A Bibliographic Overview of Electronic Literature

Electronic literature is born-digital literary art that exploits, as its muse and medium, the transmedia possibilities of the digital. It is, according to the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO), “work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer.” [1]

The rapid emergence of this field necessitates a smartly curated beginners’ guide. This essay seeks to provide such by reviewing recent works that we feel represent an effective overview of current electronic literature (e-lit) scholarship. Sketching a durable architecture of critical contemporary e-lit texts is no easy task as both the pasts and the futures of the field are in dynamic shift and flow. In the service of putting forth a practical bibliography of e-lit scholarship, we here foreground the historical lineages (its disputed pasts) to focus primarily on the contemporary questions, conversations, critiques and critical theories that point toward its potential futures.

Important to the ongoing development of the field are pedagogical interventions. E-lit provides students new objects to think with and new ways to think the objects (the text) we think we know. Electronic literatures have rearranged the literary and reconfigured textual potentialities. Weaved within the reviews below are annotated cues suggesting possible nodes (and interfaces) for its classroom integration.

The field of electronic literature is international, interdisciplinary, and animatedly emergent. The artists and theorists converging on the field come from different traditions―from literature and media studies to computer/information science and art history―each bringing the assumptions, approaches, methodologies, and mobilizing questions particular to her home discipline. This variety and multiplicity, highlighted in the texts below, make it an exciting field for scholars and students.

E-lit Overview

The four books comprising the Medienumbrüche│Media Upheavals (2007-2010) electronic literature series (Aesthetics of Net Literature, Literary Art in Digital Performance, Reading Moving Letters, and Beyond the Screen), were chosen here as the backbone of our curricular structure as they provide a representative overview of current scholarship (specifically, a survey of current print scholarship available in English). Each of the collections puts diverse perspective―those representing the literary, the artistic, the technological, and the performative―into conversation by finding shared points of contact and common nodes of intersection. This series calculatedly moves in a legible succession―from positing in the first edition that literary processes “emerge from techno-social networks” to presenting case studies, close readings and aesthetic approaches in books two and three to finally moving beyond the screen in the fourth. For the novice scholar or student, this continuity allows one to fluidly move likewise through the existing e-lit canon from entrance, to engagement, to exploratory experimentation.

In the first of the books, The Aesthetics of Net Literature (2007), editors Peter Gendolla & Jörgen Schäfer establish the collection’s working assumption: new forms of literature have arisen “as a result of the programmed manipulations of signs and the networking of computers and their users”(9). The sixteen essays here work toward an aesthetic of electronic literature by contemplating the question of the new literary quality that emerges when a work is born digital (i.e. created as digital media) in the midst of programmed signs and networked users. Each participating author contributes an approach or a provocation that interrogates this issue.

Proposing a programmatic framework for an e-lit aesthetic is Philippe Bootz who, in his essay “The Problem of Form” suggests we read literary forms as programming processes and programming processes as literary (poetic) material. Bootz offers a procedure for studying a digital literary work that separately examines the levels of a work―its surface level, communicative level, and meta-level―that together provide an entry point for understanding its meaning, its creative (and creating) aesthetic, and the relations it enacts between writer, reader, and sign. Similarly, Loss P Glazier in “Code, Cod, Ode” asks us to deliberately consider the poetic language in and of programming code when we read e-lit as it is the code and the “onscreen event of the code’s execution” that manifest the possibilities of the digital poetic work (328).

Posing a more pragmatic approach is Roberto Simanowski in “Holopoetry, Biopoetry, and Digital Literature.” He challenges us to “shift from linguistic hermeneutics to a hermeneutics of intermedial, interactive, and performative signs” by focusing on “the digital in digital literature” (47-48). He smartly gestures toward the misappropriation of ‘electronic’ as an organizational modifier in so far as it limits our theoretical boundaries if used as a strict qualifier. By dismissing the premise that electronic literature is literature electrified, he points toward a method of analysis that rejects the separation of the electronic medium from the work’s literariness and instead appreciates that the literary is indeed inseparable from the mediated, performative (inter)face of the unified work.

