator’s fleeting nighttime encounter with a firefly, and the narrator heavily romanticizes the firefly while giving vivid descriptions of its movements. There is a certain level of anthropomorphizing, and the narrator appears to view himself and the firefly as equals. On the surface it appears to be an insignificant encounter, yet the narrator’s heartfelt musings show that it is clearly a powerful moment for him. In one possible reading of the poem, the narrator recounts, “I pour a life’s memories out before him like spilled wine to break the silence” (Larsen, Stanza 5). Larsen evokes sympathy from the reader, as she describes the narrator’s struggle to communicate with the firefly. The final stanza is arguably the strongest of the poem, with one possible reading being “The moment breaks as if nothing had existed…leaving nothing inside to remember what lies afterwards” (Larsen, Stanza 6). A chance encounter that appears trivial ends up leaving a gaping emptiness for the narrator, and it is difficult not to empathize with his sadness. It is true that Larsen leaves it up to the reader to change the lines to create powerful emotional messages (the two quotations referenced above are manipulated stanzas rather than the default configurations). However, these possibilities are specifically designed to remain in line with the gloomy ambience that Larsen seeks to establish. In her book Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary, N. Katherine Hayles describes the challenges that E-Lit writers face in trying to incorporate “conventional narrative devices such as rising tension, conflict, and denouement in interactive forms where the user determines sequence” (Hayles 16). Larsen takes these challenges head-on, and provides an interactive experience that is constructed to maintain its poignancy regardless of the user’s choices.

The power of Firefly is in its unique combination of surface simplicity and depth of meaning. The interchangeable lines are masterfully crafted and arranged such that any permutation provides a reasonably readable stanza. Larsen is successful in staying well-grounded and not trying to do too much with the project. That is not to say that her work lacks effort – at a UND Writer’s Conference in 2010, Larsen admitted to spending six months on Firefly, explaining that “getting everything to fit together takes a long time because you actually do have to sit there and think about these things” (Larsen 2010). By pouring so much effort into a small, focused work, Larsen creates a clean and rich final product. The depth of the project and the countless possible arrangements for the poem make it an E-Lit piece that is worth re-visiting many times, as each read will surely be a different experience.

Firefly certainly qualifies as electronic literature, and its literary merit is evident, though its technology and interface are not particularly ambitious or avant-garde within the realm of modern E-Lit pieces. Indeed, the project has an extra dimension that adds depth beyond the scope of traditional poetry, but at heart it is still simply a collection of words. The project could reasonably be re-created in a physical representation, but it would be more cumbersome to navigate. It is also important to bear in mind that Firefly was created in 2002, and making hypertext with flash is quite passé now while it might have been fairly innovative for a project at the time. It was likely for the better that Larsen was not overly ambitious in writing Firefly, and perhaps the project medium and structure itself can even be seen as a metaphor for the story it contains. The project’s presentation is simple on the exterior, yet it provides additional layers that add significant meaning and emotional depth. Similarly, the narrator’s encounter with the firefly could have easily been a bland moment in passing, but it turns out to be a beautifully melancholy interaction with unexpected vividness. While some E-Lit focuses heavily on interesting technology and exciting user experiences and perhaps lacks in literary merit, Firefly is towards the opposite end of the spectrum. Larsen’s technology is not flashy in any way, but she utilizes its affordances to their full extent in designing an enhanced poem.

Firefly serves as a valuable example that electronic literature can exist in an augmented digital medium without sacrificing contextual and sub-textual literary meaning. In The Language of New Media, Lev Manovich appears to disparage the merit of electronic literature, claiming that “all new media objects, whether created from scratch on computer or converted from analog media sources, are composed of digital code; they are numerical representations” (Manovich 27). Gould examines Manovich’s position in A Bibliographic Overview of Electronic Literature, arguing that his statements seem to “sever the literary from the work by effectively mathematimacizing e-poetries and e-literatures” (Gould). Gould is correct that Manovich is “rather harsh” (Gould) in his opinions, and indeed his blanket statements are disrespectful to electronic literature writers. The fact that digital literature works are stored as numerical data at the lowest level has hardly any impact on the majority of reader experiences with said works. E-Lit writers design their projects using words just like any other writer, and they choose to take advantage of (and be influenced by) certain technological media. At heart, an e-lit project is still a literary work, and does not deserve to be discredited based on its mathematical representation at the lowest level. Electronic literature works like Firefly should be praised, despite imperfections, for their efforts to push boundaries of scholarly tradition and provide an augmented experience that enables readers to think and feel in new ways.


