This semester, right before COVID-19 sent the world into quarantine, I was honored to give two invited lectures on electronic literature, one at the US Naval Academy titled “Turning the Page: Latinx Born-Digital Literature” and another at U of Maryland titled “Distant Writing.” The lectures have been video recorded and well produced, so I have embedded them here, along with their abstracts.
Turning the Page: Latinx Born-Digital Literature
Forum for Latin American Studies, USNA – February 25, 2020
Why do we read and write on digital devices much the same way as we do in paper? Even though people have had access to mainframe computers since the 1950s, word processing since the 70s, personal computers and video games since the 80s, the Web since the 90s, mobile and touchscreen devices since the 2000s, and social media networks for over a decade, we still use these devices for writing in the same modalities developed for the printed page. Much writing in digital media still follows the same rules and conventions developed for when we place ink on paper: carefully chosen static text organized into lines, verses, paragraphs, stanzas, usually on white virtual paper. This talk explores the work of Latinx writers who have stepped away from the limits and conventions of the virtual page to explore the potential of digital media with works of electronic literature that incorporate images, video, sound, animation, interactivity, computation, time, and networking.
How does a poet end up thinking in terms of algorithms, programming languages, and datasets? This talk explores the work of writers of electronic literature who, instead of writing sequences of words directly, create a computer program or modify an existing one to generate their intended texts. The practice of creating and repurposing “engines” encourage the development of born-digital poetic forms, such as Nick Montfort’s poem, “Taroko Gorge” which has been remixed hundreds of times since its publication in early 2009. In this talk I will provide a brief history of computational literature and related genres, discuss key characteristics and practices, analyze tools and strategies used for its creation, and identify communities that practice it. The goal of this exploration is to formulate a poetics of distant writing with attention given to how this practice is shaping public tastes and literary aesthetics.
Huge thanks to the good folks at the USNA Forum on Latin American Studies and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities for the invitations!
I am pleased to announce that I have accepted a position as Chairperson and Professor in the Department of English at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, starting on July 1, 2019. Here’s a lovely press release about it.
This panel was presented at the Electronic Literature Organization 2018 conference in Montreal on August 14, 2018. This post offers both the proposal for the panel and presentations, and video documentation of the presentations themselves. The participants (in order of appearance) are: Dr. Leonardo Flores, Dr. Kathi Inman Berens, and Dr. Lyle Skains.
We are witnessing the emergence of a third generation of electronic literature, one that breaks with the publishing paradigms and e-literary traditions of the past and present.
N. Katherine Hayles first historicized electronic literature by establishing 1995 as the break point between a text heavy and link driven first generation and a multimodal second generation “with a wide variety of navigation schemes and interface metaphors” (“Electronic Literature: What Is It?”). Even though Hayles has since rebranded the first wave of electronic literature as “classical,” generational demarcations are still useful, especially when enriching the first generation with pre-Web genres described by Christopher Funkhouser in Prehistoric Digital Poetry and others. My paper redefines the second generation as one aligned with Modernist poetics of innovation by creating interfaces and multimodal works in which form is invented to fit content.
Third generation electronic literature emerges with the rise of social media networks, the
development of mobile, touchscreen, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)
platforms. This generation is less concerned with inventing form and more with remixing
and creating work within well established platforms and their interfaces, parallel to a return
to recognizable poetic forms, Romantic subjectivity, and pastiche in Postmodern poetry.
This includes Instagram poetry, bots, apps, kinetic typography, lyric videos, memes, Twine
games, and works that take advantage of smartphone, touchscreen, and VR technologies.
This generation leaves behind book and open Web publishing paradigms and embraces
new funding models, such as crowdfunding and software distribution platforms.
Even though the first generation of e-lit ended about 20 years ago, the second and third
generation currently coexist, much as Modernist and Postmodernist literature do. And while
second generation works are currently more sophisticated, complex, and aligned with
academia, the third generation will produce the first massively successful works because
they operate in platforms with large audiences that need little to no training to reading them.
So while second generation works will continue to attract critical acclaim with limited
audiences, it is the third generation that will produce the field’s first #1 hit.
Populist Modernism: Printed Instagram Poetry and the Literary Highbrow
“InstaPoets” are a collection of individual Instagrammers who’ve converted their social media
capital (hundreds of thousands of followers, millions of “likes” and reposts) into printed book
bestseller status. Rupi Kaur alone tallied 1.4 million sales of her first book of Insta Poetry, Milk
and Honey, in 2017. Uniquely among books by social media celebrities (c.f. books by YouTube
celebrities), fans of InstaPoets buy printed book versions of exactly the same content that’s
available for free in an Instagram feed. Why do these fans buy what they already have for free?
This paper describes the Instagram Poetry phenomenon, then situates it in two contexts:
debates about high- and lowbrow digital literary culture; and book industry efforts to
understand–and monetize–digital interactivity.
