ELC 3: an Interview with Leonardo Flores
The Electronic Literature Collection is a periodical publication of current and older works of electronic literature published by Electronic Literature Organization. The volumes 1 (October 2006) and 2 (February 2011) are offered under a Creative Common license. In 2016 the third volume of this publication will be released as it has been annpunced at August Conference in Bergen.
Prof. Dr. Leonardo Flores who was part of the Editorial Collective for the forthcoming volume of the Electronic Literature Collection accepted to give us some interesting insights in the different project phases from the selection, to the curating and the final purposes.
GG: First of all, we would like to thank Prof. Flores for accepting to grant us this interview. Prof. Flores could you explain to our readers what the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) is and when and why the Electronic Literature Collection (ELC) was born?
LF: The ELO documents its history in their website (see: http://eliterature.org/elo-history/) so I will quote a compressed version of it:
The Electronic Literature Organization was founded in 1999 to foster and promote the reading, writing, teaching, and understanding of literature as it develops and persists in a changing digital environment. A 501c(3) non-profit organization, ELO includes writers, artists, teachers, scholars, and developers.
The Electronic Literature Organization was initiated by electronic author Scott Rettberg, novelist Robert Coover, and internet business leader Jeff Ballowe. Realizing the promise that electronic media offered for literature but the lack of a supporting infrastructure, the three assembled a board of directors that included writers, publishers, internet industry leaders, and literary nonprofit experts, founding the organization in Chicago. […] ELO has grown to be a vital part of the electronic literature community. […]
Landmark events in the organization’s short history have included the launch of an acclaimed database-driven Electronic Literature Directory maintained by scholars and visited by thousands of readers; readings and outreach events […]the publication of two volumes of the Electronic Literature Collection, each with about 60 works of electronic literature and each edited by a different editorial collective; and a conference series […].
The first Electronic Literature Collection was edited by N. Katherine Hayles, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg, and Stephanie Strickland and published in 2006. It instantly became a major international anthology of electronic literature, and the works within are among the most studied and written about in the field.
GG: What were the criteria of selection for the works of ELC 3? Have they changed compared to the anthology of five years ago (ELC 2, published on February 2006)?
LF: Each Electronic Literature Collection is edited by a 4-member independent editorial collective that is elected by the ELO Board of Directors. The editorial collectives are tasked with offering a snapshot the best electronic literature produced in its historical moment, but are given complete freedom to establish its selection criteria. I would therefore not presume to speak for the previous editorial collective– Laura Borràs, Talan Memmott, Rita Raley, and Brian Kim Stefans– and their vision. The ELC 3 Editorial Collective— Stephanie Boluk, Leonardo Flores, Jacob Garbe, and Anastasia Salter– seeks to feature outstanding examples of electronic literature from an international community of practitioners, including examples of historically significant works.
Rather than imperfectly express the criteria in my own words, I prefer to quote the ELC3 Collective’s Editorial Statement at the ELC 3 Preview Exhibition at ELO 2015, in which we describe our selection process.
The ELC3 is a testament to the growth of the electronic literature community around the world. With the help of social networks and our International Consultants, our Call for Submissions and Nominations resulted in over 500 works for our consideration, the largest pool of works in the history of the ELCs. The editorial collective considered each work through a rigorous process to make the selections, described as follows:
- We divided the works equally among the editors and each reviewed the works making initial recommendations.
- Guided by the editors’ input, we collectively examined, considered, and categorized each work, making initial assessments.
- We examined each category and narrowed the selection further by prioritizing new voices.
- After creating this initial filter, we pulled in works from previously collected authors and historical pieces as appropriate to provide a complete survey of the field.
- We looked at the collection holistically in order to represent as diverse a range of works as possible.
The result is a snapshot of electronic literature circa 2015, which includes multiple technologies, platforms, genres, languages, ethnic identities, nationalities, and historical works that are relevant to this contemporary moment.
GG: What has changed in the technique and the aesthetics of the selected works, in comparison to the works of the former volumes?
LF: That is a good question for the community of readers and scholars to consider as they read the works in the ELC 3. That’s right: in a classic professor maneuver I’m bouncing the question back to the community. 🙂
But as you explore the ELC 3 consider the following:
- There is a marked increase in works being developed for mobile and touchscreen based platforms.
- While works in previous collections used external data sources, big data and other online corpora have become sources for works.
