Entanglements: an exploration of the digital literary work FISHNETSTOCKINGS

Ocean as Interface -- Mermaids in and for E-Lit


The mermaid draws attention to platforms. The surface of the ocean is her interface, and her movement across it challenges notions of boundaries, platforms, and positionality. Skype Anicca describes the mermaid as a mestiza, “a quintessential border crosser.” And, in her history of the Siren--- the original bird imagery from which the half-fish, half-human evolves -- Meri Lao explains: “Above all, the Sirens are a hybrid: half woman, half animal—….; perpetually provocative and disturbing” (11).  Precisely because the image of the mermaid is always in flux, it is important to trace her locations and transformations, so that we can understand when, how and why the mermaid means.

Early electronic literature hypertexts found inspiration and positionality in the aquatic and mermaid-like. Indeed, the ocean is an important part of the history and symbolism of the Web—think, “web surfing”—and also titles of my favorite hypertexts from the 90s: These Waves of Girls, Disappearing Rain, Water Writes Plural, Twelve Blue. (See this path on Fellow Fish.)

Mermaids are poetic symbols and formal devices that signal transformations in media, especially the media of storytelling.  When mermaids emerge, they signify significant changes in the materiality of literary production and reception: oral, print, digital, and all in between. They illuminate, and thus offer opportunities to examine the twinned fears and desires that accompany changes in cultural and literary experience. It thus makes sense that they are of importance to electronic literature and its history. 

The mermaid appears when contingencies change, when media platforms shift, and when cultures begin to react to these transformations. So we can look to the mermaid to recognize shifting contexts for knowledge production and meaning-making. That is one reason, I argue in my current book project, that mermaids are resurfacing now. We are in the midst of much cultural, medial, political, and environmental change, and we once again need (and deeply want) mermaids.

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