Beyond the Screen

On Reading 300 Works†of Electronic Literature: Is There a Literary Mainstream in New Media?

14.30-15.20: Joseph Tabbi (Chicago, USA)

Abstract: The ELO under my direction this year is redeveloping its Electronic Literature Directory, a directory of over 2,000 works of electronic literature that was developed in 1999 on a database platform which is now outdated. Using the WikiMedia platform (the platform developed for Wikipedia), Semantic MediaWiki, and Semantic Forms, the new directory currently in development will be more flexible, more durable, and more extensible than the original platform.
The development of the Electronic Literature Directory involves, in the first instance, identifying the literariness of works, and describing in every case what makes the work ‘electronic literature’ and not something else--conceptual art, for example, or conventional literature delivered in e-book or other electronic formats. This project, unlike catalogues of established genres in print, needs to create a profile of the field based on descriptions of each work put up for consideration. Moreover, because works of electronic literature often, and perhaps necessarily, link up with other, affiliated work, a vocabulary of electronic literature needs to be devised so that common characteristics can be recognized. Such a taxonomy needs to evolve together with the developing field--but the development should be tracked, the works need to be evaluated, and the evaluation should be to some degree the work of a collectivity that includes authors, readers, and (crucially) readers aspiring to be authors. In moving forward on the directory, ELO is not just making available a set of works--valuable as this service alone would be. We are also entering a broader discussion concerning the archiving of creative content whose networked character requires building connections among works (at the level of content) and also among affiliated organizations. Creating such a dynamic application involving an active readership and also a consortium of participating institutions is the challenge that a semantic based Directory poses. In this sense, any system of ‘preservation, archiving, and editing’ (our panel topic in Siegen) must be, also, an engine for the ‘transformation of literary structures, interfaces, and genres’ that is the topic of the conference as a whole.

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