Digital Literature: The State of the Art

I have started compiling a literature review on Reader Reception in Digital Literature (1990-Present). It began as a daunting task. As I have slowly progressed in synthesizing of the research I have found that there seems to be a lack of reception and genre studies in the field. Much of the early research is concerned with the material abilities of the media and how it is different. But this is countered by what Aarseth terms a “lack of self-reflection” (Aarseth 1997) in the borrowing of terms and metaphors from parallel disciplines to account for the new media phenomena. This changed in the middle period of research (roughly corresponding to the publication of Aarseth’s 1995 thesis as a book in 1997). Since then so much in the field of digital literature was concentrated on the materiality of the media and came to be reflected in such concepts as “media specific analysis” (Hayles 2002), “digital materialism” (Manovich 2001) and “electracy” (Ulmer in Memmott 2000). This small breakdown comes from a fine new publication from MIT; Adalaide Morris and Thomas Swiss (Eds.) “New Media Poetics: Contexts, Technotexts and Theories“.
In the last few years the collaborative and network aspects of digital texts have come to the fore. I find this most interesting. Such a development has possibilities to overcome some of the problems incumbent with socio-culturally specific narrative theory as has been applied so consistently to participatory and distributed new media.
Here is the beginning of a list I started compiling early in this odyssey. I still intend to add web material and many more articles later, but it is not longer as useful as I am now more focussed on reception and genre studies. However, perhaps it does show something of the scope of the field.


1990: Brenda Laurel (Ed.), “The Art of Human Computer Interface Design”
1991: Jay David Bolter, “Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext and the History of Writing”
1991: Marie-Laure Ryan, “Possible Worlds: Artificial Intelligence and Narrative Theory”
1992: George P. Landow “Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology”
1993: Brenda Laurel, “Computers as Theater”
1995: Michael Joyce “Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics”
1996: Warren Chernaik et. al., “Beyond the Book: Theory, Culture and the Politics of Cyberspace”
1997: Janet H. Murray, “Hamlet on the Holodeck”
1997: George P. Landow “Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology”
1997: Espen Aarseth, “Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature”
1999: N. Katherine Hayles, “How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics”
1999: Marie-Laure Ryan (Ed) “Cyberspace Textuality, Computer Technology and Literary Theory”
1999: Jay David Bolter & Richard Grusin, “Remediation”
2000: Michael Joyce “Othermindedness: The Emergence of Network Culture”
2000: J. Yellowlees Douglas “The End of Books – Or Books without End?”
2000 Sarah Sloane, “Digital Fictions: Storytelling in the Material World”
2001: Manuel Castells, “The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business and Society”
2001: Jerome McGann, “Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web”
2001: Lev Manovitch, “The Language of New Media”
2001: Marie-Laure Ryan: “Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media”
2001: Lars Qvortrup (Ed), “Virtual Interaction in Virtual Inhabited Worlds”
2002: N. Katherine Hayles, “Writing Machines”
2003: Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Nick Montfort (Eds), “The New Media Reader”
2003: Mark Stephen Meadows, “Pause and Effect: The Art of Interactive Narrative”
2003: Jan Van Looy, Jan Baetens, “Close Reading New Media: Analyzing Electronic Literature”
2003: Mark J.P. Wolf, Bernard Perron, “The Video Game Theory Reader”
2003: Barry Atkins, “More than a Game: The Computer Game as Fictional From”
2003: Nick Montfort, “Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction”
2004: Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Pat Harrigan, “The New Media Reader”
2004: Marie-Laure Ryan (Ed), “Narrative across Media: The Languages of Storytelling”
2005: N. Katherine Hayles, My Mother was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts”
2006: George P. Landow, “Hypertext 3.0 Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization”
2006: Adalaide Morris and Thomas Swiss (Eds), “New Media Poetics Contexts, Technotexts, and Theories”

