Leonardo Electronic Almanac Special Issue on Digital Poetry

LEA just released an extensive new issue on Digital Poetry. While I’ve just taken a quick look, it appears to be a terrific collection of essays on contemporary digital poetry, in addition to featuring several compelling works in the gallery. The issue edited by Tim Peterson includes essays by Loss Pequeño Glazier, John Cayley with Dimitri Lemmerman, Lori Emerson, Phillippe Bootz, Manuel Portela, Stephanie Strickland, Mez, Maria Engberg, and Matthias Hilner, in addition to works in the gallery by Jason Nelson, Aya Karpinska and Daniel Howe, mEIKAL aND and CamillE BacoS, and Nadine Hilbert and Gast Bouschet. The correlation between the essayists, authors and works reviewed in this issue of LEA and the contributors to the forthcoming Electronic Literature Collection, Volume One suggests to me that the two free publications will make a great pair for teaching. All of the essays in this edition of LEA are available both in HTML and downloadable PDFs.

Guest Speaker Torill Mortensen: From MUDs to WoW

Torill Mortensen, an expert on MUDS, MOOs, and online roleplaying games, will be visiting tomorrow to give lectures in my New Media Studies class (WQ224 — 9:55-11:10) and in my Art, Games and Narrative course (WQ224 — 2:10-3:25PM). Anyone who is interested is welcome to attend either lecture, and/or join us for lunch in the cafeteria from 11:30-12:30. She will be talking about the evolution of online social interaction and gaming. Torill is an associate professor at Volda College in Norway, and blogs at Thinking with My Fingers.

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.

Students Podcasts on the Digital Life

This semester, students in my New Media Studies course produced podcasts. Their assignment was to create a story on some aspect of their interaction with new media and contemporary communication technologies. The resulting podcasts are available on the Digital Life website. I’m pretty pleased with the results. Students covered topics ranging from music downloading, to creating an online radio show, to instant messaging, to MySpace. to World of Warcraft, to online poker, to Deviant Art, and other online manifestations of Indy Culture. In preparing for the assignment, we listened both to popular podcasts and more importantly, to well-produced NPR shows such as This American Life. Some of the better-produced podcasts borrow techniques, such as using appropriate sound effects, editing together choice bits of several interviews, creating an overall narrative arc, and integrating musical interludes, from those NPR-style talk shows. Overall I’m very pleased with their work, and with the assignment. It has both enabled them to see the relative ease with which some kinds of new media artifacts can be produced, and offers a format that really allows their individual (Jersey) personalities to shine through.

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.”

Wherefore Genre?

These are my notes for the talk I gave yesterday at MITH on genre in electronic literature in the context of the forthcoming Electronic Literature Collection that I’m editing along with Nick Montfort, Kate Hayles, and Stephanie Strickland. Even though much of the talk was planned the night before and on the train out, it turned out pretty well. There were about a dozen intelligent folks in the room, and I had the chance to tour MITH, which will soon be the new home of the ELO. I’m very pleased that the ELO will be housed in such a great environment. I’ll be cleaning the talk up and delivering a new version of it in a couple of weeks at Brown as part of the upcoming 2006 e-fest.

Wherefore Genre?


* “Centering moments” — 2001 E-LIt Awards, 2002 State of Arts, 2006 Collection

* Dissemination function
–Importance and meaning of creative commons
–Importance of viewing/reading works as a collection for scholarly discourse.

* Importance for writers of “place of honor” in the context of a creative culture that exists outside of any sort of traditional market economy, or real-world ftf social structures.

* Archival function

* In some cases (not flash), makes files accessible/searchable for a different kind of scholarly access (forensic) than simple web viewing

Comparison to previous “centering moments” — almost as many submissions, more of them “legitimate.” Less hypertext, more forms. Focus in our selections on representing a broad overview of different types of types. Process: combination of open submission and direct invitation. Accepted only works that would function in a standalone. Criteria for selection was unanimous agreement among the four editors. Resulting collection will include about 60 works of e-lit, out this fall.
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ARHU Rocks

