Caring for Electronic Literature
Text by Daniela Côrtes Maduro
Words were once untraceable. Before the invention of writing, they would disappear as soon as they were shared. Writing turned words into discernible shapes. Print, in turn, allowed a precise control over the surface of inscription and, by extension, over language. Books are often related to fixity and durability and they are seen as stable and self-contained objects built to last. However, Dene Grigar believes that all texts, regardless of the format being used, are prone to obsolescence or deterioration. Like words in oral tradition, texts can fall into oblivion if they are not preserved or remembered.
During her presentation, Dene Grigar drew the attention to the etymology of the word “curate”. To Dene Grigar, curating Electronic Literature means caring for electronic literature. Thus, preserving and curating are activities that decisively contribute to rescue works from oblivion. Electronic literature has been defined as a literary genre created and read on a computer (Hayles). It is precisely because digital works depend on computers that they are susceptible to disappearance. As both software and devices tend to become obsolete, these works can easily become inoperable or unreadable. In order to preserve electronic literature, Grigar suggested three methods: software emulation; migration to newer media and the creation of collections. Curating an exhibition devoted to electronic literature means remembering, maintaining works alive or, in some cases, bringing works to life. It is through the use of a mnemonic that Grigar describes what an exhibition of this kind should aim for: given the characteristics of digital works, this exhibition should be participatory, interactive, and experiential (P.I.E.).
As president of the Electronic Literature Organization – an institution dedicated to the promotion and preservation of this literary genre – Dene Grigar is involved in several projects focused on developing new ways to increase the lifespan of electronic works. One of these projects is Pathfinders. She is aware that those who study and create electronic literature are dealing with that which is on the verge of happening or yet to be discovered. According to Grigar, in several digital works, besides onomatopoeia, one can find kinopoeia or the kind of movement that suggests an idea. Electronic literature has turned movement or transiency (Aarseth) into a literary device. The neologism suggested by Grigar indicates that the dynamics of digital works can sometimes be different from that of printed works. It also demonstrates that print literature and electronic literature are unavoidably linked. In fact, both are co-evolving as part of a process named “literature”.