Entanglements: an exploration of the digital literary work FISHNETSTOCKINGS

Literary Lures

What drew us to this piece


I have always loved mermaids and always wanted to write about them. I am finally starting a book about contemporary (21st-century) mermaid narratives. My friend, Mark Marino, brought this particular mermaid narrative to my attention… and I was, well, hooked. Last year, during the tumult of COVID, I knew I wanted to participate in the ELO conference– to be part of the community I adore and admire– even as I was grieving the fact that the conference would be online. Mark proposed putting together a panel, but I was deeply submerged in mermaid research. I couldn’t imagine coming up for air. He introduced me to a digital mermaid work, FISHNETSTOCKINGS, and suggested that we pursue a similar approach to what we did with Jeremy Douglass, when we collaboratively wrote Reading Project – i.e., that we take a single work of electronic literature and invite different scholars, working from different theoretical positions, to approach it. I knew immediately that I wanted to hear from Melody Jue, whose Wild Blue Media shook my terrestrial paradigms; Diana Leong, my new colleague at SDSU, was changing the way I thought about mermaids through her focus on race and environmental humanities: Are mermaids always white? Nope! Are mermaid stories actually about larger, ecological contexts and situations? Absolutely. I wanted to learn new ways to approach a figure/symbol/image/sign that I always loved but never truly understood. The 2021 ELO panel was the platform for that initial study.


I am a newcomer to both mermaids and electronic literature, but thanks to the enthusiasm and expertise of my collaborators Jessica Pressman, Mark Marino, and Melody Jue, I became fascinated with how FISHNETSTOCKINGS utilizes multiple mediums to “recode” the story of the mermaid. My approach to this piece was formed out of two discoveries: a July 2020 incident in which the words “racist fish” were spray painted onto Copenhagen’s famous “Little Mermaid” statue, and the growing body of scholarship on race and the digital humanities. While race is a relatively new concern for both mermaids and e-lit, I was struck by how FISHNETSTOCKINGS evokes the operations of racial fetishism through its oceanic setting, mermaid silhouettes, and disruption of gendered expectations. As they recode the mermaid’s identifying features (e.g., gender, species, narrative history), participants must subtly and simultaneously reckon with the racial histories that converge in the mermaid silhouette, or more precisely, in the silhouettes-turned-stereotypes. In this sense, “how” the mermaid becomes newly meaningful (i.e., a re-negotiation of mermaid stereotypes) becomes inseparable from and integral to “what” it means (i.e., the shift in the viewer’s perspective). Thanks to my brilliant colleagues, I am excited to explore further all that mermaids and e-lit have to offer to studies of race and power.


As has happened in the past, my colleague and friend Jessica Pressman led me to this piece. Well, she led me into the waters. With her fascination, both scholarly and personal (assuming those two parts of a person can be separated, like a mermaid from her tail), she pointed toward these enduring and multiform myths.  We both shared an interest in the oceans and ecocriticism. Then, she led me to Diana and Melody.  But I had a personal interest in this particular object of study,

In the summer of 2014, my family and I had the pleasure of visiting the green screen lab where artist Joellyn Rock was working on this fantastic creation. I had already participated in the work over Twitter as one of the people submitting lines through the various hashtags of the piece, but I had not had a chance to experience the wonders of submersion and immersion in it.  Sort of like reading about the ocean but never getting to go in for a swim.  And when I saw it: Θάλαττα! θάλαττα! My children loved it, too, perhaps a more perfect age for experiencing the wondrous interaction with the digital undersea creatures.  They can be seen in the video documentation.

So when we had the chance to pick a work for ELO 2021, FISHNETSTOCKINGS came to mind.  And, as before with William Poundstone's Project for Tachistoscope, our group dives brought us to treasures untold. 


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