Electronic Literature Course Description

A few of my English department colleagues and myself are preparing to propose a new Electronic Literature course, to replace a more vaguely named “Textual Media” class in the university course catalog. Here is an incredibly first draft version of the course description, building in part on language from the Electronic Literature Organization’s own description of electronic literature:

Electronic Literature (3 credits) Electronic literature refers to expressive texts that are born digital and can only be read, interacted with, or otherwise experienced in a digital environment. Contemporary writers, artists, and designers are producing a wide range of electronic literature, including hypertext fiction, kinetic poetry, interactive fiction, computer-generated poetry and stories, digital mapping, and online collaborative writing projects via SMS, emails, and blogs. In all of these cases, electronic literature takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts of stand-alone or networked computers. Such literary texts often demand new reading and interpretative practices, which this class will develop in students.

I’m eager to hear any feedback about this purposefully generic description.

4 thoughts on “Electronic Literature Course Description”

  1. Via Dave Munger

    A great definition of what Electronic texts are, but I prefer course descriptions that speak to the student: a few “In this course we will read & analyze…”-style phrases would help.

    Is it too much to say that this is NOT a course on e-books?

    I was slated to teach a course on blogging next fall and would love to have thought more about this stuff, but it (my elective) was a victim of the economy.

  2. I think first of Chinese literature, a subject which I actually know little about. However, it was a style of literature where what is associated interacts with what is written. Passages in imperial Chinese literature were infused with instances of characters/pictograms being used to create one auditory interpretation when read aloud, yet the character used in certain instances would only present this meaning when spoken out loud, but give reference to a different visual idea altogether when read, creating a multi-sensory subtext for everything in the story. These multi-faceted narrations therefore lose their meaning when translated to another language (the Red Chamber Dream is often thought of as purely erotic fiction when it is actually a commentary on inequity and ignorance) the same way that interactive fiction cannot simply be printed and shared.

  3. In general, I think this is a good description, although to play devil’s advocate one can get SMS novels in print and I don’t know how different they would be. Obviously you’re not getting the ongoing updates from the author, so the “live”-ness isn’t really there, but reading the text itself doesn’t really change all that much. Of course, making this statement just reminds one of how different reading electronic literature can be.

    Also, could it be possible to have electronic literature that doesn’t need to be in a digital environment? Why not just call it “digital literature”?

  4. Great comments from everyone! This would be the static course description as it appears in the academic catalog. Every time the class is offered, the professor would tailor the description to suit his or her needs; that’s probably where some distinction might be made between electronic literature and literature that has been made electronic (i.e. e-books) or e-lit that has been reduced to print.

    As far as tone, I know that needs work too. The last sentence was typed in a fury and I can’t stand the strange passive voice about it. I suppose it’s not actually passive, but regardless, something awkward is going on there.

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