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Electronic Literature

Davidson College
EdX course
(2015)
Dr. Mark Sample

Table of Contents
1.What is electronic literature?.............................................................................................................3
1.1.The affordances of books...........................................................................................................3
1.2.Randomness...............................................................................................................................4
1.3.Love letters................................................................................................................................5
1.4.How do you read?......................................................................................................................6
2.Five Elements of Digital Literature ..................................................................................................8
2.1.The idea of a dysfunctional........................................................................................................9
3.The sublime.....................................................................................................................................11
3.1.The rules of reading.................................................................................................................12
3.2.The essential properties of digital environments.....................................................................13
3.3.Databased storytelling..............................................................................................................14
4.The House of Dust...........................................................................................................................16
4.1.Computer Poems......................................................................................................................17
4.2.Bots..........................................................................................................................................18
5.Interactive fiction.............................................................................................................................21
5.1.What counts as complex interaction fiction?...........................................................................22
6.Preserving electronic literature........................................................................................................24
6.1.Port-ject....................................................................................................................................25

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1. What is electronic literature?
Electronic literature is literature that is born digitally, a literary work designed on a computer
meant to be "read" on a computer.
I'm using these quotes around read because some of the works we'll look at aren't exactly readable.
Maybe you play them. Maybe they're performed. Maybe look at them more than read them. Maybe
there illegible. And you know, we probably should have air quotes around the word, computer, too.
A literary work designed on a computer meant to be read on a "computer".
Because I say computer, and you probably think a Mac, or a PC, or a Unix machine. But e-lit
extends beyond hulking desktops and sleek laptops. The computers I'm talking about here are
really computing devices And this includes smartphones and tablets, even calculators and watches.
And this is the crazy thing. Computers and phones at all shapes and sizes are a familiar part of
everyday life, while e-lit made for those very same computers and phones is alien to most of us. In
fact, I've often described electronic literature as a foreign land.
Even to readers accustomed to difficult novels and experimental poetry, electronic literature can
seem strange, incomprehensible, inscrutable. It helps, I think, to situate e-lit within a context that
readers find more familiar. That's why this week we're talking about books, just plain old books,
exploring what makes books unique as a form of technology.
One, stop interrupting me and two, yeah. Books count as technology, a technology that encourages
certain kinds of interactions and practices and discourages other kinds of interactions and
practices.

1.1. The affordances of books

Affordance is a fancy word that simply means the way the physical form of the book structures,
shapes, and limits what can be done with that form.
The work of Matthew Kirschenbaum, suggests that there's at least five affordances of a bound book:
First, books can be accessed both sequentially and randomly.
We read novels front to back one page at the time, but there's nothing about books that says they

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must be read that way. Think of a dictionary, which we can rifle through quickly, flipping from the
A's to J's in an instant.
Second, books are volumetric.
That is, they are three-dimensional objects in physical space. They have heft, depth, thickness. We
can measure our progress in the book simply by looking at where the bookmark is.
The third affordance Kirchenbaum identifies is that books are finite.
They don't go on forever. That seems obvious. But in fact, it's so obvious that we take it for granted.
While this affordance may seem like a limitation, and it can be, it also makes books distinctively
different from, say, a newspaper or the web.
Fourth, books offer us, especially when they're opened, a comparative visual space.
You have the right and left pages. The proper terms are recto and verso. And writers and artists and
designers have taken great advantage of this variable space. Comics are an everyday example of the
comparative visual space of books at work. But since the early days of the codex well before the
rise of the printing press, this comparative visual space was a signature feature of books.
Finally, books are readable.
Of course, we know that, but they're also writable. We can write in books, underline words,
highlight passages, draw in the margins, even blot out entire pages.

1.2. Randomness

We tend to think about randomness as an element of games -- poker, roulette, slot machines, and of
course, board games. But randomness has a rich history in arts and literature. Artists, composers,
and writers have long used chance operations to create unpredictable, provocative, and
occasionally nonsensical work.
Jackson Mac Low similarly used random numbers to generate his poetry, in particular, relying on a
book called A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviants to supply him with the
random numbers. Published by the Rand Corporation in 1955 to supply Cold War scientists with
random numbers to use in statistical modeling, the book is, in fact, still in print.

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A key aspect of randomness is the need to reuse random numbers, so that, say you're running a
simulation of nuclear fusion, you can repeat the simulation with the same random numbers. That is,
the same probability, while testing for some other variable. In fact, most of the early work on
random number generation in the United States was funded by either the US Atomic Commission or
the US military.
The Cold War moved randomness from the roulette table to the H bomb. In this section of the
course, we're going to look at two works of e-lit that straddle this divide of play and war; two
works of e-lit that arose directly from Cold War technology.

