Electronic Literature Research Group Events in March

Tuesday, March 15th 12:15-14:00
HF Building, Room 301
“Reading Chatbots”
Visiting Fulbright lecturer Mark Marino, Asst. Professor of Writing at the University of Southern California, will discuss his current book project: Reading Chatbots: Conversational Actor Networks: an interdisciplinary investigation into autonomous conversational agents drawing upon theories from Communication, the Humanities, and Social Sciences. The book demonstrates a methodology of software studies, reading chatbots with attention to their performance of race, gender, sexuality, and class. http://markcmarino.com

Monday, March 21st 14:15-16:00
Sydneshaugen Skole, Room 304B
Media artist Brendan Howell is in from Berlin as a visiting lecturer at KHiB. Howell will present the “Exquisite_Code” project, and other electronic literature related projects. Exquisite_Code is an algorithmic performance system for heterogeneous groups of writers. http://www.wintermute.org/brendan/

Tuesday, March 22nd 17:00-19:00
Note: Date changed
HF Building, Room 400
“A Show of Hands — Networked Fictions”
Visiting Fulbright lecturer and e-lit author Mark Marino, along with e-lit author Rob Wittig, will present an evening of readings from network-based fiction, locative narrative, and ludic works of computer-based fiction. http://markcmarino.com

Letters that Matter: Review of the Electronic Literature Collection in ebr

John Zuern offers a detailed and insightful review of the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1 in ebr. Among other aspects of the Collection the review addresses is whether or not the difference between print and electronic literature is anything other than trivial?

In asking this question, I am in no way suggesting that nothing is at stake; on the contrary, I am seeking to underscore the urgency of the multifaceted project, carried on by many different artists and critics and editors, to consolidate something like “electronic literature” as a domain of creation and inquiry that can do justice both to the advancement and investigation of its material culture and to the philosophical, conceptual frameworks that guide that advancement and investigation. At the heart of this project is the relationship between protocols of computation and protocols of human language use, a relationship that despite all the critical attention it has received continues to present itself as vexed and indeterminate.

Visionary Landscapes: Electronic Literature Organization 2008 Conference

The ELO has just announced a call for papers and works for a major electronic literature conference next May in Washington state. I have posted the announcement below. The conference website is not yet online, but will be available on eliterature.org in August.

Visionary Landscapes: Electronic Literature Organization 2008 Conference

Thursday, May 29-Sunday, June 1, 2008
Vancouver, Washington
Sponsored by Washington State University Vancouver & the Electronic Literature Organization
Dene Grigar & John Barber, Co-Chairs
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I recently made a contribution to TAGallery, a project of cont3xt.net. The project is an experiment in using del.icio.us to collaboratively tag interesting sites related to new media art and literature. Each curator/participant is contributing a short “exhibition” of ten links on a theme. Predictably, I suppose, I contributed a collection of electronic literature links.

Electronic Literature in the Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a multimedia piece on electronic literature including an article (archive), a video piece, and a podcast interview with N. Katherine Hayles. Look for video link under the screenshot of the Electronic Literature Collection, and the audio interview off to the right. The Chronicle covered the Open Mouse/Open Mic reading at the ELO’s recent “Future of Electronic Literature” Symposium in College Park Maryland. Although the preoccupations of the reportage are a bit noob-ish (the video reporter mentions that the reading was plagued with technical difficulties when in fact it was a comparatively glitch-free evening in comparison to others, and many of the reporters’ questions were focused on the fact that there is not a massive popular audience for electronic literature rather than more interesting concerns — Who is the Stephen King of electronic literature? Well, ahem . . . King is a tough one but Robert Coover is sort of our Oprah . . .), it is nonetheless great see this esteemed weekly showing an interest in electronic lit, and Hayle’s audio interview is well worth the price of admission (particularly if you already subscribe to the Chronicle).

Remarks from the UK Electronic Literature Collection Launch, et plus, deux reviews

At the request of Kate Pullinger, I have posted my remarks from last week’s UK launch of the Electronic Literature Collection.

