“Navigating Electronic Literature” and “Twelve Blue”

“Navigating Electronic Literature” by Jessica Pressman is an excellent article to begin this class with; it cleared up many things for me. First and foremost, I’ll be honest when going through our course readings and opening up the links to the different E-Lit pieces; I felt anxious! I’m usually one of the first to look up course readings and pick an article, but not this time. I didn’t even understand what I was looking at but thank you for this article; it saved me! The examples Pressman integrated about various types of forms of E-lit were informative. I enjoyed Jim Andrews and Pauline Masurel’s “Blue Hyacinth,” I would love to create something like that. (Already coming up with ideas for my project!)

I’m usually one to follow a chronological order, but Pressman mentioned in her article that “how one navigates a hypertext determines what one reads and in which order.” So I felt a little bold when reading “Twelve Blue” by Michael Joyce and decided to read all the even numbers first, skipping number one at first, then feeling guilty after reading two and finally returning to one. This nonlinear way of reading is going to take me some time, I said to myself.

Then I noticed Joyce had underlined and hyperlinked his text; each underlined part brought me to a new piece. So, I stopped following a chronological order, began clicking on the hyperlinks, and reading what came up next. At some point, I ended up on a visual and felt frustrated because I didn’t know where to go next, what to read next, and it’s just an unusual feeling, that feeling of not knowing if that makes sense? But then I remembered Pressman had said, “navigation becomes the key to reading electronic literature, and reading becomes a practice that must be relearned and reconsidered with each digital work.” So I calmed myself down and tried again.

Blue Blue everywhere! - Buzz and Woody (Toy Story) Meme | Make a Meme

Upon reading more, I was pleased, Joyce has strategically named his piece Twelve Blue; each piece was tied together nicely, no matter what order I read it in. I am sure, though, that I might have missed a few pieces. I also ended up noticing the background; it was a darker blue, and the text was a brighter blue, distracting at first, but after reading through a few pieces, you can say the word blue held great importance in his work, and he took full advantage of E-lit and made sure the readers knew.

Taking me back to Pressman’s piece when she said, ” regardless of your view, however, navigating a hypertext not only promotes questions about the reader’s role and the reading practice but also about the structure and signification of literature itself.” I am then interested in hearing how my peers read Joyce’s piece this week, were they baited like me to click on the links to jump from one storyline to another? Or did they make a choice to wander off by themselves in whatever order they wanted? If anyone reads this blog, let me know your process!

“Navigating Electronic Literature” and “Twelve Blue”

I’ll be honest, before reading Navigating Electronic Literature by Jessica Pressman, I didn’t fully understand the ability and immersion that is electronic literature. I am familiar with hypertext and think it’s helpful in better understanding an article or story. Whether it’s a definition or an extension of the story, it adds a layer to the literature.

Jim Andrew’s “stir fry texts” and Interactive Fiction are such cool ideas. I love that these texts rely on user mouse movement and interaction to reveal different sections of text or advancements to the story. The user controls what is revealed and in what time frame it gets revealed based on their movement. It makes the reader do some work! This makes the literature an experience rather than a story or article. I also like how each experience with electronic literature can be totally different where no two users will have the same experience. This allows for amazing classroom conversation! Choosing your own story and actions would make me more engaged as a reader. 

Reading Navigating Electronic Literature definitely helped in navigating and following along in “Twelve Blue” by Michael Joyce. The story itself was a bit hard to follow and I feel that there were a lot of components coming together to form the plot, which I loved. For me, when I’m reading a story for a long time, I reach a point where I have to reread certain parts because I’m zoning out. With this story, I had to actively participate in order to get the story to evolve and progress. Readers get to choose a name and click on hypertext in order to move to the next section of the story. The use of hypertext and IF (Interactive Fiction) worked well together to advance the story and keep the reader engaged and paying attention to certain phrases or sentences that advance the story. Two lines specifically stuck out to me:

“Everything can be read…every ever after”  

“Abandon wasn’t in her heritage, she had had to grow with it”

I thought both of these lines in “Twelve Blue” were so powerful and standout sentences in the story.

Blog 2

Ponderings on Michael Joyce’s Twelve Blue

Near the end of Pressman’s (“Navigating Electronic Literature,” n.d.) essay, she states, “…emergent forms of electronic literature complicate the ways in which we think about and engage with literature” (para. 12). Almost every piece I have experienced thus far in this field has left me with the sense I’ve entered into a psychedelic tinged world, where time and meaning are vague concepts and everything is about experiencing and feeling. This is not altogether unpleasant. The nature of literature IS to be a gateway into a kind of timelessness that is all about experience.

That said, I agree with Pressman that electronic literature is complicated to engage with. It makes me feel uncomfortable. When I read, I like my role as observer on a familiar path where words, plots, and characters line up before me in neat, curated lanes. A piece like Joyce’s (1996) Twelve Blue does not fit well into this framework; I can not stroll down the linear path. Instead, I am like a bagger at the grocery, characters and lines being conveyed to me in wild and unorganized ways while I try to quickly form it all into a meaningful package. Before reading Twelve Blue, and a few other pieces like it, I did not know that I was such a boring and linear reader. As I engaged with Twelve Blue for the assigned hour (a strangely devotional way of reading, reminiscent of my days of diligent Bible study growing up – maybe a topic for a future post), there were several ideas that came to mind.

What initially struck me was how overwhelming the piece felt to read. The power of navigation being in my hands (the act of “producing” and “performing”, as Pressman (“Navigating Electronic Literature,” n.d., para. 12) puts it) was a burden. My process began a little like this:

Me: Ah, it begins with numbers.

Anxiety: How do I know what number I should pick first?

Me: Never go for 1… 4 is a solid middle choice.

Anxiety: Oh, no…but what if I was supposed to actually start at 1 and now I have messed it all up?

Me: Do you think I should go back?

Anxiety: [continues to worry about going back to number 1]

Me: Oh well, I am already reading…

“She looked out on the creek and measured out the threads…” (Joyce, 1996).

After I read the first ‘page’, I felt a little of the initial burden ease because curiosity grabbed me. I weaved in and out of a story that seemed to be about loneliness and longing in the lives of two doctors with teenage children; in the background, a deaf man’s death was threaded into each of their stories – “zeppelin dolphin” (Joyce, 1996). In the end, I found my way back to the woman by the creek, her ponderings now more meaningful, but still lacking any kind of conclusion to the story. The burden came back, and I felt anxious. I hadn’t navigated enough to understand – did the two doctors get together? How did the boy drown? Who was the little girl by the sea who “thought sperm was a shore” where she might be able to find her dead mother? Had I failed in my engagement of the author’s text, navigating in a way that didn’t capture what the author intended me to understand? Or was that the point – I was supposed to experience it in the way I experienced it, and that was okay?

Of course, I know from Pressman’s article that I engaged the piece in the way it was meant to be read; my haphazard navigation was part of the meaning making experience of the story. That said, to return to the idea of my “boring” and “linear” way of reading, I found myself thinking about the concept of what makes a story. Pressman addressed how electronic literature challenges the typical structure of story in her article, specifically when she quoted Jay David Bolter. Bolter (as cited in Pressman, “Navigating Electronic Literature,” n.d.) basically says story in hypertext isn’t just a one and done kind of thing. With each reading, what we experience varies and changes, and because of this, the reader could actually question if there is a story to be found at all!

The idea that something that calls itself literature might not even have a ‘story’ once again challenged my ideas around literature. I don’t think that Twelve Blue is without a story, but it is without traditional structure – and after spending the summer reading through The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop (Koch, 2003), this seems sacrilegious! In Koch’s words, “Good structure clarifies” (p.71). I would say Twelve Blue is anything but clear in it’s structure. But in this murky ‘story’ there is something more true to story telling than I think the traditional structure is fully capable of capturing. Twelve Blue feels like living, and what is life but one long story full of incongruities. What I mean by this is the imagery drew me into brief emotional experiences, not unlike the moments of life. Even if the scene’s context was confusing and didn’t seem to fit in the larger picture, there was something about the way I felt that made it okay if I just wanted to take it as it was or try to find more of the story. That feels like the way humans live in their stories. Sometimes they chase a plot to it’s end, but sometimes they let it drift off.

