Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound
(forthcoming University of Minnesota Press, 2014)
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Indistinguishable From Magic | Invisible Interfaces and Digital Literature as Demystifier
1.0 Introduction | Invisible, Imperceptible, Inoperable
1.1 Natural, Organic, Invisible
1.2 The iPad | “a truly magical and revolutionary product”
1.3 From Videoplace to iOS | A Brief History of Creativity through Multitouch
1.5 Making the Invisible Visible | Hacking, Glitch, Defamiliarization in Digital Literature
Chapter 2: From the Philosophy of the Open to the Ideology of the User-Friendly
2.0 Introduction | Digging to Denaturalize
2.1 Open, Extensible, Flexible | NLS, Logo, Smalltalk
2.2 Writing as Tinkering | The Apple II and bpNichol, Geof Huth, Paul Zelevansky
2.3 Closed, Transparent, Task-oriented | The Apple Macintosh
Chapter 3: Typewriter Concrete Poetry and Activist Media Poetics
3.0 Introduction | Analog Hacktivism
3.1 The Poetics of a McLuhanesque Media Archaeology
3.2 Literary D.I.Y. and Concrete Poetry
3.3 From Clean to Dirty Concrete
3.4 bpNichol, Dom Sylvester Houédard, Steve McCaffery
Chapter 4: The Fascicle as Process and Product
4.0 Introduction | Against a Receding Present
4.1 My Digital Dickinson
4.2 The Digital/Dickinson Poem as Antidote to the Interface-Free
4.3 The Digital/Dickinson Poem as Thinkertoy
Chapter 5: Postscript | The Googlization of Literature
5.0 Introduction | Readingwriting
5.1 Computer-generated Writing and the Neutrality of the Machine
5.2 “And so they came to inhabit the realm of the very unimaginary”
Just as the increasing ubiquity and significance of digital media have provoked us to revisit the book as a technology, they have introduced concepts that, retroactively, we can productively apply to older media. Interface, a digital-born concept, is such an example. Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Bookbound to the Digital probes how interfaces have acted as a defining threshold between reader/writer and writing itself across several key techno-literary contexts. As I outline in the chapter summaries below, my book describes, largely through original archival research, ruptures in present and past media environments that expose how certain literary engagements with screen- and print-based technologies transform reading/writing practices. To borrow from Jussi Parikka’s What Is Meda Archaeology? (2012), my book “thinks” media archaeologically as its analyses undulate from present to past media environments. More specifically, I lay bare the way in which poets in particular – from the contemporary Jason Nelson and Judd Morrissey back to Emily Dickinson – work with and against interfaces across various media to undermine the assumed transparency of conventional reading and writing practices. My book, then, is a crucial contribution to the fields of media studies/digital humanities and poetry/poetics in its development of a media poetics which frames literary production as ineluctably involved in a critical engagement with the limits and possibilities of writing media.
My book works back through media history, probing poetry’s response to crucial moments in the development of digital and analog interfaces. That is, the book chapters move from the present moment to the past, each also using a particular historical moment to understand the present: Reading Writing Interfaces begins with digital poetry’s challenge to the alleged invisibility of multitouch in the early 21st century, moves to poets’ engagement with the transition from the late 1960s’ emphasis on openness and creativity in computing to the 1980s’ ideology of the user-friendly Graphical User Interface, to poetic experiments with the strictures of the typewriter in the 1960s and 1970s, and finally to Emily Dickinson’s use of the fascicle as a way to challenge the coherence of the book in the mid to late 19th century. Thus, throughout, I demonstrate how a certain thread of experimental poetry has always been engaged with questioning the media by which it is made and through which it is consumed. At each point in this non-linear history, I describe how this lineage of poetry undermines the prevailing philosophies of particular media ecology and so reveals to us, in our present moment, the creative limits and possibilities built into our contemporary technologies. By the time I return once again to the present moment in the post-script via the foregoing four techno-literary ruptures, I have made visible a longstanding conflict between those who would deny us access to fundamental tools of creative production and those who work to undermine these foreclosures on creativity. In many ways, then, my book reveals the strong political engagement driving a tradition of experimental poetry and argues for poetry’s importance in the digital age.
