New Media Writing Forum

Over at the New Media Writing Forum, Andy Campbell started a wonderful discussion in response to my recent post on Scott Rettberg’s history of the ELO. Campbell rightly worries that eLit will not “evolve […] without being exposed to an audience outside of academia.” It’s a legitimate concern, and other eLit writers Christine Wilkes and Alan Bigelow have added sound thoughts to the discussion. Bigelow writes

If we have any hope of encouraging our students to read electronic literature outside the classroom, or our young creative writers to try their hand at this kind of "writing," they must see it has a broader audience, with both an aesthetic future and (for the writers) at least some potential for financial gain, either outright or through jobs in related industries. They can not see it primarily as an art practiced, and favored, by those of us in academia: for a new form struggling to gain its larger identity, readership, and practitioners, the academic world, while a necessary part of the overall strategy, is too small.

Academia, though vital for educating and broadening the audience cannot be the whole picture. There’s a lot of work going on out there and a lot of it isn’t getting the “eLit” cred that it should. Still other work is only tangentially related, but really should be part of the discussion. As advanced as we might hope our field is, eLit is still very young and is changing rapidly; we can still learn a lot from other forms. We can and should be looking around to learn from the aesthetics of digital comics or ask what eLit might take away from the publishing practices of the music industry. There is a lot of interesting work going on out there, whether we’re calling it literature or not.

Many people disagreed with my argument that theory is dictating (or replacing) aesthetics. The solution to this debate is simple: it comes down to a lack of writing about craft. We would all like for there to be more eLit works to discuss, but we are desperately lacking good (recent) writing on how to do it. Some writers protest that their work isn’t demonstrating theory; that’s fine! Write about why you chose that strange syntax, that interesting point of view or strange tense.

And we can always use more thoughtful criticism.

One thing is certain: no matter where you stand, these are questions we need to ask and discussions we need to have. Nodding our heads isn’t going to cut it; we need to face the issues head-on and do the work. There is still much real work to be done.