Technoscience / Ecomateriality / Literature

Electronic Literature

October 26th, 2014 | Posted by Pooja Mehta in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Electronic Literature)

“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.