My Digital Humanities Origin

In its original draft, this was part of the introduction to my MA thesis.  After some discussion, I ended up pulling this out to keep my thesis more focused on the matters at hand.  I really like what I wrote here so I decided to excerpt it on my domain for my readers.  I wrote this right around this time last year.

Everything I found in electronic literature upon discovery, the intellectual aesthetic and interplay with computers, which had been my cherished companion since childhood, I had been looking, searching, for in my literary studies.  As a child I had played some text adventures, known as interactive fiction, and certainly remember their printed cousins the Choose Your Own Adventure book. I loved how interactive those books were and the agency which readers were given to decide their own fate and reading path.  Growing up, I had a lot of problems with motor development and coordination.  This led to many other problems including very poor penmanship. A wise teacher, when I was in elementary school, suggested my parents buy me a computer. She claimed that I would end up ahead of the curve because personal computers were going to takeover classrooms before I left for college. Wisely, my parents took her advice and purchased an Apple II for me to do my school work on and, because I did not play well with other children, to have an outlet for play and creativity.

Long before I became an avid reader in my teens, my creativity came almost exclusively from computers. Game designer Jane McGonigal’s recent weblog post about her experience creating detailed narratives out of Apple II games that did not already have them like Summer Games brought back memories from my own childhood. I had a similar experience at almost the same time by creating forms in a word processing program with different countries and names. I created brief backgrounds for each character and had them compete against each other on screen. Scandal, same gender romance, athletic achievement, and other intrigues played out in this interpretation of my gaming experience. I would not call that literature, obviously, but I tell this story to show how my creativity was electronically nourished before I embraced print culture later in my teens.

I have been on the Internet since sometime in early 1995. Immediately I became involved with participatory online culture by writing fan fiction, posting to newsgroups and listservs, chatting on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and, on and off, creating journals which nowadays would be called a weblog. At the same time, I published print based punk rock fanzines periodically until 2005 when I began Signifying Nothing, a webzine, archive of my earlier fanzines, and podcast devoted to my endeavors in hardcore punk which continue to this day.

My interest in electronic literature came to fruition while taking a senior seminar on postmodernism with Scott Rettberg in the spring of 2004. While being turned onto writers like Italo Calvino, John Barth, Jorge Luis Borges, and theorists like George Landow, Roland Barthes, and Julia Kristeva I realized that not only were these fiction writers exactly what I had longed for all of my life from literature, but the bridge between literary theory I fell in love with from Kristeva and Barthes, which I had struggled with until this time, and computers which Landow and others like Rettberg himself bridged via their theories was a dream come true. The beginning years of my college career were filled with frustration, failure, and difficulty. The first step of my recovery came when I embraced electronic literature.

Reading hypertext fiction and the theories of Barthes and Kristeva in Rettberg’s seminar improved my readings of previously read authors like Faulkner, Woolf, and Wallace. I began researching electronic literature and exploring the links on Rettberg’s weblog. Through these links I was able to explore the work of other hypertext and New Media theorists like Nick Montfort, Angela Thomas, and Jill Walker. I experimented with and clicked through Rettberg’s hypertext novel, The Unknown, and began actively participating in the sticker novel he authored with Montfort. As the semester wound down, two classmates and myself began our own weblogs, inspired with Rettberg and Walker especially, and I moved mine to its own domain later that summer.

Since the rise of the novel the past few centuries have had some hypertextesque works of literature. Novels like Tristram Shandy, Infinite Jest, and Ulysses can seem to those familiar with the workings of electronic literature to have qualities which “stand out for the first time.” (Landow 1982) When I read Sterne’s novel in an undergraduate course on the history of the novel, I came in one morning and remarked to my professor that the novel had a lot of the qualities of hypertext fiction which I was learning about in Rettberg’s seminar on postmodernism the same semester. Without knowledge of electronic literature I would have never made the connection, which made my reading of Sterne’s novel much more pleasurable. Experimental works of literature like Pavic’s Dictinary Of The Khazars and Nabakov’s Pale Fire also exude qualities which are emphasized by an understanding and familiarity with hypertext and electronic literature.

As Janet Murray argues in Hamlet On The Holodeck: The Future Of Narrative In Cyberspace, “the impending dissolution of Yugoslavia,” in Dictinary Of The Khazars, “is preconfigured by the fragmentary account of a mythical lost tribe” of three separate, conflicting, dictionaries (Murray 37). The “multicursally” seen in Pale Fire has been seen as a branch between not only modernism and postmodernism but as a text that has hypertextesque qualities (Aarseth 8). Writers like Robert Coover, a longtime advocate of electronic literature, Borges, and other postmodernists from France and South America also write literature which embodies many aspects of hypertext fiction.