I recently got word from Rob Gregg, the Dean of Arts and Humanities, that ARHU will support two projects I proposed earlier this term. For the first time this year, Stockton earmarked research funds for projects by junior faculty, to be supported at the divisional level. Stockton is funding my travel to Copenhagen to present my paper “Collective Knowledge, Collective Narratives, and Architectures of Participation” at the 2005 Digital Arts and Culture Conference. Stockton is also supporting the Electronic Literature Collection, a major publishing project by the ELO which will also be supported by the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing (CPCW) at the University of Pennsylvania, ELINOR: Electronic Literature in the Nordic Countries, the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland, and The School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. I have been working with my ELO colleagues on developing the ELO program for the past six months, and I’m very pleased to that Stockton is one of the institutions supporting it. The Electronic Literature Collection will be an annual publication of current and older electronic literature in a form suitable for individual, public library, and classroom use. The publication will be made available both on the Web and as a packaged, cross-platform disc, in a case appropriate for library processing, marking, and distribution. The contents of the Collection will be offered under a Creative Commons license so that libraries and educational institutions will be allowed to duplicate and install works and individuals will be free to share the disc with others. We’ll be announcing the call for works next week, and the first Collection will be published next fall.

I’m grateful to be part of a department that recognizes not only the value of presenting scholarly work at an international conference, but also supporting the development of a publishing project that will have a significant impact on the curriculum of new media studies in literature both here and at other institutions.

I Love Teaching Poetry

I’ve been thinking about my teaching: what works, what doesn’t, and what falls inbetween.

This semester in Literary Methodologies, we’ve been reading a lot of poetry and spending a great deal of focused yet languorous time on each poem. The thing I love about teaching poetry is that there are few “wrong” answers, there are only poorly supported interpretations, or for that matter, poorly phrased questions. The best poems are richer for their ambiguities. Today we spent an hour and a half on “anyone lived in a pretty how town” by e.e. cummings. We talked about how we get born, and we meandered, and we talked about marriage, and we wandered, and we ended up talking about how grandparents die and how we forget and remember them. I don’t think a minute was wasted.

Teaching in Norway

Over the next week, I’m teaching one-third of a combined advanced undergraduate and graduate seminar in Digital Media Aesthetics at the University of Bergen, Norway. I’m there to provide an overview of electronic literature. We’re going to cram quite a bit into the week. It should be interesting, trying to cover most what I usually cover in a semester in 5 two-hour classes. I’m also looking foward to working with the UiB students, about half of whom will be grad students. Here’s our plan for the week.

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.

Day of Scholarship Hypertext Reading

Stockton hypertext student authors Bob Geise, Tricia Greto, Lauren Millard, Leia Park, Josh Kelly, Dan Ackerman and Michael Rivero will be reading their storyspace and web hypertext fiction tomorrow during Stockton’s Day of Scholarship from 2:35-3:35. I’m excited for my students — it will nice for them to have an opportunity to share their work. We’ve also prepared a LITT technology showcase — a brief slideshow highlighting some of the program’s projects in text and technology. The Keynote generated powerpoint is a bit fat, but I’ve posted a slightly slimmer PDF version here.

All Entertainment, All the Time

Via Eric Rasmussen, I encoutered this wonderful essay by Mark Edmundson, “All Entertainment, All the Time.” Edmundson, who teaches English at the University of Virginia, recounts his disappointment with student evaluations that described his course, blandly, as enjoyable:

Enjoyable: I enjoyed the teacher. I enjoyed the reading. Enjoyed the course. It was pleasurable, diverting, part of the culture of readily accessible, manufactured bliss: the culture of Total Entertainment All the Time.

As I read the reviews, I thought of a story I’d heard about a Columbia University instructor who issued a two-part question at the end of his literature course. Part one: What book in the course did you most dislike; part two: What flaws of intellect or character does that dislike point up in you? The hand that framed those questions may have been slightly heavy. But at least it compelled the students to see intellectual work as confrontation between two people, reader and author, where the stakes mattered. The Columbia students were asked to relate the quality of an encounter, not rate the action as though it had unfolded across the big screen. A form of media connoisseurship was what my students took as their natural right.

But why exactly were they describing the Oedipus complex and the death drive as interesting and enjoyable to contemplate? Why were they staring into the abyss, as Lionel Trilling once described his own students as having done, and commending it for being a singularly dark and fascinatingly contoured abyss, one sure to survive as an object of edifying contemplation for years to come? Why is the great confrontation—the rugged battle of fate where strength is born, to recall Emerson—so conspicuously missing? Why hadn’t anyone been changed by my course?