The underlying methodology of Reading Writing Interfaces is the burgeoning field of media archaeology. Media archaeology does not seek to reveal the present as an inevitable consequence of the past but instead looks to describe it as one possibility generated out of a heterogeneous past. Also at the heart of media archaeology is an on-going struggle to keep alive what Siegfried Zielinski calls “variantology” – the discovery of “individual variations” in the use or abuse of media, especially those variations that defy the ever-increasing trend toward “standardization and uniformity among the competing electronic and digital technologies.” Following Zielinski, I uncover a non-linear and non-teleological series of media phenomena – or ruptures – as a way to avoid reinstating a model of media history that tends toward narratives of progress and generally ignores neglected, failed, or dead media. That said, following on the debates in the field of digital humanities about the connection of theory and praxis (the so-called “more hack, less yack” debate) my book is more about doing than theorizing media archaeology; it considers these ruptures at the intersection of key writing technologies and responses by poets whose practice is at the limit of these technologies. Crucially, no books on or identified with media archaeology have engaged thoroughly with the literary and none have consistently engaged with poetry in particular; thus my book is also an innovation in the field in that it uses this methodology to read poetry by way of interface.
One of the most recent and well-known unveilings of an “interface-free interface” came in 2006 when research scientist Jeff Han introduced a 36-inch wide computing screen which allows the user to perform almost any computer-driven operation through multi-touch sensing. Han describes this interface as “completely intuitive . . . there’s no instruction manual, the interface just sort of disappears.” However, the interface does not disappear but rather, through a sleight-of-hand, deceives the user into believing there is no interface at all. I use this anecdote to open the introduction to Reading Writing Interfaces, first, as a way to illustrate the current trend in interface design which emphasizes usability at the expense of providing access to the underlying workings of interfaces, which in turn defines the limits and possibilities of creative expression. And second, I use the anecdote to begin a theoretical and historical overview of the notion of interface, particularly as it has played out in the computing industry in the last forty years. The definition of ‘interface’ I settle on throughout my book is one I adopt from Alexander Galloway to mean a technology, whether book- or screen-based, that acts as a threshold between reader and writing that also subtly delimits both the reading and writing process. This nuanced and yet expansive definition makes way for an acknowledgement of the decisive back-and-forth play that occurs between human and machine and it also broadens our conventional notions of interface to include a range of writing interfaces such as the command-line, the typewriter, or even the fascicle. In light of Reading Writing Interfaces‘ dual attention to media studies and poetry/poetics, I close the introduction with discussions of these two fields as they influence this project. I situate the book within media archaeology, which I take as my methodology, and explain how its emphasis on a non-teleological unearthing of uses/abuses of media allows me to proceed through my media history in reverse chronological order as I uncover media ruptures from the present through to the past. Finally, I conclude the introduction by pairing media archaeology with the notion of ‘media poetics’ as a way to account for poets’ activist engagement with the creative limits and possibilities of media.
The first chapter, titled “Indisinguishable From Magic: Invisible Interfaces and their Demystification,” thus begins with the present moment. Here I argue that contemporary writers such as Young-Hae Chang, Judd Morrissey, Jason Nelson, and Jörg Piringer advance a 21st century media poetics by producing digital poems which are deliberately difficult to navigate or whose interfaces are anything but user-friendly. For example, Morrissey and Nelson create interfaces that frustrate us because they seek to defamiliarize the interfaces we no longer notice; it is a literary strategy akin to Viktor Schklovksy’s early twentieth century invocation of ‘defamiliarization’ to describe the purpose of poetic language – except here it is deployed to force us to re-see interfaces of the present. I argue it is precisely against a troubling move toward invisibility in digital computing interfaces that Judd Morrissey has created texts such as “The Jew’s Daughter” – a work in which readers are invited to click on hyperlinks embedded in the narrative text, links which do not lead anywhere so much as they unpredictably change some portion of the text before our eyes. The result of our attempts to navigate such a frustrating interface, structured as it is by hyperlinks we believe ought to lead us somewhere, is that the interface of the Web come into view once again. Likewise working against the clean, supposedly transparent interface of the Web, in “game, game, game and again game” Jason Nelson creates a game-poem in which he self-consciously embraces a hand-drawn, hand-written aesthetic while deliberately undoing poetic and videogame conventions through a nonsensical point-system and mechanisms that ensure the player neither accumulates points nor “wins.” At the heart, then, of the most provocative digital poems lies a thoroughgoing engagement with difficulty or even failure. By hacking, breaking, or simply making access to interfaces trying, these writers work against the ways in which these interfaces are becoming increasingly invisible even while these same interfaces also increasingly define what and how we read/write. In this chapter I also pay particular attention to how writers such as Jörg Piringer are creating poetry “apps” which work against the grain of the multitouch interface that has been popularized by Apple’s iPad – a device that perfectly exemplifies the ways in which the interface-free interface places restrictions on creative expression in the name of an ideology, more than a philosophy, of the user-friendly.
