Digital Humanities 2013: my talk

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Judy Malloy’s Seat at the (Database) Table

a Feminist Reception History


Before I read Jill Walker Rettberg’s excellent “Electronic Literature Seen From a Distance: The Beginnings of a Field,” I’d suspected that Judy Malloy’s elision from the electronic literature reception history as the first author of hypertext fiction was attributable to genre. Her comic piece Uncle Roger, a romp through Silicon Valley set in then-present day 1986, didn’t evince the seriousness, ambiguity, and intricate plotting that critics and other purveyors of taste associate with high art. I accepted without question Robert Coover’s 1992 declaration of Michael Joyce‘s afternoon, a story as the “granddaddy of full-length hypertext fictions,” even though Judy’s Uncle Roger pre-dates Michael’s afternoon by at least one year and possibly three, if one measures from afternoon‘s publication date (1990) rather than its introduction to the coterie of enthusiasts who exchanged stories authored on Hypercard and other systems.

Afternoon is a magnificent work that merits its august reputation.

But Rettberg traces the far-reaching implications of Joyce’s reputation in her distant reading, which demonstrates that afternoon is–by an order of magnitude–the most cited and taught work of electronic literature. The status Coover conferred on afternoon in his New York Times review became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s such a small thing, just one sentence in the Times; but its impact has been field-defining. Several factors converged to anoint Michael Joyce and submerge Judy Malloy. This talk sketches them with the purpose of seeing how machinic & human procedures collaborate to create conditions that make it less likely women authors will thrive.

Data visualization by Jill Walker Rettberg.  Figure #2 of her "Beginnings of a Field."

Data visualization by Jill Walker Rettberg. Figure #2 of her “Beginnings of a Field.”

Individual actors like Michael Joyce, Judy Malloy and Stuart Moulthrop — all of them pioneers of hypertext in the late 1980s and early 1990s — evinced companionable interest in each other’s work. But the database systems by which that work was shared, discussed & preserved, or NOT shared, discussed and preserved bear the traces of human cultural values & biases. Michael Joyce’s fame and Judy Malloy’s relative obscurity are products of dialectics of inclusion & exclusion that replicate, with numbing fidelity, the traditional privileges that digital media have the capacity to disrupt but often do not.

John Scalzi redescribes white male privilege as a role playing game. He writes:

How to get across the ideas bound up in the word “privilege,” in a way that your average straight white man will get without freaking out about it? Being a white guy who likes women, here’s how I would do it:

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.

John Scalzi.

John Scalzi: White male privilege as RPG.

Scalzi’s is a great description of how sexism can happen without malice or even intention. In an interview with Jill Rettberg, Stuart Moulthrop describes how at the 1989 Hypertext conference he, John McDaid, Michael Joyce and Jay Bolter sat at a computer connected to the Internet and searched for other people doing similar things. They found Judy Malloy’s work:

“It was just like blues men going to each other’s performances. Yeah, allright, oh darn that’s good. Oh, we’re not that good. So we really recognized that she was somebody, and she was part of a community out there in the Bay Area that was really important and exciting. I can remember coming away from that moment thinking that, you know, there might be a real hope for what we were trying to do because other people were doing it. (Moulthrop, personal interview, cited in Rettberg, “Distant Reading”)

Michael Joyce, Stuart Moulthrop and many of the men I know in the e-lit community are feminist supporters who individually act to redress power imbalances when brought to their attention. Michael and Stuart are tenured full professors at elite universities. None of the pioneering e-lit women authors I’ve met occupy the tenured positions that their male colleagues earned. Just one decade later, in the early 2000s, women e-lit artists did make in-roads to university power. Caitlin Fischer and Dene Grigar direct their own programs at R-1 universities. But women of Judy Malloy’s generation were not encouraged to enroll in graduate programs.

In his 2012 book The Interface Effect, Alex Galloway glosses Lev Manovich’s Language of New Media: “to mediate is really to interface. Mediation in general is just repetition in particular, and thus the ‘new’ media are really just the artifacts and traces of the past coming to appear in an ever-expanding present” (10).

Illustration Miriam used for "code" post.

Illustration Miriam used for “code” post.

Literary history always reflects back an uncanny distortion of one’s own cultural moment, and here’s ours: at this conference I’ve heard a proliferation of tools, brilliant ways of doing new work. But I also hear, resonating in the back of my mind, Miriam Posner’s post from March 2012, “Some things to think about before you exhort everybody to code“:

The point is, women aren’t [learning to code]. And neither, for that matter, are people of color. And unless you believe (and you don’t, do you?) that some biological explanation prevents us from excelling at programming, then you must see that there is a structural problem.

Judy Malloy is almost entirely a self-taught programmer. More specifically she’s a conceptual artist who dreamed up the idea of molecular storytelling while working with books she made from card catalogs in 1977. Later, as a single mom, she supported herself and her son working with technical information, including jobs as a technical librarian and a library assistant for several research and technical companies. On the WELL in 1986, she saw in the Art Com Electric Network bulletin board database a much more efficient mode of non-sequential storytelling than the card catalogs. She ended up writing 32 UNIX shells and even built in a Boolean operator (“and”). She built this system so that she could perform “live writing,” a “Homeric” experience she likens to Twitter today.

Malloy DB Artists Books

Extending Miriam’s point about women and code: even Judy’s undisputed capacity didn’t insulate her against sexism. Nor did the goodwill and respect from the other practitioners in her community. This is a human problem without a tool solution. But it’s possible that mindful use of tools could ameliorate the problem this reception history discloses.

The disequilibrium happened gradually over time. There is no villain twirling his moustache. While it circulated on the prestigious museum & gallery scene from 1987-1989, Uncle Roger excited interest in the popular press. It was singled out in the Centennial Edition of the Wall Street Journal (published on June 23rd, 1989), and mentioned in Newsweek. But the acclaim it garnered was pre-web. It is algorithmically invisible.

Afternoon’s ISBN, and Uncle Roger’s lack of one, is the second crucial differentiator in Judy and Michael’s divergent receptions. The presence or absence of an ISBN determined access: whether a work could be archived, collected and sold. The ISBN united disparate stewards (programmers/developers, librarians, academics, vendors) to collect and fortify those few works against bit-rot or obsolescence. The vast majority lacked an ISBN, and those were the responsibility of the authors to maintain or abandon. It would be much later (1997) before Malloy would author Uncle Roger in a browser-friendly format. By then excitement for the novelty of hypertext had given way to interest in Flash-based works. A moment had passed and with it, the power that comes from cultural currency.

“Structuralism is the midpoint on the long modern path toward understanding the world as system,” notes Alan Liu in his May 2013 PMLA article “The Meaning of the Digital Humanities.”

(…for example, system as modes of production, Weberian bureaucracy; Sausserian language; mass media & corporate society; neoliberalism; and so on). [These have] forced the progressive side of the humanities to split off from earlier humanities of the human spirit (Geist) to adopt a world view in which, as Katherine Hayles says, ‘large-scale, multi-causal events are caused by confluences that include a multitude of forces…. many of which are nonhuman.’ This is the backdrop against which we can see how the meaning problem in the digital humanities registers today’s general crisis of meaningfulness in the humanities (418-419).

The Malloy/Joyce reception history gives us a cogent example of how “the meaning problem” is a human and nonhuman collusion. “Michael Joyce” is a searched term linked forever by page-rank algorithms to “hypertext” and “electronic literature.” We here at DH 2013 learned about auto-completion algorithms in Anna Jobin and Frederic Kaplan’s talk in which they asked: “are Google’s linguistic prostheses biased toward commercially more interesting expressions?” Evidence they presented suggests that it is. Given that afternoon could be purchased and Uncle Roger could not, we can see how the financial interests of the New York Times and Amazon would begin to align, and how that alignment would manifest itself algorithmically.

It’s also worth noting that even if he had sought one, there is no reciprocal term that Coover could have used to deem Malloy a progenitor. “The grandmammy of hypertext fiction”? The “grand dame of hypertext fiction”? That would not work.

Put bluntly, the language to represent Judy Malloy’s achievement did not exist for Coover. He’s a wily guy, and he could have invented something. But it was not thinkable: to look to the west coast for literary origin, to esteem comedy more than tragedy, to recognize coterie distribution over a press, to praise a single mom with a Bachelor’s degree over a young male novelist with a print novel under his belt, and an MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Such are the human judgments that launch a million clicks.