Works Cited:

Gould, Amanda. “A Bibliographic Overview of Electronic Literature.” Electronic Literature Directory. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.

Hayles, Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame, 2008. Print.

Larsen, Deena. Firefly. 2002. Web.

Larsen, Deena. “Reading: Deena Larsen”. UND Writers Conference. 23 March 2010.

Manovich, L. (2001). The language of new media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.


With technology revolutionizing all aspects of life, it is no surprise the humanities have been altered by its advances. Electronic literature is a medium through which the written word can be observed and taken in from a different perspective, and like many technological-based advances, “electronic literature is entwined with the evolution of digital computers” (Hayles). The types of e-lit pieces swirling around in the Internet can only exist with the help of computational programs such as code and other types of elements that bring these literary ideas to life.

One example of electronic literature is Alan Bigelow’s Because You Asked. Alan Bigelow is an artist who produces interactive stories on the web, and Because You Asked is an interactive version of his autobiography. It is found on a website with a blank, faceless canvas that decodes a portion of his face every time a button is pressed and abstract music playing in the background. Each button is a symbol of an idea that helps make up his personality. For example, by clicking on a button shaped like a home, words under the canvas convey that he “always had the comfort of home” and the next button, which is a symbol of a clock, tells us he “works to support [his] art” (Bigelow). After each button shows us a Bigelow truth, the picture of his face slowly begins to appear. Apart from the house and the clock, there are eight more buttons that represent specific ideas that help decipher his personality as well as his facial construct. With both technology and the humanities intertwined in this type of project, Because You Asked is an example of electronic literature, a “born-digital literary art that exploits, as its muse and medium, the transmedia possibilities of the digital” (Gould).

Before being categorized as electronic literature, Bigelow’s interactive story had to be qualified by specific criteria that distinguish the electronic from the nonelectric. It had to possess elements that allow it to fall within the definition of electronic literature. “Electronic literatures have rearranged the literary and reconfigured textual potentialities” (Gould). It is clear that this project utilized the computer interface to create an interactive project through where a story can be told. It took the humanities and technology and synthesized them together to create electronic literature. Katherine Hayles, a literary professor at Duke University, states “because electronic literature is normally created and performed within a context of networked and programmable media, it is also informed by the powerhouse of contemporary culture, particularly computer games, films, animations, digital arts… and electronic visual culture” (Hayles). Bigelow’s humanistic qualities were brought forth with the help of computer digitalization. Because You Asked constitutes as an example of electronic literature since it holds the elements Hayles describes as what makes a project e-lit worthy.

Bigelow’s project caught my attention in particular due to the way he presents his story. Although quite simple, the fact that he engages us in his project helps with the way the story is being delivered. We place ourselves in front of Alan Bigelow. With every single fact about himself that he shares with us, we are able to see his personal self as the self-portrait demystifies through his past and his human intentions. This in itself is a type of electronic literature that’s both immersive and thoughtful. Because You Asked captures the idea that behind every face, there are everyday thoughts and decisions that help construct a personality for said face. By immersing his audience, apart from getting to know him and how he looks like, we allow ourselves to be self-reflective on the message the project is trying to convey.

The literary element of the project is seen through the narrative that the author himself shares with us. We see the thoughts he has of himself, and he uses that to not only tell, but also show his audience a story about himself. We are then able to infer the meaning of the project and the reason for why he utilized the form of electronic literature to show his story. Another element this project possesses that gives it literary merit is the fact that it poses dialogue. People are able to talk about this piece and find the meaning behind it. People can relate to the story he tells and offer their opinion over his reason for creating something that exposes his human qualities.

