Communitizing Electronic Literature

Digital Humanities Quarterly 3.2 (Spring 2009) has been published. The issue includes a cluster of articles on finishing digital humanities projects, edited by Matt Kirschenbaum, a cluster of articles on data mining, edited by Mark Olsen, three articles including my piece “Communitizing Electronic Literature“, and a review by Johanna Drucker of Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination.

“Communitizing Electronic Literature” is a revised and expanded version of the talk I gave at the ELO’s 2008 Visionary Landscapes Conference. In it, I try to lay out what I think are the principle issues confronting the field of electronic literature today, and to establish what I think is at stake within it. In placing the article with Digital Humanities Quarterly I am implicitly arguing that the creative and critical practices of electronic literature are a vital part of the field of digital humanities. A version of the digital humanities focused exclusively on applying digital technologies to the literary and historical archives of the past, at the expense of any sustained attention to the digital cultural production of the present is a version of the digital humanities with no future and in effect no imagination.


Electronic literature is an important evolving field of artistic practice and literary study. It is a sector of digital humanities focused specifically on born-digital literary artifacts, rather than on using the computer and the network to redistribute, analyze, or recontextualize artifacts of print culture. Works of electronic literature appeal to configurative reading practices. The field of electronic literature is based on a gift economy and developing a network-based literary culture built on the collaborative practices of a globally distributed community of artists, writers, and scholars. This article situates the development of the field of electronic literature within academe, some of the institutional challenges currently confronting the field, and its potential for further development.

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