By Joseph Gunulfsen
Electronic Literature is a new and unique way of experiencing literature, and in many of the pieces the viewer is forced to interact with what the artist has offered. Some of the pieces may seem absolutely foolish to some, while others are able to gain or acknowledge a greater significance. There is also a level of manipulation on the author’s part to the viewer in some of the pieces offered in the ELC or in other e-lit collections such as Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries Presents. Certain pieces like “Dakota” require that the reader actually views the piece until there has been some sort of understanding, due to the speed at which the words slam onto the screen before disappearing. It may take someone four or even views before he or she is able to truly feel that an understanding of the story has been obtained. In a piece such as “Wotclock”, technically one could stare at the slowly rotating camera all day and night. I personally would have no interest in doing so. The point however is that in many of the e-lit pieces, many of the literary rules by which we have played since childhood must be set aside.
We are all accustomed to there being beginnings and endings when we encounter a piece of literature. We are also accustomed to reading at our own pace or bookmarking when we get hungry or want to go to bed. In a piece like “I, You, We” there is no clear start or finish to the piece. There is also no way to pause it and walk away from the screen, expecting to return to the same words moving in different directions, twisting and turning, growing and then disappearing. “I, You, We” is just one of the many pieces to which these ideas apply. It almost seems that the one common goal of each e-lit artist is to break the traditional rules literature, whether it’s by manipulating speed, requiring interaction, or creating ambiguity as to whether or not there even is a start or ending.
More often than not I catch myself focusing on how weird or different or even ridiculous some of the pieces may be. Sometimes I let the obscurities or newness of e-lit take over. It’s almost as if it can be just as discouraging as the fears and anxieties a small child experiences while attempting to ride a bicycle without training wheels for the first time. But I find that when I let go and just allow myself to keep an open mind while viewing a piece of electronic literature, I am able to disregard or forget about the way literature “should” be. These are the times I enjoy them the most.
Overall, grasping a comfort level for e-lit may take a while for many achieve, just like anything else new and unseen like riding in an airplane. A person flying for the first time at 60 years old might focus on the discomfort or uncertainty of those abrupt dips the plane takes without any forewarning. When I first started attempting to “read” some of the works of the ELC as literature, I focused on everything that I believed at the time not to be literature. Now though, after repetitively encountering the ELC, I am far more prepared to go with the flow of whatever the author has provided.