(Note 1) These questions cannot be answered without first considering the contexts that give them meaning and significance, and that implies a wide-ranging exploration of what electronic literature is, how it overlaps and diverges from print, what signifying strategies characterize it, and how these strategies are interpreted by users as they go in search of meaning.In brief, one cannot begin to answer the questions unless one has first thoroughly explored and understood the specificities of digital media.Electronic literature, generally considered to exclude print literature that has been digitized, is by contrast "digital born," a first-generation digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer.
In this sense electronic literature is a "hopeful monster" (as geneticists call adaptive mutations) composed of parts taken from diverse traditions that may not always fit neatly together.
Hybrid by nature, it comprises a trading zone (as Peter Galison calls it in a different context) in which different vocabularies, expertises and expectations come together to see what might come from their intercourse.
The definition is also slightly tautological, in that it assumes pre-existing knowledge of what constitutes an "important literary aspect." Although tautology is usually regarded by definition writers with all the gusto evoked by rat poison, in this case the tautology seems appropriate, for electronic literature arrives on the scene after five hundred years of print literature (and, of course, even longer manuscript and oral traditions).
Readers come to digital work with expectations formed by print, including extensive and deep tacit knowledge of letter forms, print conventions, and print literary modes.
Because this essay is the first systematic attempt to survey and summarize the fast-changing field of electronic literature, artists, designers, writers, critics, and other stakeholders may find it useful as an overview, with emphasis on recent creative and critical works.
Thom Swiss, Professor, University of Minnesota The quote Joseph Tabbi employs from Don De Lillo for the epigraph to his essay is a helpful one: "You didn't see the thing because you didn't know how to look.To see electronic literature only through the lens of print is, in a significant sense, not to see it at all.This essay aims to provide (some of) the context that will open the field of inquiry so that electronic literature can be understood as both partaking of literary tradition and introducing crucial transformations that redefine what literature is.And you don't know how to look because you don't know the names." De Lillo's words orient us in the direction of the language-driven, social work that Tabbi argues for in his vision of a semantic literary web. Katherine Hayles opens the aperture more widely and the angle differs slightly as well.Her electronic literature "primer" is a wide-ranging essay that takes the pulse of the e-literature field at this particular moment, reminding us that "literature" has always been a contested category.The questions hung in the air; none dared imagine what answers the passing of time would bring.