An inspirational gathering for lovers of electronic literature

Electronic Literature, Events

I’ve had peripheral contact with the Electronic Literature Organization over the years (including a public reading of unpublished chapters of Chroma at the Hammer Museum which was a blast), but never attended one of their conferences until this year. Blue Velvet was accepted in to the Media Art Show at this year’s Visionary Landscapes conference at Washington State University Vancouver, which afforded me the opportunity to attend. I’m glad I did—it was a wonderful experience.

The 'Early Authors of Electronic Literature' exhibit at the Visionary Landscapes conference.

The ‘Early Authors of Electronic Literature’ exhibit at the Visionary Landscapes conference.

Having so many luminaries in the field in one place was enlightening in and of itself, especially because the attendees were a mix of both scholars and artists, making for a lively interplay between theory and practice. In many cases, I ended up meeting people for the first time whose names I’ve been aware of for years. Gratifying as well was the chance to connect with a number of folks who were early fans of The Lair of the Marrow Monkey and Chroma. New faces were abundant as well—people excited by the potential of the medium who were either taking their first steps in this world or doing important research to push the form ahead.

I was particularly impressed by the work being done in generative narrative by D. Fox Harrell, Kenny K. N. Chow and Jichen Zhu at Georgia Tech. The GRIOT system originated by Harrell and Joseph Goguen takes what I found to be a very refreshing approach to dynamic narrative—I can’t say that I have a strong grasp of the technical aspects of the engine, but there was a kind of fluidity of scale and affect involved in the formal elements the system generates that felt far less “brittle” than other generative approaches I’m familiar with. The fact that GRIOT immediately appeared in my mind to be well-suited to cinema, poetry and comics simultaneously was an intuitive whisper for me that Harrell and his collaborators are moving in a very productive direction.

The recent release of the Electronic Literature Collection: Volume One also seemed to mark a milestone for the field, being the first of a proposed series of collections of seminal e-lit works. Each volume is published on DVD and online under a Creative Commons license to encourage the widest dispersal possible. The conference at times felt like an implicit celebration that e-lit has managed to survive long enough to make such collections possible. While the boundaries defining exactly what e-lit is remain porous and will rightly continue to be so, the fact that a gathering dedicated to the field could engender the sense of cameraderie that it did is certainly something to celebrate. Thanks to Dene Grigar and John Barber for putting on such a great event.


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