Shock the Monkey

By Owen Stewart

In a contemporary sense, literature must be read, and while it might not necessarily be difficult to understand, it must involve some form of interpretation. This interpretation can often be difficult, which lends to the idea that writing must be difficult to understand for it to be literature. Electronic literature is an interesting and sometimes complicated leap away from this concept that changes the usual roles of both the author and the audience.

What e-literature does is remove the viewer from his role as a reader. The reader is now the watcher, the player, the actor or even at times an accomplice author. Reading is no longer a necessary role in the processing of e-literature; the work can be watched or played as much as read. An essential part of e-literature is the nature of individuality that each work exhibits that only grows and expands the genre.

This change of roles for both the reader and author combined with infinite variability makes e-literature an extremely difficult genre to navigate. There is a sense of discovery with every new work, yet at the same time confusion because each work has the potential to be so different from the original. This rampant creativity is something that makes e-literature difficult to understand yet at the same time is a vast outlet for any creative internet artist. The holy grail of creativity has almost no limitations on the internet.

Electronic literature is in its infancy, and lacks the “readership” of other forms of media. Electronic literature is here to stay, and it will be successful. The question then becomes what is needed to make this a popular genre in the eyes of the mass public. As Andrew Klobucar mentioned in his post, “It took centuries in the literary arts to devise commonly agreed upon methods for assessing and interpreting the printed page as an art form, so it may take decades still before a similar canon of established responses and ideas take shape with respect to electronic literature.” Until this leap has been made with e-literature it will be difficult to translate it into something for the masses.

The internet allows literature a new frontier for art, yet at the same time greatly limits it. The internet is used so much for useless randomness that e-literature has an uphill battle to convince the public that is deserves to be thought about. So much of the internet is to be watched, laughed at and passed on, what motivates a watcher to stop and think about what he just saw when there are so many other things to do on the internet. On the internet e-literature is competing with Peter Gabriel, Gandhi and international news for the attention of the millions who log on every day.

The solution to this is of course time, as the genre builds momentum more and more people will hear about it and view it, but as yet there is such a slurry of thoughtless entertainment on the internet that literature has a lot to compete to get watched let alone get thought about. Then the methods and conditions of understand e-literature must be accepted before there is even a consensus of what constitutes the idea of literature on the web. This institutionalization of electronic literature will help it becoming widely “read,” but at the same time will limit the vast creativity of this genre. As Peter Gabriel said, “Shock the Monkey.” In this case the monkey is what I thought literature was.


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