02: Mahood

Drink Me: Student Audiences, the Construction of Value, and the Digital Avant-Garde

Aurelea Mahood

Cite this article (APA): Mahood, A. (2011). Drink Me: Student Audiences, the Construction of Value, and the Digital Avant-Garde. Media : Culture : Pedagogy, 15(1). Retrieved from http://mcp.educ.ubc.ca/v15n01BornDigital_Article02_Mahood



With electronic literature's mix of familiar elements in unfamiliar combinations--elements of film, music video, visual art, video games, puzzles, web pages, prose, poetry, comic books, graphic novels, choose-your-own-adventures stories and so forth--readers are challenged to reconsider what constitutes literature and how they use computers. Even tech-savvy readerly undergraduates can be left unhinged by their early forays into electronic literature. In a comparative analysis of two iterations of the same undergraduate course, this article reflects on the value of actively examining the reading skills and critical/technical vocabularies that are drawn upon when readers move between literary genres--whether from prose to poetry or, more specifically, prose to electronic literature.



N. Katherine Hayles opens Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary (2008) with a preface entitled “Read Me.” Echoes of Alice falling down the rabbit hole and finding the neatly labeled bottle exhorting the tumbling passerby to drink its contents are conjured by Hayles’ phrasing.

alice in wonderland
Figure 1: "Alice taking "Drink Me' bottle." Sir John Tenniel's illustration for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll.

This echo is fitting: first-time readers of electronic literature may feel disoriented, like Alice, as they work to make sense of the text, images, and sounds commingling on their computer screens. With electronic literature’s mix of familiar elements in unfamiliar combinations—elements of film, music video, visual art, video games, puzzles, web pages, prose, poetry, comic books, graphic novels, choose-your-own-adventures stories and so forth—readers are challenged to reconsider what constitutes literature and how they use computers; or, as one of my undergraduate students put it, “I didn’t realize I was as rooted to the conventional form of a printed novel as I am. E-lit made me redefine how I approach literature and how I use a computer” (E-Lit Survey 2009).

Donna Leishman’s off-kilter retelling of Little Red Riding Hood overtly embodies the familiar unfamiliarity that frequently characterizes electronic literature. RedRidingHood (2001) compellingly intertwines the vernacular of comic books, explorative interaction, optional narrative paths, and a soundtrack of jazzy drum and bass samples with the familiar story of Little Red Riding Hood. Leishman does not use text to tell her story, but effectively retains the base elements that Marie-Laure Ryan (2002) associates with narrative in any medium: “narrative consists of a world (setting), populated by individuals (characters), who participate in actions and happenings (events, plot), through which they undergo change (temporal dimension)” (583). Leishman’s piece is a complex form of interactive visual storytelling—the wolf, the woods, the girl and her basket are all there—but it does not mirror the versions of the fairy tale to which most North American children are first exposed.

Figure 2: Screenshot from RedRidinghood (2001) by Donna Leishman. RedRidingHood was first published by Leishman on her site http://www.6amhoover.com in 2001 and it was anthologized in the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume One in 2006.

Roberto Simanowksi describes RedRidingHood as a “hybridization of a traditional fairy-tale narrative: the wolf pre-existing as a picture in her diary, as a dealer at the ‘flesh market,’ an angel which does not stop to rescue her” (as cited in Leishman, 2006). Readers must integrate the images, sounds, and movements in Leishman’s piece with all that they think they know about Little Red Riding Hood in order to achieve visual and narrative closure as they work through RedRidingHood. For the novice reader of electronic literature, these interpretative maneuvers must be learned: “This experience with electronic literature forced me to become a more in-depth reader and to not only focus on text [. . .] but also on music and images” (E-Lit Survey 2009).

So how best facilitate early encounters with freely distributed electronic literature? Not as I did. Unlike books, electronic literature is primarily encountered via a multi-purpose tool—the personal computer and its myriad affordances—on freely accessible sites that do not readily expose or draw attention to the editorial and curatorial decisions that lead to electronic literature’s digital availability. In my first experience teaching electronic literature, I did not sufficiently acknowledge that electronic literature is framed differently than print literature.

E-Lit 2008 1.0

This story begins in a classroom: specifically, my "Culture and Technology" class (English 214) at Capilano University in Fall 2008. It begins as an account of what happened the first time I taught a course without a textbook and there were no required materials for sale in the campus bookstore. The course hinged entirely on the freely distributed Electronic Literature Collection, Volume One, hereafter abbreviated "ELC 1" (Hayles, Monfort, Rettberg & Strickland, 2006).

But first, the back-story: My training as a literary scholar is in British modernism. The stories of the small presses and the little magazines central to the emergence of literary modernism figure prominently in my explorations as a reader, researcher, writer, and teacher. My own particular interest is in the inter-war networks of writers, reviewers, critics, publishers, and booksellers—often one and the same—and the emergence of a shared set of reading conventions and critical vocabulary. This critical interest in reading environments and the narrative frames and conventions in which our reading practices are located is also rooted in my undergraduate reading experiences. When I was completing undergraduate studies, for example, I read John Guillory’s Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (1993).

