Electronic literature

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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.[1] 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."[2] 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."[2]

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.

There is some speculation that performance based variations of Flashmobs that originate online, such as Improv Everywhere, also qualify as electronic literature.[3]


Literature began a gradual transition into the digital world beginning with new advancements in technology to makes things more efficient and accessible. In 1934 the first longer audiobook recordings were made to hold short stories and book chapters.[4] 1971 was the year officially accepted as the year of the first e-book. Although there were several contenders to the invention of an "electronic book" prior to this, Michael Hart has been accepted as the official inventor of the e-book when he created an electronic document of the United States Declaration of Independence.[5] Online diaries which were the precursor of blogging began in approximately 1994 with journalists keeping accounts of their personal lives.[6] Online diaries transitioned into what is the complex world of blogging today. On May 15, 1999 the short form, "blog," was first used by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase "we blog" in the sidebar of his blog. Shortly after, Evan Williams at Pyra Labs used "blog" as both a noun and verb ("to blog," meaning "to edit one's weblog or to post to one's weblog") and devised the term "blogger" in connection with Pyra Labs' Blogger product, leading to the popularization of the terms.[6]

The first modern day ebook reader that utilized electronic paper (mimics the appearance of ink on paper)- the Sony Libre was released in 2004.[7] The Sony Libre has since been followed by ebook readers produced from a variety of companies with different sizes, lighting and capabilities.

Digital literature now includes almost every form of literature possible ranging from texts that have been created as digital files and text that has been written completely as a digital literature source with no print source.

Preservation and archiving[edit]

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."[8] 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.[9][10]

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[edit]

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,[11] 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."[12] 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.

See also[edit]


  • Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print, Second Edition. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001.
  • ---. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.
  • Ciccoricco, David. Reading Network Fiction. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007.
  • Gendolla, Peter; Schäfer, Jörgen (eds.). The Aesthetics of Net Literature. Writing, Reading and Playing in Programmable Media. Bielefeld (Germany): Transcript, 2007.
  • Glazier, Loss Pequeño. Digital Poetics: the Making of E-Poetries. Alabama, 2002.
  • Hansen, Mark B. N. Bodies in Code: Interfaces With Digital Media. Routledge, 2006.
  • ---. New Philosophy For New Media. Cambridge:MIT Press, 2004.
  • Hayles, N. Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.[13]
  • ---. My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
  • ---. Writing Machines. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002.
  • Landow, George.Hypertext 3.0 : Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization (Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society), 2005
  • ---.Hypertext 2.0 : The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society), 1997
  • ---.Hypertext : The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society), 1991
  • ---.Hyper/Text/Theory, 1994
  • Manovich, Lev.The Language of New Media, MIT Press, Cambridge Mass, USA, 2001.
  • Moulthrop, Stuart. You Say You Want a Revolution: Hypertext and the Laws of Media. Postmodern Culture, v.1 n.3 (May, 1991).
  • Pressman, Jessica. "The Strategy of Digital Modernism: Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries' Dakota," Modern Fiction Studies 54(2); 302-26.
  • Schäfer, Jörgen; Gendolla, Peter (eds.). Beyond the Screen. Transformations of Literary Structures, Interfaces and Genres. Bielefeld (Germany): Transcript, 2010.
  • Simanowski, Roberto; Schäfer, Jörgen; Gendolla, Peter (eds.). Reading Moving Letters. Digital Literature in Research and Teaching: A Handbook. Bielefeld (Germany): Transcript, 2010.
  • Tabbi, Joseph. "On Reading 300 Works of Electronic Literature: Preliminary Reflections." On The Human: A Project of the National Humanities Center. July 22, 2009.
  • ---. “Locating the Literary in New Media.” Contemporary Literature (Summer 2008). Also online at http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/criticalecologies/interpretive.
  • Thacker, Eugene (ed.). Hard_Code: Narrating the Network Society, Alt-X Press, 2001.
  • Wark, McKenzie. "From Hypertext to Codework," Hypermedia Joyce Studies, vol 3, issue 1 (2002).
  • Hispanic Electronic Literature Institutional web of the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes about hypertext and multimedia fiction.
  • Wikipedia Literatura Electronica Hispanica in Wikipedia.es


  1. ^ Electronic Literature: What Is It
  2. ^ a b "Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary". University of Notre Dame. 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-erine.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  3. ^ "About the ELO: What is Electronic Literature?". ELO. 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-22. 
  4. ^ Audiobook
  5. ^ https://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Michael_S._Hart
  6. ^ a b History of blogging
  7. ^ http://goodereader.com/blog/electronic-readers/a-brief-history-of-ebooks
  8. ^ 4 Preservation, Archiving, and Dissemination, Electronic Literature: What is it?
  9. ^ Montfort, Nick and Noah Wardrip-Fruin "Acid-Free Bits: Recommendations for Long-Lasting Electronic Literature". The Electronic Literature Organization, 2004.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ N. Katherine Hayles, My Mother was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2005; p. 143.
  13. ^ Official website for Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary