In the golden age of electronic books (or e-books), the phones, pads, tablets, and screens with which we read have become ubiquitous. In hand around the house or emerging from pockets on trains and planes, propped up on tables at restaurants or on desks alongside work computers, electronic books always seem to be within arms reach in public and private spaces alike. As their name suggests, however, the most prevalent e-books often attempt to remediate the print codex. Rather than explore the affordances and constraints of computational processes, multimodal interfaces, network access, global positioning, or augmented reality, electronic books tend to skeuomorphically simulate longstanding assumptions about reading and writing. Nevertheless, the form and content of literature are continually expanding through those experimental practices of digital-born writing and electronic literature.
Electronic literature (or e-lit) occurs at the intersection between technology and textuality. Whereas writing is a five thousand year old technology and the novel has had hundreds of years to mature, we do not yet fully know what computational can do and do not yet fully understand the expressive capacities of electronic literature. In this respect, e-lit does not operate as a fixed ontological category, but marks a historical moment in which diverse communities of practitioners are exploring experimental modes of poetic and creative practice at a particular moment in time.
If we define literature as an artistic engagement of language, then electronic literature is the artistic engagement of digital media and language. Such works represent an opportunity to consider both the nature of text as a form of digital media—as a grammatization or digitization of otherwise unbroken linguistic gestures--as well as the algorithmic, procedural, generative, recombinatorial, and computational possibilities of language. The history of e-lit includes projects that may not be labeled by their authors as part of this literary tradition and, in fact, some of the most compelling engagements are found in animation, videogames, social media, mobile applications, and other projects emerging from diverse cultural contexts and technical platforms.
The Electronic Literature Organization (ELO), founded in 1999, has released two volumes collecting works of significance to the field: the ELC1 (http://collection.eliterature.org/1/) in 2006 and the ELC2 (http://collection.eliterature.org/2/) in 2011. Following this five-year tradition, the Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 3 (ELC3) continues the legacy of curating and archiving e-lit. Since the second volume was published, the rise of social media and increased communication between international communities has brought attention to authors and traditions not previously represented, while authors outside traditional academic and literary institutions are using new accessible platforms (such as Twitter and Twine) to reach broad audiences with experimental forms of both human and nonhuman interaction.
As such, the editors of the ELC3 seek to expand the perceived boundaries of electronic literature. In 2015, we disseminated an open call inviting communities from across the web and across the globe to submit their work to this this collection. And although many of the submitted works were produced very recently, we also looked backward and included a number of historical selections reflecting work that was not yet part of the discussion of electronic literature when the previous volumes were curated. The ELC3 features 114 entries from 26 countries, 13 languages, and including a wide range of platforms from physical interfaces and iPhone apps to Twitter bots and Twine games to concrete Flash poetry and alternate reality games to newly performed netprov and classic hypertext fiction. By pulling projects from these different spaces and times into the same collection, the ELC3 aims not only to preserve a diverse set of media artifacts but to produce a genealogy that interleaves differing historical traditions, technical platforms, and aesthetic practices.
Many of the works in this collection are already endangered bits. Some of the platforms that supported them, such as Adobe Flash and the Unity 3D web player, are quickly becoming outmoded by new standards while material platforms like mobile phones and touchscreen tablets, are always on the cusp of new upgrades and models. This archive attempts to capture and preserve ephemeral objects by including textual descriptions and video documentation along with the source materials that offer a glimpse into the underlying structures of each work. Although metadata and paratexts cannot substitute for the original experience of a work, supplementary media delays the inevitable. Both the greatest threats to the field of electronic literature and its pharmacological raison d'etre is the rapid progression and newness of new media itself. As editors, curators, archivists, and creators ourselves, we hope to preserve some of this history and provide new generations of scholars, authors, and readers with insight into the ongoing experiments in electronic literature.
The Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 3 is not the end of e-lit. Nor is it necessarily the beginning of a new chapter of its history. The ELC3 is a mirror of a specific moment in time occurring across continents, languages, and platforms during the second decade of the twenty-first century. This collection parallels the works collected, operating in symbiotic relation with programs and processes, images and texts, readers and writers—and you.
The Editorial Board for the ELC3 consists of four scholars nominated and selected by the Electronic Literature Organization. The editors are listed here alphabetically:
Stephanie Boluk is an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis. For more information see http://stephanieboluk.com
Leonardo Flores is a Full Professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico: Mayagüez Campus and the Treasurer for the Electronic Literature Organization. He was the 2012-2013 Fulbright Scholar in Digital Culture at the University of Bergen in Norway. His research areas are electronic literature (especially poetry), and its preservation via criticism, documentation, and digital archives. He is the creator and publisher of a scholarly blogging project titled I ♥ E-Poetry (http://iloveepoetry.com). For more information on his current work, visit http://leonardoflores.net.
Jacob Garbe is a new media artist and game designer currently pursuing his PhD at UCSC's Expressive Intelligence Studio. His research interests lie in the application of intelligent systems to narrative design and new forms of interactivity. For more information on his latest work, visit ice-bound.com.
Anastasia Salter is an Assistant Professor of Digital Media at the University of Central Florida. She is the author of What is Your Quest? From Adventure Games to Interactive Books (University of Iowa Press 2014) and co-author of Flash: Building the Interactive Web (MIT Press 2014). Her research engaged with work at the fringes of gaming, where marginalized creators explore the platform as a space for play, storytelling and persuasive writing. She can be found online at anastasiasalter.net and on Twitter as @anasalter.
The editors would like to thank the many authors and voices represented within the collection, as well as several language specialists and guest editors. These include:
Our team of international consultants helped circulate the Call for Submissions, nominated works, advised the editors during the selection process, drafted editorial introductions, and helped communicate with some of the authors.
Our editorial assistants were instrumental in handling the massive amounts of data involved in this project, including processing submissions, sending mass and individualized e-mails, preparing spreadsheets and assembling resources for the review process, receiving materials from the contributors, producing screenshots, banners, thumbnails, and documentation videos for the published works, helping assemble the metadata on the works, and helping address all the feedback and corrections from the version shared with the authors. We are extremely grateful for their dedication and hard work. We also wish to thank the UPR: Mayagüez College of Arts and Sciences for funding their labor through graduate research assistantships and paid internships.
Donations from our sponsors helped fund a 3-day Editorial Retreat on May 2015 and will be used to fund a standalone USB edition of the ELC3.
We see the ELC3 as a project with several stages of development and completion. The 1.0 version is a fully operational edition published on the Web. Over the next few months, we will continue to develop the ELC3 with the goal of producing a physical edition that we will be able to distribute on USB drives. Along the way, we will develop new mechanisms for our audiences to explore this Collection. We will document our version history below.