Jessica Pressman on Electronic Literature
By: Sara Sweeney
We don’t need books. But we want them.
Jessica Pressman bluntly admitted this at Thursday’s teach-in session in Kessler Auditorium. Coming all the way from San Diego, Pressman was here to share the emerging medium of literature: electronic. Though it is a relatively new field of study, this doesn’t diminish the fact that digital modernism is deserving of our attention. Electronic literature plays with the technology of a computer and can be an interactive experience (hypertext, interpretive fiction, generative poetry), or something just to look at. In all cases, though, electronic literature is written to be read on a screen. “We live in a digital age,” it was said at the meeting on Thursday. Image, design, media, and format are elements whose prevalence in how we express ourselves is increasing.
But is e-lit really literature? Does it count as literature? I decided to look into it myself, because though I can understand the relevance of this all, I’m not sold on making some sort of drastic switch to video-esque novels. In my experience, electronic literature is very much like watching a lyric video. What I saw was flashy, fast, and full of subliminal messages. The screen filled with words, music played in the background, and the experience was most certainly different from reading a book. I do understand that social networking and the ability to communicate effectively through a screen rather than pages of a book are becoming crucial skills (especially for our generation).. yadda yadda. But even so, the nostalgic part of me can’t fathom getting rid of books for something like that. At least, not completely.
For this is where my fright stems. Where will electronic literature take us? When does it stop? Kindles, Nooks, iPhone apps– we can already see the generational changes. It was at my childhood sleepovers that we would get into the backseat of my dad’s car, ride to blockbuster, and rent the most adventurous looking Mary-Kate and Ashley mystery videos. Will there be a day when books are forgotten– just as VHS has been? And then, I worry about the sillier things regarding electronic literature: headaches, strained vision, more time spent in front of a computer and radiation (personal overdramatic concerns). Most of the questions raised with this new literary form are still unanswered.
I realize that advancing technology is inevitable (thanks due to human greed, curiosity, will to improve). We will continue to advance the study of literature as well, so, despite my hesitance towards the subject, focus on e-lit has pioneered. There are online archives of electronic literature, as well as a whole organization dedicated to the matter. You can visit here at http://www.eliterature.org. With this, of course, some main dilemmas arise: who decides what is “good” e-literature? Who owns the writing? What will be the shelf life and how do we preserve electronic literature? These are questions of the digital age that demand a reconsideration of how we “do” literature– because, ultimately, the way we read is changing.
To “read” some electronic literature for yourself, visit Volume One of the Electronic Literature Collection here: http://collection.eliterature.org/1/