1.3. Love letters

Written by a computer in 1952. They were generated by a computer program written by Christopher
Strachey, a close friend of Alan Turing. The critic, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, suggests that Strachey's
love letter generator is likely the first work of electronic literature.
The platform for these purplish prose letters was the Ferranti Mark I computer, the first
commercially available computer at Manchester University in England.
Affectionately known as M. U. C., the Manchester University Computer could produce these love
letters at a pace of one per minute for hours on end without producing a duplicate.
The trick, as Strachey put it in a 1954 essay about the program, is it's two template sentences, kind
of like Mad Libs.
One sentence follows this format-- "my", adjective, noun, adverb, verb, "your", adjective, noun.
And the other sentence is, "you are my", adjective, noun.
The computer randomly selects the noun, adjectives, and adverbs from a list of words Strachey had
culled from a thesaurus. Adverbs and adjectives randomly drop out of a sentence as well, and the
computer randomly alternates the two sentences.
In his masterful study of both the generator and its historical context, Noah Wardrip-Fruin
calculates that given there are 31 possible adjectives after the first sentence's opening possessive
pronoun, my, and then 20 possible nouns that could occupy the following slot, the first three words
of the sentence alone have 899 possibilities. And the entire sentence has over 424 million
combinations.

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On the whole, Strachey was publicly dismissive of his foray into the literary use of computers. In
his 1954 essay, which appeared in the prestigious transatlantic arts and culture journal, Encounter-a journal, it would be revealed in the late 1960s, that was primarily funded by the CIA-- Strachey
used the example of the love letters to illustrate his point that simple rules can generate
diverse and unexpected results.

1.4. How do you read?

How do you make meaning out of something like Christopher Strachey's love letter generator?
Well, some might say, you don't. There's nothing there beyond the bad writing on the screen.
I disagree. For one thing, the love letters are so overwrought that you can't help but think about
them as parody, as making fun of the whole enterprise of writing love letters, especially when you
have a computer doing it.
This is the literary view the critic Noah Wardrip-Fruin takes. And there are at least three other
ways to read the love letter generator.
First, we could take a biographical approach and consider Strachey's personal life as a gay man in
England in the 1950s who is friends with another gay man, Alan Turing. And Turing, don't forget,
literally wrote the manual for the Ferranti Mark 1 computer that Strachey used. Seen through this
lens, there's a queer reading we might make of the love letter generator.
Or we could shift gears entirely and instead of focusing on the humans in the story, we could think
about the machine. This is what some scholars might call a "media archaeological approach," in
which we examine older forms of technology as an archaeologist might examine ancient ruins or
artifacts. Media archaeology would ask the same questions we asked of books earlier this week.
What were the affordances of the Ferranti Mark 1 that made it particularly well-suited for
generating millions of distinct love letters?
Most obviously, the Mark 1 had a built-in hardware-based random number generator, a feature that
Alan Turing himself had specifically requested.
And finally, we can think about the love letter generator as one point in a constellation of other

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artistic and literary experimentation with randomness, combinations, and permutations. There's a
genre of combinatory poetry and literature and the love letter generator is part of that genre. The
poet Charles Hartman has observed that randomness has long been the most notable feature
computers contribute to poetry. I'm not exactly sure what to call this approach to making meaning
out of Strachey's program, maybe the generic lens or the procedural lens.

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2. Five Elements of Digital Literature
by
Noah Wardrip-Fruin
Data. This includes text, images, sound files, specifications of story grammars, declarative
information about fictional worlds, tables of statistics about word frequencies, and so on. It also
includes instructions to the reader (who may also be an interactor), including those that specify
processes to be carried out by the reader.
Processes. These are actually carried out by the work, and are central to many efforts in the field
(especially those proceeding from a computer science perspective). As Chris Crawford puts it:
"processing data is the very essence of what a computer does." Nevertheless, processes are optional
for digital literature (e.g., many email narratives carry out no processes within the work) as well as
for ergodic literature and cybertext (in which all the effort and calculation may be on the reader's
part).
Interaction. This is change to the state of the work, for which the work was designed, that comes
from outside the work. For example, when a reader reconfigures a combinatory text (rather than this
being performed by the work's processes) this is interaction. Similarly, when the work's processes
accept input from outside the work-whether from the audience or other sources. This is a feature of
many popular genres of digital literature, but it is again optional for digital literature and cybertext
(e.g., Tale-Spin falls into both categories even when not run interactively) and for ergoilic literature
as well (given that the page exploration involved in reading Apollinaire's poems qualifies them as
ergoilic). However, it's important to note that cybertext requires calculation somewhere in the
production of scriptons--either via processes or interaction.
Surface. The surface of a work of digital literature is what the audience experiences: the output of
the processes operating on the data, in the context of the physical hardware and setting, through
which any audience interaction takes place. No work that reaches an audience can do so without a
surface, but some works are more tied to particular surfaces than others (e.g., installation works),
and some (e.g., email narratives) make audience selections (e.g., one's chosen email reader) a
detennining part of their context.

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Context. Once there is a work and an audience, there is always context so this isn't optional.
Context is important for interpreting any work, but digital literature calls us to consider types of
context (e.g., intra-audience communication and relationships in an :MJ\10 fiction) that print-based
literature has had to confront less often.

