The fourth volume of the Electronic Literature Collection (ELC) was published on June 1, 2022 towards the end of the ELO’s annual conference at Como, Italy. It was edited by Kathi Inman Berens, John Thomas Murray, Lyle Skains, Rui Torres and Mia Zamora. The collection represents a wide variety of works from 42 countries. The 132 electronic literary works are produced in 31 languages, namely: Afrikaans, Ancient Chinese, Arabic, Catalan, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Indonesian, isiXhosa, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Setswana, Simplified Chinese, Slovak, South African Sign Language, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Yoruba. The highest number of works, countries and languages in the ELC4 compared to its previous collections, for example, 7 multilingual-non English in the ELC1, 14 in the ELC2 and 13 in the ELC3 suggest a heightened global recognition of e-lit ( Contents By Keywords, ELC1 , Contents By Keywords, ELC2 , Editorial Statement, ABOUT ELC3 and Collective Editorial Statement, ABOUT ELC4) .
The evolving elit collection reflects many transformations and expansions since the publication of the first ELC volume in 2006 in terms of structural organization, diverse authorship and languages, variety of forms, the persistent redefinition of elit, interfaces, classifications and refined metadata systems for accessibility and discoverability. Together, the four volumes define the field of electronic literature. The first and second volumes published in 2006 and 2011 respectively showcase the variety of forms and introduce new organizational structures such as collecting keywords and defining forms to document the genealogy of elit. The ‘Contents By Keywords’ page in these first two volumes includes the literary genre, its definitions and exemplary works. The third volume published in 2016, for its part, demonstrates the elit field’s growth and transition through archiving not only new forms such as social media and experimental platforms (for example, Twine and netprov) but also by documenting technical details of the platforms, tools and software and introducing new categories such as ‘Country’ and ‘Language’ of the works.
The syntax of both the natural language and the computational structures such as codes and other digital environments are deployed to produce electronic literature. However, the capacity, freedom and affordability of digital computational environment have not been fully fathomed. The editors of the third volume, Stephanie Boluk, Leonardo Flores, Jacob Garbe, and Anastasia Salter, rightly point out the evolving state and capacity of elit, when they say that they “do not yet fully know what computational can do and do not yet fully understand the expressive capacities of electronic literature. In this respect, e-lit does not operate as a fixed ontological category, but marks a historical moment in which diverse communities of practitioners are exploring experimental modes of poetic and creative practice at a particular moment in time” (Editorial Statement, ABOUT ELC3). In a similar vein, the editors of the fourth volume indicate the evolving state of e-lit, when they note how “[e]literature authors creatively adopt new technologies whenever available, eluding contemporaneous definitions ( Evolving Definitions, ABOUT ELC4) . Such creative practice includes elit works that are hybrid in nature as they are created by using different technologies, for instance, the back-end languages such as Python and Java are used to create the work and the front-end languages such as HTML and CSS are used to exhibit the work. Such creative works are subject to obsolete due to change or upgrade in the technologies. Hence, the editors of ELC4 call for a more inclusive “definition of elit [that] must capture its hybrid permanent evolution, embracing new aesthetic forms” (Collective Editorial Statement, ABOUT ELC4). In a field that has seen many changes over the past fifteen years, the newly archived works in the ELC4 expand the electronic literary aesthetic as a result of literature’s continuing engagement with innovative technologies. The editors also acknowledge the presence of new works that demand an updating of the definition that was presented in the 2019 Call for e-lit Works. Based on the interrelation with technology from conception to reception, the editors endeavor to delineate ways that elit works embody “(1) literary qualities co-produced by human and algorithmic interaction; (2) formal and/or conceptual innovation; (3) a transforming experience for readers through expressive algorithms” (Evolving Definitions, ABOUT ELC4). These three defining components (interaction, innovation and integration with technology) mark the inclusive and diverse traits of the past two gatherings of elit by our ELO co-editors. Whether or not this redefinition leaves us with an evolving body of literary texts, or a mix of outdated and continually updated elit works will likely be the topic of our coming critical conversations and critical interventions in the e-lit field.