Coover didn’t invent “granddaddy” to describe Michael Joyce’s fiction. He invented Michael Joyce to inhabit “granddaddy.” In 1992, I wonder whether folks at Vassar, where Michael Joyce teaches, noted Coover’s pronouncement. Maybe someone cut it out from the Times and taped on the door of the English department or tacked it on a cork bulletin board. It would not have been conceivable in 1992 that the impact of that endorsement would be measurable, let alone field-defining, 20 years hence. But distant reading permits us to see just that.

By way of conclusion I return to Alan Liu’s argument about the “crisis of meaning” in the humanities. I offer you a tableau. Duke University’s Rubenstein Library purchased Judy Malloy’s Papers. The collection features Judy’s


• Printed Materials
• Notebooks
• Early Artists Books
• Writings and Programming
• Exhibitions, Talks and Readings
• Correspondence
• Media by Other Artists and
• Personal Materials

It is 15.6 linear feet. 13,200 items.

Judy herself, however, has a 1-semester Anschutz Distinguished Fellowship in American Studies at Princeton this fall. She continues to seek a university job.

This is the signal gesture of the neoliberal university: to regard thinkers as content providers. To make financial commitments toward what can be digitized (and scaled) but less and less to people themselves. Code expertise is no safeguard. Publication is no safeguard. Collegial esteem and prolific output are no safeguard.

Last night Willard McCarty said, you do it for love. I see that, feel that, and yet am suspicious of that.


October 17, 2013

Judy Malloy notes this correction: “[T]oday being #ADL13 [Ada Lovelace Day] I have a request. In your otherwise wonderful article about Uncle Roger, you say that I am a self taught programmer. Actually that isn’t true. I did a graduate seminar in Systems Analysis at the University of Denver and I took a company sponsored course in FORTRAN when I worked at Ball Brothers Research Corporation in Boulder, where I headed a team that created a computerized library catalog in 1969, a time when this was an accomplishment. However, I did teach myself UNIX shell scripts and BASIC in order to create Uncle Roger. Generally it isn’t to difficult to move between similar systems.”

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MLA14 Panel Accepted! E-Literature Translations

Posted by admin in Electronic Literature, Transmedia | 1 Comment

E-Literature Translations: Database, Platform, Language

Jonathan Baillehache
Jill Walker Rettberg
Kathi Inman Berens
Davin Heckman

The shared space of e-literature and translation is an emergent field. Iterating discussion from a groundbreaking conference at Universite Paris 8 in June 2012, “Translating E-Literature,” we imagine that one result of this MLA14 panel might be to map terrains, both shared and distinct, that become differently visible when e-literature-and-translation is brought to a larger conference convening languages and literature specialists from an array of fields.

Toward that end, our panel stretches into four types of translation: linguistic and medial translation as a translator renders avant-garde Russian books into digital poetry; the linguistic and nomenclatural challenges of building a transnational digital archive as a database; translation as a disjunction between game theme, procedure, and user interface; and Twitter as a networked publication space of micro-translations between autobiography and fiction.

Broadly our aim is to show how work with digital tools and/or in digital space reveals points of continuity and rupture within literary studies. Presentations move fluidly between translation’s traditional provenance as the bridge between human languages and the newer spaces of medial translation: conversions of print into digital, for example, and digital-to-digital translations across metadata, spoken languages, networks and embodied human interactions with machines. We believe that translation theory is at the center of understanding the flow of information that shapes literary studies today.

Still from The Night Journey by Tracy Fullerton.

Still from The Night Journey by Tracy Fullerton.

Translating for online publication offers translators the opportunity to take part into the building of the materiality of the translation by making web design choices or even by coding the mechanics of the text’s interface itself. This opportunity contributes to transforming the very concept of translation, bringing into the process of interpretation elements that are not purely linguistic, such as the kinetic, the visual and the acoustic. In his digital translations of Russian poet Ilya Zdanevich, started in 2010, Jonathan Baillehache tries to remediate the materiality of Russian avant-garde books into digital objects that display randomized textual, typographic and audio content. Baillehache’s paper, “Remediating LidantJU fAram” will present the background, the goal, the evolution and the current state of his “media translation,” a work in progress that challenges our understanding of the “task of the translator,” giving translation the limits that one is willing to give to it.

Literary scholarship cycles through different methodologies of reading, different strategies for interpretation, and in a sense, each different reading of a work is a translation. What then, when we apply digital methods to literature and use distant reading, databases and visualisations to interpret and understand a whole field? Jill Walker Rettberg will discuss how the ELMCIP project is using the Electronic Literature Knowledge Base to understand the creative communities of electronic literature across geographical and linguistic boundaries. This paper will discuss a digital database of natively digital literature, and yet there are translation problems here too. The fields of a database correspond in some ways to the grammar of a language and offer constraints and affordances in how we can describe works. The works of electronic literature in the Knowledge Base span many human languages and many platforms. Can we describe the English-language twitter fiction @OccupyMLA with the same terms as a Russian performance of digitized sound poetry? When we export the descriptions and visualize them, we gain new understandings of the whole field of electronic literature, but as in all translation, perhaps something is lost? If so, what?

Delving into “expressive AI” and “serious games,” Kathi Inman Berens proposes to examine the adaptation of visual art into game procedure in Tracy Fullerton’s The Night Journey (2007). Aiming to adapt into gameplay Bill Viola’s visual art with absolute fidelity, Fullerton and her design team invented post-production techniques that evolved from an extensive translation of slides in Viola’s video archive into a navigable experiential space. Adaptation theory, while useful, is insufficient to explain the feedback loops unique to human/machine collaboration: between source text and game design, machine and user interface, UI and gamer. Play in The Night Journey is a wordless, meditative spiritual journey through four expansive natural landscapes where typical game rules don’t apply; the player can walk through obstructions, for example. But the gamer uses a Sony Playstation 2 paddle to navigate within the space, and the kinetic link between the Sony controller and the game’s tranquil, meditative landscape results in a conflict between game theme and UI. Linda Hutcheon’s thoughtful work in A Theory of Adaptation (2006) is one theoretical space from which to expand “adaptation” into multimodal “translation” that accounts for the complexity of human/computing interactivity.

Davin Heckman will discuss literary pleasure, new media literacy, and the Networked Improv Literature (Netprov). In particular, Heckman will discuss the challenges of “close-reading” the Speidishow, a Netprov enacted via Twitter (and a constellation of supplementary web-based media) over a period of several weeks. Digging into the concept of the “readerly” and “writerly” text as identified by Roland Barthes in S/Z and The Pleasure of the Text, Heckman settles on a third term: “the riderly text.” Barthes’ initial designation of popular, default practices as “readerly” can be applied to “writerly” performances of such reading encapsulated in new media literacies as occasions for superficial forms of closure and public displays of consent or dissent for or against its determined content. Netprov is “riderly” in the improvisational character of its progression and translates the discrete spaces of reading and writing in new ways.


Jonathan Baillehache is assistant professor of French and online pedagogy at the University of Georgia. He works on translation and digitization. He has published articles on Russian and French avant-garde poetry, translation theory, and electronic literature, and has published translations of poetry from the Russian in French and English journals.

Kathi Inman Berens lectures at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and curates of electronic literature. At the Library of Congress last April, she co-curated with Dene Grigar and Susan Garfinkel the first Electronic Literature Showcase, and has co-curated exhibits of electronic literature at MLA Conventions 2012 (Seattle) and 2013 (Boston). She created Annenberg’s first synchronously virtual & embodied undergraduate class. An IBM Faculty Award Winner and member of the Research Council at the Annenberg Innovation Lab, she researches virtual classroom software and digital pedagogy. In her consultancy, Big Digital Idea, Kathi helps universities and software providers align around common goals and augment user experience.

Davin Heckman is Associate Professor of Mass Communication at Winona State University. He is the author of A Small World: Smart Houses and the Dream of the Perfect Day (Duke, 2008) and his articles on digital poetics can be found in Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Culture Machine, Dichtung Digital, and Electronic Book Review. He serves on the board of the Electronic Literature Organization, heads the working group for the Electronic Literature Directory, and is editor of “Electropoetics” for Electronic Book Review.

Jill Walker Rettberg is professor of Digital Culture in the Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies at the University of Bergen, Norway. Her main research interest is how we tell stories online, and she has published on electronic literature, social media, blogging, self-representations online and personal visualisations. Her book Blogging (Polity 2008, 2nd ed 2013) is a key text in social media studies. She also co-edited Digital Culture, Play and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader (MIT Press 2008). Jill Walker Rettberg is currently a co-investigator in the ELMCIP project, where she has been particularly involved in developing visualisations and methodologies for distant reading of the field of electronic literature using the data in the Electronic Literature Knowledge Base.