Et plus, there are two new reviews of the ELC. From Montreal, there is a very thorough and intelligent review of the Collection by Patrick Ellis (in English and French) published in Le Magazine électronique du CIAC. From Austria, there is a very good review of the ELC and other works of electronic literature by Franz Thalimar in Der Standard (in German).

Two New Publications from the ELO

The Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) is pleased to announce two new additions to its series of publications. N. Katherine Hayles’s primer, “Electronic Literature: What Is It?” and Joseph Tabbi’s “Setting a Direction for the Directory: Toward a Semantic Literary Web” are now available on the Electronic Literature Organization’s website.

N. Katherine Hayles’s “Electronic Literature: What Is It?” establishes a foundation for understanding e-lit in its various forms and differentiates creative e-lit from other types of digital materials. This primer serves the twin purposes of reaching general readers and serving students and institutional audiences by providing descriptions of major characteristics of electronic literature and reflections on the nature of the field. This piece will also appear as the introductory chapter of Hayles’s book Electronic Literature: Playing, Interpreting, and Teaching (coming from Notre Dame Press in fall 2007). The book will also include the CD-ROM of the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume One — a compendium of 60 digital works of poetry and prose, published by the ELO in October 2006.

Joseph Tabbi’s “Setting a Direction for the Directory: Toward a Semantic Literary Web” outlines and analyzes the critical issues relating to the description and classification of e-lit. Tabbi describes an approach that will allow the ELO Directory and other digital resources to be more useful, maintainable, transparent, and integrated with evolving technologies. The work organizes the terms of the problem into a call for an overall strategy of editorial and community-driven discourse about e-lit that will also be dependent on metadata solutions that are convergent with those described and implemented in other ELO publications.
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Po-Ex — Portuguese EPoetry

After a late night of epoetry readings in a smokefilled theater in Montmartre (more on that later) and the excess you’d expect, after getting lost in St. Denis (I think I wandered into one of the neighborhoods where they set cars on fire during the riots), I finally found my way to Auditorium X and have witnessed a few panels here at Paris 8. Just a quick note: Pedro Reis (of Fernando Pessoa University) gave a presentation on an upcoming publication, a collection of epoetry in Portuguese which will be published both online and on CD-ROM, the Po-Ex project.

ELC UK Launch Report

The Electronic Literature Collection UK Launch event I attended Thursday night in Leicester, England went very well. About 40 people turned up for the salon, including many of the former trAce regulars, interested local people, and people who took the train up from London. I gave a short introduction to the Collection, and Kate Pullinger, Jon Ingold, and Chris Joseph, read from the work. In his introduction, John Cayley discussed the context of electronic literature with the traditional literary world and the art world, showed a bit of Translation, and asked us to think about whether this form of literary art was literature or something else entirely. Jon Ingold gave what was possibly the best short introduction I have yet heard interactive fiction, in particular the brutality of the constraints involved in writing IF, before guiding the audience through a short reading of All Roads. In her presentation of her work with Chris Joseph on Inanimate Alice and other projects, Kate Pullinger raised questions about the economic models for electronic writing, and discussed how Inanimate Alice is in part an experiment in developing a commercial model for e-lit. She also discussed iStories, a project she is working on with Chris to develop a commercial toolset of electronic literature applications that would enable authors with little design or programming experience to more easily develop works in Flash. Donna Leishman also sent in a prepared text which a De Montfort Ph.D. student, Jess Laccetti, read to the crowd while Chris demonstrated a bit of Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw. We had a short but spirited panel discussion afterwards, discussing the differences between teaching elit as creative writing and teaching it as literature, economic models for electronic lit, and other things. One of the encouraging things about this event was that a number of readers who had never before encountered e-lit were in the audience, were clearly actively interested in what they saw and heard. I also met a Polish Ph.D. student who is currently living in London and writing his dissertation about e-lit, and overheard a couple of people from London say that they heard about the event at Grand Text Auto ; ). It was a very good evening, and I’m grateful to the Institute for Creative Technologies, particularly Chris Joseph for putting it together. Jess has also blogged the event, and posted short videos of Kate Pullinger’s and Jon Ingold’s readings.

