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Electronic Literature Collection (Volume 1)

Editor: N. Katherine Hayles, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg, Stephanie Strickland
Publisher: College Park, MD: Electronic Literature Organization, 2006
Review Published: May 2008

 REVIEW 1: Kimberly De Vries
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: N. Katherine Hayles
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Scott Rettberg

I would like to thank Kimberley De Vries for her thoughtful review of ELC1. She mentions the difficulty of assessing the size of the different pieces, which can be very large and, for algorithmic generators that create different permutations, virtually inexhaustible, such as Talan Memmot's Self-Portrait(s) [as Other(s)] or Jim Andrews "Stir Fry Texts." One of the suggestions we received in feedback on the project was to include an indication of size. In the website associated with my book Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary, a "sizer" is included that gives a rough idea of how long it may take to read through a piece -- this is approximate, of course, but it may be useful for teachers as they choose assignments. De Vries also mentions the diversity of the works in the ELC1. This, of course, is deliberate on our part, as we sought to include pieces from most of the major genres of electronic literature. Deciding what are the "major genres" is not an easy task, as to date there has been no systematic survey of what these may be and how they relate to theoretical and practice-based research in the field. I attempted such a survey, available as the first chapter in my book and also available on the Electronic Literature Organization website.

Finally, I would like to speak to De Vries's closing remark, suggesting that electronic literature needs to move beyond the popular conception that it is "hypertext" to establish itself as an important part of the 21st canon. I strongly agree with this comment, and I would like to take it further by endorsing the idea that electronic literature pushes the boundaries of what can be considered "literature." Many of the works in the ELC1 do not have words at all, such as Giselle Beiguelman's "Code Movie 1" and Maria Mencia's "Birds Singing Other Birds' Songs" (both mentioned by DeVries). We may well prefer to keep the term "literature" to refer to art works comprised of words or that draw directly on language, such as sound poetry. As electronic literature continues to evolve in a robust media ecology that includes film, computer games, visual art, sonic art, and other areas such as computer simulations and pervasive computing, the boundaries between what counts as "literature" and other artistic and cultural forms will become increasingly blurred. I therefore suggest that electronic literature should be understood to include, in addition to verbal art works, creative works in a larger area that I call "the literary," defined as works that allude to and utilize the traditions, histories, and practices of literature as part of their signifying strategies. While some of the works in the ELC1 lack words, they are all, I would argue, in "the literary."

Insisting on this connection with literary traditions is not an attempt to "colonize" other fields, a concern that some researchers working in game studies have voiced. Rather, it comes from my strong feeling that literary scholars should be involved in the conversations about these works; they need not dominate the conversation, but I believe they should have a place at the table. If they do not, our understanding of the works will be diminished, insofar as the scholarship on them will not discuss how literary traditions illuminate them, and literary scholarship in the 21st century will also be diminished, because it would lose touch with one of the most vital, energetic, and rapidly developing areas of practice that is changing our conceptions of what literature can do and be.

N. Katherine Hayles


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