Towards a Digital Poetics: Electronic Literature and Literary Games

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Towards a Digital Poetics: Electronic Literature and Literary Games

Table of contents :
Acknowledgements......Page 7
Contents......Page 8
List of Figures......Page 9
Introduction......Page 10
Chapter 1 Digital Culture and the New Modernity......Page 14
The Coffee Houses of Digital Culture......Page 18
The Foundations of Digital Art......Page 29
References......Page 33
Chapter 2 Electronic Literature......Page 36
Defining Electronic Literature......Page 39
The Emergence of Electronic Literature......Page 51
The Innovation Problem......Page 64
References......Page 68
Chapter 3 Authorship and Reading in the Digital Age......Page 73
The Author and the Screen......Page 75
Readers as Active Participants......Page 78
Publishing Electronic Literature......Page 81
References......Page 86
Chapter 4 Interactivity and the Illusion of Choice......Page 88
The Aesthetics of Finitude......Page 89
The Digital Sublime......Page 93
References......Page 103
Chapter 5 Digital Materiality and the Politics of the Screen......Page 105
The Meaning in Materiality......Page 108
The Politics of the Screen......Page 113
References......Page 123
Chapter 6 Towards a Digital Poetics......Page 125
A Poetics of Equipoise......Page 133
References......Page 137
References......Page 138
Index......Page 147

Citation preview

T O W A R D S A

D I G I T A L

P O E T I C S E L EC TR ONI C L I T E R AT U R E & L I T E R A RY G A M E S

James O’Sullivan

Towards a Digital Poetics

James O’Sullivan

Towards a Digital Poetics Electronic Literature & Literary Games

James O’Sullivan University College Cork Cork, Ireland

ISBN 978-3-030-11309-4 ISBN 978-3-030-11310-0  (eBook) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-11310-0 Library of Congress Control Number: 2018967280 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2019 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: Panther Media GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland

Electronic literature tests the boundaries of the literary and challenges us to re-think our assumptions of what literature can do and be. —N. Katherine Hayles

For my sisters, Aoife & Aimée

Acknowledgements

As with any such project, there are lots of people to thank, most of whom one forgets until it is too late. Primarily, I would like to acknowledge the professionalism and patience of my editors at Palgrave, Ben Doyle and Camille Davies. Gratitude is also owed, in various degrees for various contributions, to Mary Galvin, Graham Allen, Órla Murphy, Dene Grigar, John Barber, Davin Heckman, Anthony Durity and a great many members of the e-lit community. A few minor sections of this book appeared as earlier drafts in Paradoxa 29 and Literary Studies in a Digital Age and have been reused here with the generous permission of the editors.

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Contents

1 Digital Culture and the New Modernity 1 2 Electronic Literature 23 3 Authorship and Reading in the Digital Age 61 4 Interactivity and the Illusion of Choice 77 5 Digital Materiality and the Politics of the Screen 95 6 Towards a Digital Poetics 115 References 129 Index 139

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List of Figures

Fig. 2.1 Fig. 2.2 Fig. 2.3 Fig. 2.4

afternoon, a story (Joyce 1990) Vniverse (Strickland and Lawson 2002) All the Delicate Duplicates (Breeze and Campbell 2017) Electronic Literature Collection: Volume Two, from collection.eliterature.org

29 29 30 47

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Introduction

This book is not an introduction to electronic literature, nor does it offer a complete history or cogent definition of the field.1 It may well contain content of use to such endeavours, or to readers who are engaging with “e-lit” for the first time, but it is simply not a comprehensive account of the form, how it emerged and evolved, and how it is that we should now be reading and analysing such works. It is rather a reflection on a form that is increasingly prevalent in the artistic world, a form that operates at the juncture between the literary, the ludic, and the sensory. It attempts to situate electronic literature within a cultural frame which has given rise to new types of creative writing, so that we might better appreciate the contexts from which more robust histories and definitions might emerge. This book is a rearticulation of fundamental critical principles which have been suffocated by the hype of the new, it is a provocation to critics, calling on them to further contribute to the manifestation of a digital poetics suited to contemporary electronic literature. It is a first tentative step towards something which might never be concrete. This book might be described as a jumble of ideas, but central to this jumble are a number of concepts thought to be of special importance to how it is that we might come to better understand electronic literature in our present age. In particular, this book will examine the idea of electronic literature as just literature, the illusion of choice, literary spaces, perverse engineering, and found technologies. It approaches e-lit, and the wider aesthetic movement to which it belongs, with a broad contextual lens, though fragments of close reading are also included, as well as xv

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Introduction

interviews with practitioners. In essence, this book emphasises electronic literature’s difference, suggesting what might be useful in future ontological compositions of the form. It might be said that my approach is antiessentialist, refraining from identifying specific attributes and peculiarities of the form. There are aesthetic properties to which I frequently turn, but their presence remains so transient that I do not think it responsible to say that electronic literature, as literary, can be one thing or set of things. The heightened relationship between form and content encountered in this field means that electronic literature is continuously in flux. In the age of literary games, we might see the ludic as foremost among that which is transforming the literary. Play is not a medium, but there are media that are utterly characterised by play, and in such a respect, one might say that play is a medium, that it is the medium when we speak of media in relation to electronic literature. At various junctures throughout this book, the term “literary game” will be favoured when describing a work of electronic literature. This will largely be a reflection of how different titles are perceived, and whether or not they privilege play. This book might thus be seen as an exploration of electronic literature and literary games, a small but useful thing for readers to note. One of the great chicken-or-egg situations is that of the relationship between poetics and hermeneutics—should the study of meaning precede constitution, or is knowledge of the latter essential to our interpretation of the former, and indeed, vice versa? Can we truly understand meaning without some sense of the affectations of artistic forms and states, and is meaning so pervasive that it lends credence to false dichotomies to even ask these questions? How can one have hermeneutics without a poetics, and what is the point of a poetics without a means of interpretation? The symbiosis of these matters is, I think, widely accepted by now, though we do still tend to embed a measure of their separation within critical discourse. When engaging with art as experience, I try to remind myself of an Aristotelian-inspired expression favoured by one of my former colleagues and co-authors, Christopher P. Long: “form matters as matter informs” (O’Sullivan et al. 2016, 386). Quite simply, this is a book in which the central concern is with the poetics of the thing, whatever that thing may be. We already know a lot about the thing, we even have a name for it—electronic literature—but not everyone uses that name, and those who do, fortuitously, do not necessarily always agree on what warrants the mantle, and which other names, classifications and ontologies might best be applied. Where there

Introduction   

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is consensus, it has largely emerged out of cultural and institutional, rather than aesthetic, similarity—electronic literature, one might argue, is a term imposed by a largely Americanised academy. Those of us who prefer ludic narratives say literary games, others say digital literature, screen literature, interactive fiction, e-poetry, e-something, and there are genres and sub-genres within all of the many types and forms. Some say it is all just literature, others disagree. It could well be that there are lots of people creating and writing about electronic literature, they are just identifying their practice as something else. The significance of this book is justified in the increasing popularity of electronic literature—or whatever you might call it—across both education and artistic practice. Perhaps most importantly, as I have argued elsewhere, e-lit is now gathering a popular audience (O’Sullivan 2017). Along with the rise of the digital humanities and digital literary studies, we are seeing exhibits of the stuff appear across the world: like it or not, electronic literature is something. E-lit criticism has been well served by the many scholars who have dedicated their careers to the examination of the form’s many historical, cultural, social, and artistic repercussions, but relatively speaking, there is much more to be done. Hopefully, this book is a very small part of that process. In Chapter 1, readers are reminded that art, much like other aspects of culture, is changing in the digital age. The rise of ubiquitous computing, and the broader cultural upheavals that such has instigated, are essential to our understanding of how art and literature have been transformed. If we are to understand any literary epoch, we must possess an awareness of the cultural parameters that have provided the cause for such. Such is the premise of Chapter 2, where the focus is narrowed specifically to electronic literature and its emergence as one of many newfound creative practices post World War II. Chapter 3 touches upon the ramifications for reading and writing practices, while Chapter 4 dissects the widely held view of electronic literature as non-linear, supplementing this argument with a reading of The Chinese Room’s Dear Esther, an exemplary literary game. Here, I draw connections between electronic literature and the sublime. Chapter 5 discusses digital materiality and the potential to extend the semantics of paratextuality through computerbased art and literature, before Chapter 6 furthers the idea of e-lit as aporetic, suggesting that we might only ever be working towards a digital poetics.

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This book does not seek to resolve the aporetic. Rather, its purpose is to contribute to the progression of a consistent and legitimate digital poetics by contending that electronic literature emerges out of a balance of forces, a poetics of equipoise.

Note 1. Those who want such a text would be very well served by Hayles (2008) or Rettberg (2018).

References Hayles, N. Katherine. 2008. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. O’Sullivan, James. 2017. ‘Electronic Literature’s Contemporary Moment: Breeze and Campbell’s “All the Delicate Duplicates”’. Los Angeles Review of Books, 7 November. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/electronic-literature-turns-anew-page-breeze-and-campbells-all-the-delicate-duplicates/. O’Sullivan, James, Christopher P. Long, and Mark Mattson. 2016. ‘Dissemination as Cultivation: Scholarly Communications in a Digital Age’. In Doing Digital Humanities: Practice, Training, Research, edited by Constance Crompton, Richard J. Lane, and Ray Siemens, 384–97. New York: Routledge. Rettberg, Scott. 2018. Electronic Literature. Cambridge: Polity Press.

CHAPTER 1

Digital Culture and the New Modernity

There is little to be gained from seeking to isolate any artistic form or movement from its antecedents and counterparts. Myopia is the product of critical segregation, wherein readers disengage practices from those contexts that have forged their contours. This might seem obvious, but there is value in rearticulating the axiomatic in times of transformation—when something “new” emerges, many of us fall into the trap of isolating our darlings, whether old or young, from all those other contexts that play a significant role in their construction. How does one look at electronic literature without considering the literary, the ludic, that which we can see, touch, and hear—how does one look critically at anything without such frames of reference, and how do we overcome natural limitations in capacity when attempting to do so? The best we can do is look to those who have gone before, build upon their foundation, and indeed, emphasise those aspects of an exploration we deem worthy of greater emphasis. This task is all the more difficult in emerging disciplines, where the existing critical scaffold is sparse, but the contextual pool is just as wide. Consequentially, we often find ourselves returning to the broader facets of tradition in an effort to situate the emerging within the existing, a hallmark of fledging fields which might be construed as novice to the established, but as foundational to those who do not have the benefit of centuries of refinement. I once foolishly believed that new fields were those in which there was plentiful room for pioneers, when it is actually those who come after that often make the most worthwhile © The Author(s) 2019 J. O’Sullivan, Towards a Digital Poetics, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-11310-0_1

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contributions to a discourse—they benefit from both the strong and weak foundations set down before them, and changeable intellectual contexts which can be shaped to their purpose. Tradition, then, both in acceptance and rejection, is the key to understanding. The significance of tradition has long been acknowledged by artists and critics, the reasons for which are most aptly articulated by Eliot: No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. (1932, 4)

This is what art is, a continuation of that which has come before, and a foregrounding of what is yet to be. History and potential are both vital parts of artistic practice, both in its doing and appreciation. But this awareness needs to be tempered, and Eliot also writes that artists must discourage “following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind or timid adherence to its successes” (1932, 4). Bloom calls this “clinamen”, the tendency of poets to swerve from the past: “The poet so stations his precursor, so swerves his context, that the visionary objects, with their higher intensity, fade into the continuum” (1997, 42). In a respect for tradition, artists gain insight into the heterocosm of their precursors, knowing how to be both the same and different, resulting in, as Bloom states, “a shuddering sense of the arbitrary—of the equality, or equal haphazardness of all objects” (1997, 42). It is in such a manner that we should approach reading contemporary electronic literature, attentive to those precursors and contexts which have shaped the current situation, without being distracted from aesthetics as they exist at present and might exist as we enter subsequent contemporary moments. It is considerably problematic to think of electronic literature as new— what is new, how can anything be new? New is colloquial, useful, in that it hints at the allure of art, at the intangible quality of a style the hallmark of which is elasticity and an inherent resistance to periodisation. New is what we use to express the appeal of the strange, and there is some value in that, but it should not be overstated. Considered in relation to those traditions against which electronic literature’s aesthetic deviations should be measured, yes, there are significant degrees of difference, but we

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divorce influence if we focus too readily on the new—we run the risk of neglecting the swerve. The possibility for neglect emerges from a general hesitancy to acknowledge the fallacy of new media—emergence of newer media is a cultural cycle that has long persisted, and so to describe a medium as new tells us nothing of that medium. It is easy to be seduced by the hype of the new, seduction which leads to the adoption of revolutionary rather than evolutionary discourses. Recent advances in creative technology might appear revolutionary, but culturally, we have been here before: Alan Liu distils the advent of digital literatures into an “encounter … between the literary and the digital”, an encounter which is the next juncture in the “long lineage of such first contact narratives” (2013, 3). This field, the creation and criticism of electronic literature, is the consequence of contact between screens and the literary, and so our concern is, quite simply, screen literature, and new has nothing to do with it. Of course, it is not at all simple, in that the contemporary screen is entirely liquid, and literature is literature, indeterminate through both nature and design. The objects of concern in this space are the product of contact between screens and literature, but the elements of this constitution emerge out of a constellation of contacts. Dismissing the rhetoric of the new is no excuse for the critical status quo to be maintained—there is something going on here, and electronic literature, while literary, cannot be read and interpreted in the same precise ways as its counterparts. The present “first contact” can be likened to the “long lineage” that has preceded it, but it is nonetheless unknown— what we have here is the repetition of a trend that has persisted throughout cultural history, but with its own distinct characteristics and traits. We have been here before, but “here” is the unknown, and to say that we have been to the unknown before is to recognise that the consequences of the journey might be different each time. That is to say, the screen revolution is not the same as its print-based predecessor, that the rise of literary games is not the same as the emergence of cinema—many of history’s first contact narratives belong to a shared lineage, but lineage and being are not the same thing. Paradigmatic shifts in contemporary artistry have presented previously unforeseen—what I suppose one could call new—literary and multimodal phenomena which warrant exploration, and that exploration needs to show loyalty to its subjects. When film first emerged, we recognised its artistic value, value based in visuals, sounds, and words, but

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one does not treat a film as they would a painting, novel, or song. All modes of artistic expression warrant specific critical frameworks suited to the nuances of form—this is not just about developing a vocabulary, but encouraging a network and exchange of ideas embedded in peculiarity. Doing so requires recognition of the tension between the historical and the universal, a tension which exists across all philosophical and cultural explorations. Defining a digital poetics, venturing an explanation of digital culture, is a dialectical process, and one which, in its attempt to identify the universal while remaining conscious of the historical—alluding to a Foucauldian school of thought—is inherently aporetic. But even in the most chaotic of fields and most dissonant of cultural contexts and academies, aesthetic consistencies will always be present, and these are what we should look to as readers and critics. There are two forces essential to any aesthetic—order and disruption. Order is that which constructs art out of the many elements which are needed throughout the act of composition, imposing a system upon a limited selection of infinite variables. Disruption is the intentional or unintentional disintegration of existing or prevailing systems for the purposes of constitution by systematic displacement, or simply, the construction of a new system, or the absorption or manipulation of one into or by another. Order and disruption are commutative, wherein the manner of their implementation can alter both the artistic process and product, but the end result is always the same—art. This persistent dance between order and disruption has received renewed emphasis from critics treating forms which avail of the most contemporary processes. Writing on the “complex dynamics” that exists between literature and science, Hayles refers to the discourse which has emerged alongside the growing symbiosis between the arts, the humanities, and the sciences as “the science of chaos” (1991, 1). Some sixteen years later, Gendolla and Schäfer were still expanding on this idea: As a rule, events are characterized as upheavals if they have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences, both negative and positive. This entails natural or cultural catastrophes, massive destruction of things, circumstances, structures, or systems and their elements just as much as it does their completely new construction, i.e. the long-term establishment of other, historically not yet existing constellations. Both meanings only refer to two poles of one single process: the radical capsizing or the sudden end of conditions and orders of things. Typically, their partial or complete

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dissolution is followed by new sets of laws, different circumstances, structures or new stabilized conditions. (2007, 17)

Shift forward yet another decade, and here we are, still considering literature and logic, words and screens—the general “order of things”. Digital culture is not so different from that which came before that it should be considered in absolute isolation, but rather, it should be assessed alongside its precursors. A swerve exists, and it is upon this swerve that any treatise should be based: why has this swerve come into existence, and what are its repercussions? We should explore digital art in the context of Eliot’s position on the significance of tradition, while subsequently embracing the technologies behind this contemporary turn. Where there has been a dominant language of revolution, there should instead be a language of evolution. The digital age is the new modernity, a reality of our times which is as significant as it is trifling. Electronic literature does not belong to the world of tomorrow, it resides somewhere at the juncture between yesterday and contemporaneity. Screen literatures and digital culture must be defined dialectically, subject to history and as manifestations of culturally significant, yet temporally ambiguous, historical epochs. Criticism of electronic literature should not attempt to assess what is separate, but rather, what is the same, only different. Many scholars have done just that, constructing literary histories that demonstrate the similarities between electronic literature and its antecedents (Funkhouser 2007; di Rosario 2011). To borrow Călinescu’s famed analogy, works of electronic literature are “modern dwarfs on the shoulders of ancient giants” (1987, 13). We have always known this, but sometimes, we forget it.

The Coffee Houses of Digital Culture What is “digital culture”? It may seem exhaustive to problematise a term that seems to have been thoroughly reified throughout contemporary scholarship, but, relatively speaking, the notion of digital culture remains somewhat unstable. Such instability is of concern to scholars of electronic literature because if we are to truly understand the various forms of contemporary screen literatures, we must possess some appreciation of the broader cultural contexts from which they have emerged—it is not enough to conclude that “everything is digital now” and push on as though that statement is not in desperate need of problematisation.

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Take an intentionally trivial example: when scholars speak of Victorian culture, there is relatively little ambiguity as to which set of symbols and experiences they are referring—there is a consistent culture. Just as scholars of the Victorian era do far more than argue over what precisely counts as “Victorian”, the mere historicisation of a cultural epoch is insufficient in the establishment of a stable construction of digital culture—what is warranted is an ontological delineation, informed by the former, but centred upon the latter. We have a greater understanding of Victorian literature because we have examined Victorian culture; if we are to develop a greater understanding of electronic literature, we should also be looking to further problematise the cultural contexts from which it has emerged. To begin with, what do we even mean by “electronic”? What do we mean by “digital”? Not all electronic devices and applications of modern technology are comprised solely of digital components, and the mantle of digital is often applied to any electronic construct without regard for the true nature of the object as a whole. It would seem that, in contemporary culture, to be digital is simply to be new—the word “digital”, particularly within the arts and humanities, is tossed around as little more than a convenient catch-all for anything to do with computers, screens, or the Web. “Digital” has always had a clear meaning within the scientific community, but culturally, the concept has gained an entirely new significance: what is now considered digital by society at large is not based on particular methods of counting and calculation, but rather, on ubiquitous technology and the ways in which we interact with such—“digital” has become a cultural colloquium. We now speak of the “digital age” as though it possesses the fixity of any century. Return to our Victorians, whose critical attentions are loosely dedicated to a specific period in British culture, the reign of Queen Victoria, 1837–1901. Victorian scholars may well challenge this, but I use it purely as an illustration of the chronological stability which the digital age lacks. Even less tangible cultural movements have been more readily established; modernism, for example, while an ongoing aesthetic movement, is generally accepted to have been at its height throughout the 1920s. If we consider the digital age a fresh era of industrialisation, wherein the rise of digital informatics can be seen as the dominant force of industry, we still have issues, because one cannot easily defend when it was that “digitisation” truly began to influence and advance societal shifts.

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We cannot even point to the first computer with ease, for there are fewer notions within this treatise more suited to deconstruction than that of “the computer”. The abacus was a computer, but surely, it would be ludicrous to suggest that digital culture has its origins in the fourteenth century. Computation is not the exclusive reserve of machines, and indeed, as raised by Hayles in the prologue to My Mother Was a Computer, there was a time when it was an entirely human activity. Hayles points to dialogue which reflects how in the 1930s and 1940s people who were employed to do calculations—predominantly women— were called “computers” (2005, 1). In the seventeenth century, the term “computer” was also being used in reference to a mathematician rather than any instrument: Richard Braithwait Gent is largely credited with having coined the term, writing, in Yong Mans Gleanings, about “the truest computer of Times, and the best Arithmetician that euer breathed” (in Galey 2014, 252). But the etymological does little to serve our purpose—what constitutes a computer has radically changed, but this should serve as a reminder of the instability of language and that which it represents. To be “digital”, what constitutes “computation”—even now, in the so-called “digital age”—are widely subjective constructs, and we should be cautious of prescribing rigid points of demarcation to an age which is being defined by an utterly fluid set of practices which are married to technologies that go from emerging to obsolete far more quickly than they can be thoroughly historicised. It is difficult for us to fully appreciate the intricacies of the digital age because we are in it right now and it is very different for us all, and what we are in, and what that difference entails, might well have changed by tomorrow. Not all people are equally digital. But that is not to say that we should not at least try to offer some type of origin story. Pascal’s 1642 calculator is widely regarded to be the first mechanical instrument designed for computational purposes, though some historians argue that Wilhelm Schickard’s schematics predate Pascal’s. Skipping rapidly through the ages—because, as already noted, the “then and now” of computation are entirely distinctive—we arrive at modern computing, with which there is one truly synonymous figure, that of Alan Turing. But again, while Turing’s principles were central to the emergence of digital systems, he too resided in an era that predated technological ubiquity. This ubiquity, the emergence of digital systems as intrinsic to most societal spheres, is where the answer to the current question lies: digital culture did not emerge with those scientific advances

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offered by Pascal or Turing, but, as Nicholas Negroponte suggests, with the shift from mass media as “a process of pushing bits at people to one of allowing people … to pull them” (1995, 84). To reiterate my previous argument, one could quite readily contend that what constitutes “pushing” and “pulling” is entirely subjective, but essentially, the ways in which people communicate and interact with their cultural environments have fundamentally changed, and that is the essential point. As Hayles remarks: “Just as Mother Nature was seen in past centuries as the source of both human behavior and physical reality, so now the Universal Computer is envisioned as the Motherboard of us all” (2005, 3). It remains difficult to isolate with any real precision when Mother Nature became a universal motherboard, but one could argue that digital culture—as most of us conceive of it today—has its beginnings in the late 1980s, when Tim Berners-Lee proposed a standard that would be the foundation of what we now know as the Web. We could go earlier still, as far as back as the mid-1940s, to Vannevar Bush’s hypothetical proto-hypertextual MEMory Extender, or the subsequent Project Xanadu, led by Ted Nelson, who first coined the term “hypertext” in the 1960s. Negroponte’s definition of digitality, to my mind, pre-dates Tim O’Reilly’s Web 2.0. Regardless, the key here is that, approximately around the turn of the century, there was a shift towards participatory culture, driven by advances in mobile and personal computing. The development of TCP/IP was a technological progression, but it was not until such advances were adopted for social purposes that we saw any real cultural transformations. Digital culture, then, can be traced to digital systems becoming an intrinsic part of both the public and private sphere. Technology is akin to the coffee houses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, or the music halls of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Technology is, to transfer Hayles’ metaphor to a similar one embedded in the popular video game, Horizon: Zero Dawn, the “All-Mother”, a sacred techno-goddess believed to be the source of all life. There are stark similarities between the game’s primitive Nora tribe, who worship this goddess—which is later revealed to be a computational system—and our own contemporary society. Pre-dating Hayles, Habermas offers an account of modern society which is readily transferrable to the digital age. His contentions have only been reinforced as mass and social media contribute to pronounced social polarisation and the deprivatisation of the private sphere: “The intimate sphere, once the very center of the private sphere, moved to

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its periphery to the extent that the private sphere itself became deprivatized” (1989, 152). This is not necessarily negative, the Web being the twenty-first-century equivalent of the coffee house: The coffee house not merely made access to the relevant circles less formal and easier; it embraced the wider strata of the middle class, including craftsmen and shopkeepers. Ned Ward reports that the “wealthy shopkeeper” visited the coffee houses several times a day, this held true for the poor one as well. (1989, 33)

Coffee houses, “considered seedbeds of political unrest” (1989, 59), heralded enlightenment thinking, and in turn, what we now perceive as modernity. Society has always had some venue to support cultural transformation on a scale that transcends social strata. When the coffee houses were abandoned, the music halls assumed their place, becoming “simply a fact of life, as pervasive in their influence as video games have been in the early 1980s” (Herr 1986, 204). Notions of participatory culture are not exclusive to Web 2.0, music hall was a community constructed upon a “participatory style of performance”, described by a witness as a means “by which one vulgar mind places himself en rapport with a number of other vulgar minds” (Bailey 1998, 149). Where music hall broke the fourth wall and transformed performance into community, Web 2.0 broke the static remediation of the Internet and transformed it into a cultural sphere within its own right. Now, the music halls are silent, but technology has assumed their role, providing spaces for participatory performance, vulgar minds, and political unrest. The coffee houses and music halls have been succeeded by Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress. Every cultural upheaval has been driven by its own pervasive modes of communication: “The identity of a society is normatively determined and depends on cultural values, on the other hand, these values can change as a result of a learning process” (Habermas 1979, 172). Technological ubiquity is arguably the most extreme iteration of this phenomenon, but it is more remarkable than it is novel—the universality of technology in modern society is no different—and yet, very different—to the prevalence of the coffee houses and halls, the inhabitants are simply drawn from a wider pool. As similar as our current cultural upheaval might be to that of its predecessors, it is insufficient to simply note that our entry into the digital age is history repeating itself. While I would reiterate the warning against

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entering into the sort of hyperbolic discourse that has characterised much of the discussion surrounding the digital, we are living through a significant cultural shift which has numerous characteristics unique to its technological underpinning. Socially and culturally, we are experiencing a new modernity. This is perhaps unsurprising if one accepts the Eliotic view which holds that diversity is central to the construction of cultures: “culture, if it is to flourish, should be a constellation of cultures, the constituents of which, benefiting each other, benefit the whole” (1949, 58). Eliot argues the importance for society, and indeed culture, to possess “friction between its parts” (1949, 58). Digital culture is more than a consequence of technological ubiquity, it emerges from an increasingly abrasive constellation of cultures, a tension between what can and cannot exist within a screen. Our new modernity has emerged in a fashion similar to its predecessors—society has been restructured and its inhabitants have begun to question the established order, using the digital to feed and develop new ideas, and in turn, express and disseminate these ideas. Adorno and Horkheimer introduce their Dialectic of Enlightenment with a general account of modern thinking: “The program of the Enlightenment was the disenchantment of the world; the dissolution of myths and the substitution of knowledge for fancy” (1997, 3). The dialectic, they maintain, lies in their contention that enlightenment, rather than liberating, “becomes the wholesale deception of the masses” (1997, 42), reverting to the myth that it seeks to dispel. They contend that modernity is not the realisation of enlightenment promises, but rather, “a new kind of barbarism” (1997, xi) which reduces culture to “a paradoxical commodity” (1997, 161). A more recent critique of digital culture is Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget, where the wholesale deception of the masses has been realised by the “wisdom of the crowds” (2011, 55), collectivism inspired by social technologies that have given rise to a hive mind. Lanier’s earlier work warns that “[e]mpowering the collective does not empower individuals” (2006), though he later attempts to present models where this might be possible (2013). The failures of enlightenment as expressed by Adorno and Horkheimer are reflected in Lanier’s treatment of Web 2.0 as a barbaric realm, fuelled by many but controlled by few. It is a reenactment of the disenchantment brought about by the program of enlightenment, the substitution of complicated and validated knowledge for the “mob” of the Net. According to Lanier, it seems we were better off in the coffee houses. So where, then, has our new modernity taken us?

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Technology and its ability to facilitate participatory exchange are at the heart of our new modernity, but like all such shifts that have gone before, both utopian and dystopian visions are presented. Some critics present the McLuhan-esque global village as an autopoietic utopia, a cyber-plane of boundless possibility. Pierre Lévy’s virtual world is almost teleological, founded on principles of “self-organization, the continuous self-invention of human communities and their worlds” (1997, 239). In the words of Henry Jenkins: “The politics of critical utopianism is founded on a notion of empowerment; the politics of critical pessimism on a politics of victimization. One focuses on what we are doing with media, and the other on what media is doing to us” (2006, 248). On the one hand, you have the school of thought typified by Lanier, wary of the continued concentration of power that mass media creates, a realisation of Adorno and Horkheimer’s enlightenment concerns. In opposition, you have those who see participatory culture as a positive force, which we can still shape to be “more inclusive, more dynamic” (Jenkins et al. 2018, 305). There is a familiar opposition here: a division between the producers, the consumers, and the automata that facilitate the production. Information generation, participatory culture—this is the new labour, “the cloud”, the new factories. There’s that word again—new. New brings potential, it can bring synthesis, but it can also stress divisions. During the first modernity, the “great divide” that emerged was the discord between the so-called high and mass cultures. Critics distinguished between “high” and “low” art, while artists, or so it is often suggested, targeted audiences typically segregated by their education and, consequently, interpretive abilities. Andreas Huyssen defines the great divide as “the kind of discourse which insists on the categorical distinction between high art and mass culture” (1988, viii). Categorical distinctions have been more prevalent, with the most contemporary forms of fiction continually having to defend themselves from advocates of their more traditional counterparts: “Perhaps e-lit is already dead?” Andrew Gallix once mused (2008). Central to Gallix’s succinct and useful account of the field is the idea that electronic literature has been “subsumed into the art world or relegated to the academic margins”, a proposition that I found time to reject the best part of a decade later: in the works of practitioners like Mez Breeze, Andy Campbell, Dan Pinchbeck and his studio, The Chinese Room, we see that electronic literature is finally having its contemporary moment, and that it does have a measure of popular appeal (O’Sullivan 2017).

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But Gallix has a point, nonetheless, and the great divide has renewed significance. On the one hand, electronic literature has been charged with being the reserve of a few esoteric academics, while on the other, it is reduced to a sideshow within a domain more concerned with the communicative—blogging, sharing, marketing—than the literary. There are still those who remain unconvinced that electronic literature has any value, a tired debate that, as eloquently put by Keith Stuart, just should not be (2012). But electronic literature is electronic and thus technological, and so the instruments of division that are at work in its aesthetic cannot simply be discounted as “new” and thus scary to some while exciting to others. Adorno portrays mass culture as “a system of signals that signals itself”, ensnaring those “hapless” cultural consumers who have been seduced by its “endless bureau of information” (2001, 82). Indeed, “mass culture constantly winks at us” (2001, 83). Creators and readers of electronic literature have a difficult question that we are yet to comprehensively and honestly answer: is this form seductive simply because it is digital? Works of electronic literature, and the discourse which surrounds their appreciation, are all about “information”, “generation”, “choice”—this is the fetishisation of possibility, but that possibility comes with all of the aforementioned costs. Addressing the dangerous concentration of power that the digital age has facilitated, Lanier asks who it is that owns the future (2013)—if we continue to bring the literary into this space, who will own creativity and expression? There are countless intricacies to be unpacked here: there is the critical separation of literary forms, there is the realisation that electronic literature is intimately embedded within systems designed to reinforce the status quo, and there is the possibility that authors have been equally ensnared by the allure of such systems. The new divide is between digital and non-digital, but there are a great many similarities between current matters of concern and that which has gone before. Whenever a new medium is adopted, the motivation is liberation, and authors of electronic literature, or any form of screen fiction, are typically seeking to escape the confines of the page. This is not to say that the page does not offer liberation of its own sort, just that the freedom it offers appeals to a different kind of writer—writers are strange and varying creatures, you see, and what is seen by one as constraint might be seen by another as liberation, and they will expend a curious amount of energy arguing the validity of their own favoured type of constraint.