Appropriation in Electronic Literature: MIT5 Talk

Here are the slides from my presentation at the MIT5 Conference. I was presenting on appropriation in electronic literature. The text of my talk (more notes than finished paper, though I’ll come back to this and post the finished paper to the MIT5 site when I get a chance) is below.

Appropriation in Electronic Literature and Digital Culture

A Spectrum of Appropriation

The Oxford English Dictionary cites two definitions of the word “appropriation” that are appropriate to the subject of our discussion here. The first and oldest definition of appropriation, dating back to 1393 is “The making of a thing private property, whether another’s or (as now commonly) one’s own; taking as one’s own or to one’s own use; concr. the thing so appropriated or taken possession of.” A more recent 2002 draft addition is “* Art (orig. U.S.). The practice or technique of reworking the images or styles contained in earlier works of art, esp. (in later use) in order to provoke critical re-evaluation of well-known pieces by presenting them in new contexts, or to challenge notions of individual creativity or authenticity in art.”

It’s important to note that while our main concern is those practices which fall under the latter definition, those practices may also include the former. We can think of the artistic practices of appropriation on a spectrum that ranges from coy modernist practices of referentiality in the work of writers such as TS Eliot, to the practice of recontextualizing and satirizing, such as Marcel Duchamp’s practice in the readymades or L.H.O.O.Q., to the practice of using one literary work as a basic material for another, as in Tom Philips A Humument, to the overt overwriting practices of Kathy Acker. At an extreme end of the spectrum of literary appropriation is plagiarism, simply taking someone else’s work and publishing it under your own name.

There is of course nothing new under the sun, and writers and artists have been making use of appropriation strategies since the ancient Greeks. Shakespeare borrowed both plot and occasionally specific lines from Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England Scotland, and Ireland, and nearly every writer since Shakespeare has borrowed from his work, borrowing a plot, a situation, a line or several. The widespread use of appropriation is not nearly as surprising as the fact that a combination of the popular mythology of authorship and the dictates of contemporary copyright law have contributed to a popular illusion that most creative works are in any sense “original,” or that authorship is ever really a matter of a singular genius working in isolation from the texts and authors that have come before.

In our short talks and discussion today, we’ll be focusing on forms of appropriation in electronic literature and other textual digital artifacts that make use of appropriation strategies including reference, homage, overwriting, recontextualization, and outright thievery. We’ll be focusing on the ways that appropriation has affected our own work as writers in the networked digital environment. I’ll focus on the “softer” side of appropriation in electronic literature and digital art: those kinds of appropriation that use materials from other sources in order to recontextualize or comment on the originals in the creation of a new work. Nick will focus on “five-finger digital culture”: bolder and more extreme forms of appropriation in which artists explicitly take the words or material of others. Jill will discuss how appropriation shapes and structures the blogosphere. Following these short talks, we’ll have a more informal group discussion of the relationship between appropriation and collaboration and then welcome questions from the audience.

Before moving to examples of appropriation in electronic literature and in my own work, I’d like first to consider briefly the place of appropriation in network culture more generally.