Drawing on Bourdieu’s sociological approach to the study of literary and artistic works, Guillory argues that canon formation should be conceived as a question of the distribution of cultural capital. He analyzes the function of schools and teaching professionals in the formation of literary canons through an assessment of the means by which educational systems regulate access to literacy and the practices of reading and writing. Throughout Cultural Capital, Guillory emphasizes the necessity of conceptualizing the social effects of canonization while simultaneously asserting that canonicity is not a property of a work itself, but of its transmission.

First encountering these ideas as an undergraduate encouraged me to think explicitly about my own emerging relationship to the production of literary value. It was exciting to be introduced to a theory of cultural production that situated artistic works within the social conditions of their production, circulation, and consumption. In particular, I was struck by how the theories advanced by Bourdieu (1993) and Guillory emphasized

not only the direct producers of the work in its materiality (artist, writer, etc.) but also the producers of meaning and the value of the work—critics, publishers, gallery directors and the whole set of agents whose combined efforts produce consumers capable of knowing and recognizing the work of art as such, in particular teachers (but also families, etc.). (37)

This made sense to me when I reflected on my own evolution and history as a reader: my own understanding of literature was a product of personal, familial and educational instruction, exploration, and reflection; this privileging of the socio-cultural dimensions of cultural production shaped me far more than I realized at the time.

Now, years later in my own teaching, I like to introduce and map out these relationships with my students. In addition to primary texts, my students frequently read authors’ essays and critical manifestos; letters between authors and their publishers, editors, and agents; book reviews; criticism; and promotional material. We especially consider materials relating to literary awards like the Giller Prize, Griffin Poetry Prize, and Man Booker Prize. While I recognize that these extra-textual materials have critical, cultural, and symbolic value, I had not realized how much sway these primarily paper-based artifacts also had with my students; or rather, I did not know until I took them off my syllabus for the Fall 2008 offering of English 214.

Student discomfort with the absence of printed material became apparent before the course officially began in early September 2008. Even though this was a small class of ten students, I nevertheless received multiple emails asking why there weren’t any books in the bookstore. I arrived in class on the first day with a box under my arm and confidently handed out CD-ROM versions of the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume One (ELC 1). I still did not fully comprehend how uncomfortable some of the students would be with the absence of paper. Instead I had imagined that they would appreciate this economical second-year English course with its free web-based anthology and selection of secondary articles archived on the university’s course management system (Moodle).

Within the first three weeks members of the class began to question my choice in reading material. A number of the students blamed their initial difficulties in understanding electronic literature on it being “free” as opposed to it being “new,” “unfamiliar,” or “experimental.” The absence of monetary value appeared to be equated with an absence of value. This response to “difficulty” and their parallel discomfort with the “new” and “unfamiliar” contrasted interestingly with my past teaching experiences. In the past I came to understand that if students struggled with a text there was a default assumption on their part that the limitations or deficiencies lay with their own abilities and not with the text. Whether a controversial text such as Vernon God Little (Pierre, 2003) or difficult novel like How Late It Was, How Late (Kelman, 1994)—both of which appeared in a recent course on “The Politics of Prizes and Contemporary Fiction”—the students would largely “buy in” in so far as they decided that there was intrinsic literary value, even if they did not individually like or value the book.

This was not the case here. I needed to address the emerging resistance to electronic literature quickly or risk finding myself in a classroom where we were collectively unable to move beyond "don’t like it" and "don’t value it." In the end I gravitated towards a solution that actively brought the students into the field of cultural production by inviting them to engage critically with producers of electronic literature.

Earlier that year I had attended the bi-annual conference of the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) in Vancouver, Washington. The ELO conference draws a strong mix of e-lit creators, writer-scholars, and academics. The mix of artists’ talks and conference papers offers many opportunities for creative and scholarly cross-fertilization. I approached two ELC 1 writers I met at the 2008 conference, as well as a third ELC 1 contributor who had recently given a talk at VIVO in Vancouver, BC (VIVO is a media arts access centre), and asked whether they would consider participating in an E-Lit Forum with my second-year students. J. R. Carpenter, Donna Leishman, and Brian Kim Stefans all agreed to participate in what would be referred to as "E-Lit Forum 2008."

We settled upon a three-part structure for the E-Lit Forum, which would be published on the CultureNet@CapilanoU blog:

1. Meditation: writers commented on their creative output with direct reference to the course material; these meditations were posted twenty-four hours in advance of a pre-determined class.
2. Questions: students arrived in class having read the assigned pieces of electronic literature and the meditation; we then spent the class discussing the post and engaging in close readings of the work(s) with the aim of generating three to five questions, which would be posted to the CultureNet blog.
3. Response: writers posted responses to the students’ questions in advance of the next class. The responses were incorporated into the next lecture and discussion.

