The Literary Berlin Wall

            Upon first encountering the Electronic Literature Collection, I found myself frustrated, challenged, and generally disgruntled as a reader.  However, the turning point in my experience with E-Lit occurred during the class discussion of Megan Sapnar’s reflection on her piece “Cruising”.  As more authors began sharing their intimate relationships with this seemingly trendy genre, it became obvious that there is something meaningful to take away from each unique piece of E-Lit.  Overall, the commentary from the ELC1 authors not only helped me to discover how to constructively approach and interpret electronic literature, but more importantly the personal remarks from each author provided insight into how much more powerfully a story can be told through this technological style of presentation.

My initial feelings of frustration towards E-Lit came primarily from my inability to be open-minded about this new form of literature.  With absolutely no idea how to navigate and move through this virtual space, the easiest reaction for me was to simply reject the “unknown”.  Perhaps most exasperating was my inability to find a starting point.  By this, I mean that I did not know where to begin interpreting each piece in the ELC1.  From the series’ inflexible ten minute media clips to its interactive directionless games, I found it very difficult to see any good in adding these extra, unnecessary elements to each piece – what I thought was a tacky approach to presenting learning material.  These mediated elements seemed to take away from the text itself by creating “noisy” distractions – at least that is how I thought of it, and I am sure that other active interpretive readers of my peer group would likely feel the same way. 

However, when authors Sapnar, Ezzat, and Joseph offered up their insightful reflections about the minute details of the relationships formulated within the structure and content of their pieces, it became more evident to me that I had missed the point of their approach.  I realized this after our class discussion about Sapnar’s “Cruising”.  Details in her piece that I had initially deemed nonsensical began to seem more meaningful to me.  For example, the “unstable” interface of “Cruising” was created intentionally to “highlight the work a reader must do to make a poem meaningful”.  The struggle between reader and interactivity establishes an intimate connection to both the content of the piece and the user’s personal experiences.  By creating this “realistic” connection with the story I began to understand how the mediated aspects of “Cruising” play a major role in the unique delivery of the text itself.  This entirely new experience of E-Lit helped to break down my bias towards traditional literature, which I realized had become as solid as the Berlin Wall.  I had naturally assumed that a book was the only way to genuinely deliver a story.    

Since then, through my experience with works of online literature and their authors, I have gained a better understanding of how much more the E-Lit genre has to offer.  With innumerable creative possibilities for presentation, each work not only gains strength through the inspiration and language of its author, but also through the electronic mode in which it is presented.  By reflecting upon each author’s forum contributions, it has become increasingly evident to me how the media aspects of E-Lit can create an entirely new and intriguing experience of literature.  The carefully designed details in the “form and content” relationship of each piece offer up a dynamic reading experience that is unique to the E-Lit genre.    

In conclusion, though the commentaries of the ELC1 authors were able to influence my attitude towards electronic literature in general, there are still pieces that I do not really understand as well as I would like to, and will most likely never grow fond of.  For this reason, I would like to see Maria Mencia (author of “Birds Singing Other Birds’ Songs”) featured in the 2010 Electronic Literature Forum.  Perhaps a look into her thought process behind the creation of her awkward and hard to like piece “Birds” could help make the story more accessible.  Presently, it still feels like a piece to me that does not have a valid purpose other than being obviously “arty”.

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