2.1. The idea of a dysfunctional
Things that don't work, or at least don't work how we expect them to. The broken, the broken down,
the broken apart. A number of art critics have noted that contemporary artists have a fascination
with the dysfunctional. Digital artists and e-lit writers share this preoccupation with dysfunction,
maybe because we've all experienced a computer crash or a cracked phone screen.
The critic Marie Lohr Ryan identifies four types of dysfunctionality that digital artist have explored.
There is political dysfunctionality, in which a deliberate disruption or even sabotage makes a
political statement.
There's ludic dysfunctionality, which is a more playful subversion of technology, meant to
awaken us to new possibilities, new uses for the technology. Ludic comes from the Latin word for
sports and play, ludus.
Ryan's third category is experimental dysfunctionality, which takes ludic dysfunctionality into
more theoretical territory. The goal with experimental dysfunctionality is not parody or satire so
much as it is to imagine dysfunctionality as the groundwork or foundation for a new kind of
functionality.
Finally there's what Ryan calls inadvertent dysfunctionality. This occurs by accident when there's
a glitch in the system or a bad design in the interface or just a mistake. In literature, for example,
inadvertent dysfunctionality can occur when there is a mistranslation or printing error.
This week, we're going to look at several works that deal with dysfunctionality. To what ends are
these works dysfunctional? Are they political, ludic? Does their dysfunctionality have been an
aesthetic or expressive purpose at all? So, as we explore them, think about Ryan's categories. She

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admits that they're fuzzy and subjective. And is it possible that dysfunction, like beauty, is in the eye
of the beholder?

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3. The sublime
Edmund Burke, Kant, Heidegger-- they and many others have pondered the sublime. For these
thinkers, the sublime is a moment or a place in nature that overwhelms our senses, overwhelms our
reason, with vastness or chaos. Kant speculated that there were two forms of sublime experiences-the mathematical sublime and the dynamic sublime.
The mathematical sublime is an encounter with sheer magnitude-- immeasurable, unthinkable
expanses or quantities-- herds of bison extending across the plains to the horizon, gigantic chasms
in the earth of the Grand Canyon, the magisterial view from a mountain top. These are all examples
of the mathematical sublime.
The dynamic sublime, is an encounter with a chaotic natural force, provoking a kind of short-lived
horror that reason eventually reigns in-- Niagara Falls, a volcanic eruption, a powerful
thunderstorm. What separates the sublime from terror, in these cases, is the feeling that we'll
ultimately be safe.
The mathematical sublime makes us feel infinitesimally small. And the dynamic sublime makes us
feel helplessly fragile. And they both fill us with astonishment.
For centuries the sublime has been associated with nature. But the cultural historian David Nye
argues that, with the rise of industrialization, there is another kind of sublime encounter that
generates a similar sense of awe and astonishment. Nye calls it, the technological sublime. The
Hoover Dam is a classic example of the technological sublime. But, so is a mushroom cloud and the
moonshot. When developers across the globe race to build the next world's tallest skyscraper,
they're not just trying to get in the record books. They're pushing the limits of the technological
sublime.
The technological sublime is probably more familiar to us than any of the natural wonders that
Cotton had in mind 225 years ago. In fact, technology changes so quickly, that what was
technologically sublime a short time ago, is now run-of-the-mill. For this reason, writers and artists
in the digital world have often sought to use technology to provoke these older sensations of the
sublime, fear, powerlessness, awe. An example, that marries the technological sublime with a

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dynamic sublime, is John Simon's computer artwork, Every Icon. Released in 1997 and still
running, Every Icon is a 32 by 32 grid, the same dimensions as the original Macintosh desktop icon.
The program is slowly working through every possible black and white icon available in that 32 by
32 grid, row by row, column by column. How long could this possibly take? Running at about 100
icons per second, it took four and a half years for the first cell of the second row to switch on for the
first time. The second line will take 5.85 billion years to complete. The Sun will burn out before the
last cell on the third line is finally lit. That is the mathematical sublime. A number so great that it's
easier to imagine the death of the solar system, than wrap our heads around the number itself.
The mathematical sublime is an ideal fit for computers, as it's their very nature to deal with numbers
beyond human comprehension. But, the dynamic sublime can be evoked as well. Is there an e-lit
equivalent to a mountaintop with stunning views? Let's find out.

3.1. The rules of reading
The literary scholar, Peter Rabinowitz, outlined decades ago in a book called Before Reading. In
Before Reading, Rabinowitz tries to explain and explore all the things that go on in readers heads
before they even start to read. In other words, what kind of assumptions, conventions, and
interpretive tendencies do readers bring to the text they read. Rabinowitz was primarily interested in
novels, but I'd like to think about his ideas in relationship to electronic literature. Rabinowitz
proposes four so-called "rules of reading". These aren't rules in the sense of strict regulations.
They're more like unspoken assumptions, a kind of invisible contract between authors and readers,
the protocols that readers apply to texts, and the protocols that authors can expect readers to apply
to texts. So what are these four rules?
Well, first are rules of notice. What do readers notice in a text? What do authors want readers to
notice in a text? Some elements of a text are more important than other elements. Titles, for
example, are privileged. First and last sentences are privileged, as well. Readers will pay more
attention, pay more notice to the first sentence of a novel than some random sentence 73 pages in.
Next, are rules of signification. These are the conventions that guide us toward recognizing the
meaning of the details we do notice. Knowing when to read a detail metaphorically, for example, is
a rule of signification. And so is knowing when not to read something metaphorically.