There is something completely chaotic to this whole process of electronic literature. Letting people author with you, having stories that may not actually be stories, never having people experience your piece in the same way, letting navigation dictate meaning, etc. But in that chaos is a type of freedom that I’m finding I am drawn to. Often the writing I have produced has been spurts of images and people and stories, but it never felt story-like in the traditional sense. Experiencing Twelve Blue and learning more about the theories behind electronic literature in Pressman’s article gives me the creative spark that comes when I recognize a path through the marsh of doubt I’ve been mired in around my writing. Maybe it is time to leave my linear ways behind – at least just a little.


Bolter, J.D. (1991). Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Lawrence Erlbaum.

Joyce, M. (1996). Twelve Blue. Postmodern Culture and Eastgate Systems. https://collection.eliterature.org/1/works/joyce__twelve_blue.html

Koch, S. (2003). The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop. The Modern Library.

Pressman, J. (n.d.). Navigating Electronic Literature. Electronic Literature: New Horizons For the Literary. https://newhorizons.eliterature.org/essay.php@id=14.html

B. POST 1: Navigate Your Way Through Electronic Literature

This week we were assigned two readings, with one of them providing greater insight to understand and reading electronic literature. Reading through Pressman’s article Navigating Electronic Literature (NEL) was both interesting and enlightening, as it helped me further understand more about electronic literature and how to go about reading it. Electronic literature is a genre I am still not fully familiar with, and this is possibly because it is so wide in variety. So reading Pressman’s article surely helped me better understand a little more about the second reading assignment for the week (Twelve Blue).

Reading NEL was indeed a treat. I am not completely sure yet to how many different types of electronic literature his methodology to understanding this genre can relate, but I still found it helpful anyway for basic-general knowledge. Throughout his article, he spoke of how important “navigation” is when reading works of electronic literature, which differ from traditional works of print literature. It is in fact an essential element that affects not only the way we read and interact with the text, but also how we come together to understand it as a whole (the full message). One of the types works used as example was that of hypertext literature. In this type of literature you can control the way you approach the narration of the reading through the various options of clicking image-maps (these have additional content that is threaded, and can be reached by clicking on a words, text, ect… ). He also talks about a little problem (or rather difficulty) that some readers might face when navigating electronic literature. This difficulty becomes apparent when readers are many times forced to find clues in identifying text or where to progress in the various maps and threads found in the literature piece.

After reading NEL, I was ready to start reading Twelve Blue (TB)byMichael Joyce. Upon reading the introduction summary of the work and story, I became more aware of everything that Pressman spoke about in his article. And as I started to read and continued reading, everything made even more sense. At first, I started the reading on the main page (or map). The first thing I noticed was a picture or image that had numbers (from 1-8). I started from number 1, and noticed that I was transferred to some random text. Then, experimenting, I clicked on different parts of the small image-map found to the left of the text. There I learned that there were a bunch of small boxes or squares that had threaded more text to it. Each of these squares took me to different chunks of text, which served as part of the story. And so I realized that it was up to me to progress with how I read these texts which were all part of a story.  I’m still not sure If I clicked the right threads which took me to different parts of the story or if I missed any. I most likely did, since the navigation aspect of reading this type of literature can provide you with a certain freedom, but also challenge you in how to progress with the reading.

 I do have to say that I enjoyed very much familiarizing myself more with this type of electronic literature. Interacting with the reading is something I am not used to doing, even with some past practice and experience in digital writing. And now that I think about it twice, I realize even more that writings on blogs or webpages are not necessarily electronic literature. They don’t come even close in complexity, even if sometimes you can find a link added to a text or word, to real electronic literary works which have various threads of maps and text built together to form the literary work.