The Appropriative Nature of the Networked Culture

While appropriation has always been a part of the processes of writing literature and making art more generally, with the growth of the internet and the rise of networked culture, concurrent with the inculcation of “postmodern” collage and pastiche into high and low culture, sampling, remixing, and mashup in music, film, and television, appropriation has become one of the principle modus operandi of culture in our day. The idea of hypertext itself is appropriative, resistant to the idea of any single written text or work of art existing in isolation. In conceptualizing a hypertext system, Ted Nelson wrote of the idea of literature that “Within bodies of writing, everywhere, there are linkages we tend not to see. The individual document, at hand, is what we deal with; we do not see the total linked collection of them all at once. But they are there, the documents not present as well as those that are, and the grand cat’s cradle among them all.” (NMR 447) Nelson conceived of the hypertext link as a device to make texts extend to those other texts from which they derived, and those that in turn were derived from them, as well as those that they were in conversation with. Nelson himself, in imagining his unrealized Xanadu hypertext system, clung quite deliberately to the notion of copyright – imagining a system in which every link, every borrowed and remixed piece of content would credit its owner with a micropayment. The hypertext system of the World Wide Web, however, has no similar system baked into it. While some wall their writing behind subscriptions or DRM apparatus that require users to pay to play, the general practice of the web is to simply publish information on the network, making it available to all free of charge. The question of who then owns the information, and the legal questions of what someone else may then do with it aside, the global hypertext network works so well only because we make these texts freely available, and because we feel free to link to any other text we want to.

Stewart Brand identified one of the central tensions of the network era at the first Hacker’s conference in 1984 when he said, “On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.” The question, of course, isn’t really what information wants, but what people want. If we consider what authors and artists might want, in comparison to what their audiences might want, we might expect that the creators want to get paid for their work, while the audiences want unfettered access to it. But the equation is not that simple. While artists like to eat, it is in the nature of the vocation to value appreciation more than remuneration. Given a choice between an audience of one hundred devoted readers and a hundred dollar bill, I think many writers would forego the cash. Furthermore, while everyone wants to enjoy the fruits of their labors, artists raised in a multimediated culture recognize that the without unfettered access to other cultural products, without the ability to reference, reuse, remix, and sample from the culture, their work becomes nearly impossible. Imagine, for instance, an extremely copyrighted world in which it would be impossible to reference a television show, or a song, or a brand of toothpaste in a novel without first asking permission and paying a fee. Because so much of the twenty-first century lifeworld is owned, copyrighted and trademarked, it is almost impossible to create art that reflects contemporary reality without appropriating from it.

In his wonderfully plagiarized/pastiched essay in the February 2007 issue of Harper’s “The Ecstasy of Influence,” Jonathan Letham notes that “Even as the law becomes more restrictive, technology is exposing those restrictions as bizarre and arbitrary.” The first generation raised on the network is furthermore wholeheartedly dismissing those restrictions. Few contemporary college students feel any qualms about downloading any music, television show, or movie they want to. Filesharing technology tends to stay ahead of industry attempts to police it. There is an enormous disjuncture between what is clearly becoming the most widely embraced cultural ethos and the evermore-restrictive copyright regime. There is no question in my mind who will lose this war, it’s already in the hands of a culture accustomed to borrowing, swapping, sharing, or from another perspective, stealing intellectual property. Yet piracy may be more benign than industry fearmongers make it out to be. The same college students who download gigabytes of music and movies illegally still purchase songs on iTunes, leave their dorm rooms to go to the movie theater, and pay exorbitant prices for tickets to see their favorite bands play live. The culture of downloaders might no longer be asking which aspects of their cultural consumption they need to pay for, but rather which they want to support. Having made the leap to rejecting contemporary copyright law altogether, many in this generation are also pushing the boundaries of fair use when it comes to using media artifacts owned by others in creating their own forms of expression.

I’m sure that most attending this conference are familiar with the Creative Commons movement, which attempts to find a middle ground between restrictive copyright regulations and the public domain, enabling creators to license their works in ways that permit that to be shared and reused to extents they determine. Since the birth of the movement, an enormous amount of textual, audio, and video content has been licensed in this fashion. Many artists are welcoming the opportunity to participate in a gift economy, and to contribute their own artwork as a material to be recontextualized, reused, and in a sense, recycled by others. While illegal appropriation of images, audio, and texts was a common practice in the early years of the Web, an increasing proportion of creative artists are making appropriation entirely permissible.
From my perspective as a writer and as a literary scholar, one of the most compelling questions about both these changes in attitude and practice with regard to copyright, and the changes in the nature of digital textuality more generally are what impact they will have on both the nature of literary artifacts, and on the culture in which they are produced and distributed. The emerging culture of electronic literature in particular provides some intriguing models of modes of appropriation. The field of electronic literature is largely one based on a gift economy, in which the majority of authors and journals publish and make their works freely available online. While to date, few works of electronic literature are published under the least restrictive Creative Commons licenses, which allow sampling and reuse, one can anticipate that in the future more authors will do so.