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The third rule is the rule of configuration. How do we configure all the details we're picking up as
we read into a coherent picture? Rules of configuration help us to figure out what genre a text
belongs to. If we encounter a dead body in chapter one on a train full of possible suspects, we will
assume the novel is a murder mystery and not science fiction. And knowing what literary genre a
text belongs to will affect our rules of notice. We pay attention to different details in a mystery
novel than in a science fiction novel.
Finally, there are the rules of coherence. As Rabinowitz puts it, the rules of coherence suggests
that, quote, "We should read a text in such a way that it becomes the best text possible. We should
expect the fictional world to hang together. And when it doesn't, to take that as something worth
noticing and even making sense out of".

3.2. The essential properties of digital environments
The technological home were e-lit is born and raised. One of the early critics to think seriously
about the future of literature in a new media world was Janet Murray, who in the mid-1990s
published Hamlet on the Holodeck. That title is a reference, of course, to the holodeck in Star Trek
The Next Generation, which was on the air at the time. Murray describes what she calls four
essential properties of digital environments. Like the essential properties of books, these four
properties deal with the form of new media, and they stand entirely apart from the content.
According to Murray, digital environments are procedural, participatory, spatial, and encyclopedic.
Let's think about each of these more closely for a minute.
Procedural. This means digital environments are rule-based. They follow a set of instructions-- the
computer code that makes them possible even when the digital environment makes use of
randomness like the Strachey love letter generator. That randomness is still generated through a
defined process.
Next, digital environments are participatory. They respond to input or feedback. Many times they
even demand participation, and won't work without it.
Third, digital environments are spatial. That is-- they can represent model, navigable space, both

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contextually and visually. You can move through a digital environment in a way you can't move
through a book. This is what makes digital environment so great for games especially when you
think about games as fundamentally about-- and this is a point that critic Henry Jenkins makes that
video games are at their heart about contested space.
Finally, digital environments are encyclopedic, which is to say, they can go on forever. Or rather,
thanks to virtually unlimited storage capacities, they can be expanded nearly infinitely. Digital
environments are also encyclopedic in that they contain so many different things, words, images,
video, sound. Wikipedia is a literal embodiment of the encyclopedic nature of new media. But
really, any site on the internet has the potential to be equally encyclopedic.
If you take the procedural and participatory qualities of digital environments, and add them
together, you get interactivity. And if you take the spatial and encyclopedic qualities of digital
environments, and add them together, you get immersiveness.

3.3. Databased storytelling
We've talked about the sublime in electronic literature and the rule of fragments. But what happens
when you combine the two, when you have a mathematically sublime work of fragments, and
moreover fragments that can be reconfigured and in multiple kaleidoscopic ways, you end up with a
database. And when it comes to literary forms, you have what I call databased storytelling.
Let's backtrack. What is a database? Just think of Wikipedia.
Wikipedia is nothing more than a big old database. The English version of Wikipedia has over 37
million pages, and is five terabytes in size. And all of it, every single page, every single revision,
every single image, it's all stored into MySQL database, which we access through the databases
front end on wikipedia.org. There are at least five characteristics of a database like Wikipedia.
First, databases are massive or at least they have the possibility of being massive.
In Janet Murray's terms, they are encyclopedic, a characteristic that Wikipedia [? literalizes. ?]
Second, databases are searchable or using the language of programming, they can be queried.

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Third, databases are non-hierarchical, which is to say that no item in the database is privileged
over any other item. And because they're non-hierarchical, they're also flexible. There's no default
sequence, and the information inside the database can be filtered in multiple ways.
And finally, databases are procedural, which is really just a fancy term that I've used before, but
in this context, it means that databases are generated from an accessed through rule based
algorithms. The procedural interactions with the database give it its shape and form.
In an important book called The Language of New Media, the new media theorist and practitioner,
Lev Manovjeh, argues that databases have replaced narrative as the dominant symbolic form of the
modern age. We are bombarded endlessly with fragments of texts, of sounds, and images.
Manovjeh suggest that we've turned towards databases as the way to make sense of our
overwhelming world. Databases give us the meaning, the structure, we use to find in narrative
forms. Whereas narrative supposes cause and effect and represent sequences of events in order, the
database rejects cause and effect and refuses to order things. Because of this tension, Manovjeh
concludes, "Databases and narrative are natural enemies."
Narrative lost, database won.
Now I'm overstating the case a bit. I don't believe that narrative and database are natural enemies. I
disagree with Manovjeh. They're not natural enemies, and they're not even fighting the same war. I
think the most engaging digital media make use of both. And that's what I want to look at now,
digitial works that use the affordances of databases in order to create a literary experience, not
necessarily a narrative experience, but an aesthetic experience that somehow represents human
experience in a way that narrative alone cannot.