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Trace of Race: E-Lit, Computation, DH

Posted by admin in Digital Pedagogy, Electronic Literature, Teaching | Leave a comment

Today I made a 17-minute audio lecture to guide DH 306 students through this week’s readings & assignment. This week we’re talking about e-lit and identity formation, and the role software plays in eliciting our interactivity with — our performance of — such identities.
My short lecture mainly focuses on Tara McPherson’s’ “Why Is DH So White?, with the aim of glossing her argument and helping students think through its claim that it would be “naive” to believe that computing environments aren’t informed by a systemic racism. Born together in the mid-1960s, Civil Rights and Unix “co-constitute” each other in materials ways that are represented in the modularity of code languages and the UNIX philosophies that could be read as a retreat into formalism and away from the complex messiness of social injustice and upheaval. My lecture works within McPherson’s discussion of stereoscopic and lenticular “logics” — really, modes of seeing as determined by the capacities of the lens itself. It’s a wonderful metaphor that helps to explain why McPherson believes that the apparently value-neutral executions that UNIX makes possible are inescapably shaped by cultural orientations & biases.

Our theme for this week is e-lit, embodiment & identity. Building on our discussion last week about House of Leaves of Grass, poetry generators and remix, for us that also means a discussion of what code makes thinkable. We’re going to read two electronic lit works by Christine Wilks, and short critical perspectives on them by Ilya Szilak, Leonardo Flores & Brian Kim Stefans. The idea is to give you three critics’ vantages on the same work.

Christine Wilks, “Underbelly“: winner of the 2010 New Media Prize.
Christine Wilks, “Out of Touch“: commissioned by Brian Kim Stefans for SF MOMA’s Third Hand Plays series on electronic literature.

Illya Szilak, “Remembering the Human: E-Lit and the Art of Memory
Brian Kim Stefans, “Third Hand Plays: Out of Touch
Leo Flores, “Underbelly” [short post]

Finally, please read this “graduate student’s reflection” on McPherson’s argument. The author Benjamin Doyle doesn’t see causal evidence for McPherson’s claim but nevertheless finds it fascinating and asks a series of smart questions that identify the sorts of knowledge McPherson’s essay (or essays like it) would need to produce to be persuasive to “DH and non-DH audiences.” Rhetorical and logical appeals beyond the discourse of humanists are necessary because, in McPherson’s words, “we cannot read the logics of [computational] systems and networks solely at the level of our screens”; we must comprehend the code itself to make visible “information captial’s fault lines” (152). The graduate student studies with Ryan Cordell at Northeastern.

I’m guest teaching a two-week unit about electronic literature in Jesse Stommel‘s new Digital Humanities program at Marylhurst University.

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Trillions of Tropes & Tweets in 2 Weeks

Posted by admin in Digital Pedagogy, Electronic Literature, Teaching | 1 Comment

I’m guest teaching a two-week unit about electronic literature in Jesse Stommel‘s new Digital Humanities program at Marylhurst University.

Yesterday I made a 27-minute audio lecture to guide students through this week’s reading & assignment. Mainly it focuses on Hayles’ “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine, and it talks about how you might approach crafting your response to Mark Sample‘s “House of Leaves of Grass.”

I know you DH 306 students all read Stephen Ramsay’s The Hermenuetics of Screwing Around two weeks ago. Stephen begins: so many books, so little time. Even before the Internet, it was was impossible to master all knowledge. This Book Wheel was a Renaissance invention to cope with the abundance of books available after the invention of the printing press. As literary studies grew from a hobby into a profession, scholars established the (western) canon as a different kind of Book Wheel: the literary texts deemed the most influential and endowed with the capacity to distill our common culture. Even the “canon wars” of the 1990s, when queers, women and nonwhite men radically expanded what was taught on campuses and what counted as our common cultural heritage, there persisted a belief that “the canon” inhered.

Ramsay takes us in a different direction. Acknowledging the pull of the “vast [digital] archive” on our time and attention, Ramsay ends his essay with a “Screwmeneutical Imperative”:

There are so many books. There is so little time. Your ethical obligation is neither to read them all nor to pretend that you have read them all, but to understand each path through the vast archive as an important moment in the world’s duration — as an invitation to community, relationship, and play.

Does the “Screwmeneutical Imperative” announce the end of common culture? Will our paths intersect more broadly than those that link people talking together on Twitter?

Something to think about as you navigate your way through the 100 trillion stanzas of “House of Leaves of Grass”!

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The Catalog and The Ephemeral

Posted by admin in curation, Electronic Literature | 2 Comments

E-Literature At the Library of Congress

“The Catalog and the Ephemeral”

Kathi Inman Berens’ Curatorial Statement

The twenty-seven works featured in the “Electronic Literature and Its Emergent Forms” exhibit, part of the Library of Congress’ first Electronic Literature Showcase, span thirty years of “digital born” electronic literature: stories designed to be read on a computing device and which “work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer” (Hayles). Or, as my students said, stories that change when you mess with them.

Spine poems bring together books and electronic literature.

Spine poems bring together books and electronic literature.

Dene Grigar and I designed “Electronic Literature and Its Emerging Forms” to enable a physical experience of e-literature in which guests to the exhibit and online might engage the works, literary influences and artistic practices of this “emerging” field. It’s emergent because smart phones have habituated readers, particularly teens and kids, to interactivity as foundational to reading. They also expect stories they encounter on devices — as opposed to the books they read in school — to be multimodal. The site Dene built links readers directly to the works, many of which are available for free in the browser. Though we are thrilled to offer online access to most of the works, we believe the exhibit delivers an experience that the digital alone cannot convey, the serendipity of conversation among guests chief among these things.

The twenty-seven featured works, all by American authors, are the main attraction; they are organized into five generically-specific stations which also roughly correspond to historical era, Station #1 being the earliest and Station #5 being the most recent, though new works are sprinkled through all stations except #2 featuring hypertext. The Electronic Literature Stations are displayed down the center of Whittall Pavillion. We’ve designed the physical space to promote flow between literary and cultural “Contexts” and “Creation Stations,” where guests can “get their hands dirty” making art using techniques from e-lit’s present and past. We think of “Contexts” and “Creation Stations” as complementary portals into the literary works. We believe that working with tools, “making stuff,” gives guests a more intimate vantage on the work.

At the Creation Stations, guests can arrange and break “cut-up” poetry, type concrete poems on a manual typewriter, and engage constraint-based writing games invented by the Oulipo, some of which electronic literature artist Scott Rettberg has adapted for machine writing. Read about his method of composition here. See also Leonardo Flores’ 5-part series about Frequency in his daily scholarly blog, I ♥ E-Poetry, which features more than 450 short posts about works of electronic literature.

The linking structure of Marble Springs. Publication permission granted by Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share-Alike license.

Hypertext stitched on a vinyl shower curtain: Deena Larsen’s Marble Springs (1993).

Guests wishing to experiment with the branching structures of hypertextual fiction will stitch or staple “lexia” (bits of story) onto a vinyl shower curtain, a technique invented by Deena Larsen in the early 1990s as glitch-free way to present Marble Springs while she traveled on the road. Creation Stations #3 and #4 invite simultaneous virtual and exhibit guest participation. Exhibit guests can stack up spine poems at Creation Station #3, then visit Electronic Literature Station #3 to engage Jody Zellen’s mobile app “Spine Sonnet.” Virtual guests can use their own books for spine poems. All guests can load their creations to Spine Poetry, a website my students and fellow faculty member Jesse Stommel created to forge a connection between books, electronic literature and participatory culture. We believe this exhibit’s openness to virtual engagement makes it a wonderful instantiation of the Library’s mission “to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.” Creation Station #4, a set of exercises in time-based, collaborative writing, collapses the distance between virtual and embodied writers. It’s an experiment to test the unique affordances of embodiment at an exhibit: does physical, ephemeral community yield traces in the collaborative writing? If virtual guests use “insert comment” on the G-doc, will it achieve the same effect?