J. R. Carpenter began. The students were caught off guard by her opening post. “The Cape: The Back-Story” was 2,064 words long complete with images, secondary sources, and links. Carpenter’s tone was accessible yet thoughtful and carefully considered. The students were surprised at how much time she must have spent generating this highly informative and engaging post, but even more so they were surprised that she had spent the time on them.

Carpenter’s post signaled the beginning of a shift. The students began to assume their roles as readers with greater responsibility. Now that J. R. had entered into a conversation with them they had a responsibility to respond, and they took that responsibility seriously. This, in turn, carried over into their engagement with the ELC 1 in its entirety. The students came to see themselves as participating in an emergent discourse—especially later in the term when they began working on their research papers and they discovered firsthand how few literary critical articles there currently are on individual pieces of electronic literature and digital poetry.

Donna Leishman and Brian Kim Stefans posted similarly generous and provocative meditations to the CultureNet blog and thoughtfully answered all of the students’ questions. All three opening meditations historicized the authors’ own relationship to (electronic) literary production and provided an accessible back-story for the students. Through these stories students learned what had drawn individual writers to this mode of literary production while being reminded of the genre’s relative newness.

Carpenter (2008): I graduated from art school in 1995, and made my first web project later that year at a residency at The Banff Centre for the Arts (as The Banff Centre was called back then). Many of my early web projects were in black and white because that’s what colour photocopies come in. The images in Fishes & Flying Things (1995), Notions of the Archival in Memory and Deportment (1996) and Mythologies of Landforms and Little Girls (1996) were all scanned from my massive collection of photocopies of diagrams and maps.

Leishman (2008): I came to the field of digital literature in 1999 from the position of a visual artist/designer. My formative training in illustration grounded an interest in sequential art and literary themes. My work then and today draws on literary subject matters, contains chronological cause and effect, and strongly features protagonists. I am a thematic recycler similar a re-framer of often folkloric motifs—with an aim to renew, revitalizes, or debunk, the pre-existing content.

Stefans (2008): I started programming computers in the very early 80s, on pathetic little things like the ZX-81 and the Vic-20, when I was about ten or so years ago.

Mostly video games. It wasn’t until high school that I took up poetry, primarily under the posthumous tutelage of Ezra Pound, whose injunction to never waste a word, include nothing that does not contribute to the “direct presentation of the thing,” was very useful for someone used to programming with only 16k available.

I returned to using computers in the late 90s after the internet hit, and as I became fascinated with the array of graphics, video and animation programs that were becoming available to the consumer. It all seemed to happen when I wasn’t looking, as I had rejected computers as being anti-humanistic when I turned to poetry—or at least anti-social. I dropped out of my English Ph.D. program to re-teach myself computer programming and get in on the excitement of the web.

The three exchanges were spread over the thirteen-week term with the first post going up in mid-October. We have since archived the exchanges on the E-Lit Forums page of the CultureNet blog and the page has now expanded to include the 2009 edition of the E-Lit Forum that ran alongside the Fall 2009 offering of English 214. My 2009 revision of English 214 drew heavily on my experiences with the first group of English 214 students from Fall 2008, including my false assumptions about their level of comfort with (digital) innovation and courses without print materials, as well as my own evolving relationship with electronic literature.

E-Lit 2009 1.1

The second iteration of English 214 was structured around the following texts: A Book of the Book: Some Works & Projections About The Book & Writing (Rothenberg & Clay, 2000), Brave New World (Huxley, 1932), the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume One (Hayles et al, 2006), Electronic Literature: New Horizon for the Literary (Hayles, 2008), and JPod (Coupland, 2006). The primary texts were accompanied by supplementary materials, including scholarly articles about electronic literature and the aesthetics of difficulty. I also approached three other authors anthologized in the ELC 1 who agreed to participate in the E-Lit Forum 2009: Megan Sapnar Ankerson, Sharif Ezzat, and Chris Joseph.

A Book of the Book was selected to problematize books and reading. I wanted to remind the students that they had learned how to read and how to “operate” a book—that early frustrations learning this skill may have been forgotten. We spent two weeks reading selections from the Rothenberg and Clay anthology. As hoped, the anthology productively disoriented the students. As one student later noted: “A Book of the Book threw us all for a spin and left many of us confused and muddled. Our expectations for what a novel is and will be before, during and after [the course] had been skewed” (Ferguson, 2009, para. 1). I wanted the students to be actively challenged while reading in the medium—print—that they conventionally associated with literature. Johanna Drucker (2008) has argued that

navigational elements are historically and culturally specific, and thus learning to read them provides another way to understand the foundational assumptions and ideological values that form and inform a text. Graphic devices, in other words, are a dimension of narrative texts—sometimes more obviously involved in presentation, at other times actively contributing semantic content—available for analyses and interpretation if we can attend to their particulars through an appropriate descriptive language. (122)

In drawing attention to the naturalized rules and conventions of the printed page I hoped to remind students that many forms of literature (and commentary about literature)—regardless of the medium—can be challenging and arouse uncertainty in readers/viewers. As Davidson (DATE) observes:

