Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

What is E-LIterature?

July 11th, 2013 · 1 Comment

 “Electronic literature, generally considered to exclude print literature that has been digitized, is by contrast “digital born,” a first-generation digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer.”

Electronic Literature Organization

“work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer.”

Key scholars

Dr. Katherine Hayles, Dr. Joseph Tabbi

Forms and threads of practice

  • Hypertext fiction and poetry, on and off the Web
  • Kinetic poetry presented in Flash and using other platforms
  • Computer art installations which ask viewers to read them or otherwise have literary aspects
  • Conversational characters, also known as chatterbots
  • Interactive fiction
  • Novels that take the form of emails, SMS messages, or blogs
  • Poems and stories that are generated by computers, either interactively or based on parameters given at the beginning
  • Collaborative writing projects that allow readers to contribute to the text of a work
  • Literary performances online that develop new ways of writing

Our Role

Important questions

  1. Is electronic literature really literature at all?
  2. Will the dissemination mechanisms of the Internet and the WWW, nu opening publication to everyone, result in a flood of worthless drivel?
  3. Is literary quality possible in digital media, or is electronic literature demonstrably inferior to the print canon?



The e-story “facade” describes a dinner party between a married couple. As the reader interacts with the conversation, the party quickly circles around the couple’s marriage. This work is revolutionary as it can accept any type of language produced by the user and assimilate it into the outcome of the narrative.



Electronic Literature is Not Print

  • Relies on different language.  Need to begin with computer code; an entirely different source language.
  • Hypertextuality.
  • Cool factor.
  • Involves more genres than just literature (digital arts, computer games, and other forms associated with networked and programmable media).
  • Also “deeply entwined with the powerful commercial interests of software companies, computer manufacturers, and other purveyors of apparatus associated with networked and programmable media” (24).
  • “[E]lectronic literature can be seen as a cultural force helping to shape subjectivity in an era when networked and programmable media are catalyzing cultural, political, and economic changes with unprecedented speed” (24).  This is the key point.  How?  For real?  For the better?  This notion can be connected to McLuhan.
  • Espen J. Aarseth suggests e-lit to be “a purely ideological term, projecting an unfocused fantasy rather than a concept of any analytical substance” (21).
  • Is e-lit an attack on the imagination and bound for obsolescence?
  • Reliant on “the grid.”  Privileged genre?


E- Literature – Preservation, Archiving, and Dissemination

How exactly is e-literature preserved and archived? While there are methods to preserving physical work (as books, for example, can endure for centuries if printed on quality paper), how does the archiving of digital media take place? In her article, Hayes mentions that libraries, librarians, conservators and preservationists allow physical work to be conserved, but that no such method or mechanisms exist for electronic literature. This situation is further complicated by the fact that digital media is incredibly fluid – it is constantly changing and its direction is often uncertain (often due to software and hardware updates), making it unplayable or unreadable on newer systems.

The answer to this, according to Hayles, is The Electronic Literature Organization, which has taken a proactive approach to this crucial problem of preservation with the new PAD initiative (Preservation, Archiving and Dissemination Initiative). They collect, in their words, “innovative and high quality” works and compile them in a collection that features 60 recent works of electronic literature, includes brief descriptions of each work, a note by the author(s), a keyword index, and make it available to the public – all while preserving and archiving it. It is, essentially, an online electronic library.

Hayles also mentions that an article available on the ELO website called “Acid-Free Bits” by Nick Montfort and Noah Wardrip- Fruin, offers tips for authors on how to preserve their electronic literature. The tips advise authors to pay attention to how they digitally present their work, and make recommendations such as utilizing open systems instead of closed systems (open systems allow unrestricted user access while closed systems do not), choosing community-directed systems over corporate driven systems, and adhering to good programming practices by supplying comments and consolidating code.

Hayles closes the article by discussing what she calls a “visionary” proposal that is discussed in the essay “Born Again Bits” (Alan Lui et al). The authors in this essay make the proposal of an “X Literature Initiative”, which basically makes the argument that since XML – which is Extensible Markup Language – is and will continue to be the most widespread form up web markup language, it should be a means through which e-literature can be preserved. The proposal also puts forth the idea that a set of practices and tools can allow old works of e-literature to be migrated to XML – allowing e-literature of all ages to be encoded and preserved in the same manner.

Discussion Question:

In her article, Hayles mentions that when it pertains to the preservation of e-literature, the PAD initiative only selects “innovative and high quality” works for their archival collection. In your opinion, what potential problems could arise when it pertains to what exactly is chosen for preservation? How accurate do you think the ELO is in choosing “good” literature that the future generation would find beneficial? Should there be some sort of checklist for what is deemed “high quality”, and thus, preserved in the ELO’s collection?


Tags: e-literature · Uncategorized

1 response so far ↓

  • gunitag // Jul 15th 2014 at 9:52 am

    I think what I like most about e-literature is its quasi-democratic quality: that anyone with the means and internet connection can create/participate in the creation of a work of literature. The PAD initiative described by Hayles, though, is just another way for those in the ivory tower to determine what should and should not be preserved for future consumption. To me, this negates the democratizing effects of the medium and seeks, instead, to harness and tame e-literature into resembling a “canon” as it is currently conceived in university classrooms the world over. Whilst a re-imagining of the canon to include or even be comprised mainly of e-literature is definitely a step in a different direction, I am not sure this is necessarily progressive (if progress is the goal) in the scholarship of literary studies. It seems to me that the human need?..desire? for preservation is weird. Yes, I used the word weird. Why do we insist on keeping things? Possessing them? I understand the need for history but, the artifacts we attempt to shelter necessarily means we exclude all the rest. This is not a new argument. And yet, we are still having it. The beauty of the internet or online community or whatever you want to call it is the fact of its vastness and impermanence—as well as its continuation. The internet persists in all its permutations, virility, dead-links, and so on. As a whole and as a medium of communication, interaction, collaboration, defamation and archival, it exists as the only necessary artifact of human history. Viewed in this way, the internet is the e-quivalent of a global museum of anthropology. And the literature created and housed within it, needn’t be culled or edited and stored in boxes marked “XML” under our beds. Just let it be. And let it die. Or, if it lives, let it live. Though, I guess one could argue that Hayles’ et al.’s desire to collate and collect is as much a part of human anthropology as all the rest and too their efforts (albeit problematic in my eyes) are to be preserved as well. But, I am talking in circles…

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