- Social media platforms, such as Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook, have become important spaces for e-literary exploration, reinvigorating e-lit genres like the bots and generative works.
- We are getting increasing technical and aesthetic sophistication in previous e-lit genres, partly because of technological development in motion capture, virtual reality, video game engines, partly due to maturation of practitioners with the form.
- Remix culture is developing e-lit engines into e-poetic forms, as can be seen with the Taroko Gorge remixes.
- Online communities are adopting and reinvigorating older e-lit forms with new platforms, as can be seen with the bot and Twine communities.
- E-lit is becoming less meta-textual and more about bigger questions, such as identity and politics.
GG: Would you say that there are trends in the present panorama of electronic literature? Are there for example countries which are more orienteted towards a specific experimentation rather than another?
LF: I have addressed some of the trends in my previous response, but would add that each country brings its own particular genres and set of concerns to electronic literature, as they do to literature in general.
Poland contributes its rich history of e-literary production, including the grassroots demo scene. Latin America enriches e-lit with highly political works that explore questions of economics, violence, and gender relations. Other countries, while less represented in this Collection, hint at different sensibilities and experimental practices, such as concretism, videopoetry, and installation based work.
We are only beginning to discover the electronic literature traditions trends emerging from each country or geographical region. As scholars and artists from around the world become organized and develop resources to represent their electronic literature and connect with others, we will be better able to determine global trends in the field.
GG: What measures were adopted for the preservation of the works of the collection?
LF: The Electronic Literature Collections offer two forms of preservation: (1) publication of the works in ELO servers, (2) publication of the ELCs in physical media for distribution to scholars, artists, libraries, and archives.
In addition to these two basic strategies, the ELC3 will expand its preservation in the following ways:
- Publishing editable source files and source code, whenever possible.
- Producing image and video documentation of the works in action.
- Publication of output from generative works, such as Twitter bot archives
GG: In the collection there aren’t any works from Italy. In your opinion, is there a specific reason for this absence?
LF: We unfortunately did not receive many submissions from Italy, and they did not pass the first quality assessment. We revisited them when we were considering the collection holistically because we were interested in including at least one work from Italy, but were unable to identify a work that we were happy to include.
GG: What advice would you give to Italian authors of electronic literature? And what suggestions would you give to the Italian institutions?
LF: This advice applies to many authors, some of which are well known in their countries. It is essential to make a strong argument for a work that foregrounds its technical apparatus. We received several entire blogs containing the results of hinted at, but unknown and unexplained generative processes. More importantly, don’t be discouraged! This is the most selective of the Electronic Literature Collections so far, accepting about 1 out of every 5 works. Keep creating electronic literature and continue honing your craft.
As for Italian institutions, I advise creating organizations, online networks, directories, and collections of Italian electronic literature. If you have exhibitions, document, publish the results, and share them with the ELO and other e-lit communities. One of the reasons Poland and Latin America are so well represented is because their scholars, institutions, and communities mobilized themselves to submit a large amount of quality works to the ELC 3. No one else can document and promote your country’s cultural production as well as you can.
I am personally very interested in discovering Italy’s e-literary traditions.
GG: The description of the project on reads that the volumes are published in a suitable form for individual, public library and classroom use. What kind of publication forms are the works available and are there are libraries or schools which have already adopted the volumes?
LF: The ELC 1 was published in CD-ROM format and was distributed to sponsors, libraries, and ELO members. It was also included in the N. Katherine Hayles 2008 book Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary.
he ELC 2 was published in a USB drive (including the ELC1) and was distributed to sponsors, libraries, and ELO members. We have copies available upon request. Please contact our office manager Barbara Keller (firstname.lastname@example.org) to request physical copies.
GG: What could you say about the languages of ELC3 literary works? Would you say that a translation of a work into other languages is possible? If it were possible, what procedures should be adopted in your opinion?
LF: The ELC3 has works in English, Spanish, French, Polish, Norwegian, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and more, if you count every language with characters represented in Unicode. Many of these works have English translations, particularly the works clustered in the Renderings project, but translation was not a requirement for inclusion in the Collection. Instead, we are asking for notes towards translation from our International Consultants, so that our English speaking target audience can appreciate the works even if they don’t speak the language they were created in.
Translating the ELCs– or even a single Collection– would be a massive collaborative project that would require well funded teams with international consultants to undertake, as well as access to editable source files for all works created in compiled, proprietary formats, such as Flash or Director.