The second chapter, “From the Philosophy of the Open to the Ideology of the User-Friendly,” uncovers the shift from the late 1960s to the early 1980s that made way for those very interfaces I discuss in chapter one which are touted as utterly invisible. Based on original archival research I undertook of historically important computing magazines such as Byte, Computer, and Macworld as well as handbooks published by Apple Inc. and Xerox, I bring to light the philosophies driving debates in the tech industry about interface and the consequences of the move from the command-line interface in the early 1980s to the first mainstream windows-based interface introduced by Apple in the mid-1980s. I argue that the move from a philosophy of computing based on a belief in the importance of open and extensible hardware to the broad adoption of the supposedly user-friendly Graphical User Interface, or the use of a keyboard/screen/mouse in conjunction with windows, fundamentally changed the computing landscape and inaugurated an era in which users have little or no comprehension of the digital computer as a medium. Thus, media poetics prior to the release of the Apple Macintosh in 1984 mostly takes the form of experimentation with computers such as the Apple IIe that at the time were new to writers. Digital poetry from the early 1980s by bpNichol, Geof Huth, and Paul Zelevansky does not work to make the command-line or Apple IIe interface visible so much as it openly plays with and tentatively tests the parameters of the personal computer as a still-new writing technology. This kind of open experimentation almost entirely disappeared for a number of years as Apple Macintosh’s design innovations and their marketing made open computer architecture and the command-line interface obsolete and GUIs pervasive.
In the third chapter, “Typewriter Concrete Poetry and Activist Media Poetics,” I delve into the era from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s in which poets, working heavily under the influence of Marshall McLuhan and before the widespread adoption of the personal computer, sought to create concrete poetry as a way to experiment with the limits and possibilities of the typewriter. These poems – particularly those by the Canadian writers bpNichol and Steve McCaffery and the English Benedictine monk Dom Sylvester Houédard – often deliberately court the media noise of the typewriter as a way to draw attention to the typewriter-as-interface. As such, when Andrew Lloyd writes in the 1972 collection Typewriter Poems that “a typewriter is a poem. A poem is not a typewriter,” he gestures to the ways in which poets enact a media-analysis of the typewriter via writing as they cleverly undo stereotypical assumptions about the typewriter itself: a poem written on a typewriter is not merely a series of words delivered via a mechanical writing device and, for that matter, neither is the typewriter merely a mechanical writing device. Instead, these poems express and enact a poetics of the remarkably varied material specificities of the typewriter as a particular kind of mechanical writing interface that necessarily inflects both how and what one writes. Further, since they are about their making as much as they are about their reading/viewing, if we read these concrete poems in relation to Marshall McLuhan’s unique pairing of literary studies with media studies – a pairing which is also his unique contribution to media archaeology avant la lettre – we can again reimagine formally experimental poetry and poetics as engaged with media studies and even with hacking reading/writing interfaces. Further, this chapter also draws on archival research to uncover not only the influence of McLuhan on concrete poetry but – for the first time – to delineate concrete poetry’s influence on those writings by McLuhan that are now foundational to media studies.
In the fourth chapter, “The Fascicle as Process and Product,” I read digital poems into and out of Emily Dickinson’s use of the fascicle; I assert the fascicle is a writing interface that is both process and product from a past that is becoming ever more distant the more enmeshed in the digital we become and the more the book becomes a fetishized object. Otherwise put, her fascicles, as much as the later-twentieth century digital computers and the mid-twentieth century typewriters I discuss in chapters two and three, are now slowly but surely revealing themselves as a kind of interface that defines the nature of reading as much as writing. More, extending certain tenets of media archaeology I touch on above, I read the digital into and out of Dickinson’s fascicles as a way to enrich our understanding of her work. Such a reading is a self-conscious exploitation of the terminology and theoretical framing of the present moment which – given the ubiquity of terms that describe digital culture such as ‘interface,’ ‘network,’ ‘link,’ etc. or even of such now commonly understood terms such as ‘bookmark’ and ‘archive’ which previously were only used by the bookish or the literary scholar – is so steeped in the digital and which, often without our knowing, saturates our language and habits of thought.
Finally, in chapter five, the postscript to Reading Writing Interfaces, “The Googlization of Literature,” I focus on the interface of the search engine, particularly Google’s, to describe one of conceptual writing’s unique contributions to contemporary poetry/poetics and media studies. Building on the 20th century’s computer-generated texts, conceptual writing gives us a poetics perfectly appropriate for our current cultural moment in that it implicitly acknowledges we are living not just in an era of the search engine algorithm but in an era of what Siva Vaidhyanathan calls “The Googlization of Everything.” When we search for data on the Web we are no longer “searching” – instead, we are “Googling.” But conceptual writers such as Bill Kennedy, Darren Wershler, and Tan Lin who experiment with/on Google are not simply pointing to its ubiquity – they are also implicitly questioning how it works, how it generates the results it does, and so how it sells ourselves back to us. Such writing is an acknowledgement of the materiality of language in the digital that goes deeper than a recognition of the material size, shape, sound, texture of letters and words that characterizes much of twentieth-century bookbound, experimental poetry practices. These writers take us beyond the 20th century avant garde’s interest in the verbal/vocal/visual aspect of materiality to urge us instead to attend to the materiality of 21st century digital language production. They ask, what happens when we appropriate the role of Google for our own purposes rather than Google’s? What happens when we wrest Google from itself and instead use it not only to find out things about us as a culture but to find out what Google is finding out about us? “The Googlization of Literature,” then, concludes Reading Writing Interfaces by providing an even more wide-ranging sense of poetry’s response to the interface-free.