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4. The House of Dust
Let's walk through some of its features. I asked you to think about Murray's four properties of
digital media. And we're going to get to that this week, but I also want to revisit Wardrip-Fruin's
Five Elements of Digital Literature: data, processes, interaction, surface, and context.
What is the data for the "House of Dust?"
Every quatrain has four elements, building material, location, a light source, and the inhabitants.
Every line pulls randomly from the list of items.
For example, there are 17 possible materials for the house. Some of them probable, like brick or
stone, and some improbable, such as dust or leaves. But where's the fun in that?
One of the skills I'm emphasizing in this course is close reading of digital text using your own
perception, your own insights. But close reading doesn't just mean reading the surface of a text.
Everything we look at has guts on the inside, the procedural rules and data that drive the work. We
need to close read those elements of digital literature, as well.
For example, since Nick Monfrot's implementation of the "House of Dust" is written in HTML and
JavaScript and runs in a web browser, you could see the underlying code of the work.
With Nick's version with of the "House of Dust," we see his notes, a kind of translator's introduction
to the work. A little further down, we find four JavaScript arrays, which is a fancy term for lists.
The arrays all have variable names that correspond to their place in the poem: material, place, light
source, and inhabitants.
We find that in addition to the 17 types of building materials, there are 25 sites where the house
could be built, four types of lighting, and 23 types of residents. What can we say about this data?
As I've noted before, some of the building materials are quite realistic-- stone, steel, wood, brick.
But other materials are impossible to imagine a structure-- let alone a house-- being made out of.
Discarded clothing, broken dishes, leaves, dust-- think about what these items have in common.
They're refuse, castoffs. This suggests to me that the poem is concerned about the balance between
permanence and impermanence and the connection to dust. After all, it's the title of the poem, which
the rules of notice and signification suggest we pay attention to. So the poem appears to be about
architecture but also life and death itself.
What about the other elements that Noah Wardrip-Fruin suggests we study in digital literature?
The processes of the work are rather straightforward. Each stanza combines one item from each of

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the fourth lists randomly. How many combinations does this add up to? There are 17 types of
building materials, 25 locations, four types of lighting, and three different kinds of inhabitants. It's a
simple math problem-- 17 times 25 times 4 times 23. That's 39,100 possible variations. You could
read the poem for hours and not encounter a single repetition. So out of a relatively small number of
parts, the poem generates a huge selection of houses. I think this is a metaphor for building itself, a
call for us to pay attention to the way small variations can have disproportionate meaning or impact.
The other thing to say about the processes of "The House of Dust" is that obviously the program
runs continuously until stopped. That's the automatic part of "House of Dust." And because it's
automatic, the next element Wardrip-Fruin asks us to consider-- interaction-- is all but absent from
the work. The original "House of Dust" was experienced by most people as either a printed poem-it was published as a book in the late '60s-- or as a spoken poem when Knowles would publicly
perform it. This is one of the tensions of digital literature. The more automatic it is, the less
interaction there is.
Let's move on to the surface of the work. What's critical to note here is that the surface of "House
of Dust" is vastly different from the surface a reader might encounter in 1967. Our experience is
much different. And here, surface blends into context, that fifth category from Wardrip-Fruin's
framework. Both Wayland and Montfort attempt to simulate different surface elements of the
original work. They use all capitals, like the original printout. They indent each line of the quatrains
as it originally appeared. Wayland even simulates the tractor feed, paper, that the work appeared on,
while Montfort opts for a gray and black theme that recalls early CRT monitors. But these homages
to the original work miss out on the broader cultural context of the poem.
For instance, in 1968 Knowles received a Guggenheim Fellowship to build one of the houses
generated by the work-- a house of plastic in a metropolis using natural light inhabited by people
from all walks of life. The first version of this house was built in Philadelphia but destroyed by
residents of the surrounding neighborhood. The same house was rebuilt in Burbank, California and
lasted three years. Other circumstances of the original poem, say, the overall cultural milieu of the
late '60s and early '70s, are, again, vastly different from today.
This begs the question, what is the real house of dust-- its source list of words, this stack of
printouts from a Siemens Systems 4004 mainframe, the printed book, the actual house, the
contemporary remakes? What is-- where is-- house of dust?

4.1. Computer Poems

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"The House of Dust" is an important early work of automatic poetry generation. But it's certainly
not the only one.
In the '60s and '70s, there were a number of poet programmers, creating works that are mostly lost,
or at the very least, hard to find. For example, in 1973, Richard Bailey edited an anthology of
computer poetry called appropriately enough "Computer Poems."
The editor begins his collection with a stirring introduction. "Computer poetry is warfare carried out
by other means, a warfare against conventionality in language that has become automatized."
Bailey's suggesting that our own use of language has become so routine, so rote, so automatic, that
ironically we can turn to computers to generate automatic poetry that revitalizes our sense of what
language can do. The computer can provide an unexpectedness. The computer can make it new in
the words of the modernist poet Ezra Pound in a way that human writers cannot.