Experimentation in computer-generated writing and hypertext had altered the nature of textuality altogether, rendering the idea of the “visible page” a rather outmoded concept. But the typographic revolution in modernism made possible the conditions for the page’s deconstruction as moveable type gave way to photo-offset printing and now to pixel characters. In a recurring modernist paradox the page must first be seen in order to be made invisible. (79)

In examining Brave New World, an emphasis was placed on the novel’s critique of cinema. This afforded us the opportunity to discuss the critical concerns that preoccupied filmmakers, filmgoers, and film critics in the early years of cinema. In particular, we discussed early debates about the appropriate relationship between film and storytelling/narrative and whether the cinemagoer was an active or passive agent in the film-going experience. Huxley’s early commentaries on the cinema and its audience were frequently scathing: in his 1925 Vanity Fair essay, “Where Are the Movies Moving?” he claimed that “the darkness of the theatre, the monotonous music” induce in the audience “a kind of hypnotic state” (176). Virginia Woolf’s essay “The Cinema,” published one year later, is similarly concerned with what happens when viewers sit down to watch the “youngest” art:

The eye licks it all up instantaneously, and the brain, agreeably titillated, settles down to watch things happening without beseeching itself to think. . . . Eye and brain are torn ruthlessly as they try vainly to work in couples. (269)

Huxley and Woolf were writing during a period of cultural initiation in which people were learning how to watch/hear image and sound merging in a darkened theatre—just as the novice reader of electronic literature must learn the art of “reading” on the computer screen.

A five-week unit on electronic literature followed the examination of Brave New World. Students were assigned readings from the ELC 1 in parallel with chapters from Hayles’ Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Depending on length, the students looked at anywhere from two to six pieces of electronic literature per week. The E-Lit Forum 2009 took place during the middle three weeks of the five-week unit. The students registered everything from frustration and skepticism to delight during these five weeks. Reading Hayles and other critics in parallel with pieces of electronic literature helped them develop a vocabulary upon which they could draw while beginning to formulate their own responses to electronic literature.

After the end of the term, 75% of the E-Lit Survey respondents (n = 18) reported finding the shift from print to electronic literature more challenging than expected. The secondary readings, classroom discussions, and the E-Lit Forum were all important tools in overcoming those challenges. In turn, 70% also reported that their attitude towards electronic literature changed over the course of the five-week unit. One student remarked, “I went from not seeing it as literature to having an appreciation of the literary opportunities it provides.”

Figure 3: Screenshot from Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw by Donna Leishman. Deviant was first published by Leishman on her site http://6amhoover in 2004 and it was anthologized in the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume One in 2008.

Another observed, “At first I was very skeptical [of] many of the pieces I looked through. ‘Deviant,’ for example, I found difficult to accept as anything beyond an interesting flash game. The class discussions really helped clear up many of the pieces for me. By the time we finished this section of the course I was far more open and willing to look at e-lit as a possible genre of lit and not just some strange off-shoot of video games or cartoons” (E-Lit Survey 2009). Anecdotes of reconciliation were commonplace as students found themselves recognizing—often with a degree of surprise—that they were leaving behind frustration, impatience, skepticism, and a narrow print-bound conception of what could constitute literature: “This entirely new experience of E-Lit helped me break down my bias towards traditional literature, which I realized had become as solid as the Berlin Wall. I had naturally assumed that a book was the only way to genuinely deliver a story” (Cook, 2009, para. 3).

The term ended with a two-week unit on JPod, which illustrates many of the ideas advanced in the fifth and closing chapter of Hayles’ Electronic Literature. This is a highly digitally-inflected novel, as one might expect from the author of Microserfs (1995). The opening epigraph—“Winners Don’t Do Drugs”—used to appear on idle video arcade games (1); “Part One: Never Mess with the Subway Diet” is proceeded by an entirely blank page with the exception of two words: “Click here” (13, 11); and the novel ends with "Play again? Y/N" (512).

The narrative is laden with Coupland’s pop-culture rich satire, geek-culture commentary, and layout/design choices, which recreate the visual and information-rich environment that we customarily associate with the Internet. Not unlike Jonathan Safran Froer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper (2005), and Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000)—all discussed by Hayles in Chapter 5 of Electronic Literature—Coupland’s novel is similarly “engaged in robust conversations with electronic textuality” and reinterpretations of “how the computer layer signifies” (165). Hayles argues that these novels and novels like them

put into play dynamics that interrogate and reconfigure the relations between authors and readers, humans and intelligent machines, code and language. . . . More than a mode of material production (although it is that), digitality has become the textual condition of twenty-first-century literature. (186)

In pairing JPod with the final chapter of Hayles’s book, the course closed with a return to the familiar—the print novel—but a “familiar” genre now excitingly problematized by the digital. As hoped, the class discussion, reviews, and essays examining JPod suggestively responded to the ways in which the novel’s “textual surface [is] littered with the marks of digital machines” (186). The students were equally comfortable discussing the novel with reference to Brave New World as they were with reference to electronic literature. In turn, the term’s diverse reading materials were frequently drawn upon in many students’ final position papers.

