Week 2 – Electronic Literature – Jess, James, Harry, Meg, Elia, & Tim

What is the definition of Electronic Literature?

– literary genre that consists of texts that originate within digital environments and need some sort of computing to be read.

– Difference between electronic texts and hyper-texts? A subcategory? A different dimension?

What is Media Specific Analysis? Why might it be useful?


Materiality is reconceptualized as the interplay between a text’s physical characteristics and its signifying strategies, a move that entwines instantiation and signification at the outset. This definition opens the possibility of considering texts as embodied entities while still maintaining a central focus on interpretation. It makes materiality an emergent property, so that it cannot be specified in advance, as if it were a pre-given entity. Rather, materiality is open to debate and interpretation, ensuring that discussions about the text’s “meaning” will also take into account its physical specificity as well.”

Media-specific analysis (MSA) attends both to the specificity of the form… and to citations and imitations of one medium in another. Attuned not so much to similarity and difference as to simulation and instantiation, MSA moves from the language of “text” to a more precise vocabulary of screen and page.”

MSA in Shelley Jackson’s: My Body or Wunderkammer {Cabinet of Curiosities}

Gender/sexual motifs, 3D world-2D drawings, from realism to irony

I began inserting the pages of books into my vagina as soon as I located that orifice. In fact, my libidinal attachment to books sped my exploration. I was in the habit of tearing off the corners of pages as I read and chewing them into pulp. I became quite a connoisseur of the different flavors and textures. You could truthfully call me a voracious reader.

Immediate irony: the medium of ingestion of literature (mouth, vagina, ass) obviously does make a difference to the understanding of the text – not the same as reading it

-she understands part of the printed page as it is never meant be understood (flavours/textures)

It wasn’t a big leap from eating books to sticking them up me, a page at a time. Fine literature in my vagina, pulp fiction up my ass, that was my instinctive decision, that is at first, before I began to question whether the distinction was really so clear. I sat through English class with Chaucer and Boccaccio here, S. E. Hinton there. One day, when I fished out the slippery wad, laid it on my desk and teased its folds open with a pen, I noticed that some of the words seemed changed. I took the stinking page to the library and confirmed my discovery in the echoing stacks. My vagina had rewritten Joyce. It was then I knew I was going to be a writer.

-her understanding of what is appropriate for ingesting where changes (Pulp/Lit), as the understanding of the value of electronic texts has changed.

-Her vagina rewrites Joyce → the ingestion of literature through a different medium alters its meaning

In the course of writing these reminiscences, I increasingly began to conceive of my body as a great cabinet of curiosities. Some of those many recondite drawers slide easily out and whack you on the shins, some need a little wax and sandpaper. Inside the drawers are folded sheets of cheap blue-lined paper, pages from journals or school reports, with pictures and diagrams pasted in. There are drawings, biological specimens with neat labels, inscrutable items with no labels, stains from bygone experiments,stoppered bottles and broken vials and their spilled, dried contents, in which a squadron of tiny fruit flies met their sticky deaths. There are slips of paper referring you to other drawers, unlabelled keys (you may despair of finding the locks they fit), and there are drawers within the drawers, behind sliding panels or false bottoms. I have found every drawer to be both bottomless and intricately connected to every other drawer, such that there can be no final unpacking. But you don’t approach a cabinet of wonders with an inventory in hand. You open drawers at random. You smudge the glass jar in which the two-headed piglet sleeps. You filch one of Tom Thumb’s calling cards. You read page two of a letter; one and three are missing, and you leave off in the middle of a sentence.

As a matter of fact, I am making a replica of this text: a huge wooden chest in the shape of my body, with innumerable drawers in which I will store my findings. Some of the drawers will be large and c a p a c i o u s, some smaller than matchboxes. Some will be disguised, some will be booby-trapped. I will hide secret buttons, levers and locks in my carved folds and crevices. You will have to feel your way in.

–>three levels of conception

1) electronic representation (the hypertext)

2) Literary (the metaphor)

3) and Physical (the conception of her an actual cabinet representing her body in both a historical and artistic mode)

Each representation in reality is conceived separately and differently, even though her conception of her body stems from one source

–>playing with font as a physical representation of word image, breaking the fourth wall (the meta-hypertextual?)

Media-specific analysis is useful

-to establish how one medium’s traits influence the understanding of a text ingested through it

-to understand the responsive strategies of writers to new media and technology

-to trace the pattern of techniques that shift between media as the replicate and change each other

– Be aware of the media form texts are in. Example of Wuthering Heights being typed online, will be inherently different.

– Coding as interpretation, different fonts etc.

– Printing press as a form of computer? Typewriter.

– Continuation of online writing, no pages unless Hypertexts used.

– Gennette Gerard – Paratexts – “adorned state” – no text is without paratext, and so if one inherently changes the paratext by putting it online then it becomes a completely new text with different “adornment”

– Both informs electronic literature, and allows new interpretations on old texts. Awareness of media, paratexts, print hyper-texts

– Electronic literature – you can’t skip to the end, the future of the text is within the code

– Written in 2004 – outdated? – Kindles mimicking print

Experience of Reading Electronic Texts – The Cabinet of Curiosities

  • Reading slowly – navigating as well as reading – becomes much more interactive than simply reading a book.Yet is this so different from reading a book? As Katherine Hayles arguesClicking on a link customarily takes the reader from one screen of text to the next. In retrospect, it is possible to see that the foundational assumption for this kind of linking comes from print books. Although the electronic linking structure differs from turning a page in that it offers multiple reading paths, it reproduces in electronic media the experience of flipping pages.

    Our experience of an electronic text produces similar experiences of reading a book

  • However there are more ways to get lost in a text. Unlike books, electronic texts can be more labyrinthal in their construction, and this was certainly a difference that the electronic texts we read this week made use of. In the Cabinet of Curiosities we read the body through a type mapping that is both visual and textual, and this mapping crossreferences itself within the text, so that themes repeat and emerge.The only place I have seen this sort of mapping work effectively in print text is in Portrait with Keys. At the end of the text the author created a series of itineraries as a way to read the text. So you could read the text based on the amount of times ‘x’ comes up in the text.However there is a more labyrinth like quality to how these links function in an electronic text. Because it is far easier to get lost in this text, or to end up coming round in circles.
  • It interested me that Shelly Jackson reads a body through this mapping and navigation. Does our perception of her body change through this mapping? Does it become a type of cyborg? In many way she literatilises this coming cyborg in ways that are unnerving. And I think it’s an interesting comment on the idea of cyborg and how one becomes cyborg.
  • For Katherine Hayles once we read electronic texts we become cyborgs. It is the act of reading at makes us cyborg:So electronic hypertexts, regardless of their content, tend toward cyborg subjectivity.As a group we struggled with this concept. Because is a computer a cognitive entity? However I find this emersion with the text interesting. We all know how to navigate a computer. But in this act do we become hybrid because of the technology?

    If the computer is programmed by a man does that make it simply a tool or something other? Is the uncanniness of electronic texts to reproduce print acts of reading yet also make them something other is also a reason we find digital prints un-nerving?

  • Cabinet of Curiosities – reading the body through a navigation – text itself really reminded me of The Gathering by Anne Enright > her use of the body and the portrayal of its physicality/pain‘I like the feeling of the scab stretching when I bend my knees, and bunching when I straighten them. Repeated, this action wears creases in the scab, which eventually cracks. Then blood and pain again.’
  • Do the websites begin to feel outdated? > websites date – electronic medium dramatically changes in a very short amount of time – even backgrounds/fonts look dated

Do you need more Skills?

– Not for hyper-link stories, you need basic internet know-how, but clicking is the only thing you need.

– To write the stories you need to be able or know someone who can code

– Need more concentration, as you can’t go back to where you left off.

– Does having the coding skills add to your appreciation? Example of poetry or InDesign.

– We looked at some code – observed the colours, the lack of ‘normal’ punctuation and paragraphs. An ugly experience.

Other Examples

– Buzzfeed Gifs

– Imgur?

– Reddit?

– Somone’s FB profile – ‘read’ the person

– Tumblr?

How are these texts different from print?

– Made of Code

– Uglier

– Slower to read

– Exploratory nature

– More autonomy

– Often non-linear narrative or no narrative at all

– More immediate, no middle man, less elitist. Still all male and white though in terms of big internet companies. Would be interesting to see what the gender of the coders are though not just people who run the companies.

Thanks, looking forward to the seminar.



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