I'm currently teaching Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita in my “From Books to Movies” course, and it's a challenge. Lolita is a difficult book. The protagonist is a reprehensible pederast, one who writes directly to the reader, who tries to manipulate us into accepting his deeply flawed view of the universe. The book is also a dense, difficult read, chock full of French phrases and complex structures, rare words that should have intrepid students running for the OED, language games and allusions to other works of literature. It is also one of the most carefully crafted novels of the twentieth century. The novelist exposes us to a dark and troubled mind, and does so very artfully, and at times, comically. Yet I find it very difficult to get students past the subject matter, and to read the book itself. I also believe that literature isn't meant to be only entertainment, all the time, that sometimes some of the best literature is meant to make us feel not vacuously delighted, and not comforted, but challenged, and even uncomfortable. Novels like Dostoevski's Notes from Underground, Kafka's Metamorphosis, Don Delillo's Libra, even Joyce's Ulysses, are meant to disturb us more they are meant to entertain us, or to comfort us. These books meant to make us think about things we might otherwise not think about, to make us see things from a perspective we might not want to see things from. Literature can delight, can comfort, can instruct, but it should also challenge us, and discomfort us. It's hard for me to teach that, to teach how to appreciate the complexity, the difficulty, and the challenging moral questions that a novel like Lolita can raise.

Book for Tenure?

Matt Kirschenbaum points to The Book as the Gold Standard for Tenure and Promotion in the Humanistic Disciplines, a study by Leigh Estabrook at the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation.

As Stockton reconsiders its own (by general consensus outmoded and onerous) tenure and promotion procedures, this report has a lot of relevance. Among the relevant findings:

  • Only in History departments does a majority of faculty believe a book should be required (with rare exceptions) for tenure in their departments. Faculty with tenure and faculty who have not yet achieved tenure are similar in their views about this issue.
  • Most of the faculty members surveyed do not feel a book length manuscript is necessary to present their scholarship.
  • Faculty members are beginning to examine electronic publications as an outlet for scholarship.  A small number of departments have formally considered how electronic publications should be evaluated.

At Stockton, a task force recently put together a series of recommendations for changing our process — among them that publication expectations should be clarified. The History department suggested that other departments could use their guidelines (book publication for promotion) as a model, which was not generally well-received by other programs. It's interesting to read that this is a common expectation among other History programs, but not among other humanities programs generally.

You walk into class, and you forgot . . . today is the final exam (and you're in your underwear)

Just before I hit the hay . . . via The Endless Faculty Meeting (fabulous blog title, aint it), a great story from the Times, about a common dream of study-failure and its psychological roots. It's funny, I had a couple restless nights last week, as I do at the start of every semester. Adrenaline and 2,000 things to do can keep the midnight oil burning longer than it should.

The Digital Arts and Electronic Literature Speaker Series

Thanks to the New Jersey Humanities Council, this fall, a maelstrom of electronic literature activity is descending on the Atlantic City area, with The Digital Arts and Electronic Literature Series at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. There will be three panel events in the next three months. On September 24th, two of the best-known authors of hypertext fiction Talan Memmott and William Gillespie will present their work and discuss electronic fiction. Both are or have been graduate fellows in creative writing at Brown University, and both have been recipients of the trAce/AltX award for new media writing. Each is also known for publishing activities in the electronic media. Memmott is the editor of the Beehive hypermedia journal, and Gillespie the publisher of Spineless Books. The second event will feature two of the best-known critics of new media. On October 15th, Grand Text Auto's own Nick Montfort and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, the co-editors of The New Media Reader published by MIT Press, will give presentations on the history of new media. Montfort is the author of Twisty Little Passages, the first book-length study of interactive fiction, and Wardrip-Fruin is the editor of First Person a book about interactive drama. The final event, on November 19th, will feature Megan Sapnar and Ingrid Ankerson, the co-editors of the leading new media poetry journal Poems That Go. This fall the very full Stockton event calendar will also include visits from novelist Jeffrey Eugenides, poet Sharon Olds, and filmmaker Michael Moore. I'm psyched.

Proud of my students

While I've only gotten through the Hypertext and Internet, Writing & Society papers and have barely made a dent in the 640-or-so page stack of Senior Seminar essays, I've got to say I'm proud of the work my students did this semester, particularly in the Senior Seminar in Postmodernism. Writing a 30 page critical paper is no mean feat, something that few literature students do before grad school, and many of the papers I've read so far are intelligent and nuanced discussions of some difficult novels. The Hypertext stack also included some very good work, perhaps enough that we might be able to put together a contribution to Matt Kirschenbaum's E-Lit Up Close feature at the hypertext site Word Circuits. I'm also planning on putting togther a CD-ROM anthology of the senior seminar papers in .pdf format.