Electronic literature artists emulate the high modernist aesthetic of difficulty. Once a small
community of North American and Western European academics, e-lit is now global, and its
canonical status is established: e-lit is featured on university syllabi, publishes its own curated
and peer-reviewed collections, has launched a branch of digital humanities scholarship, and
awards prizes. Bestselling InstaPoetry, in this context, is a populist upstart at odds with “digital
literature” as it’s been construed. However, the InstaPoets provide clues about how digital
literary interactivity might be financially sustainable outside of university sponsorship—a
conversation that transpired at ELO 2017 in my talk: “What Book Publishers can Learn from
Electronic Literature Installation,” on a panel chaired by Lyle Skains. Later, Leonardo Flores
openly asked Matt Kirschenbaum in the QA after his keynote: what is e-lit’s #1 hit? My paper is
one response to that question.
Printed Instagram Poetry’s “warm materiality” (McLuhan) converts the social media capital of
algorithmic reinscription (likes, shares, reposts) into book sales and bestseller status. This
paper analyzes what the Instagram Poets’ social and economic success tell us about new
practices of digital-born authorship and e-literature’s financial sustainability.
Lyle Skains, “Not Sold in Stores: The Commercialization Potential of Digital Fiction”
Since Will Crowther created the first text-adventure game in 1976 (Jerz 2007), digital media has provided ample opportunity for fictional storytelling to evolve. One evolutionary pathway has led to computer games, now the most dominant form of entertainment media. Digital fiction, however, has developed along a more understated pathway, and has yet to emerge into its mainstream or commercial niche; it is not sold on Amazon, Google Play, or Steam; it is not regularly reviewed in The New Yorker or The Guardian; it does not get adapted into popular films or television shows. Yet digital fiction persists, and in recent years has expanded beyond its roots as experimental texts created and shared amongst academics and avant garde artists, as demonstrated by trends in book apps, Twine games, and educational tools.
It is possible that digital fiction remains on the fringes not because the mainstream public
dislikes it, but simply because they can’t find it. Publishing models for digital fiction have not
yet emerged; rather, it is still primarily shared on the “gift economy” (Currah 2007) of the
internet. Promising avenues have emerged in the indie games sphere in the form of Twine
games and walking sims, but the generally single-authored, narrative-driven digital fiction
has yet to find a solid footing in mainstream, commercial publishing spheres.
This presentation summarizes the convergent evolution in different media, from e-lit to indie
games to webcomics, and examines each for its successes and failures in terms of
commercialization. It offers insight into the future of digital fiction based on these case
studies, as well as the author’s own practice-based research into publishing and
commercializing digital fiction as both a creator and a publisher (in the form of Wonderbox
This panel was inspired by Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s keynote at ELO 2017 in Porto, titled “ELO and the Electric Light Orchestra: Electronic Literature Lessons from Prog Rock” available here and my follow up question “What do you think will be e-lit’s first #1 hit?” See the video documentation of the keynote below.
I was recently invited to give a lecture at the University of Bergen on January 31, 2018 and the recording is now available. My talk, titled “Third Generation Electronic Literature” offers a historical overview of electronic literature, builds upon genealogies of the field by Hayles and Funkhouser, and describes a third wave of e-literature that emerged circa 2005. I believe this third generation will produce massively popular works and lead to mainstream adoption of electronic literature.
Big thanks to Scott Rettberg, Jill Walker Rettbert, Daniel Apollon, Daniel Jung, Álvaro Seiça, Mia Zamora, and the Digital Culture students, faculty, and staff at UiB for the invitation, warm welcome, great questions, and video production.
This Spring 2018 semester I will be offering 3 courses: Modern Poetry, Digital Creative Writing, and Digital Humanities Internship. I have linked to the course blogs, with which I have offered at least two or more iterations of the courses, which should allow you to have a sense of what I’ve covered in the past. For a more immediate synopsis, take a look at the flyer below.
Some fun facts about these courses:
Modern poetry is the second in a 3-part series of poetry courses he will be offering. You can jump in anytime, but if you take all three you will have mad poetry analytical skills and knowledge of the past 100+ years in poetic tradition.
Digital Creative Writing (same course number as Creative Writing) and Digital Humanities Internship both can be used for the Innovation Tracks in Digital Media certificate.
I am pleased to announce that from July 10-23 I will be visting Porto in a series of scholarly activities and public appearances sponsored by the Fulbright Specialist Program, the Fulbright Commission in Lisbon, and Universidade Fernando Pessoa (UFP).
July 13-14: Available for meetings and consultations 9:00 – 12:00, 13:00 – 16:00 UFP CETIC.
July 14: Presentation: “Electronic Literature and the Future of Writing” 18:00 – Salao Nobre at UFP.