Hyperrhiz 4

Introduction: e-Lit

Helen J. Burgess
University of Maryland Baltimore County

Citation: Burgess, Helen J.. “Introduction: e-Lit.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 4, 2008. doi:10.20415/hyp/004.i01

Abstract: Introduction to "e-Lit" - special issue of Hyperrhiz 04.

Issue 4 of Hyperrhiz is dedicated to electronic literature. As Davin Heckman notes in his introduction to { Literal1.Text }, e-lit, as "a form that was born quite consciously as a response to emergent technics (both hardware and software), opens up the door for literatures that can reveal something to us about the nature of the technical system." This response, increasingly, forces us to reckon with the ways in which literature is becoming code, and code, literature. If the works included in this issue are any indication, the nature of Heckman's "technical system" is generative and additive, rather than instrumental.

The evolution of interactive fiction since its heady days in the 1990s is made evident in our two opening works, Thom Swiss' "Blind Side of a Secret" and Mark Marino's "A Little Show of Hands." Both authors offer narratives in a hypertextual mode, but both have moved beyond the early "pick a path" model of hypertext - Swiss by creating a Flash piece that tempts us with a "secret" at the same time as it recalls for us the frustration and circularity of talk-therapy, and Marino by using Juan B. Gutierrez's Literatronic adaptive hypertext system to create a narrative that unfolds according to statistical matchings of lexia.

Braxton Soderman's work, as he notes, depends on the "relationship between dynamic form and semantic content," a constant and generative struggle between code and meaning. His "Dialogue Between Two Eyeballs" recalls this struggle through a systematic "rupturing of words" on the screen, as a way of signifying the effect dynamics has on semanitcs. Rachel Strickland and Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo's work "slippingglimpse" reimagines this struggle as a kind of non-human reading technology, starting with observed ocean patterns: water reads poem, poem reads video, video reads water: the text that appears mapping the water's movement at run-time.

Jaka Zeleznikar's work, consisting of two add-ons written for the Firefox browser, perhaps plays the most consciously with the idea of technics as additive -- in this case, a static piece of code(the add-on) "reading" and producing a dynamic piece of text. These two pieces must be installed as software plugins, and then used in the browser to generate a literature from the active page, a kind of multilingual technological parasitism that realises itself (in the case of the Crke plugin) literally as letters.

The genre-crossing nature of multimedia provides a fruitful space for exploring the ways in which media both supplement and reconfigure literature and scholarship - in the form of interplays between fiction, art, criticism, digital image, video and print text. Michael Peters' "Mooring the Vaast Bin" presents a corpus of material that adds through video, audio, text and illustration a "mooring" for an absent work (Vaast Bin, a print text). Peters' work suggests that a central text is always accompanied by addenda, reimaginings, and visual/aural "accompaniments." In her review of Flanagan and Booth's edited collection re:skin, Jeanne Hamming notes the close and varied "fleshy crossings" the book has produced between fiction, nonfiction and art in the quest for a "techno-sexuality." These crossings, she argues, "[depart] from the convention in scholarly publications of segregating primary material from criticism."

Finally, in this issue Davin Heckman introduces the { Literal1.Text } forum, which will be an ongoing resource for teachers of electronic literature. The works in this issue of Hyperrhiz, clearly, suggest that teaching electronic literature will be both challenging and, potentially, a chance to open up discussions about the interplay between software, hardware, and a new generative technics.

— Winter 2007