Below is the Impact Report that Dene Grigar, Kathi Inman Berens, and I put together to document all activities related to the first ever exhibit and reading of Electronic Literature at the 2012 MLA Annual Convention. This report should also prove useful to electronic literature scholars who are seeking additional support for the importance of the field as well as anyone planning a similar exhibit who needs to advocate for their work as scholarly activity. Sincere thanks to Matthew Kirschenbaum, Matthew Gold, Rosemary Feal, Brian Croxall, Ian Bogost, and Bethany Nowviskie for contributing testimonials to our final report. Finally, thank you too to Judy Malloy who kindly published our report on her website.
You may also download a pdf of the Impact Report.
Electronic Literature Exhibit Impact Report
MLA 2012, January 5-8, 2012
Curated by Dene Grigar, Lori Emerson, and Kathi Inman Berens
This report is intended to provide stakeholders involved in the Electronic Literature Exhibit, held in Seattle, WA from January 5th to 8th at the 2012 Modern Languages Association Convention with information concerning the Exhibit’s impact. Impact, from our perspective, is tied to the overarching mission of the Exhibit, which we articulated as “to expand scholarship and creative output in the area of Electronic Literature by introducing Humanities scholars to the art form.” In order to achieve this mission, we identified, at the outset of the development of the Exhibit, four goals. These were to:
- Introduce scholars to a broad cross-section of born digital literary writing, both historic and current
- Provide scholarship and resources to scholars for the purpose of further study of Electronic Literature
- Encourage those interested in the creative arts to produce Electronic Literature
- Promote Electronic Literature in a manner that may encourage younger generations to engage with reading literary works
All activities relating to the Exhibit––from the inclusion of five student docents who assisted visitors at the Exhibit, to the “Readings and Performances” event on Friday night at the Hugo House, to the four-platform social media marketing plan and archival work undertaken by undergraduates in the Creative Media & Digital Culture Program, to inclusion of undergraduate works of Electronic Literature in the Exhibit, to the ongoing web archive of the site––have been developed to help us meet these goals.
Assessment of success in attaining these goals is built on information in four areas:
- References to the exhibit by humanities scholars
- Inclusion of the web archive in scholarly databases
- New scholarship and creative output generating from it
- Physical and virtual engagement of visitors with the Exhibit and its online archive
We view this report as “preliminary” because print-based data is not yet available for inclusion. Thus, this phase of our report includes data stemming from electronic publications and media; they serve as the first step in the process of analysis and evaluation of the success of the Exhibit. For the most part, the data covers a short period of time surrounding the Exhibit, from mid-November 2011 when the web archive was launched to mid-January 2012 after the closing of the Exhibit.
1. References to the Exhibit by Humanities Scholars
Ball, Cheryl. “Review of Profession 2011 section on ‘Evaluating Digital
Scholarship.’” Kairos 16.2. Spring 2012. http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/16.2/loggingon/lo-profession.html. Retrieved: 28 Jan. 2012.
“Digital Commons.” NYU Department of English. http://nyuenglish.com/. Retrieved: 1
“Editor’s Choice: Round Up of AHA and MLA Conferences.” Digital Humanities
Now. 9 Jan. 2012. http://digitalhumanitiesnow.org/2012/01/ec-round-up-of-aha-and-mla-conferences/. Retrieved: 28 Jan. 2012.
Jackson, Korey. “Once More with Feeling: How MLA Found Its Heart.”
HASTAC 16 Jan. 2012. http://hastac.org/blogs/kbjack/2012/01/16/back-mla-report-not-badgood-fact. Retrieved: 28 Jan. 2012. Reprinted in Mpublishing: U of Michigan Library. 16 Jan. 2012. http://publishing.umich.edu/2012/01/16/mpub-mla/. Retrieved: 28 Jan. 2012.
Kinett, Dylan. NoCategories.comThe Death of Hypertext?
