Currents in Electronic Literacy

E-Poetics, E-Criticism, and Accessibility

by Roger Rouland,
Currents' Coordinating Editor

  1. In this issue, Currents in Electronic Literacy examines some exciting currents in electronic literature. More specifically, as the title of our special topic suggests, this issue explores electronic poetry--a.k.a. e-poetry--and considers whether this poetry proffers a new poetics (be that a singular or plural poetics). The responses from our contributors to our query--E-Poetry: New Poetics(?)--are embodied in a variety of electronic forms and espouse a wide range of views reflective of the diversity of e-literature and e-criticism.

  2. In "A Quick Buzz around the Universe of Electronic Poetry," e-poet Deena Larsen launches the exploration of our topic by guiding us on a tour which surveys the multifaceted landscape of electronic literature. The "Quick Buzz" features numerous tour stops at e-poetry Web sites, illustrating in part the depth and breadth of e-poets' work. "The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls" by M. D. Coverley then examines a different side of e-literature: the temporal nature of electronic works resulting from the often ephemeral qualities of the technology which both enables e-poetry and e-fiction and poses specific hazards for e-writers. For that writer, Coverley finds, "annihilation" of an e-work may be only one technological upgrade away. "Sea Whispers," a fine example of an e-poem by Larsen, illustrates one of the many distinct forms which e-poetry embodies. (As with Coverley's "Mirror," we publish here the accessible version of "Sea Whispers"; the two e-writers' original works are discussed, contrasted with the accessible versions, and linked to in their op-ed pieces in our issue's final section.) And in our own Currents' survey of "E-Poets on the State of Their Electronic Art," we feature the views of 11 e-writers prominent in the various facets of their field. Among the eight questions to which they respond is this: "What aesthetic is emerging" in e-poetry?

  3. This issue also takes a theoretical look at electronic literature and the nature of the critical essay on the Web. Our second section, Articles: Hyperliterature and Links, considers Web-based literature and criticism in juxtaposition to their paper-based counterparts with interesting results: in sum, our contributors find that formal features are enduring (not necessarily a positive or critically enhancing non-development) concurrently with the emergence of new aesthetics, or a need for a new approach to aesthetics. "Reading Time: For a Poetics of Hypermedia Writing" by Bill Marsh examines the manner in which current technologies create and distribute e-literature and the relationship of traditional reading practices to e-texts; Marsh concludes with some suggestions on how criticism might best accommodate the evolution of electronic literature. Adrian Miles' "Realism and a General Economy of the Link" likewise treats the issue of criticism's accommodation to the Web and as a text itself stands in stark contrast to the canonical form of academic prose. In his "academic hypertext essay"--a self-acknowledged "experiment" in which content for the reader is at least in part dependent upon form--Miles explores the value of the "open" critical text and the value of the link informing that openness. This section of Currents closes with "Don't Believe the Hype: Rereading Michael Joyce's Afternoon and Twelve Blue" by Anthony Enns, who considers the similarities between the formal features of traditional and hypertext narratives and what new type of criticism might best be suited to discern real and particular differences between the two modes of the narrative genre.

  4. In our final section, Opinions: E-Literature and Accessibility, we return to "Sea Whispers" and "The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls" and revisit part of their processes of creation, the making of these two pieces in "accessible" versions. In their respective op-ed pieces, Coverley and Larsen discuss with frankness their work doing this, and, from their vantage points as e-writers, the advantages and disadvantages of doing so. Our issue concludes with the views of Currents' General Editor John Slatin, who worked closely with both Larsen and Coverley in their endeavors to facilitate the evolution of their works to accessible form.

  5. Former Currents' readers will readily note that with this issue we are debuting a new look. Ironically, perhaps, the site now appears more reminiscent of a paper academic journal (and perhaps this speaks to the very debate some of our contributors engage: the continuation of traditional forms concurrent with, and in our case, merging with, the emergence of new forms). Our goal was to reinforce the academic integrity of our publication, and, at the same time, make it more appealing for readers to, in Web-fashion, join the discussion as participants and continue the text of the issue as writers. We've intentionally placed directly below our logo (a logo which previous readers will note remains the same) links to our issue-specific E-Poetry Discussion Forum and Electronic Literature Links. The forum is intended for readers to continue--as contributors themselves--what contributors began, to keep the text of this issue open and under discussion. Likewise, the Electronic Literature Links is an open add-link page, a place where you as reader are invited to add relevant Web sites to the list.

  6. Finally, a note about our own editorial discoveries: These discoveries are very much related to the content of this issue and the form of its various contributions, and they suggest that with the evolution of e-lit and e-crit, "e-criteria" for what constitutes a critical essay requires a flexibility which accounts for both the message being conveyed and the range of technological possibilities for conveying that message. Moreover, the technology, as e-poetry with its use of multimedia aptly illustrates, is not just a vehicle for transmission; it often enables a fuller expression of what is being transmitted. Likewise, a critical essay is no longer simply text with a few links to relevant Web sites and a Works Cited thrown in for flavor--the hyptertextual and the multimedia potential for the academic article are not only being realized but are also expanding our understanding of what that article is treating, even if it is only treating self-reflexively the text which it presents. This e-merging academic essay, along with accessibility priorities necessary to keep the promise that plurality preaches, poses challenges for editors of e-journals. We hope with all sincerity that we've met with a degree of integrity those challenges. And, at the same time, we realize that for an e-journal, re-vision will follow.

Please cite this article as Currents in Electronic Literacy Fall 2001 (5),