Different modes of appropriation are already an important part of the toolbox of electronic authors. I’ll provide a few examples of how electronic writers have made use of appropriation before discussing how appropriation has functioned in my own work.

Appropriation by Reference in Early Hypertext Fiction

Tearing a page from the modernist and postmodernist print authors who preceded them, referential appropriation was a common practice in the works of the authors of the first widely read hypertext fictions, published before the rise of the web in the Storypace platform. Michael Joyce’s afternoon, a story, published in 1987 by Eastgate systems, for example, included characters named (Lolly and Naussica) after characters in other classic literary works, and includes quotations from other literary works including Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch and “Blow Up,” Frank R. Stockton’s “The Lady or the Tiger,” quotations from Tolstoy and samples from a variety of poets. In afternoon, Joyce’s mode of appropriation in his fragmented narrative was clearly derivative of familiar modernist referentiality – direct attributed quotes and coy references that Joyce used to signal the reader to particular themes in his work, or to personality traits of particular characters.

Another classic work of Storyspace hypertext, Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, published in 1995 by Eastgate Systems, made use of a variety of appropriation techniques in delivering a narrative that is to an extent itself about appropriation–specifically developing the theme of identity as a patchwork of appropriated parts. Patchwork Girl is an explicit response to and recontextualization of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Appropriation as a Method of Revitalizing “Classics” – Translation and Adaptation

Megan Sapnar’s Pushkin Translation
Sapnar and Ankerson’s Figure 5 Media Series
Barry Smylie’s Illiad
The Intruder by Natalie Bookchin

Appropriation as a Method of Harnessing Network Discourse

Many examples of art that use network traffic/metrics/etc. as basis for algorithmically generated art – for example http://www.cinemavolta.com/phaseframe.html
The Impermanence Agent

Appropriation and Collaboration

You and We
My Boyfriend Came Back from the War

Appropriation in My Work

The Unknown – Homage, Overwriting, Identity Appropriation, Network Effects, Meta-Appropriation.
Kind of Blue – Appropriation of characters, situation, and discourse model. Explicit appropriation.
Implementation — Physical appropriation of public spaces as writing media, direct appropriation of some other texts (for example US Iraq war propaganda leaflets).

(Process-Intensive) Literature

These are the slides from my 6-minute talk at the ELO Future of Electronic Literature Symposium, not the talk itself, but a rough outline of it. Maybe after I finish the overdue article I’m writing I’ll replace this text with some explanation of what I actually said, but I know William Wend was looking for these, and since he’s like one of the only people who ever comments on this blog I thought he’d appreciate it. The discussion that followed the panel presentations was very good.

ELO’s Future of Electronic Literature Symposium

Glow in the Dark AudienceThe Electronic Literature Organization’s Future of Electronic Literature Symposium last week at MITH at the University of Maryland, College Park, was a great event, bringing together e-lit writers, scholars, and an interested public together for an open mouse/open mic, a daylong symposium, and an ELO board meeting. Highlights included Katherine Hayle’s keynote (nicely summarized at jilltxt), considering the idea of “literary” vs. “literature” and providing very intelligent close readings of a variety of works of electronic literature, readings from new works by Stephanie Strickland, Rob Kendall, Nick Montfort, Deena Larsen, and others, as well as three very good panel discussions. The process-intensive panel (also very GTxA-intensive) looked at the idea of process from several different angles ranging from process-intensive collaboration, to natural language interface processing, to story generation. The international panel featured demonstrations of electronic literature from around the world, including works in Spanish, French, Catalan, and Nordic languages, and also highlighted the fact that electronic literature is a global movement — ELO isn’t the only organization concerned with this work, but has shared interests and opportunities for collaboration with organizations including nt2, Elinor, Hermeneia, and others. The Future of Electronic Literature panel was also an engaging discussion of how new technologies might effect electronic literature, and how new ways of organizing material and collaborating might effect the way that we shape the field. I hope my compatriots will fill in some of the details at Grand Text Auto. In the meantime, enjoy some photos of the goingson: flickr sets posted by me, Jason deVinney, and Laura Borras.