Malloy, Judy. “MLA 2012 to Feature Exhibition of Electronic Literature.” Authoring
Software. 28 Dec. 2011. http://www.narrabase.net/elit_software_news.html#dec28_2011. Retrieved: 28 Jan. 2012.
MLA Newsletter. V 44 Number 1. Spring 2012. http://www.mla.org/pdf/nl_441_web.pdf.
Taylor, Laurie, N., “E-Lit Exhibit at MLA; Exhibits, Peer Review, and What
Counts.” 2 Jan. 2012. http://laurientaylor.org/2012/01/02/elit-exhibit-mla-exhibits-peer-review-what-counts/. Retrieved: 28 Jan. 2012.
Image from MLA Newsletter. V 44 Number 1. Spring 2012
2. Inclusion of the Web Archive in Scholarly Databases
Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice (ELMCIP) Knowledge Base. http://elmcip.net/event/electronic-literature-exhibit-0.
3. New Scholarship and Creative Output Generating from the Exhibit
Berens, Kathi Inman. “Haptic Play as Narrative in Mobile Electronic Literature.” Forthcoming in ebr: electronic book review. Spring 2012.
Grigar, Dene. Born Digital Literature: Understanding Literary Works for the Electronic
Medium. Book Proposal.
Grigar, Dene and Kathi Inman Berens. “Avenues of Access: A Juried Exhibit & Online
Archives of ‘Born Digital’ Literature.” Forthcoming at the 2013 Modern Language Association Convention. January 2013; Boston, MA.
Grigar, Dene, Lori Emerson, and Kathi Inman Berens. “Curating Electronic Literature.”
Forthcoming in Rhizomes. Spring 2012. http://www.rhizomes.net/.
4. Physical and Virtual Engagement of Visitors with the Exhibit and Its Online Archive
Electronic Literature Exhibit at the MLA 2012.
Visits: 503; attendance at Readings and Performances event held at The Hugo House on Friday, January 6, 2012: 107.
Electronic Literature (Main Archival Site). http://dtc-wsuv.org/mla2012.
1673 total visits from 10 Nov. 2011- 18 Jan. 2012; 1733 total visits as of 27 Jan. 2012.
Visitors to the site came from: the US, Sweden, Canada, Spain, Norway, the UK, Italy, Albania, Australia, Denmark, Greece, Puerto Rico, France, Germany, India, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Austria, Philippines, Colombia, and Algeria.
Kathi Inman Berens’ Curatorial Statement. http://kathiiberens.com/2011/12/06/curatorial-statement/).
539 total visits from 6 Dec. – 8 Dec. 2011 – 18 Jan. 2012
Lori Emerson’s Curatorial Statement. http://loriemerson.net/2011/12/05/performing-e-literature-e-literature-performing/.
388 total visits from 5 Dec. 2011-18 Jan. 2012.
“Electronic Literature Readings and Performances” Poster. http://twitpic.com/81ek4y.
440 total visits.
Storify archive of the event. http://storify.com/kathiiberens/e-literature-exhibit-at-mla12/.
128 from 10 Jan. 2012-28 Jan. 2012.
Facebook and Mini-Site. http://www.facebook.com/wsuv.mla.elit2012.
145 Total Likes; 43,444 “Friends of Fans.” Friends came from US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Singapore, Ethiopia, the UK, and The Bahamas. 12/28/11-1/16/12
72 Followers as of 27 Jan. 2012.
“Invisible Seattle Visible Again.” Press release created by Washington State University Vancouver’s Marketing Department. 3 Jan. 2012. http://news.wsu.edu/pages/publications.asp?Action=Detail&PublicationID=29434. Retrieved: 28 Jan. 2012. Reprinted in WSU News as “Ahead of Their Time.” 3 Jan. 2012. http://news.wsu.edu/pages/publications.asp?Action=Release&PublicationID=29434. Retrieved: 28 Jan. 2012. Reprinted also in WSU’s College of Liberal Arts website.
This section gathers comments from those individuals we solicited for comments about the MLA12 Elit Exhibit.
From Matthew Kirschenbaum:
Although I was not in Seattle this year, I followed the electronic literature exhibition through Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook. If, as William Carlos Williams once said, “no ideas but in things,” then the “things” of electronic literature are never just the pixels on the screen or even the code churning underneath. Its *things* are also its hardware and platforms: the vintage console, the floppy disk as familiar yet remote as vinyl, the conventions of an antiquarian operating system or a long retired interface. I can truthfully say that there is nothing more vital to what I have elsewhere called the .txtual condition than the kind of project championed by this group of digital archaeologists. Such attention to the minute material particulars of recovery, restoration, and curation is not only essential to the survival of electronic literature (imperiled by its native digital state) but indeed to all literary texts in a digital age.
