Last month, I taught a week-long course on electronic literature and Internet art called (imaginatively, I know) E.LIT/NET.ART: An Extraordinarily Brief Survey of Digital Literature, 1975 – 2015. The course was a self-consciously brief introduction to major themes, forms, and genres of electronic literature: eight students and I trawled through hypertext, Flash animation, interactive fiction, and then some, paying attention to how electronic literature reconfigures not only our understanding of what “literature” means, but how an expanded view of textuality alters our experiences as readers and writers. Plus we got to play Zork. Everybody loves Zork!
Along with Mariel’s course on peer-to-peer politics and Kim’s video game practicum, my course was part of a new Five College Digital Humanities initiative to offer short courses and workshops on critical, interdisciplinary explorations of digital cultures. This is the second J-Term course I’ve taught with 5CollDH, and it’s no secret that I’m a big believer in the J-Term form. For those of you without a J-Term (or Interterm, Winter Session, January term—all variations on the same theme), some explanation: J-Term is a space between fall and spring semesters that many schools here in the Pioneer Valley reserve for short courses, both for credit and for fun, and optional residence on campus. When I was in undergrad, J-Term was invaluable rehearsal time, and by the time I was in my final year, excellent thesis-writing boot camp.
J-Term is an excellent space for courses like mine, Kim’s or Mariel’s because it encourages experimentation. The abbreviated and casual form lets students take courses on a lark, without the pressure of grades or the time commitment of a full semester’s course. I think it’s also a potentially valuable object lesson in educational entrepreneurship, in that the absence of structures allows (or forces?) students to discover their own stakes for spending time in the course. I took that principle to heart when I crafted the central assignment for my course, which I’ve reproduced below:
“For Friday, I’d like you to present (aiming for five to seven minutes) a critical or creative response to one or more piece you encounter over the course of this week. This is less an assignment that I’ll assess and more an opportunity for you to jumpstart your own work, whatever shape that may take. Finished pieces, works in progress, and plans for future creation are all valid. When you’re picking the piece(s), you can use anything we encounter this week or anything already in the Electronic Literature Collection.”
Below, you can check out some photos from those final presentations, and learn more about some of the (frankly, pretty awesome) projects the students came up with. If you’re interested in learning more about the course itself, you can check out our website, http://elit.5colldh.org/, which I’m slowly transforming into a record not only of the course, but also a resource page for learning more about electronic literature and Internet art.
These are just a couple of the projects that the students came up with—there were plenty more, the photos from which I hope to share soon! So without further ado:
Punk Hypertext Zines
Jessie, a Smith student, designed a proposal to make a hypertext zine styled off of Olia Lialina’s My Boyfriend Came Back From The War and feminist punk zines from the 1990s.
In particular, she was interested in using the frames-within-frames aesthetics of Lialina’s piece to allow readers to go deeper into the zines.
Dance, Animation, Magazines
Melinda, a Five College staff member, made a proposal to remediate her work with a regional dance magazine into digital platforms. Inspired by Flash animations and animated gifs, she prototyped some animations of falling snow, words, and dancers’ bodies.
How many ways can you sort a poem?
Sophie, a Smith student, was inspired by Brian Kim Stefans’ The Dreamlife of Letters, itself a recombination of text by feminist poet Rachel Blau DuPlessis. Using Python, she wrote a small program that sorts DuPlessis’ program in a variety of ways, whether alphabetically, by length, or even (looking forward) by part of speech or etymology.
Sophie was particularly interested in how re-re-ordering DuPlessis’ text could function as a feminist critique of Stefans’ piece, which imposes alphabetic order on DuPlessis’ poem. By algorithmically re-sorting the text in a variety of ways, Sophie’s program reveals the arbitrary nature of sorting rules.
Jessica, a Smith student, was interested in learning more about the backend technologies that run hypertext pieces like My Boyfriend Came Back From The War or Stuart Moulthrop’s Hegirascope.
So she copied and re-edited source code from some of those pieces, playing with color, duration, and style to learn more about the choices that go into designing hypertext pieces, and the techniques by which she could make her own.