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Where we do find considerable consistencies between the differing divides is in the aforementioned portrayal of mass media as lesser, and just as we should resist the allure of the digital, the literary value of electronic literature should not be diminished simply because it is electronic. The Frankfurt School has much to teach us about the digital, but not all things to be based on such forces have been subject to the standardisation and pseudo-individualisation of art. Saying this, while digital culture has embraced a language of liberation, access to digital material remains economically confined, perhaps, ironically, more so than their non-digital counterparts. To take a trivial example, a typical paperback novel will cost you far less than the computer system necessary to engage with the most contemporary works of electronic literature—many first-generation works cannot be accessed at all because they relied on commercially driven proprietary systems that have since been deemed obsolete by profit-motivated vendors. Liberation comes at a cost. Readers, too, have had to diversify, and just as the first great divide was embedded in education, and the relative inability of the masses to engage with artistry that requires a wide frame of classical reference, those who wish to fully appreciate electronic literature must develop expertise across a number of disciplines, being capable of assessing both language and computational systems. Are we doomed, then, to repeat the sins of those who have gone before? Axel Hooneth criticises Adorno for portraying audiences as “helpless victim[s] of an all-pervasive media reality” (in Cook 1996, 53). In place of Adorno, we now have Lanier, who sees surfers of the Web as “helpless” victims of those few behemoths controlling all the virtual real estate. Yet, these realities are somewhat tempered by choice—the capricious and irresolute emergence of popular art suggests that the reification of culture remains in the hands of the audience, who are not necessarily, as Adorno and Lanier suggest, “hapless victims” of larger forces. The purpose here is not to “fall into the mindless pluralism of anything goes”, but rather, to demonstrate that the “boundaries between high art and mass culture have become increasingly blurred” (Huyssen 1988, ix). In the digital culture of the new modernity, where writing and reading both require hybridised knowledge, this is particularly the case. Just as it was throughout the first industrial revolution, this hybridisation has led to new modes of production, to a cultural amalgam which has translated directly into new art. In this respect, our new modernity has been, maybe, though maybe not, a positive shift.

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The attenuated nature of hybridised knowledge can also be unfavourable. Digital culture is a product of technological ubiquity, but this ubiquity has been facilitated by advances in intuitive design. Digital literacy has been increased, but understanding, arguably, has consequentially been lessened. We are living in a black-box culture, where ability and understanding are no longer symbiotic. Zadie Smith encapsulates this issue in The Autograph Man1: Alex presses a button and the box of tricks begins to sing. With its screech. With its jug. With its dirty-bird song. In a few seconds he will be connected to the world. The world! One day he will take advantage of this incredible resource. He will find out about ancient Babylonia and gain a working knowledge of Estonian. He will learn how to make a bomb. One day. For now, he means to head straight for his corner of the world, an imaginary auction room where each day he checks on the progress of items he has put up for sale. That’s his aim this evening – he is very serious and determined about it. This is his real business, after all, his bread and butter. And he will in no way be tempted by that friendly, clumsy woman, falling in and out of her bikini, beckoning to him from the corner of the screen… (Smith 2003)

The deep irony of digital culture is clear: the computer has been reduced to a “box of tricks”, its machinations little more than a “dirty-bird song” to its users. Understanding has been sacrificed in the name of usability—perhaps we are hapless after all? We are all so very dependent on the interface, without knowing how it is that most interfaces work, or what it is that they conceal. Much digital art and electronic literature has emerged through the use of black-box standards whose existence is dependent on corporations whose agenda is entirely capitalist—if electronic literature is written on computers for computers, then it is literature that is subject to constraints established by Google, Apple, Adobe, Microsoft, and Sony. Technology has liberated our society, brought about a renewed problematisation of the established order, but the manner by which any upheaval unfolds is restricted by the limits set by those who control the revolutionary tools. We have technological liberation, antithetically provided to us without much consultation. The technology that survives is indeed reified by the masses, but who dictates the offering? It is dangerous that we have allowed such control to seep into literature—what might be seen as black-box literature—is extremely dangerous, or perhaps this is

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itself an act of upheaval, the turning of black boxes into bindings for the literary. We cannot separate the utopic from the dystopic—all that is constant is Eliot’s tension, from which, for better or for worse, or indeed for both, digital culture emerges. This dialectic is typical of modernity’s many phases. Separation of these phases, or the resolution of their dichotomous traits, is sometimes a fruitless endeavour—to be modern is to contradict, even that which is itself a contradiction. Cultures always change, and while approximations of such change can be useful in understanding contemporary situations, all one is doing at such a scope is detailing similarities and differences. The digital age might be described as a new modernity, or a fourth industrial revolution, but all we are gaining from such a description is a recognition of commonalities—we are explaining new contradictions, that will in turn be contradicted. Modernisation is a cyclical process: “The reflexivity of modern social life consists in the fact that social practices are constantly examined and reformed in the light of incoming information about those very practices” (Giddens 1990, 38). Bauman’s liquid modernity suggests that the fundamental change in contemporary practice is our move from hardware to software culture, bringing about a “new irrelevance of space” (Bauman 2000, 117) contributing to an unstructured state of being. The human condition has become fluid, almost remote, a stark reminder of the effects of social computing. Technology rejuvenates modernisation ad infinitum—modernisation has heralded a new modernity, or more precisely, another new modernity, that is manifested as digital culture, which has given rise to new modes of art, new cultural practices that have appropriated both scientific terminologies and methodologies. The paradox of technological ubiquity is that the phenomenon still has a label which suggests it as some sort of other. If we want to define the digital age and its culture, we simply need to offer a description of the now, not the new. It is all-pervasive, because it is culture, not the same as all other cultures, but the very thing we all, voluntarily or involuntarily, live and breathe. We can segment its elements, for critique or otherwise, but this dissection is purely academic, for once finished, it just returns to its omniscience amongst our many screens and devices. There are no new media beyond those which are yet to be conceived. There are no juxtapositions, appropriations from other cultures and communities, and the way we live. This is all there is, which is undoubtedly a lot, but nothing more.

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The Foundations of Digital Art Throughout the nineteenth century, there was an unprecedented institutional split between technology and art, so much so that artists viewed “the incursion of technology into their domains as something of a threat” (Buck-Morss 1991, 126). Digital culture represents a polemic shift from this position, to the point where we are now embracing the creative fusion of these institutions. The history of this trend is, much like the modernisation from which it emerges, best approached from the perspective of practice: Are old media, such as the book and the pamphlet, simply replaced by new media, such as digital images and the visual interfaces of the computer, or should we rather conceive of the history of media in terms of overlapping cultural practices in which different media compete? (Emden and Rippl 2010, 10–11)

New media’s dependency upon its predecessors for cultural capital suggests that the latter approach is indeed more appropriate. The limit of one medium flows into the liberties of another, and it is in following this passage that transmedial aesthetics have their worth. Transmediality is not a product of our new modernity, but technology has undoubtedly ushered in a golden age of multimodality: … programming code and language interact continually in millions of encounters every day. The trading zones in which these negotiations occur are global in scope, penetrating deep into nearly every aspect of environments that rely on computers to carry out everyday tasks. Language alone is no longer the distinctive characteristic of technologically developed societies; rather, it is language plus code. (Hayles 2005, 16)

In examining the foundations of digital art, we must look to such practices, and their influence upon the practitioners that first sought to make their potential a reality. The information era is founded upon a post-industrialist economy in which mass production and consumption have been replaced by a desire for hits and clicks. Attention has been commodified, and cultural commentators were aware of this turn long before economists adopted the notion: Woolf wrote an essay on the subject in 1930, tracing the experiences of the London flâneur (Assmann 2010, 23), while the poetry

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of Baudelaire, and the criticism of such by Benjamin, constructed the flâneur as the personification of modernity (Shaya 2004, 47–50). Joyce and Eliot, like Woolf, relish the role of artist-flâneur, embracing the stimuli-rich culture of modernity in their literary works. Intermediality offers a means through which media can interact with their wider cultural environment, using modal affordances to draw different kinds of attention in different ways. In an attention-driven marketplace, it is clear to see why authors and publishers are increasingly drawn to juxtaposed aesthetics. As noted, the convergence of differing media pre-dates digital technology: “Multimedia is not new—the technology simply changes places with that which has gone before” (Murphy 2011, 156). If we are to dissect “new” media, we must do so with an acute awareness of “old” media. The history of intermediality is long indeed, but artistic and cultural hybridity continues to achieve prominence with the onset of more sophisticated and pervasive multisensory cultures. The artistic principles so central to what we now perceive as digital art were consciously explored by Andy Warhol throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Warhol was experimenting with artistic juxtapositions of a technical nature as early as the 1950s, adopting silk screen printing “to give a drawing a published, or public look” (Scherman and Dalton 2010, 17). Western artists have been using screen printing since the early-1900s, but it is Warhol who really brought this method into wider acceptance. The process of screen printing is similar to stencilling, where portions of a surface are exposed, while the rest remains shielded. While a screen print could be achieved with little more than a cloth and some ink, Warhol used a light-sensitive emulsion alongside black-and-white transparent photographic overlays to achieve his iconic style. While his screen printing began with hand-drawn images, Warhol soon turned to photographic methods. The rise of electronic literature resembles that of screen printing, which became popular amongst artistic subcultures because of the availability of the necessary materials and its disruptive qualities as something of an early model for remix and its intensifying ethos. In the 1970s and 1980s, Warhol became increasingly aware of the creative potential to be found in computers. In particular, he held an acquaintance with Billy Klüver, though his diaries suggest that this was somewhat tentative (2010, 190–91), and Robert Rauschenberg, founding members of Experiments in Art and Technology, who, with others, reacted to the abstraction and introspection of expressionism (Warhol

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and Hackett 2007, 3). For Warhol, this was the beauty of the era, the “incredible new art” that Rauschenberg and his collaborators were producing (2007, 13). Experiments in Arts and Technology (EAT) was founded in 1967 by Klüver and Fred Waldheur, both engineers, in conjunction with Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman. EAT was amongst the first organisations to formally seek the amalgamation of art and technology: Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) has had a pivotal role in advancing the possibilities of technology and art since the 1960s. E.A.T. formulated what had been, before that group’s founding, haphazard: the artist-engineer relationship, and the potential for our culture of joining artistic and technical exploration. (Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort 2003, 211)

The collaborative ethos that now permeates artistic communities was first embodied in Experiments in Art and Technology, and represents a marked distinction from the individualist approach favoured by Warhol. On the one hand, you have a conscious effort to match up artists with engineers, while on the other, you have the artist seeking out intuitive tools with which they can interact unaided. This trend is still present in contemporary productions, where one either finds collaboration or, alternatively, usability, as the bridge between science and culture. The exception to this trend is when one finds the engineer as artist, but this hybrid skillset is very much a contemporary, and still somewhat rare, phenomenon. Warhol did not neglect collaboration, he simply did not embrace it in a fashion similar to his counterparts. When he did collaborate, he sought associates who would misunderstand his intentions, ensuring “transmutations” instead of mere “transmissions” (Warhol 2007, 99). Warhol’s lack of technical familiarity is hinted at throughout his diaries: he seeks advice on hardware and software requirements (2007, 1013–14, 1046), takes lessons on using the Macintosh from Steve Jobs (2007, 843), and expresses his frustration with the use of a 35-mm still camera (2007, 93). A lack of technical expertise did not hinder Warhol, usability was sufficient for his purposes. This—now common—approach to digital art is famously captured in his Debbie Harry video, where he “paints” an image of the star on the Amiga 1000. Using little more than the fill tool to saturate a photograph of Harry, Warhol creates an image that is both the epitome of simplicity, but simultaneously, a crystallisation of the

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value in his aesthetic and its foundation in the intuitive. Simplicity is at the heart of Warhol’s work; even silk-screening, from which he forged his reputation, “thrilled” him because it was “so simple – quick and chancy” (2007, 28). The digital artist cuts a complicated figure, particularly when engaged with inter and transdisciplinary practices: … the artist also becomes the engineer, the engineer becomes the artist, and when they collaborate they actually have enough expertise in the other’s field to be able to address concerns across the mediums and even across disciplines. This is not to say that there are not varying levels of expertise within transdisciplinary work, but rather that transdisciplinary art in its best sense makes the effort to understand the medium of the other in more than superficial terms. Here science is no less important than art, art no less than science. The elitism of the isolated discipline is broken down to a degree. (Gibson 2008, 1)

Whether one takes the approach represented by EAT, where the artist and the engineer meet as equal stakeholders in the creative purpose, or traces the Warholian path, overcoming technical boundaries with intuitive tools, the results are the same—disciplinary boundaries are dismantled, and hierarchies discarded. Artistic practices aside, the product of this diversification has been the ushering in of a golden age for digital art. As is to be expected, we did not enter this age without some resistance: In the late 1960s and early 1970s, computer art aroused the kind of extreme resentment that has characterized many iconoclastic controversies in the history of art. The history of computer art is marked by a variety of aggressive behaviors that include the sabotaging of computers and physical attacks on artists. While these extreme reactions have been few, there is nevertheless a litany of lesser responses that range from casual critical dismissal to censorious negation. Considering the diversity and relentlessness of its negative critical reception, computer art was possibly the most maligned art form of the twentieth century. (Taylor 2012, 18)

Resistance is necessary if we are to ensure an interrogation of these practices. But such resistance needs to come from the right place— from an informed rejection of principles as opposed to a fear of the new unknown.

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Note 1. With thanks to Anthony Durity for pointing me to this passage.

References Adorno, Theodor W. 2001. The Culture Industry. Edited by J. M. Bernstein. Oxford: Routledge. Adorno, Theodor W., and Max Horkheimer. 1997. Dialectic of Enlightenment. London: Verso Books. Assmann, Aleida. 2010. ‘The Shaping of Attention by Cultural Frames and Media Technology’. In ImageScapes: Studies in Intermediality, edited by Christian Emden and Gabriele Rippl, translated by Christa Schönfelder and Suzanne Leu, 21–38. Bern: Peter Lang. Bailey, Peter. 1998. Popular Culture and Performance in the Victorian City. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bauman, Zygmunt. 2000. Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bloom, Harold. 1997. The Anxiety of Influence. New York: Oxford University Press. Buck-Morss, Susan. 1991. The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Călinescu, Matei. 1987. Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism. Durham: Duke University Press. Cook, Deborah. 1996. The Culture Industry Revisited: Theodor W. Adorno on Mass Culture. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. di Rosario, Giovanna. 2011. Electronic Poetry: Understanding Poetry in the Digital Environment. Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä. https://jyx.jyu.fi/ dspace/bitstream/handle/123456789/27117/9789513943356.pdf. Eliot, T. S. 1932. ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’. In Selected Essays 1917– 1932, 3–11. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company. ———. 1949. Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company. Emden, Christian, and Gabriele Rippl. 2010. ‘Introduction: Image, Text and Simulation’. In ImageScapes: Studies in Intermediality, edited by Christian Emden and Gabriele Rippl, 1–20. Bern: Peter Lang. Funkhouser, C. T. 2007. Prehistoric Digital Poetry: An Archaeology of Forms, 1959–1995. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press. Galey, Alan. 2014. The Shakespearean Archive. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gallix, Andrew. 2008. ‘Is E-Literature Just One Big Anti-Climax?’ The Guardian, 24 September, sec. Books. https://www.theguardian.com/ books/booksblog/2008/sep/24/ebooks.

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Gendolla, Peter, and Jörgen Schäfer. 2007. ‘Playing with Signs: Towards an Aesthetic Theory of Net Literature’. In The Aesthetics of Net Literature: Writing, Reading and Playing in Programmable Media, edited by Peter Gendolla and Jörgen Schäfer, 17–42. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag. Gibson, Steve. 2008. ‘Introduction: Why Transdisciplinary Digital Art?’ In Transdisciplinary Digital Art: Sound, Vision and the New Screen, edited by Randy Adams, Steve Gibson, and Stefan Müller Arisona, 1–2. Berlin: Springer. Giddens, Anthony. 1990. The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Habermas, Jürgen. 1979. Communication and the Evolution of Society. Translated by Thomas McCarthy. Boston: Beacon Press. ———. 1989. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Translated by Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Hayles, N. Katherine. 1991. ‘Introduction: Complex Dynamics in Literature and Science’. In Chaos and Order: Complex Dynamics in Literature and Science, edited by N. Katherine Hayles, 1–33. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ———. 2005. My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Herr, Cheryl. 1986. Joyce’s Anatomy of Culture. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Huyssen, Andreas. 1988. After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture and Postmodernism. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press. Jenkins, Henry, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green. 2018. Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: New York University Press. Lanier, Jaron. 2006. ‘DIGITAL MAOISM: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism’. Edge. http://www.edge.org/conversation/ digital-maoism-the-hazards-of-the-new-online-collectivism. ———. 2011. You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto. London: Penguin. ———. 2013. Who Owns the Future? London: Allen Lane. Lévy, Pierre. 1997. Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace. Cambridge: Perseus Books. Liu, Alan. 2013. ‘Imagining the New Media Encounter’. In A Companion to Digital Literary Studies, edited by Susan Schreibman and Ray Siemens, 3–25. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Murphy, Órla. 2011. ‘Intermediality: Experiencing the Virtual Text’. In Readings on Audience and Textual Materiality, edited by Graham Allen, Carrie Griffin, and Mary O’Connell. London: Pickering & Chatto. Negroponte, Nicholas. 1995. Being Digital. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

22  J. O’SULLIVAN O’Sullivan, James. 2017. ‘Electronic Literature’s Contemporary Moment: Breeze and Campbell’s “All the Delicate Duplicates”’. Los Angeles Review of Books, 7 November. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/electronic-literature-turns-a-new-page-breeze-and-campbells-all-the-delicate-duplicates/. Scherman, Tony, and David Dalton. 2010. Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol. New York: HarperCollins. Shaya, Gregory. 2004. ‘The Flaneur, the Badaud, and the Making of a Mass Public in France, circa 1860–1910’. The American Historical Review 109 (1): 41–77. Smith, Zadie. 2003. The Autograph Man. London: Penguin. Stuart, Keith. 2012. ‘Are Video Games Art: The Debate That Shouldn’t Be’. The Guardian, 6 December. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/ gamesblog/2012/dec/06/video-games-as-art. Taylor, Grant. 2012. ‘The Soulless Usurper: Reception and Criticism of Early Computer Art’. In Mainframe Experimentalism: Early Computing and the Foundations of the Digital Arts, edited by Hannah Higgins and Douglas Kahn, 17–37. Berkeley: University of California Press. Wardrip-Fruin, Noah, and Nick Montfort. 2003. ‘Four Selections by Experiments in Art and Technology’. In The NewMediaReader, 211–26. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Warhol, Andy. 2007. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. London: Penguin Books. ———. 2010. The Andy Warhol Diaries. Edited by Pat Hackett. London: Penguin Books. Warhol, Andy, and Pat Hackett. 2007. POPism: The Warhol Sixties. London: Penguin Books.

CHAPTER 2

Electronic Literature

Electronic literature is yet to happen. We might well be convinced otherwise, but whatever we think electronic literature is today, it will be something else tomorrow. We remain committed to the ideal of e-lit as something because we know it through experiences worth chasing, and such conviction is important, as it feeds the critical and creative contributions necessary to transform an ideal into substance, making a movement of a rhizome, and one should never underestimate the centrality of movements to the development of artistic principles (Poggioli 1968, 17–40; Rettberg et al. 2015). Electronic literature might never be if to be is to be stable, but the concrete field that makes it possible radiates from those essential consistencies which emanate from digital artistry as it was, is now, and might yet become. Electronic literature is unlike many other forms and schools, in that it has no height, and its fractured history leads to a present that is often more concerned with the fading past and future possibility than it is the present moment. All literature is subject to change, but in electronic literature, we have a form that does not benefit from the same cultural bookends as many of its counterparts, and while e-lit is literature, its subtle little differences make all the difference. Electronic literature is yet to happen because it is just not quite fitting to suggest that hypertextual fiction and virtual reality necessarily belong to the same conversation—but in another sense, in their devotion to the machine as an active part of not just the literary process but form itself, hypertexts and headsets are aesthetic cohorts. © The Author(s) 2019 J. O’Sullivan, Towards a Digital Poetics, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-11310-0_2

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The point here is that, sometimes, the all literature perspective has little to offer—with enough examination, there will always be similarities and departures to be found across the great many, countless ways of writing. Print literature is infinitely diverse in content and context, as is electronic literature, but print literature has a fundamental overriding characteristic—it is print. To classify literature as print is not the same as classifying it as electronic—the former describes a very narrow set of material possibilities, certainly far narrower than the latter. A few notable exceptions aside, print literature relies predominantly on language—situated with fixity on the familiar page—for creative expression, whereas electronic literature is dependent on a wider range of modalities. Language is—as we must always remind ourselves—one of the most powerful instruments of expression, and to say that print literature is all about language should in no way be construed as reductive, but we can, in most cases, substantiate our conceptions of print literature through a relatively stable set of forms, modes, and genres. And beyond all of this, the simple fact of the matter is that we know what print literature is because we have been getting to know it for a very long time. Print literature is one of the most stable forms of literature because the idea of print has largely been fixed since the fifteenth century. Electronic literature has only been around for a few decades and has already been distorted from its origins—and will, without question, be even less recognisable a decade from now. In some instances, it has also been rendered obsolete, large swathes of recent history already lost. To be literary is to be unstable, but there are gradations to this chaos—electronic literature might never happen because it is one of the most unstable renderings of one of the most unstable practices, or, maybe it has happened, and what we have now is something else entirely. Readers might be forgiven for thinking that I am advocating the futility of definitions. Part of me does want to embrace such an attitude, dismiss defining as a pointless exercise when there is reading to be done, works to be experienced: electronic literature is literature that runs on a computer, what more need concern us? A lot more, for “electronic literature” has become such a broad umbrella term that we are losing sight of the many nuances being covered. Wrangling with definitions of electronic literature might never overcome the basic challenge that the form is too expansionist for such an act—maybe the all literature perspective is valuable, after all—but we can at least attempt to classify what has

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gone before, while keeping pace with an increasingly volatile contemporary moment. This volatility should not be underestimated: we have no idea what computers will look like a decade from now, and what such technical capacity might offer to literary expression. Language alone can be used to innovate, but the terms of temporality have changed: we have had what we recognise as literature, of the printed kind, for a long time, and while authors and movements often surprise us, we possess a mature sense of the frames within which future innovations might operate. When it comes to electronic literature, the future is entirely unknown, and it could be here in five days, or five years. Maybe electronic literature has no future, that it is all literature, that here is a discourse that only serves to distract from language and its proto-changeable contexts. A decade ago, Gallix was already asking if e-lit is dead (2008), but perhaps it never even lived. But there is more at stake here than the critical, in that we—and by “we”, I mean e-lit scholars, readers, and practitioners—also have a duty to attend to the functional matters of an emerging field, and definitions, even those which might appear constrained, contribute to the construction of disciplinary boundaries necessary to distinguish what we usually do from what we usually neglect (see Rettberg 2009). If we are to compare our research and programs with the research and programs of other fields, we need some semblance of demarcation. It is conceivable that we belong in literature departments, studying literature, but in order to reach the conclusion that particular boundaries are unnecessary, one must at least attempt their construction. Disciplines are defined by the cultural materials with which they are concerned, and efforts to define electronic literature will, at the very least, allow the field’s communities to mature. No definition can adequately define what any discipline does, and all definitions are either exclusionary, overly simplistic, or needlessly complicated; a good definition is flexible, it is fluid and extensible and can account for practices both visible and unknown. Above all else, good definitions serve as provocations, valuable for what they fail to say, and the reactions such failings might instigate. On defining e-lit, it is a common but gross oversimplification to state that electronic literature is merely a juxtaposition of the old and the new. How can we possibly conceive of the products of this connexion, without understanding either “the old” or “the new” in isolation? The challenge in this pursuit is the intangible nature of literature and its inherent resistance to definition: how can we be expected to define

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electronic literature, when we cannot define literature? If analyses of electronic literature should be drawn from difference, how can one obtain such a measurement when the entities concerned cannot be firmly situated? Revisit Derek Attridge’s famous interview with Derrida: “What we call literature (not belles-lettres or poetry) implies that license is given to the writer to say everything he wants to or everything he can…” (1992, 37). Add to authorial freedom the licence to write however one can, and what we are left with is an articulation of the literary as that which allows those who would use it to problematise, defamiliarise, and refamiliarise at will, through writing. How we interpret such acts is the task of literary criticism, and while the institution of literature may well be tentatively defined, the institution of literary scholarship is unequivocal—however dissonant, clear critical cultures have been established to bring order to and extract meaning from this intentional chaos. Electronic literature might be readily absorbed into such an institution, so that, instead of theorising what is separate, we adopt a more sweeping analysis and classify electronic literature as the same, without difference. But this would neglect the swerve. Literature and electronic literature are not so similar that they should belong to a singular criticism, nor are they so separate that they should be treated in isolation. Knowledge of the allusive “old” should inform the study of the elusive “new”, for, to quote Derrida once more, “it would limit literature by fixing a mission for it, a single mission” (1992, 38). Readings of electronic literature should be constructed with such fluidity, accepting that it is part of an “institutionless institution” (1992, 42), not the same as existing constituents, nor entirely other. And yet, saying all of this, it is insufficient to represent electronic literature as just another constituent of an intangible institution, as doing so would be a rather passive way of reifying the modern era’s cultural hegemony. Similarity and difference aside, there are real contemporary shifts that can be seen and should be documented, so that electronic literature can be defined in its own right, even if it will never be one thing. The misguided act is sometimes the most appropriate.

Defining Electronic Literature Since first garnering critical attention, electronic literature has been conceptualised in a variety of ways; today, it remains ambiguous, amorphous, and in receipt of sustained re-articulation. Wherever there is definition,

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one will also find conflation, the oddities of disciplinary cultures using the same supposedly esoteric terms to describe entirely different things, or indeed very similar things possessing entirely unrelated nuances. This does not present an issue for most disciplinary cultures, where the absence of any intentional coalescence provides the context necessary for an idea to have meaning—this is not quite the same in the digital humanities, where the points of critical and creative demarcation are less pronounced. Words can have both technical and cultural interpretations while forming part of a discourse that includes both technical and philosophical voices who, while speaking within the same disciplinary context, are not really referring to the same concept—in this space, that which is signified can be an abstraction as readily as it can be concrete, which can lead to distracting conceptual muddles. Take the term “hypertext”, which has assumed new cultural meaning deviating somewhat from its technical origins—in resolving such expositional tension, we get disciplinary synthesis. It is common to hear some scholars speak of the hypertext as a narrative messiah of sorts, constructed to facilitate an escape from constraint, while for others, hypertext is just a means of structuring connections between fragments in a way that makes sense to a computer. Hypertextuality is both the most and least literary concept you will encounter in this domain. One can appreciate why writers and critics became so excited by hypertextuality and the potential it offered when e-lit first emerged, and indeed, why that intrigue persists. There was a time when hypertextuality was all that e-lit was—not that this was not something significant—whereas now, electronic literature is a riot of forces. There is an expectation that the fundamental narrative principles of a work of electronic literature will be hypertextual, but that the connection between the lexias1 will be effaced by the dynamic and immersive, a rich and deep virtual space acting as a narrative enclosure. But complexity is a troublesome concept, particularly in respect to techno-literary symphonies, for it is a remarkably transient notion in the present age. Platforms like Storyspace—a hypertext authoring tool in which many of e-lit’s pioneers worked—have largely been made redundant. It is not that all authoring platforms have been rendered obsolete, but that the idea of intuitive out-of-the-box solutions are no longer a major part of the dynamic. Storyspace and Flash, within which one author with relatively little technical expertise could operate, have been replaced by game engines like Unity and Unreal, and while the latter

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are emblematic of the former, in that they provide relatively intuitive and efficient ways through which digital narratives can be created, they require advanced technical expertise and are just one part of an increasingly intricate system of tools needed to make such a world operate in a way that is appealing to contemporary users. It is true to say that contemporary instances of platforms like Storyspace, most notably, Twine, have become popular amongst curious practitioners and e-lit teachers, but the major figures of contemporary electronic literature—Mez Breeze and Andy Campbell, Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizzaro, Dan Pinchbeck and Jessica Curry—these artists are developing rich multimodal experiences that take advantage of the processing power offered by today’s consumer electronics. Where e-lit was once hypertext it is now hyperspace, and, in contemporary terms, tools like Twine allow authors to create very limited spaces. Furthermore, digital literacies have increased, and many of the processes which once required tools are now considered elementary technical accomplishments: most established e-lit authors working independently of technical collaborators do not need tools to help them produce the linked documents required to develop and shape hypertext. The rise of electronic literature can perhaps be partially attributed to this rise in expertise: consider, for the sake of technical comparison, afternoon, a story (Joyce 1990), Vniverse (Strickland and Lawson 2002), and All the Delicate Duplicates (Breeze and Campbell 2017). We can see, in these works, how electronic literature has transitioned from hypertext to hyperspace (Figs. 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3). These three works are exemplars of their generation, and as such, show how the form has developed and might now be considered to have three distinct phases: first-generation hypertextual writing, visual electronic literature, and multimodal literary gaming. As a narrative device which connects nodes—if nodes, or what are commonly referred to as “lexias”, can be considered as isolated parts of a story—hypertextuality is consistent throughout each of the aforementioned works in that hyperspaces are typically hypertextual, and perhaps vice versa, but the aesthetic progression is nonetheless clear. When Joyce and his contemporaries started writing for the screen, they were attracted to the potential to tell non-linear stories, but language, the idea of the word upon a page/screen/surface, persisted. Around the turn of the century, when Strickland was collaborating with Lawson to create the original Vniverse, platforms like Flash and Shockwave were driving electronic literature’s shift away from word-centric practices to more visual forms of expression

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Fig. 2.1  afternoon, a story (Joyce 1990)

Fig. 2.2  Vniverse (Strickland and Lawson 2002)

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Fig. 2.3  All the Delicate Duplicates (Breeze and Campbell 2017)

not entirely possible in the 1980s and 1990s. The hugely significant Flash Moment2 was sustained up until very recently, when practitioners began looking towards software systems and languages that could be used to produce hyperspaces, that is, multimodal pieces that are not simply interactive, but intensely interactive. Joyce’s afternoon was not the first work of hypertextual fiction, but it is rightfully acclaimed for being at the forefront of a generation that would explore the potential for computation to introduce choice into storytelling—hypertext, however it was considered before and after, was at that time a disruptive force the like of which literature had not seen for some time. Language has always been disruptive, but there are comparatively fewer instances of writing’s material properties offering aesthetic invention, and hypertext did just that in abundance. More visual works, like Strickland’s Vniverse, are still hypertextual, in that they are comprised of interconnected fragments which the user must navigate, but their hypertextuality is opaquer. Such “new modes of writing” have come to be seen as “visual rhetoric” (O’Gorman 2007, 8), and it is such a context that Strickland’s work is useful as an example of the Flash Moment, but also, as a meta-demonstration of and commentary on digitally enabled visual writing practices.

