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It also discusses the central critical issues raised by electronic literature, pointing out that there is significant overlap with the print tradition. At the same time, the essay argues that the practices, texts, procedures, and processual nature of electronic literature require new critical models and new ways of playing and interpreting the works.
Because this essay is the first systematic attempt to survey and summarize the fast-changing field of electronic literature, artists, designers, writers, critics, and other stakeholders may find it useful as an overview, with emphasis on recent creative and critical works.
Katherine Hayles opens the aperture more widely and the angle differs slightly as well. Her electronic literature "primer" is a wide-ranging essay that takes the pulse of the e-literature field at this particular moment, reminding us that "literature" has always been a contested category.
While both Hayles and Tabbi agree on many points and cover some of the same territorythere are also some interesting differences between the essays.
Both strike me as equally important. And most of us in the Electronic Literature Organization believe that the two critical orientations represented work together. Brother Paul, the precentor in charge, had detected a murmur from the back row and, furious that the rule of silence was being compromised, strode down the aisle just in time to see Brother Jacob tuck something under his robe.
When he demanded to see it, Brother Jacob shamefacedly produced a codex, but not one that the antiquarii of this monastery had copied — or of any monastery, for this Psalter was printed. Moreover, if any Thomas, Richard or Harold could find his way into print, would not writing itself be compromised and become commonplace scribbling?
And how would the spread of cheap printed materials affect the culture of the Word, bringing scribbling into every hut and hovel whose occupants had hitherto relied on priests to interpret writing for them? The questions hung in the air; none dared imagine what answers the passing of time would bring.
This fanciful scenario is meant to suggest that the place of writing is again in turmoil, roiled now not by the invention of print books but the emergence of electronic literature.
Just as the history of print literature is deeply bound up with the evolution of book technology as it built on wave after wave of technical innovations, so the history of electronic literature is entwined with the evolution of digital computers as they shrank from the room-sized IBM machine on which I first learned to program sporting all of 4K memory to the networked machine on my desktop, thousands of times more powerful and able to access massive amounts of information from around the globe.
The questions that troubled the Scriptorium are remarkably similar to issues debated today within literary communities. Is electronic literature really literature at all?
Will the dissemination mechanisms of the Internet and World Wide Web, by opening publication to everyone, result in a flood of worthless drivel?
Is literary quality possible in digital media, or is electronic literature demonstrably inferior to the print canon? What large-scale social and cultural changes are bound up with the spread of digital culture, and what do they portend for the future of writing?
Note 1 These questions cannot be answered without first considering the contexts that give them meaning and significance, and that implies a wide-ranging exploration of what electronic literature is, how it overlaps and diverges from print, what signifying strategies characterize it, and how these strategies are interpreted by users as they go in search of meaning.
In brief, one cannot begin to answer the questions unless one has first thoroughly explored and understood the specificities of digital media.The Purdue University Online Writing Lab serves writers from around the world and the Purdue University Writing Lab helps writers on Purdue's campus.
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The Purdue University Online Writing Lab serves writers from around the world and the Purdue University Writing Lab helps writers on Purdue's campus.