Gendolla & Schäfer’s approach is to likewise reframe the terminological distinction so as to reframe the stage of the debate. In “Playing with Signs,” they ask us to rethink electronic literature as Net Literature arguing that literature, as “a specific organ of perception, as a ‘high-voltage’ sixth sense for socio-cultural change,” has been both actively and passively participating in the technocontemporary upheavals brought about by modern networked technologies (17; see also, Simanowski, Digital Art and Meaning, discussed below). This intermingled interdependency with and within the network and networked media necessitates, for them, that we think of our e-lit works as net literature. Here as with Simanowski, what is at stake in the terminological is the ideological; our terms reflect and define the discourse of our ideologies.

The next collection, Literary Art in Digital Performance: Case Studies in New Media Art and Criticism (2009) features formidable case studies from American and European philosophers, artists, and media theorists that address the question “What might constitute a paradigmatic method for analyzing digital artworks?” (7). Representing the demographic and disciplinary diversity of their authors, the studies offer manifold modes for analytical critique. The various points of disciplinary cont(r)act converge here on the thesis that “the examined work’s mechanism illustrates the uniqueness of its production across invocations, lending to it behavior that is both idiosyncratic (reinforcing its internal sense of difference), yet sufficiently cohesive to accentuate the voice and character of identity (reinforcing its internal sense of continuity)...” (6-7).

In his introduction, Francisco Ricardo points toward two distinct theoretical framing formulas represented in this collection―the synthetic/formalistic on the one hand and the critical/historical on the other. Manifesting the latter, Simanowski proposes an e-lit reading model that begins from the premise that “the first purpose that a digital work serves is as an act of creative expression” (17). He believes a digital work is “fundamentally different from and more complex than a material or printed work” and that it “deserves a broad, extratextual reading of its creative context” à la New Criticism that effects a close reading extending beyond the text and its screen(s) (17).

Performing the synthetic/formalistic analysis, N. Katherine Hayles presents a method (metaphor) she calls intermediation that extends not just the act of critique but also the space of meaning (see also, Hayles, My Mother Was a Computer). Intermediation, provocatively―but elegantly―developed from Hayles’s unique position as a practiced chemist and a practicing literary critic, “recognizes nonhuman as well as human possibilities for meaning-making” (49). This perspective sees literary texts as objects in “a continuous flux of interconnections, networks, processes” within a world that is not only in motion, but is motion (50).

Further essays here include work on ‘geopoetics’ from Katja Kwastek, on digital poetics from John Cayley and Chris Funkhouser, and on Second Life and interactive drama from Maria Backe and Schäfer. Each of the case studies puts into motion the various approaches suggested in the first collection, The Aesthetics of Net Lit, creating a valuable topography for evaluating the viability and productivity of the differing methods. Instructors and students alike will find similarities within the differences and difference within the similarities leading toward an enriching dialogue.

Reading Moving Letters: Digital Literature in Research and Teaching, a Handbook (2010) includes critical essays and pedagogical observations from e-lit instructors and practitioners in the United States, the Netherlands, France, Spain, and Slovenia by authors representing an array of academic backgrounds. Reading Moving Letters began as a project to address the educational and pedagogical questions of teaching and incorporating e-lit instruction into the university curriculum and does so by focusing distinctly on both: methods of reading e-lit are discussed in Part I and models of teaching―along with specific course reports from current e-lit instructors―are given in Part II.

Characterizing the literary as “the arranging of the material or the use of features in an uncommon fashion to undermine any automatic perception for the purpose of aesthetic perception,” Simanowski, in the introductory essay “Reading Digital Literature,” establishes the question of this collection as one asking “What are the [literary] strategies of figuration and estrangement when literature is digitally born?” (16).

Reflecting again the theme of position-al multiplicity, this collection reveals two primary methodologies, each with a particular, but not necessarily contradictory or exclusionary, ethos. The first believes it necessary to ground theory in stable, and thus disciplined, theoretico-historical foundations. The second believes it necessary to move beyond the idea of disciplined disciplines to create a distinctly interdisciplinary space for new/hybrid terms and scholarship. The choice of one over the other carries important implications that can alternately and/or simultaneously mobilize and/or debilitate (and/or also destabilize) our objects and our critical positions.

If we are too tightly or too tidily contained within a particular theoretical discourse, we chance ignoring significant or critical elements of what should be a hybrid episteme for the study and teaching of e-lit. Alternately, if we are too open―too hybrid―we risk a-historicizing or de-historicizing our works and practice. The boundaries and balances are delicate and must be taught alongside the objects and their theories. As with the previous collections, the juxtaposition here of disagreeing perspectives opens the space for a conversation about the highlights and inherent vices of each.