4.2. Bots
Dozens of frameworks and code libraries exist to let anyone make a chatbot. Chatbots are
interesting to study from the perspective of electronic literature because on the one hand, they show
you just how templated language is, how structured language is, especially a language like English,
where sentences follow a very set pattern: subject, verb, object. On the other hand, the chatbots also
demonstrate how often the structure can be upended or that just following the structure of a
language doesn't mean the utterances will make any sense.
I want to end this week by looking at bots-- a broader category than just chat bots. And bots are
everywhere. Approximately 60% of all internet traffic comes from bots-- small automated programs
that index websites, edit Wikipedia entries, spam users, scrape data from pages, launch denial of
service attacks, and other assorted activities both mundane and nefarious. On Twitter alone, about
8.5% of all active accounts are bots. Given there are roughly 271 million active users, that means
about 23 million active Twitter accounts are bots, which is to say, in Twitter's own words, accounts
updated "without any discernible additional user-initiated action." In other words, they're automatic.
Many, many, many of these 23 million bots are spam accounts and fake followers. But occasionally,
some of these bots are creative endeavors. The bots in this small creative tribe that get the most
attention are surreal, absurd, purposeless for the sake of purposelessness.
There is a bot canon forming, and it includes bots like Tofu Product, which tweets back to its

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followers weird, mangled versions of their own tweets.
There's Two Headlines, which combines two different headlines from Google News into one, often
hilarious headline.
Every Color Bot tweets exactly what it says-- every possible color available.
Then there's Power Vocab Tweet, an experiment in what its creator Allison Parrish calls
"speculative lexicography." It generates entirely new words in English, and makes up definitions to
go along with those words.
I've made a few of these bots myself, for example, Just To Say bot, which rewrites William Carlos
Williams' classic poem, "This Is Just To Say," supposedly a note he left his wife upon eating all the
plums in the icebox. "I've eaten the carrots that were in the democracy. Forgive me. They were antidemocratic-- so non-interactive, and so untruthful." Or "I have printed the hearts that were in the
cockpit. Forgive me. They were textual, so fleet, and so free."
Why should we take something like this seriously as electronic literature? My quick answer is,
because it makes us aware of language, and does so in a procedural way.
Let's consider Just To Say bot further for just a minute. There are actually two types of Just to Say
bot poems-- one that plugs in any random noun, verb, and adjective, and one that uses nouns, verbs,
and adjectives that maintain the same rhythm-- the same syllable count-- as Williams' original
poem. So right away, this bot highlights the question of choice and intentionality.
Even when a text is generated algorithmically, the creator has not totally ceded intentionality. The
intention comes about in the choices being made. What data to use is a choice. I made a conscious
decision about prosody and rhythm-- or rather, I couldn't decide whether or not I wanted to keep the
rhythm of the original, with its last lines of "So sweet and so cold," so I do both. This second
version jettisons rhythm in order to generate gonzo versions of the poem. The alternating bots are,
in effect, asking what role rhythm plays in Williams' poems. I also had to make choices about what
to include or exclude from the generated poem. The original "Just To Say" is too long to fit inside a
140 character tweet. I had to make a decision about what to leave out. In this case, I left out the
middle stanza, which explains why it was so thoughtless for Williams to have eaten the plums. "You
were probably saving them for breakfast," he writes to his wife in that stanza. So how much can I
remove from the poem, and still retain the essential poem-ness of the work? How much can we

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remove from "This Is Just To Say" and still have a poem that does more than evoke the original, but
is an accurate representation of its essential properties? Asking questions like this, it only takes a
small nudge to shift from thinking about the choices I made to the choices William Carlos Williams
made. In many ways, this remix bot is an attempt to better understand the original.

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5. Interactive fiction
The early hits-- the Colossal Caves and Zorksa -- are not necessarily the best introductions to the
genre. The games were written by programmers and, at least in the beginning, for other
programmers. They require a procedural thinking to solve. They're full of puzzles.
I want to look at a different kind of interactive fiction. I'll show you Galatea by Emily Shor.
One thing I like about interactive fiction is that it's a form of electronic literature where Peter
Rabinowitz's four rules of reading are immediately and obviously applicable. Say the rule of
notice-- here I notice the title of the work, Galatea. I know from my Greek mythology that Galatea
is the name of the sculpture that Aphrodite brings to life on behalf of the sculptor, Pygmalion. And
indeed, the game begins in an art gallery. The other thing to note right away-- and this is something
you don't get until you actually begin playing the game-- is that Galatea is not a puzzle-based game.
It's more of a conversationalist game. It hearkens back chatterbots. The game is essentially a
conversation between you, the player, who assumes the role of an art critic in this game, and
Galatea, statue-- or is it a robot-- that you talk to. The author, Emily Short, has replaced the spatial
exploration characteristic of the genre with a different kind of exploration-- the exploration of the
past, of memory, of psyches. So let's take a look at the game.
It begins in this art gallery. And as soon as I press a key, the game opens up and we see we're in the
gallery. On this pedestal is Galatea. So the way interactive fiction works is I type in commands, and
there's some sort or response that comes back to me. And the commands here in Galatea can be
pretty sophisticated. If I want to address Galatea directly, I can do something like this-- "Galatea,
hello." And she responds back to me. I can also talk to Galatea. I can say, "tell her about--" you
have to type. So you tell Galatea about your job. And she reached replies. And thus begins a
conversation. One of the really powerful commands that you can use in interactive fiction-- and this
just isn't in Galatea, but in general-- is the look command. So I can look at Galatea. And I get a
description back at her. And I can also, if I see something in this description using the rules of
notice that I want to pay more attention to-- say there's a green dress widens at her knee-- I can
examine that object more closely. And, of course, it cannot find the green dress because I mistyped
it. So I'll type it again, and I can actually use an abbreviation for examine-- just plain old X.
Examine green dress. You can also use L for look. If you want to go north, you can use N for north.
So the game does accept abbreviations. So examine green dress, and we get a little bit more about

