Rebooting Electronic Literature, Volume 4

Introduction to Rebooting Electronic Literature Volume 4

Introduction to This Volume

This fourth volume of Rebooting Electronic Literature (REL) continues with the Electronic Literature Lab's mission to document born-digital literary works published on floppy disks, CD-ROMs, and other media formats held among the 300 in Dene Grigar's personal collection in the Electronic Literature Lab at Washington State University Vancouver. Since the first volume was published in 2019, this annual publication has provided in-depth information that includes images of the physical media, videos of performances by and interviews with the authors, and scholarly essays for 17 hypertext literary works no longer accessible to the public. This current volume brings that number to 25 titles published between 1988 to 2004. For the most part, these are early hypertext and interactive works created with stand-alone software, like Storyspace, Hypergate, HyperCard, Toolbook, and Macromedia Director, and published before floppy disk and CD-ROM drives disappeared from computers and the rise of mobile media and mainstreaming of cloud technology eliminated the need for physical media formats.

Volume 1 of our series, published in 2018, covers seven works; all but one, Thomas M. Disch’s Amnesia, are publications from Eastgate Systems, Inc. It includes:

Thomas M. Disch’s Amnesia (1986)
Judy Malloy, its name was Penelope (1989-1992)
Sarah Smith’s King of Space (1991)
Mary-Kim Arnold, Lust  (1993)
J. Yellowlees Douglas, I Have Said Nothing (1993)
David Kolb, Socrates in the Labyrinth (1994)
Robert Kendall, A Life Set For Two (1996)
In 2019 we followed Volume 1 with Volume 2, which includes five titles published by Eastgate Systems, Inc.:

Kathryn Cramer, In Small & Large Pieces (1994)
Tim McLaughlin, Notes Toward Absolute Zero (1995)
Deena Larsen, Samplers (1997)
Stephanie Strickland, True North (1997)
Richard Holeton, Figurski at Findhorn on Acid (2001)
In 2020, we published Volume 3 presenting five more works published by Eastgate Systems, Inc., beginning with the first to have been published on Storyspace software and ending with the most recent:

Michael Joyce’s afternoon, a story (1987-2016)
Stuart Moulthrop’s Victory Garden (1991)
M. D. Coverley’s Califia (2000)
Megan Heyward’s of day, of night (2004)
Mark Bernstein’s Those Trojan Girls (2016)
In Volume 4, readers will find these Eastgate Systems, Inc.'s titles:

Eric Steinhart's Fragments of the Dionysian Body (1997)
Michael Joyce, Twilight, A Symphony (1996)
Deena Larsen's Marble Springs 1.0 (1993)
Carolyn Guyer's Quibbling (1992)
Mark Bernstein and Erin Sweeny's The Election of 1912 (1988)
Robert DiChiara's A Sucker in Spades (1988)
Richard Smyth's Genetis: A Rhizography (1996)
Kathy Mac's Unnatural Habitats (1994)

If to these lists we add to that number the four that Dene Grigar and Stuart Moulthrop documented in Pathfinders—Judy Malloy’s Uncle Roger (1986-88); John McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse (1992); Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl (1995); and Bill Bly’s We Descend (1997)—then, we can say that Rebooting Electronic Literature Volume 4 takes us more than halfway to our goal of documenting all of Eastgate Systems, Inc.'s titles.

At the heart of our project is the impetus to make fragile and inaccessible works freely accessible to scholars. Because works published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. are covered by copyright, they cannot legally be made available as emulations. The Pathfinders methodology that Grigar and Moulthrop developed [1] follows Fair Use rules. It also introduces the notion of "human-centered" experiences by providing video documentation of play-throughs of the work by authors and readers on hardware and software on which the work was created or intended to be originally read—a process called a "Traversal" [2]—along with photos of the physical media, interviews with authors, author bios, and other useful information that helps scholars and readers experience the works and understand their contributions to literary and cultural history.

About the Works

The eight works included in this volume of Rebooting Electronic Literature represent a diverse sample of what Eastgate Systems Inc. published from the late 1980s through the late 1990s. The eight works also represent three different authoring softwares—HyperCard (Marble Springs 1.0), Hypergate (The Election of 1912, A Sucker in Spades) and Eastgate's more popular Storyspace software (Fragments of the Dionysian Body, Unnatural Habitats, Quibbling, Genetis: A Rhizography, and Twilight, A Symphony.)

Our first chapter, documenting Eric Steinhart's Fragments of the Dionysian Body (1997), discusses a non-fiction hypertext work that operates in conjunction with a non-fiction print work: Friedrich Nietzsche's The Gay Science. Fragments of the Dionysian Body offers a reader the ability to navigate through Nietzsche's philosophical system and engage with his thought through images, hypertext links, and hierarchical lists, ultimately presenting the content of The Gay Science as well as Steinhart's interpretation of it in a way that "bridges form and content" in the words of Anna Nacher, the scholar who Traversed the work. Form and content are bridged because the multiple readings and relational paths offered by hypertext reflect the relational and perspectivist philosophy of Nietzsche, and along the way Fragments of the Dionysian Body makes a strong argument for hypertext as unique pedagogical tool.

The second chapter covers Michael Joyce's Twilight, A Symphony (1996), the hypertext novel that followed his field-defining hypertext work afternoon, a story (1987). Twilight, A Symphony continues Joyce's exploration with hypertext and the Storyspace software, expanding its possibilities as a platform for multimedia content of image, sound, and movement. Often described as an elegy, Twilight, A Symphony is a deeply lyrical and meditative work that makes significant use of Storyspace's map mode and the new affordances available in 1996 to hypertext writers. Although not as well-known as its predecessor, afternoon, a story, it represents a continued elaboration on the themes and tropes that Joyce used hypertext to confront: death, love, and ambiguity. 