Translating electronic literature in general is not only possible but already underway. Electronic literature presents unique challenges and is a vibrant topic for scholarly and creative exploration. The most important initial procedure in translation is to read attentively both the executed work and its source code, whenever available. There is so much work to do in this area!
GG: At the ELO Conference 2015 in Bergen “The End(s) of Electronic Literature” [link al report] some speakers presented their hypothesis concerning the future of electronic literature. Jose Aburto, for instance, foresses the end of the interface, while David Clark a narrative modiality close to quantic mechanic made of multiple universes and dominated by mashup. Do you agree with their forecasts/previsions?
LF: Yes and no.
I suspect José Aburto meant the end of virtual interfaces, foregrounding physical interfaces. But there’s no escape from interfaces because works are always mediated and one must always manipulate interfaces to traverse works. Perhaps he meant the naturalization of interfaces, much as free verse became adopted in the 20th century. Just as poets abandoned closed forms, meter, and regular stanzas and designed free verse forms that fit their goals for each poem, so have writers of electronic literature set aside predetermined interfaces (such as the codex) and designed new interfaces for their works. But new platforms, such as touchscreen devices, are providing us with durable, reusable interfaces that can be successfully adopted to develop electronic literature works, as is the case with Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizaro‘s award winning iOS work Pry. And as interface experimentation becomes referenced, remixed, and repeated (such as the link) writers can build upon them without having to train their readers in using the work. In these ways, I can imagine the end of noticing interface.
David Clark imagines and explores in his work a poetics that have much in common with quantum mechanics. Each work becomes a field of possibilities that can generate multiple narratives in the hands of different readers. But this has always been true, of all written texts, and was deliberately explored by writers of Choose Your Own Adventure books, interactive fiction, and hypertext fiction since the 1970s. I think what Clark was suggesting is that hypertext writing is becoming increasingly normalized, in part as remixing known elements into new combinations becomes validated as creative reception performances. In an era of TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) and popular infinite works (such as bots and video games like Crossy Road), audiences are much more comfortable with not having the closure of finishing or completing a work. Finally, I agree that the appropriation of any available content, recombining it with original or repurposed work to create narratives, will continue to increase in the future and won’t be thought of as mashup: just creativity.interface).
GG: Based on your experience, what will the electronic literature of the future be like and what could we expect from the ELC 4?
I have a few predictions of trends that should have an impact in the ELC 4 and beyond:
- The general population will become much more comfortable with writing in digital environments and in multiple modalities. I wouldn’t be surprised to see sophisticated works emerge from of the massive creativity that currently goes into Internet meme genres, such as the image macro meme, GIFs, webcomics, and kinetic typography videos.
- As we can see now with the Taroko Gorge remixes, writers will continue to remix and repurpose e-lit and other digital frameworks leading to the creation of new e-poetic forms.
- Videogames will have increasingly productive intersections with the literary, as they deploy texts in increasingly sophisticated fashion and as people adopt their engines as writing environments.
- Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) platforms, such as the Oculus Rift, Google Glass, and Microsoft Hololens, will become massively implemented and people will continue to write on real and virtual spaces.
- Locative works will continue to grow in number as mobile computing and geolocation become ubiquitous, particularly in combination with AR technologies.
- We are only beginning to see the impact of touchscreen platforms as writing spaces, and I expect to see a great proliferation of electronic literature in iOS and Android powered devices.
- As different national, language-based, and regional groups become organized to collect, study, and disseminate their emergent electronic literature the field will become increasingly global in scope.
I wouldn’t be surprised to be completely surprised by an emergent e-lit form or two (or ten)– and that is what is so exciting about this field!
GG: Thank you very very much for your availability!
LF: And thank you for the opportunity!
We thank Prof. Flores for his availability and await with interest the release of the ELC 3!
Leonardo Flores is Professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico: Mayagüez Campus and the Treasurer for the Electronic Literature Organization. He was the 2012-2013 Fulbright Scholar in Digital Culture at the University of Bergen in Norway. His research areas are electronic literature (especially poetry), and its preservation via criticism, documentation, and digital archives. He is the creator and publisher of a scholarly blogging project titled I ♥ E-Poetry (http://iloveepoetry.com). For more information on his current work, visit http://leonardoflores.net. Source: http://leonardoflores.net/about/
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