Electronic literature, otherwise known as Digital Literature, is a literary genre consisting of works of literature that originate within digital environments and require digital computation to be read. In contrast to most e-books, electronic literature is created specifically to be used via a digital setting and thus cannot be printed as key elements of the text require computation: for instance there may be links, generative aspects, multimedia content, animation or reader interaction in addition to the verbal text. Electronic literature may also take the form of digitally mediated performance writing.
N. Katherine Hayles discusses the topic in the online article Electronic Literature: What Is It. She argues in her 2008 text Electronic Literature that, "electronic literature, generally considered to exclude print literature that has been digitized, is by contrast 'digital born,' and (usually) meant to be read on a computer." Hayles also cites the definition offered by the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) as, "work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer."
On its official website, the ELO offers this additional definition of electronic literature as consisting of works which are:
- E-books, hypertext fiction and poetry, on and off the Web
- Animated poetry presented in graphical forms, for example Flash and other platforms
- Computer art installations which ask viewers to read them or otherwise have literary aspects
- Conversational characters, also known as chatterbots
- Interactive fiction
- Novels that take the form of emails, SMS messages, or blogs
- Poems and stories that are generated by computers, either interactively or based on parameters given at the beginning
- Collaborative writing projects that allow readers to contribute to the text of a work
- Literary performances online that develop new ways of writing.
Electronic literature first came to prominence in the 1980s, with the advancement of computing technology. The earliest electronic literatures were known as hypertext fiction and used hyperlinks to connect otherwise isolated story nodes. Eastgate Systems published many of the first hypertexts on CD-ROM, including Michael Joyce's afternoon, a story, which is often regarded as the first hypertext.
These texts were supplemented in the 1990s by "digital born" texts, designed specifically for the World Wide Web. At the same time, developments in multimedia software allowed authors to "integrate an increasingly sophisticated multimodal range of resources into digital texts." The focus of digital texts moved away from storytelling through words alone and highlighted visual elements of the text. Text-based adventure games, or interactive fiction, also fall into this genre.
Preservation and archiving
Electronic literature, according to Hayles, becomes unplayable after a decade or less due to the "fluid nature of media." Therefore, electronic literature risks losing the opportunity to build the "traditions associated with print literature." On the other hand, classics such as Michael Joyce's afternoon, a story (1987) are still read and have been republished on CD, while simple HTML hypertext fictions from the 1990s are still accessible online and can be read in modern browsers.
Several organizations are dedicated to preserving works of electronic literature. The UK-based Digital Preservation Coalition aims to preserve digital resources in general, while the Electronic Literature Organization's PAD (Preservation / Archiving / Dissemination) initiative gave recommendations on how to think ahead when writing and publishing electronic literature, as well as how to migrate works running on defunct platforms to current technologies.
The Electronic Literature Collection is a series of anthologies of electronic literature published by the Electronic Literature Organization, both on CD/DVD and online, and this is another strategy in working to make sure that electronic literature is available to future generations.
The Maryland Institute for Technologies in the Humanities also works to archive electronic literature.
Notable people and works
There are a number of notable authors, critics, and works associated with electronic literature. Michael Joyce's Afternoon, a story is known as the first hypertext fiction, although this has been disputed, and Stuart Moulthrop's Victory Garden is another notable work of electronic literature.
Other particularly interesting and noteworthy pieces of digital literature are Nightingale's Playground by Andy Campbell and Judi Alston. This interactive fiction is a link between the original concept of text based interactive fiction and gaming as we now it now.
Furthermore Shelley Jackon's 'Patchwork Girl' is described as "an electronic fiction that manages to be at once highly original and intensely parasitic on its print predecessors."  Based off 'Frankenstein's Monster' by Mary Shelley, it gives the story a feminine twist with both the protagonist and frankentein's monster now being female. Throughout the hypertext, Jackson weaves together fragments of nodes in resemblance to the stitching together of frankenstein's monster's limbs.
- Digital humanities
- Digital poetry
- Generative art (section Literature)
- Hypertext fiction
- Web fiction
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- Tabbi, Joseph. "On Reading 300 Works of Electronic Literature: Preliminary Reflections." On The Human: A Project of the National Humanities Center. July 22, 2009.
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- Electronic Literature: What Is It
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- "About the ELO: What is Electronic Literature?". ELO. 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-22.
- Page, Ruth; Thomas, Bronwen (2011), New Narratives: Stories and Storytelling in the Digital Age, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, p. 1
- 4 Preservation, Archiving, and Dissemination, Electronic Literature: What is it?
- Montfort, Nick and Noah Wardrip-Fruin "Acid-Free Bits: Recommendations for Long-Lasting Electronic Literature". The Electronic Literature Organization, 2004.
- Alan Liu, David Durand, Nick Montfort, Merrilee Proffitt, Liam R. E. Quin, Jean-Hugues Réty, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. "2005 “Born-Again Bits: A Framework for Migrating Electronic Literature”. Electronic Literature Organization, 2005.
- Rettberg, Jill Walker. 2012. 'Electronic Literature Seen from a Distance: The Beginnings of a Field', "Dichtung Digital 41 https://bora.uib.no/handle/1956/6272
- N. Katherine Hayles, My Mother was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2005; p. 143.
- Official website for Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary