Escaping the Prison House of Language: New Media Essays in the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 2

Prepress version of article originally published in Norwegian in Vagant 4/2010 as “Flukten fra språkfengselet”

The first Electronic Literature Collection was published in 2006. Including 60 works of electronic literature of diverse form and content, all published under one cover online and on a CD-ROM, the collection offered readers and educators a valuable resource, a set of works distributed freely under a Creative Commons license. The ELC provided teachers with a place where they could send students interested in exploring e-lit, and critics with a set of archived works around which they could gather their discourse – a set of common touchstones that served to help develop and refine a shared critical language about the emergent forms of literary practice.

The editors’ intention was not to publish a one-off anthology to form the basis for a canon but instead to launch a regular practice of periodically gathering, publishing, and making as widely available as possible curated collections of e-lit. A different collective of writers and critics, reflecting a different curatorial agenda, would edit each successive volume. In addition to reflecting a different aesthetic sensibility, each iteration of the Electronic Literature Collection would demonstrate changes in the nature of the artistic practice of electronic literature, serving as a sort of biennial exhibition for the field of electronic literature, showing transitions in literary and artistic practices in the field over time.Continue reading

Place and Space in New Media Writing

I guest-edited a just-released issue of the Iowa Review Web focused on the ways that different forms of new media writing reconfigure concepts of place and space. Another way of looking at the issue, however, is as a Grand Text Auto takeover of Iowa’s finest web journal. The issue features Jeremy Douglass’ interview with Nick Montfort on his interactive fiction Book and Volume and Brenda Bakker Harger’s interview with Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern on their interactive drama Façade. I also interview Shelley Jackson on the various manifestations of the human body in her corpus of work, and interview Jane McGonigal on alternate reality gaming. A short introduction contextualizes the various approaches that authors of electronic literature have used to conceptualize space and place. I hope that you’ll visit, read, and enjoy. Thanks to the authors and contributors and to Iowa Review Web Associate Editor Benjamin Basan for helping to put the issue together.

Ph.D. Fellowship at the University of Bergen

Jill Walker reports that there is a Ph.D. fellowship opportunity at the University of Bergen’s Department of Humanistic Informatics. The Faculty of Arts has seven fellowships available, and proposals are competitive among all the departments concerned. This year, UiB is advertising in English as well as Norsk, and is encouraging international applications. I’ll be teaching at UiB next year and perhaps longer. I would love to see some applicants for the position who are writing about electronic literature or some other aspect of new media in the context of the humanities. Ph.D. fellowships in Norway are richly funded, with a decent salary for four years and additional research funds for books and conference travel. Applicants must have completed an M.A. in a related subject and must prepare a short dissertation proposal. See more details in Jill’s post and in the advertisement.

Lecturing in Bergen

Scott Rettberg

Photo by Elinesca.

I gave a lecture at the University of Bergen yesterday, and had a chance to meet some of the students I’ll be working with this summer at UiB. I focused the lecture on “Multimodal Reading of Electronic Literature.” We started with Robert Coover’s essay “Literary Hypertext: The Passing of the Golden Age” and some Russian formalist definitions of literature. Once we had established some of the tensions between image and text and interactivity and immersion, we we talked about how different ideas of reading can apply to work including Giselle Beiguelman’s “Code Movie 1,” Jim Andrews’ Nio, Stephanie Strickland’s “The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot,” Shelley and Pamela Jackson’s The Doll Games, Ingrid Ankerson/Otagaki Regetsu’s “Murmuring Insects” and Jason Nelson’s “Robot Party.”

Winter Break Reading Update: Oulipo Compendium, Hayles, and Castronova

I’ve gotten some sweet packages in the mail from Amazon over the past couple of weeks. My longest-anticipated purchase finally arrived from England. For the past year, I’ve had the Oulipo Compendium on order from Amazon UK. It seemed impossible to find a copy of the 1998 Compendium, edited by Harry Mathews and Alistair Brotchie, online, or in any used bookstore. I was beginning to think that the Oulipo Compendium would turn into my Holy Grail book. I searched depsondently at my favorite used bookstores. The Strand in New York didn’t have it, nor Myopic Books in Chicago. Lo and behold, two weeks ago it arrived, laden with pounds and pounds of shipping charges and great expectations. To my delighted surprise, the Compendium is not in fact the 1998 edition but a revised and updated 2005 edition. I had seen the 1998 edition and often coveted it, but I’ve recently had the pleasure of spending some fruitful hours with the new edition. The book is organized in a pleasingly cross-referenced hypertextual encyclopedia, and provides an immersive introduction to the Oulipo, both as a historical introduction to the group, its writers, and their work, and as a kind of workbook. Hundreds of Oulipan writing techniques ranging from the lipogram to the avalanche are explained and exemplified. It’s the type of book that makes you want to spend the afternoon playing with language at your keyboard. I’ll be teaching the book next semester in a new course titled “Art, Games, and Narrative.”

I’ve also recently received Katherine Hayles My Mother Was a Computer and Edward Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds, both recently published by the University of Chicago. Alan Liu writes of Hayles’ book, “Reading My Mother Was a Computer is like exploring a new planet. There are other scholars who have recently published books in areas that concern Hayles, but there is no one else who brings the history of science, cybernetics, hypertext theory, and new media into such multifaceted focus.” Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games promises to offer “the first comprehensive look at the online game industry, exploring its implications for business and culture alike.” Castronova is an associate professor at the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University and one of the bloggers at Terra Nova. I’ll post more on these two books after I’ve read them on an aircraft over Christmas break.

Digital Humanities Quarterly: Call for Scholarly and Creative Work

Matt Kirschenbaum just sent out an exciting announcement about a new journal that will serve as a forum for scholarly and creative work in electronic media. Digital Humanities Quarterly will publish scholarly articles, editorials, experiments in interactive media, and reviews of books, web sites, new media art, and digital humanities systems. Importantly, this will be a free, open-access journal, and both critical and creative work will go through a peer review process.

Call for Submissions
Digital Humanities Quarterly

Submissions are invited for Digital Humanities Quarterly, a new open-access peer-reviewed journal sponsored by the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations and the Association for Computers and the Humanities. Submissions may be mailed to A web submission form will also be available soon.
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Shandy Hall Residencies

Laurence Sterne (1713-68) wrote The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy in Shandy Hall, Coxwold, York, in the 18th Century. The innovative nonlinear novel is often cited by contemporary new media writers as an influence on their creative practice. It was recently announced that Shandy Hall will now house Asterisk*, a center for the study and development of narrative. Rather than simply developing the site as a museum dedicated to Sterne’s life and works, the center will be dedicated to innovation in both old and particularly new work. Asterisk* will support residencies for artists, “we envisage that these residencies will take forward current practice in a variety of narrative engagements: with diverse media, non linearity, digression, interactivity and audience participation, particularly (though not exclusively) where these intersect with technology.” The center will also commission new works, host exhibitions and performances, lectures and events, and a web forum. Last year hypertext author Deena Larsen completed a short hypertext, Shandean Ambles, during a three-day residency at the site. Asterisk* is now accepting applications for two three-week residencies this fall, one intended for a new media artist and the second for a writer with minimal technical background interested in integrating new media into his or her practice. Asterisk* also intends to gather an extensive library of innovative interactive literature at Shandy Hall.

A Summer New Media Internship

Stockton New Media student Mike Kappeler provides an excellent description of his summer internship experience at NBC Universal’s Media Village in Los Angeles, where Mike gained valuable experience working with a large corporate website and applying the practical knowledge he gained from his coursework in New Media Studies. Mike’s thoughtful and reflective report is a good example for other students completing external internships in NMS.

And the Winner is . . .

After much deliberation, we are pleased to announce the winner of the 60 Second Story Competition.

The judges selected “Charles” by Steve Himmer as the winner of the first 60 Second Story Competition, citing its humor, clarity, and completeness as a story. Steve will be receiving a one-minute supply of chocolate, and a one inch by one inch edition of his story will be printed by Spineless Books. Steve Himmer teaches writing and cultural studies at Emerson College in Boston. He is the author of an unpublished novel about a bear, and also writes at

The runners-up included “Faith” by Ed Falco in second place, a tie between “The Golden Age” by Roderick Coover and “Pillow, Pillow” by Jason Nelson for third, and “Florence” by Christine Wilks in fourth.

The judges each submitted a list of their top ten choices in ranked order, and the lists were then compiled, generating these results:

1. “Charles” by Steve Himmer
2. “Faith” by Ed Falco
3. “The Golden Age” by Roderick Coover and “Pillow, Pillow” by Jason Nelson
4. “Florence” by Christine Wilks
5. “Part of the Plot” by Matthew Kirschenbaum
6. “Mondegreens” by Kari Kraus
7. “m.f.” by Ian Matheson
8. “Another Day” by Fortunato Caragliano
9. “Prom Night” by Leia Park
10. “Dear John” by Tim McMahon
11. “Dominoe” by Alan Levine
12. “Talking About Life at Ace Hardware” by Jim Kalmbach
13. “Crap” by Matthias Lohmann and Thorsten Offer

All entries submitted in the 60 Second Story Competition will be featured in “The 15 Minutes of Fame,” a web shrine to the 60 second story to be located at The new site will also welcome new 60 Second Story submissions, and will host another competition this fall. Stay tuned for details. Thanks to everyone who took part in the first competition. The breadth and variety of the entries really demonstrate how versatile the 60 second form can be.

Announcing the 60 Second Story Competition

We need more stories in our lives, yet we don’t have much time for them. Most digital cameras and webcams allow you to take one minute of video and audio at resolutions suitable for the web. The solution: 60 second stories, of course.

