October 27, 2006


by Mary Flanagan · , 3:49 pm

What better time to post about Autostart than from an electronic writing ‘jam’ at the Kelly writers’ house at UPenn? Its been a fun two days here. Yesterday was filled with compelling discussion, instigated to a large part by the panel featuring poets Charles Bernstein, Jena Osman, Bob Perelman, and Ron Silliman. All of the discussants posed questions about materiality, temporality, and reader attention in the manifestation of electronic literature. A pleasurably geeky discussion ensued. From noting that the mimeograph fundamentally changed how poets could distribute their work to the various models of typewriters which enabled writers to change their text (especially noted was the IBM Selectric II, which had the ability to delete typos by removing ink from the page), the panelists looked at technological as well as conceptual innovations which altered the path of writing history as a way to relate to digital writing practices. The poets, however, expressed a concern for the readers’ time and attention in a digital / screen based work. Stephanie Strickland responded that reading is fundamentally different in these works, and that ways of reading/interacting need to be rethought specifically for electronic literature.

In the wet digits workshop, Nick and Noah gave a quick tour of some media construction environments. I was part of a group crowded around the Commodore 64 (remembering the List and Run commands from BASIC was a trip down memory lane!). The little program everyone was hacking was a simple graphic made by printing to the screen sets of repeating characters. In the evening, five writer/artists ‘read’ their work. The readings seemed to be well received, but sparked quite a lengthy discussion involving exactly the ways that audiences perceive electronic works. Herein lies one of the most considered questions in emerging media forms: reader/ participants new to the emerging field often do not know the rules behind the works created. I brought up the debate around “wall text” — that is, how much can we provide those new to this type of work without making the experience of the work predetermined by over contentualization? The audience wanted more of an explanation of things, and after the reading, each maker briefly discussed the process of making the work. We discussed collaboration as well.

This morning (Friday) a group of us visited The Slought Foundation, a nonprofit organization and exhibition space in Philadelphia which identifies itself as functioning on the periphery of contemporary gallery practices which are more and more driven by factors related to economic viability.

In the afternoon, we gathered for a writing jam in which to my surprise there was no writing. Instead, a discussion of the role of electronic literature (outsider art or ?) ensued, with the conclusion about the need (from Kate Hayles, present via ipresence) to move to a “version 2.0” of criticism and discourse which would take into account the nuances of code and language together in the discussion, analysis, and curation/editing/selection of a given work. One participant in the workshop, a more “traditional” poet, said when she taught electronic works in her class at a community college, it caused a “riot.” Scott Rettberg, present via ipresence, noted that Synge’s 1907 premier of The Playboy of the Western World caused a riot after it was first performed in Dublin, as well. The fact is, most innovation in genre, style, and content in many art forms is initially received as bad or wrong (think R.Mutt, Cezanne, etc). The time of flux in any new discipline or field is a most exciting time to be part of it.

My favorite quotes —
“Non retinal textual art practice.” BKS
“This is real fetishism, not metaphoric fetishism.”NM

2 Responses to “Autostart”

  1. scott Says:


    I tried to do a little writing during the second part of the electronic writing jam. It was sort of difficult to hear what people were actually saying from my disembodied telepresent position, but I tried to transcribe what I heard.

  2. mary Says:

    thanks scott! your disembodied impressions are delightful. So I retract my statement, there was writing!

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