It is exciting to write my first blog post for the semester. A digital means of writing for a digital-focused class. I was not fully aware of electronic literature or its impact in the field up until now but it appears to be more fascinating than one would expect. It is simply described as “literature born in digital form” and exclusive to that digital-based environment. Even though it sounds clear enough, it certainly requires more thought to fully grasp its nature and how it differentiates itself from literature as we know it. These first couple of weeks were my first steps into understanding the nature of electronic literature and construct a better definition for literature in bigger picture.
Following the brief introduction to electronic literature, our first small but important assignment for the class was to define literature as a whole. As most students would do, I simply looked up its dictionary definition online to get a sense of what is expected when it is asked. It read: “written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit”. I needed to re-write this given definition by my own words and capture the essence of literature but also be inclusive to these new forms that I was introduced to in class. In my re-written definition, I suggested that literature was an expressive work conducted in a communicative form that presented literary purpose and ignited creative thinking. Although I agree with that definition, I also could not help but wondered whether I was truly capturing that essence in question by re-writing the definition or intentionally altering the established definition in order to include the works presented to me as examples of electronic literature? I was a bit skeptic.
Instead of comparing traditional literature with electronic literature, I figured that examining the key aspects of differentiating the two could be a better approach. One particular way to make a solid distinguish would be to examine the existence of interaction. In the article, Navigating Electronic Literature, it is suggested that the key feature of electronic literature is the role of the reader who has the power to navigate through the story and construct his or her own path to the end as opposed to traditional works of literature that tend to present its narration in much more simplistic matter. It made sense but I needed something more distinguishable and specific since this statement could easily apply to a Choose Your Own Adventure book, which is constructed in a traditional environment rather than digital. As it is stated in the article, “Navigating electronic literature is an act of producing a work’s signifying properties in the moment of engagement with them…” and “when and how the reader inputs a command, whether it is a mouse-click or a typewritten word, this action affects the work’s performance and the reader’s engagement with it.” I wanted to experience that complex navigation and Twelve Blue by Michael Joyce seemed to be a great conduit for that.
Twelve Blue was the first hypertext I read. It was an abstract piece and more in line with poetry in my opinion. The construction of story was based on the choices presented to the reader. By clicking on given options in form of links, the reader discovers a portion of the story. Each portion could be examined as a puzzle piece and the reader is expected to navigate through the story in order to complete it. These portions introduced me to the characters and their relative perspectives. There were clues as to how the reader could navigate through the story. For interested readers, the biggest clue to this puzzle rests in the title, the number 12 – as in 12 characters and also some small pictures placed by the author in few points of the story. Something I found very compelling was the change in tone of writing within these portions based on the character which was being focused on. The overarching theme within the story, in my opinion, was drowning; not in real sense necessarily but more in psychological or even social sense. This particular theme was also correlated by the color blue that formed the text and the background. The figurative tone of story in its abstract form and the complex navigational format truly made me feel that predicament as I read it, and it was something that could not be duplicated without the digital environment in which the story is meant to be read.
Reading and navigating through Twelve Blue was certainly a very interesting experience. Even though the style of story was not my cup of tea necessarily, being very poetic and figurative, it did provide great examples of what one could archive with a narration conducted in digital environment. It did display a distinct atmosphere in contrast with traditional literary works and also created a genuine challenge. Jessica Pressman, author of Navigating Electronic Literature, mentions in her article that “…student frustration with navigation and confusion about the reading experience can be turned into fruitful, self-reflective discussions about the role of media on the ways in which information is produced, disseminated, archived, and taught.” This is certainly true. The most important realization after going through Twelve Blue was that I was attempting to answer the wrong question in order to achieve the true definition of literature. The question that I should actually attempt to answer is: Does literature require the action of reading in order to observe its essence and merit or can literature be experienced through multiple actions instead? Although I might not have a solid answer to that as of now, I’m quite certain that further analysis on other electronic literature examples in upcoming weeks is going to allow me to find it wholly.
I am certainly looking forward to our following assignments to discover more about the nature of this new field of literature.