We are pleased to announce the 60 second story competition. 60 second stories are works of fiction recorded by their authors as digital videos, less than one minute in duration. Files size must be 5MB, and work must be submitted under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license. Entries are being accepted from now until June 8th, 2005.

There will one grand-prize winner, who will recieve a one-minute supply of exotic chocolate, a one inch by one inch book of the winning work published by Spineless Books, and other one minute pleasures. The winner and fourteen runners-up will be published in the “Fifteen Minutes of Fame,” a permanent web shrine to the 60 second story form. The judges of the competition include internet writers William Gillespie, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg, Dirk Stratton, Jill Walker and Rob Wittig.

See for the details, to watch some 60 second stories, and to submit your own.

Contagious Media Showdown

Got a “ridiculous and pointlesss” idea along the lines of The Dancing Baby, All Your Base Are Belong To Us, or The Star Wars Kid? Eyebeam is looking for such projects for their Contagious Media Showdown. Large cash prizes are involved: $2,000 for the project with the most page views, $1,000 for the first site with an Alexa rating higher than 20,000, $1000 for the site with the most links from blogs, and $1,000 for the most popular site under an Attribution-ShareAlike license. Act now, web slackers are hanging out waiting for the next stupid but delightful silly thing to email to their list of friends: to participate, you need to reserve a slot by April 30th, and the project needs to be online by May 19th. There will also be a workshop May 7th in NYC by the creators of BPLU, Rejection Line, FundRace, How to Dance Properly, Nike Sweatshop Email, Dog Island,, Blogdex , and Pizza Party. Special guests from The Yes Men and the EFF.

New Positions in New Media Studies

Georgia Tech has announced a search for a tenure-track position in Digital Media Theory and Practice, requiring evidence of sophisticated digital practice and theoretical insight in one or more of the following areas: interactive cinema or documentary, enhanced television, immersive environments, multi-user environments, games as social networks, procedural art, electronic literature, or information architecture. Closer to home, one of Stockton's peer institutions, Rampapo College is hiring an Assistant Professor of Digital Media to teach introductory and intermediate levels of new media production who should have the ability to teach in one or more of the following areas: digital theory, history and criticism. Georgia Tech's position is in the school of Literature, Communication and Culture, while Rampapo's is in the Department of Art. While I'm not on the market myself, it's reassuring to see the field of new media studies growing.

We can stop capitalizing the internet, net and web

Finally — Wired (and who made them the style police anyhow) has announced that we can stop capitalizing “internet,” “web,” and “net,” though we'll keep the caps on “World Wide Web” (via Dennis). In a comment, Matt K. says that he's still going to capitalize “Web” because it's short for a proper name, but logic be damned, I'm tired of thinking about it. Lower case it is. Of course, now I'll need to retrain myself, after I'd just gotten used to hitting the shift key so often.


This looks like an interesting event for anyone interested in artistic uses of mobile media: Spectropolis: Mobile Media, Art and the City, October 1-3, 2004 is a three-day event that highlights the diverse ways artists, technical innovators and activists are using communication technologies to generate new urban experience and public voice. The event explores what is possible when wireless communications (both new and old), mobile devices and media converge in public space.

This post was originally published on Grand Text Auto.

trAce Incubation Trip Report

Ted Nelson's ibookI’m just about over the jet lag from a brief jaunt to Nottingham, England for the 2004 trAce Incubation Symposium. While the conference didn’t offer any earthshaking new paradigms, it did prove that Electronic Literature is alive and well in the UK, that Ted Nelson is hyperkinetic as well as hypertextual, and that Alan Sondheim still writes more in a week than most of us do all year long. Incubation was a refreshing and energizing gathering of electronic and print writers, performance artists, and teachers who are using the network in a variety of ways. The food was also quite good and the bar kept late hours for thirsty writers.
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trAce New Media Article Competition

Congrats to the winning authors of trAce’s New Media Article competition.

Review category – “A Bad Machine Made of Words” by Nick Montfort
Opinion category – “Are cell phones new media? Hybrid communities and collective authorship” by Adriana de Souza e Silva
Process category – “Writing 4 Cyberformance” by Karla Ptacek & Helen Varley Jamieson
Editor’s Choice Award – “Show Me Your Context, Baby: My Love Affair with Blogs” by Kate Baggott
Honourable Mention – “Postcards From Writing” by Sally Pryor
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Live Music Archive

This is awesome. This evening while grading position papers, I was downloading concerts by Mike Watt, John Langford, Billy Bragg and some band named “deepbannanablackout” that a friend recommended. All available and freely distributed for noncommercial use, along with hundreds of other great bands in high quality audio on the Live Music Archive at

iSight on Wireless Walking Down the Street

This afternoon while chatting with Jill, I decided to test the limits of my wireless connection. It went further than I thought. Unbeknownst to me, Jill was taking snapshots as I strolled.


I have a decent connection all the way to the bay. I was able to show Jill some pixelated ducks.


Not quite to the beach though. As I walked down the street, Jill watched my image break up


into something resembling a futurist painting.