Gendolla & Schäfer, in “Reading (in) the Net,” speak to the importance of a careful hybridity by cautioning against oversimplified contextualizations that may mislead or dis-serve us: “What, on the surface, seem to be resemblances or analogies [analogs?] of new media art to the modernist tradition, are symptoms of a radical change in media technologies whose mid- to long-term consequences we are only beginning to realize” (82, brackets mine). They present four epistemological categories that, in their reassessment vis-à-vis e-lit works, may form the foundation for a net literature aesthetic: 1) intentionality versus chance; 2) performativity/performance; 3) emergence; 4) game/play (94). They believe these four create the “aesthetic criteria [of] literary human-machine communication in networked media” as they seek to speak for both the literariness and the “unique aesthetic difference” we find in e-lit works (92).

In “Five Elements of Digital Literature,” Noah Wardrip-Fruin agrees that in order to properly read digital literature, we must avoid shallow categorizations. He says “we need to be specific about system behavior and user experience―and explicitly aware that data’s impact on experience is at least as great as process and interaction” (40). Wardrip-Fruin suggests we reach an organized categorization scheme by way of testing various possible methods (he suggests 4) to determine which would best suit our pursuit. Wardrip-Fruin deliberately privileges an e-lit work’s processes believing that paying them closer attention is not only necessary but also enriching for the study of e-lit.

The first way (way 1), in what sounds like a not-so-distant alliance with Marie-Laure Ryan’s early impulse in Cyberspace Textuality (1999) to categorize digital literatures via the action of the computer, distinguishes works that use computation only in the authoring stages from works that use computation at both the authoring and reading stages. This path feels flawed in its much too narrow classification schema and is rather deceptive in its seeming simplicity as many works are not so easily grouped based on the concept of their functions and functionings. Wardrip-Fruin alternately suggests we could distinguish e-lit works according to their internal potential for variation (way 2) or according to their input flows (way 3) or according to their human interaction levels (way 4). Each way has obvious and invisible costs and benefits. A testing of types, as he suggests, is a good starting point for revealing both to the early student or scholar.

Wardrip-Fruin presents five key elements to consider when reading digital literature and when testing various e-lit reading paradigms: data, processes, interaction, surface, and context. Though helpful to parse the various parts of the e-lit work as Wardrip-Fruin here does, we must be careful not to fall too easily into his part-ializing scheme. A work of art is all of its parts and when we attempt to study each in its isolation we risk losing the whole in the midst of its dissection.

Speaking to this, John Zuern in “Figures in the Interface” writes “…if we want to develop a procedure for the close reading of digital literary texts, we must endeavor to show how identifiable qualities of the medium in which a text is produced, displayed, and disseminated intersect constitutively with identifiable strategies of figuration that make the text recognizable as “literature”...the strictures of such an approach would demand that we ask ourselves, in each instance of close reading, whether computation as such is essential to the specifically literary properties of the text or essential only to the existence of the text as a particular kind of artifact”(60). Zuern believes it is the ambiguous distinction between the literary and the artifactual that blurs the emerging critical discourse. Though Zuern sees this ambiguity as symptomatic, it can indeed be productively mobilized in our research and instruction. By interrogating the ambiguities, we may discover the abiding particularities.

Two other essays of note in this collection are Raine Koskimaa’s article on “Approaches to Digital Literature” and Astrid Ensslin’s “From Revisi(tati)on to Retro-Intentionalization.” Koskimaa presents the idea of the cyborg author and gives a theoretical treatment of the temporality of literary cybertexts (129). Ensslin introduces an approach she calls “cybersomatic criticism” which focuses on the role of the body and the body’s embodied mechanisms during the e-lit reading process. Ensslin’s approach is one combining the phenomenological with the biological as they are implicated in the reading process.

The first article in the final collection, Beyond the Screen, Transformations of Literary Structures, Interfaces, and Genres (2010), Schäfer’s “Reassembling the Literary” asks the question “In what way [does] the literary―that has been analyzed as a phenomenon of a quite specific experience of difference for literature in book culture―continue to be valid for literary processes in computer based media?” (27). In answering this question, he proposes we also ask another: How do we move beyond the question of the literary to include interdisciplinary approaches, like those of semiotics, linguistics, neuroscience, computer science, performance/actor theories, in our search for a theory of e-lit works? He challenges us to make new associations between and betwixt the various knowledges unique to particular disciplines.