The many and continuing changes in the elit field construction have stimulated the editors to update the ELC4 glossary by establishing “bridges to previous Collections and adding terms as warranted by new forms” (Collective Statement) For example, terms such as Codework , NANOGENMO and audio collage can be found under the heading, Genre; alexa skills , ableton live and search engine show up in Technical and many new entries are listed under the tag for authorial Identity: African American, Arabic, Asian American and many more. Unlike the previous ELCs, ELC4 has a Content section in the Index. This section segregates the works according to them es, Identity and Technical features that are more diverse than those given in previous collections. For example, Identity includes not only the language of a given work but also its nationality and geographical origin. Similarly, the Technical section contains “Format, Platform, and Authoring Language, which includes the full variety of programming languages, APIs, and authoring tools used" ( Accessibility and Classification, ABOUT ELC4) . Many past works are disappeared along with outmoded platforms such as Adobe Flash, Director, System Software 7.0-MacOS 9x, and many others. To ensure perpetual access, recorded versions of all works are also documented in the ELC4. The editors have assured readers that [“w]here possible, code and assets are shared so scholars and others can delve into what makes a work run” (see Accessibility and Classification, ABOUT ELC4).
Three other important interventions in the ELC4 are worth mentioning. First, we might note how the titles of the creative works that turn up on the front page are randomized, in order to avoid having the same works pritorised and placed on top. This option increases the visibility of all the works. A second key innovation introduced in the anthology of ELC4 is the collective metadata system which is designed in a way to augment accessibility and discoverability. The metadata design functions as a complementary system to the affiliated databases of ELO; namely: the Electronic Literature Directory , the NEXT , the Consortium of Electronic Literature , and the Electronic Literature Knowledge Base [ELMCIP] . These databases hold thousands of descriptions and details about the field of elit. Their core metadata does not simply collate the terms that describe a selected entity. Instead, these descriptors are themselves interactive and transformative, as more details are added and interconnections are established among the selected entity and other germane entities. The third is that the editors introduced a new Filter option that interweaves data given in the anthology to maximize discoverability. For example, by filtering the genre “hypertext” readers can explore how this established elit category have now adopted new technologies and associated genres, along with more variation in the identity of the authors. Interestingly, this genre was produced mainly through Flash and Shockwave in the earlier Collections are now accompanied by new platforms and authoring languages such as itch.io, HTML5, webGL and Unity etc. Another imperative observation is that these works are produced by creators from US, UK and Canada. This observation leads us to question about the digital disparity, digital literacy and privilege to digital technologies in the non-western countries. Hence, the Filter option provides many options for both scholars and other audiences to filter and sift the categories according to their own, diverse and differentiated exigencies. Overall, ELC4 reflects the contemporary technological innovation in terms both its Collections and exhibition.
Berens, Kathi., Murray, John., Skains, Lyle., Torres, Rui and Zamora, Mia. Collective Editorial Statement, ABOUT. Electronic Literature Volume 4, Electronic Literature Organization, 2022. https://collection.eliterature.org/4/about
---. Accessibility and Classification, ABOUT. Electronic Literature Volume 4, Electronic Literature Organization, 2022. https://collection.eliterature.org/4/about
---. Evolving Definitions, ABOUT. Electronic Literature Volume 4, Electronic Literature Organization, 2022. https://collection.eliterature.org/4/about
Boluk, Stephanie., Flores, Leonardo., Garbe, Jacob., Salter, Anastasia. Editorial Statement. Electronic Literature Volume 3, Electronic Literature Organization, 2016. https://collection.eliterature.org/3/about.html.
Borràs , Laura., Memmott, Talan., Raley, Rita., Stefans Brian. Contents By Keywords. Electronic Literature Volume 2, Electronic Literature Organization, 2011.
Hayles, N. Katherine., Montfort, Nick., Rettberg, Scott., Strickland, Stephanie. Contents By Keywords. Electronic Literature Volume 1, Electronic Literature Organization, 2006.