September 24, 2008

E-Lit Dead, Film at 11

by Nick Montfort · , 10:23 am

The end of electronic literature, or electronic literature without end? In today’s Guardian (a newspaper – those, of course aren’t anywhere near dead) Andrew Gallix offers a tentative eulogy for electronic literature, suggesting that it is, at best, getting inextricably mashed up with art. His piece ends by asking “Perhaps e-lit is already dead?”

In part, I’m amazed and pleased to see Douglas Cooper’s Delirium and even Geoff Ryman’s 253 remembered in a contemporary newspaper article, as they are too seldom discussed in our own (perhaps dead) e-lit circles. On the other, it’s interesting to note that as interactive fiction has become more and more a part of the popular consciouness of e-lit writers (getting a nod from Robert Coover in his recent talk in Bergen, being included in the Electronic Literature Collection volume 1 and other collections and exhibits, being increasingly written about by scholars and critics) it seems to makes no blip on the British literati radar, or at least the radar of this literatus, even among a catalog of important e-lit works and forms. (Interactive drama, with Façade as its main example, also goes unmentioned.) This seems particularly amiss, given that the creator of the world’s most popular IF development system is British. And I don’t think those are the only notable omissions: what about The Unknown, Screen and other Cave works, Rob Wittig’s e-mail and blog fictions, Mark Marino’s wiki and marginalia madness, and … dare I mention it … poetry in several dozen flavors?

Is e-lit is dead? Not to me or many of the people I encounter. The number of readers who have engaged with my digital works, such as the interactive fiction Book and Volume and the poetry generator ppg256, is certainly small, particularly if you compare it to a run of Harry Potter books, but I don’t see how that means that the work is irrelevant. I bet more people have seen my e-lit works perform than once attended the Cabaret Voltaire. Sure, I may not have started a similar ball rolling. Still, if the literary and the computational continue to be important concepts for our cultures, I suspect that there will be some place, in the future, for a type of practice that brings these concepts, and the practices associated with them, to work upon each other.