Chapter three documents Deena Larsen's Marble Springs 1.0 (1993), a work written in HyperCard that examines the historical situation of women in a 19th-century Colorado mining town, both telling their stories and investigating the nature of historical knowledge and narratives. Using a map interface and a series of linked poems, Larsen's work brings the reader into the sprawling world of a town called Marble Springs and the inner lives of a diverse cast of characters. Leveraging the structural affordances and navigational processes of interface and software to offer readers a participatory and immersive experience, Marble Springs combines the use of hypertext for in-depth historical investigation with its capacity for lyricism and interactivity.

The fourth chapter dives into Carolyn Guyer's Quibbling (1992), a hypertext novel by the woman frequently cited as "the mother of feminist hypertext fiction." The work uses the hypertext form to capture the back-and-forths, ambiguities, and complications that emerge in human relationships—specifically those between women and men. Quibbling, which is set along the shores of the Great Lakes, is also deeply concerned with the motion of waves which functions as a multivalent metaphor in the text for human interactions, narration, and hypertext itself. Guyer masterfully deploys hypertext to investigate the stories we tell about ourselves to ourselves and those we hold nearest, attentively documenting the gaps, anxieties, and tangled relations that grow within them.

Chapter five features The Election of 1912 (1988), the first work written with the Hypergate software and published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. The Election of 1912 is subtitled "a hypertext study of the Progressive era" and is co-authored by Mark Bernstein, who helms the company and wrote the Hypergate software, and Erin Sweeney, who conducted the research on the election. A non-fiction text, The Election of 1912 includes direct quotes from primary documents of the era, images, sound, written analysis, a simulation, and a game element that allows the user to stage alternate histories about the election. The work offers a compelling argument for the use of hypertext and other "hot media" in the teaching and investigation of history, standing as a landmark in the early development of Eastgate Systems and as a promise of what was to come.

Chapter six discusses the second work published with the Hypergate software, Robert DiChiara's A Sucker in Spades (1988). Based on a "choose-your-own-adventure" story published in Hard-Boiled three years prior, A Sucker in Spades instantiates this structure as a hypertext that also resembles an asset management game. The player/reader is addressed directly by the text using the second-person pronoun "you," and plays a Sam Spade-esque private eye tracking down clues to crack a case. Participating in the rich tradition of American detective fiction and film noir, A Sucker in Spades is a detective-adventure game that takes advantage of its place on the screen to reach a reader swiftly and directly.

In chapter seven, we turn our attention to Richard Smyth's Genetis: A Rhizography (1996), a work that weaves together five different "plateaus" of discourse ("Myth," "Parable," "Allegory," "Legend," and "Theory") to work through the experience of psychosis. At various turns a personal memoir, a postmodern theoretical text, and a fairy tale, Genetis uses the Storyspace software to link together strands of experience in various "memorypaths" shaped like the DNA helix, opening onto a textual landscape that is as emotionally raw as it is intellectually engaged. As a close-up investigation of mental illness and an inquiry into the capacity of hypertext, art, and theory to offer answers and solace, Genetis: A Rhizography pushes the form forward.

Chapter eight concludes Rebooting Electronic Literature, Volume 4 by investigating Kathy Mac's Unnatural Habitats (1993), a linked series of poems that discuss the doings of humans in a variety of "unnatural habitats" ranging from spacecrafts to submarines. Spanning across the twentieth century, from early aviation through the Apollo flights to the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic, Unnatural Habitats examines human history, hubris, and habitus through the physical spaces we place ourselves in. Throughout the work, Mac is deeply attentive to the sound of language and its spatial arrangement on the screen, evoking breath and spirals through the placement of nodes in the work's map mode and consonants in the lines of the poems. Unnatural Habitats continues the investigations of history and the spatial arrangement of text which characterize the other works included in this book, offering a compelling and open-ended examination of who we are and the strange things we do in the name of progress.

The Production of This Book

This volume is unique in the series in that most of its production was undertaken primarily by two of the lab's post-baccs, and its essays were written by several scholars working in the lab. Also contributing are Holly Slocum, the lab's designer and project manager, and Greg Philbrook, the lab's technical assistant. Dene Grigar, the lab's Director served as copy-editor. 

Post-bacc Kathleen Zoller has long been the lab's Scalar expert and co-author in other books in this series. Additionally, she authored her own Scalar book, The Progressive Dinner Party Restored, funded by a WSU Summer Undergraduate Fellowship in 2019. In spring 2021 she graduated with her B.A. in Digital Technology & Culture. Aidan Walker came to the lab from Reed College where he graduated with a B. A. in English in the spring 2021. He was funded to work on this book through a grant from Reed College, supported in part by The Paul K. Richter & Evalyn Elizabeth Cook Richter Memorial Fund.

Essays have been written by Grigar and the lab's Research Affiliates, Mariusz Pisarski and Astrid Ensslin, both of whom led Traversals during the year. Also contributing an essay is Aidan Walker, whose Reed thesis on electronic literature was honored as the best in the Division of Literature and Languages. Performing in the Traversal of Eric Steinhart's Fragments of a Dionysian Body was Polish scholar Anna Nacher, who was a Fulbright Scholar conducting research at Winona State University in Minnesota and paid a visit during that time to our lab. We appreciate her contribution to this volume.

We thank all of these people for their contributions to this volume of Rebooting Electronic Literature.  

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