In “Memory and Motion,” Maria Angel and Anna Gibbs take up the materiality of new media writing and its environments and interrogate what is at stake as we move away from alphabetic modes of communication toward those “based on emergent technologies of the image, motion capture, and gesture” (123). They believe “with electronic writing the word returns somewhat to performed (social) event (but also to the magic and ritual associated with animism), rather than the inanimate typographic images associated with forms of privatized (book) reading” (129).

In “The Gravity of the Leaf,” Cayley argues that new media literary forms simply make visible the always present problematic between language, especially language art, and its media. He explains: “Because language has been constrained to the mind, the voice and laterally to the “surface of the leaf,” we have internalized its being-in-all-possible-worlds as such. When it appears in “new media” we are re-sensitized to the experience of its never-having-belonged-here” (200). In exploring the worlds of and created by new media literary objects, he focuses on the writing space of the four-walled interactive-projective Cave (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment). When we experience reading―or language―within the Cave, he says “we are brought face to-literally, spectral (sur)-face with the strange relationship between language and media, between language and its embodiment in the worlds that media provide” (216).

Wardrip-Fruin here too, in “Beyond the Complex Surface,” refers to the space of the Cave as it manifests itself to/for the artist. “As artists select and craft complex surfaces for their works,” he says, “expectations can be created more flexibly and perhaps more powerfully than when working with default configurations (whether personal computer screens or codex books)” (246).

This collection goes then beyond the screen(s) considering a wide range of interfaces and iterations: Hayles takes up RFID codes; Dene Grigar discusses hyperlinks in three-dimensional performances spaces; Ricardo, Jeremy Hight, and Jean-Pierre Balpe explore locative media; Jochen Venus focuses on video games. Also taken up in this collection are the important questions of archiving, presentation (editing & curation), and preservation [2]. As the fourth in the series, it is a laudable exhibit of the state of current e-lit scholarship.

The scaffold of a curriculum for beginning students, scholars, and instructors of e-lit would be incomplete without the addition of N. Katherine Hayles’s Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary (2008). This slender book stands (strongly still) as an authority for electronic literature [3]. Electronic Literature lays out the most important current (at time of publication) questions, definitions, concepts, contexts in a fluid language that makes the scholarship accessible to both beginners and experts. Hayles points to the important historical precursors as well as to the contexts, contents, and codes underpinning electronic literary works. Hayles’s previous books, for instance My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts (2005), Writing Machines (2002), and How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics (1999), are also important critical texts [4].

E-lit online spaces

E-lit online sites provide dynamic conversation for students and scholars. A notable few among the many are the ELO (, the Electronic Book Review (, the ELMCIP Knowledgebase (, Netpoetic (, HTLit (, the multilingual This Week in E-Lit (, Dichtung Digital (, Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures (, The New River journal of digital writing and art (, the new media poetry journal, Poems That Go (, hypermedia journal Beehive (, The Iowa Review Web ( and the Electronic Poetry Center (

For curated collections of electronic literary works see the ELO's Electronic Literature Directory ( as well as their two DVD collections Electronic Literature Collection, v1 & v2 ( and the Electronic Literature Exhibit at MLA 2012 (

E-lit Subfields

Several of the main so-classified subfields within electronic literature have become popular routes of study for e-lit scholars and students. A sufficient overview of the subfields will include, at least, hypertext fiction, digital poetry, interactive fiction, and a brief foray into literary digital art.

Contemporary digital hypertext fiction was perhaps first successfully practiced and positioned by Michael Joyce, author of the classic hypertext fiction, afternoon: a story. In Of two minds: hypertext pedagogy and poetics (1995) and Othermindedness: the emergence of network culture (2000) Joyce speaks to the critical situation of hypertext fiction and the “newly evolving consciousness and cognition” that are co-developing as we integrate the virtual with the real and affirm the various embodiments of our digital selves. A more recent analysis of hypertext fiction can be found in Alice Bell’s The Possible Worlds of Hypertext Fiction (2010). Bell proposes a theory and method for the critical positioning of hypertext fiction and does what the New Critics might understand as a techno-postmodern iteration of close reading of four foundational hypertext fictions. Like Simanowksi and others here reviewed, Bell challenges us―as readers, theorists, and educators―to conduct systematic and analytical criticism of electronic literary works.