From Matthew Gold:
The E-Lit exhibit altered the dynamics of #mla12, giving participants a reflective and absorbing space in which they could take in a variety of experiments in digital textuality. I was struck by the careful consideration that the organizers of the exhibit had put into it and by the efforts they had made to reproduce works of electronic literature in their native computing environments. Entering the exhibit, one was greeted by the enthusiastic and knowledgable staff and exhibit organizers, for whom the installation was clearly a work of scholarly passion. For me, at least, the exhibit felt like a port in a storm. It was wonderful to have this kind of space at the MLA and I strongly encourage the organization to continue to support similar efforts in the future.
From Rosemary Feal:
The MLA was pleased to host the Electronic Literature Exhibit at the 2012 MLA Convention as part of our continuing development of convention formats that allow members to present the full range of their creative, pedagogical, and scholarly activities. The three-day exhibit gave ample opportunity for our 8,000 convention attendees to visit the exhibit and to consider the experimental reach and creative power of the 160 digital works that were showcased. By all reports, the steady stream of attendees generated a lively and ongoing discussion about the potential of new media for literary expression. The E-Lit exhibit nicely complemented the dozens of other convention sessions that explored the impact of digital media on the humanities (click here <
> for a list of these sessions) as well as the convention’s 695 other panels, roundtables, workshops, addresses, and events. Particularly exciting is the way the reach of the exhibit was extended in time and space through an off-site live reading by some of the participating authors, an exhibit Web site, the #mla12 twitter stream, and discussion in blogs, demonstrating the growing potential of networked online environments for scholarly communication as well as artistic expression.
From Brian Croxall:
Over the last four years, I have had frequent occasion to teach electronic literature in various English classes. Repeatedly, my students have told me that they’ve never read anything like it in any of my colleagues classes. While there are many reasons for this, I believe one of them is that many literature faculty members simply have not been exposed to electronic literature. It was a great pleasure, then, to see the E-Lit Exhibit at MLA12. Each time I poked my head in the room, there were different audiences enjoying the different works that covered more than 20 years of electronic writing. Given the current interest in the digital humanities, it was important to see the history of the digital within the humanities. The Exhibit created the perfect focal point around which conversations about e-lit could continue after the several fascinating panels on the subject. The Jan. 6 reading of e-literature further encouraged participants to think of e-lit not so much as a radical Other but as one end on a spectrum of literary output that can be read and examined within the context of the MLA. I appreciate the MLA’s support of the exhibit and would encourage similar exhibits in the future. There is certainly more e-lit that could be showcased in such a manner but so too could artist’s books, to name but one example.
From Ian Bogost:
January 2012 marked the date of the first exhibit (curated by Dene Grigar, Lori Emerson, and Kathi Inman Berens) of electronic literature ever hosted by the Modern Language Association at their annual convention in Seattle, WA. Remarkably, the exhibit was visited by over 500 people and since the end of the exhibit, five humanities scholars have written about the exhibit. Digital humanities librarian Laurie Taylor has suggested that the exhibit is an example of scholarly activity (“the E-Lit Exhibit is extremely important as an exhibit/event in itself. It’s also extremely important as an example/model for future exhibits with MLA and for all who are interested in how changes in scholarly communication are affecting the humanities, how to support scholarly work outside of silos…and what counts as scholarship.”). I couldn’t agree more with this assessment. Indeed, a curated exhibit is a standard example of creative productivity in most fields in the arts, and it’s high time humanists update their standards.
As an extension of the exhibit, Lori Emerson organized a reading/performance of e-literature by authors whose work was included in the exhibit. The reading included the some of the most prominent practitioners of digital writing/art/gaming including Jim Andrews, Kate Armstrong, John Cayley, Erin Costello/Aaron Angelo, Marjorie Luesebrink, Mark Marino, Nick Montfort, Brian Kim Stefans, Stephanie Strickland, Rob Wittig, and myself. About 100 people attended this reading, which was both a fascinating display of the ways in which many of the works in the exhibit are performative in their right and an exploration of the role of the author-programmer in a live performance.
As a participant in both the exhibit and the reading, I was particularly pleased to be able to share my work with an audience that was receptive to my particular and unique brand of videogame poetry.
From Bethany Nowviskie:
I just want to share a word of thanks with you for the splendid work you [Kathi Inman Berens], Dene Grigar, and Lori Emerson did in organizing the E-Lit exhibit at MLA12. This was one of the best-arranged and most carefully thought-out exhibits I have ever seen of the kind, and visiting it was a high point of the conference for me. I was struck especially by the careful historicizing you did in the arrangement of the stations and the interesting juxtapositions you created, between canonical and lesser-known works (many of which were entirely new to me). The care you took with all this is evident in your three terrific curatorial statements. The exhibit clearly struck a chord with many MLA attendees, and I sat in on at least three panels in which presenters made reference to works they had seen, or commented on the subjects of their papers in relation to the themes of the conference’s E-lit events. I left wishing I had had more time to spend in the room — so was thrilled to discover the extensive website you put together, and know I will be referring students and Scholars’ Lab graduate fellows to your bibliographies and lists of featured works again and again.
 Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy began in 1996 and since that time has grown to 45,000 readers per month; additionally, it is referenced electronically (i.e. “backlinked”) by 2500 sites.
 DH Now has 2794 Followers on Twitter. Its site had 14,500 visits with 5000 unique visitors, and 48,000 total page views in Nov. 2011. See http://www.ucl.ac.uk/infostudies/melissa-terras/DigitalHumanitiesInfographic.pdf.
 HASTAC (Humanities Arts Science & Technology Advanced Collaboratory) says in its September 6, 2011 report that it has 7150 members and that its site has seen 350,000 unique visitors to its forums since 2009. See http://hastac.org/about.
 ELMCIP is a “collaborative research project funded by Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) JRP for Creativity and Innovation and involves seven European academic research partners and one non-academic partner.” Its mission is to “investigate how creative communities of practitioners form within a transnational and transcultural context in a globalized and distributed communication environment. Focusing on the electronic literature community in Europe as a model of networked creativity and innovation in practice, ELMCIP is intended both to study the formation and interactions of that community and also to further electronic literature research and practice in Europe. The partners include: The University of Bergen, Norway (PL Scott Rettberg, Co-I Jill Walker Rettberg), the Edinburgh College of Art, Scotland (PI Simon Biggs, Co-I Penny Travlou), Blekinge Institute of Technology, Sweden (PI Maria Engberg, Co-I Talan Memmott), The University of Amsterdam, Netherlands (PI Yra Van Dijk), The University of Ljubljana, Slovenia (PI Janez Strechovec), The University of Jyväskylä, Finland (PI Raine Koskimaa), and University College Falmouth at Dartington, England (PI Jerome Fletcher), and New Media Scotland.”
 “The Electronic Literature Organization was founded in 1999 to foster and promote the reading, writing, teaching, and understanding of literature as it develops and persists in a changing digital environment. A 501c(3) non-profit organization, the ELO includes writers, artists, teachers, scholars, and developers.”
 It should be noted that Canada’s Poet Laureate Fred Wah, who lives in British Columbia, drove to Seattle specifically to visit the exhibit and attend the Readings and Performances associated with the exhibit.
It has been a great honor to have the opportunity to begin work on the Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media (forthcoming 2014) with my co-editors Marie-Laure Ryan and Benjamin Robertson. Our rationale for this guide has been that the study of “digital media”—the cultural and artistic practices made possible by digital technology—has become one of the most vibrant areas of scholarly activity, and is rapidly turning into an established academic field, with many universities now offering it as a major. While a plethora of books have been published on the various cultural applications of digital technology, we still lack a systematic and comprehensive reference work to which teachers and students can quickly turn for reliable information on the key terms and concepts of the field. This book will, then, present an interdisciplinary panorama of the concepts, tools, and software that have allowed digital media to produce the most innovative intellectual, artistic and social practices of our time.
Especially thrilling is the list of contributors and entries these top-notch scholars have agreed to write. Below is a list of these contributors and their entries (although I should note that there may be a few changes between now and publication). Enjoy and look forward to the guide coming out sometime in 2014:
|Alternate Reality Gaming||Nicole Labitzke|
|Analogue vs. Digital||Jake Buckley|
|Animation/Kineticism||Brian Kim Stefans|
|Artificial Intelligence||David Elson|
|Artificial Life and Media Art||Simon Penny|
|Artificial Life in Historical Context||Simon Penny|
|Audio Culture||Aaron Angello|
|Augmented Reality||Jay David Bolter|
|Authoring Systems||Judy Malloy|