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it. I can also physically move things. So I can say, "touch the pedestal." Maybe I can touch the
dress. So as the game unfolds, you can begin to do these kind of essential actions-- at least in
Galatea-- are to talk to Galatea, to tell her about things. You can also use the verb-- and this verb
isn't often used in interactive fiction-- you can think about things. So "think about the dress, think
about job.".
Well, one of the frustrating features of interactive fiction, is how often we run into brick walls, so to
speak, where we have to kind of figure out what it is we're supposed to think about or do or touch or
examine. So I had earlier said that there aren't many puzzles in Galatea. They're not puzzles to
solve, but there're still situations to parse out and to figure out. I know there are at least several
dozen types of paths through the story-- again, not spatial paths, but narrative paths, different
outcomes, different ways the conversation unfolds.

5.1. What counts as complex interaction fiction?
Good question! There's no single answer, but I'd argue that the same techniques that create
complexity in conventional narratives can create complexity in interactive fiction:
Shifting perspectives (changing narrative points of view).
Narrative enigmas (uncertainty as to what's happening or just happened).
Reconfiguring story time (through flashbacks, jumbled chronologies, and repetition).
Reframing (forcing the reader to reinterpret past story events based on new information).

We've been talking about parser-based interactive fiction. And when I say parser-based, what we
mean is that the program has a parser that examines the plain English sentences we type and breaks
them down in a way the program understands. The parser reads the sentences. The classic sentence
in the parser-based interactive fiction is simply verb, object:
Get lamp.
Kill troll.

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Read book.
And as we've seen more resent interactive fiction has developed much more sophisticated parser
capabilities. Indeed, part of the thrill of interactive fiction, for those of us thrilled by it, is testing the
limits of the parser. We're going to look at a different kind of interactive fiction, what some writers
and players have called choice-based interactive fiction. These are on screen texts that offer the
player a choice. And the player makes the decision by clicking a link. In other words, choice-based
interactive fiction is hypertext.
The ability to create narrative-based hypertext is nothing new, of course. An early example is Olia
Lialina's 1996 hypertext, "My Boyfriend Came Back from the War." With its proliferating HTML
frames and ambiguous narrative voices, "My Boyfriend" traumatizes postmodern fragmentation,
both visually and narratively. The works we're going to look at now aren't as concerned with
fragmentation. They're more about exploration, but not necessarily spatial exploration, like the
interactive fiction we looked at. Choice-based interactive fiction is just as likely to be about inner
psychological exploration. The software at the center of this new breed of choice-based digital
literature is a free tool called Twine.
Chris Clemis is the original creator of Twine. He quietly released the first version in 2009. You
could download Twine to a Mac or PC and create branching path narratives. And then upload the
finished story to the web as a single HTML file. Twine made it easy to compose hypertext without
knowing any HTML. And because the end product was nothing more than HTML, the stories could
be viewed and explored and read in any modern web browser.
A small group of writers played around with Twine, but it wasn't until the game designer and critic
Anna Anthropy highlighted Twine in her book, The Rise of the Videogame Zinesters in 2012, that
an entirely new generation of writers discovered Twine. The subtitle of Anthropy's book is, How
Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives and People Like
You Are Taking Back an Art Form. And the art form she's talking about are video games. Anthropy
argues that because of tools like Twine, video game design has become so accessible that anybody
can do it, and everybody should. And they should make games and interactive narratives that speak
to their own experiences. People who had never considered themselves writers or game developers
took note of Anthropy's call to arms, and they began to use Twine to create intimate, personal
expressions that stood in stark contrast to earlier works of interactive fiction. Thus, the Twine
revolution was born.

