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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.The Electronic Literature Organization, whose mission is to "promote the writing, publishing, and reading of literature in electronic media," convened a committee headed by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, himself a creator and critic of electronic literature, to come up with a definition appropriate to this new field.This essay surveys the development and current state of electronic literature, from the popularity of hypertext fiction in the 1980's to the present, focusing primarily on hypertext fiction, network fiction, interactive fiction, locative narratives, installation pieces, "codework," generative art and the Flash poem.It also discusses the central critical issues raised by electronic literature, pointing out that there is significant overlap with the print tradition.The committee's choice was framed to include both work performed in digital media and work created on a computer but published in print (as, for example, was Brian Kim Stefans's computer-generated poem "Stops and Rebels").
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 questions hung in the air; none dared imagine what answers the passing of time would bring.This fanciful scenario is meant to suggest that the place of writing is again in turmoil, roiled now not by the invention of print books but the emergence of electronic literature.(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.
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(Note 2) Electronic literature tests the boundaries of the literary and challenges us to re-think our assumptions of what literature can do and be.