About DIG 220

Love letters written by a computer. A poem thirteen billion stanzas long. A love story between printed pages and a computer screen, played out in the space between the two. An ocean buoy tweeting mash-ups of Moby Dick. Welcome to the weird world of electronic literature—digitally born poetic, narrative, and aesthetic works read on computers, tablets, and phones. Experimental, evocative, and sometimes simply puzzling, electronic literature challenges our assumptions about reading, writing, authorship, and meaning. Yet e-lit, as it is often called, has also profoundly influenced mainstream culture. Literature, film, comics, apps, and video games have all learned lessons from electronic literature. This course will trace the rise of electronic literature and explore both historic and contemporary works of e-lit. We’ll begin with electronic literature’s roots in avant-garde art and Cold War technology, and follow e-lit through the birth of the personal computer into the era of the Web and smartphone. At every step along the way the expressive power of new media—the way digital media enables and shapes different modes of creative and cultural expression—will be of particular interest to us.

Learning Goals

Upon completion of DIG 220, students will be able to:

  • Reconstruct the history of digital art and literature from a global perspective
  • Connect avant-garde aesthetics to mainstream popular culture
  • Analyze electronic literature through close reading and procedural literacy
  • Experiment with the unique aesthetic and literary affordances of digital environments
  • Evaluate the competing demands of the preservation, sustainability, and integrity of creative digital works

Enduring Concepts

I aspire for students to recall some enduring concepts long after DIG 220 has wrapped up:

  • All media forms possess unique affordances which structure, shape, and limit what can be done in that form;
  • Digital media must be approached with an attentiveness to their specific historical and material conditions;
  • Culturally accepted designations such as author, originality, narrative, literature, art, and games are contested terms;
  • Text is only one expressive form among many others, including images, sound, data, and computation, that contribute to digital object’s meaning.
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