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The digital component of Vniverse was published alongside a print book with two invertible beginnings serving two distinct literary collections (Strickland 2002b). As evidenced by the title of the collection, the symbol of the “V” is central: the print edition is made up of two texts, encapsulated within the same physical binding, which point the way to the electronic text at their centre. Disregarding traditional separations, Strickland uses various modes in complement to achieve her semantic intent. Strickland’s V resonates throughout, but this symbolism is not only bound to hybrid materiality, it also resonates in allusions to the philosophy and mysticism of Simone Weil. Strickland describes the V as her “waveshape”, an “open book” and “witch’s hat” (Strickland 2002a), offering a useful analogy through which we can consider electronic literature as literary waveforms. If we think of electronic literature in terms of waveforms, we can see how this is a field in which we must consider the literary signal as it passes through differing media, each of which influences the representation of a narrative’s shape. As media and modalities interact with each other and are manipulated through the interpolations of the reader, so too will the signal be distorted further— language remains the true form, but computation is a prism through which that language passes, and what is omitted must be observed should the reader want the story. In contemporary exemplars like Duplicates, we see the value of such waveforms, connecting the nodes of story as Joyce and his contemporaries first demonstrated back in the late-1980s and early-1990s, but doing so within a modal kaleidoscope: It is common within this domain to encounter works of magic realism, wherein the computer offers some transformation that jolts the reader and enacts the marvellous. If an artist is to maximize the effects of this genre, a principally realistic view of the world must be established before the supernatural is imposed. Identifiable scenes are no longer enough to evoke familiarity — one cannot present a kitchen or living room and expect contemporary audiences to become immersed; elements of the real must be present. I am referring to aspects such as light, the feel of a gamespace as something surreal that was captured as opposed to created. The world of Duplicates is real, it is a world of ironing boards and trash bags, domesticity and disorder. As readers traverse the narrative, they are consumed by the quiet of the living room and the shadows in the attic as though these spaces are mirrors of their own spaces and domestic experiences. Accomplishing such a feat does not require a budget of AAA proportions. It requires an advanced artistic touch, nuances of texture and shading. (O’Sullivan 2017)

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It is “nuances of texture and shading” which create and distort the literary waveform, turning language as word-centric into language of another type. Aarseth puts it best when he states: “Hypertext, for all its packaging and theories, is an amazingly simple concept. It is merely a direct connection from one position in a text to another” (in Wardrip-Fruin 2004, 126). In this sense, we can see how hypertext, while essential to electronic literature, is sometimes more of a technical requirement than aesthetic opportunity, the pragmatics of narrative progression being such that in virtual spaces nodes need to be associated. That hypertextuality can exist either pragmatically or representationally is a consequence of literature being a combination of language and the medium to which it has been committed: language can connect ideas and things without constraint, whereas media connections are subject to real limitations. The electronic hypertext cannot connect anything more than language, but their comparison is somewhat pointless considering they both serve different types of connections—the hypertextuality of electronic literature, from a material sense, is purely pragmatic, but it is also evolutionary, in that it allows authors more control over the narrative progressions of readers. Literature has always been about connections, narrative and symbolic and representational—contemporary screen media merely allow authors more control over certain aspects of this connectivity. When defining electronic literature, it is important not to fall into the “but this already existed” debate—aspects of literature exist in many contexts across many times, typified by things like hypertext, which is not a stable concept. Hypertext can be and mean many things. When defining electronic literature, we are defining something which is evolutionary. Evolution need not be viewed as that which threatens what we know— evolution means continuity, it is dialectical rather than oppositional. We carry some things from the past, and others, we jettison, sometimes in error. Any work of electronic literature will hold a mélange of elements, some will be recognisable to traditional readers and writers, some will be recontextualised, and some will be new. Each work will be the same, and yet different. In seeking to define electronic literature, we must not just ask what is different, but why is it different? What has been carried? What has been dropped? What has been transformed? Hypertextual fictions like afternoon use outdated technologies, but they remain significant from a historical, contextual, and, perhaps most importantly,

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literary perspective. We have moved beyond the hypertext, but it has not been abandoned, it remains present, as important as it ever was, however opaque. As Duguid remarks, we have an unfortunate “habit of pronouncing both deaths and births prematurely” (2006, 494). In 1997, as the dominance of hypertextual fiction came to a close, Aarseth offered one of the first major “post-hypertextual” theories that might be used to define electronic literature—cybertextuality, or what he referred to as “ergodic”. A text is considered ergodic when “non-trivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text” (Aarseth 1997, 1). The term “nontrivial effort” is immediately problematic, in that it suggests print-based forms of literature can be negotiated with far greater ease than their born-digital counterparts, but in Aarseth’s defence, he acknowledges that his focus lies on “the mathematical reality beneath the surface, where the relations and objects of the system are being produced” (1997, 39). Such underlying systems, according to Aarseth, frees literature of all constraint: “Although the output of these generators are linear stories or poems, the systems themselves are clearly ergodic textual machines, with unlimited possibility for variation” (1997, 12). He frequently draws distinctions between linear and non-linear narrative, arguing that cybertextuality is “the ability to vary, to produce different courses” (1997, 41–42). Aarseth’s theory of ergodicity sharpens our focus on an essential aspect of electronic literature as it has been defined—choice. For many critics, choice is the hallmark of electronic literature, in that narrative paths and textual assemblages can be constructed without limitation. While he qualifies his statements by reminding readers that he is focused on the underlying logic, that Aarseth would characterise stories as linear and cybertextual systems as something else, betrays his true position: for Aarseth, there exists a computer system capable of offering “unlimited possibility for variation”, a far grander proposition than that which can be offered by any mere story or poem. While his discussion of ergodicity is extremely valuable and did much to advance critical conversations around electronic literature, Aarseth is, in this regard, mistaken in his characterisation of literature. Computer programs do suggest a choice of sorts, but this is a sense rather than a realisation of interactive freedom. Readers of electronic literature are presented with an illusion of choice facilitated by complex technical structures that, while immensely powerful, are in essence as structured, as rigid, and as bound by their edges as the codex.

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Aarseth defines the non-linear text as that which is “not simply one fixed sequence of letters, words, and sentences but one in which the words or sequence of words may differ from reading to reading because of the shape, conventions, or mechanisms of the text” (1994, 51). What literary work does not have the potential to “differ from reading to reading”? Logic, computer systems, and structured, syntactical programming languages will always be more structured than literature and literary language. Literary theorists have, to an extent, neglected the media through which much of the most contemporary forms of literature have been framed, and Aarseth is right to compel his peers to do otherwise. But where others have ignored the semantics of the underlying systems and technical structures upon which works of electronic literature are based, “the blind spot in Aarseth’s theory” is that “it loses track of specific literaricity” (Gendolla and Schäfer 2007, 27). But Aarseth is antithetical in his theorising, noting how “linearity turns out to be a treacherous concept” (1997, 47). He also dismisses interactivity as ideological, electing instead to present his own model of text traversal, based on what he labels “textons” and “scriptons”: “In static text the scriptons are constant; in a dynamic text the contents of the scriptons may change while the number of textons remain fixed …” (1997, 62–63). Despite acknowledging that the dichotomy between linear and non-linear can be misleading, Aarseth chooses to categorise cybertext as “dynamic” and its others as “static”, explaining that the cybertextual model is one in which the audience interacts at the level of the scriptons, which are dictated by the author-driven textons underneath. Scriptons are strings as they appear to the reader, and textons are strings as they appear in the text. In such a model, the reader interacts with the machine, in this case, the computer’s keyboard, so that they may reveal the scriptons necessary to read the text. Interaction, one could argue, does not occur at this level, but rather, at an interpretative level, and is thus possible across all literary structures. While considered a seminal text, Aarseth’s model of cybertextuality is perhaps too ambitious to be entirely useful to the current purpose—while electronic literature could well be labelled ergodic or cybertextual, Aarseth’s primary concern is the mathematical. More useful in this context would be more succinct and balanced definitions as opposed to broader, cyber-focused models. One such definition is ventured by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, who describes electronic literature as “a term for work with important literary aspects that requires the use

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of digital computation” (2008, 163). In the same year, Hayles advanced what is probably the most widely accepted definition of electronic literature as born-digital objects “created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer” (2008, 3). Hayles offers a further essential qualification, that electronic literature generally excludes “print literature that has been digitized” (2008, 3). Building on Hayles, Bouchardon utilises the tension between print and digital as the instrument for definition: We can retain the idea that the mere fact of being produced on a computer is not enough to characterize digital literature. Digital literature uses the affordances of the computer to dynamically render the story. If an e-reader simply displays text in the way a printed book displays text— the only difference being that to advance the text one scrolls rather than turns a page—this is not “digital literature.” It is printed work digitized for optimal display in a portable computational environment. Digital literature is algorithmic. It changes as the reader engages it. (Bouchardon 2016, 3)

Electronic literature should not to be confused with text that has merely been remediated; remediation being “the representation of one medium in another” (Bolter and Grusin 2000, 45). Separating “born-digital” from “remediated” is challenging, an issue which I have previously addressed in collaboration with Davin Heckman: As readers, we must be cautious not to confuse formats with poetics, placing artificial boundaries between forms of digital artistry for critical convenience. While the aesthetics of electronic literature should not be reduced to text on a screen, a piece of digitized print literature could incorporate some innovation that allows us to classify the work, in some respect, as born-digital. What we can gather from classifying works is that the practice of digitizing print literature in itself does not constitute electronic literature and that print literature can be reimagined through computation. (Heckman and O’Sullivan 2018a)

Resolving this challenge might simply require a more inclusive critical framework which accepts that “many things across a broad spectrum” can be classified as electronic literature (Heckman and O’Sullivan 2018a), though this wanders rather dangerously close to the all literature school of thought.

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The most compelling example of electronic literature being defined in such a context is to be found in Ensslin’s literary-ludic spectrum, which accounts for contemporary e-lit’s tendency to “exhibit various degrees of hybridity” (2014, 43–45). Starting on the basis that electronic literature and literary games use “complex expressive processes”, she argues that we would be best served by resisting the urge to accomplish neat categorisation (2014, 43–45). This is, to my mind, the most appropriate way of constructing a definition of electronic literature, by accepting that there are electronic literatures, and while we might all propose different spectrums—Ensslin is focused on the dynamic of play in relation to language—no one definition or framework will account for all contemporary modes of digital writing. That is not to say that we should stop defining, but that we should do so within a constellation, balancing what we think electronic literature is with everything it is not, has been and might be. In her own constellation, Hayles notes four characteristics, that electronic literature is layered and multimodal, that it represents a separation between storage and performance, and that it implements fractured temporality (2008, 163–64). Writing on the layered nature of e-lit, she notes that “there are always texts that users (almost) never see, ranging from source code to object code to the alternating voltages that correlate with assembly language” (2008, 163). Hayles has not privileged underlying technical mechanisms over any interpretive layers, but rather, has attached their significance to the material and compositional nature of digital text. More significantly, Hayles does not define electronic literature as that which offers a multitude of choice, but a multiplicity of modalities, and it is here, not within the perceived freedom of hypertextuality, but within the potential for semantic encapsulation offered by multiplicity, that this form finds its true artistic and cultural potential. Hayles’ aforementioned definition, while undoubtedly the field’s standard, is not without its issues. By taking a prescriptive view, she is assigning dependencies which do not always hold true. To state that all electronic art is generally “created” and “read” on a computer ignores a large body of the canon which is comprised of works that, while relying on a computer for some aspect of the aesthetic, depend equally on analogue devices, printed artefacts, and physical interfaces—as we saw in Strickland’s Vniverse, of which WaveSon.nets/Losing l’Una forms an essential part. Josh and Karen Tanenbaum’s tactile fiction The Reading Glove3 utilises a computer in both its process and product,

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but the overwhelming physicality of the piece, which uses a wearable to progress the narrative as the reader interacts with an object, is not necessarily “read on a computer”. Screen reading is an essential part of this work, but it is not the chief component, and thus, should not be privileged over the other elements of this particularly diverse assemblage. Grigar’s Curlew,4 at times staged as a performance piece, is not necessarily read on a computer. Again, screen reading is not neglected from the piece, and computation is essential to its production and presentation, but the symbolism and meaning that emerges from the author’s kinetic refiguring of the poem cannot be framed as computation. There is a sensory duality in Microsoft Kinect which captures the motions, and the motions themselves as kinetic, physical utterances. Part of reading Curlew is appreciating the gestures of the author, or indeed, appreciating that she thought gesture a worthy addendum to previous iterations of the piece, of extrapolating the physical movements which have been so consciously embedded in the traversal. If you are to read Curlew, then you must read these movements, and they are not presented on a screen. Curlew further resists Hayles’ separation of storage and performance as medium and interpretation (2008, 164). Hayles is right to distinguish between human interpretation and machine processing, but to reduce the material elements of form to “storage”, when such elements can directly contribute to performance, reception, and interpretation is perhaps an inversion of Aarseth’s misstep. According to Hayles, print is the coalescence of storage and performance within the same object; that is, the open book is performance and the closed book storage. In electronic texts, she asserts that storage and performance are always isolated, the former being machine executable code that cannot be accessed while it is running, the latter the result of such code being executed and engaged by a user. This is a somewhat outmoded concept that has its origins in the technical distinctions between applications and processes—the former the code that makes a piece of software function, the latter the software as it is actively functioning. This distinction is technically accurate, but a misplaced analogy in an exploration of literature, particularly when compared with abstractions such as “the open versus closed book”. If anything, electronic literature lessens the separation between storage and performance: a codex, once opened, is not really active in the reading process, whereas code, particularly in interactive fictions, is always subject to a measure of manipulation, however representationally. And what of Curlew, where Kinect, and all the underlying code that translates the

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random gestures of its authors into traversals, forms an active part of the electronic text’s performance? Fractured temporality, the idea that “the reader is not wholly (and sometimes not at all) in control of how quickly the text becomes ­readable” (Hayles 2008, 164) is another example of how critics are too quick to create separation between e-lit and its predecessors. It is true that the computation in electronic literature allows authors to dictate temporal elements of the traversal, such as the time a reader gets to spend with a portion of the narrative, but language has long been a tool that has offered authors this ability: figures like James Joyce frequently present readers with long, meandering lists which serve to detain. These latter few points might seem minute, but what we can see here is that even Hayles’ account of electronic literature is flawed, and that by building her definition of electronic literature on exclusion, she has constructed artificial ontological confines. We need not include everything in an all-encompassing frame, but we should refrain from basing our construction of e-lit on the exclusion of one thing, on saying what is not rather than what is. Electronic literature’s structural relationship with computation, which evolves at an exponential rate, is such that the form will never be static; thus, our only alternative is to cast a wide taxonomic net, and resolve peculiarities as they arise. Electronic literature is that which combines the electronic, the screen—digital or otherwise— with the literary, presenting, often through a multiplicity of modes, an assemblage that might privilege either, but will always feature, these two essential elements. That is all it is, and to say so might not really tell us anything. But like literature, we know it when we see it.

The Emergence of Electronic Literature The theme for the Electronic Literature Organization’s 2015 gathering in Bergen was “the ends of electronic literature”. Anastasia Salter explains that this theme emerged from the realisation that the digital is no longer other, and so we should abandon terms that reassert old distinctions: Is the choice to use words like “electronic” or “digital” to designate our work and pedagogy simply a reflection of a moment of transition, soon to be abandoned as such methods become universal, or is it still important to call attention to the use of technology as we push it towards new frontiers? (Salter 2015)

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It is true to say that electronic literature is literature, but to suggest that we have moved to a point where distinction is no longer valid seems premature. There are dead technologies and there are technologies yet to be born—there are practices considered electronic literature by some, and not by others. How can we have reached the end of electronic literature if it is yet to happen? Or is that precisely why we have reached its end? Certainly, before electronic literature’s end is declared, we should consider its beginnings. Lev Manovich traces the origins of digital art to parallel tendencies across art and computing post World War II: “In the last few decades of the twentieth century, modern computing and network technology materialized certain key projects of modern art developed approximately at the same time” (2003, 15). Manovich is drawing our attention to the symbiosis that exists between computation and culture, noting that their effects are commutative—the computer is being shaped by culture, as much as culture is being transformed by the computer: To use another concept from new media, we can say that they are being composited together. The result of this composite is a new computer culture – a blend of human and computer meanings, of traditional ways in which human culture modeled the world and the computer’s own means of representing it. (2001, 46)

Manovich’s historicisation of new media art is perhaps too radical, in that he extends the aforementioned notion of developmental parallelism to more concrete constructions of technology as art: he is correct that the “greatest hypertext is the Web itself”, but he negates this claim with a literary context that should not be so readily accepted, that the Web is indeed “more complex, unpredictable and dynamic than any novel that could have been written by a single human writer” (2003, 15). One should not confuse social technologies with their artistic counterparts; the Web is undoubtedly the zenith of hypertextuality, but it is a social hypertext—a vessel—not an artwork in itself. Manovich’s conflation is essentially a fresh example of the old dichotomy: most hypertexts use language and structure, but where the Internet is communicative, a work of art might be literary. Electronic language is not the same as electronic literature. We will always be prone to such conflations in a field which suffers from the lack of a deliberate historical account; drawing comparisons with cinema, Manovich fears:

40  J. O’SULLIVAN … future theorists and historians of computer media will be left with not much more than the equivalents of the newspaper reports and film programs from cinema’s first decades. They will find that analytical texts from our era recognize the significance of the computer’s take-over of culture yet, by and large, contain speculations about the future rather than a record and theory of the present. (2001, 6–7)

This may account for the prevalence of prescriptive definitions, where oftentimes, scholars are developing ontologies out of a speculative, rather than substantive, media archaeology. Manovich’s fears may have been already realised: much of electronic literature’s early history is already lost, and as new platforms fall to obsolescence, so too will the works which they were used to create. There are few resources and projects, like the Electronic Literature Lab at Washington State University, Vancouver, where scholars and practitioners can get a sense of the field’s earliest incarnations. The central mission of the WSUV initiative is to source old works of e-lit and preserve them in release-state, or at the very least, retain the literary experience. Doing so is particularly challenging, as part of the experience of electronic literature is developmental, in the sense that readerly intimacy matures through various material and digital interactions. How does one capture the experience of opening an object like this, replicating the smell of the plastic, the computer’s loading screen, the learning curve attached to the traversal method? The electronic literary experience is bound to the quirks of platforms, the quirks of technologies, the clicks and clacks, the variety of glitches and oddities that seem at once persistent and anomalous. In the age of ubiquitous and intuitive systems, the idea of a glitch almost seems unbearable. An inability to launch a piece might one day have been part of the experience, but today, would hardly find itself resolved to the hyper-expectations of the contemporary user. By recording traversals of both authors and readers interacting with works of electronic literature, the Pathfinders project5 has elected to leave the work of emulation to other bodies, and rather, focus on capturing the experience of the form’s first generation. Even when one cannot experience a work of early electronic literature for themselves, such materials can help in understanding what such an experience might have been like, or indeed, that the work even existed. As technology and thus e-lit increase in technical complexity, and powerful proprietary platforms continue to gain prominence, it may well be that the issues to which

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Manovich points will amplify to the point where we will only ever have a history of first-generation e-lit alongside access to contemporary works, with nothing in between. One of the first works of commercial electronic literature to be released in the United States was Judy Malloy’s Uncle Roger. Where other authors were availing of writing and publishing platforms like Storyspace, Malloy was coding everything by hand, coding from scratch.6 This is significant, in that it shows that women were amongst the pioneers of this creative and technological movement, a reality that is often disregarded—the history of electronic literature is not just a history of computational art, it is a social and cultural history that has relevance far beyond the literary. Such a lack of visibility may well be one of the chief contributors to the ambiguity that surrounds e-lit as a discipline. Electronic literature is increasingly piquing the interest of literary scholars, and indeed, finding its way into the third-level curriculum, but, in many respects, it remains utterly esoteric. This may well be due to the inherent computational element which puts its critique beyond the expertise and interest of many scholars, but it may also be owing to the historical blind spot which Manovich laments. Indicating with any certainty the origins of an art form or relevant movement is a perilous undertaking. Manovich’s suggestion that digital art first emerged in the post-war era is perhaps as accurate as we can hope to be. As computation became more intuitive, an increasing number of artists had access to digital tools that could be turned to creative purpose—it was inevitable that writers too would turn from page to screen. Drawing further on cinema, Manovich argues that new media can be more convincing than text to contemporary audiences, citing “a general trend in modern society toward presenting more and more information in the form of time-based audio-visual moving image sequences, rather than as text” (2001, 78). The cultural transformation which was brought about by cinema is now repeating itself, as computers offer “an opportunity to see the world and the human being anew, in ways that were not available to ‘a man with a movie camera’” (2001, 333). Here, the language of new media is yet again too strong: the camera, just as the word, remains a highly influential apparatus, and “old” tools can just as readily be put to the task of making the world anew. The suitability of any instrument to the act of meaning making is largely dependent on the practitioner dictating the application, and electronic literature—with all of the multimodal and ludic expression that it affords—is rich in potential only as far as it is in adepts.

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There is little certainty as to whom attribution of the term “ ­ electronic literature” belongs. Lori Emerson holds that the foundation of the Electronic Literature Organization in 1999 gave rise to “a name, a concept, even a brand with which a remarkably diverse range of digital writing practices could identify: electronic literature” (2011). Seeking validation of Emerson’s claim, Jill Walker Rettberg uses n-grams to trace the occurrence of “hypertext fiction”, “electronic literature”, “digital literature”, “digital poetry”, and “e-poetry” across the Google Books corpus from 1985 to 2008 (2012). Her findings suggest that “hypertext fiction”, while once the preferred expression, has decreased in popularity with the rise of “electronic literature”. “Digital poetry” and “digital literature” have gained momentum since the turn of the century, particularly the former. “Electronic literature” has enjoyed a gradual increase since the early 1990s, suggesting that the term has long been the preferred label for this mode of writing. Emerson’s position seems accurate: the emergence of the ELO was greeted with a marked increase in the number of texts using alternatives to “hypertext fiction”, which, approximately half-a-decade ago, was surpassed by “electronic literature” and “digital poetry”. Walker Rettberg points to a number of false positives in her analysis, particularly in relation to the term being used in a separate context, but her findings are nonetheless interesting, and reflect the nature of the field. Walker Rettberg is quite relentless in her etymological pursuit, pointing to a listing in an April 1979 edition of Billboard, which gives the details of a UCLA conference which will feature “demonstrations of electronic literature” (2012). The earliest works of electronic literature to which Walker Rettberg can point are Roy Ascott’s La plissure du texte, First Screening: Computer Poems by bp Nichol, and Robert Pinsky’s Mindwheel. These pieces were published in 1983 and 1984, respectively, suggesting that the works of “electronic literature” referenced in Billboard might well be amongst the very first of their kind. From a critical perspective, Walker Rettberg also points to Bolter’s “The Idea of Literature in the Electronic Medium” as one of the earliest treatments (1985). She notes that he “consistently uses the term electronic literature exactly as we do today”. We could go earlier still to Strachey’s 1952 love letter algorithm written for the Manchester Mark I, or interactive fictions from the 1970s and 1980s like Adventure and Zork, both of which now enjoy cult status, but determining the first of anything is a largely academic exercise and seeking to expand on Walker Rettberg’s short but thorough

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treatment of the matter would offer little real insight. The foundational stature of the aforementioned text adventures is important, however, as it shows how this space has never really been the exclusive reserve of the niche—electronic literature, while excluded from broader critical discourse, has many readers who “don’t even know it … soon, a lot of gamers may realize that they are in fact readers” (O’Sullivan 2017). Furthermore, the ludic has always been present: in an era where roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons reigned supreme, interactive adventures like Zork simply automated core narrative processes such as the assessment of inventory and the selection of paths. This “simple” automation made all the difference. Moving momentarily on from the first instigations, what we know, and what is truly of significance here, is that this form, however we might define it, began to take shape in the very late 1970s. Contemporary appreciations of the term “electronic literature” stretch back to the 1980s, the decade in which the practice gained its momentum. Janet Murray describes this period as “a new era in the expressiveness of the medium” which gave rise to “wider communities of practices, communities composed not of programmers but of artists, writers, and educators” (2003, 9). While four decades is a relatively short period in the grand narrative that is the history of the Western literary canon, it is nonetheless surprising that electronic literature remains on the periphery of literary scholarship and criticism. Manovich claims that “it took about ten years for it to move from cultural periphery to the mainstream” (2003, 13), pointing to the increased foundation of relevant institutions, publications, and annual gatherings. However, while there has undoubtedly been a marked increase in the number of artists and critics drawn to digital media, the growth of the field remains inconsistent when one considers the significance of technology as cultural capital. Perhaps Manovich is too optimistic: the cultural shift has started, but electronic literature remains on the cultural periphery. The exponential growth of technological ubiquity is a major factor in the rapid propagation of digital arts and humanities, but one cannot draw parallels between the emergence of this overarching discipline or umbrella term, and the relevant specific critical fields within. But where the academy has been slow, the practitioners have pressed ahead. Artists are generally quicker than their critics when it comes to embracing change, but it remains a concern that artefacts that mean so little to so few are studied by so many, while that which is utterly pervasive is often dismissed as being the trivial fare of the masses,

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something as other from traditional scholarship—why is electronic literature not yet front and centre in literature departments when the vast majority of students who pass through such halls are obsessed with screens and the stories that they tell. But this is an issue to which we will later return; for now, we are still concerned with cyber-urtexts and what their emergence might contribute to our appreciation of electronic literature as a form. Joyce’s afternoon is certainly one the first works of electronic literature to garner significant critical attention, and it is mentioned across all treatments of e-lit’s history. Born in the United States in 1945, Joyce, a Professor of English, published afternoon through Eastgate Systems in 1990. Its first demonstration had been three years prior, at the 1987 Association for Computing Machinery conference. We already know that Joyce’s piece is not the urtext we might be tempted to look for, but it is certainly one of the earliest examples of a finished product, a published piece melding literary and computational practices. Joyce’s “Hypertext and Creative Writing” was presented alongside Jay David Bolter, an equally prominent figure in what was then an embryonic field. In their paper, Bolter and Joyce point to the use of hypertext in technical writing and pedagogy, already common at the time, commenting that adopting such technology for literary purposes was “more daring because fiction seems frivolous in the pragmatic world of data processing” (1987, 41). Conversely, they also note that it is “less daring” than existing applications as a result of fiction’s experimental nature, particularly modern fiction, and that such is “precisely the quality that hypertext fosters in writing” (1987, 41). Bolter and Joyce claim that interactive fiction, essentially, “requires only two elements: episodes and decision points (links) between episodes” (1987, 42). The difference between what they perceive as “interactive fiction” and traditional literature, they argue, is that the “printed novel presents its episodes in one order, but the computer removes that restriction” (1987, 42). In describing the mechanics of such interactive fiction, Bolter and Joyce point to “a new literary dimension” (1987, 43) with which authors can work: “Instead of a single string of paragraphs, the authors lay out a textual space within which the fiction operates” (1987, 42). afternoon, which was initially published by Eastgate on floppy disk, was constructed in this fashion, offering a variety of paths through which the reader could traverse the text. It tells the story of a technical writer who holds the suspicion that he may earlier have witnessed the aftermath

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of a motoring accident in which the wrecked car belongs to his former wife. Joyce’s afternoon was succeeded by a multitude of comparable works of electronic literature, as hypertextual fiction continued to appear throughout the 1990s: Stuart Moulthrop’s Victory Garden was published in 1992; Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl in 1995. Both Victory Garden and Patchwork Girl were developed using Storyspace, giving rise to the idea of the Eastgate School.7 It is significant that these works, so central to the beginnings of the practice, are explicitly hypertextual in the Nelson sense of the term, “a body of written or pictorial material interconnected in such a complex way that it could not conveniently be presented or represented on paper” (1965, 96). Hypertextuality may be less explicit in today’s work, and Nelson may have been writing in a different context, but in his 1965 essay, we find apt expression of the very essence of what it means to be born digital: the incapacity to be conveniently represented on paper. Is hypertext, then, all that electronic literature is: the construction of narrative as a web rather than a chain? Codex pages are usually traversed in a structurally linear fashion, with the general perception being that hypertexts can deviate from such constraints, pointing to textual nodes located anywhere within an infinitely complex network. Most problematisations of this idea point to titles such as Jorge Luis Borges’ 1941 work of short fiction, The Garden of Forking Paths, arguing that choice is an essential aspect of this printed text. If we are to accept such a challenge to the idea of hypertextuality being exclusively digital, then we must conclude that electronic literature is either “just literature” or something more or less than hypertextuality. But to state that electronic literature is “just hypertext” is the equivalent of saying it is “just literature”—such a stance does little to advance our critical appreciation of the form. The Eastgate School and its counterparts should not be considered pioneers for developing hypertextual fiction—for as many have argued, this already existed in numerous print experiments—rather, they should be considered pioneers for reinvigorating long-established literary techniques. Yes, print can be hypertextual, but no, it is not entirely equivalent to the hypertextuality of the screen—they are structurally equivalent, but the literary experience is utterly different. Electronic literature then might ironically be all about what happens on the surface, and have nothing at all to do with the processes which lie beneath. Again, there are gradations which will always need to be considered—absolutes tell us nothing of aesthetic and cultural practices.

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A more comprehensive account of contemporary electronic literature’s hypertextual—and other—antecedents can be found elsewhere (Glazier 2002; Funkhouser 2007a, b; di Rosario 2011; Grigar and Moulthrop 2015; Moulthrop and Grigar 2017). This “golden age” of literary hypertext, as Robert Coover calls it, has passed, and now, “something new is happening” (1999). New potentialities for artistic innovation have presented themselves: electronic literature is perhaps unique, in that, having only emerged some few decades ago, it has already undergone a reinvention of sorts. There is already an “old” within the context of the “new”. Walker Rettberg’s n-gram is evidence for this, in the apparent decline of commentators making use of the term “hypertext fiction”. After the earlier experiments with hypertext, writers soon turned to increasingly multimodal platforms. Electronic literature is inherently reliant on a combination of modes, on literary intermediality in a very structural and material sense. A definite milestone in the advent of digital literature as something more multimodal, or rather, as multimodal hypertextuality, was the publication of the ELO’s first Electronic Literature Collection (Hayles et al. 2006). It is, as Funkhouser claims, “the first major anthology of contemporary digital writing” (2007b). Edited by Hayles, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg, and Stephanie Strickland, the collection marks the progression towards increasingly multimodal forms. Comprised of sixty works of electronic literature, the collection’s “Contents by Keywords” page offers readers an opportunity for genre-based browsing. As can be seen in the variety of this list, the collection embraces a diverse range of technologies and practices, including, amongst many others, “ambient”, “animation/kinetic”, “constraint-based/procedural”, “generative”, “Flash”, “Javascript”, “Shockwave”, and “VRML”. Reviewing the collection in Digital Humanities Quarterly, Mark Marino refers to the “menagerie of forms” that “offer a sense of the perpetual metamorphosis of electronic literature” (2008). This collection, as Marino notes, is all about “variety”. While individual authors had moved beyond the hypertext long before 2006, publication of the ELO’s first collected volume was the field’s first definitive statement on the nature of electronic literature as being more than just links, while remaining all about assemblage. In February 2011, the 62-piece Electronic Literature Collection: Volume Two, edited by Laura Borràs, Talan Memmott, Rita Raley, and Brian Stefans was published (see Fig. 2.4). Like its predecessor, the ELO’s second volume anthologised literature founded upon an array

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Fig. 2.4  Electronic Literature Collection: Volume Two, from collection. eliterature.org

of forms, with readers afforded the same opportunity for navigation via those folksonomies first presented in 2006. The assortment of technologies being deployed in Volume Two, and its 2016 successor edited by Stephanie Boluk, Leonardo Flores, Jacob Garbe, and Anastasia Salter, suggests that the evolution of digital literature slowed as the twentieth century drew to a close.8 What is absent from the later volumes of the Electronic Literature Collection are those forms which dominate the public consciousness when it comes to screen narratives—literary games which privilege story and language while remaining technically ambitious. This is not a criticism of the Electronic Literature Collection, a consequence of the concerted effort to represent experimental practices within a largely unremunerative and confined artistic community of scholar-practitioners. When one considers definitions of electronic literature alongside its many variants and how such have evolved, it is easy to see how

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the presentation situation is one in which we have a spectrum of electronic literatures, much like Ensslin articulated in her seminal book (2014). In seeking to establish a consistent definition, it might be sufficient to say that electronic literature is literature wherein computation forms an inherent part of the aesthetic, but in the applied sense, to be computational, particularly in contemporary terms, is almost as subjective as it is to be literary. My electronic literature is not wordplay by HTML or Twine, it is not generation by Python or Twitter bots—it is something else, it is about gamespaces, immersion, it is about the spaces that are technically complex to produce, but nonetheless remain in the service of story. That is not to say that older technologies, used either in the past or present, are any less complex from a literary context, that they too cannot be immersive or render a space from the flatness of the screen—my point is simply that to be electronic, to be digital, is a spectral existence. In a domain occupied by so many modalities, it seems entirely futile to seek inclusive histories and definitions. Since we no longer write books entitled “What is literature?”, why do we continue to pen such treatments of e-lit? Is it because we are deeply uncomfortable with all the muddling of modalities that happens in an age where everything is digital? What separates different forms of digital art? What separates electronic literature from video games or film? Can video games and films be considered electronic literature, and vice versa? Do all video games and all types of film fit neatly into the most widely accepted definitions of electronic literature: has a film been created on a computer/screen for the purposes of reading on a computer/screen? Do certain video game genres not use the screen and language in conjunction? Can all forms of electronic literature be considered ludic? Is it a question of privilege, the dominance of language over other elements? In 2008, Grigar wrote: As yet video games are not perceived as elit and have, according to some, not achieved literary quality on par with books, but they do have the potential to do so; when they do, elit may very well overtake print-based literature in popularity. (2008)

Are we now, in an age where interactive dramas like Heavy Rain and The Last of Us are hugely popular, at a point where video games are the dominant form of e-lit? But what are these titles, are they games, electronic literature, or, with their extended cut scenes, interactive films of a sort? Does it even matter?

