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ELO 2015: The End(s) of Electronic Literature

The Ends of Publishing

Friday, August 7 • 09:00 - 10:30 (Sydneshaugen skole: Auditorium D)

As electronic literature resides at the boundaries of the literary, creative, critical, and computational, and blurs into fields such as cinema and media studies, critical theory, art, computer science, rhetoric, and design, the speakers in this session wish to bring these boundaries into conversation and speak to ELO’s call to question the ends of electronic literature. The speakers will focus on digital media production and publication in documentary, narrative, and scholarly multimedia genres, attending to the ways these genres intersect with histories and futures of electronic literature. They will discuss the pedagogical, speculative, and scholarly aims of these creative screen-based texts to push on the ends of non-transdisciplinarity and to engage with boundary crossings between ELO into the speakers’ respective fields of rhetoric and composition studies, interaction design, and publishing studies. Our aim will be to showcase how specific screen-based genres within these disciplines are published in traditional and nontraditional outlets. This collection of talks will provoke the question of what counts as publishing beyond the ends of electronic literature and related media-filled and screen-based texts.

The Publishing Platform Is the Message

Todd Taylor (University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill)

If the media was the message for McLuhan in the 1960s, then audio-visual publishing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo have become a message today. In his 1998 article entitled “Database as Symbolic Form,” Lev Manovich fails to foresee the socially hypermediated turn of the new century when he argues that “database and narrative are natural enemies. Competing for the same territory of human culture, each claims an exclusive right to make meaning out of the world” (p. 7). From a purely mathematical, logical viewpoint, they do at first seem at odds, since the database is the superstructure and the narrative media files are the objects oriented within.  For example, a database might house narrative-less stock photos or sound effects as easily as it does an audio-visual story. The (early) media database seems indifferent to its contents and does not seem to be able to tell a story.  Likewise, the narrative within a digital movie file is indifferent to its matrix-host, because the “story” operates regardless of whether you play the film on a DVD player, digital projector, or a YouTube download.

Electronic literature challenges Manovich’s perceived divide. Where does the “story” reside in a narrative-driven video game: its interface? Its database of media objects? The image and sound files? The algorithms? The players’ interactions? The gaming system? The best answer we can probably give is that the narrative is realized through an alchemical interaction between every piece and player. If so, then there must be deeply reciprocal relationships between electronic narratives and the platforms through which they are published.  And, just as importantly, these symbiotic relationships continue to evolve, constantly redefining narrative as well as publication.

The ELO Conference prompts us to explore the shifting boundaries and relationships between narratives and publishing platforms.  As a case study, this presentation examines how the current generation of novice filmmakers are pursuing new ideas about narratives and stories as demonstrated on three media platforms: YouTube, Vimeo, and Vine.  This case focuses on three developments in socially hypermediated publishing platforms:                       

  1. Ethos and the collapsing divisions between media producer, consumer, and critic.
  2. Temporality and the declining patience with long stories.
  3. Literature and the persistence of the power of words.

Melting Reality at the Ends of the Earth: Co-fictioning Arctic Futures

Andrew Morrison (Oslo School of Architecture and Design)

After more than a few years of electronic fictional production since the launch of Storyspace and the burgeoning of Web texts, what’s the end, the point, of publishing in an “old school” blog-based way? Fads come and go in digital media but not all of their communicative and indeed narrative potential is necessarily realised. Blogs have provided considerable weight to popularising perspectives of non-formal or institutional media and they have allowed for a slew of self-motivated and cross-linked expression, articulation and analysis (e.g. Grand Text Auto, Walker Rettberg).

This contribution to the panel looks into the co-creation of a heterodeigetic and speculative experiment into the collaborative composition of the persona, wallowings and reflexive critiques of a nuclear powered narwhal called Narratta. An un-natural narrative voice, Narrata enables a group of 10 authors from different disciplinary backgrounds to reflect on issues affecting the current and future arctic. She also makes it possible to evade the constraints of existing discourses to do with cultural landscapes of the far north that are tainted by ones of mineral extraction, re-ignited militarism and most recently claims to undersea territory as part of wider power struggles over oil and gas reserves. Narrata is able to transcend time, to receive feeds through her spiralled tooth and to power her way into the air and into lakes and fiords of Norway and northwest Russia. She sneaks up on researchers in the harbour of Vardø and she soars past the portholes of icebreakers and container vessels charting the Northeast Passage to East Asia.

The presentation and related paper will refer to processes of co-design and shared multimodal expression to discuss notions of foresight in design and how electronic narratives of today and tomorrow may borrow on earlier genres and techniques, constantly evading mimetic seas. Narratta exposes contradictions in our emerging understanding of the significance of melting ice and warming landmasses, as climate change rapidly becomes a vivid reality. Drawing on contemporary narrative theory (Ryan, Richardson, Rettberg) and tainted by Object Oriented Ontology, she challenges us to read against the grain of realist and scientistic text and to engage in metalepses between realism and fabulation in our own thinking and conceptualisation of futures of the arctic. As a fictional device Narratta is shaped by a team of researchers in the Future North project; she demands we look beyond the interesting emergence of “design fiction” (Stirling, Malpass, Morrison) and experience more closely the forces of “melting reality” at the ends of the earth.

Cairn: An Academic Publishing Platform for Scholarly and Creative Multimedia

Cheryl Ball (West Virginia University) and Andrew Morrison (Oslo School of Architecture and Design)

For more than a decade, digital humanities scholar Geoffrey Rockwell has argued in various publication venues that hypermedia, specifically electronic literature, “are a nightmare to review and publish because they are experimental and because they are often technically idiosyncratic. Most are therefore either made available online or self-published since there is no viable publishing and review mechanism” (p. 161). This statement has made its way into peer-reviewed journals such as MLA’s Profession 2011, published in thematic issues on “Evaluating Digital Media Scholarship,” and, thus, the notion that hypermedia is beyond review and can only be self-published has entered the mainstream of academic literary circles. But, Rockwell has always been wrong on this point, as most e-literature scholars and practitioners know. The peer or editorial review and sanctioned publishing of multimedia in academic venues—both creative and scholarly—has been happening for two decades, and is evidenced in the several dozen journals and schools worldwide that focus on composing and publishing electronic literature and scholarly multimedia.

It is true, however, that compared to mainstream academic publishing, multimedia content is not as prevalent. We believe that one way of ameliorating that situation, especially now that multimedia authoring has become ubiquitous through prosumer programs, is to provide a better means for accepting, editing, and publishing scholarly and creative multimedia content so that it is more visible in relation to traditional notions of academic publishing. As academic publishing turns more and more toward peer-to-peer review and multimedia-rich work, we are developing a modular, open-source platform that can accommodate the range of publishing models scholars and practitioners want to and can publish. Cairn will be a free, editorial-management platform that supports peer review, copy-editing, and publication of multimedia-rich and data-driven scholarship and creative works in the arts and humanities, social sciences, and sciences. The Cairn platform is being designed with a unique editorial workflow that recognizes and values the importance of screen-based multimedia research, including electronic literature. What many journals and presses that publish this kind of work lack is an editorial management system that will move a piece of scholarly multimedia through the submission, review, and production processes as a single, scholarly entity. The two speakers on this paper – the principal investigators on the Cairn project, both of whom have backgrounds in electronic literature – will discuss the platform, its authorial and editorial features (specifically as they relate to the potentials of e-lit publishing), and welcome questions and comments from an audience of potential users of Cairn, which will be only part-way into its first year of a three-year development cycle. 

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