At our Contexts stations guests will find literary and cultural antecedents and responses to electronic literature that broaden the scope of each Electronic Literature Station. Additional contexts convey a history of mobile storytelling dating from the American Revolution to the present day, and a post-print aesthetic disclosed in a few recent books by Mark Danielewski and Steven Hall. Pattern poetry, concrete and cut-up poetry, constraint-based writing, Lawrence Sterne’s graphical experiments in Tristram Shandy (1760); books by international and American experimental writers (Zora Neale Hurston, Nabokov, Borges, Calvino, Cortázar, Ishmael Reed) whose methods are hospitable to hypertext; the original Pong playable on an Atari console, and Choose-Your-Own adventure stories; a selection of “Great American Novels”; and artists’ books, collections of images and writing about conceptual art, pop-up books, comic books and graphic novels, and documentation of handmade books with computational affordances built into the artifact: these are just some of the experiences that await Exhibit guests.

Constraints teach us something, as anyone who’s ever tried to write a sonnet can attest. Henry James was piqued by the lack of discernable constraints in novels by some of his contemporaries. He derided the “accidental and the arbitrary,” the “loose, baggy monsters” that result when art lacks compositional integrity. But electronic literature foregrounds the “accidental and the arbitrary” in lieu of genius. What would The Great Gatsby be if Fitzgerald had been constrained from using the letter “e”? Gadsby (1939) Ernest Vincent Wright’s lipogrammatic novel of 50,100 words, omits the letter “e,” the most common letter in English.

4th edition. Photo by cdrummbks sharable by Creative Commons license.

Gadsby & an infinite regress of “Es”.

This rare, American, self-published novel is on display in our Contexts station supporting “From the Great American Novel to Digital Multimodal Narrative.” Nick Carraway’s retrospective on Gatsby would be impossible if the novel couldn’t use the word “he” or the verbal past tense “-ed.” In Gadsby, Wright’s lipogram clears a path Georges Perec would blaze in his lipogrammatic novel La disparition (1969) (which also omits the letter “e”) and his masterwork La Vie mode d’emploi (Life A User’s Manual (1978).

Henry James knew that paper would always absorb ink. E-lit artists often don’t know from the outset how the software in which they’re authoring will respond both to their commands and the whims of their fancy. In fact, some artists create stories just to test what the software can do, and then evolve a story based on the dynamic interplay between imagination and the authoring software’s refusals and permissions.

The idea of an “interface” is a relatively new one for most of the reading public because a print book almost always works. Spines get broken, pages get torn: real violence needs to be done to a print book before it stops working. But e-literature can break without any violence at all; it breaks just sitting around while new devices, operating systems and software are introduced. E-literature’s dependence on machines that become obsolete makes e-lit fragile. We think of the digital as being permanent. But books hundreds of years old are just as operable today as they were the day they were printed, while drawers full of diskettes and floppies from the 1980s and early 90s cannot be read on devices produced today. That’s why the Library’s leadership in establishing digital preservation practices is crucial to documentation of our recent digital past; not all e-lit authors can preserve files in formats that aren’t software-dependent. This Showcase might bring together interested parties in fruitful conversation. Come to the Personal Digital Archiving workshops Wednesday April 3rd at 10:30AM or Thursday April 4th at 3PM, both in LJ-G07, down the hall from our Exhibit.

Shakespeare’s contemporary and fellow playwright Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare: “He is not of an age, but for all time.” E-lit, by contrast, is of an age. This exhibit highlights the mercurial terms of collaboration between artist, machine, software, and reader. Katherine Hayles, among the most distinguished e-lit scholars, wrote compellingly in a recent book (and related article) about the role of the “non-human” in shaping human attention. Attention “is engaged in a feedback loop with the technological environment” to such an extent that “[t]echnical beings and living beings are involved in continuous reciprocal causation” (see her argument in “Tech-toc”). That phrase by Hayles, “continuous reciprocal causation,” could also describe the e-lit composition process itself.

All of the works in “Electronic Literature and Its Emerging Forms” demonstrate the recombinant possibilities of human and machine co-adaptation. The most directly observable example of such co-adaptation is Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern’s Façade (2005), on display at Station 4 “The Great American Novel to Digital Multimodal Novel.” Façade is “expressive AI,” an interactive drama that harnesses the expressive power of artificial intelligence to allow a reader’s typed responses to drive the work’s procedural animation.

Trip and Grace.

Façade: Trip and Grace.

Like Façade‘s thematic sibling Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1962), Façade has a clear narrative trajectory. But unlike the theater-goer, who knows she can’t influence the actors’ choices, the AI gamer/reader types conversational sentences to intervene in the 3D-couple’s acerbic bickering. The game becomes a challenge to discover what sort of comment might stop Trip and Grace from becoming Albee’s George and Martha.

If this Exhibit historicizes the computer as a cherished if unreliable partner to e-lit artists, it also sheds light on what kind of e-literature endures. Jill Walker Rettberg, in her deft article “Electronic Literature Seen From a Distance: The Beginnings of a Field” argues that the ISBN played a crucial role in making early hypertext electronic literature visible to libraries and booksellers. Works of e-literature authored for display in browsers (that is, most works authored after 1993) lack ISBN numbers because there is no physical, material object to sit on a shelf or be shipped to a buyer. Consequently it is almost impossible to find browser-based e-lit in library catalogs.

Grant-supported databases of electronic literature like ELMCIP [Electronic Literature as a Model of Innovation and Creativity] and the ELD [Electronic Literature Directory] exist as a kind of patch to this problem. Were those databases to vanish — as they rely on soft money, disappearance is possible — a curious e-lit reader would have personally to assemble an overview of the field. Amanda Star Goulding’s excellent “Bibliographic Overview of Electronic Literature” is aimed at a scholarly audience; but no overview can replicate the scope of a cataloging system that would relate attributes of electronic literature to those of the literatures that come before and after it.

That’s why this Electronic Literature Showcase hosted by the largest library in the world is so important. It introduces to Americans and citizens everywhere the art that mirrors back to us the fragility and ephemerality of our toehold in the past. What should we preserve? How might we preserve it? Is there a unique value to “use,” being able to view work on original machines, systems and software? The recent spate of high-profile museum exhibits about video games — the traveling Game On and Game On 2.0, the Smithsonian’s The Art of Video Games and MoMA’s Applied Design — suggest our wish to preserve hands-on access to the narratively expressive dimensions of human/computer interaction. The tremendous interest in those shows suggests that for most people it’s not enough to read about such things. They want to play and touch them.

Just as conceptual artists defamiliarzied gallery space and the notion of what counts as “art,” so too electronic literature jostles our received notions about computing and reading. Pattern poems from 500 years ago look mid-twentieth century; early works of hypertext engaged on a Mac Classic activate a sense-memory rooted, it seems, in a different lifetime.

Docent Gary Nasca shows an e-essay to a guest at "Avenues of Access" e-lit show at MLA 13.

Docent Gary Nasca shows an e-essay to a guest at “Avenues of Access” e-lit show at MLA 13.

“Reading is a solitary undertaking, but when it takes place in front of others it becomes an act of communion,” notes Simon Gikandi in his recent PMLA Editor’s Column “The Fantasy of the Library” (PMLA 128.1, 2013). E-literature reframes key elements of the library experience without dislodging the communion we embody together. Whether in the Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress, or at the wooden tables at your local library; in the audio stories pinned to maps and accessed via your phone, or the poems you scroll through as your train glides to work: these are our new literary communions, and they happen now where ever humans happen to be. In “Electronic Literature and Its Emerging Forms,” we tell one story of the Library as a physical space, a home of our heritage and protean futures.

Image Credits and Permissions:
Spine Poetry image by the author. Deena Larsen Shower Curtain at MITH: Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share-Alike license. Gadsby image by Flickr user cdrummbks sharable by Creative Commons license. Façade image courtesy of the authors. Social reading at MLA13 image by author.

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Exhibiting Electronic Literature Influences Scholarship

Posted by admin in curation, Electronic Literature | Leave a comment
Docent Gary Nasca showing an e-essay to a guest at "Avenues of Access" e-lit show at MLA 13.

Docent Gary Nasca showing an e-essay to a guest at “Avenues of Access” e-lit show.

Dene Grigar and I curated “Avenues of Access,” the second show of Electronic Literature at the Modern Language Association’s annual conference, this year in Boston, MA. Read our 10-page IMPACT REPORT to learn how many people have used our virtual gallery, and why exhibiting electronic literature face-to-face at a professional conference is influencing literary scholarship.


