November 7, 2005

First Person from First Principles

by Nick Montfort · , 12:23 am

The new issue, phase, or manifestation of ebr (Electronic Book Review) is here, and there’s some really great stuff in it. Writing by John Cayley and Lori Emerson is part of that, but I have to call special attention to two responses to the book First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, edited by GTxA’s own Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan. The two responses are by Brian Kim Stefans and (again, our very own) Scott Rettberg. These aren’t just interesting comments on First Person; they at the very least powerful defenses of the literary. Perhaps they are manifestoes for computing and literature as well.

Brian has a lengthy and very compelling reply that begins by responding to the essays in “The Pixel/The Line.” Brian answers Bill Seaman’s statement about his The World Generator/The Engine of Desire, that in it, “[e]ach field [of text and other media elements] carries an evocative meaning force,” with the following:

My sense is that no writer of fiction, poetry, or any of the conventional genres of print-based or performance-oriented writing would be satisfied that their words had a meaning force that was only available within the context of the delicate equation of an expansive field. … one cannot simply say that the word is another element to be treated like a sound or a color if one is to do justice to the notion of language as a very specific ability that humans possess, one that has been shaped by the sediments of conventions and conversations layered over several centuries.

Brian extends his reply to offer some aesthetic principles for how text and electronic form can meet, and to refer to concrete techniques that are useful for electronic literary production. Anyone interested in electronic writing should take the time to read Brian’s “Privileging Language: The Text in Electronic Writing.”

Scott works to shape a place for the study of electronic literature, acknowledging the importance of game studies and moving beyond the “literature vs. games” antagonism to question how we can study the literary aspects of new media, even if there is no clear commercial reason that we should. He writes:

These works of hypertext, interactive fiction and hybrid multimedia narrative are worthy of study not because they are becoming culturally dominant in the same way as computer games, but because they are literary forms native to the computer, because they stretch the medium in which they are based to make room for literary experience within it.

While Scott appreciates the critical and theoretical work that has been done, he find that “the production of new works of electronic writing by talented creative writers is even more crucial.” Teachers, scholars, and certainly writers engaged with new media should check out Scott’s essay, “First Person, Games, and the Place of Electronic Literature” to see where this leads him.

3 Responses to “First Person from First Principles”


  1. Marie-Laure Says:

    Where does the literary end and where do visual arts begin ?
    Where is film located between the two ? Does a “literary”
    work need to use words as words (investing in their individual meanings) rather than as
    purely visual elements ?
    Does Margritte’s use of words in his paintings make them “literary” works ?
    ..all questions to which I don’t have answers. Or should we just discard the term ”
    literary” when it comes to new media art ?

  2. Dirk Scheuring Says:

    Thanks for this, Nick, this is very timely. I needed to read a text like Brian’s urgently.

  3. Grand Text Auto » Overly Escapist Says:

    [...] ested in re-igniting this debate that we’ve followed and fed over the years (1 2 3 4 5). This post is not a salvo, just a comment: at a minimum, from [...]

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