For a review of interactive fiction (IF), fiction that reacts meaningfully to input, see Nick Montfort’s book Twisty Little Passages (2003) and his more recent articles and webposts on his website His work Adventure in Style, using his newly created Curveship IF software, typifies this category; in it, the “players type short natural language commands, the result of each action is simulated, and the new situation is described in text.” Montfort tells us that “Interactive fiction aspires to have human-like dialogue in natural language, not command-line interaction” [5].

Much has been done on the subfield of digital poetry which itself has been divided into subcategories. From Glazier’s Digital Poetics: The Making of E-Poetries (2001) to Adelaide Morris’s edited volume New Media Poetics: Contexts, Technotexts, and Theories (2006) to Chris Funkhouser’s two works Prehistoric Digital Poetry: An Archaeology of Forms, 1959-1995 (2007) and the just published New Directions in Digital Poetry (2012) the scholarship here is considerable and accessible.

The goal of Morris’s collection is to add e-poetry to the discourse of e-lit while delineating it from other formulations/genres of electronic literary works. The essays here situate e-poetry within the vernacular of digital literary/visual art works as well as highlight its lineage within the grand traditions of poetry and experimental poetics. The book’s articles address the three categories of its subtitle―the Contexts surrounding e-poetries, a selection of representative Technotexts exemplifying its possible iterations, and the various Theories emerging in e-poetry―providing a ready architecture for its study and/or its integration into poetic or literary curricula.

E-poetry can be convincingly found within and without its literary heritage: Morris and Jay Bolter, in this collection, for instance, trace the beginnings of e-poetries to the avant-garde works of Mallarme, Apollinaire, and the Dada artists while others find the new of new media poetries to be inherently located in the depths of the poem’s coded layers. In this collection, Glazier, Talan Memmott, and Cayley focus on the coding and programming aspects (grammars?) of e-poetries thus aligning the works more with what might be a born-digital generation of poetry that owes a legacy to―but jumps rather far beyond―their traditional poetic ancestors.

Pushing further outward from this latter position, Lev Manovich in The Language of New Media (2002) seems, provocatively and perhaps rather harshly, to sever the literary from the work by effectively mathematimacizing e-poetries―and e-literatures―suggesting they have more an algorithmic, numerical constitution than one based on formal language. “All new media objects,” he writes, “whether created from scratch on computers or converted from analog media sources, are composed of digital code; they are numerical representations” (27).

Funkhouser’s Prehistoric Digital Poetry is a self-described ‘archaeological’ investigation of the socio-historical and the artistic-structural routes/roots of digital poetry. Like Morris, he interrogates the newness of digital poetry and, as many do, he situates digital poetries as the progeny of the avant-garde and experimental traditions. In order to trace his archaeology, he works under a rather broad―and perhaps unsatisfying―definition of digital poetry: “A poem is a digital poem if computer programming or process (software) are distinctively used in the composition, generation, or presentation of the text (or combination of texts)” (22). This rather Foucauldian turn toward an archaeological framework offers an interesting - and interestingly nuanced - posture to the study of e-lit. Though not attractive to every scholar, this scheme, which represents a coherent plane of reference through which one can examine e-lit objects, can be mobilized as a prototype for a differently-shaped ordering of things. The content here is valuable and smart, and covers topics like text generation, visual works, digital code, and mediation, that may be of interest to students. Though primarily about digital poetry, much of his work here is apt and readily transferable to the greater discussion of electronic literatures.

In his most recent work, Funkhouser moves beyond the archaeological framework to reintegrate digital poetry into the body of the artist and the world of the art. "As with the experience of traversing an arcade [where "the crowd, in addition to the architecture, became the spectacle"] meandering through the structure of digital poetry brings us to the realization that the environment is as fluid and crucial to the reflective experience as is the visible content itself.” He feels “the appearance of new kinds of dynamic web-based media, of installations, and of other kinds of 'arcades' through which the poetic work can be acquired” necessitates an updated ‘expedition’ (ix).

Funkhouser's approach in this new work pays more attention to the process-level structures and organizational formula inherent in each individual poem than to the overall workings of the medium itself. He is a literary scholar before a media scholar―if the two can be so easily split―and though he recognizes the importance of the mediated device, his close readings tend to concentrate on the poem's particular mode of becoming as opposed to its medium of being. He wants to show that a digital poem "functions as something other than poetry presented on a computer" and is something other than an electrified print-poem (1). He does this by revealing the processes behind (and beyond and below) the interface behaviors and display.