1995: Espen Aarseth, “Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature”
1998: Jill Walker “Hypertextual Criticism: Comparative Readings of Three Web Hypertexts about Literature and Film”
2000: Raine Koskimaa, “Digital Literature: From Text to Hypertext and Beyond”
2001: Lena Karlsson, “Multiple Affiliations: Autobiographical Narratives of Displacement by (Im)migrant US Women”
2003: Lisbeth Klastrup, “Towards a Poetics of Virtual Worlds – Multi-User Textuality and the Emergence of Story”
2003: Torill Elvira Mortensen, “Pleasures of the Player: Flow and Control in Online Games”
2004: Anna Gunder “Hyperworks: On Digital Literature and Computer Games”
2006: Noah Wardrip-Fruin, “Expressive Processing: On Process-Intensive Literature and Digital Media”

2004, Henry Jenkins, “Game Design as Narrative Architecture”

Multispectral imaging and art

Last week I had the opportunity to listen to Douglas Ramsey talk about some of Maurizio Seracini’s work on multispectral analysis of paintings. Most fascinating! I have been doing a bit of reading/trying out since I got back. Basically Seracini is interested in analytical diagnostics and using different spectral wavelengths to represent slices of a painting (or other objects). He envisions a new kind of scientist. It is about “the world inside” – e.g. what is underneath the layer of visible paint in a painting. It is about compiling these images. Seracini has been doing this kind of work for a long time now and he has very convincing case studies. One is the early Leonardo Da Vinci painting “The Adoration of the Magi”. Apparently Seracini’s results have not convinced the art history world – at least not some of the more drastic claims. There is no doubt in my mind that this kind of technology-art enterprise has a great deal to offer and that it is potentially revolutionary. I am also very happy about having found an example to use when talking to art historians. I am very interested in hearing what they have say about this.

We were shown examples on a very high resolution projector and a great theater space and while this experience cannot be recreated easily I really like the fact that there is an online tool available.


The tool is available from here. You will be asked to install the Geoplayer tool and I think you have to use IE. If the painting does not come up restart IE. When I tried to install on it my laptop I could not zoom but we were told that it might not run on laptops. The work represented partly in the program is based on 2,400 images and many years of work.

Here is a long article in the UCSD alumni publication @ucsd about Maurizio Seracini’s work. The are also several streams available from the CALIT2 newsroom. (part 1, part 2 and introduction – all UCSD/CALIT2 material).

I watched the second part. From a digital humanities/humanities computing perpspective this is an excellent example and it raises many interesting questions. How does this methodology affect art history? Are paintings, in fact, what we can see with our eyes at this time (even if they can be shown to have been changed after they were originally painted). Does the kind of results that Serachni presents mainly inform of us about the process and earlier stages of the work or do they also make us reconceptualize the painting itself and the artwork? What is the role of the diagnostician/scientist and what is the role of the art historian? In some ways this also brings ‘traditional’ art closer to digital art as the latter often tends have a more transparent process (saved files, layers etc.). Another point concerns the issue of layering which is really a powerful methodology in many different contexts.

Listening to Seracini I also wondered about his role. He calls himself a scientist – and he certainly is one – and he says that is happy to provide data to the art historians. However, he is very knowledgeable in relation to art history himself and he does a fair bit of interpretation I think. This might not be a problem, of course. More likely it is a characteristic of a very talented person. I am bit more concerned about his focus on objective truth. He says that is about providing “true, objective knowledge”: However the kind of work he does might be claimed to also be interpretative and, of course, the combination of technology, data, layering and representation is to some extent a model. There are also many things we cannot be sure about – for instance the sequence of things (although apparently it is possible to do analyses of that kind now). But he also emphasizes the explorative possibilities and interpretability of his methodology.

In conclusion – fascinating work, a great example of a digital humanities tool and methodology and from what I can make out, potentially revolutionary advances. I also like Seracini’s ideas about applied science in this field and a new discipline. He talks about a new generation of scientists and a “wonderful (future) job”.