E-lit: creative dead-end or vibrant exciting strand of literary production?

 It goes without saying in our time that technology changes rapidly; so too, does the art that utilizes it. The advancements of electronic media are a constant, and its use by artists and writers are both widespread and increasingly instrumental in the latest developments in contemporary writing and art. E-lit is no exception to such advancements. Not everybody, though, is as attuned to the notion of E-lit, and they surely have their reasons. It might be that they are too used to the concept of print and its usage, or that they might not be as well equipped with newer forms of technology. After all, there will always be resistance to changing something that has worked for so long. Print users who are resistant to this relatively new form may contest that text on screens is not literary or literature at all. They might find e-lit harder to grasp than print. But they cannot refute that technology is changing the way culture develops, and thus changing the way we view language and art. The probability is that in changing times both print and electronic literature prevail, and both will find a place in society. As William Patrick Wend notes: “[e-lit’s] place in serious literary study can be seen in its broad acquaintance with fields like cultural studies, postmodern fiction, new media, and deconstruction.” E-lit takes its place among everyday readers of literature – and this can be seen by “how much even a casual acquaintance with [it] can modify, accentuate, and broaden the expanses of the very books readers adore.” What makes e-lit literature? N. Katherine Hayles tackles this question in full detail in her book, Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. In it, she predicts that digital literature will be a significant component of the twenty-first century canon (159). She bases this on the fact that almost all contemporary literature is already digital; that print literature, save for the exception of a handful of books produced by fine letter presses, consists of digital files throughout most of its existence (159). There, she further points out that digitality is so essential to contemporary processes of composition, storage, and production that print should be properly considered a particular form of output for digital files rather than a medium separate from digital instantiation (159). If the digital is so prevalent with its signature, how can we not help but to incorporate it into our lives? Unless we make ourselves blind to its possibilities and choose to ignore what it has to offer us, and hereby shut out these new reading experiences. I would have to agree with most of what Katherine Hayles proposes in her predictions, although I wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at the Electronic Literature Volume 1, which I thought was a poor example of vibrant e-lit. I think there definitely is the potential for creativity in this exciting new strand, as well as a lot of space for growth. The opportunities for such creativity and growth will be infinite, and as long as technology evolves, e-lit will never hit a dead end.

Agnes Lee


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