So far in DigitaLit we've experienced a few new-media moments, including a young adult novelist who would rather publish on her blog than in print, and a huge online archive of audio files that break individual poems recorded at poetry readings into small MP3s, kind of like pop singles.
These subjects made for interesting discussions, if I do say so myself.
But wouldn't it be nice to get our arms around this thing, to get a sense of the full breadth and scope of what's called digital literature?
The 60 works in the first volume of the Electronic Literature Collection (ELC) (http://collection.eliterature.org) - edited by N. Katherine Hayles, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg and Stephanie Strickland - show the wide range of forms that exist within the genre.
Take the collection's keyword page, which breaks electronic literature into 56 possible categories. Not all of these are specific to digital media - I found the familiar "memoir," "poetry," and "satire" - and some describe the platform on which the piece was developed or its features, such as "audio," rather than actual forms of e-literature.
The editors also included categories that don't refer to anything in the ELC "to try to make it clear that the Collection, despite our efforts, doesn't represent everything," Montfort, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, explained via e-mail.
"Electronic literature is not a literary movement with abstract, unified goals, nor is it a single community of practice," he said. "This makes the Collection less coherent than the usual anthology, but it also accounts for the wide variety of work in it."
To wit: A piece made in Flash by Reiner Strasser and Alan Sondheim that uses sound, photography, and text, "Dawn" is a poem that reveals itself textually one stanza at a time. The text fades in and out in front of photographs of the outdoors that also shift slowly, suggestive of the changing light of early day, from one image to another.
In "Galatea," Emily Short's work of interactive fiction, the reader (or player?) gives instructions to a lovely illustration of the character Galatea via a chatbot program, which causes the story to unfold differently each time.
"The Dreamlife of Letters," a poem by Brian Kim Stefans, is categorized as "ambient" because it runs on its own and allows for no interactivity, not even a pause button. The delightful 11-minute program takes us through the alphabet with words that swing around each other, vibrate like silent alarm bells, disappear, reappear, and recombine in funny and unexpected ways. The un in unconscious, for example, pulls away from the word, turns into a bunch of ums, and drifts out of view.
And in "Birds Singing Other Birds' Songs," simple drawings of birds outlined with transliterations of birdsong ("wah-wah," "dee-dee") move around the screen as recordings of human voices read the sounds.
Looking at the array of styles within the 60 works in the collection, I had to ask: At what point do pieces that move and make noise have more in common with other forms - film, maybe, or installation pieces - than with traditional fiction or poetry?
"In thinking about 'Birds Singing Other Birds' Songs,' I find that it has a particular relationship to sound and concrete poetry - which are literary traditions specifically, although also hard to read - and that it also comments on the processes of transcription and reading [aloud] in a literary way," Montfort said.
"I think many people have a difficult time seeing how certain pieces in the collection can be understood as literature - including Collection authors and, at times during the editorial process, those of us who edited the Collection. Let me suggest what could be more interesting questions, though: How do we read them, or how do they read themselves to us? These are questions that pertain to literature, but which art and film don't always ask."