January 11, 2012
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Walker on eLit

Jill Walker weighs in on Laurie Emerson’s assertion (at MLA) that electronic literature begins in 2001. She thinks terminology is really important, but finds that “electronic literature” was actually used quite a bit in the 1990s and 1980s.

An hour with my bookshelves revealed many more examples that Jill doesn’t mention. People used lots of phrases back then – hypertext fiction, digital writing, computer-mediated stories. They weren’t planning for this controversy back then, and the term “literature” was contested (and wildly unfashionable) through the first culture wars of the 1990s.

What’s not been mentioned so far is whether the move from “hypertext fiction” to “cybertext” and then to “electronic literature” has actually been of any value to anyone other than fundraisers. Aarseth wanted to broaden the scope of analysis, and then Montfort and Eskillinen used the broadening to declare “hypertext is dead,” but did any of this lead anywhere?

Is there really anything gained by lumping Monfort’s perl one-lines with Opie’s blinking women, Wardrip-Fruin’s web collages, and Andy Campbell’s cinematic puzzles? We occasionally get some indifferently-informed papers on “the essence of the digital,” but are these showing any signs of improvement? Of making a meaningful contribution to knowledge?

Let’s abandon the term “electronic literature” and get back to reading (and making) great stuff.