Through the use of computers and technology, electronic literature is able to advance contemporary literature. We live in an era where technology touches everything, and there is no doubt that there is dialogue disagreeing with literary scholars intertwining literature and technology. Some state that “the place of writing is again in turmoil” and they question whether “electronic literature is even literature at all” (Hayles). Many more argue whether a literary piece should even be seen of literary merit if it has various aspects of digitalization, but to question whether “literary quality is possible in digital media” is futile due to the pace technology is advancing. It was only a matter of time until a book was published electronically. Now, contemporary literature is seeing a phase shift in the way it is being presented. Sure, it may not just be written and printed in paper, but electronic literature holds as much merit as a narrative bounded in paper. Transitioning the humanities from the written form to the electronic form should not have a negative impact on the audience.

Electronic literature is simply yet another medium through which a story can be told. Because You Asked is a narrative of Alan Bigelow’s life and thoughts. Through this piece, the audience can infer different meaning and see how it shares a single story, what it means to be human. After all, literature should be used as a medium of self-expression through which humanistic disposition is offered, regardless of whether it is printed word or digitalized word.

Electronic literature helps augment the reading experience through the different mediums it is presented. Through electronic literature, “the academic world and the world of popular culture” are being bridged in order for today’s generations to interact with the humanities (Mott). In a society where technology dominates a wide part of our lives, we have to find ways to hold on to our stories and allow them to survive. Electronic literature is a new medium through which stories can be shared, but it helps engage readers and keep them attuned with the humanities.


Work Cited:

Bigelow, Alan. “Because You Asked.” Web. 28 Oct. 2014.

Gould, Amanda. “A Bibliographic Overview of Electronic Literature.” Electronic Literature Directory. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.

Hayles, Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame, 2008. Print.

Mott, Chris. “Electronic Literature Pedagogy: A Questionable Approach.” Electronic Literature: New Horizons For The Literary. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.

E-Lit Critique – Rememori

October 28th, 2014 | Posted by David Builes in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Rememori is a flash based memory game, poem, and electronic literature piece made by Christine Wilks. Logistically, it is made up of six distinct levels, all of which consist in the player trying to match certain tiles. Each time one of these tiles is pressed, a question or statement whose theme is about memory loss appears. For example, some questions include, “Do you recognize me?”, “What city are we in?”, and “How much longer?”. The user can choose to play as different characters, where the options clearly correspond to the characters one finds at a hospital, e.g. a doctor, a carer, a nurse, etc. As the levels advance, the tiles move from being in an orderly grid to being in a randomly ordered mess. Furthermore, what is behind the tiles goes from being relatively concrete, for example a picture of a brain, to being quite bizarre, for example a deranged clock spinning out of control. Lastly, as one advances towards the end of the game, the brain in the background becomes more and more faded, until by the end of the last level, the whole screen slowly vanishes into pure whiteness. The game squarely belongs in the electronic literature genre because it is born digital, it is essentially digital, it includes literary elements that make it more than just a memory game, and it uses its medium well to provoke a particular feeling for which it is hard to provoke in any other way.

As a starting point in situating Rememori within the genre of electronic literature, the following conception of what it is to be a piece of electronic literature is helpful: “Electronic literature is born-digital literary art that exploits, as its muse and medium, the transmedia possibilities of the digital” (Gould). Rememori easily satisfies the first requirement in being born digital; it is also an example of an essentially digital piece since there could not be a print version of the game which included the sounds, the questions popping up, the timer and score counts, etc.

Does Rememori satisfy the second requirement of being an example of literary art? Here, one might imagine a critic who says that it is “merely” a memory game with little to no literary or artistic value. How are we to draw the line between computer games and electronic literature and which side of that line does Rememori fall? Katherine Hayles, in her work Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary has an excellent response to this question:

The demarcation between electronic literature and computer games is far from clear; many games have narrative components, while many works of electronic literature have game elements. Nevertheless, there is a general difference in emphasis between the two forms. Paraphrasing Markku Eskelinen’s elegant formulation, we may say that with games the user interprets in order to configure, whereas in works whose primary interest is narrative, the user configures in order to interpret. (18)

In other words, when playing Rememori, is it the case that the primary goal is to interpret the message, feeling, and motivation behind the project, or is the goal merely to get the highest score in the game of matching tiles? Whoever says the latter is missing out on really what Rememori is all about, and therefore, using this criterion for demarcation, Rememori clearly falls on the side of electronic literature. The primary literary elements of the game are not the matching tiles, but rather they are the often poetic phrases that appear once the tiles are clicked, the metaphorical significance of the degenerating of the organization of the tiles to the degenerating of a brain, the symbolic nature of the gradual whiting out of the screen at the end, and the coherence of the overall theme of mental degeneracy brought about by the characters, the background, the tiles, the music, and the phrases.