    Many visitors to the “Avenues of Access” exhibit at the Hynes Convention Center actively sought it because the 2012 e-literature exhibit positively affected their scholarship.
    Visitors lingered for upwards of an hour, even two, immersing themselves in the various generic stations and talking with curators and other scholars about connections between their own research and the exhibited e-lit.
    The natural affinity between e-literature and digital humanities manifested itself in conversations that are sparking scholarly collaboration on projects, speaking invitations and publications.
    Young scholars tell us they are revising their courses of study and dissertation plans to account for electronic works they encounter at MLA e-lit exhibits.
    Because e-lit is emergent and dynamic, scholars discovered new paradigms within primary source materials.
    E-lit’s platform and thematic diversity made it amenable to many traditional scholarly fields and encourages transdisciplinary collaboration.
    A number of visitors remarked that they now expect to encounter an e-lit exhibit at MLA. E-lit at MLA is another demonstration of how MLA leadership embraces new technologies and scholarly developments in the field.


Our mission was to introduce scholars of language and literature to electronic literature being produced right now around the world in multiple languages, and for scholars to apprehend the historical and material antecedents of this emergent work.

These goals helped us achieve our mission:

    Create a physical setting in which scholars new to electronic literature could “learn” how to engage it and share their experiences with expert readers, scholars, artists and enthusiasts;
    Provide scholarship and online resources to scholars for the purpose of further study of electronic literature;
    Encourage those interested in the creative arts to produce electronic literature;
    Demonstrate in the hands-on Antecedent and Creation Stations how one “makes” electronic literature;
    Raise awareness of electronic literature as a field with defined parameters so that scholars can assimilate it into the broader scholarly discourse about canonicity & periodization.


See also this Storify I built documenting the “Avenues of Access” exhibit in photos & Tweets.


Washington D.C., where Dene and I will curate the first show of electronic literature at the Library of Congress April 3-5, 2013!

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Cultures of New Media / Syllabus / spring ’13

Posted by admin in Digital Pedagogy, Electronic Literature, Teaching, Transmedia | Tagged | 2 Comments
Our class with Facebook Head of Entertainment Kay Madati (center).

Our class with Facebook Head of Entertainment Kay Madati (center).


10:00am – 11:50am
ASC 231 & via Adobe Connect: links provided for each class session
Kathi Inman Berens, Lecturer [kathiberens at gmail dot com]
Bio at end of this document.
Meryl Alper, Annenberg Ph.D. candidate [malper at usc dot edu]
Kathi Inman Berens: After class & by appointment.
Meryl Alper: Mondays after class from 12-1 pm in G26

Your Communication Interfaces
What is a “user interface”? It is the space where interaction between humans and computers occurs. Mobile computing informs our core disposition and habits; as soon as 2013, more people will access browsers using mobile devices than desktop or laptop. For many of us, the distinction between on- and offline no longer inheres; “the interface” is perpetual. This is called “ubiquitous computing.” 97% of students own mobile devices and compute ubiquitously. That’s why the classroom is an interface, whether or not a teacher’s course design reflects this state of being. Institutions of higher education have various responses to “ubi-comp.” We have yet to see strategic thinking about how mobility and expectations of on-demand learning shape, or ought to shape, pedagogy. Extravagant investment in MOOCs is not such a strategy.

This class anchors its experiments with interface in established topics in Media Studies. Students in this course will study the how and why of social media with the aim of discovering the messaging strategies that motivate the social media campaigns of brands, individuals, corporations and other entities. Our “classroom” is anywhere we learn: our various classroom interfaces will enable you to collaborate, share, revise and find an audience for your work.

This “Cultures of New Media” meets both “on ground” in our classroom (ASC 231) and virtually, in our virtual classroom via Adobe Connect. I send a link before each class session. Learners choose the context in which they wish to participate: surrounded by others in the class, coming in via software, or both. I come in via software 60% of the time, so even when learners come to the embodied classroom, at least some of the time they will also be participating via virtual classroom software.

In the four semesters I’ve taught at Annenberg using virtual classroom software, many of my students have found the class challenging & eventful. We collaborate actively across platforms. The Adobe software is optimized for distance learners, but that’s neither who we are nor how we use it. Each day, some of us are physically together and others come in virtually. Collectively we “mod” the software to our needs.

Attendance is non-negotiably crucial. If you suspect you won’t be able to attend all the classes, you and other learners will be better served if you drop the class. Moreso than other classes you might take, this “Cultures of New Media” requires attentive daily participation. We invent stuff, whether it’s media artifacts, new theories, or software workarounds, and that work happens when we’re all collaborating together. Particularly since you may attend virtually, I have little tolerance for students missing classes. If you are stuck in traffic, duck into a coffee shop and use your phone to attend. Much of our work is team-based, and your team members rely on you to show up on time ready to think & build. More than 2 non-medical emergencies will adversely affect your grade.

Three assignments, each worth 25% of your grade, will be individually authored and posted to a collective team blog. Each team is comprised of 5 learners. Each team has a “bucket” on the main page of our course blog. Ours is the first undergraduate class to author assignments in a multi-site blog platform called Genesis, which runs on a WordPress frame. Teams will design their unique web pages collaboratively. Students will also review each others’ writing and assess each others’ contributions to the group project workflow.

Our course materials are four assigned books, many posts and lectures by scholars, lead practitioners, media executives, and exemplary student work. I encourage students to read online materials in their original context. It’s easy to annotate within the bookmarking-and-annotation platform Diigo so that you can conveniently take notes on online material. The software is easy & intuitive. You can access help with the Diigo tools here.

I expect you to be on a network-connected device during class. You will need to enable your device’s mic and, ideally, camera in order to talk during our virtual sessions. Please update your Firefox and Safari browsers to the latest versions. Do not use Chrome: it causes problems with the Adobe Connect software. Connectivity is essential to our work. If you know you’ve got a weak wifi connection, you’re obliged to be somewhere you can obtain a strong signal: either wired in or in a different location with strong wifi.

1000-point scale
Assignment #1: Engagement Individual Analysis (individual blog post): 250 pts.
Due: Fri. February 22 9AM

Assignment #2: Transmedia Individual Analysis (individual blog post): 250 pts.
Due: Mon. Mar. 25 9AM

Assignment #3: Distributed Storytelling Individual Analysis: 250 pts
Due: Wed. May 1 9AM

Assignment #4: Collaborative Creation of Team Genesis site: 200 pts.
Due: Semester-long; Your self-assessment & ranking of your teammates’ work performances are due Wed. May 8 by 10AM.
Assessment Metrics for this project: self-reporting of your Genesis activities in a g-doc; these reports will be shared with other group members, who will assess & write comments on those reports. Meryl & I will have our own informal assessments of the small group collaborations throughout the term. We will offer feedback periodically so you have a sense of where you’re excelling & where you could improve. Of course, from the outset teammates should establish shared goals, timelines, and clearly stated rewards and consequences regarding shared team goals and deadlines.

Participation, Quizzes, Attendance: 50 pts.
*Note: I may give quizzes at the beginning of a class period. If you miss a quiz because you are late or absent, it cannot be made up. Quizzes factor into the “Participation” grade.

Week 1: Attention & Distraction
Jan. 14, 16

Davidson, pp. 1-58 for Wednesday’s class.
On Twitter follow: @kathiiberens, @merylalper and everybody in our class.
HW For Wed. Jan. 23: 1) ComScore White Paper about Facebook: “The Power of a Like” READ the 25-page PDF I sent to you via email. WATCH the 5 min introduction to key concepts & conclusions.
2) 17-min. vid: Participatory Culture by Henry Jenkins.
3) Stacy Wood, “The Value of Customer Recommendations” [from the Spreadable Media website essay collection.}
Note the difference in messaging: ComScore is for a professional audience, the Jenkins vid is for a popular audience, the Wood essay is for an academic audience. We’ll talk about these generic differences in addition to the content.

Week 2: Facebook: What Is the Power of a Like?
Jan. 21 = MLK Day; NO SCHOOL; Jan. 23
ADOBE Connect

Discuss ComScore “The Power of a Like” & Jenkins, “Participatory Culture” vid; and Stacy Wood, “The Value of Customer Recommendations.” All links are posted in HW above.