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6. Preserving electronic literature
One way to think about preserving electronic literature is simply in terms of accessibility.
Is a work still reasonably accessible? For instance, a much celebrated work for it's linguistic
complexity and postmodern self-conscious awareness of itself is Talan Memmott's "Lexia to
Perplexia."
Talan released "Lexia to Perplexia" in 2000, and the work was included in the first volume of the
electronic literature collection, but if you try to access it now, you'll see a warning message that it
no longer functions in current browsers for the Mac. That note is out of date, in fact, as "Lexia to
Perplexia" no longer functions. Period. On any modern browser, on any operating system.
Zack Whalen has done some great digital forensics to discover why. It turns out modern browsers-say, anything released past 2012-- no longer support an HTML function that "Lexia to Perplexia"
heavily relied on. A curious reader who wants to read "Lexia to Perplexia" has basically two
options. One, you can go track down an older browser and install it, and risk the security threats that
go along with older software, and then load up "Lexia to Perplexia." Or you can rewrite "Lexia to
Perplexia" itself, updating its code to match modern HTML5, which is exactly what Zack did.
Using the JavaScript library jQuery, Zack created an unauthorized version of "Lexia to Perplexia"
that works in modern browsers. At last, Zack could teach this work again and his students could
study it. Except, Talan, the original author, asked Zack not to share this unauthorized version - not
because Talan was worried about copyright or piracy - but because the post-2012 nonfunctionality
of "Lexia to Perplexia" was part of "Lexia to Perplexia" itself. In other words, the fact that the
piece would not run becomes an essential theme of the work itself.
In his book "Unit Operations," the video game theorist, Ian Bogost, talks about the simulation gap-the, as he puts it, "gap between the rule-based representation of a source system and a user's
subjectivity." In other words, a simulation is a simplified representation of a more complex system
that somehow sheds light on that more complex system. And there's a gap between the user's
experience of the computer model (the simulation) and the user's experience of the source system.
To use an extreme example, playing the prison simulation Prison Architect is a very different
experience from managing a real prison. That distance between the simulation and the player's
experience with the system being modeled is the simulation gap. In the same way that there's a

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simulation gap, I think there are also what we could call emulation gap -- the technological,
methodological, and epistemological gaps between interacting with software on its original platform
and on an emulator.
What do we lose in emulations, and what do we gain? And how do those same losses and gains
translate when we talk about digital literature instead of digital games?
An emulation is a software version of a piece of hardware. The scholars Cara Fernandez Vera and
Nick Montfort have built on this idea. Fernandez Vera calls an emulated game a facsimile of the
original game, while Montfort describes the emulator itself as an addition of hardware, using an
analogy to books. The original hardware version of a computer is the first edition while it's
emulated version, say an Apple Iie, running in your browser is a second edition, a software addition.
Thinking about emulators as editions re-frames the value judgments we might pass on emulators. In
the same way, I'm happy for my literature students to read a 2010 edition of "Moby Dick" instead of
the rare original, first addition which goes for $75,000, by the way. I'm just as happy for my
students to encounter a rare work of electronic literature in emulated form. But you know, the older
works we looked at during this course, say House of Dust, were not emulations. They were ports.
What's the difference? An emulator runs the original code of a given program while a port rewrites
the code itself, in order to run on different machines. You could think of a port as a kind of
translation of a program, not a translation of the surface language of the work, but a translation of
the underlying code. The programmer translates the code to run on a new system or in a new
language. And there's not always a one to one correspondence between the original work and its
port, its translation.

6.1. Port-ject
Think about how translation works in poetry. Where does the poetry of a poem lie? In it's rhythm?
It's rhyme? It's word choice? It's layout on the page? Which of these things ought to be preserved in
order to produce a faithful translation? This is a problem the critic Eliot Weinberger examines in "19
Ways of Looking at Wang Wei". Weinberger reads 19 version's, 19 translations, of a four line, 1,200
year old, poem by the Chinese master Wang Wei. A single word in one of these translations might
totally change the meaning, or tone, of the original poem. Ports of electronic literature face the same
challenge. What needs to be preserved when a work of e-lit is translated for a new environment, or

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software environment? The interface? The aesthetics? The underlying algorithms?
A port is borne from one platform to another, and the bearer is the programmer or designer, who
attempts to preserve the program’s essential properties from one platform to the next.
The ethos of adaptation will vary from port to port and writer to writer; what you choose to
prioritize will help to determine the qualities of the final port and its relationship to the original
program.
As you work on your port, think about your source material in terms of the elements of digital
literature we’ve studied: data, process, surface, interaction, context. Any of these elements might be
“portable”—the aspect of the work you focus on transforming into another platform. Also think
about how the rules of notice and signification come into play with the source work, and how those
rules might be transformed in the new medium.
Another way to approach the port is to focus on the seemingly most essential digital affordances of
the work and turn them into something else, even their opposites. For example, if the source offers a
relatively straightforward narrative, turn it into a wiki. Or if the work focuses heavily on images,
render that textually. Or vice-versa.
The port will be assessed according to the following criteria:
•Essence (the degree to which your port captures the source’s essence, however you define
that)
•Insight (the extent to which you uncover and articulate surprises and insights about the
source material through the porting process)
•Craft (the degree of mastery of the mode of composition or representation of the port)
•Intention (the sense of intentionality and deliberateness of the work)
•Theme (the level of engagement with ideas from this class and its online counterpart)
•Synthesis (the way you mobilize both your port and the original material to make some
broader hypothesis or claim that matters)
Emulations and ports don't simply preserve works of e-lit as if they were dead specimens soaking in
formaldehyde. They make them alive, accessible, usable, readable.