The final criterion left to address is whether Rememori exploits the “transmedia possibilities of the digital”. As a caveat, it should be acknowledged that Rememori does by no means use all the transmedia possibilities of the digital (really no electronic literature piece can) nor can it be said that its use of media is astonishingly comprehensive or “much better than” most other electronic literature pieces. For example, it does not at all use video and its degree of user interaction is pretty minimal (Rememori pretty much unfolds the same however one plays it). Regardless, Rememori does use its media element of being a flash game well. After all, what better medium is there to internalize the feelings of memory loss than an increasingly complicated and degenerating memory game!

Lastly, when one understands the context for why Christine Wilks made Rememori in the first place, much of its literary and artistic value is increased. In her own words,

I began creating Rememori about a year ago, when my father was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s Disease but still living at home, being cared for by my mother. . . my father had a third massive stroke and the prognosis didn’t look good. So for a while, I think I was reluctant to return to the piece. I’m glad I did. There can be no happy endings in situations like these but, now that we have him settled in our preferred Care Home, there’s a sense of respite. I think the work reflects that, certainly in the later stages of the game.”

The fact that the game was motivated not by some abstract thinking about the nature of mental decline in general, but rather by a particular tragic personal incident in the author’s life makes the project a more personable one.  My own grandfather also exhibited a gradual mental decline due to Alzheimer’s which eventually resulted in his death. Since Alzheimer’s is such a widespread condition, in fact one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia (Alzheimer’s Association), this game can also play the sociological or political role of fostering awareness in all sorts of conditions which result in mental decline.

Works Cited

Gould, Amanda. “A Bibliographic Overview of Electronic Literature.” Electronic Literature Directory. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.

Hayles, Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame, 2008. Print.

“Latest Facts & Figures Report | Alzheimer’s Association.” Latest Facts & Figures Report | Alzheimer’s Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.

Wilks, Christine. “Rememori – a New Work.” Crissxross Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.

Wilks, Christine. “Rememori.” Rememori. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.

There is currently a movement that is shifting the medium in which we read literature, from printed text to computer enabled literature. Electronic literature is relatively new and is still in the process of defining itself. The broader definition of electronic literature is currently, “work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer” (Electronic Literature Directory). In my opinion, this definition creates ambiguity as to what projects actually deserve or do not deserve literary merit for their work. The literary aspect is defined by Katerine Hayles in New Horizons for the Literary as “creative artworks that interrogate the histories, contexts, and productions of literature” (Hayles 4). The possible range in the scope of the literary within electronic literature is what makes this movement exciting. It gives writers and creators the flexibility to experiment and develop literary-focused projects that may fail to distinguish themselves as a electronic literature pieces, or may become projects that push perfectly far enough that they can essential redefine the classification boundaries of electronic literature. The extent to which the digital component can enhance the literary is limitless, and as there is further experimentation in this field, electronic literature will model itself under projects that are successful in intertwining the two aspects.

Not all projects are successful in aligning themselves under electronic literature, but one project that I enjoyed and molded under the electronic literature definition was Sydney’s Siberia. Jason Nelson produced this project while he was doing an arts residency in Newcastle. He took 121 different pictures throughout the city and created a poem. He used the use of infinite loops and zooming qualities that computers have, and created an infinite mosaic of the poem. Therefore, when you start the project on the internet, you have a small portion of the poem with a picture in the background and then you can zoom into the picture and find that the primary picture is actually comprised of tiny bits from a library of 121 pictures used in the poem and manipulated by variation of color to replicate just one of the pictures. You can zoom in forever, and you continue to discover all the 121 tiles within the poem.

