Caitlin Fisher

10:00 AM, Wednesday 15 Aug 2018 (1 hour)

My comments for this panel will focus on what I have long experienced as a tension in electronic literature between a desire to push electronic forms to their limits, in the tradition of the avant-garde, and catering to the existing literacies and pleasure of readers and listeners, particularly with regard to closure. I used to joke that my early texts of jouissance – mostly intricate vast sandboxes without recognizable beginnings and middles and ends (except those hammered on after the fact because, well, the old cd-roms had to open somewhere and at that time I had no idea how to randomize) – quickly gave way to works that in many ways sacrificed the experimental in favour of clearer pathways, longer, more self-contained lexias and even – horrors - table of contents.

As a writer, I dreamed of guard fields ... as a listener I was the horrified person at the back of the auditorium realizing that the algorithmically-generated poetry could, in fact, go on forever and surely, having realized that (in the spirit of Jane Yellowlees Douglas), I should be released from the room. Later, tables turned when my own writing became physically spatial – augmented reality sandbox installations with no starting objects, no pathways, no time limits and no natural ending and I remained haunted by the likelihood of unpleasurable and non-sensical encounters with my texts. And what did it meant for readers to spend three minutes in a VR piece with an hour audio runtime?... as if seeing that the thing worked constituted a satisfying enough ending.

But does it, for a literary piece? The moment that concretizes this tension for me is the moment of stepping on stage as an author to perform e-lit works. In my early hypertext days I would open choice up to the floor... beginnings, middles and ends all random. But we understand that while all encounters with texts like these are valid... they are not equally satisfying. So, later? Knowing that in a short space of time with no re-reading, with no hope of hitting all the content ... I sacrificed some of the best, and most promising features of electronic writing in favour of catering to existing literacies and always – easily – decided on at least a good beginning and a good end (and sometimes even a full director’s cut with preferred loops and re-readings): a reading on rails. I see risking narrative pleasure by reading on rails as risking some of the great potential of electronic literature. Even so – barreling into unpleasure loses its charm... and I see providing clear endings as a potent intermediary concession and a performance of a powerful way to approach electronic literature: a gift of one satisfying encounter with the world of the text that holds within it the promise of multiple and surprising others.

York University

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