International Prize for Digital Literature

Submissions are open for the 3rd Ciutat de Vinaros International Prize of Digital Literature. There are three prizes in Digital Narrative (2500 Euros), Digital Poetry (2500 Euros) and a special “Vincent Ferrer Romero” Prize for the best work of Digital Literature written in Catalan (1000 Euros). This is currently the only annual prize competition with a substantial purse that I’m aware of in electronic literature, and all digital authors are encouraged to submit. The judging criteria specify:

  • Works that explore and use the possibilities of the computer as a space for creation.
  • Literary quality, seen as the renovation of poetic and narrative techniques through new means of creation.
  • Quality and accessibility of the interface design.
  • In the case of digital poetry, texts submitted may comprise a single piece of work or a compilation of poetry.
  • The jury will also take into account works that experiment with the Internet as a medium for literary creation.
  • Works entered for these prizes must be unpublished and written in one of the following languages: English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish or Catalan.

The submission deadline is September 14, 2007

Edward Picot’s Review of the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume One

Edward Picot recently posted a lengthy review of The Electronic Literature Collection, Volume One. Picot clearly spent a good deal of time with the collection, and has both positive and negative things to say about it. I think that Picot has attempted to be fair and balanced in his discussion of the collection, and I’m grateful to him for giving the ELC such careful consideration. He is one of the first people to review the ELC intelligently and at length in English, though as usual, the Swedes are ahead of the game.

In the end, Picot finds the ELC “an essential collection,” and encourages “Anyone interested in the field of elctronic literature to get it on DVD,” though along the way he finds a few nits to pick. The collection is actually published on the web and CD-ROM (old-school) and along with Picot I encourage you to get your copy of the free, Creative Commons-licensed collection of electronic literature, and then make copies of it for your friends.

I’d like to just briefly address a few of the points Picot makes, in order to clarify my perspective as one of the editors. I hope that Nick, Stephanie, and Kate will also jump in with comments if they’d like. I’ll restrict my comments to Picot’s critique of the curatorial/editorial aspects of the project. Picot also reviews four works in the collection, two (“The Jew’s Daughter” by Judd Morrissey and “Windsound” by John Cayley) positively, and two (“MyBALL” by Shawn Rider and “Carrier” by Melanie Rackham) negatively. There are sixty works in the collection, and I think that everyone is entitled to their opinion of each of those works. None of them were included casually. Each of the four editors thought that each work merited inclusion.
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Review of the Electronic Literature Collection in Svenska Dagbladet

There’s a great review (online, pdf) by of the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume One, by Jesper Olsen in today’s edition of Svenska Dagbladet, one of Sweden’s biggest newspapers. Jill translated it for me when I got home. It’s very smart and well-written, and it’s great to see the review alongside of the book reviews, where it belongs.

Electronic Literature Poster

On Monday, we’re going to be at a department seminar in Solstrand. In the fall, Humanistic Informatics is becoming part of a larger department, with the easy-to-remember acronym of AHKKNT (just think of the noise you make when clearing your throat). The new mega-department will include us, linguistics, computational linguistics, art history, classic philology, theater, nordic studies, and possibly comparative literature (I think). We’re going to get together for a couple of days at a hotel to figure out if we can all work together by eating little finger sandwiches and having drinks together, and swimming together in the same pool while comparing computer games and electronic literature to the works of Aristotle, Saussure, Ibsen, and Munch. Should be an interesting hydra-headed group. My boss asked me to prepare a poster for the gathering highlighting the work Jill and I do in electronic literature. Click on the pic below for a larger version.