Screenshot 2014-10-26 19.14.40Screenshot 2014-10-26 19.14.22

This certainly fits into the definition of electronic literature, because the focus of the project is the literary aspect and the meaning behind the poem. However, the poem is complemented by the interactive design generated by the infinitely coded mosaic as the reader is also in control of determining which picture (with part of the poem) to view next. I liked some of the verses within the poem, but what I found most enjoyable about the electronic literature piece was the power I had in controlling the direction I took in reading the poem. This piece reminded me of Daytripper by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, and it was all due to the use of computer coding in presenting the poem. The Daytripper chapters were not presented in chronological order, and I feel that this made the graphical novel more powerful and thought provoking.

In the same light, Sydney’s Siberia poem is not presented in order, and this creates a user-defined order (with repetitions or not). This allows for a unique experience for each individual user and for each individual occasion. Since this project was one of my to study, I must have started Sydney’s Siberia at least 20 plus times. Each time, I took a unique route and by doing so, I had a different interpretation in attempting to make a connection between picture and picture. This sort of project not only had the typical challenge for a reader to try and decipher the literary meaning behind the poem, but it also had the dynamic challenge to try and link the fragmented stanzas. This makes each interaction with the project an engaging academic challenge. Another task for the reader that I noticed was simply trying to determine where the poem might start and where the poem might end. Without the use of the computer capabilities to simulate fragmented and basically randomized poem stanzas, the poem would not be as engaging or powerful. Projects like Sydney’s Siberia use this trans-medial approach with the goal of developing these “simulative, emergent, and participatory models” (Hayles 17).

Critics may argue that these computer-generated features within the project do not align with the literary aspect behind the poem, or that these simulating features might distract or disrupt the literary. In response, I say that these features can develop in sync with the literary meaning behind the poem and its production. In Sydney’s Siberia, my belief behind the digital mosaic was that the creator wanted to demonstrate the thought process that goes behind making poems based on ordinary objects. Making a poem is not necessarily a completely linear development and a big challenge in formulating a poem comes from being able to organize your thoughts in a sequential order. I think the infinite mosaic reaches a deeper level, connecting the reader to the poet’s writing and thought process in developing such a poem. I think the idea is that any poet can have great thoughts and lines but that the figuring out how to link and make a successful poem has its own merit to it. This is reinforced by Janet Murray’s comments about the advantages to process transparency, “calling attention to the process of creation can also enhance the narrative involvement by inviting readers/viewers to imagine themselves in the place of the creator” (Hayles 16). Murray is actually discussing the transparency in the creation of the digital aspect of the projects but this relates to my point that maybe Nelson created this digital support to allow for transparency behind in the production of literary aspect itself.

This does not mean that all the digital aspects in projects related to electronic literature align themselves with enhancing the literary, or even that my interpretation of the digital aspect in Sydney’s Siberia was the actual purpose, but it speaks about the potential embedded in the digital aspects of these new projects. It also reinforces that electronic literature can produce powerful material that may reach higher levels of connection between the reader and writer that no printed based literature will ever be able to reproduce. Electronic literature is headed in the right direction, and it will be through more years of experimentation in this field that great projects, such as Sydney’s Siberia, will emerge.


Gould, Amanda S. “A Bibliographic Overview of Electronic Literature.” Http:// N.p., 20 Apr. 2012. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. <>.

Hayles, Katherine. “Electronic Literature: What Is It?” Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame, 2008.

Electronic Literature

October 26th, 2014 | Posted by Pooja Mehta in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

“Electronic literature is…a first generation digital object created on a computer and usually meant to be read on a computer” (Hayles 3). As Katherine Hayles states in her book, there is a new mode of literature coming about. Much as the change from handwriting to type brought about discomfort and fear, electronic literature is being met with some opposition. It is a very different experience than reading a book, even if it is an ebook. I personally am not a fan of electronic literature. For me, this was my first interaction with electronic literature ever, and it was a very disorienting and unpleasant experience. Unlike my experience with Daytripper, by Ba and Moon, I had no indication of how to “read” the project, and perhaps because of that I lost out on a lot of the merit of the piece and was not able to enjoy it.