Over the course of the semester, each student gave one seminar presentation and wrote two position papers, three reviews, a short essay, a research proposal and annotated bibliography, and a research paper or creative project accompanied by an artist’s statement. At the end of the term, the students were invited to fill out the previously mentioned E-Lit Survey (18 of the 26 students completed the survey) and post a final position paper on the CultureNet blog commenting on any aspect of the course. Collectively, the surveys, reviews, and positions papers reveal the discomfort that many of the students felt with the course material throughout the semester. However, in comparison with the Fall 2008 version of the course, the second group was better able to explore and analyze their highly varied responses to electronic literature in a sustained and methodical fashion. While some students continued to have thoughtfully expressed reservations about electronic literature, by the end of term the majority of the class reported moving from skepticism and frustration to varying degrees of appreciation and pleasure.


One survey respondent described her English 214 experience with electronic literature as follows: “Intense frustration/rejection > coping > accepting and embracing. The more exposure to it I got, the less frustrated I became because I was able to build a ‘toolkit’ of techniques to tackle the e-lit” (E-Lit Survey 2009). Such experiences were uncommon in 2008 when students’ relationships to the course material appeared to be far more static with little to distinguish their opening and closing positions. In contrast, the Fall 2009 students experienced a shift in their understandings. While I agree with Hayles’s prognosis that “digital literature will be a significant component of the twenty-first century canon” (Hayles, 2008, 159), broadly speaking students still appear to arrive at universities and colleges with heavily print-based understandings of the literary. Students’ widespread comfort with digital technology should not be viewed as an indicator that they will be comfortable with with electronic literature as defined by the ELO: “work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer” (3).

The teaching of emergent genres can be exciting, but it depends on fostering an environment in which the students can be comfortable with their discomfort. Incorporating apprehensions and reservations directly into the course through in-class discussion, shared reviews and position papers, and dialogues with the creators of electronic literature afford students the opportunity compare, assess, and reassess their responses to the course materials. In the Fall 2009 section of English 214, the sensation of “comfortable discomfort” was evident in the survey and final position papers alike. This survey respondent nicely captured the need to develop specific skills in order read electronic literature and the way in which the E-Lit Forum contributed to that process: “[The E-Lit Forum] contributed to my ‘detective’ approach to the pieces. I started to see the e-lit pieces in more depth, and with a different perspective. Making up the questions [for the artists] was brutal though—I think this shows that there is specific literary needed to analyze e-lit, and a lot of us were slow to it”. Or, as another student put it, “Behind-the-scenes expositions [give] breadth and useful perspective to ‘challenging’ art. It helps to know where their weirdness is coming from” (E-Lit Survey 2009). Students also found it exciting to be involved in expanding conversations about electronic literature: “It was especially cool to see the authors so excited to be involved with the class, establishing a connection between us and the material we were reviewing and being taught; establishing a link between ‘technology’ and ‘culture’” (Ferguson, 2009, para. 1).

In turn, the decision to not focus exclusively on electronic literature in the second offering of this course created the space for a more expansive interrogation of what is meant by "literature." Specifically, we had a shared body of print and digital primary texts to compare and analyze (as opposed to working with a generalized or abstracted print canon during comparative discussions, as was the case in 2008). Different reading skills and critical/technical vocabularies are clearly required when readers move between literary genres—for example, from prose to poetry. Post-secondary instructors can rely on previous exposure to more established genres when students arrive in undergraduate classrooms, but this is not (yet) the case with electronic literature. Excitingly, however, an active examination of the genre’s newness can be incorporated into the learning experience during this period in which electronic literature is briefly among the youngest arts.


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Cook, E. (2009, Dec. 6). The literary berlin wall. Retrieved from

Carpenter, J. R. (2008, Oct. 10). J. r. carpenter: The cape: The back story. Retrieved from

Coupland, D. (2006). Jpod. Toronto, ON: Random House Canada.

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(71-79). New York, NY: Granary.

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Leishman, D. (2001). RedridingHood artist’s statement. Retrieved from http://collection.eliterature.org/1/index.html

Leishman, D. (2004). Deviant: The possession of christian shaw artist’s statement.
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Ryan, M. L. (2002). Beyond myth and metaphor: Narrative in digital media. Poetics Today, 23(4), 581-609.

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Appendix: 2009 E-Lit Survey

18 Respondents
Personal Data

1. How old are you?

15-19 3 20-24 13 25-29 3 30-34 1 35-39 0

2. 6 Male or 14 female.