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Is it the participation of readers that makes distinction possible? With film, there is arguably less input from the viewer than would be required from the player of a video game, but this manner of distinction gets dangerously close to the idea of “non-trivial effort”: reception is not something which should be rigidly classified. The challenge is that electronic literature has adopted computational characteristics shared by a variety of modes: While electronic literature includes many elements of the literary tradition, it also includes practices from a number of other art forms and venues of cultural production: visual art, conceptual art, computation, gaming, music, performance, and other modalities of expression. As such, the field itself is a kind of moving target. It will likely look as different to us a decade from now as it does now from a decade ago. (Rettberg 2010, 93)

Rettberg hits upon the crux of the matter when he portrays the field as “a kind of moving target”. The rapid proliferation of creative technologies has lent itself to this transience. Even when one takes the dangerous step of fragmenting modalities, separating word from other in an effort to classify art forms based on the components that they typically privilege, there are intersections which deconstruct any possible typology. There is potential in charting the differences between print and electronic works, but the products of digital apparatus are not so readily segregated. And if such segregation is to be forced, perhaps it should occur in a quasi-structuralist fashion, almost artificially conscious of the instruments and technicalities by which digital artists achieve representation. We can assume that there will be few unforeseen modalities in the immediate future—for all our talk of the exponential, modalities rarely rise and fall throughout the course of a lifetime—and so we might approach appreciations of electronic literature and its many counterparts by constructing intermedial systems of classification. Systematic approaches to criticism are suited to electronic literature as they are dependent on logical platforms the like of which are absent in print. The semantic potential of digital apparatus may well be greater when one avails of computation, but digital technologies are in themselves very rigid structures, far less susceptible to manipulation than literary devices—the technics of a screen are governed by a very specific set of rules, and so by attending to

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a mode’s structural particularities, we can work towards achieving some sense of aesthetic alignment between artworks. Acknowledging our inability to be prescriptive, we must descriptively, and somewhat generically, identify such technics—in other words, should umbrella terms like “electronic literature” and “literary games” be abandoned in favour of more granular, descriptive accounts based on the modal specifics of a work? For Gunther Kress, multimodality is simply the juxtaposition of differing modes, of “writing, layout, music, gesture, speech, moving image, soundtrack and 3D objects” (2010, 79). Is all this just combinatory aesthetics, and is it not misguided to try and apply terms and definitions to combinatory practices—surely, to be combinatory is to resist stability? If we take electronic literature, video games, and film as three exemplary modes of digital art, and assess the reliance of each of these on different modalities, can we really isolate broad aesthetic schools? The presence of an aesthetic compound in one form does not necessarily mean an outright absence in the other, but rather, that each form typically does what all individual artistic works tend to do: privilege one type of expression over another. One might argue that electronic literature privileges language, while video games and film rely on more audiovisual elements in the presentation of their multisensory environments. But the opposite could just as readily be argued. Reading static text can produce a range of complex interactions between reader and surface, whether that surface be page or screen. The experiential nuances across the spectrum of these interactions will be different, but they are all equally significant when treated at the macro level—modal selections have been made for aesthetic purposes. Any boundaries that we can draw between such selections would be fluid, even arbitrary. And yet, there are distinctions, there are systematic, technical, and experiential differences that we know. We think of literature as a series of elements—like metaphors—presented through certain kinds of language, characterised by various phenomenological and social conditions. One goes to a work of literature with a sense of recognition—we know it is literature, we know the system, and the same can be said of electronic literature, text that we know cannot be without its bits and bytes. It is almost as if the author did not make modal selections after all, for their vision could only be realised through adherence to one system, to one type of expression, and such might exist as a subset of the many aforementioned umbrella terms.

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The Innovation Problem One might be excused for thinking the e-lit scholars are unnecessarily preoccupied with something with which literary and cultural critics should be well equipped to tackle—innovation. Electronic literature is not the first time that criticism has been presented with the problem of innovation: the history of literature is scattered with new movements and practices. We know this, we know that the desire to achieve perpetual cultural and political reinvigoration through art and literature feeds the avant-garde—however outmoded that idea may be—rejecting traditional conventions in an effort to, as Pound so famously put it, “make it new”. Experimental art addresses crises of representation, creating new conventions appropriate to their time. Electronic literature is appropriate to the digital age, allowing those who would engage, just like its antecedents, the opportunity to reimagine some aspect of human experience. In this sense, it could be argued that electronic literature is simply the next iteration of modernism. In one of the seminal papers on this topic, Engberg and Bolter show how e-lit critics “often draw comparisons between digital literary works and practitioners and the early avantgarde and the neo-avant-garde of the concretists, Oulipo, and language poetry” (2011). Rettberg draws comparisons with Dadaism, arguing that e-lit, like Dada, “presents itself as an antidote to established literary and artistic conventions” (2008), while Pressman emphasises the “alignment with a modernist aesthetic” that one finds in Dakota (2008, 320). The problem of innovation is this: if we are so used to the new in literature, why do we always look to associate it with the old? Why are we concerned with similarity in difference, and not determined to isolate aesthetic movements to the cultural specifics from which they emerged? Is it because expression does not happen in a cultural vacuum, free of the context generated by that which came before and might come after? Or is it because we, as critics, do not know how to approach the unfamiliar without the comfort of what we already know? In their essay, Engberg and Bolter pose a vital question: “If we accept, as many do, that digital literary practices seek to innovate, what is it that they innovate?” I am going to reframe this question a little less eloquently: anything can be considered innovative, and thus, to be innovative is to be nothing. Why then are we so obsessed with nothing?

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Electronic literature is experimental, in that it is relatively new, but “new” is a problematic descriptor. We have become infatuated with the new, even though the supposed new will never be stable: innovation, to be innovative, must continue to innovate. The predominant desire of the contemporary artist to achieve the radical has made counterculture the established culture. Bolter and Engberg point out that our critical discourse is “struggling to bring together the formal and political” (2011), a struggle which emerges from the field’s inability to construct a reified notion of innovation which can defend experimentalism whose ability to achieve political expression is founded on technologies driven by the institutions of the hyper-capitalist digital industries.9 Dissolving this binary seems an unlikely reality of e-lit practice. And so we return to our need to jettison the foundations of the past if we are to move towards a poetics of the future. The problem with -isms is that they are used as a seal when they are little more than an indicator: criticism gains little from labelling for the sake of labelling. While it has served us in good stead, we no longer need the word “innovation”. Presuppositions of convention and reaction are useful when used as the foundation for critical reflection, but to simply note that electronic literature is a revival of modernism, and progress with such as a critical framework, is too prescriptive. There are undoubted parallels between the electronic literature movement and the modernist aesthetic, and there are multiple authors of the form who identify, and are right to do so, as modernists. But while there are numerous parallels, significant departures also exist, such that we should query the widely accepted view that much electronic literature is aligned with a “strategy of renovating modernist aesthetic practices, principles, and text into new media” (Pressman 2014, 2). Pressman’s Digital Modernism—an essential text for anyone in this field—is a compelling treatment with some vigorous close reading, but it remains too general a stance to say that electronic literature “reframes” and “rebuilds” as modernism does (2014, 2), when the same might be said of any literary epoch. The swerve is such that all literature stands on the shoulders of its predecessors, so to argue that the electronic literature community is, or has contained within it, a revival of particularly modernist traits is emblematic of the issues raised by Bolter and Engberg. High modernism is considered by many to have subverted the popular, something which electronic literature, in its reliance upon

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widely adopted technologies and platforms, does not. To her credit, Pressman addresses this concern, remarking that many commentators “have shown that instead of being opposed to popular culture, modernism was in fact deeply permeated by lowbrow and mass media” (2014, 9). Though she states that modernism was, as opposed to is, suggesting an association between electronic literature and high modernism as opposed to anything more current. Modernism is many things, and while it has been successfully argued that many of the “highbrow” works of the aesthetics’ most productive era are indeed soaked in mass media, they do also attempt to subvert the popular. But, of course, Pressman could take me to task on any of these contentions, which leads us back to our problem: modernism seeks/sought to innovate, electronic literature seeks to innovate, all literature seeks to innovate. Innovation tells us nothing, luring us into compelling comparisons between all those movements which embraced innovation, which is arguably all movements. Pressman does unpack this matter somewhat in a convincing defence of her position, arguing why she chooses “digital modernism” over “digital postmodernism”: … ours is no longer the same cultural epoch as that described by JeanFrançois Lyotard, Fredric Jameson, Linda Hutcheon, and other theorists of postmodernism writing in the 1980s. Personal computing, the Internet, and the technologies of global capitalism have altered cultural composition, capitalist economies, and systems of signification, let alone theories about them. Works of digital modernism are accessed online, within the infrastructure of e-commerce and popular technoculture, and this embeddedness is essential to their practice and immanent critique… The collapse of the avant-garde into the computer can be read as the ultimate fulfilment of Fredric Jameson’s claim about postmodernism, wherein the capitalist system consumes all possibilities of critiquing it. (2014, 9–10)

A fiercely compelling argument, Pressman’s writing lends support to the idea of perverse engineering, of the manipulation of capitalist products for artistic intent. And this is, perhaps, more modernist than postmodernist. Yet, again, innumerable parallels could be drawn in either regard: electronic literature tends to rely heavily on fragmentation, subverting the exchange between reader and writer by drawing upon participatory and interactive narratives and aesthetics—all of which are postmodernist traits.

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It is one thing to state that authors in this space engage in perverse engineering for ideological purposes, but even when a system’s intended functions are being manipulated by the literary, the restraints of these systems remain intact. Many of the technologies utilised by digital artists are motivated by capitalist forces, and their appropriation—the phenomenon of found technologies—is intimately connected to market saturation. The entropic nature of electronic literature is fundamental to its aesthetic, digital platforms embodying change, and to an extent, disorder. In this respect, digital art speaks to the heart of what postmodernism represents, which is at its core a sceptical reexamination of literary and cultural works of note. Rejecting totality, electronic literature has, in a postmodernist vein, been founded on processes of assemblage. The imperative here is that one can find a range of movements with which electronic literature holds affinities. Formalism, for example, with its adherence to prescribed forms, is representative of the constraint that one finds in procedural poetry. When Pressman states that electronic literature is inherently modernist because it “remakes the category of the avant-garde in new media” (2014, 10), she is not wrong—and we benefit greatly from her exploration of such a contention—it is just that the association can be as readily made elsewhere. Critically, we do not require electronic literature to be broadly situated within any innovative movement. True innovation should always be dialectical, as one cannot innovate without a foundation upon which such innovation might be measured—innovation is utterly dependent on measurement, on difference, for reification. And such a self-inflected model will always collapse.

Notes 1. E-lit scholars tend to refer to the interconnected fragments of text which readers reveal while traversing digital works as “lexias” (see Landow 1992, 4). 2. For more on Flash, see Salter and Murray (2014). 3. I first encountered The Reading Glove at the “Pathfinders: 25 Years of Experimental Literary Art” exhibit showcased at the MLA convention in Chicago (Grigar and Moulthrop 2014). The installation is generally attributed to Josh and Karen Tanenbaum, though my understanding is that it has also had input, at various stages, from Alissa Antle, Jim Bizzocchi, Marek Hatala, Magy Seif El Nasr, and Ron Wakkary. For more on the

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origins of the concept, readers would be well served by a selection of the project’s various publications (J. Tanenbaum et al. 2010; K. Tanenbaum et al. 2011). 4. Grigar and Greg Philbrook have thoroughly documented the various versions of Curlew: http://dtc-wsuv.org/curlew/about.html. 5. Readers interested in learning more about the Pathfinders project should view its website, hosted by Washington State University, Vancouver (http://dtc-wsuv.org/wp/pathfinders/), or alternatively, the project’s two major publications (Grigar and Moulthrop 2015; Moulthrop and Grigar 2017). 6. With thanks to Dene Grigar for sharing this insight. 7.  It was potentially Dene Grigar who first posited the term “Eastgate School” in her 2012 exhibition, Early Authors of Electronic Literature: The Eastgate School, Voyager Artists, and Independent Productions. It is worth noting that Eastgate was not the only early publisher of electronic literature, but the collection of works by Eastgate “establishes an identity for an important aspect of the field, with anchor points that enable thoughtful comparisons and evaluations of work” (Heckman and O’Sullivan 2018a). 8. The third volume of the Electronic Literature Collection includes a number of older pieces, and so it might not be useful as a means of assessing the contemporary situation. Conversely, the inclusion of such titles might be precisely why it is suited to such a task. 9. On this topic, it might be worth seeing “‘your visit will leave a permanent mark’: Poetics in the Post-Digital Economy” (Heckman and O’Sullivan 2018b).

References Aarseth, Espen J. 1994. ‘Nonlinearity and Literary Theory’. In Hyper/Text/ Theory, edited by George P. Landow, 51–86. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ———. 1997. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Bolter, Jay David. 1985. ‘The Idea of Literature in the Electronic Medium’. Topic: A Journal of the Liberal Arts 39: 23–34. ———. 2011. Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. New York: Routledge. Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. 2000. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Bolter, Jay David, and Michael Joyce. 1987. ‘Hypertext and Creative Writing’. In HYPERTEXT ’87: Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Hypertext, 41–50. https://doi.org/10.1145/317426.317431.

56  J. O’SULLIVAN Bouchardon, Serge. 2016. ‘Towards a Tension-Based Definition of Digital Literature’. Journal of Creative Writing Studies 2 (1). http://scholarworks. rit.edu/jcws/vol2/iss1/6/. Breeze, Mez, and Andy Campbell. 2017. All the Delicate Duplicates. The Space, One to One Development Trust, Dreaming Methods, & Mez Breeze Design. Coover, Robert. 1999. ‘Literary Hypertext: The Passing of the Golden Age’. Keynote presented at Digital Arts and Culture, Atlanta. http://nickm.com/ vox/golden_age.html. Derrida, Jacques. 1992. ‘This Strange Institution Called Literature: An Interview with Jacques Derrida’. In Acts of Literature, edited by Derek Attridge. London: Routledge. di Rosario, Giovanna. 2011. Electronic Poetry: Understanding Poetry in the Digital Environment. Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä. https://jyx.jyu.fi/ dspace/bitstream/handle/123456789/27117/9789513943356.pdf. Duguid, Paul. 2006. ‘Material Matters: The Past and Futurology of the Book’. In The Book History Reader, edited by David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery, 494–508. New York: Routledge. Emerson, Lori. 2011. ‘On “e-Literature” as a Field’. Loriemerson.Net (blog), 12 October. http://loriemerson.net/2011/10/12/on-e-literature-as-a-field/. Engberg, Maria, and Jay David Bolter. 2011. ‘Digital Literature and the Modernist Problem’. Digital Humanities Quarterly 5 (3). http://www. digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/5/3/000099/000099.html. Ensslin, Astrid. 2014. Literary Gaming. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Funkhouser, C. T. 2007a. Prehistoric Digital Poetry: An Archaeology of Forms, 1959–1995. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press. ———. 2007b. ‘Electronic Literature circa WWW (and Before)’. Electronic Book Review, 8 October. http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/ electropoetics/collected. Gallix, Andrew. 2008. ‘Is E-Literature Just One Big Anti-Climax?’ The Guardian, 24 September, sec. Books. https://www.theguardian.com/ books/booksblog/2008/sep/24/ebooks. Gendolla, Peter, and Jörgen Schäfer. 2007. ‘Playing with Signs: Towards an Aesthetic Theory of Net Literature’. In The Aesthetics of Net Literature: Writing, Reading and Playing in Programmable Media, edited by Peter Gendolla and Jörgen Schäfer, 17–42. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag. Glazier, Loss Pequeño. 2002. Digital Poetics: The Making of E-Poetries. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press. Grigar, Dene. 2008. ‘Electronic Literature: Where Is It?’ Electronic Book Review, 28 December. http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/ technocapitalism/invigorating.

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Grigar, Dene, and Stuart Moulthrop. 2014. ‘Pathfinders: 25 Years of Experimental Literary Art’. In Modern Language Association Annual Convention. Chicago. http://dtc-wsuv.org/wp/pathfinders/exhibit/. ———. 2015. Pathfinders: Documenting the Experience of Early Digital Literature. Vancouver, WA: Nouspace Publications. http://scalar.usc.edu/ works/pathfinders/index. Hayles, N. Katherine. 2008. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. Hayles, N. Katherine, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg, and Stephanie Strickland, eds. 2006. Electronic Literature Collection: Volume One. Electronic Literature Organization. http://collection.eliterature.org/1/. Heckman, Davin, and James O’Sullivan. 2018a. ‘Electronic Literature: Contexts and Poetics’. In Literary Studies in a Digital Age, edited by Kenneth M. Price and Ray Siemens. New York: Modern Language Association. https:// dlsanthology.mla.hcommons.org/electronic-literature-contexts-and-poetics/. ———. 2018b. ‘“your visit will leave a permanent mark”: Poetics in the PostDigital Economy’. In The Bloomsbury Handbook of Electronic Literature, edited by Joseph Tabbi, 95–112. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic. Joyce, Michael. 1990. afternoon, a story. Watertown, MA: Eastgate Systems. Kress, Gunther R. 2010. Multimodality: A Social Semiotic Approach to Contemporary Communication. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis. Landow, George P. 1992. Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Manovich, Lev. 2001. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ———. 2003. ‘Mew Media from Borges to HTML’. In The New Media Reader, edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, 13–25. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Marino, Mark C. 2008. ‘The Electronic Literature Collection Volume I: A New Media Primer’. Digital Humanities Quarterly 2 (1). http://digitalhumanities. org/dhq/vol/2/1/000017/000017.html. Moulthrop, Stuart, and Dene Grigar. 2017. Traversals: The Use of Preservation for Early Electronic Writing. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Murray, Janet H. 2003. ‘Inventing the Medium’. In The New Media Reader, edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, 3–11. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Nelson, Theodor. 1965. ‘A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing, and the Indeterminate’. In Association for Computing Machinery: Proceedings of the 1965 20th National Conference, edited by Lewis Winner, 84–100. New York: Association for Computing Machinery.

58  J. O’SULLIVAN O’Gorman, Marcel. 2007. E-Crit: Digital Media, Critical Theory and the Humanities. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. O’Sullivan, James. 2017. ‘Electronic Literature’s Contemporary Moment: Breeze and Campbell’s “All the Delicate Duplicates”’. Los Angeles Review of Books, 7 November. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/electronic-literatureturns-a-new-page-breeze-and-campbells-all-the-delicate-duplicates/. Poggioli, Renato. 1968. The Theory of the Avant Garde. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Pressman, Jessica. 2008. ‘The Strategy of Digital Modernism: Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’s Dakota’. Modern Fiction Studies 54 (2): 302–26. ———. 2014. Digital Modernism: Making It New in New Media. New York: Oxford University Press. Rettberg, Scott. 2008. ‘FCJ-071 Dada Redux: Elements of Dadaist Practice in Contemporary Electronic Literature’. The Fibreculture Journal, no. 11. http://eleven.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-071-dada-redux-elements-ofdadaist-practice-in-contemporary-electronic-literature/. ———. 2009. ‘Communitizing Electronic Literature’. Digital Humanities Quarterly 3 (2). http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/3/2/000046/ 000046.html. ———. 2010. ‘Editorial Process and the Idea of Genre in Electronic Literature in the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1’. Archiving Electronic Literature and Poetry: Problems, Tendencies, Perspectives 29 (1/2): 85–95. Rettberg, Scott, Patricia Tomaszek, and Sandy Baldwin. 2015. Electronic Literature Communities. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press. Salter, Anastasia. 2015. ‘Ends of Electronic? A Report from ELO2015’. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 10 August. https://www.chronicle.com/ blogs/profhacker/elo2015/60671. Salter, Anastasia, and John Murray. 2014. Flash: Building the Interactive Web. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Strickland, Stephanie. 2002a. ‘“Into the Space of Previously Undrawable Diagrams”: An Interview with Stephanie Strickland by Jaishree K. Odin’. Iowa Review (Web). http://iowareview.uiowa.edu/TIRW/TIRW_Archive/ tirweb/feature/strickland/index.html. ———. 2002b. V: WaveSon.Nets / Losing l’Una. London: Penguin Books. Strickland, Stephanie, and Cynthia Lawson. 2002. Vniverse. http://vniverse. com/. Tanenbaum, Joshua, Karen Tanenbaum, and Alissa Antle. 2010. ‘The Reading Glove: Designing Interactions for Object-Based Tangible Storytelling’. In Proceedings of the 1st Augmented Human International Conference, 19. New York: ACM. Tanenbaum, Karen, Joshua Tanenbaum, Alissa N. Antle, Jim Bizzocchi, Magy Seif el-Nasr, and Marek Hatala. 2011. ‘Experiencing the Reading Glove’.

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In Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction, 137–44. New York: ACM. Walker Rettberg, Jill. 2012. ‘The History of the Term “Electronic Literature”’. Jill/Txt (blog), 3 January. http://jilltxt.net/?p=2665. Wardrip-Fruin, Noah. 2004. ‘What Hypertext Is’. In Proceedings of the Fifteenth ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia, 126–27. New York: ACM. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1012807.1012844. ———. 2008. ‘Reading Digital Literature: Surface, Data, Interaction, and Expressive Processing’. In A Companion to Digital Literary Studies, edited by Susan Schreibman and Ray Siemens, 163–82. Oxford: Blackwell.

CHAPTER 3

Authorship and Reading in the Digital Age

If we are to comprehend electronic literature through descriptive exploration, there are countless historical, cultural, social, and artistic repercussions that need more thorough extrapolation: for all the stellar scholarship that has been done in this field, much of the required excavation remains undone. But we also need to reemphasise foundational concepts, repeatedly interrogating the manner by which the screen transforms the ways we read and write. Flusser’s preconditions of writing point to a number of communicative practices which are of relevance to us, such as the need for a blank surface, a means by which to mark that surface, and a system for the construction of signs and language (Heckman and O’Sullivan 2018). As has been argued by numerous scholars, electronic literature has precursors in the shape of such movements as the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and concrete poets. Giovanna di Rosario offers one of the most complete accounts of electronic literature’s predecessors, drawing parallels between e-lit and modes of visual writing from Ancient Greece to twentieth-century avant-gardes. All such movements create a tension between the familiar practices of writing that we develop over time, tension that is extended further when one introduces computation’s potential for mechanical production. Again, we need to be conscious of the experience, of constraint’s varied existence: the Oulipo utilise notions of constraint, but digital artistry engages with the mathematic. Constraint and mathematics are certainly not equivalents, and neither are they necessarily commutative, though the latter generally operates in the service of the former. © The Author(s) 2019 J. O’Sullivan, Towards a Digital Poetics, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-11310-0_3

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The specifics of constraint and mathematics are dependent on the writing system, as opposed to system of writing, that frames a work. As we can see from Flusser’s account of writing,1 digital systems resemble their predecessors: the screen has replaced the page as the blank surface, the interface the means by which we mark that surface, and the various languages through which we can programme a machine or application comprising the signs and languages of the screen (Heckman and O’Sullivan 2018). But the formality of the machine exists in reciprocity with the personal, so that the reader can identify the presence of the author, negotiating and manipulating the constraints of the medium. In doing so, authors of electronic literature engage in a poesis that parallels the challenge historically presented by written words, though with an altered system of representation. The nuances of such systems are dictated by authorial intention, by a balancing of expressive possibilities. Élika Ortega writes of electronic literature in terms of textual environments and multimateriality: This material configuration, along with it the many media protocols and communication structures it touches, evidences the diverse layers of reading and mediation that depend on all of the actors - human and object, individual and social - that stand out in the creation of new and unique items in our complex media ecology. (2017)

Ortega’s eloquent description of “configurations” makes clear to us how electronic modes of writing, from the perspective of technical, literary, and cultural systems, are so varied that we cannot consider how a thing is either read or written without first confronting that thing. Perhaps then, there is no need to articulate a digital poetics? We have close reading, and coupled with an awareness of media specifics, any systematic variance can be revealed. But how can we be aware of media specifics of we do not first consider the meta? Media specifics have a profound effect on the means by which a surface is both utilised and read, and all media have affordances and limitations, for both writer and reader. For the transaction between these two parties to be successful, they must both be aware of these affordances and limitations, however intentionally. The connection between the structure of an inscription device and the structure of the tool has long been extrapolated in the work of such scholars as Friedrich Kittler: “Media determine our situation”, he states (1999, xxxix). Mastering this determinism is a matter of insight, for whoever “is able to hear or see the circuits in the synthesized sound of CDs or in the

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laser storms of a disco finds happiness” (1999, xli). Code is electronic literature’s synthesised sound. As modern creatures, if we are to question the truths offered to us through digital art, we must understand the laws constraining yet facilitating the truths that have been offered. Understanding these laws is what allows the psyche to go beyond subjectivity, beyond the human, understanding the formulations and methodologies that emanate from the medium itself. The pursuit here is the acquisition of depth (Bouchardon and Heckman 2012), and depth might sometimes be what is in the code of the piece, the structures that constitute its production. And this knowledge allows us to draw conclusions from the aforementioned preconditions, and how they are manipulated, and understanding manipulation is of paramount importance: if one can extract the nuances of process, one can draw criticisms about electronic literature. As expressed by Bouchardon and Heckman in the seminal essay on this matter, media provide conventions that allow words to correspond with something else—in doing so, media introduce estrangement (2012), and thus, before writing, authors need to consider the canvas, how a specific process is going to be represented, understood, and experienced. Authors choose words which correspond to an idea, but the transmission of that idea happens with or without distortion from sender to receiver depending on the form by which it is transmitted: authors of electronic literature tend to avail of writing practices which foreground their medium and technicality, but if we are to achieve depth, we must deploy strategies which allow us to look beyond what a work presents to us on the screen. In essence, any reading of electronic literature must be informed by the linguistic content, but also, the means by which that content has been embodied in a particular material or format. This relationship between foreground and background holds equal significance for readers as it does writers, as it is central to the manipulation of those necessities which dictate the processes by which the transaction between these figures takes place.

The Author and the Screen While there are exceptions, print authors generally do not concern themselves with the means by which their writing is transformed into a book. Processes of production typically remain the reserve of publishers, and while authors may influence certain material elements relating to design, we should be careful not to conflate presentation with production. This

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exchange is somewhat unfamiliar to authors of electronic literature, who are largely responsible for both the linguistic and compu-material aspects of the literary. It is true to say that the latter is often facilitated through collaboration, but this exchange is considerably more active than is the case with print. Digital collaborations require direct authorial contributions to computational aesthetics, which demands at least a basic understanding of the relevant technologies and their inherent affordances and constraints. When collaboration is not present, authors must themselves be familiar with the various technicalities. In essence, this requirement creates a new kind of author, an author which sits on both sides of the screen, capable of producing art which privileges language alongside other modes of expression, while also possessing a familiarity with those underlying systems which facilitate computer-driven interactivity. This is a highly significant shift in the literary process, as it not only transforms the product, but also tasks the author with a more varied stewardship. The author now has the double-task of crafting a sequence of words that can compel the reader to respond in the desired fashion, while also appreciating how the functionalities of an extremely-structured yet configurable system of modal interactivity can enable and enhance that experience. It is not just readers who must appreciate the encounter with which they are presented, authors must do the same: take, as a simple example, the hypertext, which achieves defamiliarisation through branching. The hypertextual author must possess the ability to segment their narrative, laying the fragments of their traversal bare, so that they can envision a form—and platform—technically suited to their literary intentions. If the purpose of literature is to achieve problematisation through defamiliarisation—to make us look at something anew—then authors in this space need to break from traditions which have long been automatic. It is worth noting the difference between “established” and “automatic” traditions: the established is intentional and explicit, the automatic just is. The means by which a reader traverses the codex form is so established and familiar that authors tend to give it automatic consideration, and when something is automatic, it tends to be invisible. An electronic medium demands attention, for the simplicity of the page as a writing surface is not replicated by the screen—and as a particular medium becomes normalised in the digital age, a new one will emerge to renew this cycle. But this is to be expected when one treats the literary. As authors become as much producers as they are writers, they need to be conscious of multiple swerves—it is not just about transforming

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language or its conventions, but everything that might be involved in the act of making literature happen. In the e-lit community, we have seen some overtly conscious efforts to swerve, many of which emphasise the technics of a piece. Montfort’s famous Taroko Gorge is a useful example, a generative Javascript poem which invites revisions through an open code base that allows other authors to offer derivatives of the work. This practice has some affinities with the surrealist experiment where a poet throws a set of words on the floor, before someone else picks up and subsequently proceeds to write a poem with the discarded prompts. This process, which is acutely aware of the importance of precursors, is figured quite explicitly in Taroko Gorge. Remixing is dominant throughout the e-lit movement, such that electronic literature can be said to emerge from a poetics of synthesis (Cramer 2003). But ideas of synthesising, remixing, and reusing might be more usefully conflated as found technologies. As a practice, the use of found technologies is reflective of late modernist, and indeed postmodernist, tendencies to create using found objects. This notion of assemblage has seen something of a revival in the digital age—much electronic writing is done using found technologies. The contention here is that authors do not, predominantly, seek to remix and reuse, but rather, create their assemblage with the tools and technologies available to them. There are, essentially, two archetypal practitioners that one encounters in this space: on the one hand, you have Warhol, reliant on the intuitive, and on the other, you have Klüver, the engineer-artist. Warhols have two choices if they are to produce art: they may find a user-friendly application, or, they find a Klüver with whom to collaborate. Klüvers, in comparison, can create out of anything, but there are always constraints, and in the digital space, the constraints of capital become more pronounced. Warhols are arguably more numerous than Klüvers, in that many of the field’s more respected works of electronic literature have been created using intuitive platforms that remove the need for one to be a Klüver. Warhols select their technologies based on what is available to them, whether that is in relation to applications, open source code, or affordable hardware—they use whatever they can find. The reality is that first-generation electronic literature was largely hypertextual because Eastgate removed the barrier to creation. The advent of platforms like Unity is essentially doing the same thing with contemporary technologies, but the premise is the same: artists do not always possess the technical expertise necessary to harness computational aesthetics, and thus they must rely on found technologies to realise their ambitions.

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Thus, authors in this space have to be particularly conscious of form— it takes remarkable authorial talent to “find” the right technology. di Rosario portrays the digital poet as “a creator of potentialities which are accomplished by the receiving act, the digital medium is no longer the medium which one writes on, but a medium that enables to create” (2006, 58). Reading Jacob Garbe speaking in relation to his work, Closed Room, Soft Whispers, one can explicitly see the digital artist’s obsession with medium: There’s a lot tied up in the choice of medium. Especially with new media works, “electronic literature”, or new media of any kind. The freedom to engage with form means that there’s an implicit or explicit choice before one even gets to the content. I think part of my choices with Whispers was just the desire to present something whose form would delight and astonish people. Honestly, if you talk to anyone working in AR about the tech in this they will be completely unimpressed. And if you talk to any electronics engineer about the cabinet, they’ll be completely unimpressed. But for the viewer, in a gallery, it combines to become something special, in this instance. And that was what I wanted to try out as well. For me, it’s not the form or the content that’s important, but the interplay and affect between the two. (Garbe 2015)

Medium is not merely about presenting something which will “delight and astonish”, it is also about realising new authorial possibilities, not just in terms of expression, but also in establishing otherwise impossible feedback loops wherein reader interactions are tracked, to give just one of many possible examples. To be an author of the digital is to be a master of more than language, it is to be writer, producer, publisher, and marketeer—even when one is a Warhol, they must possess the architectural appreciation of a Klüver, and find the elements capable of satisfying their literary schematics. Found technologies are not found by chance.