Simanowski’s Digital Art and Meaning: Reading Kinetic Poetry, Text Machines, Mapping Art and Interactive Installations (2011) collectively covers several of the ‘genres’ of electronic literature as digital art works. Simanowski denounces the typical contemporary approach to digital aesthetics―an approach that embraces the audience and refuses the critic―in order to reframe the argument and re-embrace the role of the critic. He calls for a reemergence of the critical gaze: “With the increasing importance of digital media in all areas of social and cultural life, it is necessary to define a conceptual framework for understanding the social changes produced by digital media and to show students and readers how to interact critically with digital media culture” (1). Simanowski argues for a hermeneutic approach to e-lit close reading that is grounded in a traditional discourse that adapts classical terminologies and adopts new ones. We must also then develop a semantics (and a pragmatics, semiotics, and ethic) of the link, of code, and of the digital image and reconsider how traditional concepts, like those of the body, of presence, and of performance, are complicated by the digital.

In the development of a digital aesthetic, Simanowski warns, as he does in his contributions to the collections reviewed above, against developing ‘preoccupations’ that mistakenly privilege one or another of the component parts that together define the hermeneutic: he rejects “the embrace of code as such at the expense of its actual materialization, the embrace of the body’s action at the expense of its cognitive reflection, and the embrace of the pure presence of the artwork as the expense of any examination in semiotic meaning” (xi). But, it is important to note that he does not in any way deny any of these outright; the code, the body, and the presence, though none alone is sufficient for a digital aesthetic, a digital aesthetic cannot exist without their critical consideration. His position calls for both a self-contained close reading and a simultaneous consideration of the external aspects of the work’s production, context, and implication. He says, “code matters as much as its materialization in text, sound, visual object, and process matters in the experience of the work by its audience…bodily experience within an interactive work is a more or less intentional result of such creative expression and that it thus requires interpretation on the part of the spectator or interactor” (x).

The goal of his work here is to introduce literary close reading skills to media studies and media studies questions to literary aesthetics. “Offering skills to students and critical readers rather than offering them knowledge” he writes, “teaches them how to produce their own knowledge” ―and, we would add, to produce their own digital literary art works (xi).

E-lit authority Hayles agrees and recommends that in the classroom we pair the teaching of e-lit reading skills with the concurrent instruction of e-lit creation. By creating their own works in an environment that closely re-produces the conditions of its typical authoring―one that is collaborative, transliterary, active, layered, programmed and coded―our students can gain deeper understandings of the field and its objects. Students produce concepts from the works and from the working―the hands-on making―of e-lit pieces.

E-lit Satellites

Though we are focused here on contemporary work that reflects the current state of electronic literature study, it is worthwhile to point a new reader of e-lit to its peripheral forking relations.

Critical Terms for Media Study (2010) edited by Mark B.N. Hansen and W.J.T Mitchell is an excellent resource for e-lit scholars as it takes the objects and ideas we study―e.g. art, the body, materiality, language, information, technology, networks, time + space―and places each within the context of media while simultaneously situating media within the context of these concepts. Instead of using a particular media field (like film, for instance) as the framework for studying the concepts, this collection reverses the project and uses the concepts to interrogate the medium/media of its expression. Instead of a book about a particular medium, this is a book about the concepts and how they are problematized or manifested within media-ted expression. This sort of project could be productively mimicked in the classroom and indeed this book is used as an organizing text for new media courses.

The collection provides contexts and subtexts, as well as dynamic intertextual conversation, about new media study from some of the most relevant and important theorists working in the field. There are essays in Critical Terms by Joanna Drucker (on Art), Bill Brown (on Materiality), Mitchell (on Image), Bernard Stiegler (on Memory), Hayles (on Cybernetics), Hansen (on New Media), Geoffrey Winthrop-Young (on Hard-/Soft-/Wet-ware), and David Wellbery (on Systems). Hansen’s New Philosophy for New Media (2006) is likewise useful in situating electronic literary works in a philosophical milieu.