3. Do you consider yourself technologically-savvy? Rate yourself on a scale of 1-5:

1 (Below average) 0 2 1 3 (Average) 7 4 9 5 (Above average) 3

4. Do you play video/computer games?

13 Yes or 7 No.


  • small sample group, but players and non-players alike were among the students who reported high annual (literary) reading
  • 5 highest tallies: 50 (np); 20-50 (p); 20-40 (np); and 20-25 (p) x 2
  • 5 lowest tallies: 2 (np); 3 (p); 3-4 (p); 3-5 (p); and 8-10 (p)
  • NP: “I mainly read for school and no much outside of it lately”

5. If yes, give examples:

  • adventure games – Sypro, Crash Bandicoot (2)
  • anything on games.com (1)
  • Audiosurf (1)
  • Bioshock (2)
  • Braid (1)
  • Borderlands (1)
  • Counterstrike (1)
  • Defense of the Ancients (1)
  • Donkey Kong (2)
  • Echo and the Dolphin (1)
  • Escape from Monkey Island (1)
  • Fable 2
  • Fallout 3 (2)
  • first-person shooters (1)
  • Half-Life (1)
  • Half-Life 2 (1)
  • Harvest Moon (1)
  • Left4Dead (2)
  • Legend of Zelda (2)
  • Nintendo – Mario Brothers (3)
  • Portal (2)
  • Resident Evil (1)
  • real-time strategy (1)
  • racing simulation (2)
  • room-escape games *
  • RockBand (2)
  • role-playing games from late 80s + early 90s (1) **
  • sports games – “FIFA, NHL, basically any EA sports game” (2)
  • Shadow of the Colossus (1)
  • SIMS on the computer (2)
  • Sonic (1)
  • Soul Calibur (1)
  • Starcraft (1)
  • Starfox 64 (1)
  • Streetfighter (1)
  • Team Fortress 2 (1)
  • Tekken (1)
  • Tomb Raider (1)
  • wii (3)
  • World of Goo (1)
  • World of Warcraft (3)

* “Room escape games have made me accustomed to searching for things that aren’t obvious.”

** “I don’t really play anything new nor have I got the equipment to play it on. My NES I got for Christmas in 1989 still works though.”

6. How do you think this has shaped your response to electronic literature?

“I think it makes me expect a lit more from electronic literature. It’s not quite as advanced, engaging or pleasing as electronic games I’ve played.”

“I have expectations of how things are supposed to go when given a console platform and sometimes e-lit does not jive with that.”

“I find I have much higher (and possibly unreasonably so) expectation of the technological (technical) elements incorporated.”

“It has given me a good base of knowledge to prepare me for the electronic part, but not the literature part.”

“I think that my experience with gaming has made me more open to accepting certain electronic works as being potential examples of literature.”

“I’m more determined to work my way through challenging pieces. I feel like there is some sort of end or goal to reach and this helps me strategically move through the sometimes chaotic e-lit spaces.”

“Room escape games have me accustomed to searching for things aren’t obvious.”

“I think that my inadequacies in all things that have to do with technology made it very difficult for me to appreciate electronic literature. I often have a very difficult time trying to even make the piece work the way it [is] supposed to therefore I found the whole experience very frustrating.”

7. How many novels or other works of literature do you read in a year?

R1 “tons”
R2 “mainly read for school”
R3 2 “read lost of articles, net news blogs, websites, etc.”
R4 3
R5 3-4
R6 3-5 in school; 10-12 out of school
R7 5-6
R8 5-10
R9 5-10
R10 8-10
R11 10-20
R12 12+
R13 20+
R14 24+
R15 20-25
R16 15-30
R17 20-50
R18 20-40 in school; 50-60 out of school
R19 10+
R20 50

8. What is your favourite literary genre?


  • action/adventure (2)
  • classics (1)
  • comedy/humour (2)
  • drama (1)
  • e-lit (1)
  • fiction (2)
  • fantasy (5)
  • historical fiction (1)
  • multi-format narrative (1)
  • mystery/detective (4)
  • naturalist/realist fiction (2)
  • non-fiction (2)
  • (political) thrillers (2)
  • romance (1)
  • satire (2)
  • science-fiction (4)
  • self-help (1)
  • short stories (1)

Authors mentioned by name:

  • Bukowski (1)
  • Kerouac (1)
  • Kesey (1)
  • Steinbeck (1)
  • H. S. Thompson (1)
  • Vonnegut (1)
  • David Foster Wallace (1)
  • Irvine Welsh (1)

Electronic Literature

9. Did you find the shift from print to electronic literature more challenging than expected?

15 Yes; 1 Yes/No; and 4 No.

10. If yes, why? If no, why not?

“I had biases regarding quality expectations as well as loyalty to traditional books and the ritual of reading them.”

“Like I stated before, my inadequacies in technology made it very difficult for me to appreciate these works because it took me so long to figure out they work that by the time I actually did, I was so frustrated that I couldn’t appreciate the piece. I much prefer print literature which is generally more linear and straightforward.”

“I didn’t realize that there would be so much to it”

“I didn’t realize I was as rooted to the conventional form of a printed novel as I am. E-lit made me redefine how I approach literature and how I use a computer.”