Week 3: Facebook and Entertainment: Database as 1-Stop-Shop?
Jan. 28, 30

Mon. Jan. 28: Kay Madati (Head of Entertainment & Media, Facebook) visits our class
Wed. Jan. 30 Introduction to our authoring platform, Genesis
HW: 3 articles about datamining & privacy
How Google — and 104 other companies — Are Tracking me on the Web” by Alex Madrigal
How To Get Privacy Right” by Nicholas Thompson
The Curious Case of Internet Privacy” by Cory Doctorow

Week 4 — Super Bowl & “The Second Screen”; Visual Rhetoric Writing Workshop
Feb. 4, 6
ADOBE Connect

Mon.: Slideshow: Super Bowl 2013 and Social Media Marketing by Kathi Inman Berens
HW for Wed.: Spreadable Media chapter 3: “The Value of Media Engagement” (pp. 113-152).
Wed.: Visual Rhetoric; Collaborative analysis of Genesis
HW for Mon. 2/11:
READ Cathy Davidson, Now You See It, pp. 1-58 and this post from Salon about how “FB Broke the Web” & in doing so, revealed how it aggregates individual browsing habits tied to real names.
EVALUATE Genesis course blog with others in your small group. Be prepared to present your findings informally to the rest of the class on Monday.
REVIEW essay prompts for Assignment #1. The prompt will arrive to you via email over the weekend.
CHOOSE which prompt you will answer & be prepared to articulate why in class Monday.

Week 5 — Drilling Down on Engagement; Corporate transmedial branding
Feb. 11, 13
EMBODIED (KIB comes to ASC 231) — Students should meet in ASC 231.

2/11 Mon.: KIB leads discussion about ComScore’s “The Power of a Like” and Davidson pp. 1-58. We’ll workshop the assignment prompts, and review close reading best practices. Small Groups present insights about assigned sections of Past, Present and Future of Journalism Genesis course blog.

HW For Wed. 2/13: WATCH ad:techSF 2011 Keynote address by Wendy Clark (Chief Officer of Integrated Marketing, The Coca-Cola Company), joined on stage by Renny Gleesen (Global Digital Strategies Director for Wieden+Kennedy). Vid is 1 hour.; WATCH also these definitions of transmedial advertising from Annenberg Innovation Lab’s write up of the October 2012 Transmedia Think & Do. WRITE 500 words for Assignment #1. Don’t just think about it, really write!

2/13 Wed: Transmedial Storytelling: Coca Cola
KIB presents WK deck
Discuss Wendy Clark’s Coke strategy as articulated in 2011, including these well-known YT vids security cameras and happiness machine. COMPARE those vids to what we learned about Coke Chase, the campaign they rolled out at SB47. Be prepared to talk about differences, how they represent a shift in Coke’s interactivity strategy. What do you think Coke was optimizing for in making the change?
WATCH Exemplary Student Work: Team Coke Social Media Analysis and Reflection in which they integrate course reading into their analysis.

HW for next week: DRAFT the entire 1st assignment. Be ready to workshop A FULL DRAFT in your small group next week. READ Henry Jenkins, et. al, Spreadable Media READ pp. 1-84; Introduction & chapter 1 “Where Web 2.0 Went Wrong.”

Week 6 — Corporate Transmedia Storytelling
Feb. 18, 20

Allow yourself time to load & test your post in the browser, then edit after you see it published live. (This is called “publish then edit.” It does not mean you publish sloppy work; it means you publish your absolutely best work, then see it more critically once it’s live. Then you edit again.)
ASSIGNMENT #1 IS DUE FRIDAY FEB. 22 9AM POSTED TO Assignment #1 bucket in BLACKBOARD (because our Genesis site is not yet ready.)

Wed. 2/20: WORKSHOP your full drafts of assignment #1. Discuss Jenkins et. al.
HW for Mon. 2/25: READ Henry Jenkins, et. al, Spreadable Media READ pp. 153-228: pp. 1-84; chapters 4 & 5 “What Constitutes Meaningful Participation” & “Designing for “Spreadability” (pp. 153- 228).

Week 7 — Participation, Copyright & Spreadability
Feb. 25, 27
ADOBE Connect

Mon: Discuss Jenkins et. al.: “What Constitutes Meaningful Participation” & “Designing for “Spreadability” (pp. 153- 228).
HW for Wed 2/27: Jonathan Coulton‘s cover of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” is ripped off by Glee’s uncredited copy; see also here. [READ, LISTEN, WATCH ALL of these links.]
Wed.: Discuss remix & sharability; Coulton, Glee, Sir-Mix-A-Lot
HW for Mon.3/4: PLAY with your group’s website on Genesis. Add text, images, links and color. Get a feel for how the dashboard works. READ Cory Doctorow about Glee, Jonathan Coulton and copyright; WATCH Harvard Constitutional Law Prof. Larry Lessig on Remix Culture at TEDxNY (18 mins.); READ Andy Baio, Kind of Screwed. EXERCISE: create your own interpretation of the 8 increasingly pixelated “covers” with which Baio ends the post. Where is the point when, in your judgment, he violates copyright? Use the legal definitions he references in the post and our other vids, readings, etc. to form your judgment: in other words, be ready to point to evidence or logic to back up your interpretation.

Week 8 — Fair Use & Terms of Service [ToS]
Mar. 4, 6

Mon.3/4: We’ll lead with the “Fair Use” EXERCISE (see above) and discuss Harvard Constitutional Law Prof. Larry Lessig on Remix Culture (19 mins.); Andy Baio “Kind of Screwed”

HW for Wed. 3/6: Why Aaron Swartz’s death is important. WATCH Overview 36-min vid; READ 1) Lessig on “Prosecutor as Bully“; 2) “Data “Rights” and the new Instagram ToS: Ian Bogost & David Murakami Wood debate via FB comments (Storify by KI Berens); 3) Electronic Freedom Frontier, No Prison Time for Violating ToS.

Wednesday 3/6: discuss Swartz, Lessig, ToS; CREATE design goals for collaborative blogs & rubrics for collaboration on group blog site. Goal: to create concrete tasks for each person to do over the weekend; to establish community expectations for participation.

HW for Monday 3/11: READ Jenkins, et. al: Spreadable Media chapter 7 “Thinking Transnationally” and Conclusion (pp. 259–305); WATCH Johanna Blakely, “Lessons from Fashion’s Free Culture“; Cory Doctorow and others “The Privacy Bargain“; WATCH Amanda Palmer’s 2013 TED Talk: “Trust People to Pay For Music.” COLLABORATE on your group’s Genesis blogsite using your FB group or meeting face-to-face: 1) create mission statement & goals; 2) design the look of your front door working with the themes engagement, transmedia and mobility. WRITE an essay question you’d like to respond to regarding the work we’ve read and done in Unit 2.

Week 9 — Copyright Logics
Mar. 11, 13

Mon. 3/11: Discuss Jenkins, Ford and Green, “Ideas & Artifacts Circulation & Transnationalism”; discuss Blakely & Palmer on cultures of copying and asking rather than compelling fans to pay for art. WORKSHOP: 1) Genesis blogs. Discuss collaboratively established goals & mission statement; create specific design protocols. 2) essay questions for Unit 2.
HW for Wed. 3/13: KIB presents WK deck; review student transmedial analyses. WATCH Exemplary Student Work: Team Coke Social Media Analysis and Reflection in which they integrate course reading into their analysis.
Wed 3/13: Writing Workshop for Assignment #2. REVIEW Library of Congress Electronic Literature Showcase & its social media campaign. NOTE: Assignment #2 will be due ONE WEEK AFTER your return from Spring Break!

Mar. 18, 20

Week 11 — Mobile Reading
Mar. 25, 27
ADOBE Connect
Monday Mar 25
Discuss: Johanna Blakely, “Lessons from Fashion’s Free Culture“; Amanda Palmer’s 2013 TED Talk: “Trust People to Pay For Music“; prompts for essay #2. KIB presents a deck about indifference to marketing; overview of Spine Poetry social media campaign for the Library of Congress Electronic Literature Showcase; preview of L.A. Flood, a distributed locative story set in part on the USC campus.
HW for Wed. 3/27: READ 1) Kathi Inman Berens, “Curation is Convergence,” my Electronic Literature Curatorial Statement from MLA 2013; 2) Make two spine poems and post them to Spine Poetry before Wednesday’s class. 3) L.A. Flood: read 5 off-campus entries including these two: “The Grove” and “Travis Barabbas.” The other three you can choose on your own.

Wed: Discuss Distributed Storytelling
HW for FRI 3/29Post your reflections on L.A. Flood to g-doc. Link & instructions in your email. HW for Mon.4/1: READ “Introduction” to Jason Farman’s Mobile Interface Theory. Keywords to focus on: evocative objects, pervasive computing, ubiquitous computing, context-aware computing, and remediation. WRITE your papers, due Monday April 1st at 9AM.