Readers as Active Participants While writing practices have been transformed by digital culture, readers have also seen a shift in their role within the literary transaction. Electronic literature, by facilitating a multiplicity of interactions, has shifted the reader from passive observer to active participant, or what di Rosario calls, a “reader-spectator-actor” (2006, 59). This is a beautiful

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tripartite, as its reconstruction of readership does not negate existing roles, but rather, adds additional activities on the part of the receiver. Users of electronic literature must still read, they must still observe, but they must also traverse, navigate, and choose. It is a bi-directional system in which the author still controls the story; many elements of the story are dictated by the reader, but the author does not cede control; rather, they delegate the process through which meaning is to emerge. This delegation is more extensive in some pieces, where the reader almost becomes the writer, in a sense. This is not quite the eventual realisation of the death of the author, as the writer—or creator or coder—has constructed the confines within which the reader must operate. Electronic literature presents narrative freedom, but within author-defined structural constraints. Multimodality is participatory and experiential, requiring a certain level of mastery if either is to be effective. Most readers acquire language as a natural part of their development, which in turn facilitates the acquisition of learned literacies. Literacy is connected to the formation of the public sphere, the creation of a certain literary public that reads and produces criticism, and this relationship becomes complicated by the introduction of the digital, which gives rise to new unfamiliar literacies. This estrangement, to echo Bouchardon and Heckman, is aesthetically powerful, in that it reinvigorates the interpretative process, stimulating senses that typically remain dormant through the act of reading. When this happens, when the contemporary reader is presented with a familiar interface, and a familiar act in the shape of reading, a compelling tension emerges: the act of reading changes, and their comfort with the digital is challenged as they realise that meaning goes beyond the interfaces upon which we have become reliant. This has profound contextual repercussions, in that it reconfigures the relationship between literature and literacy, transforming certain ideals and social contracts. This tension is founded upon the fact that it is all reading: whether you are looking at a sentence on a page, or a work of born-digital literature on a screen, it is all reading. Sometimes you are reading words, sometimes images, sometimes you are experiencing a modal maelstrom—but you are always reading. What is significant is that the medium’s specificity takes precedence; it dictates the reading process and the manner in which the transaction between the author and reader occurs. Different acts of reading will always share similarities, but they will also have considerable differences, and where the author exerts control over

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these differences, the reader holds the responsibility of perceiving such. Readers must appreciate the constraints of any medium, they must acknowledge the transition between surfaces, the underlying functions, and the products that are foregrounded. Electronic literature involves sound, movement, touch—this canon is comprised of works which are participatory and immersive. This is profound, in that varying forms of participation can express degrees of affect; they can liberate and antagonise readers in equal measure. The irony is that contemporary readers, despite their mantle as digital natives, can struggle with such antagonism. The ease by which one can traverse the codex form is one of its great strengths: if one of the primary objectives of writing is the telling of a story, then the codex is, in a structural respect, more suited to this activity. Media fixity may well be a desired trait when the aim is to present content that can be intuitively absorbed. The digital interface shares this trait, in that it eases the interaction with cybertexts and the products of technoculture. Digital natives, while familiar with the intuitive, possess far less technical understanding than previous generations: they have become reliant on the visual, but this is not entirely negative, as it has contributed to a rise in visual literatures. Touching on a similar topic, Aarseth explores the relationship between different types of play and criticism: … should we expect game scholars to excel in the games they analyze? This idea, while fairly militant, has some merit, especially if we look to other performing arts, where academic training is often combined with training for practical performance skills. As game scholars, we obviously have an obligation to understand gameplay, and this is best and sometimes only achieved through play. (2003, 7)

This question posed by Aarseth is an important one: how do readers interacting with electronic literature—in the broadest sense of the term—appreciate this type of writing when they cannot appreciate the technical aspects? This, of course, is not exclusive to readers, with many Warhols collaborating with Klüvers to produce works they could not replicate beyond a collaborative setting. Critics of electronic literature have an obligation to understand the code that makes a piece operate, but that is not to say that the linguistic content should be ignored. As a result, as is the case with authors in this space, readers must strive to develop the contemporary literacies necessary to allow them to sit on

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both sides of the screen, interpreting the surface product, while appreciating the underlying—yet meaningful—computational structures. There can be no literature without literacy. Readers of electronic literature have not evolved to the point where we are considering an entirely new audience: there are new textual and material considerations for screen readers, but this is the very nature of the posthuman. We have, for thousands of years, been reliant on our ingenuity. Our capacity to innovate via our intelligence is essential to our nature, and thus, the most human of all human activities. In the modern world, we have not become posthuman, but rather, more human. Readership in the digital age is not so evolved from its precursors that it must be utterly redefined. Computation has allowed digital storytelling to evolve in some regards, but the voice of the author remains through the various predetermined events which occur as readers—or users or players—progress through their traversal. This type of interaction can be replicated in print literature, it is just more expressive when one adapts machines for such purposes. Writers write, readers read. Writers write, readers participate. The transaction has remained the same, but the experience, the material renderings of the literary, has evolved. Readers actively participate more so now than ever before. It is as Ortega suggests, an environment—environments are not for reading, but inhabiting.

Publishing Electronic Literature The publisher has long been mediator between author and reader, so any interactions between computers and language will have profound repercussions for the liminal spaces which publishers occupy within the literary transaction. There are numerous examples of how publishers have capitalised upon contemporary mechanics, contributing to the sizeable non-print market across a range of modes, most notably, e-books and audiobooks. But the extent to which publishers are supporting electronic literature warrants exploration—indeed, it is worth querying whether the field is one which even needs publishers. The role of the publisher is to make a book of a manuscript, to give material structure and form to the language of authors so that their words might survive in the wilds of the literary marketplace. Most authors are wordsmiths, they are not familiar with the procedures or have the resources necessary to accomplish typesetting, bookbinding, and distribution, to name but a few of the many stages involved in the gestation of what readers would consider “a book”.

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Publishers are, for the most part, the economic force behind literary production: printing and distribution—the general act of bringing writers to readers—costs money, substantially so, and those who would preach alternative models, however noble their suggestions, are possibly underestimating the grip of capitalism on this industry. The trade of books is big business, and big business can sometimes be slow to change. This is one of the major issues facing contemporary electronic literature: how do authors commodify their work? In the days of the Eastgate School, this was not so prevalent an issue, as titles could be packaged as floppy discs and optical media and sold in the same fashion as any physical binding. People still buy books, but most software is now secured via download, which means that works of e-lit cannot easily be sold through platforms like Amazon. Offering titles through independent websites is feasible, though this will lead to severely limited exposure. For suitable literary games, distribution platforms like Steam—where Mez Breeze and Andy Campbell released All the Delicate Duplicates—can be used, granting authors access to a large pool of players, some of whom may be interested in overtly literary titles. By the same token, authors are free to publish their works across all of the major “app stores”, but like Steam, this is only a solution for productions which adhere to the requirements of specific platforms. There is simply no uniform approach or place where authors can look to share their work: there is no Amazon for e-lit. There is no Amazon for e-lit because, as already noted, this stuff can be hard to sell. The reality of the e-lit movement is that it has developed across a motley mix of personal websites and very small, relatively invisible publishing projects. Simon Biggs agrees that “most authors of digital literature operate within a self-publishing model” (2010, 194).2 The role that publishers play in the print industry is simply not mirrored when electronic literature is concerned—this is a movement wherein practitioners are going it alone. In a comprehensive report on this topic,3 Eskelinen and di Rosario conclude that, in Europe at least, the publication of electronic literature is largely a “community-centred activity” (2012, 53). Such communities have usurped the role of publishers, drawing together scholars and practitioners in an effort to encourage, curate, share, and promote multimodal writing. The question is, why? Why has electronic literature developed without major contributions from publishers, and why do practitioners in this space feel compelled to self-publish?

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Biggs argues that many e-lit authors have chosen this model because “they do not wish to have their work mediated through publishing industry or mainstream art world mechanisms” (2010, 194). If this is the reality, that many e-lit practitioners have no wish to actively engage with any aspects of the conventional literary marketplace, then the form will continue to suffer the consequences of existing beyond the mainstream. But it is unlikely that such exile is truly self-imposed: remember, e-lit’s beginnings can be tied in part to ventures like Eastgate, a commercial publishing house. Furthermore, most critical writings on this topic are guilty of being too ELO-centric: when Eskelinen and di Rosario, for example, mention “community-centred activity”, a more accurate expression might be “academy-centred”. Much of what is happening in the field of electronic literature is being supported by academic institutions—often indirectly through the resources allocated to scholar-practitioners—and many assessments of this space are focused on this narrow community. There is value in focusing on specific communities, but there are also many pitfalls, and one could potentially see merit in dividing the e-lit movement into two distinct groupings: those who belong to academic institutions and academic cultures, and those who do not. The latter group, I would argue, rarely factor in assessments of this space, despite being a significant part of all that contemporary electronic literature is—The Chinese Room, for example, with their commercially successfully Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, are creating the most compelling literary games at present. They, like Breeze and Campbell, have found a way to turn a potential profit, to adapt the form to the consumptive behaviours of contemporary readers. But not everyone can simply follow the model that has brought success for those creating literary games, because this is where the seemingly trivial differences between electronic literature and literary games become more apparent. Literary games, while still literary, tend to have an element of play, however effaced, that can be foregrounded in promotion. My argument that electronic literature has “crept into popular culture, and its readers don’t even know it” (O’Sullivan 2017) is more applicable to titles where the ludic is more explicitly present. This is not to say that literary games privilege play over language or any other aspect of multimodal literature, but that the very ability to responsibly market something as “a game” radically alters the terms in which it will engage with the public—people buy games far more readily than they do electronic literature. All the Delicate Duplicates and Dear Esther are

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inherently literary works—they are electronic literature—but they are also literary games, and presented as such on a thriving platform like Steam, they are going to have access to a vast international market of readers as gamers. Literary games do not just benefit from their packaging, they are rich and immersive multimodal works that satisfy the demands of contemporary audiences—they offer readers narrative spaces with which to interact, and so, will always be more popular in an age where immersion is the major draw. Authors who are drawn to the digital need to appreciate the demands of readers who share their affection for screens: electronic literature, if it is to be considered electronic in a contemporary context, and certainly, if it is to achieve an audience beyond academic contexts, needs to be of the screen as the screen exists at present. But not everyone might want or be capable of achieving such a form: if an author wants to produce something that really has no element of play in the popular sense of the term, or if they simply want to engage in an act of literary experimentation, they should not be forced for the sake of commodification. And so the present situation, wherein there is something of a commercial division between literary games and other types of e-lit, will likely persist. And so we return to our initial question: what is the role of publishers in this space? What, if anything, can they offer the creators of electronic literature when the ludic group already has readymade for-profit platforms on which to self-publish, and the other group, the group that cannot commodify and promote their titles to the broader popular market, has nothing? Publishing is the part of the literary system which deals with production, and the dynamics of production are often governed by resources. In the digital space, there is far greater potential for the publisher to be removed from the transaction between author and reader because of an easing of resource requirements. If an author wishes to publish a work in print, there are two ways in which they can account for the resource requirements: they can put forward the capital themselves, or they can license their work to a publisher who will, in return for a share of the proceeds from sales, absorb this risk. Electronic literature typically removes this barrier, in that it is relatively inexpensive for an author to disseminate their work to a broad audience without the need for support from a publisher—digital works are relatively easy to share, they are digital and thus their aesthetic affordances translate quite readily into disseminative potential. Thus, the demand for capital, usually satisfied by the publisher, is considerably lessened, if not removed.

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While it is all well and good for authors to publish works on their own sites and servers, oftentimes you will find that such publications are not well maintained. When an author publishes under a respected imprint, the publishing house should assume responsibility for the longevity of the work. Sustainability is a challenge to which authors should not have to respond alone, rather, they should be addressing obsolescence equipped with the assistance of publishers. This is potentially a reason why so few publishers are enticed by electronic literature: for how long does a commercial enterprise maintain a publication when it offers little financial return? Here, we see why institutional and community support has been so essential to this field. When a publisher produces a print book, in many respects, the preservation is already done, it is bound in the codex form: physical copies of this publication will find their way to bookshelves and libraries and archives across the world, and bibliographic details will be propagated across all of the world’s extensive and well-funded catalogues.4 Publishers of electronic literature must give far more thought to the documentation, promotion, and preservation of multimodal writing—they cannot simply hit “print” and walk away. Authors tend not to think of preservation, and those that do are limited by their humanity: they pass, leaving their works unattended. Publishers can alleviate this issue, but, of those few who have attempted to do just that, many have failed. Any work of art should be preserved beyond the life of its creator, and that we have seen both authors and publishers in this space allow works of e-lit to be lost, often within the lifetime of their creators, does not bode well for future histories. Publishing is not just about putting the thing out there: e-lit publishers can play a more active role in opening the potential of the screen to writers who would not otherwise possess the technical expertise to explore multimodal forms. If an author has an idea for a work of electronic literature, publishers should be in a position to support that vision by providing the expertise necessary to achieve its realisation. Collaboration is so central to e-lit practice, and more publishers should assume responsibility for ensuring that everyone has access to this essential requirement—as we have seen from the critical and popular success of some of the titles in this space, it is in their interests to do so. This, of course, reestablishes the publisher as collaborator as opposed to mere stakeholder, which presents a new and complex dynamic that alters the author–publisher relationship. Publishers, by contributing directly to artistic practice, are investing in the creative and expressive, rather than just the disseminative, aspects of a title.

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But publishing is not just about production, it is also about quality and commitment. Publishing with a press acts as something of a seal of approval, which is important if our field is to reify its canon. For authors, having a publisher attached to their work legitimises it in some respects, removing the stigma of self-publication. While it often makes sense to self-publish digital art, if everything in this arena continues to be published by authors themselves, and we progress in the absence of filters, we will end up with a lot of artistic noise drowning out any real literary quality. There is a need for mass experimentation to be tempered by canonicity—sometimes, there is value in gatekeepers.

Notes 1. With thanks to my inimitable colleague, Davin Heckman, for turning me on to Flusser. 2. While Biggs is writing specifically on the British situation, it is clear that self-publishing is the dominant form of dissemination across most, if not all, e-lit cultures. 3.  There are two points worth noting in relation to this report: firstly, I would like to note that I take issue with the conflation of the UK and Ireland, and secondly, readers may also be interested in a subsequent version of this report included in Rettberg and Baldwin’s Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice (Eskelinen et al. 2014). 4.  Incidentally, such a catalogue does exist for e-lit, namely, ELMCIP: Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice (https://elmcip.net/), but ELMCIP stands alone, in that it has few comparable projects, and its existence is sustained by the dedication of a handful of scholars working with limited resources.

References Aarseth, Espen J. 2003. ‘Playing Research: Methodological Approaches to Game Analysis’. In MelbourneDAC: International Digital Arts and Culture Conference. http://hypertext.rmit.edu.au/dac/papers/Aarseth.pdf. Biggs, Simon. 2010. ‘Publish and Die: The Preservation of Digital Literature Within the UK’. SPIEL: Siegener Periodicum Zur Internationalen Empirischen Literaturwissenschaft 29: 191–202. Bouchardon, Serge, and Davin Heckman. 2012. ‘Digital Manipulability and Digital Literature’. Electronic Book Review, August. http://electronicbookreview.com/thread/electropoetics/heuristic.

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Cramer, Florian. 2003. ‘Digital Code and Literary Text’. http://cramer. pleintekst.nl/essays/digital_code_and_literary_text/digital_code_and_literary_text.pdf. di Rosario, Giovanna. 2006. ‘For an Aesthetic of Digital Poetry’. Review of Literatures of the European Union 5: 49–61. Eskelinen, Markku, and Giovanna di Rosario. 2012. Electronic Literature Publishing and Distribution in Europe. Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä. https://jyx.jyu.fi/bitstream/handle/123456789/40316/978-951-394945-7.pdf. Eskelinen, Markku, Raine Koskimaa, and Giovanna di Rosario. 2014. ‘Electronic Literature Publishing and Distribution in Europe’. In Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice: A Report from the HERA Joint Research Project, edited by Scott Rettberg and Sandy Baldwin, 187– 242. Center for Literary Computing and ELMCIP. http://bora.uib.no/ bitstream/handle/1956/8939/rettberg_baldwin_elmcip.pdf?sequence=3. Garbe, Jacob. 2015. ‘A Brief Chat with Digital Artist, Jacob Garbe Interview by James O’Sullivan’. http://josullivan.org/a-brief-chat-with-digital-artistjacob-garbe/. Heckman, Davin, and James O’Sullivan. 2018. ‘Electronic Literature: Contexts and Poetics’. In Literary Studies in a Digital Age, edited by Kenneth M. Price and Ray Siemens. New York: Modern Language Association. https://dlsanthology.mla.hcommons.org/electronic-literature-contexts-and-poetics/. Kittler, Friedrich A. 1999. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Translated by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Ortega, Élika. 2017. ‘Not a Case of Words: Textual Environments and Multimateriality in Between Page and Screen’. Electronic Book Review. http:// www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/electropoetics/multimateriality. O’Sullivan, James. 2017. ‘Electronic Literature’s Contemporary Moment: Breeze and Campbell’s “All the Delicate Duplicates”’. Los Angeles Review of Books, 7 November. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/electronic-literature-turns-anew-page-breeze-and-campbells-all-the-delicate-duplicates/.

CHAPTER 4

Interactivity and the Illusion of Choice

Critical constructions of electronic literature must consider the one thing that has long remained central to critical thinking in this field—linearity. The idea of linearity, or in this case, a “lack” of such, is so seemingly important to our appreciation of literature—print, electronic, or otherwise—that it is almost fetishised. As readers, we seem obsessed with the order of things. This perspective is typified by Bolter, who, in Writing Space, champions those authors who have “set about refashioning the rhetoric of the linear plot, calling into question the notion that fiction should narrate events in a single, clear order” (2011, 129). Claims of this manner were certainly more commonplace as electronic literature first emerged, but there has not yet been a complete shift against this concept. However, the idea of linearity has advanced, and in its place stands interactivity, related while not quite equivalent. Moulthrop’s nuanced assessment of this space as one wherein “users may pursue multiple lines of association or causation rather than having to fit assertions into an exclusive, singular logic” (1994, 302) represents a less rhetorical perspective: the user has the potential to exert some influence, however small, on pre-existing structures, but logic remains. This logic is imposed by the author, but the reader has something with which they are not typically offered in print—choice. In the context of contemporary digital/literary aesthetics, there exists a clear distinction between texts which we see as interactive, and those which we do not. There exists here something of a false dichotomy between the old and the new, exemplified by figures like Landow, whose © The Author(s) 2019 J. O’Sullivan, Towards a Digital Poetics, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-11310-0_4

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response to Lyotard claims that hypertext “offers liberation” (1994, 33). For Landow, the interactivity afforded by electronic literature aligns with the Barthesian writerly text, offering choice: “Hypertext, in other words, provides an infinitely re-centerable system whose provisional point of focus depends upon the reader, who becomes a truly active reader in yet another sense” (1992, 11). Bolter suggests that the freedom of electronic literature is a result of its ability to offer readers “a new literary experience in which she can share control of the text with the author” (2011, 122). Once more, we see the death of the author heralded, and if not a death, at least a diminishing of the role that they play in the literary process. Both linearity and choice are a myth, equal parts of the illusion of interactivity. If there is any rhetoric being deployed in this space, it is the rhetoric of interaction, the idea that there is something to be automatically gained from presenting what we read in particular structures. There is always something to be gained from structure, but the gain is never automatic. Electronic literature is not merely the epitome of the Barthesian writerly text, what is occurring is quite the opposite, it is a relationship between author and reader, coder and user, that is entirely based on platform-enabled illusions. Where the author was once master of narrative, they must now also be master of medium; where readers once relied on authors for the content of story, they must now, in effect, rely on authors for the entire textual construction. Any choice that a reader may make in an electronic system is indeed a selection, but it is not a product of some technological freedom; they select from those choices presented to them by the author, all of which are devised with a finite story in mind. If anything, the role of the author has only been enhanced, but it is tempered by the realities of media specifics, of human–computer interaction, and the limitations of each given device.

The Aesthetics of Finitude Heightened senses of interactivity should not be confused with the illusionary affordances of media specifics. While we can use levels of interaction to distinguish between types of electronic literatures, it should not be used to separate established and contemporary writing practices. Interaction is essentially a barometer for electronic genres, a means of separating forms via media specifics, more suited as a tool to classify rather than define digital art. Consider Aarseth’s model of non-trivial

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activity, in which he privileges the interactions between reader and interface. On most computational platforms, he argues that this is non-trivial, as it requires some additional input from the reader. As already noted, this, according to Aarseth, is what makes literature ergodic. In privileging this level of interaction, Aarseth is ignoring other interactive processes. All works of fiction interact at the level of the reader—how we read a work will differ greatly depending on how we are required to receive it. All art is conscious of its medium, and all media present differing levels of interaction. The peculiarities of interaction are dictated by the medium, and as all art will be constrained by the properties of representation, so too will its reception be governed by the way it is received. We know this already, just as we know that nuances exist, that the presence of interaction is in no way meaningful, what matters is the degree and type of interaction. Aarseth’s model is too dichotomous, in that it reduces literature to trivial and non-trivial as though interactivity can only exist at the platform level, as though readers of print literature do not interact. Of course, context is important here, and Aarseth’s model is focused on computation, but to attach such significance to narrative traversal of screen-based fictions is to ignore that which makes writing literary. But again, the issue here is perhaps with Aarseth’s language, the idea of some types of literary interaction being “trivial”, rather than his central premise. While we might argue that interaction occurs across all artistic forms, digital interactivity presents a sophisticated illusion of choice that capitalises upon an aesthetics of the infinite. This is a nuanced infinity, more exclusive to the mechanics rather than content of electronic literature. All literatures have the potential to instil a feeling of infinitude, but this is a literary effect. In electronic literature, this experience is largely connected to the sensory illusion that the medium offers an infinite choice of narratological and linguistic paths. While constructed computationally, the most influential aspect of this juxtaposition is nonetheless philosophical infinity. Electronic literature’s aesthetic has much relevance to the Aristotelian and Hegelian view of the infinite, in that infinitude is never actual, but potential: the “concrete existence of parts” Hegel notes, is “only a possibility”, and the error in thinking otherwise is holding “such thought-fictions, such abstractions as an infinite aggregate of parts, to be a thing, something true and actual” (2010, 165). The nuance in electronic literature is that the thought-fiction of infinitude emerges from

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the actuality of computation, but the relation and difference between these aggregate parts will always be infinite. Where computing, in the sense of the code that contributes to a literary work, is concrete and finite in a logical sense, its realisation, its coming into existence as something to be read, is comprised entirely of potentialities. The potential to be non-linear is a trait that is closely associated with the hypertext, but this association stems from critics mistaking the illusion of choice for choice itself. Hypertext literatures offer a multitude of linear choices, as links are linear pointers, bi-directional or otherwise. Aesthetically, they create the illusion of choice, but they are in fact conforming to the very same linearity as any other material structure. Any set of computational instructions is bound by the restraints of logic— computational works are, from the perspective of that which makes them computational, utterly constrained. The experience they facilitate is one that often appears to contain an infinite number of selections, but these selections, in a material sense, are bound by very rigid, very clearly defined lines of code and points of procedural demarcation. Electronic literature, then, may be said to offer complex linearity. Landow insists that hypertexts “permit the individual reader to choose his or her own center of investigation and experience”, meaning “that the reader is not locked into any kind of particular organization or hierarchy” (1992, 13). Where else is there organisation and hierarchy if not within the computational systems upon which electronic literature is based? Landow accepts that readers create their own meaning, but insists that this is particularly the case in a hypertextual work, where he says that they “fabricate their own structures, sequences and meanings” (2006, 234). Hypertext is no more conducive to the extraction of meaning than any other work of literature. Equally problematic are arguments centred around the surface-level variations that electronic works can avail of, aptly typified in Landow’s account of “spatial fixity”: Unlike the spatial fixity of text reproduced by means of book technology, electronic text always has variation, for no one state or version is ever final; it can always be changed. Compared to a printed text, one in electronic form appears relatively dynamic, since it always permits correction, updating, and similar modification. Even without linking, therefore, electronic text abandons the fixity that characterizes print and that provides some of its most important effects on Western culture. Without fixity one cannot have a unitary text. (1992, 52)

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Claiming that the “electronic text always has variation” is an example of the illusion in play—all language can have variance. Electronic forms can give the appearance of freedom, but no medium can transcend fixity. What we tend to see in this field is an element of indeterminacy which changes what is essentially multilinear fiction into something which looks quite different. The difference is the layering, the space, the presence of something which looks to be more than what it actually is. In electronic forms, you have a positioning of characters, and then you have to navigate this weave of characters and time, in which events collide and happen depending on the selections of the reader. The digital’s literary complexity is a consequence of its forms posing a challenge to readers to try and negotiate the possibilities that exist. Readers of print literature do not necessarily know where it is they are going, what will unfold in their space, but they traverse their lines without the tension that comes with being an active participant in the narrative process. The digital’s complexity is combined with the issue of an unfamiliar medium, which can present something of a resistance for users in the sense that they must grapple with both the form and the content. In print literature, it is only the words that present a challenge, the only veil to the meaning contained within the art, whereas in electronic literature, the entire space must be considered. This illusionary space emerges out of layering and cross-layering founded upon the different kinds of interactions selected by the author for the purposes of shaping the piece into a story with multiple and varying types and points of access. The author, as it has always been, determines the extent of this illusion, in that they dictate the architectural path. Indeed, authors of electronic literature are as much architects as they are authors, and readers may roam “freely” about their illusionary space, but they cannot traverse where the artist has not laid scaffolding. Take Marino’s a show of hands, where the author reveals his lexias in an outright rejection of the aesthetic infinite, his piece, a hypertext, laying its choices bare for all to see. What this shows is that storytellers, digital artists, right across the modal spectrum, have retained control over the narrative flow: it is not all or nothing, it is not finite or infinite. Structural choice almost becomes a genre, and to abdicate narrative control altogether would mean that even though an author thinks that they are writing the every-story, or the any-story, they are really only writing a story that can be reshuffled in an even more complex manner. This tension, the aesthetic of the infinite,

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brought about by the illusion of interactivity but founded on what is, at least mathematically, finite, is what gives electronic literature its effect—a very sublime effect.

The Digital Sublime We can immediately identify that which we deem beautiful, for it is discerned through those “sensible qualities” that “cause love, or some passion similar to it” (Burke 1998, xxii). The sublime experience is less apparent, often beyond our perceptions, emerging from qualities too great to undergo the same affective calculations or measurements as beauty. In short, “the sublime, Burke’s objective or Kant’s subjective, exceeded beauty in that it was not readily subject to such measure” (Reiss 2009, 75). Immanuel Kant remarks that beauty is that which “pleases in the mere judging of it (not in sensation or by means of a concept)” (2008, 135–36), while the sublime “pleases immediately through its resistance to the interest of the senses” (2008, 97). Burke and Kant present contrasting views of the sublime, but the purpose here is not to offer a categorical rejection of one in favour of the other, but to delineate how it is that such definitions are manifest within the aesthetics of digital constructs. Pleasure is derived from the sublime as a result of the tension between rationale and imagination: our reason tells us that all objects are finite, and yet, through our imagination, we may still perceive them as infinite. Our rationale is challenged, but even though the sublime object may seem beyond the power of human reason, that reason usually reasserts itself. The sublime is the experiential manifestation of this reassertion; it occurs when the mind is conceptually strained, resolving its reason and imagination in an effort to successfully process the perceived object. Tension is what makes the sublime pleasurable, it appeals to us because we revel in both the known and unknown. This is reflected in Burke’s treatise, where he focuses on how we can be overwhelmed by uncertainty and terror, while also deriving pleasure from the faculties of the mind that remain convinced of the fiction of such perceptions: “When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are delightful” (1998, 36). The connection between the avant-garde and the sublime is made apparent by Lyotard. He suggests that, like the sublime, the avant-garde is concerned with privation, and thus belongs to the aesthetics of the

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sublime (1991, 103). The advent of such aesthetics brought about an artistic age in which the purpose of art “was to be the witness to the fact that there is indeterminacy” (1991, 101). What is interactivity in the digital space if not indeterminate? The digital relies on the fallibility of reason to ensure that we are, perhaps inexplicably, convinced of the finitude of its colossus; it relies on the failings of readers, that we do not possess the faculties nor capacity to immediately process artificiality and magnitude. If the sublime emerges from the tension between our faculties and that which we are perceiving, then the digital is the zenith of that experience. The very nature of graphics, the awe that can be inspired by the seemingly endless depths of screen, is such that readers can be overawed by the magnitude of what is presented for their traversal. A largescale work of digital art may seem without limits, but its boundaries are mathematically defined and structured with absolute precision. A gamespace may seem infinite, but by the very nature of it being a game, we know that it is not, that we are in fact operating within a severely confined story space. Readers and players know this, and yet, are nonetheless attracted by the promise of exploration, the allure of freedom and liberation. By presenting as infinite the inherently finite, electronic literature and literary games demonstrate precisely how it is that the aesthetic of the digital is sublime. Even in works which present the finite for what it is, there is always some suggestion of expansion, if even slight. In Graham Allen’s one-line-a-day life-writing piece, Holes (Allen and O’Sullivan 2016), readers are greeted with a set number of lines, corresponding to the number of days that have passed since the poem began. But while this volume of content is finite, readers are conscious of the fact that tomorrow there will be more, that potentially, for years to come, there will be more, until reason takes over and they realise that, indeed, someday, this poem will reach its inevitable conclusion—it cannot outlast a lifetime without being something else entirely. If the sublime does not exist on the surface level, then it emanates from beneath, from the technical surfaces which the user cannot always penetrate, an essential part of the aesthetic that produces the interactivity, but is hidden from the reader. In electronic literature, the sublime is intrinsically subsumed: this is particularly so in narratives set within “open” worlds, expansive virtual spaces designed to intrigue users through the illusion of choice and the allure of exploration. Developers actively try to leave users in awe,

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presenting spaces which seem boundless. As expansive as a narrative space might appear, the liberty of digital environments is a mathematical illusion, and indeed, readers traverse these spaces along narrow, predetermined paths, immersed in constraint. Traversal of these spaces produces a form of digital storytelling that is fragmented, with pacing dictated by the reader. By giving control of the narrative progression to the reader through vast spatial encapsulation of said narrative, the author is reinforcing the illusion of choice. The belief that the traversal is non-linear is reinforced by the exploratory element, further reducing the visibility of what is essentially a multiplicity of linearities. The lexias are shrouded in that which must be explored, heightening the sense of agency for the reader. The illusion is evident in the fact that playable space is often separate from narrative space, in that there are many secondary objectives and discoveries to distract the reader as player, but the narrative progression remains static, hidden in this false complexity. The side tasks are often inconsequential to the main plot, yet, they serve the purpose of reinforcing the sublime by adding layers to the core narrative arc, augmenting its awe. Infinitude and choice are illusions offered to digital artists through the media with which they work. Electronic literature, particularly works which strive for a substantial sensory experience, such as augmented reality, can challenge our faculties through what might be perceived as a lack of restraint. The illusion of choice offered by hypertextuality, the seemingly multifaceted layers of interpretation that arise from digitally complex works—these all serve the digital sublime. While Kant maintains that reason always reasserts itself, the rate of affirmation is variable. The illusion of choice is such that, oftentimes, the reader’s faculties are so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the digital artefact that they do not immediately think of the spatial constraints, but rather, revel in the potential—they see the “very big, very powerful [digital] object” (Sayre 1989, 221), and it both threatens and delights. This is the power of the illusion of interactivity—readers and players find themselves in vast environments, its discovery, and the means by which the story will present itself, seemingly under their influence alone. This aesthetic has been central to the form right from its very beginnings, when hypertextual fiction, despite the pretentions of freedom, were as finite as any text. In this particular regard, the difference between a first-generation hypertextual work like Joyce’s afternoon, a story, and a technically sophisticated Unity-based piece like All the Delicate