“When it was just print there was only one thing to look at but with e-lit my focus is divided between the different parts that come with the piece.”

“It is easy to initially reject something foreign just because you’ve never experienced it, and don’t know how to go about wrapping your head around it.”

“It completely destabilized my idea of ‘literature’. I just found it very frustrating in general.”

“It wasn’t challenging because I was already computer literate, but it was challenging because many of the pieces were difficult to access or understand.”

“It’s not challenging; it’s just different. Almost a refreshing change . . . I still prefer print though.”

“It wasn’t more challenging than I expected but took me awhile to fully understand electronic literature. The artist’s statements helped a lot.”

11. Did your attitude towards electronic literature evolve over the course of the five-week unit?

14 Yes or 6 No.

12. If so, describe the trajectory of your experience with electronic literature.

“Once I found the pieces that really worked for me, I started to like it more and more. The more I read the more I got in to it. I still think there is far more potential than what we looked at in the ELC1.”

“At first I was very frustrated with the whole experience, however, the more pieces I experienced, the easier it got. I even began to enjoy some of the later ones; however, I still found them infuriating until I figured out how to use them.”

“The more pieces we explored . . .the more engaged I became.”

“I went in thinking I had an open mind and was very accepting of e-lit only to realize I had huge difficulties understanding and appreciating e-lit, and spent 5 weeks learning to appreciate the medium one e-lit work at a time.”

“The experience with electronic literature forced me to become a more in-depth reader and to not only focus on the text of the work but also music and images.”

“It showed me more e-lit than I have been exposed to in the past and helped me find some I didn’t hate > previous experience with Patchwork [Girl] drove me nuts.”

“My patience sort-of . . . lessened. I wasn’t rewarded enough. At first I was intensely curious. As I worked through more pieces, I found that I rarely got more than a feeling of placid curiosity about it.”

“I kind of get what e-lit is about now when before I had not clue about it. I’m starting to appreciate the time and effort the authors put into making their pieces.”

“Very standoffish at first but I warmed up to the idea with the introduction of more pleasing pieces – i.e. “Cruising” and YHCHI [Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries].”

“I went from not seeing it as literature to having an appreciation of the literary opportunities it provides.”

“At for I thought they were quite boring but now I find them very interesting.”

“Intense frustration/rejection > coping > accepting and embracing. The more exposure to it I got, the less frustrated I became because I was able to build a “toolkit” of techniques to tackle the e-lit genre.”

“At first I was very skeptical [of] many of the pieces I looked through. “Deviant,” for example, I found difficult to accept as anything beyond an interesting flash game. The class discussions really helped clear up many of the pieces for me. By the time we finished the section of course I was far more open and willing to look at e-lit as a possible genre of lit and not just some strange off-shoot of video games or cartoons.”

13. What of strategies did you use to read and make sense of electronic literature?

  • read Author’s Statement (ELC1) (4)
  • click around/experiment (1)
  • read instructions (ELC1) (3) *
  • multiple viewings of pieces (8) **
  • ask questions of self when viewing
  • viewed as puzzles to be solved (2)
  • class discussion – in-class and online (5)
  • reconceptualize use of computer – view as a single versus multi-purpose tool
  • control self-talk – e.g. “Had to stop telling myself ‘I don’t get this and don’t like it’ and keep an open mind” (2)
  • worked closely with the Hayles book
  • patience

* “Read directions > I hate doing this; don’t even when building Ikea furniture, but it’s necessary to understand the pieces.”

** “Taking apart the electronic literature: read the text first; then look at the images and music; see how and why they fuse together.”

14. How did the Fall 2009 E-Lit Forum affect your response to electronic literature?

“It was interesting. It contributed to my detective outlook on the pieces. I started to see the e-lit pieces in more depth, and with a different perspective. Making the questions up was brutal though – I think this shows that there is a type of specific literacy needed to analyze e-lit, and a lot of us were slow to it.”

“It was really helpful, made me aware of points that I didn’t initially think of.”

“It made it more interesting and it made it make more sense in the bigger picture.”

“Some of the [entries] challenge[d] me to accept that there is some validity to the form.”

“Helped me a lot. Helped me understand the method and motive behind how e-lit works.”

“I think it is always beneficial to get insight from the artist behind a piece.”

“Positively. ‘Behind-the-scenes’ expositories loan breadth and useful perspective to ‘challenging’ art. It helps me know where the weirdness is coming from.”

“I learned to be less of a stubborn and judgmental cow . . . BE MORE OPEN-MINDED.”

15. What are the biggest barriers or hurdles for new readers of electronic literature?

  • “getting it” – e.g. “Knowing where to start and you’re supposed to do. A book is simple: open and read . . . with the exception of JPod” (3)
  • understanding how it works and/or why writer has left behind print literature (2)
  • identifying the [artist’s] expectations of the viewer (3)
  • access/technology (3)
  • unfamiliarity with conventions/boundaries of the genre (5)
  • ingrained conception of “literature” being bound/printed (2)
  • lack of control – e.g. cannot pause non-interactive pieces or not being able to read systematically (i.e. left to right, top to bottom) (2)
  • trusting yourself as a reader
  • its very “weirdness”
  • its “difficulty” – e.g. “People generally don’t like to read really hard books; the same apprehension applies to e-lit.”

