Reading Moving Letters: Digital Literature in Research and Teaching, a Handbook (2010) by editors Roberto Simanowski, Jörgen Schäfer, and Peter Gendolla is one of four books comprising the Medienumbruche│Media Upheavals (2007-2010) electronic literature (e-lit) series. The books are important collections of well-chosen essays that present case studies, close readings, theoretical constructions, and aesthetic approaches to the study and practice of electronic literature. They offer manifold modes for analytical critique but do so in a way that allows the various points of disciplinary cont(r)act to converge on shared questions and complex connections. Reading Moving Letters began as a project to address the practical questions of teaching and incorporating electronic literatures into the university curriculum and it 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.
Reading Moving Letters includes critical essays and pedagogical observations from e-lit lecturers and practitioners in the United States, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Wales, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, and Slovenia by authors representing an array of academic backgrounds from English studies to Computer Science. The contributors represent the widening demographic of the field, as well as the multiplicity of scholarly postures emerging within the varied discourses of its study.
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,” editor Simanowski establishes the focal question of Reading Moving Letters as one asking “What are the [literary] strategies of figuration and estrangement when literature is digitally born?” (16). Reflecting a theme of position-al multiplicity, the contributions here reveal two primary methodologies, each with a particular but not necessarily contradictory or exclusionary ethos, for engaging this foundational issue. The first believes it necessary to ground theory in stable, and thus disciplined, theoretico-historical frameworks. The second believes it necessary to move beyond the idea of disciplined disciplines to create a distinctly interdisciplinary space for new and hybrid terms and scholarship. The choice of one over the other carries important implications that can alternately and/or simultaneously mobilize and/or demobilize (and/or also destabilize) our objects and our positions.
If we are too tightly or too tidily contained within a particular theoretical discourse, we chance ignoring essential 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 texts and their theories. As with the previous editions in the Medienumbruche│Media Upheavals series, the juxtaposition here of disagreeing perspectives opens the space for a conversation about the highlights and inherent vices of each.