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Cayley’s Article on “Electronic” Literature?

This is not intended as a blog. I just wanted to share an article that I read recently.

In “Weapons Of The Deconstructive Masses: Whatever the Electronic in Electronic Literature may or may not mean,” John Cayley argues that the term “electronic literature” should be banished. Here’s his main point: “Both ‘electronic literature’ and the all but insignificantly preferable alternative ‘digital literature’ imply that there is a ‘variety,’ a ‘branch,’ ‘a faction,’ or, perhaps even a ‘genre’ of ‘literature’ (problematic in itself, since Flaubert and long before new media, according Barthes in Writing Degree Zero) that is distinguished by the characteristics of the material from which it is made or the media in which it is realized, rather than the procedures of its generation. Both terms tend to substantiate literary production, to highlight the (finished) product (that always already has a past, a history), rather than (a continuing, emerging, developing) practice. For some years I have tried to make a point of highlighting practice by using the slightly roundabout phrase ‘writing in networked and programmable media’ [6]. As a matter of pedagogic pragmatism I now also encourage the shorter ‘writing digital media…’

Cayley’s argument here strikes me as ignoring the term ergodic and its focus on process (non-trivial effort) over material. Isn’t “electronic literature” used as synonym for ergodic literature? Or, at least, doesn’t “electronic literature” encompass “digital ergodic literature”? Or am I wrong there? Well, whatever the case, even if the word “electronic” feels slightly old-fashioned to some when compared to the word “digital,” I wouldn’t want to minimize the significance of the material production of this literature and the implications of digital materiality. Cayley’s issue, it seems, however, is that the name “electronic literature” emphasizes a finished product–but to me the name carries no such connotation. The words “electronic” and “digital” both seem, to me, to suggest changeability and fluidity, and thereby emphasize process.

Here’s a link to the full article if anyone is interested: http://www.hyperrhiz.net/issue06/cayley.html

-David

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