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Duplicates, by Mez Breeze and Andy Campbell, is minimal—regardless of how vast the space might seem, the narrative space and the paths open to the reader are finite. The power of contemporary screen fictions like the latter is that they increasingly efface these limits to the point where reason, while perhaps not suspended, is certainly belied. They reinforce the illusion of choice which, while quantifiable, gives the reader a sense of freedom which, while certainly an illusion, remains liberating and awe-inspiring. Consider The Chinese Room’s Dear Esther. Originally a Half-Life 2 mod circulated on ModDB, Dear Esther was reskinned and rereleased as a commercial title for Windows in February 2012. It is written and directed by Dan Pinchbeck, with artistry by Robert Briscoe, and an original score by Jessica Curry. As a consequence of considerable critical acclaim and commercial success, the game is now available for OS X (2012), Linux (2013), and PlayStation 4 (2016). Dear Esther is a “walking simulator”, wherein the user traverses Briscoe’s impression of a Hebridean island from a first-person perspective, revealing text-based lexias at different points on their journey. The space inhabited by readers of Dear Esther is visually stunning, evidenced by the title’s receipt of the prize for Excellence in Visual Arts at the 2012 Independent Games Festival. The story begins as the player sets foot on a landing slip on the outskirts of the island, and immediately, there is absence of much of what one would expect from a game—there are no instructions, no clearly defined objectives, only space. It soon becomes clear that interaction with this narrative involves only two actions: walking and looking. As you look, an objective finally reveals itself in the shape of a distant red beacon, flashing in the mist. Players have a destination, and it is clear that they have an island to explore as they venture towards that destination and whatever reward it might hold. The realistic setting of the story—an isolated landscape fabled for bleak topography—is an idyllic setting for the lamentations of a lonely wanderer; this is a place where even “gulls do not land” (Pinchbeck 2017). The procedural rhetoric of Dear Esther is reflected in the game’s literary style, influenced by Burroughs: “the way William Burroughs worked structurally was a big influence, but also I was really interested in moving towards a quite image-heavy, symbolic, poetic use of language rather than the normal descriptive tone we find in games” (McMullan 2014). The delivery of the textual content, spoken by the protagonist in a performative-like manner is reminiscent of Burroughs, while we are

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frequently treated to loose, audacious metaphors, typical of the 1960s’ American countercultural Beat Generation to which he belonged. The path that one traverses in Dear Esther is, by the standards of other ludic titles, quite linear, but the content compensates for the form, and instead of a mire of procedural selections, we encounter a shattered lexical assemblage. The fragmentation that one expects through a form that tends to present choice is substituted for fragmentation in the narrative’s delivery, the cause and effect of each lexical revelation remaining unclear for much of the traversal. But the delivery of lexias can also form part of the procedural rhetoric, as a type of formulaic meta-content, with the symbolism that emerges from the words themselves assuming the role of content. The fragmented manner by which we traverse the texts is represented in the symbolism which they reveal: the lack of clarity in the narrative order is mirrored by the speaker’s melancholic uncertainty: At night you can see the lights sometimes from a passing tanker or trawler. From up on the cliffs they are mundane, but down here they fugue into ambiguity. For instance, I cannot readily tell if they belong above or below the waves. The distinction now seems mundane; why not everything and all at once! There’s nothing better to do here than indulge in contradictions, whilst waiting for the fabric of life to unravel. (Pinchbeck 2017)

The speaker cannot make out whether the vessels belong below or above the waves, coming to the realisation that it did not entirely matter: “everything and all at once”, he states. Soon after this fragment, we encounter a Fibonacci spiral, traced in the sand. The spiral, as content, directly references the electronic, as form. This mathematical blueprint, through frequent occurrence in nature, is often posited as being evidence of intelligent design in nature. Here, we see a reference to the nature of literary games: these are creations which have, in the shape of their developers, artists, and writers, higher powers which dictate the shape of the entire—mathematically formed—universe. The world which our protagonist inhabits is confused, and like any hypertextual or interactive story, this confusion is shared by the reader. But where this confusion is reflected in the content, and often, in the mode of traversal, the symbolism of confusion—the illusion of choice—is dismissed when considered within the context of the mathematical blueprint within which it is enclosed. For the speaker, it is unclear whether

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the ships “belong above or below the waves”, but there are no ships, only a reference to ships, in a universe—a gamespace—that has been designed by a creator who did not write code for ships. And thus, the sublime emanates as we try to fathom these ships sinking below and rising above the waves, this thought-process in contention with our acceptance that the form possesses no ships, but that the content nonetheless gives reference to their presence. For Pinchbeck, Dear Esther “is a dream”, the “landscape is not an island, it’s the dream of an island” (Pinchbeck 2017)—you can see how the digital enables the author’s sublime intentions, allowing for the construction of a space that hints at more than what is programmatically offered. This is the potential of all art, of all writing, but with digital fiction, it is made more explicit. Pinchbeck further unifies the connection between form and content with this contribution, describing the language as equally deceptive: It didn’t matter the sense it made, it was more about the kind of shapes it created… listening to something underwater, it’d be this very dreamlike, symbolic, poetic thing. It always frustrated me in games with game writing, this has really changed quite a lot, there was never enough space for poetic languages; it was very ‘exposition-y’, very descriptive, very direct”. (Pinchbeck 2017)

There is a tension between the mathematical foundation of Pinchbeck’s writing and the ways in which he describes it using almost organic terms. He almost exudes the sublime in his own thinking—his process is one of cycles, wherein the natural contends with the artificial in an interplay between the fixed and the colossal. Natural cycles occur frequently in the symbolism that one encounters throughout Dear Esther: the broken eggs in the cave, Greek and biblical references to the afterlife, the suggestion that the gulls will return to nest in the bones of the protagonist. Life and science interact throughout on the walls of the cave, on the walls of houses, and on the sides of stones we see scientific equations, helixes, the formula for alcohol, shapes that resemble the female reproductive organs—all of these visual stimuli point towards the story’s tragic heart, the loss of life that resulted from a car crash. Mathematical sequences permeate this symbolism, such as in the bonding points on one of the chemical diagrams where we find the Hebrew letters, Aleph and Kaf. The numerical value of these letters is

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twenty-one, which is, to name but a few occurrences, the number of different seagull species on the island, the number of paper boats floating in the sea come the final episode, the number of the Sandford junction on the M5—where the aforementioned accident occurs—and the number of connections in the circuit diagram of the brakes. Furthermore, American physician, Duncan MacDougall, infamously remarked that the soul weighs three-fourths of an ounce, which would convert into twentyone grams. The very essence of electronic literature—the symbiosis between the surface-level story and the underlying logical structures—is encapsulated in this symbolism. Twenty-one has no significance to the narrative, to the literary content, it is merely present, like the numbers that make any electronic piece function: they are not necessarily essential to the story, but they must exist, for they are essential to the work if it is to operate. The literary is privileged over the ludic throughout Dear Esther. The form of this story is suited to this specific medium because of its reliance on the visual—there is as much revealed about the plot in the scattered debris one encounters on the island than in the speaker’s offerings. Encountering shipwrecks on the island, we read the words, “neither did he eat nor drink”, painted on the wrecked hull. The soon-to-be-recurring biblical allusion is evident here, in that it refers to Saul after he is struck blind on the road to Damascus. An earlier lexicon reveals how the speaker had gone to meet Paul, the journey to his house being a personal pilgrimage. As Saul travelled the road to persecution and conviction, perhaps our speaker went to see Paul, who may have had a hand in Esther’s death, in search of reason or retribution. Climbing the slopes in the second episode, we encounter a house built by Jakobson, a shepherd who died on this rock having caught a disease from his goats. Outlined on the side of the house is the same uterine shape that was seen in the caves, while inside are a number of photographs of what appear to be ultrasounds. Such moments of discovery draw the reader further into the world of the narrative—what else is there to be discovered? In real time, one can ingest the story of Dear Esther, and explore much of the traversable game space, in approximately one hour—this is not Elder Scrolls or World of Warcraft, this is a small independent development that sets a story within a limited space, but of course, all computational spaces are limited in the technical sense. But from such minute visual trinkets come infinite possibilities for its readers—the island may be computationally small, but for its inhabitants, its limits seem endless. The illusion and power of

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the digital sublime are that knowing the entire contents of such limited spaces seems as though it is a task that would take a lifetime to achieve. As we descend into the caves for the third act, the speaker ponders the journey of Jakobson, which seems identical to his own. The speaker wonders why Jakobson did not complete the journey as he himself intends to do so. In the midst of the caves, we reach the height of the speaker’s delirium, as he recounts how he has seen Jakobson in his dreams and that they would share their scars. Shortly after, we encounter the proclamation, “Damascus has fallen”, an etching which grows more frequent as the journey draws to its close. Emerging from the caves onto a beach, we find lighted candles scattered in a manner that suggests that we have approached our final vigil. The visual gains further dominance, as while the text continues to reveal, the vignettes are only glances into the narrative’s missing details. It is the objects marked out by the candles—the wrecked car parts, the family photographs—these are the objects which confirm what the lexias have only suggested. While Dear Esther privileges the literary over the ludic, our pilgrimage is far from just textual. The speaker mentions that when he was with Paul, the coffee mug that he was given was adorned with chemical formulae, and that you could trace your finger about them and new compounds would be summoned. This is a useful analogy for the aesthetic of electronic literature: new formulations of the literary can emerge from technical compositions. Saul was presented with the risen Christ as he walked the road to Damascus: our speaker is perhaps seeking death as a passage to rebirth and transformation. The procedural rhetoric of Dear Esther is also about transformation, about the significance of the journey itself, or in this instance, the traversal. This is a linear story transformed by computational artistry: the lexias are transformed by the media specifics of the traversal method—both the form and the content are about rebirth. In Dear Esther, the illusion of choice is readily apparent. The traversal is linear, in that there is one starting point and one destination, and regardless of your decisions, the outcome is the same; the narrative is essentially consistent, with the exception of a few experiences which may be missed if the player is not attentive. Yet, this linearity is hidden beneath the work’s spectacular visuals and vast horizons. This path you walk is not without its freedoms, but these horizons, the roaming Hebridean hills, are an illusion, in that the ultimate outcome is unaffected—like all literature, the story is essentially pre-programmed. This is the technological sublime which one encounters in the digital, and

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it is part of the symbolism of Dear Esther. This sublime partly emerges through denial, in this instance, the denial of any instructions, and indeed, a map of the game world. The reader is not told where their journey must end, but it is clear that the intention is that they are attracted to the red beacon piercing the fog in the distance. In contrast to this red beacon are a number of, far less apparent, white beacons set atop buoys which surround the island. While these white beacons far outnumber the sole red beacon, it is only the latter which you are able to reach. These additional beacons suggest space, but while there are many such points beckoning throughout the world, we can only navigate to one. We cannot climb the roaming hills, we cannot step out into the waves, and we cannot explore the island beyond the limited paths that have been predetermined for us. All roads lead to Damascus. The linearity of the narrative is symbolised by the caves, which are confined to the point that your journey descends into near-potholing. As you progress through the caves, the speaker references his organs, no doubt an allusion to the throat-like appearance of the current surroundings. Crawling through the caves, you feel as though you are in the throat of some beast, with its teeth-like stalagmites and stalactites. The irony of the contrast between the caves and other environments is that, while the caves appear to be more confined, in terms of the reader’s autonomy, they are just as restricted as the rest of the island. While there may be more space to traverse above ground, the vectors open to players remain consistent throughout, in that you may walk, at a constant speed, either forwards or backwards along a predetermined path with limited scope for deviation. The trickling stream you encounter in the cave contrasts with the wide open ocean you encounter above ground, and even acoustics, the echoes and drops versus the howling wind, all establish a dichotomy between these dissonant settings. But the dissonance is purely visual, and while it has aesthetic value, this value is utterly illusionary— you are always confined, potholing or otherwise. The reader can be an active participant in the digital reading experience, but the transaction is still dictated by the author. This authorial control is evident in Dear Esther, where the traversal is entirely measured: you must walk, you cannot die, you are immersed in a sublime experience where freedom is suggested through a vast, open space, but in reality, it is confined by its computational limits. Detailed objects like shipwrecks cannot be explored, they merely serve as signposts in the narrative. In some instances, electronic literature can offer a micro-sublime,

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particularly through the minute details that one finds scattered about a world: leaves that blow in the wind, discarded items you encounter—these all suggest origin, that the leaves blew from the other side of a vast island, and should the player choose, they could find that origin. Everything is merely the product of a trigger, revelations which are controlled by the narrative progression of the author. This is symbolised in some of the blowholes you encounter while in the caves—you look upwards towards the light, thinking that there must be a world above. No such world exists, this is shading, rendered by the creators in this fashion to suggest the awesome, but in truth, it is the constrained. You cannot go where the digital sublime suggests. The final moment, when the game fades to black and gets stuck in an intentional loop, is one final explicit rendering of the sublime. Coded to remain in this loop infinitely, we see the infinite—the recurring scene and its symbolism—made possible by the finite—the code that executes this sequence. To leave the game, you must quit yourself, one final act of control by the player as active participant, but one which is bequeathed by the author. This is not to say that the player is never without some element of choice—if you fail to look in a certain direction you may miss something of significance—but that choice is predetermined, or certainly, offered from a limited selection of choices. Readers of computational works may be at any one time cast as either observer or participant, though the distinction between these roles is not always clear. In Dear Esther, you are both observer and participant, reading the textual revelations, absorbing the visual symbolism, but you are also a participant, gaining more or less narrative insight depending on the paths that you choose, the walls that you examine. This position is shared by our walker and speaker—which character is our observer, the speaker, and who is our participant, the walker; is one of them Esther, or is she neither? While the content reaches beyond the confines of its digital constraints, interpretations of the story are open to limitless permeations, the form is absolute, the presence of the Fibonacci circle something of a tattoo on the surface of the game, informing us that the gods of this universe are conscious of their world’s structural confines. Incidentally, Pinchbeck seems to downplay such confines: “One of the things I love about writing for games is that you hand over so much control to the player that it becomes their story and that’s really, really important rather than trying to force them”. This agency is a great contributor to the digital sublime—this world has been devised by Pinchbeck, Briscoe, and

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Curry, but it is their readers who inhabit it, and more importantly, it is their readers who interpret it. The sublime space is an interpretive space, and so the infinite does not just emanate from the graphical suggestions, it also emerges from the act of reading, and this truly can be infinite. In this sense, as already noted, the digital sublime is no different from its precursors, but in the spaces that readers and players of such title inhabit, is perhaps more explicit, or rather, ambiguous, operating as a seductive force of false liberation. The great aesthetic affordance of the digital is that constraint can be effaced, but there is always constraint.

References Allen, Graham, and James O’Sullivan. 2016. ‘Collapsing Generation and Reception: Holes as Electronic Literary Impermanence’. Edited by Helen J. Burgess. Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 15. https://doi. org/10.20415/hyp/015.e01. Bolter, Jay David. 2011. Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. New York: Routledge. Burke, Edmund. 1998. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Edited by Adam Phillips. New York: Oxford University Press. Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Fredrich. 2010. The Science of Logic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kant, Immanuel. 2008. Critique of Judgement. Edited by Nicholas Walker. Translated by Creed Meredith James. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Landow, George P. 1992. Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ———. 1994. ‘What’s a Critic to Do? Critical Theory in the Age of Hypertext’. In Hyper/Text/Theory, edited by George P. Landow, 1–48. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ———. 2006. Hypertext 3.0: Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Lyotard, Jean-François. 1991. The Inhuman: Reflections on Time. Stanford: Stanford University Press. McMullan, Thomas. 2014. ‘Where Literature and Gaming Collide’. Eurogamer. https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2014-07-27-where-literature-andgaming-collide. Moulthrop, Stuart. 1994. ‘Rhizome and Resistance: Hypertext and the Dreams of a New Culture’. In Hyper/Text/Theory, edited by George P. Landow, 299– 319. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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Pinchbeck, Dan. 2017. Dear Esther: Landmark Edition. The Chinese Room. http://store.steampowered.com/app/520720/. Reiss, Timothy J. 2009. ‘Aesthetics and the Fully Emancipated Subject: Cultures, Histories and the Fictive Imagination’. In Aesthetics and the Work of Art: Adorno, Kafka, Richter, edited by Peter de Bolla and Stefan H. Uhlig, 71–91. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Sayre, Henry M. 1989. The Object of Performance: The American Avant-Garde since 1970. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

CHAPTER 5

Digital Materiality and the Politics of the Screen

Hayles poses an important question: “Why have we not heard more about materiality?” (2002, 19). While digital forms are not the first to add meaning to matter, there are significant potentialities offered by computation that cannot be replicated in print: As the vibrant new field of electronic textuality flexes its muscle, it is becoming overwhelmingly clear that we can no longer afford to ignore the material basis of literary production. Materiality of the artifact can no longer be positioned as a subspecialty within literary studies; it must be central, for without it we have little hope of forging a robust and nuanced account of how literature is changing under the impact of information technologies. (Hayles 2002, 19)

Hayles proposes a new term, “material metaphor”, which she uses to account for “the traffic between words and physical artefacts” (2002, 22). There are two parts to this construct: the equation of the structure of the metaphor, one with which we are familiar as literary critics, and then the structure of medium. Literature is never static, it is experienced in different ways, but the structure of the medium through which the literary is presented can order our sense of what is being communicated. In this respect, the medium is not the message, but the metaphor, to the point where we have a new cultural paradigm in which language and medium can be analogous, a paradigm in which the medium itself can be literary. This is © The Author(s) 2019 J. O’Sullivan, Towards a Digital Poetics, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-11310-0_5

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a significant shift in the cultural capital of form, as it demands consideration of more technical components like design and procedure. That is not to say that the material is privileged over content; there are discrete levels upon which the literary operates. Electronic literature exploits the tension between these levels, so that technical processes create meaning in relation to cultural forms, and cultural forms add to the significance of the former in reciprocity. Analysing the friction that emerges from the correspondence between these layers is where we can start understanding how a work is doing something specifically literary with its medium of choice. Everything is material, so embracing the materiality of a piece as an essential part of its criticism only holds value when there is a clear benefit to doing so. Oftentimes, the material selections that one encounters in a work of electronic literature are not representative of any authorial desire, but rather, are borne of necessity. Sometimes, the material metaphor is not a metaphor, but rather, a limitation, technical, historical, or otherwise. Electronic literature, unlike its precursors, requires constant maintenance, and so the materiality of a piece can be mutated as it is remediated, transported across platforms as obsolescence continually sets in across system iterations. Take, as an example, older works of electronic literature that might have been written on systems with character restrictions or other such constraints—such limitations have altered works in ways that are materially significant, but in no way literary. But there is beauty in constraint, and what makes computing human are the manners by which authors respond to the hard boundaries of technical possibility. In such instances, we need to focus on the response to the material change, rather than the change itself. Individual works of electronic literature can also distort as authors integrate newer and more varied technologies. Take Grigar’s Curlew, which has not only had audio and kinetic elements added to its aesthetic over time, but is now offered across differing versions: as a three-wall projection for live performance, as a gallery installation, and via a Web environment. Across each, Curlew’s story remains constant, it is about the relationship between man and nature. Its materiality, however, has evolved, and while the essential message remains similar, the literariness of the piece is relative to one of several specific renderings. Amorphous paratextuality of this sort is largely unique to electronic literature, and one must always consider how electronic literature, which gives far more significance to medium than many of its counterparts, is being shaped

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by the mode of delivery. This is why, when we seek to emulate works of electronic literature, we often lose part of the work’s aura. While Curlew’s performative elements may be ephemeral, we should be wary of sacrificing the kinesthetics of the piece in the name of preservation. That is not to say that we should avoid recording readings and performances of electronic pieces, but that we should be mindful of all that is jettisoned when we capture, as opposed to preserve, a work in a form other than its original. This issue is presented right across the spectrum of digital art, and has long been present in its precursors. When vibration was added to game controllers, such as Sony’s DualShock, we saw developers create characters who would reach out from beyond the screen to stage some sentiment through the physical. If one was to watch a recording of such a game, or play it on an emulator, something would be lost. The death of the experiential often leads to a loss of historical context, so wherever possible, we must be aware of the repercussions of rematerialisation. When we speak of digital materiality, we speak of technologies that have been the hallmark of late capitalism—as much as we might want to do so, separating critical theory from vested ideological interests is undesirable. Connections between critical theory and politics ensure that we engage with art beyond its aesthetic values, and, oftentimes, it is this engagement that offers a more consistent cultural picture. Technology is inherently political, and thus simultaneously heralded as being as oppressive as it is liberating. Horkheimer and Adorno view instruments of technology as “resources for powerful social groups to enslave those with less social power” (Woodward 2007, 41–42). Contemporary society’s reliance on pervasive computation only serves to increase technology’s hegemonic capacity. Readings of digital art, presented in a similar vein to Foucault’s archaeologies, might suggest that the practice has only served to strengthen this hegemony, bringing digital apparatus, generally controlled by the most prominent of capitalist forces, into artistic play. Such readings are surprisingly rare, digital artistry and the space it occupies are often described in utopian terms. While seventeenth-century coffee houses may have been transposed by technology, utopian notions connected with the digital space have ignored their dystopic realities. In The Production of Space, Lefebvre defines the “spatial practice” of a society as that which “secretes that society’s space; it propounds and presupposes it, in a dialectical interaction” (1991, 38). The digital space is designed for people, but its schema has been defined by how

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it is that we exist within its confines. Different spaces are envisioned to host different practices, but people do not always practise what is conceived. When dealing with the politics of the digital space, we are more concerned with the symbolism of that space as a representational, rather than functional, construct. The digital space is akin to Raban’s “soft city”—it is a space within which boundaries are confused. People define the digital network, in that they are the connection points, much like the London tube map, where space is reduced to nodes on a network. Like the tube map, the importance is in these points of contact, not topology, not even distance or direction. In the digital space, as in Habermas’ coffee houses, we can find freedom from the restrictive codes of those other spaces that we occupy. But this is a romanticised space, and it falls prey to a false narrative of liberation. It is romanticised because it offers something new, something other, but the digital, and the literary spaces that emerge from its creative application are arguably more connected to socio-economic and socio-cultural constraints than any of its predecessors. The e-lit movement is dominated by expensive technologies and exclusionary institutions controlled by profit-driven enterprises and false meritocracies. However, there are reactions, movements, and perversions of this technology, which in themselves, are political expressions that should contribute to our understanding of electronic literature as something inherently literary. This is no ideal space, but it is nonetheless an artistic space.

The Meaning in Materiality Critics have long examined the “multimodal capacity of electronic literature” (Page and Thomas 2011, 2). The material semantics of electronic literature are not inherently new, but a rejuvenation of long-established literary practices exemplified by groups like the material modernists and those authors who sought control over the paratextuality of their work. Yet, new media does deliver rejuvenation through enhanced paratextual potential. For a significant period in our cultural history, the codex has been the predominant material manifestation of the literary, and perhaps it remains so. Few would dispute that non-digital literature relies on matter for its presentation: words must be recorded upon some medium if they are to constitute literature. Digital literature is also dependent on material objects for its existence: screens and other such peripherals equivalent to pages and their bindings. Haraway puts it best when

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she remarks: “… if you think that virtualism is immaterial, I don’t know what planet you are living on!” (Gane 2006, 148). Like the codex, the screen is manifested in a multitude of ways, each of which is significant in the reception of a work. But materiality is not the exclusive reserve of reading devices and the tools with which we interact with electronic literature, for while some device will always be required for digital art to have a presence, much like the codex will always be required for print literature to have a presence, our senses may also respond to data structures and more computational elements, or more simply, the composition of code. Digital materiality, then, is about much more than motherboards. Code, in its ephemeral state of being, which is often the case from the perspective of readers, is less conspicuous than its corporeal c­ ounterparts. Yet, denial of the power which software holds over the senses would be a mistake: if materiality is that which gives something presence, defines it as an object of being, simply a thing that exists, doing so by ­governing our senses and drawing personal and individualised responses to that upon which our attention is focused, surely even digital ghosts may be considered material? If the codex is material, why not operating systems? As Kirschenbaum so aptly puts it: “platform, interface, data standards, file formats, operating systems, versions and distributions of code, patches, ports, and so forth”, he says, are precisely “the stuff electronic texts are made of” (2001). Digital materiality refers to those components, both hard and soft, which interact within themselves and with the senses of their readers to achieve the semantic purpose of digital constructs and artistry. Lisa Gitelman points to the pitfalls in exploring digital materiality. Drawing on prominent critics, she argues that this concept presents “an ontological problem as much as a semantic one, a quandary over what a digital text fundamentally is, which has led, it turns out, to some productive wrangling over what a nondigital text fundamentally is by comparison” (2006, 96). Gitelman is pointing to the aporia in digitality, but our purpose is not to resolve this so-called quandary, but to examine those ontological and semantic inconsistencies in a manner which gives clarity to a form of writing which, from a material perspective, cannot, and should not, be resolved. What digital materiality means today will change tomorrow, but it is in this characteristic that we find the value of medium. Producing a definitive ontology of digital materiality would be a fruitless undertaking, but there is merit in the idea of the ontology as a critical tool, as it offers us some clues as to authorial intentions.

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The book as a physical artefact only offers an occasional insight into its content—the same cannot be said of electronic literature, where the words and their mode of encapsulation share an inseparable symbiosis. We have reached the next juncture in the “long lineage of first contact narratives in media history” (Liu 2008, 3), and so, rise to this challenge we must, as Jerome McGann addresses in his 2004 essay on the state of the Humanities, emphasising our need to “emulate the humanists of the fifteenth century who were confronted with a similar upheaval of their materials, means, and modes of knowledge production” (2004, 411). The dominance of print—culturally, socially, economically, and academically—is evidence enough of how effectively our predecessors responded to previous cultural shifts of this nature. This clarifies Alan Liu’s assertion that “new media” is never quite new. Let’s not forget that the codex was once the Kindle of its day. For many scholars, the text is no longer viewed as a singular semantic entity, but rather, a composition of both a linguistic and bibliographic code, the latter of which is described by George Bornstein in Material Modernism as the “apparatus designed to influence reception” (2006, 6). Such apparatuses extend beyond the most recognisable elements of a text’s materiality, such as the design displayed on its cover, to aspects like “page layout, or spacing”, “as well as prefaces, notes, or dedications that effect the reception and interpretation of the work” (2006, 6). Gérard Genette views such elements as that which surrounded and prolonged a text, as the paratext, or, “the means by which a text makes a book of itself” (261). Paratext is that which surrounds the text in its “naked state”: its cover, illustrations, and preface—material accompaniments necessary to “present” a text (1997, 261). The necessity for such elements within contemporary society is indisputable—to what end would the vast majority of authors and publishers publicly disseminate a work without paratext? Genette argues that there are scant few examples of works that exist without paratextual accompaniments, that even antiquated manuscripts, often circulated in something of a “raw” form, were nonetheless subjected to “a certain degree of materialization” as a result of their oral transmission (1997, 263). His argument here is that paratext is not exclusively “graphic”, but might also be “phonic” in its construction (1997, 263). Bornstein’s treatise offers various examples of how interpretations of the linguistic meaning are influenced by the bibliographic code, reinforcing his contention that “different arrangements carry claims of both social and authorial construction” (2006, 39). These approaches are not the exclusive reserve of

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editorial theory; viewing a work of literature in this manner allows us to draw a hermeneutic circle with which we might critique the work as a semantic whole, rather than a vessel and its contents. Such an approach to critical theory satisfies the desire of many scholars to focus on the cultural transmission of the whole of the text, or more simply, the text as an object. This desire derives from the power of the object, and its place within a material culture which is comprised of varying expressions of “apparently inanimate things” which exist within our environment and “act on people, and are acted upon by ­people, for the purposes of carrying out social functions, regulating social relations and giving symbolic meaning to human activity” (Woodward 2007, 3). Focusing attention on the textual object as a whole, rather than just the linguistic content, facilitates a more complete assessment of the semantics of a particular artefact. Materiality is concerned with experience: it governs the reception of a work, and the ways in which its audience might interact with it. What the material modernists attempted to achieve through their cover designs—or more esoteric elements like pagination—authors within the digital space may now replicate, but with far greater artistic freedom. In digital literature, linguistic content remains as it has always been. What has undergone transformation is the means by which this content is presented. This transformation goes beyond dissemination; it offers new avenues through which meaning can be formed and expressed—a new apparatus of influence. Herein lies the true revolution of the digital. Joyce’s afternoon, a story tells the story of a man who has witnessed the aftermath of a motoring accident which may have involved his estranged wife. Joyce’s afternoon was among the first of its genre and is one of the Eastgate School’s defining titles. Using Eastgate as his example, Kirschenbaum explores one of the first examples of digital paratext in popular operation, pointing to the differing icons which Eastgate released for the Windows and Macintosh platforms, as well as charting various differences between the 1987 first edition of afternoon and the third edition which appeared in 1992: … the third edition includes a bitmapped graphic on its electronic ­frontispiece; the number of textual nodes has increased marginally, from 536 to 539; the number of links, however, has increased by nearly a hundred, from 854 to 951. The electronic size of the work has also grown, from 235 kilobytes in the first edition to 375 kilobytes in the third. (2001)

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These codings immediately influence the reception of the piece. Elisabeth Joyce contends that Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, another of the Eastgate School’s most celebrated productions, “depicts the urge to define space through the grid of the map on three levels: hypertextual, narratal and corporeal” (2003, 39), semantic intent that is realised through the author’s choice of electronic hypertextual form. Constructing Patchwork Girl as explicitly hypertextual, presenting its network maps transparently, forces readers to be acutely aware of Jackson’s commentary on narrative disruption and spatial fragmentation, all of which feed the reincarnation of Frankenstein’s creature at the core of the text’s symbolism. Jackson’s narrative is stitched together, the evidence for which is inherently paratextual, its literary assemblage thick with codings that direct critical analyses of the piece towards the form in which it is made present. Landow remarks that “Jackson permits us to see, enables us to recognize the degree to which the qualities of collage … characterize a good deal of the way we conceive of gender and identity” (Landow, n.d.), an interpretation rooted as much in the work’s paratext as its language. Herein lies the significance of digital materiality—significance which is not new, but an evolution of what was already there. Paratextual restrictions presented by print forms are lifted when authors and publishers turn to the digital, and cultural and creative considerations can assume precedence over economic concerns. Oni Buchanan’s “The Mandrake Vehicles” is comprised of seven stages, enclosed within three vehicles, each of which begins with a large text block, offering readers audio as well as textual and visual content. “The Mandrake Vehicles” avails of a series of Web technologies, primarily Flash, which reveals and conceals a multitude of semantic layers as the poem unfolds. Consider the author’s own account of the piece, which holds that it is designed to challenge “our notions of the normal economy of a poetic text by providing numerous different readings of the same set of letters, in the process concretely moving the graphemical (if not psychological) ‘subtext’ of a poem to the foreground in clever, surprising ways”; semantic intent which is achieved through using “[t] ransitional animations, in which letters fall, expand and disappear … a pictorial revelry that brings this seemingly stable, stylistically intricate text to the frontier of linguistic meaninglessness and back” (Buchanan 2011). An interpretation of “The Mandrake Vehicles” based solely on the work’s technical construction is possible.