|Cell Phone Novel||Larissa Hjorth|
|Code Aesthetics||David Berry|
|Cognitive Implications of New Media||Anne Mangen and Jean-Luc Velay|
|Collaborative Narrative||Scott Rettberg|
|Collective Intelligence||John Duda|
|Combinatory and Automatic Text Generation||Philippe Bootz and Christopher Funkhouser|
|Computational Linguistics||Inderjeet Mani|
|Conceptual Writing||Darren Wershler|
|Copyright||Benjamin J. Robertson|
|Critical Theory||David Golumbia|
|Cut Scenes||Rune Klevjer|
|Cybernetics||Bernard Geoghegan and Benjamin Peters|
|Cyborg and Posthuman||Raine Koskimaa|
|Dialogue Systems||Jichen Zhu|
|Digital and Net Art||Roberto Simanowski|
|Digital Fiction||Maria Engberg|
|Digital Humanities||Matthew K. Gold|
|Digital Installation Art||Kate Mondloch|
|Digital Poetry||Leonardo Flores|
|Early Digital Art and Writing (pre-1990)||Christopher Funkhouser|
|Easter Eggs||Laine Nooney|
|Electronic Literature||Scott Rettberg|
|Electronic Literature Organization||Marjorie Luesebrink|
|Email Novel||Jill Walker Rettberg|
|Ethics Digital Media||Charles Ess|
|Fan Fiction||Karen Hellekson|
|Film and Digital Media||Jens Eder|
|Flash/Director||Brian Kim Stefans|
|Free and Open Source Software||Luis Felipe Rosado Murillo|
|From Book to Screen||Kirstyn Leuner|
|Game History||Henry Lowood|
|Game Theory||Travis Ross|
|Games and Education||Brian Magerko|
|Games as Art/Literature||David Ciccoricco|
|Games as Stories||David Ciccoricco|
|Gender and Media Use||Ruth Page|
|Gender Representation||Kim Knight|
|Glitch Aesthetics||Lori Emerson|
|Graph Theory||Marie-Laure Ryan|
|Graphic Realism||Rune Klevjer|
|Hacker||E. Gabriella Coleman|
|History of Animated Poetry||Philippe Bootz|
|History of Computers||Jussi Parikka|
|Hoaxes||Jill Walker Rettberg|
|Identity||Steven Edward Doran|
|Independent and Art Games||Celia Pearce|
|Interactive Cinema||Glorianna Davenport|
|Interactive Documentary||Sandra Gaudenzi|
|Interactive Drama||Brian Magerko|
|Interactive Fiction||Emily Short|
|Interactive Narrative||Marie-Laure Ryan|
|Interactive Television||Jens Jensen|
|Interactivity||Peter Mechant and Jan Van Looy|
|Language Use in Online and Mobile Communication||Naomi S. Baron|
|Life History||Ruth Page|
|Linking Strategies||Susana Pajares Tosca|
|Location-Based Narrative||Scott Ruston|
|Ludus and Paidia||Marie-Laure Ryan|
|Markup Languages||Kirstyn Leuner|
|Mashup||Benjamin J. Robertson|
|Media Ecology||Michael Goddard|
|Micro-Blogging (Twitter)||Brian Croxall|
|Mobile Entertainment||Anastasia Salter|
|MUDs and MOOs||Torill Mortensen|
|Non-linear Writing||Astrid Ensslin|
|NPC (Non-Player Character)||Ragnhild Tronstad|
|Old Media/New Media||Jessica Pressman|
|Online Game Communities||Celia Pearce|
|Online Worlds||Lisbeth Klastrup|
|Ontology (in Games)||Jose Zagal|
|Participatory Culture||Melissa Brough|
|Plot Types and Interactivity||Marie-Laure Ryan|
|Politics and New Media||Joss Hands|
|Properties of Digital Media||David Golumbia|
|Quest Narrative||Ragnhild Tronstad|
|Race and Ethnicity||Kim Knight|
|Reading Strategies||Adalaide Morris|
|Relations Between Media||Philipp Schweighauser|
|Remediation||Jay David Bolter|
|Role-Playing||Susana Pajares Tosca|
|Searle’s Chinese Room||Inderjeet Mani|
|Self-Reflexivity in Electronic Art||Winfried Nöth|
|Semantic Web||Axel-Cyrille Ngonga Ngomo|
|Social Network Sites (SNS)||Olga Goriunova and Chiara Bernardi|
|Software Studies||Matthew Fuller|
|Spatiality of Digital Media||Marie-Laure Ryan|
|Story Generation||Pablo Gervás|
|Subversion (Creative Destruction)||Davin Heckman|
|Tabletop Roleplaying Games||Olivier Caïra|
|Temporality of Digital Works||John David Zuern|
|Transmedial Fiction||Christy Dena|
|Turing Test||Ragnhild Tronstad|
|Video Game Genres||Andreas Rauscher|
|Viral Aesthetics||Jussi Parikka|
|Virtual Bodies||Marco Caracciolo|
|Virtual Economies||Edward Castronova and Travis L. Ross|
|Virtual Reality||Ken Hillis|
|Walkthrough||Frederik De Grove and Jan Van Looy|
|Web Comics||Karin Kukkonen|
|Wiki Writing||Seth Perlow|
|Windows||Jay David Bolter|
|Worlds and Maps||Bjarke Liboriussen|
|Writing Under Constraint||Anastasia Salter|