This month at ebr, we release an essay by Gordon Calleja on narrative indie games and a review by Ralph M. Berry on Amy Hungerford’s Making Literature Now. We are also reprinting an interview between Mark Amerika and the late Adrian Miles, in celebration of his contributions and his memory.
First, we re-print an experimental essay called “13 Ways of Looking at Electronic Literature,” by the University of Malta’s Mario Aquilina and Ivan Callus. The essay first appeared in 2016 in CounterText: A Journal for the Study of the Post-Literary, and makes an appearance in ebr for its range of historically grounded reflections as well as radical best practices about e-lit.
And e-lit from its beginnings has been balanced through both theory and practice: ebr invites the e-literature community to engage with the essay’s wonderful critical and creative play by submitting their own responses (500 — 1000 words).
The deadline has been extended to early April. Of these responses, 13 will be selected to be featured in ebr in the near future, to be organized by Editor-in-Chief Joseph Tabbi.
Gordon Calleja, who has previously collaborated with Espen J. Aarseth, offers the essay “The Role of Imagination in Narrative Indie Games” this month, which connects with Will Luers’ essay from February 2018 on the construction of virtuality in video games, as Calleja describes the narrative indie game’s request for a player’s imagination. Similarly, Luers’ essay describes the player’s active role in making meaning out of a video game’s dynamic elements. In both texts, there are are clear ties to Wolfgang Iser’s (1974) notion of an Implied Reader, whose interaction with text constitutes the act of filling in gaps—whether these are the gaps among layers of meaning in narrative, the relationship between the real and the imagined, or implied content and structural gaps across hypertext links.
Calleja identifies video games as a family of overlapping artefacts within which narrative “indie” games combine storytelling with the “indie” spirit of “reacting to big-budget mainstream games and the awards and festivals their creators converge around, more than any specific features per se.” He makes connections between electronic literature and narrative indie games, arguing that they are in many ways more related to e-lit than mainstream video games, particularly as reading text is a central aspect of the game play.
Calleja focuses on how narrative gameplay emerges out of the “constituent elements of cybertexts,” an idea very much related to Ian Bogost’s (2007) notion of procedural rhetoric, or, the written-in structural elements of computation that are not explicitly visible but that construct much of the computational experience, such as content organization and algorithms. Calleja breaks down these constituent elements according to their operations, developing his argument more and more specifically as he considers imagination in various lights. For instance, he makes specific reference to Kendall Walton’s (1996) theory of the function of “prompters” and “props” in inciting a subject’s imagination and the establishment of fictional worlds, as well as Jean-Paul Sartre’s descriptions of how spontaneity aids imagination. Building upon these and similar ideas, he negotiates imagination, perception’s role in imagination (and here, Calleja offers an in-depth neurological analysis), representational signs, materiality, and mechanical (or computational) representation systems.
Ralph M. Berry’s review of Amy Hungerford’s Making Literature Now (2016) recalls the December 2017 issue of ebr, in which we featured a review of David S. Roh’s Illegal Literature on the role copyright and content ownership in literary production. As I had previously mentioned, issues of content production and ownership more relevant than ever relative to digitized content and cultures of sharing, remixing, and sampling.
Berry’s review features anecdotes in Hungerford’s text that demonstrate the potential neoliberal institutionalization of literature. For instance, the practice of cross-platform convergence (selling a product across multiple modes or forms) fulfills a purpose of expanding market; in the specific example of the website Small Demons, Hungerford demonstrates that “the cultural capital of well-known novels could be lucratively transferred to the drinks, vintage clothing, antique weapons, and other distinctive objects referenced in their pages.”
Importantly, Berry makes a distinction of what kind of making Hungerford has in mind when it comes to making literature. It is not the creative act of writing that she describes, but rather, the systematic and structural factors in place that shape the production of a text, including networks, “a whole world of circulating labor structures,” and literary institutions, capital, and society.
In this literary churn, we could call it, Hungerford imagines the specificity of these relations as they make (or break) literary texts; again, Berry offers ebr readers memorable examples from Making Literature Now, including the processes involved in putting out the magazine McSweeney’s as well as the “app” novel A Silent History (2014), and the minute politics of production in the texts of lauded authors including Jonathan Safran Foer and David Foster Wallace. Through his negotiation of Hungerford’s examples, Berry offers his own position: the institutional factors surrounding literature’s production are not and must not be the most prominent aspect of how we think of the making of literature.
This month, we feature an interview called “Postcinematic Writing” between the late Adrian Miles (09/19/1960 — 02/05/2018), who was an early and significant figure in the field of electronic literature, and founding ebr publisher Mark Amerika. The interview originally appears in META/DATA: A Digital Poetics, by Mark Amerika (2007), and is re-printed with permission from The MIT Press.
In this interview, Amerika and Miles discuss the start and practice of Miles’ hypertext writing in relation to his video blogging project The Vog Manifesto (2000; revised & expanded 2010). As Amerika describes hypertextual writing in early electronic forms and through early hypertext thinkers, Miles recounts his first use of Storyspace “in ’91 or ’92,” when the possibility of writing with links—along with being inspired by the cinematic experiments of Dziga Vertov—reminded him of the act of fragmented and contingent editing in filmmaking. Yet, he distinguishes hypertextual writing as “always a postcinematic writing” that embraces networks, and relates the practice of vogs in relation to this.
We in the electronic literature community, especially at ebr and ELO, thank Adrian Miles for his wonderful contributions over the years.
Associate Editor and Director of Communications, ebr