Zones of Contact and Fields of Consistency in Electronic Literature

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This panel will explore the relationship between criticism and creative practice in electronic literature. Participants will discuss the potentials of and limits to literary criticism in the realm of digital poetics and narrative.
Dates: 
Friday, 16 September, 2011 - 13:00 - 14:30
Chair Person: 
Davin Heckman
Chair Person: 
Dene Grigar
Presenters: 
Dene Grigar
Presenters: 
Anna Gibbs
Presenters: 
Maria Angel
Presenters: 
Scott Rettberg

Chair: Dr. Davin Heckman
2nd Chair: Dr. Dene Grigar

This panel will explore the relationship between criticism and creative practice in electronic literature.  This discussion will discuss the potentials of and limits to literary criticism in the realm of digital poetics and narrative.  Heckman’s paper discusses the relationship between speed, literary criticism and folksonomy.  Rettberg will highlight the ELMCIP Knowledgebase and community-based research practices in the field of electronic literature.  Grigar will address the narrative in the age of digital media.  And Gibbs and Angel will explore handwriting as an embodied praxis linking thought with corporeality through the medium of gesture, and its transformations in text-based new media art. Panelists will address the critical value of establishing connections with traditional literary vocabulary, both as a method for understanding new media art within literary contexts and as a method of advancing the development of new critical tools, particularly those that aid the development of a world literature of electronic literature.

Paper Abstracts

Tagging Practices and the Disturbed Dialectic of Literary Criticism

by Dr. Davin Heckman

This paper will discuss the relationship between speed and literary criticism in the age of new media.  Specifically, this paper will explore the dual metaphor of the “tag” as an official consumer label and an underground art form, and the productive tension that exists when both forms exist within the same urban space.  Using this metaphor to discuss traditional terminologies and folksonomy as forms of “tagging” that can create productive tension within database projects like the Electronic Literature Directory, I will conclude with a call for attentiveness that can push both casual readers and conservative scholars towards criticism that is technologically appropriate, ethically engaged, and culturally vital.

Narrative in Social Media

by Dr. Dene Grigar

Stories broadcast in 140 or less characters over the course of a day may, at first, seem only a 21st century update of serialized micro-fiction, yet considering the strategies authors take to produce literary works involving social media, their creations resist easy definition.  This paper looks the broad notion of narrative as it plays out in the social networking site, Twitter, in works such as Adam Higgs et al’s  “Crushing It:  A Social Media Love Story," Jay Bushman’s “The Good Captain,” and Dene Grigar’s “The 24-Hour Micro-Elit Project.”  Specifically, the paper asks two questions:  First, how do narratives created for social media sites work against what has become the conventional way to describe e-literature?  Second, what do we learn about social media literature if we think about it in terms of non-narrativity? At stake are assumptions about what constitutes electronic literature and conventional views about narrativity in relation to works produced with and for digital media.

At the Time of Writing: digital media, gesture and handwriting

by Anna Gibbs and Maria Angel

This paper examines the way literary practice in digital media illuminates traditional literary processes that otherwise remain unremarked, and conversely, what the literary concept of ‘address’ might contribute to an understanding of the way digital media are reinventing literary agency. It explores handwriting as an embodied praxis linking thought with corporeality through the medium of gesture, and its transformations in text-based new media art. Handwriting (and especially signatures) has long been thought to make personality traits manifest. Its expressive gestural and kinematic aspect can be illuminated by Werner’s theory of physiognomic perception in which two-dimensional diagrams are shown as consistently corresponding to and eliciting a small number of categorical affects (happy, sad, angry) in viewers. Diane Gromala’s ‘Biomorphic Typography’ (2000 onwards) in which the user’s keystrokes generate biofeedback input which combines with the behaviours assigned to typography to animate text in the present time of writing draws on these conventions and complicates them in the process. By contrast, John Geraci’s locative media project ‘Grafedia’ (2004-2005), in which, as he says, ‘walls are made into websites’ handwriting signals the public discourse of graffiti with all its connotations of haste and illegality. In this work, users can write by hand on any of the various physical surfaces of the world and link this graffiti to rich media content that can be accessed by others as they come across the texts, appropriates the live dimension of handwriting as graffiti into the memorialising and communicative functions of a larger textual work that might also be collaboratively elaborated over time. The handwritten graffiti (in blue and underscored) mimics the default HTML hyperlink, which makes it visible as a piece of Grafedia, also signals the complex reciprocity between handwriting and print in new media work.