One piece that was particularly unappealing to me was Dim O’Gauble. Initially, the theme was totally lost to me, and only after a little Google searching told me that this work is about a grandmother reflecting on her grandson’s visions of the future that came to him in nightmares. The presentation of the project itself is interesting. You start off by clicking in the middle of the panel, and the screen zooms in to reveal a small block of text, only four or five lines long. You then click on an arrow in the panel, and it takes you to another panel, again with a few lines of text, usually about a verse in a poem. You travel this way though the piece—some panels have text that appears and disappears, others have text that cycles through different words or phrases, and still other have hyperlinks that lead you to a completely new pane, where a video runs. These videos all showed a boy turned away from the camera, and each one was set to a different background. The backgrounds look somewhat like they have static, or have flickering shadows, like they’re lit by a fire. There are never any sounds or voices in these videos—only the background music and occasional temporary text appearing and disappearing. Watching this project with the “plot” in mind, I can see how the use of animations and the background graphics of the project convey the indecision and haziness that comes with recalling and processing memories, and how the videos could be of the grandson in the settings he sees in his dreams.


Dim O’Gauble does have a lot of literary merit to it. To paraphrase Hayles, electronic literature must have a foundation that is in accordance to what readers have come to expect with literature. It must have a “deep and tacit knowledge of letter forms, print conventions and print literary modes (Hayles 4). Electronic literature takes these foundational pillars and twists them, with the help of computer interfaces and programming, to the limits of our definitions, and reshapes what we think of literature as a whole. Dim O’Gabule does a good job of upholding this definition. The base of the project is a story that is told through text. Because all of the information we get is through text, and not through the videos or the music, it is indeed literature. However, it is not just text that is presented to you panel by panel, like Candles for a Street Corner. There is no way to take this text and simply type it out without losing a significant portion of the message that the author is trying to convey to you. Part of the message is how the text appears and changes, and if you were to read it all at once, rather than panel by panel, you would lose the process of understanding that the grandmother develops for her grandson. Additionally, the interaction that you must have with the project in order to appreciate the whole thing adds a level of intimacy with the text that simply isn’t possible with a book or a Kindle. You decide where to start, and the story only progresses if you choose for it to. The disappearing and changing text forces you to pay full attention to the project at the onset—you can’t simply skim over it and go back to look at it again, because there is some text that flashes briefly then goes away, even if you return to its home panel.

Regardless of the literary merit of the piece, it was not something that I enjoyed working with. For me, there is a certain pleasure associated with having a text in your hands and flipping through it (to this end, I do not particularly enjoy ebooks either). Even with online literature, you can print it out and get the exact same piece in your hands—the only thing that is lost is the necessity of a power cord and a few sheets of paper. With electronic literature, depending on the intricacy of the project, there is no way to do that. Candles for a Street Corner, a very early and simple piece, could be printed on a piece of paper, but it would lose the graphics and animation that help present it. Indeed, the piece has a link to a plaintext version of the poem, and it fully conveys the theme of the poem. Dim O’Gauble could have the text printed, but then it becomes a poorly written story about a hypothetical scenario of fear and confusion.  An even more extreme project, Rememori would not be possible without the use of interactive computer interfaces. This project involves the audience to choose a persona, and then through that persona play an interactive game. As the audience clicks on the tiles to match them to each other, text appears, a short phrase that is the persona’s perspective on Alzheimer’s disease. If the text were to be printed on paper under all of the different personas available in the story, it would be a completely different piece of work, one that dosen’t have much resemblance to the original. For me, this reliance on interface severely compromises the durability of electronic literature as well. If I love a piece that I saw, and one day want to show it to my child, there is no assurance that the platform it is available on will be accessible. Paper is a sturdyobject that to me, is what literature should be conveyed on. While Dim O’Gauble is a piece that is sound from a literary perspective, I did not enjoy it and would be devastated if electronic literature went on to be the dominant form of literature.


Campbell, Andy. “Dim O’Gauble.” Dreaming Methods. The New River, 2007. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.


Hayles, Katherine. “Electronic Literature: What Is It?” Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame, 2008. N. pag.


Kendall, Robert, and Michele D’Auria. Candles for a Streetcorner. 2004. E-Literature. Born Magazine.

Wilks, Christine. Rememori. 2011. E-Literature.

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