16. How did you access the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1?

CD-ROM 2* Internet 20

* One respondent indicated that she used both options to access the collection; whereas the other respondent said that she used it out of “desperation” when the internet was down.

17. What were your favourite kind(s) of e-lit pieces?

  • non-interactive pieces – “The Dreamlife of Letters” (3)
  • pieces with movement, control and sound – e.g. “Like Stars in the Clear Night Sky,” “Cruising,” “Cunnilingus in North Korea,”and “I, You, We” (9)
  • Short’s pieces (“Galatea” and “Savoir-Faire”)
  • “Cunnilingus in North Korea” – “The way that that music, text, time and subject all tied together: the piece was amazing.”
  • anything interactive – e.g. “Deviant” and “Stud Poker”; “Storyland,” “Deviant,” “Like Stars,” and “My Body” (4)
  • pieces with an identifiable narrative structure (3)
  • horror – “Deviant”
  • mystery – “Girls Day Out”

18. What were your least favourite kind(s) of e-lit pieces?

  • “Galatea” + “Deviant” – “too video-gamey for my liking”
  • highly interactive pieces
  • text heavy pieces (3)
  • pieces w/ multiple paths – “I didn’t like the idea of possibly missing/not being exposed to good information”
  • textless pieces
  • non-interactive pieces – especially one that looped: “I was never sure when to end them, or they were going to change” (7)
  • no sound and/or bad music
  • long pieces
  • random poetry/story generators
  • pieces required plug-ins and/or additional software (3)

19. Should the Electronic Literature Organization charge for access to the ELC1?

1 Yes or 16 No. 2 conflicted (on account of the artists need to “eat”)

20. How does the ELC1 being freely available affect your sense of its literary value?

  • “Doesn’t affect it”
  • “Doesn’t make a difference. I still dislike it.”
  • “Yes, but if I had to pay I would never, ever look at it again. I would, however, pay for it had authors I already liked contributing, but I have a feeling that popularity isn’t really what they are aiming for.”
  • “Making it free allows any who are interested view the work and it does not negatively affect my sense of [its] literary value because I expect things on the internet to be free.”
  • “I don’t think it does. Its value and cost don’t really touch each other in my view. I think given its newness making it free is important because it will allow people to experience it who wouldn’t be willing to pay.”
  • “It is not physical like a book; therefore, for some reason, I didn’t see it as having as much value.”
  • “Literature should be somewhat free – like in libraries; knowledge and thought should be universally available.”
  • “As any emerging art should be, it is free; this gives the reader the idea that the author does not feel on a high horse, open and welcoming to new views.”
  • “By being free, I feel more inclined to go on and browse through it than if I was charged. It also tells me how easily accessible it is.”
  • “I think that its value as literature doesn’t change, but I’m down with the artists getting paid for their work.”
  • “I like it better. Being free doesn’t decrease its value, but as a broke student it makes a nice release and I used it more because it was free.”
  • “Decreased at first, but by the end of the five weeks it was no longer an issue of mine.”
  • “There should be an option to donate to specific works, which would allow for quantitative data to be collected.”
  • “It doesn’t lessen its literary value to me.”

21. In the future, will you actively seek out electronic literature?

11 Yes or 6 No. 2 Uncertain.

22. If yes, where will you look for electronic literature?

  • online (search engines)
  • media art contemporaries
  • via the ELC/ELO
  • via webcomics
  • via blogs
  • email Aurelea
  • ELC2 (2)
  • AV Club

23. Would you being willing to pay for electronic literature?

5 Yes or 11 No. 3 Conflicted.

24. Your sources for recreational reading materials? Rank in order of preference.

Sources 1st choice 2nd choice 3rd choice 4th choice
Library 4 5 5 5
Bookstore 4 5 6 2
Friends + Family 4 5 8 1
Online 4 2 0 12

25. Where or who do you go for reading suggestions?

  • friends (15)
  • instructors (7)
  • online – e.g. Amazon, Indigo Chapters, or Global Network of Dreams (6)
  • siblings/family – “not ever my mother” (5)
  • librarians (3)
  • bookstore displays – “I look for aesthetically pleasing covers + spines” (3)
  • library pamphlets
  • bookstore clerks
  • authors – e.g. bios/memoirs/interviews: who do they talk about
  • roommates
  • newspaper/magazine reviews – The Believer
  • CBC radio

26. Who and/or what kind of forces create literary value?

  • consumers
  • writers
  • reviewers/critics (2)
  • perceived cultural relevance
  • time (2)
  • media
  • word of mouth (2)
  • readers
  • not sure
  • human principles
  • scholars/academics (2)
  • public opinion
  • popularity
  • publishers
  • Oprah