November 9, 2006

E-Lit Collection Volume One Q&A

by Nick Montfort · , 1:57 pm

Among other questions and conversation about the Electronic Literature Collection, I was pleased to get an email from Katherine Parrish (creator of MOOlipo, educational co-ordinator on Project Achieve, poetry generator generator) with a series of questions about volume one – questions that we probably deserve. One of these (about our selection criteria) was already asked by Jim Carpenter on his blog, where Scott and I left replies. I assume a few other people may be interested in this discussion. Katherine agreed to let me share her questions here along with my answers, so, they appear below…

… I’ve tried to reply to your questions about the Collection. I can only speak from my own vantage point — Kate, Scott, and Stephanie will have their own ideas and would have their own replies. But here’s what I thought of to say.

Regarding the lack of an overall introduction: There is actually going to be a book-length adjunct to volume one, Kate Hayles’s Electronic Literature: Teaching, Interpreting, Playing, which will be published by Notre Dame University Press next year, in an edition that includes the collection.

In volume one itself, I felt that it was better to emphasize the works themselves, and avoid a potentially throat-clearing and introspective paratext. There is already a lot of prefatory matter included with various pieces – not just what we wrote, but also material from the authors themselves in many cases. The editors have plenty of opportunities to discuss the Collection on blogs and in other forums. Also, it didn’t seem right to strongly emphasize the selection process and the way the four of us happened to think about electronic literature. All four of us, I know, hope that the Collection will include many volumes with selections by many different editorial boards, and will be more than an occasion for our own thinking about poetics and e-lit.

To put it another way: We weren’t trying to address a scarcity of writing *about* e-lit – there is plenty of that, easily available – but rather the lack of a large, convenient e-lit collection.

> … this is volume 1. Volume 1 of how many?

Good question – although we don’t know at this point. We are not even sure about how often the Collection will be published. But we hope it will continue as long as there’s a point, until, perhaps, e-lit becomes too broad and rich a field for even a very inclusive single Collection to usefully represent it.

> What were your selection criteria?

Literary quality was the principal criterion; we were also interested in representing the range of e-lit that is out there, as best we could in a Web and CD-ROM anthology. We discussed each of the submissions in an in-person meeting, after reviewing each of them individually. We were not looking for everything to be, for instance, good conceptual writing, or good postmodern fiction, or good codework; we wanted work from a variety of literary traditions. What we have represents storytelling, children’s fiction, parody, and other threads of practice in addition to the “innovative” or “avant-garde” or whatever we should call some of the literary practices that I particularly like, which I try to work in. But nothing was included just because it looked nice or was a clever accomplishment in terms of programming and production. There had to be some literary dimension of a piece that we thought made it worth reading and rereading, whatever sort of piece it was.

> Volume 1′s work cuts across genre, geography, time, and alphabet,
> so… is Volume 2 going to be similarly eclectic, with the difference
> being determined by the predilections of different set of editors?

That’s my hope, definitely! But the volume 2 editors should take the Collection in whatever direction they want. If they choose to focus on particular forms or on one particular theme, that’s fine, too. There will be other volumes. At the moment, though, I don’t think the Collection is headed toward any sort of narrower or more specifically defined concept.

> How do you understand the purpose and nature of an anthology in the age
> of digital reproduction? What does this anthology do that a recommended
> reading list, say, like Brian Kim Stefans’
> ( doesn’t?

These sorts of lists are very valuable, and I hope more people will share work they enjoy – on the Web, on blogs, and in person.

We’ve tried to provide a few additional things that a list alone wouldn’t offer. For one thing, we’re providing the works themselves in multiple formats, so people can browse and read from the Web and also study or present the works offline, from the CD. We worked with authors and worked a good bit ourselves to test, repair, and renovate some pieces for today’s computers, and to provide clear, concise instructions for each of them. We’ve also provided these short introductions for each piece, so that people who come to them without knowing anything about the context of an author, or genre, or form, will still be able to engage with them and understand something about how they relate to other e-lit work. And, we’ve published several pieces for the first time in volume one of the Collection, which of course can’t be done with a list by itself.

> What does it mean that this is an ELO project?

Importantly, it meant that we were able (with the financial help of sponsors) to actually formulate and carry out the project, and to end up providing CD-ROMs and a site. We also have people who are affiliated with ELO – people on the board of directors, and our literary advisors, and others – to help in distributing, publicizing, and making use of the Collection.

> … the Creative Commons licensing of the work …

We imagined what we thought would be ideal for authors and readers in terms of access and licensing, and when we asked for submissions, we asked for cross-platform work that authors were willing to Creative Commons license. I think our request was a reasonable one – and I suppose that authors, did, too, since we received many submissions. We were able to publish volume one and to let people copy it legally for individual, non-commercial use. This is something I have tried to allow for my own work, and which I greatly appreciate as I use and share work, so I’m really glad that the volume one authors have done this as well.

> Despite the anthology’s broad sweep, I didn’t see any work that deeply
> embodies what I’ve heard some people call a distributed poetics.

You’re right about that. We limited ourselves to work that could be included, fully functioning, on CD-ROM and the Web – work that could run on a stand-alone computer. Distributed poetics systems, including your own MOOlipo and other multi-user systems and environments, weren’t easily included in volume one as stand-along “works.” And other e-lit also couldn’t easily be contained in this format: installation pieces, for instance. The ELO will still continue to promote such pieces through events, on the ELO site, and in other contexts. I hope that the editors of volume two, or future volumes, will be able to either include or perhaps document works that we didn’t manage to represent in the first volume. But we couldn’t include everything in this format, just as an art gallery or even a Web list can’t include everything. We try to offer volume one of the Collection as a good resource for browsing, reading, research, and teaching, but not as some completely comprehensive set of all computer literary work.

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