Making Connections Visible: Building a Knowledge Base for Electronic Literature

by Dr. Scott Rettberg

Developing a Network-Based Creative Community: Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice (ELMCIP) is a collaborative research project funded by the Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) JRP for Creativity and Innovation. 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 ELMCIP Knowledge Base is a publicly accessible online database that focuses on capturing core bibliographic data and archival materials about authors, creative works, critical writing, events, organizations, publishers, and teaching resources and on making visible the connections between creative and scholarly activities in the field.

This presentation will focus on three aspects of the ELMCIP Knowledge Base in particular:

1) Cross-referencing to make visible the emergence of creative and scholarly communities of practice

In developing the ELMCIP Knowledge Base platform, we put a particular emphasis on showing the connections between different forms of practice in scholarly and artistic communities, and making cross-references apparent and accessible. So for instance, records documenting creative works are automatically linked to critical writing that reference them, and vice versa, records of events and exhibition link to works that were presented, author records link to materials written, edited and taught. This capacity to show the web of connections on which a creative community is based is a distinguishing feature of the project.

2) Open access and international collaboration

The ELMCIP project is working with other international projects in the US, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Australia and elsewhere to establish open-access content sharing between the most active database projects and organizations in the field, to facilitate international cooperation and growth of the creative communities in which it is engaged.

3) Documenting and the path to Archiving electronic literature

The ELMCIP project includes both metadata-level documentation and some archival materials, such as .PDF files, source code of some works, audio and video documentation of presentations and so forth. This presentation will consider ways in which this might lead to the future development of an electronic literature repository, in which works of electronic literature are not only documented, but also in some fashion preserved for archival reference and future appreciation.

Bios of the Participants

Dene Grigar

Dene Grigar is an Associate Professor in the Digital Technology & Culture Program at Washington State University Vancouver. Her research focuses in the areas of Emergent Technologies & Cognition, Electronic Literature, and Ephemera. Her book New Worlds, New Words: Exploring Pathways In and About Electronic Environments (with John Barber, Hampton Press, 2001) speculates about the ways in which writing and thinking change when moved to electronic environments, such as the World Wide Web, MOOs, and email. Her second book, Defiance and Decorum: Women, Public Rhetoric, and Activism (with Laura Gray and Kay Robinson) looks at the way women have used Rhetoric to achieve social and political goals. Her specific focus in this book is to examine new media artists and their particular methods of activism. She is also Associate Editor of Leonardo Reviews and Treasurer of the Electronic Literature Organization.  In 2001 she attended a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar at UCLA led by N. Katherine Hayles, an experience that led her to undertake, from 2002-4, a post-doctoral study with the Planetary Collegium (formerly the Center of Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts-Science Technology and Art Research, CAiiA-STAR) located at the University of Plymouth, in the UK. Current new media projects include the MINDful Play Environment, an interactive, live game environment that she is creating with Canadian multimedia artist Steve Gibson and Anthologie, a collection of multimedia performance pieces.

Scott Rettberg

Scott Rettberg is a Chicago native who now lives in Norway. He writes, and writes about new media and electronic literature. Rettberg is the cofounder of the Electronic Literature Organization and currently project leader of the HERA-funded ELMCIP project. He is an associate professor of digital culture at the University of Bergen, and is the proud father of Jessica Ann and Benjamin Scott Rettberg.

Davin Heckman

Davin Heckman is the author of A Small World: Smart Houses and the Dream of the Perfect Day (Duke UP, 2008).  He is Supervising Editor of the Electronic Literature Directory (directory.eliterature.org) and Associate Professor of English at Siena Heights University, where he teaches courses in writing, literature, and media studies.  In 2011, he was selected as a Fulbright Scholar in digital culture at the University of Bergen.

Anna Gibbs

Anna Gibbs supervises postgraduate students in the School of Communication Arts and the Writing and Society Research Group at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She is currently working on an Australian Research Council funded project with Maria Angel and Joseph Tabbi, which aims to construct an annotated Directory of Australian New Media Writers and Writing. With Maria Angel, she is working on a book about corporeality in writing for digital media. Her previous work has focused on affect theory and mimesis across the fields of textual, media and cultural studies, and, as an experimental writer, she has also published a number of cut up works, collaborated with visual artists on interactive installations, and has contributed to theorizing the practice of fictocriticism.

Maria Angel

Maria Angel is currently conducting research into writing and affect, and bio-evolutionary theories of human communication. She has an ongoing interest in specularity, obscenity, and corporeality. Maria’s recent work has been a critique of posthuman theories of subjectivity and representation, and an analysis of the human face as a visual interface. Her work has been published in Textual Practice, Canadian Journal of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies, among other places.