Week 12 — Mobility & Access [taught by T.A. Meryl Alper; I’ll be at the Library of Congress curating the “Electronic Literature Showcase“]
Apr. 1, 3

Mon. & Wed.: Meryl’s lectures
HW for Wed. 4/3: READ Ch. 1 of Farman. Also, watch this clip of Disney Channel’s Selena Gomez appearing on “The George Lopez Show” using what is known as an augmentative and alternative communication (or AAC) device (this article gives you a quick overview of AAC). We’ll use it to kick off our discussion of mobility, access, and embodiment.
HW for Mon. 4/8: READ Farman Mobile Interface Theory chs 4-6: ethics & location-based games; TEST game in development by Adam Liszkiewicz (I’m sending you the link via email); WATCH this video of Adam Liszkiewicz presenting AFEELD at Feb. 28, 2013 USC event “E-Lit Under the Stars.”

Week 13 — Mobile & Game Interfaces
Apr. 8, 10

Mon. Special Guest ADAM LISZKIEWICZ, electronic literature artist exhibited at the Library of Congress, will present to you his kinetic poetry series AFEELD, “Tenants in Action,” a social justice mobile app designed to help renters in L.A. connect with services they need, and his game-in-development. Adam is a Ph.D. candidate at USC’s iMAP (interdivisional Media Arts & Practice) program.
Wed HW: Ian Bogost, How To Do Things With Video Games chapters: Art, Empathy, Reverence, Transit, Branding, Electioneering, Textures, Kitsch, Relaxation.
Wed: Discuss Farman, Bogost
HW for Monday 4/15: READ and WATCH materials targeted by gender. Targeting Guys:
Red Bull #givesyouwings; Wings Girls; Red Bull transmedial marketing
Machinima ALSO read the entire NYT article linked to at the end of this post. Targeting Gals:
Daria Musk (Google+ social media co-venture: demonstrating the affordances of the G+ platform.
Lizzie Bennett Diaries

Week 14 — Gender & Distributed Storytelling
Apr. 15, 17

Discuss: Distributed stories & marketing targeting men and women with particular emphasis on mobile participation. Nike branding targeted at men and women. This is exemplary student work from COMM 499 fall 2012.
HW for Wed. 4/17: Work on Genesis blog site. Meet with your group in advance of class. Prepare for full-class workshop on Wednesday, the result of which should be a completed Genesis blog site ready for design review.

Wednesday 4/17: F2F required in ASC 231.
Full-class workshop; at the end, design review.
HW for Mon.4/22: HW for Mon.4/22: READ Davidson, Now You See It pp. 132-207 (“The Epic Win,” and “The Changing Workplace”). WRITE/AUTHOR your final assignment.

Week 15 — Distributed Storytelling; Digital Dualism
Apr. 22, 24

Monday: 1) We’ll kick off by discussing this post by Nicholas Carr “Digital Dualism Denialism.” Then we’ll discuss Davidson, “The Epic Win” & “The Changing Workplace.” 2) You’ll report your progress on Assignment #3, the final project of the term.

Wednesday: We will collaboratively design our landing page for the Genesis site. This process is our springboard into course review. We’ll discuss the major themes we’ve explored this term. We’ll do course evaluations.

Week 16 — Course Review & Final Presentations
ADOBE Connect
Apr. 29, May 1

April 29: Workshop your Assignment #3; course review.
Final presentations of your work!

May 8: Your comments evaluating yourself & each of your team members are due by 10AM.

Kathi Inman Berens is a lecturer at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and a Fellow at the Annenberg Innovation Lab, where she works on virtual classroom software and embodiment. Inman Berens is co-curating, with Dene Grigar, the first “Electronic Literature Showcase” at the Library of Congress April 3-5, 2013. Before moving to Portland, Oregon, she was an Associate Professor (Teaching) at USC Dornsife College’s Writing Program. She was USC’s first non-tenure track faculty member appointed a Fellow at the Center for Excellence in Teaching, where she continues as a Distinguished Fellow.

The Annenberg School for Communication is committed to upholding the University’s Academic Integrity code as detailed in the SCampus Guide. It is the policy of the School of Communication to report all violations of the code. Any serious violation or pattern of violations of the Academic Integrity Code will result in the student’s expulsion from the Communication degree program.
It is particularly important that you are aware of and avoid plagiarism, cheating on exams, fabricating data for a project, submitting a paper to more than one professor, or submitting a paper authored by anyone other than yourself. If you have doubts about any of these practices, confer with a faculty member.
Resources on academic dishonesty can be found on the Student Judicial Affairs Web site ( “Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism” addresses issues of paraphrasing, quotations, and citation in written assignments, drawing heavily upon materials used in the university’s writing program; “Understanding and Avoiding Academic Dishonesty” addresses more general issues of academic integrity, including guidelines for adhering to standards concerning examinations and unauthorized collaboration. The “2012-2013 SCampus” ( contains the university’s student conduct code and other student-related policies.
Specific to This Class: For those assignments which require/allow collaboration, students are required to disclose all people who contributed to their process and identify all outside sources they drew upon in developing their answers. Failure to do so will be considered academic dishonesty.

Students requesting academic accommodations based on a disability are required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP when adequate documentation is filed. Please be sure the letter is delivered to me as early in the semester as possible. DSP is open Monday-Friday, 8:30-5:00. The office is in Student Union 301 and their phone number is (213) 740-0776.

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Curation is Convergence

Posted by admin in curation, Electronic Literature | 4 Comments

Kathi Inman Berens: MLA 13 “Avenues of Access”


“Practice mobility as a kind of dwelling,” concludes Jason Farman at the end of Mobile Interface Theory (2012). “Practice movement that is not indelibly linked to ideas of progress and obsolescence. The result will value the unique characteristics of place” (141).

I thought a lot about “mobility as a kind of dwelling” as Dene Grigar and I curated “Avenues of Access,” our second show of electronic literature for the Modern Language Association’s annual Convention. Unlike last year’s large show — 160 works that told a comprehensive history of e-lit from its origins in concrete poetry and early hypertext to present day mobile apps — the 2013 show “Avenues of Access” is an intimate collection of thirty new works in five sub-genres, each genre loaded on an elegant computer station located in our exhibit space, Hynes Convention Center Room 312.

Mobility, a “dwelling,” is also a mode of thinking and being. Locative storytelling has always existed — graffiti art is the readiest example — but ubiquitous computing has changed where stories live, and who can tell them. One thinks of VozMob, in which L.A. immigrant and low-wage laborers voice record their daily experiences, or CicLAvia, a pro-bike initiative in which, among other things, riders snap photos en route and post them to a Google map. The Australian e-lit artist Megan Heyward (whose work “Of Day, Of Night” is on exhibit at “Avenues of Access”) is launching in January 2013 “Notes for Walking,” a narrative written on landscape at Sydney’s Middle Head National Park and Mosman Art Gallery.

It follows that as the location of stories moves from book or device to spaces themselves, our notion of what constitutes “reading” is abruptly changing. We now understand that space and story work in tandem to produce the text. Our mobile devices collaborate with our bodies to shift us effortlessly — sometimes imperceptibly — between virtual and embodied states. In fact some e-lit authors expressly design for different types and durations of reader engagement: a sampling, a skim, and a fully immersive reading. Authors have learned to do so by tracking reader engagement with their works.

Readers have always yearned to read stories in the physical settings the stories describe. How many enthusiasts have ported copies of Walden or The Prelude to the famous lakes? But immersive reading habits are actually disjunctive with “situated” or “implaced” reading, because we block out sensory input in order more fully to immerse ourselves in the story. We read near Walden Pond; maybe we glance up, dislodge ourselves from the Thoreau’s prose and dream a little. But people are scarce in Walden, and Walden Pond is a popular, sometimes noisy place. Does authenticity ruin the immersive fantasy?

Reading spaces increasingly compel my attention as I think through what I find most novel and exciting about e-lit being made right now. Code works and locative works — that is, stories set in both virtual and physical space — fascinate me. When a new device, or software, or code library comes into being, e-lit artists ask themselves: what kinds of stories will this let me tell? Our exhibit features Alexandra Saemmer’s use of Prezi as a storyspace, Manuel Portela’s “Google Earth: a poem for Voice and Internet,” and the hidden story lurking in the comments of the source code powering Mark C. Marino’s literary game. Each artist in this exhibit is pushing against convention in one way or another. Alan Bigelow, Jason Nelson and Jim Andrews have all migrated from Flash to HTML5 in order to explore how their work might differently operate on mobile devices. Check out their exhibited work in Boston and compare it to their large and distinguished collections of Flash-based work.