For a foundational overview (qua genealogy) of new media study, see the New Media Reader edited by Montfort and Wardrip-Fruin. This collection has become the go-to textbook for many university courses on digital media. From Espen Aarseth to Donna Haraway to Manovich to Sherry Turkle, the essays here trace the history of the field and its varied precursors. The articles represent works and ideas by the designers, scholars, artists, computer scientists, information specialists, novelists, and critical theorists from 1941 to 1994 who have helped shape contemporary new media e-lit discourse.

E-lit Reading

A final note on research and pedagogy is inspired by Wardrip-Fruin who, in Reading Moving Letters writes “I believe there remains more I need to learn to read, in order to read digital literature” (41). We must teach our students, and ourselves, not only to read digital literature critically but also to read literature digitally. Hayles points out that our students are primed to read digital text in a surface, skimming mode derived from―and certainly in line with―the type of non-literary, mostly-communicative daily web reading that typifies their (our) relation to the cyber-text. It is important that we learn―and teach―new ways of reading that break (into) these habits and facilitate digital literary reading skills that appreciate the literary systems and structures created when literatures become modernly transmediated [5].

[Editor's Note: This text was initially written to be published in Russian in the Novoye Literaturnoye Obozrenie (New Literary Observer) journal. See]


1. Quotation from ( Within the field of scholarship, though we examine the same objects, there are those who prefer different definitions and terminologies for what we here call electronic literature. Some argue, for instance, the terms digital literature or network literature (net lit) or cyber-literature (cyber-lit) should be used instead. In the spirit of honoring the ELO, we here use electronic literature to designate our objects and our study.

2. Digital curation is becoming a growing concern for e-lit scholars and creators. For more on curating digital works, from digital video to software to networked systems see Joasia Krysa’s edited collection, Curating Immateriality: The work of the curator in the age of network systems (2006). From theory to examples, this provides both an introduction and a walk through curatorial practices in the contemporary techno-literary climate. Articles of most interest: Joasia Krysa’s introduction; Geoff Cox’s article on curating code and software systems; Christiane Paul’s and Jacob Lillemose’s articles on curating Internet art; and Trebor Scholz article on curation and online participation.

3. Hayles’s Electronic Literature was comprehensively reviewed by Mark Marino in Digital Humanities Quarterly in Summer 2008 and has a companion website at

4. Hayles’s forthcoming How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis, (University of Chicago Press, May, 2012) will add yet another text to our study.

5. "Curveship's Automatic Narrative Style," Foundations of Digital Games, Bordeaux, 1 July 2011 (

6. Hayles gives an example: when she teaches Jackson’s e-lit work Patchwork Girl in her literature course, she urges students to break their web-skimming habit by assigning that they spend as much time reading this as they would spend reading Shelley’s Frankenstein. (Example gathered from private communication with Hayles).

Print Resources

Bell, A. (2010). The possible worlds of hypertext fiction. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Bolter, J. D. (1999). Remediation: understanding new media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Ciccoricco, D. (2007). Reading network fiction. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
Funkhouser, C. (2007). Prehistoric digital poetry: an archaeology of forms, 1959-1995. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
Funkhouser, C. (2012). New directions in digital poetry. New York ; London: Continuum.
Gendolla, P and J Schäfer, eds. (2010). Beyond the screen: transformations of literary structures, interfaces and genres. Bielefeld; New Brunswick, NJ: Transcript; Distributed in North America by Transaction Publishers.
Gendolla, P and J Schäfer, eds. (2007). The aesthetics of net literature: writing, reading and playing in the programmable media. Bielefeld; Piscataway, NJ: Transcript; Transaction Publishers.
Glazier, L. P. (2002). Digital poetics : the making of e-poetries. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: University of Alabama Press.
Hansen, M. B. N. and W.J.T. Mitchell, eds. (2010). Critical terms for media studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hansen, M. B. N. (2004). New philosophy for new media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Hayles, N. K. (1999). How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.
Hayles, N. K. (2002). Writing machines. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Hayles, N. K. (2005). My mother was a computer : digital subjects and literary texts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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Online Resources

Beehive at
Electronic Book Review at
Electronic Literature Exhibit at MLA 2012
Electronic Literature Organization at
ELMCIP Knowledge Base at
Electronic Poetry Center at
Dichtung Digital at
HTLit at
Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures at
The Iowa Review Web at
Netpoetic at
New River journal of digital writing and art at
Poems That Go at
This Week in E-Lit at