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Robert Kendall’s “Dispossession” is also heavily reliant on hyperparatextual properties to achieve its semantic purpose. The poem follows the progression of a Caribbean immigrant, making his way to the United States for the first time: “that solid American capital / would be his new home”, it reads. The uncertainty that surrounds the future of Kendall’s protagonist is expressed in the linguistic code, the new world to which he travels portrayed as a land “of / concrete and aluminum”, where he would be forced to “speak / against / the whiteness in ways / he couldn’t / understand”. The anxiety that accompanies this uncertainty is reinforced through the bibliographic code, which tasks readers with choosing the path that the narrative takes, a material construct which could not have been achieved in print. The politics of the page are useful in our understanding of the evolution of screen politics: where writers of print literature avail of material elements like cover art to exert influence, screen-based authors are presented with a host of technologies with which they can create works of literature with unprecedented bibliographic significance. In essence, electronic literature avails of a sort of hyper-paratextuality, presenting a dialogism of semantic, ontological, bibliographic, and linguistic discourses.

The Politics of the Screen In delineating the politics of the screen, we must be aware of electronic literature’s ideological dichotomies. Contemporary juxtapositions of traditional and modern literary practices have presented authors with hyper-paratextuality, but this comes at a price, both technical and economic. It is easier for an author to put down words on a page than it is, for example, to learn Python and produce a generative poem. Thus, it is always significant when an author chooses digital encapsulation for their expression. This act, the selection of an electronic rather than nondigital medium, is an authorial statement from which immediate conclusions can be drawn. The significance of the influence exerted by digital paratextuality may be questioned on the basis that much of that which makes it digital sits behind the interface. Readers, generally, do not see the code, and as such, it could be argued that digital apparatus does not directly influence reception. The recognition of digitality is in itself influential. Authors do not complicate the process of writing with additional technical requirements on a whim. Where the artwork on Yeats’ covers offers an insight to the meaning contained within, immediate

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inferences can be drawn from the very fact that a work reveals itself upon the screen. Authors have disseminative, paratextual, and linguistic motivations for choosing their canvas—reception has been influenced as soon as we classify a work as electronic. When an author selects a digital medium—when they make a clear statement on aesthetics—there are ideological considerations which cannot be ignored. In this respect, we see how it is that electronic literature is very much connected to concepts of the avant-garde, so much so that its works can often be criticised as being overtly experimental. Responding to Andrew Gallix’s challenge that electronic literature sacrifices literary quality, Grigar accepts that “the hybridity of the forms and technological innovation that artists bring to their work results in a high level of experimentation that may at first obfuscate literary content” (2008), but she is quick to point out that obfuscation does deny the digital’s claim to the mantle of literary: Resistance to elit essentially parallels that which generally occurs when literature is touched by changing modes of production. Plato’s famous diatribe against writing in the Phaedrus written well over 2000 years ago is a case in point. Generations after us may not be bothered by the pixelated screen, audio, moving text, or the physical interaction required by the works they experience, but those fixed resolutely on the written word like their literature silent and static. (2008)

If electronic literature serves as little more than a jolt in literature’s long history, then surely, it has achieved the very thing that literature sets out to achieve? Perhaps electronic literature is more valuable ideologically than it is semantically or aesthetically, but having such political value is in itself a very literary trait. Grigar raises another interesting point in that same article, referring to electronic literature’s brief moment within the spotlight of the press, back when it still held its “shock of the new”: Robert Coover’s 1992 essay for the New York Times, “The End of Books,” highlights that heady period when elit was a new phenomenon. Yet even an argument that claims that because elit is no longer the new darling of the press, it no longer exists falls flat when we consider that publicity surrounding JK Rowling grew quiet after the publication of her seventh Harry Potter novel. Would anyone agree that this silence meant that she is no longer writing or that people are no longer reading her books?

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I somehow doubt it. Being a sensation is not a measure of worth or value, it just means that one is, for a moment in time, a sensation.

Grigar offers this as a rebuttal to the claim that electronic literature, once popularised within the media, has since been relegated to a tertiary note on specialised blogs. On the contrary, electronic literature may no longer be a media darling, but it has found itself a place within the academy, and within the focus of respected authors and critics across the globe. In this sense, electronic literature’s ability to disrupt the status quo has faded, but it has traded the ease by which it can shock for an ability to achieve problematisation through defamiliarisation. So much so, that electronic literature has become self-reflective to the point where it is now querying its most essential of properties—being born-digital. The Pathfinders Exhibit at the 2014 MLA convention presented a selection of early electronic literature, alongside some more recent pieces. Many of the works on show displayed a new iteration in the juxtaposition between literature and technology, in that digital and physical materiality had been fused beyond hardware and software. What Strickland achieves with V: WaveSon.nets/Losing L’una has been taken to its conclusion— electronic literature is moving, diachronically, at an immense pace, its authors beginning to deconstruct the very boundaries that they themselves put up. Garbe’s Closed Room, Soft Whispers presents such a deconstruction, the artist seemingly as concerned about form as he is content: Personally, as a creator of these works I find the term literature to be evaluative, so I would never myself classify it as literature, any more than a short story writer would say they were working on a new piece of literature. The act of classifying things as e-lit or not e-lit is more of a curatorial stance… I think I would classify the piece as an augmented reality interactive fiction, but that’s all form, isn’t it? Not much about the substance. It’s a translation of lexias to a different triggering mechanism, a re-mapping onto visual space. And the reason I chose that was to obfuscate a bit, honestly. Breaking apart the narrative into chunks requiring work from the viewers to discover means the story—which is all about the fragility and transience of memory—is reflected in the medium. (2015)

Garbe’s thought process reflects the significance of medium to digital artists, the means by which the physical and digital—and digital as

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physical—interact to form a complex set of dynamics designed for the purposes of making meaning. “Pieces of Herself”, by Juliet Davis (2011), avails of a drag-and-drop interface in its exploration of “feminine embodiment and identity in relationship to public and private space … comment[ing] on social inscription of the body”. While “Pieces of Herself” is available to readers on the Web, it is intended as an installation piece. When set up in this manner, the image is projected against a wall, with a mouse placed on a podium, allowing any people who are present to connect much more viscerally with it. Davis herself noticed a marked difference when her readers interact with the work—comprised of more than 400 photographs, 40 vector drawings, and 10 audio recordings of interviews with women—in this fashion: “There seems to be an instant understanding or epiphany about the work, almost like a surprise, when people experience it this way, whereas on the Internet people tend to scratch their heads a little”.1 Davis acknowledges that her choice of interface is significant: The drag-and-drop seems to work because it simulates people’s explorations and unconscious internalizations of their worlds, in a surreal way. In the project, people are bumping into things and dragging them inside before they can even contemplate what they might mean. I think this is part of what they become aware of during their participation – that they are obediently absorbing everything. Some people in the museum installation will play the game for a few seconds and then gasp or say, “That’s scary” or “Yes, that’s what it’s like”. The medium could probably be considered problematic insofar as it comments on embodiment while being electronic, but it’s not meant to imply that the virtual body and physical body are interchangeable – rather, it implies that inscription functions in a realm of a type of virtuality and randomness.2

Davis’ use of the electronic medium offers an invitation to readers to challenge social constructs of what it is to be a woman. This is achieved through the form of the work, as much as it is through the content. It is interesting that Davis has herself noticed a difference in the way in which readers appreciate the work, depending on whether they read it on the Web, or interact with it as an independent installation. Not only does this underline the meaning in materiality, it demonstrates how the digital can function as a component within a larger, multimodal work of differing forms.

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“Pieces of Herself” aligns with Patchwork Girl and the wider cyberfeminist movement: Davis has used the screen, whether that be on a device or through projection, to engage with gender politics. But her ideological examination does not stop there: Digital media holds many fascinations. I’m also interested in the power of digital interactivity, how viewers participate, internalize, respond – how meaning is actualized. So there’s an aesthetic as well as political interest. There are practical considerations as well. As an artist, I don’t happen to think in linear ways very easily, so interactivity is a more natural means of expression than linear media. Also, as a teacher, writer, musician, visual artist, vocalist, etc., I’m driven to create multi-sensory experiences for people to explore, and digital media is a practical tool for that.3

Davis is acutely aware of how her work is materialised, and how that materialisation influences how her readers interact with “Pieces of Herself”, and in turn, how they receive its messages. As an author in this space, she needs to be conscious of the processes and materialities involved, lest she risk negating the semantic effects. Marino shows similar awareness in a show of hands (2008), inspired by the 2006 Immigration Reform in Los Angeles. The chronology of Marino’s piece is relevant, in that, while a few lexias had already been written, this piece was inspired by a set of images the author captured at the marches: I hadn’t seen spontaneous protest marches of this order, certainly not in Los Angeles, and maybe not even in the United States, except for a couple of Gulf War protests I went to in Washington D.C. But this seemed of an entirely different order – a march the likes of which I guess I had read about, but neither seen nor participated in. So, I went down with my camera and then for whatever reason, just started taking a set of pictures of the protestors’ hands.4

Many of these photographs went on to form the mosaic displayed on the landing page. It is noteworthy that Marino chose to present these images as a mosaic, this pixelated form representative of the adaptive digital narrative that he offers in a show of hands. Many of the pixels within Marino’s mosaic are active links, offering gateways to his vignettes. Marino explains that he chose the Literatronic platform because he envisioned

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the work as being melodramatic, and thus, needed to be “much more accessible than some of the more fragmented hypertext”5 with which he was familiar. Marino did not choose this particular electronic platform lightly, but was, like many modern experimentalists, acutely aware of the special repercussions of his materials. Literatronic allowed Marino, in terms of narrative coherence, to always promote the shortest path, resulting in a fragmented yet highly continuous, and relatively intuitive, choice-driven traversal method. In a show of hands, Marino defines adaptive digital narrative as produced by Literatronic: It is a writing and reading form in which the links have different destinations depending upon what the reader has read before. An adaptive literary piece reconfigures itself for the reader, leading every time to a potentially unique book … One of the main arguments opponents of hypertext have shown in the past against it is the fragmented story that is offered to the reader. In this case, the reader receives a plot that is optimized, from the narrative perspective. That is to say, the reader receives a linear text most of the times.6

The use of this form, according to Marino, raises some interesting concerns: “Are multilinearity and fragmentation the goal of digital narrative, or are they the product of the state of the art when the first literary hypertexts were produced?”7 In essence, Marino is questioning whether or not fragmentation is a paradigm that we want to preserve. Fragmentation, central to many aesthetic movements, has been called into question by Marino’s work which, while inherently digital and a very ELO-type of e-lit, resists the characterisations which were so typical of the form for so long. Marino’s lowercase title, reflective of Joyce’s afternoon, a story, is no coincidence: the author is pointing to the past, as a celebration, but also as a means of making apparent his desire to break hypertextual conventions. Marino was a disciple of Landow while studying as a postgraduate at Brown University, at a time when a lot of critics were commenting on the radical politics of electronic narrative structures associated with giving choice to readers. Marino recalls that, at the time, there was a sense that digital media offered “a kind of ­ideological freedom”, that, “if you took people away from the tyrannical control of an author, that that was somehow liberating”.8 With a show of hands, Marino attempts to reject this ideology. The politics of new

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media is such that, while it stops short at high versus low elitism, there is defiance against popular ease-of-parsing approaches, typical of modernist criticism. Literatronic was the platform where Marino could deliver a literary work that was, at the level of the individual narrative fragments, as splintered as any hypertext, but that stopped short of trying to situate the reader within a sea of choices. In a show of hands, the desire of readers for narrative continuity is privileged over the possibility of space for “infinite” choice. The origins of the piece are clear: “In some ways, the popular movement of the people marching through the streets, sort of being pulled together and flowing together, gave me a sense of a different kind of narrative structure, or narrative force, that would also be highly democratic”. Marino’s drive to encapsulate the political movement that he is writing about extends beyond the content of a show of hands, to the platform he has adopted for the telling of this story. The significance of this selection, both in terms of the events in Los Angeles, and the wider practice of writing for the screen, should not be understated. Marino gives autonomy to his readers, allowing them to traverse the narrative via a number of methods. Readers can progress using either page titles or character names, while recommended paths are also offered. In addition, a complete table of contents is presented, a novel approach to hypertext, in that it lays bare the fragments, or nodes, for readers. Our tendency to associate fragmentation with electronic literature is called into question by a show of hands, where the digitality of the piece is offset by the visibility that the author offers. Readers of the work can flick through the fragments of Marino’s network as easily as they can flick through the pages of a codex. Unlike platforms such as Storyspace and most Web-based hypertexts, Literatronic tells you how much you have left to read, it always presents readers with all of the pieces, no matter which path they take. While readers cannot entirely anticipate what is coming next, they follow the author’s design, regardless of their choices. In this sense, Marino is consciously availing of the illusion of interactivity as an aesthetic, using digital apparatus to give readers a sense of freedom, while nonetheless privileging his need to construct a particular story. Regardless of how one reads a show of hands, they will traverse the arc intended by the author. The first path ends with the death of the great aunt, while the second path brings you to the marches—regardless of which path you take, you encounter that first experience before you are introduced to the second.

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Marino outlines that he is influenced by Façade, which he describes as “a piece that gives you lots of choice, but it’s also sort of on rails”. With electronic writing, a lot of disorientation stems from a sense that readers are making wrong choices, or will be unable to go back to wherever they needed to be. This seems an unnecessary anxiety to Marino: narrative necessities are clearly at the heart of a show of hands, a counterbalance to the disorientation of some electronic works. In this respect, Marino is writing in the video game tradition, his sandbox being explored as a theme park, and thus, while readers had choice, linearity is a trait that the author consciously sought out. His reference to the pioneers of the field is particularly apt, as they too, while taking a different approach to Marino, recognised the value in readers encountering some information after they had encountered a different set of information. Michael Joyce achieves this in afternoon through the use of gates, while other writers have structured code in a variety of manners: “I’m sure lots of writers struggle with this in different ways, but it made me realize that the big stack of cards that you just throw on the floor and let people pick up in any order works for some sorts of narratives, but maybe goes just a little too far away from what is needed in storytelling”. Marino’s desire for “narrative payoffs”, his loyalty to the act of “storytelling”, is very much aligned with a melodramatic style. Marino references the influence that the telenovelas and soap operas of his youth have on a show of hands, and how these works inspired him to write an accessible hypertext narrative: “People started telling me that the more I disrupted their reading experience, the more disrupted their emotional connection to the characters became”. The emotional impact of the telenovela was perfectly suited to Marino’s purposes, because like electronic literature, or any modernist aesthetic, a fragmented form is preferred, delivering a series of high-impact events that heighten the emotional engagement of the audience: “Someone just cheated, someone just walked in with a gun – you know, you could almost watch a telenovela with the sound down, and you could still have a sense of what’s going on”. Marino’s style is also influenced by simulation video games. He used to play The Movies, an Activision production, which allowed you, as the owner of a movie studio, to produce short films using a series of in-built animations: It was seeing these little narrative units, and being able to move them around, to sort of reshuffle them, that made me think about all the iconic

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storytelling moments that there are. When I was studying Spanish, I remember even watching a tele-novella where it begins with someone finding a letter in somebody else’s drawer, right? The old, yellowed letter, right? And there’s a moment like that in a show of hands. Then I started to realize, oh, wow, these are so highly iconicised moments that they contain an entire set of stories within them. And again, if you stick them in familiar arcs for people, then they can still have that kind of charge that you need to have. I realized from studying the early hypertext that each lexia has to be satisfying in itself, that it has to be tasty enough. It can’t be Henry James, it can’t be something where, you know, after you got through four of these lexias there’d be a really delicious payoff on the fourth one. To me, they had to be much more highly condensed, and highly charged – each morsel had to be savory in and of itself.

Marino’s influences are clear, with each lexia giving a sense that they are self-contained as a result of each one being highly imagistic, almost like he is striving for a collection of pieces more concerned with individual poetic satisfaction than large-scale narrative. Each little narrative unit is recognisable within familiar storytelling tropes, replicating the fragmentation of the telenovela. Availing of this particular medium and platform, Marino connects a show of hands to the culture and popular movement with which it engages. When you step back, like the pixels of the mosaic, it all comes into focus. The materiality of the digital is further encapsulated in Marino’s decision to give a number of the story’s sisters the same name. His intention was to, after further development of the system, iconically represent which sister’s storyline was being chosen. Doing so would alter the reading experience considerably, offering more clarity throughout the text, as is the case with the staged reading where differing actresses are discernible. Marino, by choosing these names without the distinguishing icons, but pointing to the possibility of their inclusion in the future, is demonstrating how he has consciously manipulated the digital paratextuality of the piece. Where Kirschenbaum uses the differing Windows and Macintosh icons in afternoon as a means of demonstrating the significance of materiality to electronic literature, Marino is arguably more conscious of his decision than the Storyspace authors. Thus, we see that digital materiality can simply be a product of developer designs, while it is also something of which authors are acutely aware. Marino’s a show of hands is about interconnectivity—the author’s naming conventions reinforce this. Hypertext can offer readers parallels. In a show of hands,

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this is transfigured literally, as from moment to moment it is a little less clear which character you are reading about, suggesting that the sisters, like the work’s form and materiality, do have something that makes them connected, yet not interchangeable. What is clear is that a show of hands, like many literary works, is adaptable across a range of media, and that each differing incarnation will be experienced depending on the materiality of each particular medium. In choosing the electronic approach, Marino is striving for balance between writerly choice and control of narrative flow, without giving himself over to the aesthetic of the infinite: Just handing readers the stack of vignettes, in any order that they want to explore, is certainly one aesthetic, that’s one choice people might make, but it might not be the only one, and it also might not be the best – it might not take advantage of the power of narrative itself, which might be defined as scenes that are offered in a particular order. Maybe it’s the realization that, absent that, there are only certain kinds of stories you can tell. I guess I take the more structuralist approach to tales. Thinking back to Campbell’s work, all those studies of folk tales and folklore, you know, there is something about that, that other people have theorised is so deeply part of the human psyche, where narrative becomes something that’s fundamentally important to the way that we think. And so much of that does have to do with structure.

Marino’s approach to electronic literature complements the artificial intelligence of the system with literary structuralism, demonstrating the inverse relationship between the amount of freedom that you give readers, and the amount of narrative gravity that an author deploys: I’ve got other pieces I’m working on where, again, I’m still leaning towards a kind of choice within a linearity – choice that doesn’t derail the story – giving much more of a sense of orientation almost to the extent that I wonder if it could be perceived as being anti-hypertextual, in some sense. I don’t think I’m being reactionary here, I just think that there’s something extremely valuable that you can do with a story when you can at least know certain points you’re going to get people to. If you really radically break that apart, you do so at the expense of a certain kind of really valuable storytelling.

Again, this is very much in the video game tradition, where the freedom of the sandbox is offset by a structure of narrative events designed to facilitate progression. It is a combination of the sandbox and theme park

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style of virtual environment that has become so popular across so many video game genres. While we cannot separate ideology from any literature, we can see that electronic forms are married to the politics of process. Each of these works has meaning in its materiality, considerably more than would typically be the case. Even concrete poets, with typographic arrangements, are restricted by the surface of the page. I do not want to represent the page as a medium with particularly negative limitations: all forms have limitations, which can at times be just as readily considered strengths. Concrete poetry is manifested as a permanent entity; there is no such permanence in the electronic environment, where works of art, when reduced to substance, are merely the graphically rendered representations of bits and bytes. This impermanence offers something to authors that is not found in other forms, it allows them a freedom of ideological expression that is very much bound to layered materiality. It is not simply about words on the surface, but rather, about the surface and the underlying code which dictates part of the reader experience. Garbe did not just write Closed Room, Soft Whispers, he made it: he composed the surface-level text, he wrote the underlying code, and he built the wooden box. In this respect, the politics of the screen are, unlike the page, materially layered, with authors being as much makers as they are writers.

Notes 1. Personal correspondence with Juliet Davis, March 2014. 2. Ibid. 3. Ibid. 4. Personal correspondence with Mark Marino, April 2014. 5. Ibid. 6. Ibid. 7. Ibid. 8. Ibid.

References Bornstein, George. 2006. Material Modernism: The Politics of the Page. New York: Cambridge University Press. Buchanan, Oni. 2011. ‘The Mandrake Vehicles’. In The Electronic Literature Collection Volume Two, edited by Laura Borràs, Talan Memmott, Rita Raley, and Brian Stefans. Cambridge, MA: Electronic Literature Organization. http://collection.eliterature.org/2/works/buchanan_mandrake_vehicles.html.

114  J. O’SULLIVAN Davis, Juliet. 2011. ‘Pieces of Herself’. In The Electronic Literature Collection Volume Two, edited by Laura Borràs, Talan Memmott, Rita Raley, and Brian Stefans. Cambridge, MA: Electronic Literature Organization. http://collection. eliterature.org/2/works/davis_pieces_of_herself.html. Gallix, Andrew. 2008. ‘Is E-Literature Just One Big Anti-Climax?’ The Guardian, 24 September, sec. Books. https://www.theguardian.com/ books/booksblog/2008/sep/24/ebooks. Gane, Nicholas. 2006. ‘When We Have Never Been Human, What Is to Be Done? Interview with Donna Haraway’. Theory, Culture & Society 23 (7–8): 135–58. Garbe, Jacob. 2015. ‘A Brief Chat with Digital Artist, Jacob Garbe Interview by James O’Sullivan’. http://josullivan.org/a-brief-chat-withdigital-artist-jacob-garbe/. Genette, Gérard. 1997. Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation. Translated by Jane E. Lewin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gitelman, Lisa. 2006. Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Hayles, N. Katherin. 2002. Writing Machines. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Joyce, Elisabeth. 2003. ‘Structured Fragments: Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl in Piecework’. In Close Reading New Media: Analyzing Electronic Literature, edited by Jan Van Looy and Jan Baetens, 39–52. Leuven: Leuven University Press. Kirschenbaum, Matt. 2001. ‘Materiality and Matter and Stuff: What Electronic Texts Are Made Of ’. Electronic Book Review, 1 October. http:// www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/electropoetics/sited. Landow, George P. n.d. ‘Stitching Together Narrative, Sexuality, Self: Shelley Jackson’s “Patchwork Girl”’. Cyberartsweb.org. Accessed 12 February 2012. http://cyberartsweb.org/cpace/ht/pg/pgmain.html. Lefebvre, Henri. 1991. The Production of Space. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Blackwell. Liu, Alan. 2008. ‘Imagining the New Media Encounter’. In A Companion to Digital Literary Studies, edited by Susan Schreibman and Ray Siemens. Oxford: Blackwell.  http://digitalhumanities.org:3030/companion/view?docId= blackwell/9781405148641/9781405148641.xml&chunk.id=ss 1-3-1&toc.depth=1&toc.id=ss1-3-1&brand=9781405148641_brand. Marino, Mark C. 2008. a show of hands. http://hands.literatronica.net/src/ Pagina.aspx?lng=BRITANNIA&opus=12&pagina=1. McGann, Jerome J. 2004. ‘A Note on the Current State of Humanities Scholarship’. Critical Inquiry 30 (2): 409–13. Page, Ruth, and Bronwen Thomas. 2011. New Narratives: Stories and Storytelling in the Digital Age. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Woodward, Ian. 2007. Understanding Material Culture. New York: Sage.

CHAPTER 6

Towards a Digital Poetics

What should a digital poetics look like, and how can we possibly establish a stable framework for such a fluid set of practices? Raymond Williams, echoing Eliot, writes of interrelations: The complexity of a culture is to be found not only in its variable processes and their social definitions – traditions, institutions, and formations – but also in the dynamic interrelations, at every point in the process, of historically varied and variable elements … In authentic historical analysis it is necessary at every point to recognize the complex interrelations between movements and tendencies both within and beyond a specific and effective dominance. It is necessary to examine how these relate to the whole cultural process rather than only to the selected and abstracted dominant system. (2009, 121)

Those interrelations which exist between literature and electronic forms of literature are complex, and we must continue to pursue the nuances of these affinities and differences if our appreciation of electronic literature is to mature. Doing so requires that we walk familiar paths, viewing electronic literature as a familiar consequence of a new age. Everything is in the context of its time, and the challenge of electronic literature is that it has been so much in so short a frame: modernity, while defined by the past and situated in the present, takes a forward-thinking approach. For Călinescu, the concept of modernity is decidedly separate from the ideal © The Author(s) 2019 J. O’Sullivan, Towards a Digital Poetics, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-11310-0_6

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of progress (1987, 15–16), in that societies that do focus on modernity over progress tend to be stuck in the present, without truly thinking ahead to the future. By utilising modern schools of thought, societies can “stand on the shoulders of a giant” and thus, see farther than the giant itself (1987, 16). Literary criticism thrives on foresight, but it must be contextualised by historical and contemporary situations. As time advances, so too do the philosophies and modes of thinking that guide them. Common conceptions that might appear to be logical and normal during their present are often reconceived by future generations: perhaps we should stop asking what electronic literature is, and articulate instead what it is to each of us individually. The more substantial viewpoint on modernity, examining the doctrine of progress, emphasises the beneficial possibilities of combining fresh concepts of science and technology (Călinescu 1987, 41). In this respect, modernity is more of a celebration of what can be achieved by using all of the contemporary tools at humanity’s disposal at any period in time. This mentality is one of constant expansion, and so readily applicable to the field of electronic literature. Contemporary technology is advancing, at an alarming rate, as we fetishise and sacrifice all in the pursuit of improvement. This motivation has found its way into the literary and heightened juxtapositions of art and engineering. The practical viewpoint of modernity emphasises constant improvement, mirrored in the language of liberation favoured by so many artists and critics in this domain. There are significant parallels between the first wave of modernisation and the rise of secular thinking. Religion does not hold much relevance here, but the worship of old practices—in this case, relating to reading, writing, and dissemination—is analogous to the dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. Print, like religion, is becoming less relevant in culture, with digital forms often emerging as overtly conscious reactions to their precursors. The presence of this reaction, of course, ­re-establishes the relevance of print, in that it gives electronic literature its significance as other. Then there is the artist as missionary, the artist as a figure once proclaimed as a prophet (Călinescu 1987, 105). Where art was once sacred, over-saturation of artistic outputs, a product of information technologies, has diminished the significance of art and artists. If technology continues to enable dissemination without filters, then electronic literature, like most literatures, will continue to suffer at the hands of lower quality

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works drawing attention for their visibility rather than merits. As technology continues to shape contemporary literature, there will continue to be a reaction against what is often seen as an excessive indulgence in the digital. There is some merit to this fear, as evidenced in the rising volume of unjustified remediation: technology continues to be utilised for strategic, rather than genuine artistic, purposes, and this self-indulgence is leading to a degradation of both digital and non-digital forms. Authors need to be acutely aware of the affordances and limitations, but also the suitability and relevance of media specifics; otherwise, the presence of computation within an aesthetic is little more than indulgence. Parallels can also be drawn with ludic reading practices, wherein the pleasure that is derived from artefacts such as video games can be perceived as denigrating the influence of the book, and the cultural benefits of a well-read society. Electronic literature and video games, as a result of their extended sensory potential, amplify the presence of depravity, and thus, while the content of these forms is often mirrored in print, the former draws comparatively more controversy as the indulgence in pleasure—be it violent, sexual, or otherwise—is multimodal, multisensory, and heightened. But electronic literature is not simply modernism 2.0, art made new again, it is an amalgam of aesthetic ideologies, artistic processes, and cultural forces, some of which are modern, some of which are not. Perhaps one could describe all literatures in such terms. Unlike all literatures, central to this amalgam are the forces of technology, which have combined from both a pragmatic and creative perspective throughout the postwar era. This amalgamation has been motivated by the increased availability and utility of the necessary platforms and systems, but it has also emerged as a result of the perpetual cycle of aesthetic reinvigoration and reaction—the literary in operation, as it has always operated. Acknowledging this cycle tells us little about the nature of the literatures of the new modernity, and thus, we must compare their particularities with their precursors if we are to gain anything from a descriptive approach to this epoch. The purpose of doing so is to identify those traits which are, while maybe not quite exclusive, inherently distinct hallmarks of digital art which privileges language. Electronic literature offers reading complexities which are dictated by the various layers of interpretation that one encounters in screen-based works. This is not to say that print literature is not complex or layered, but rather, that the significance of digital materiality is such that these

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aspects are further complicated by the presence of the electronic. As such, the very dichotomy between non-trivial and trivial typologies is false. One should refrain from reducing non-digital traversal mechanisms to trivial, rather, we should acknowledge that all literatures offer varying degrees of reading complexity at varying interpretive layers, at both surface and cyber levels. It is not about privileging one layer over the other, but rather, acknowledging their existence so that the nuances of such complexities can be extrapolated. Many theorists have either focused exclusively on the literary, ignoring the specificities of digital media, or alternatively, have forgotten what it means to be literary, that reading is an interpretative layer in itself. Call it hypertextual or ergodic, electronic literature is literature, only different from those other literatures which have come before, and most likely different from other literatures that are yet to emerge. Return once more to Derrida and his tentative definition of literature as being that which offers “license” to a writer “to say everything he wants to or everything he can” (1992, 37). This freedom is offered to us by the literariness of a text, not by the logic and mathematics underneath, though these can contribute significantly, and should also form part of any critical discourse—where their presence is deemed to be significant. They both form varying and sometimes equal parts of the transaction between author and reader. The exchange between form and content that one encounters in this space is facilitated by literary mechanics. Whether it be literary or ludic, form or content, interaction is always warranted, what differs is the mechanics of such. Garbe heralds such potential in his thoughts on augmented reality: “I was interested in binding text to an image, and forcing people to uncover that text to find it. Making it more difficult to interact with actually makes the piece itself more transient, more ephemeral, although for me it makes that interaction more meaningful” (2015). Installation pieces, caves, augmented reality, video games, these all require technically sophisticated mechanics; works like Holes require less sophisticated mechanics, but the significance is not in the technical complexity, but the procedural rhetoric that is evident in the relationship between the form and its content. All of these varying forms utilise computation to a degree, what is significant is not the presence of that computation, but rather, its meaning, the literary repercussions. The old and the new are utterly context specific, and we must appreciate the mechanics of a piece at both its surface and underlying layers—the literary is

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both, not either-or. In doing so, we can go beyond our current situation, wherein works are categorised as interactive, and actually develop insight from the manner of that interactivity and the ways in which it invites readers to engage. Our tendency to ignore this interplay has allowed authors of electronic literature to master a techne of illusion. The aesthetics of electronic literature is constructed on the ability to present false liberties. Lori Emerson details how the “common goal” of the interface is “to efface the interface altogether and so also efface our ability to read, let alone write, the interface, definitively turning us into consumers rather than producers of content” (2014, 2). She quips: “…it’s also marvelous in the sense that these devices seem to have supernatural properties. But, of course, supernatural they are not” (2014, ix). However, aesthetic obscurity is not just an unfortunate by-product of the media specifics; authors can be drawn to this particular characteristic of the digital. The sublime experience of the digital can tease the reader, effacing for the sake of meaning, or for the benefit of the interaction. The pleasure of the digital is almost erotic, in than it refuses to reveal itself. While it may seem strange in an age where consumer electronics are all pervasive, the screen remains something of an unfamiliar surface when it comes to the reading process. It is not that readers are unused to screens, but that the codex has still not been wholly usurped as the text’s dominant form. When reading from the screen, we are conscious of the surface, and all that it obscures. The awareness of the underlying structures—the nature of which we cannot always see—denies some element of the pleasure by making the entirety of the work’s beauty difficult to access. In this sense, electronic literature’s aesthetic is not just about constructing illusions, but about divulging its presence as a means of suppression, creating tensions which heighten affect and sensation. All digital forms, and the theories of these forms, are based on an illusion of choice, choice which supposedly gives the reader greater autonomy. They may be active participants, but digital media offers no liberation to the reader, but rather, gives the author new potentialities with which to craft the illusion of narrative freedom. Barthes oft-cited The Pleasure of the Text describes how readers do not address all aspects of a text with the same intensity: … we boldly skip (no one is watching) descriptions, explanations, analyses, conversations; doing so, we resemble a spectator in a nightclub who

120  J. O’SULLIVAN climbs onto the stage and speeds up the dancer’s striptease, tearing off her clothing, but in the same order, that is: on the one hand respecting and on the other hastening the episodes of the ritual (like a priest gulping down his Mass). Tmesis, source or figure of pleasure, here confronts two prosaic edges with one another; it sets what is useful to a knowledge of the secret against what is useless to such knowledge; tmesis is a seam or flaw resulting from a simple principle of functionality; it does not occur at the level of the structure of languages but only at the moment of their consumption; the author cannot predict tmesis: he cannot choose to write what will not be read. And yet, it is the very rhythm of what is read and what is not read that creates the pleasure of the great narratives: has anyone ever read Proust, Balzac, War and Peace, word for word? (Proust’s good fortune: from one reading to the next, we never skip the same passages.) (1998, 11)

