Electronic Literature

Electronic Literature


moulthrop__deep_surface [image from “deep surface” by Stuart Moulthrop, found here]

Even with the growth of computer technology, the paper book is still the paradigm for the text. The published book is primary, so that when we read on a computer the software imitates the experience of the physical book as close as possible. An article in pdf is divided into paper sized (not screen sized) pages, and despite the interactive potential of computer media, pdf texts are arranged in a linear fashion (one page after another), without internal links or embedded sound and video. In Hayles words, the interface for reading on a computer uses the paper book as a “material metaphor.” (p.22)

But there are other texts which experiment with the potentials of reading on a computer. One archive of these experiments is the eliturature collection linked above. The literary works in the collection cannot exist on paper in the way that they exist here. Each unfold differently, combining text, sound, movement, and organized in hypertext or other branching formats.

Explore some of the documents in the collection and consider the ways that the format interacts with the words and their meaning. In Writing Machines (2002), N. Kathrine Hayles writes, “To change the material artifact is to transform the context and circumstances for interacting with the words, which inevitably changes the meanings of the words as well. This transformation of meaning is especially potent when the words reflexively interact with the inscription technologies that produce them.”(p.24)

Here the computer interface is the “material artifact” and the “inscription technology.” In each case, how does the document “transform the context and circumstances for interacting with the words,” and thus change “the meanings of the words as well?” In what ways were these “technotexts?” That is, in what ways do the stories and meanings embedded in the text comment on or interact with their own interface?

Is this the future of the book or a detour along the way?




  1. Intriguing blog post!

    I’m not sure what texts you are using in your course, but you could approach use some of the work by Gregory Bateson or Anthony Wilden on systems theory and digital vs. analog communication to parse out some of the basic differences between each medium. That is, the layout of “deep surface” vs. the traditional book could also be explored in terms of analog and digital codes.

  2. I like how you pose the question at the end about if this is the future of the “book” as being physical. In my own belief and trends I see in society, I believe that there are a lot less physical book lovers and more digital people. More textbooks are being used on tablets, computers and Kindles. The text from the ecollection was very very interesting. It allowed you to be interactive with the writing and only gave you a certain amount of time to read until the story reset. Very interesting post you have here! It really sparked my interest!

  3. I used to read a lot, I was always getting a book from the library or Barnes and Noble and when the first kindle came out I couldn’t wait to get one. I ended up getting the second version which was newer and better but as I read a few books on it I began to realize there is nothing quite the same as the crisp page turns of a real book and I never really went back to the kindle.

  4. I really enjoy reading books but not on a computer or kindle. I rather hold a book in my hand and turn the pages myself. if the only option to read a book is online that is one book I will not be reading. Holding the actual book feels comfortable to me and that is something i will not give up for new technology.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s