David Prater Interviews Maria Engberg

By | 1 December 2011

First works of electronic literature …

At the ELMCIP workshop on electronic literature pedagogy held in Karlskrona, Sweden in June 2011, Martin Arvebro and I interviewed a number of participants about their experiences with reading and teaching e-lit. Here are some of their responses.

Can you remember the first work of electronic literature you ever read?

“It was [the work of] mez breeze, because I was really into mailing lists and I was really just amazed by her writing.”
Renee Turner, artist and course director at the Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam

“Yes, it was Olia Lialina, it was probably back in the late 1990s, a text and image piece called, if I remember rightly, ‘When my Boyfriend Returned From the War’ [ed: actual title: ‘My boyfriend came back from the war.’]. And I was fascinated by that combination of text, image and interaction, and it just seemed to open up all sorts of possibilities.”
Jerome Fletcher, associate professor of performance writing at University College Falmouth, UK.

“Well the first work of electronic literature that I ever really loved – which is a different thing – was Caitlin Fisher’s ‘These Waves of Girls’, which I came across in, I guess 2002, via the Electronic Literature Organization conference which took place in Los Angeles that year. She won a prize at that conference, and her work was the first work that I’d seen that really had any appeal for me as a work of electronic literature. I liked it because of the layers of stories in it, and the way that she used music and images, whereas older works – which were, you know the classic hypertext fiction, which was just text – just absolutely left me cold, because I thought what was the point of using a computer if you didn’t use the computer’s multimedia capabilities, even then, a decade ago.”
Kate Pullinger, digital storyteller and Reader in Creative Writing and New Media at De Montfort University, Leicester UK

“I think it was a German hyperfection “Zeit für die Bombe” by Susanne Berkenheger – that must have been 1999, or 2000, or something like that. And, well, in a way I was fascinated by it because I didn’t have any – or much – experience with computer-based literature before, but also found it rather banal in a way – you very soon realised what the alternative paths were, I didn’t find it a very interesting story. But I realised that there was something happening which might be interesting for the years to come.”
Jörgen Schäfer, research fellow at the University of Siegen, Germany

“Oh I don’t think that I remember, actually. I remember that it was French – so probably it was Philippe Bootz’s work, but I don’t remember which one, to be honest. And the first thing that I thought was like: what is this? And I needed some time to understand it – oh, maybe it’s a poem. But I can remember that I started immediately to look for other pieces …”
Giovanna di Rosario, lecturer in digital literature at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland

“I can’t remember the first but I can remember taking a seminar in 1994 with Professor Katherine Hayles, and I read the works of several people in that seminar, for example Stephanie Strickland’s poetry that she had online, and there have been friends over the years and I would read their early works. Scott Rettberg, his collaborative fiction, The Unknown. These are some of the early ones, and work by work by Rob Wittig, Shelley Jackson, Margie Luesebrink. But you know in all of these cases, it’s not that I went out looking for electronic literature, it’s that I was just doing my literary work and some of the people who were also involved in that area were doing some experimentation in new media.”
Joseph Tabbi, Professor in Literature at the University of Illinois in Chicago

Many of the works referenced in this article can be found in the ELMCIP Knowledge Base, an ever-expanding database of creative works, criticism of electronic literature, video documentation, teaching resources and much more.

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