Many critics, such as Montfort (2005), point to the manner by which interactive fiction allows readers to engage with the text as though it were a striptease, revealing lexias through their choices. But this is about more than a narrative striptease, it is about the knowledge that there is more to be revealed, that there is more to a digital text than that which is presented on the surface, in the user-driven interactions—it is about the bits of clothing that cannot be removed, and that which they, as interface, transparently efface. But there is as much critical as there is creative power in constraint. The restrictions of media are not just significant for authors and their readers, but for criticism itself. The logical constraint that allows us to dispel the illusion of interactivity can also be used to contain these lines of sight. Works of electronic literature, while composed as modal and contextual maelstroms, are nonetheless confined within the digital. All works in this field operate within a technical, cultural, and literary space, and while these spaces can be vast, many boundaries can be drawn. Drawing these boundaries allows us to perform the dissection necessary to critique electronic literature, it allows us to separate out the technical and literary components, deconstructing hybridity so that we may understand, in an elemental manner, the artistic whole of their parts. Non-linearity is not just about the linearity of narrative, it is about space, it is about hiding and revealing, provision and denial. This aesthetic expands right from Easter eggs as literary devices, to the aforementioned lines of sight. Dependency on such transforms the reader from passive observer into active participant. Works of electronic literature are living artistic experiments. They are living in the sense that many works of electronic

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literature—such as the aforementioned Holes and Curlew—are consciously evolving and remediating, and living in the sense that their reception is dictated by reader interactions. The latter goes beyond the underlying technical structures, in that, while a user interacts with a defined space, their performance within that space can influence the reception of the piece. Take, for example, an undiscovered passage: the mere presence of such can have literary significance for a work, but if the reader fails to encounter the relevant fragment, then they are denied part of what the piece has to reveal. In electronic literature, the author retains control, and can indeed dictate the extent to which a work reveals itself, but that in acknowledging this, they must also accept that they cannot regulate for the selections of readers. Aarseth touches upon this issue, distinguishing between the reader as voyeur, and the player as influencer: A reader, however strongly engaged in the unfolding of a narrative, is ­powerless. Like a spectator at a soccer game, he may speculate, conjecture, extrapolate, even shout abuse, but he is not a player. Like a passenger on a train, he can study and interpret the shifting landscape, he may rest his eyes wherever he pleases, even release the emergency brake and step off, but he is not free to move the tracks in a different direction. He cannot have the player’s pleasure of influence: ‘Let’s see what happens when I do this.’ The reader’s pleasure is the pleasure of the voyeur. Safe, but impotent. (1997, 3)

Aarseth’s separation of player and reader, like his theory of cybertextuality, is too concrete, too dichotomous. In electronic literature, reading and play are as symbiotic as form and content. To say the reader is impotent neglects the significance of interpretation. To “interpret the shifting landscape” is akin to “mov[ing] the tracks in a different direction”. In the spaces that one occupies in this realm, reading and play are conflated into a singular participatory experience. The canon of electronic literature is comprised of stories constructed through spatial duality. You have the space and all of its inherent affordances. These affordances also allow readers to map that space onto characters, onto plots, weaving everything past into collisions. With weaving, we see once again the emergence of this field’s dominant theme: the complex relationship between form and content. In Harper’s Magazine, Arthur Krystal defines literature as “a record of one human being’s sojourn on earth, proffered in verse or prose that

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artfully weaves together knowledge of the past with a heightened awareness of the present in ever new verbal configurations” (2014). Electronic literature builds on this definition, presenting ever-new configurations of form, but form which cannot be separated from its content, as much as the content cannot be separated from its form. Electronic literature is dependent on both the digital and the literary if it is to be interactive, if it is to facilitate the essential transaction between author and reader. Most works of non-digital literature could be separated from their form, remediated out of the codex, and still retain their meaning; still be understandable from the perspective of the reader. Many video games could remove their textual content, and still be playable. Electronic literature requires both the technical form and linguistic content to work in unison: it is about the formation of a matrix of media and experience which encapsulates meaning through a variety of means, each of which operates within a singular artistic space, that space being defined by the parameters of the work in question. We can only speculate as to the potential of these spaces. The nature of contemporary computing is such that the digital age is in perpetual renaissance. The Web as a space continues to gain an increasing and broader population: the flow of information goes both ways, and thus, the spaces that emerge from these works of literature will be increasingly influenced, even if that influence is to draw reaction against popular Web cultures, by the space within which this literature is typically formed and published. New spaces, like augmented reality, will further transform the landscape, as will whatever is yet to come. Such technologies will extend the artistic spaces from beyond the screen to the world around us, expanding the limits of our immersion, removing performative pieces like Curlew from the constraints of the screen and stage—perhaps future iterations of Grigar’s piece will encompass the ocean itself. One thing that can be said with certainty is that electronic literature’s ­dominant materialities, as they are at present, will not persist for as long as the codex. Călinescu’s modernity is about the clash between the rationalistic and technological with the critical and self-critical. Dear Esther is experimental in the sense that it merges the literary, the interactive, and the sensory in a sophisticated manner. Yet, where there is much to be said of its procedural rhetoric, it is conservative in its mechanics, and restricted in the technical complexity of its traversal. Indeed, in many respects, this conservatism extends to the point where one might

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question whether or not the medium of choice is a product of digital decadence. The visual significance of the piece is not to be denied, to produce such a graphically intensive environment is arguably an indulgence. We must ask of Dear Esther what we must ask of any work of electronic literature: why digital? What are the media specifics that warranted the creation of this work as born-digital? Its relationship with kitsch is also apparent, in that it might be considered false art by both commentators of the ludic and the literary. For gamers, this is an offering that provides little in the way of the ludic, with limited mechanics and a singular objective: walk to the beacon. For readers, ease of access to a complex story is denied through a traversal method which reveals pleasure through exploration and chance. It does not fit into traditional classifications, and thus, resonates with the negative prestige which Călinescu addresses. By the same token, it is high art, born of a technical process which few have mastered to such an accomplished degree. An independent development, Dear Esther is, from the perspective of techne, a major achievement.

A Poetics of Equipoise All art is a consequence of equipoise, of a balance between permanent and temporary stylistic, material, narrative, and contextual forces which operate in the service of expression and experience. These forces are not balanced in equal measure, but they nonetheless produce equilibrium, that being the thing which is produced by all of which it is comprised: there will always be elements and forces which are privileged, but they cannot be removed from the entirety of their structure if the structure is to remain. We can think of all acts of expression in this way; indeed, this is how we typically engage in the business of criticism, but the idea of aesthetic counteraction is particularly useful when it comes to electronic literature and literary games, not because they represent the emergence of multimodality—we know of the antecedents—but because they are its zenith: above all else, to be digital, in the aesthetic sense, is to be multimodal, far more so than that which has come before. The poetics of electronic literature, then, is one of poiesis and equipoise, process and product, form and content. The significance of how electronic literature is made, the media specifics, the politics of process, these have never been more significant to the literary than they are in this moment. To say that the page, even in the hands of those aesthetic

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movements which sought its creative edges, is akin to the computer ­displaying an utter disregard for what has long been valued by both: there are things that can be done with a screen which cannot be done on a page, and vice versa. The poetics is explicitly about material, paratextual and aesthetic balance that includes language but goes beyond language, it is about balance between the technical and the meaning which sits on top of it: the ludic and the literary, participation and observation. Remember, there must be balance between these forces, but they need not be equals; it is “a constellation”, “the constituents of which, benefiting each other, benefit the whole”. There must be counterbalances to the forces which make any piece of digital art what it is; extensive mechanics must be tempered by language if a work of e-lit is not to fall into the realm of game, whereas the ludic must be present if a work is to move beyond screen as page. And the power of the author must be resolved with that of the reader: what is the role of each, what is it to traverse? In print literature, language dominates all, operating as less of a constellation, less of a system than a centrality. As all these forces operate in reciprocity, and through the traversals of readers, something emerges, something is effaced. Multimodality is like the chemical formulae that adorn the walls of Pinchbeck’s island: bringing aesthetic potential into being through order and chaos. Order and chaos are not always engineered: one can carefully select the sensory elements that comprise an act of digital expression, but reception will skew these decisions: colour palettes will shift on different surfaces, glitches will be introduced on different operating systems, peripherals will change across different users. The printed book remains as it has emerged from its press, and while it can gather context and meaning through the interpretations and markings of readers, as a work of art to be received, it remains as intended, provided its form remains intact. With digital art, the potential for unintended transformation presented by computational systems is such that one can never really be sure how a piece will operate, how its reading will be materially facilitated—this can bring order, it can bring chaos, and these can mean that that which emerges was never even meant to be. Again, there will always be parallels to be drawn between print and digital, but the nuance of the argument is in the significance of a particular trait: Dear Esther is the exemplar of its genre, and it began existence as the aptly named Half-Life 2: when its foundations were programmed, what it would become was never meant to be, and it still

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exists as something else. But this happens in the gaming world all the time: mod culture is poiesis in practice, something turned into something else, something brought into being through the balancing of forces. In the case of Dear Esther, the modification balanced the ludic with language to create something literary and game-like but not at all gamified. And this thing by The Chinese Room, which started out as something completely different created by an entirely separate group for another purpose, has come to be the ideal of what many critics might consider a work of electronic literature or a literary game. Certainly, it is one of the few examples of its genre to have achieved truly popular success. This is the story of most works of electronic literature: they were perversely engineered using platforms designed for something else. Even contemporary titles which rely on systems like Unreal and Unity are making use of engines which were never built with literature in mind. The story of most print literature is different, in that it emerges from dynamics and cultures that were designed for the specific purpose of making print literature happen. This all relates back to the “waveforms” of Chapter 2, the idea that electronic literature is a field in which differing media are put to the task of manipulating literary signals; or perhaps, it is the literary which emerges from the manipulation of linguistic signals. Regardless of when the literary emerges, the premise here is simple: electronic literature is the consequence of language, of the literary sort, being acted upon by digital media, actions which significantly alter meaning. This is what Hayles and co. have long contended, that electronic literature is something more than e-books, that it is about digital waveforms that are essential to expression itself. Print literature without the page cannot be read, but electronic literature without computation cannot be—waveforms do not simply disseminate, they transform and mutate. The operations of waveforms are aesthetic in purpose. If we view computation as a prism which language is passed through, what can we learn from the prism? What can we learn from waveforms? Everything, because they are the difference between electronic literature and its others, because these waveforms, the specifics of the media which participate in electronic literature as a form, are an inherent part of the poetics of the digital. These waveforms are not just distortions of language, they are authorial distortions, potentially as significant to meaning as the words they manipulate. As McLuhan once said, the medium is the message. But, that medium is nothing without that upon which it

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operates, for a medium without content is no medium at all, just potential energy that is yet to be materialised. There must be content if there is to be form, but with digital art, the form is as much a part of the content and the intellectual aesthetic choices as it is a force designed to carry such. This is equipoise. Epistemologically, electronic literature is not so different from other practices which draw upon computational aesthetics, and is part of a broad spectrum of forms that have emerged as a product of our progression through the digital age. It is literature, but it is also something else, be that ludic, visual, auditory, or otherwise—this is an art of assemblage, in that the aesthetic of electronic literature is inherently combinatory. Because so many similarities exist between electronic literature and its cognates, we cannot continue to define its traits in isolation. Rather, we must explore those characteristics which make it, artistically, somewhat different, appreciating the aesthetic and cultural forces contributing to such dissonance. Only then can we start to fully appreciate what it is that we have here, how it has emerged, and how, in an age of hyper-remediation, it remains something other. In many respects, electronic literature is about lines of sight. It is amorphous and transient, almost Fluxus. Depending on your line of sight—the gateway with which you choose to enter a work, be that form or content—your reception of a piece will be altered accordingly. Lines of sight are also context dependent: our cognition, our appreciation of technical systems, these are all connected to notions of the posthuman. As electronic literature continues to define itself and find a place in the catalogue of conduits through which human beings tell their stories and express their creativity, it will be continuously reenvisioned as a result of its malleability, the potential for different critics and practitioners to view it through a variety of different lenses. This is, of course, an inherently literary phenomenon, but the presence of the digital adds a new complication: you cannot simply say that you are focused on the content, as in doing so, you are discounting aspects which are as beautiful and sublime as they are materially and symbolically complex. There is validity in taking the literary line of sight, but only if your reception is tempered with an appreciation of the cinematic experience, the visual design, and the underlying computational structures. There can never be a critical language for electronic literature, only an awareness of many critical languages. We will only ever be working towards a digital poetics, because there is no one digital.

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References Aarseth, Espen J. 1997. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Barthes, Roland. 1998. The Pleasure of the Text. Translated by Richard Miller. New York: Hill and Wang. Călinescu, Matei. 1987. Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism. Durham: Duke University Press. Derrida, Jacques. 1992. ‘This Strange Institution Called Literature: An Interview with Jacques Derrida’. In Acts of Literature, edited by Derek Attridge. London: Routledge. Emerson, Lori. 2014. Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Garbe, Jacob. 2015. ‘A Brief Chat with Digital Artist, Jacob Garbe Interview by James O’Sullivan’. http://josullivan.org/a-brief-chat-with-digital-artistjacob-garbe/. Krystal, Arthur. 2014. ‘What Is Literature? In Defense of the Canon’. Harper’s Magazine, March. http://harpers.org/archive/2014/03/what-is-literature/. Montfort, Nick. 2005. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Williams, Raymond. 2009. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Index

A Aarseth, Espen J., 32–34, 37, 68, 78, 79, 121 Adobe, 14 Adorno, Theodor W., 10–13, 97 Adventure, 42 affordances, 17, 35, 62, 64, 72, 78, 117, 121 afternoon, a story, 28–30, 32, 44, 45, 84, 101, 108, 110, 111 Allen, Graham, 83 All the Delicate Duplicates, 28, 30, 31, 70, 71, 84 Amazon, 70 ambient, 46 American, 86, 88, 103 Amiga 1000, 18 animation, 46 Apple, 14 Aristotle, 79 artist, 17–19, 31, 52, 65, 66, 81, 105, 107, 116 arts and humanities, 6 Ascott, Roy, 42 a show of hands, 81, 107–111

assemblage, 33, 37, 38, 46, 54, 65, 86, 102, 126 Assmann, Aleida, 16 Association for Computing Machinery, 44 attention, 16, 17, 64, 99, 101 Attridge, Derek, 26 audience, 11, 13, 31, 34, 41, 69, 72, 101, 110 augmented reality, 84, 105, 118, 122 aura, 97 Autograph Man, The, 14 avant-garde, 51 B Bailey, Peter, 9 Baldwin, Sandy, 23 Barthes, Roland, 78, 119 Baudelaire, 17 Bauman, Zygmunt, 15 Beat Generation, 86 beauty, 82, 96, 119 Benjamin, Walter, 17 Bergen, 38 Berners-Lee, Tim, 8

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2019 J. O’Sullivan, Towards a Digital Poetics, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-11310-0

139

140  Index Biggs, Simon, 70, 71 Billboard, 42 black box, 14 blogging, 12 Bloom, Harold, 2 Bolter, Jay David, 35, 42, 44, 51, 52, 77, 78 Boluk, Stephanie, 47 Borges, Jorge Luis, 45 born-digital, 35, 123 Bornstein, George, 100 Borràs, Laura, 46 Bouchardon, Serge, 35, 63, 67 boundaries, 25, 35, 50, 83, 96, 98, 120 Breeze, Mez, 11, 28, 30, 70, 71, 85 Briscoe, Robert, 85, 91 Brown University, 108 Buchanan, Oni, 102 Buck-Morss, Susan, 16 Burke, Edmund, 82 Burroughs, William, 85 Bush, Vannevar, 8 C Călinescu, Matei, 5, 115, 116, 122, 123 Campbell, Andy, 11, 28, 30, 70, 71, 85, 112 Cannizzaro, Danny, 28 canon, 36, 43, 68, 74, 121 capitalism, 14, 52–54, 70, 97 Caribbean, 103 chaos, 4, 24, 26 Chicago, 54 The Chinese Room, 11, 71, 85 choice, 12, 13, 30, 33, 36, 45, 66, 77–81, 83–86, 89, 91, 96, 102, 106, 108–110, 112, 119, 123 cinema, 3, 39–41

clinamen, 2 Closed Room, Soft Whispers, 66, 105, 113 close reading, 52, 62 code, 16, 36, 37, 41, 63, 65, 68, 80, 87, 91, 99, 100, 103, 110, 113 codex, 33, 37, 64, 68, 73, 98–100, 109, 119, 122 coffee houses, 8–10, 97, 98 collaboration, 18, 35, 64, 73 combinatory, 50 commercial, 41, 71–73, 85 community, 9, 18, 25, 43, 47, 52, 65, 70, 71, 73 concrete poetry, 51, 61 constraint, 12, 14, 27, 32, 33, 45, 46, 54, 61, 62, 64, 65, 67, 68, 84, 91, 92, 96, 98, 120, 122 contemporary, 55 control, 32, 38, 67, 78, 81, 84, 90, 91, 98, 108, 112, 121 convergence, 17 Coover, Robert, 46, 104 Curlew, 37, 55, 96, 121, 122 Curry, Jessica, 85, 91 cyberfeminism, 107 cybertext, 33, 34, 68, 121 D Dada, 51 Dakota, 51 Dalton, David, 17 Damascus, 88–90 Davis, Juliet, 106, 113 Dear Esther, 71, 85, 87–91, 122 death of the author, 67 defamiliarisation, 64, 105 definition, 25, 26, 47, 122 Derrida, Jacques, 26 Dialectic of Enlightenment, 10

Index

digital age, the, 5–9, 12, 15, 51, 64, 65, 69, 122, 126 digital culture, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 13–16, 66 digital humanities, 27, 43 Digital Humanities Quarterly, 46 digital literacy, 14 digital native, 68 di Rosario, Giovanna, 5, 46, 61, 66, 70, 71, 74 disciplinarity, 19, 25, 27, 41 “Dispossession”, 103 disruption, 17, 30 dissonance, 90, 126 distribution, 69, 70 Duguid, Paul, 33 Dungeons and Dragons, 43 E Eastgate School, 45, 55, 70, 101, 102 Eastgate Systems, 44, 55, 65, 70, 71, 101, 102 economics, 55, 70, 98, 102, 103 eighteenth century, 8 Elder Scrolls, 88 Electronic Literature Collection, 46, 47, 55 Electronic Literature Lab, 40 Electronic Literature Organization, 38, 42, 46, 71, 108 Eliot, T. S., 2, 5, 10, 15, 17, 115 Emerson, Lori, 42 Engberg, Maria, 51, 52 engineer, 18, 19, 65, 66 enlightenment, 9–11 Ensslin, Astrid, 36, 48 ergodic, 33, 34, 79, 118 Eskelinen, Markku, 71 Europe, 70 Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, 71 evolutionary, 3, 32

  141

experience, 40, 50, 63, 67, 80, 82, 97 experimental, 51, 72, 74, 104, 120 Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT), 17–19 F Façade, 110 Facebook, 9 Fibonacci spiral, 86, 91 fiction, 11, 23, 30, 33, 36, 42, 44–46, 77, 79, 81, 82, 84, 87, 105, 120 fifteenth century, 24 film, 3, 4, 40, 48–50 finite, 78, 80–84, 91 first-generation, 13, 28, 41 First Screening: Computer Poems, 42 flâneur, 16, 17 Flash, 27, 28, 30, 46, 54, 102 Flores, Leonardo, 47 Flusser, Vilém, 61, 62, 74 Fluxus, 126 formalism, 54 Foucault, 4, 97 foundations, 16, 52 found technologies, 65 Frankenstein, 102 Frankfurt School, The, 13 freedom, 12, 33, 36, 66, 67, 78, 81, 83, 84, 90, 98, 101, 108, 109, 112, 113, 118, 119 Funkhouser, C. T., 5, 46 future, 12, 23, 25, 40, 49, 52, 73, 103, 111, 116, 122 G Gallix, Andrew, 11, 12, 25, 104 gamespace, 31, 48, 83, 87 game world, 90 Garbe, Jacob, 47, 66, 105, 113, 118

142  Index The Garden of Forking Paths, 45 Gendolla, Peter, 4, 34 generative, 46, 65, 103 Genette, Gérard, 100 genre, 24, 31, 46, 48, 78, 81, 101, 113 Giddens, Anthony, 15 Gitelman, Lisa, 99 Glazier, Loss Pequeño, 46 golden age, 16, 19, 46 Google, 14 Gorman, Samantha, 28 graphics, 83 great divide, 11–13 Grigar, Dene, 37, 46, 48, 54, 55, 96, 104, 105, 122 Grusin, Richard, 35 H Habermas, Jürgen, 8, 9, 98 Half-Life 2, 85 Haraway, Donna, 98 hardware, 15, 18, 65, 105 Harper’s Magazine, 121 Hayles, N. Katherine, 4, 7, 8, 16, 35–38, 46, 95 Heavy Rain, 48 Heckman, Davin, 35, 55, 61–63, 67, 74 Hegel, 79 Herr, Cheryl, 9 history, 2, 4, 5, 9, 16, 17, 19, 23, 24, 32, 39–41, 43, 44, 51, 61, 73, 96–98, 100, 104, 115, 116 Holes, 83, 118, 121 Hooneth, Axel, 13 Horizon: Zero Dawn, 8 Horkheimer, Max, 10, 11, 97 HTML, 48 Huyssen, Andreas, 11, 13

hybrid, 14, 18, 31 hybridisation, 13 hypertext, 8, 23, 27, 28, 30, 32, 33, 36, 39, 42, 44–46, 64, 65, 78, 80, 81, 84, 86, 102, 108–112, 118 I illusion, 33, 78–85, 88, 109, 119, 120 immersion, 27, 48, 68, 72, 122 Independent Games Festival, 85 industrial revolution, 13, 15 infinite, 79–83, 88, 91, 92, 109, 112 information, 12, 16, 41, 95, 110, 116, 122 innovation, 25, 35, 46, 51–54, 104 interactivity, 30, 33, 34, 37, 42–44, 48, 53, 64, 66, 77–79, 82–84, 86, 105, 107, 109, 119, 120, 122 interface, 14, 62, 67, 68, 79, 99, 103, 106, 119, 120 intermediality, 17 intuitive, 14, 18, 19, 27, 40, 41, 65, 68, 108 Ireland, 74 J Jackson, Shelley, 45, 102 Javascript, 46, 65 Jenkins, Henry, 11 Jobs, Steve, 18 Joyce, Elisabeth, 102 Joyce, James, 17, 38 Joyce, Michael, 28, 30, 31, 44, 101 K Kant, Immanuel, 82, 84 Kendall, Robert, 103 Kindle, 100

Index

kinetic, 37, 46, 96 Kirschenbaum, Matthew, 99, 101, 111 Kittler, Friedrich, 62 Klüver, Billy, 17, 18, 65, 66, 68 Kress, Gunther, 50 Krystal, Arthur, 121 L L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, 61 Landow, George P., 77, 78, 80, 102, 108 Lanier, Jaron, 10–13 La plissure du texte, 42 The Last of Us, 48 Lefebvre, Henri, 97 Lévy, Pierre, 11 lexia, 27, 28, 81, 84–86, 89, 105, 111, 120 liberation, 12–14, 78, 83, 92, 98, 116, 119 limitations, 32, 62, 78, 96, 113, 117 linearity, 34, 77, 78, 80, 89, 90, 110, 112, 120 lines of sight, 120, 126 Linux, 85 literary games, 3, 36, 47, 50, 70–72, 83, 86 Literatronic, 107–109 Liu, Alan, 3, 100 logic, 5, 33, 77, 80, 118 London, 16, 98 Los Angeles, 107, 109 ludic, 1, 36, 41, 43, 48, 71, 72, 86, 88, 89, 117, 118, 123, 124, 126 Lyotard, Jean-François, 53, 78, 82 M Macintosh, 18, 101, 111 Malloy, Judy, 41 Manchester Mark I, 42

  143

“The Mandrake Vehicles”, 102 Manovich, Lev, 39–41, 43 Marino, Mark, 46, 81, 107–113 mass media, 8, 11, 13, 53 materiality, 24, 30–32, 40, 62, 63, 80, 95–97, 99, 100, 102, 105, 106, 111–113, 117 Material Modernism, 100 material modernism, 98, 101 mathematical, 33, 34, 61, 62, 82–84, 86, 87 McGann, Jerome, 100 McLuhan, Marshall, 11, 125 McMullan, Thomas, 85 media archaeology, 40 media specifics, 62, 78, 89, 117, 119, 123 Memmott, Talan, 46 MEMory Extender, 8 Microsoft, 14 Microsoft Kinect, 37 Mindwheel, 42 ModDB, 85 modernism, 6, 51–54, 117 modernity, 5, 9–11, 13, 15–17, 115–117, 122 Modern Language Association (MLA), 54, 105 Montfort, Nick, 46, 65, 120 motherboard, 8, 99 Moulthrop, Stuart, 45, 46, 54, 55, 77 multimodal, 3, 16, 28, 36, 41, 46, 50, 70–73, 98, 106 Murphy, Órla, 17 Murray, Janet, 43 N nature, 86, 87 Negroponte, Nicholas, 8 Nelson, Theodor, 8, 45

144  Index new, 1–3, 6, 11, 12, 15, 17–19, 25, 26, 46, 51, 52, 64, 66, 77, 98, 100, 104, 117, 118 new media, 16 Nichol, bp, 42 nineteenth century, 8 non-linear, 28, 33, 34, 80, 84 O obsolescence, 7, 13, 24, 27, 40, 73, 96 O’Gorman, Marcel, 30 old, 1, 16, 17, 25, 26, 39–41, 46, 51, 77, 111, 116, 118 ontology, 99 O’Reilly, Tim, 8 order, 4, 5, 10, 14, 25, 26, 44, 77, 86, 95, 107, 110, 112, 120 Ortega, Élika, 62, 69 OS X, 85 Oulipo, 51, 61 P Page, Ruth, 98 paratext, 96, 98, 100, 102–104, 111 participatory, 8, 9, 11, 53, 67–69, 121 past, 23, 32, 48, 52, 108, 115, 121, 122 Patchwork Girl, 45, 102, 107 Pathfinders, 40, 54, 55, 105 performance, 9, 36, 37, 49, 68, 96, 121 pervasive, 9, 13, 15, 17, 43, 97, 119 perverse engineering, 53, 54 photography, 17, 18 physical, 8, 19, 31, 36, 37, 70, 73, 95, 97, 100, 104–106 “Pieces of Herself”, 106, 107 Pinchbeck, Dan, 11, 28, 85–87, 91 Pinsky, Robert, 42 pixelated, 104, 107

play, 36, 68–73, 78, 81, 97, 106, 110, 121 player, 49, 84, 85, 89, 91, 121 PlayStation 4, 85 pleasure, 82, 117, 119, 120, 123 The Pleasure of the Text, 119 poetics, 4, 35, 52, 62, 65, 115, 123, 126 poetry, 16, 26, 33, 37, 42, 51, 54, 65, 83, 102, 103, 113 Poggioli, Renato, 23 politics, 9, 11, 51, 52, 97, 98, 103, 104, 107–109, 113, 123 posthuman, 69, 126 postmodernism, 53, 54 Pound, Ezra, 51 practice, 15, 16, 24, 35, 43, 45, 52, 53, 65, 73, 97, 109 practitioners, 11, 16, 25, 28, 30, 40, 43, 47, 51, 65, 70, 71, 126 preservation, 73, 97 Pressman, Jessica, 51–54 private, 8, 106 procedural, 46, 54, 80, 85, 86, 89, 118, 122 producer, 64 programming, 16, 34, 43 Project Xanadu, 8 proprietary, 13, 40 public, 8, 67, 71, 106 publishing, 55, 74 Python, 48, 103 R Raban, Jonathan, 98 Raley, Rita, 46 Rauschenberg, Robert, 17, 18 Reading Glove, The, 36, 54 reason, 82–85 Reiss, Timothy J., 82 religion, 116

Index

remix, 17, 65 Rettberg, Scott, 23, 25, 46, 49, 51 revolutionary, 3, 14 S Salter, Anastasia, 38, 47, 54 Sayre, Henry M., 84 Schäfer, Jörgen, 4, 34 Scherman, Tony, 17 science, 4, 6, 15, 18, 19, 87, 116 screen printing, 17 seduction, 3, 12, 92 sensory, 37, 79, 84, 107, 117, 122 seventeenth century, 8 Shaya, Gregory, 17 Shockwave, 28, 46 Smith, Zadie, 14 social media, 8 society, 6, 8–10, 14, 41, 97, 100, 117 soft city, 98 software, 15, 18, 30, 37, 70, 99, 105 Sony, 14 sound, 3, 62, 68, 110 space, 9, 27, 28, 31, 32, 44, 48, 72, 80, 81, 83–85, 87–90, 92, 97, 98, 101, 102, 105, 106, 109, 120–122 spectrum, 35, 36, 48, 50, 81, 97, 126 Steam, 70, 72 Stefans, Brian, 46 storage, 36, 37 Storyspace, 27, 41, 45, 109, 111 Strachey, Christopher, 42 Strickland, Stephanie, 28–31, 36, 46, 105 structure, 33, 34, 39, 49, 62–64, 68, 69, 77, 78, 80, 83, 95, 109, 110, 112, 120 Stuart, Keith, 12 sublime, 82–84, 87, 89–92, 119, 126

  145

surface, 17, 28, 33, 45, 50, 62, 64, 69, 80, 83, 88, 113, 118–120 sustainability, 73 swerve, the, 2, 3, 5, 26, 52, 65 symbolism, 31, 37, 86, 87, 90, 91, 98, 102 system, 67, 78 T Tanenbaum, Josh, 36 Tanenbaum, Karen, 36 Taroko Gorge, 65 TCP/IP, 8 Thomas, Bronwen, 98 Tomaszek, Patricia, 23 tools, 18, 19, 27, 28, 41, 65, 99 touch, 68 tradition, 1, 2, 5, 49, 64, 110, 112 transmedia, 16 traversal, 31, 33, 34, 37, 38, 40, 44, 64, 67–69, 79, 81, 83, 84, 86, 89, 90, 108, 109, 118, 122, 124 Turing, Alan, 7 twentieth century, 8, 19, 39, 47, 61 twenty-first century, 9 Twine, 28, 48 Twitter, 9, 48 U ubiquity, 7, 9, 10, 14, 15, 43 Uncle Roger, 41 United Kingdom, 74 United States (US), 41, 44, 103, 107 Unity, 27, 65, 84, 125 University of California, Los Angeles, 42 Unreal, 27, 125 usability, 14, 18

146  Index V V: WaveSon.nets/Losing L’una, 105 victim, 13 Victory Garden, 45 video games, 8, 9, 48–50, 85, 110, 112, 117, 118, 122 virtual, 11, 13, 23, 27, 32, 83, 106, 113 visual, 3, 16, 28, 30, 41, 49, 50, 61, 68, 87–91, 102, 105, 107, 123, 126 Vniverse, 28–31, 36 VRML, 46

waveforms, 31 Web, 6, 8, 9, 13, 39, 102, 106, 109, 122 Web 2.0, 8–10 Weil, Simone, 31 Whitman, Robert, 18 Williams, Raymond, 115 Windows, 85, 101, 111 Woodward, Ian, 97, 101 Woolf, Virginia, 16 WordPress, 9 World of Warcraft, 88 Writing Space, 77

W Waldheur, Fred, 18 Walker Rettberg, Jill, 42, 46 walking simulator, 85 Wardrip-Fruin, Noah, 32, 34 Warhol, Andy, 17–19, 65, 66, 68 Washington State University, Vancouver, 40, 55

Y Yeats, W. B., 103 You Are Not a Gadget, 10 Z Zork, 42, 43