Image from Zaylea's SpeakToMeInCode

Some e-lit actually capitalizes on the fluid attention of a mobile reader. Laura Zaylea’s “SpeakToMeInCode,” a work commissioned especially for this MLA show, is a locative romance that intends to disperse the reader’s attention across story, device and social space. Set at a fictional convention, “SpeakToMe” begins as a guide to grammar and good writing but transmutes into an illicit romance. Readers will walk around the Hynes Convention hall pulling bits of story onto their mobile browsers via QR codes. As they do so, the rhythms and ambient sounds of the bustle between panels will intrude upon their concentration, adding verisimilitude to the story’s theme.

E-literature is readily available free and on-demand from outstanding collections, blogs and journals such as these: The Electronic Literature Organization’s Collection 1 and Collection 2, The New River Journal, SpringGun Press, The European Anthology of Electronic Literature , the daily blog I ♥ E-Poetry by Prof. Leonardo Flores, The Drunken Boat, and Hyperrhiz.

With so much curated e-lit available on-demand, what’s the point of a live exhibit?

One is much more likely to encounter difference, make spontaneous and serendipitous associations, at a live event. A favorite moment from last year’s exhibit was when Renaissance scholar Janelle Jenstaad and “Invisible Seattle” artist Rob Wittig mashed up London 1560 and Seattle mid-1980s. Janelle unscrolled her gigantic London map and she and Rob poured over it talking narrative, urbanism, and who knows what else. Experiences like that don’t happen when you read e-lit alone. Convergence.

Toward that end, “Avenues of Access” will feature two Creation Stations where guests can “get their hands dirty” in creative computing. Creation Station One will feature Nick Montfort’s JavaScript source code for “Taroko Gorge,” his brilliant transposition of landscape poetry into a poetry generator that writes a new line every 1.2 seconds. “Taroko” has been remixed at least twenty-two times by other artists; guests might review those to spark imagination, then try their hand at filling Nick’s source code with new variables to make their own poems: remixes or defacements.

Creation Station Two will feature two vintage computers, a Commodore 64 (1982) and an Atari Video Computing System (1977). Guests will be free to to engage the computers as those vintage devices run the one-line BASIC program 10 PRINT CHR$ (205.5+RND (1)); : GOTO 10, which is also the subject of a new MIT Press book by 10 authors writing in one voice: a book that sold out its first run in three days. Five of the 10 PRINT authors will visit the exhibit and perform at the live reading Friday night at Emerson College’s Bordy Theater at 8PM. See the poster at the bottom of this post for more details.

We are extremely fortunate that more than ten of our thirty-two exhibited authors will swing by the exhibit to talk informally with guests. Docents and I will livetweet these happenings so that virtual participants can join in the fun.

One’s notion of what can be digitized grows every day. The acceleration of digitization in higher education alone is rushed by venture capitalists who sniff gold in the hills.

“As for art,” the Canadian e-lit poet Jhave recently wrote to me, “my faith in its longevity faded awhile ago. Its purpose is now instructing conversations, things like [the] MLA exhibit are crucial for that. I am sorry I won’t be there.”

For Jhave (whose exquisite spoken-word poetry mashup MUPS is on exhibit), ephemeral “instructing conversations” endure when computational works wither. It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s not. Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare: “He is not of an age but for all time.”

E-lit is of an age.

Let its convergences take you someplace new.

“Avenues of Access” E-Literature Exhibit
Hynes Convention Center Room 312
January 3rd (12-7 PM), 4th (9AM-7PM) and 5th (9AM-7PM);

Friday Jan. 4th, 8PM
Readings and Performances
Bordy Theater at Emerson College
216 Tremont Street
Free, open to the public reading at Emerson College’s Bordy Theater Friday, Jan. 4th; and

On TWITTER #MLA13 #elit

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The New Learning Is Ancient

Posted by admin in Digital Pedagogy, Teaching | 10 Comments

The intimacy born of learning face-to-face is a misattribution. It’s not the face or the body that conveys intimacy, but shared, dynamic experiences of time.

Virtual learning environments are awkward because the software can’t yet pivot between the dynamic flux in time dimensions when I’m face-to-face in a classroom with some students and also engaging virtually via classroom software with others. It’s a bizarre truth that the same students who will slouch in sweats around a conference table will sometimes refuse to come on-camera unless they look “camera ready.” Men and women alike; it doesn’t skew by gender. As computing power increases, and as a generation of homeschooled learners log their 15,000 K-12 classroom hours in predominantly virtual and hybrid environments, the software’s insufficiency will come to an end.

Will the embodied classroom?

That’s what we’re focused on as we take the measure of MOOCs. That’s what administrators and donors reckon with when they assess whether to invest in the campus’s physical capacity. But “will the embodied classroom end” is not the real question.

Because the new learning is ancient.

Agape, loving-kindness, can’t be dispersed. It’s a specific call or procedure, a transaction that’s both medium- and user-specific. It’s existed for thousands of years passed from body to body in whatever counted as “the classroom” of its day. It will persist if we create conditions for it to flourish. Before ubiquitous computing, agape was a byproduct of physical intimacy and shared dreaming that unfolds in a good class over a semester. “I’m more accustomed to looking at a screen than at my professors,” one student told me after our first virtual class. “But I’m scared that this is what education is going to become.”

I’m not; and I suspect that her fear that “this is what education would become” has been diminished by the durable artifacts of fifteen weeks of nearly constant collaboration with the other three members of “Team Coke.” “I learned how to mic and light a scene,” she told me in office hours outside last week. “We stayed up til 3 with Graham even though he was the only one editing.” I interpret this to mean that at the beginning of the term, Jessi thought the classroom was mine, and that she entered my world when she streamed me inside the screen of her MacBook Pro. Over the term her classroom became anywhere she and her teammates happened to be working: filming at the student center or on John McKay Field; editing and voicing over in her apartment and goofing around with her teammates into the wee hours; arriving, always a little late, into the physical space of our classroom; steaming in herself when she wanted to, and almost always game to push an idea some place unexpected. That’s her classroom. I’m the one who makes sure she can build what she needs and take it anywhere she wants to go.

Students from fifteen years ago, or five years ago, or from last term will Facebook me, or find me via email or Twitter and say, “Did you see Aung San Suu Kyi?…. or….Franzen’s new book?….. or……how Machimima is contracting content for women…..” A woman selling cosmetics a Nordstroms stopped me mid-sentence and said: “you were my literature professor. I recognize your voice.” When did you graduate? I asked. “2004.”

I don’t worry that computers will get smarter and virtual classrooms will remediate embodiment better than they do now. It doesn’t matter to me if my classroom is a little rectangle in a building or a little rectangle above my keyboard. Doors are rectangles; rectangles are portals. We walk through.

What can’t be digitized is love.

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The Readiness is All: iPhone5 and AT&T

Posted by admin in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A couple of short thoughts on ordering and activating my iPhone5. This was originally an FB post responding to a question from a former student (now friend) about my impressions of iPhone5.

Is it worth the money and time? Yes to the 5; yes w/reservations to AT&T.

The 5 processes much, much faster than the 3GS. Siri is great fun. Talking txts rather than typing is terrific. Camera = worth the wait. Accelerometer works on iOS apps, but less reliably in external ones (such as FB). I don’t like iTunes prompting me to log in even when I load local files. (Dude, that my bizniz, not yours)….

As for AT&T: it simply was not ready for the transition to 5. Probs w setting up VM on the 5 is a “known issue” that requires talking to a human to work out. I spent abt 90 mins (first w chatbot, then with human chat, then w human voice to voice) resolving probs, such as VM and my missing txt plan (!!)

See anything missing? iPhone5 not an option.

ATT messaging on their “my att” site is breathtakingly unclear. One imagines Apple might have dictated terms or deadlines to AT&T that ATT simply could not meet. ATT has lagged at both launches w the 5 (9/14, 9/21). Example: at 12:30AM 9/14, I spent abt 2 hrs working through a set of loops that prevented my card number from being recorded to advance the transaction. Tried lots of workarounds, including renaming my ATT user profile. Nada. 2:30, I quit everything. Hunch told me to reboot et voila: after 3AM PST (more crucially perhaps: 6AM EST), a brand new interface. Transaction took me 90 seconds. (But: even that ease is illusory, since I had to do clean up w ATT that prevented full use of device immediately after opening it.) All told: the device & fast connectivity worth the effort. The time I spent figuring out why the interface wasn’t working applies out to other situations. I’m at the place where the FAILs deeply intrigue me. As to the Apple Maps [friend name omitted], I haven’t played with it yet. That’s today when I use it to find good hiking near my folks’ house…..

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