Electronic (Digital) Literature

Examples of what nowadays is considered electronic literature have been around longer than is commonly believed. A love letter generator, created by Christopher Strachey for the Manchester Mark I computer in 1952, is considered the first example of digital. Some of the bestselling software of the 1980s were works of electronic literature (such as Nick Montfort’s Riddle Machines: The History and Nature of Interactive Fiction). Since then digital literature has been continuously evolving, making use of newly available technological possibilities and author experimentations. In critical studies of this area of literature, Michael Joyce’safternoon, a story, Stuart Moulthrop’sVictory Gardenand Shelley Jackson’sPatchwork Girl are among the most commonly discussed works (Wardrip-Fruin, PDF).

N. Katherine Hayles defines electronic literature as texts that have been digitally created (“digital born”). Print literature that has simply been digitized is not considered digital literature. Only texts that originated on a computer and are intended to be read on one (including all the genres of print literature as well as genres exclusive to interactive environments) are considered digital literature. The Electronic Literature Organization has come up with another definition, that encompasses printed works whose creation is dependent on computing technology: for example Brian Kim Stefan's computer-generated poem Stops and Rebels (Hayles).

The ELO definition reads as follows, “The term refers to work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer." According to the ELO, the role that the computer plays in the process of creating the text is very important and offers many conceptual, visual, aural and interactive opportunities. However, reading and writing still play an essential role in digital literature (Electronic Literature Organization).

Interestingly, Hayles makes the distinction between “classical” (mainly recognizable through blocks of texts (lexia) and a limited palette of visual and aural effects, heavily relying on hypertext links) and contemporary/-postmodern (which make more use of new technological possibilities) works of electronic literature. She also notes that this distinction is not intended to be demeaning to the former, but rather serves as a notion for different aesthetics. Hypertext fiction is evolving in many hybrid genres as well, including but not limited to “network fiction,” “interactive fiction,” “locative narratives,” “interactive drama,” and “generative art”.



Reader Response Theory »