Hypertext and Electronic Literature

This course looks back even as it looks forward, considering conventional media like printed texts and film, in addition to examining more revolutionary digital media.


COURSE DESCRIPTION:  This course explores hypertext and electronic literature. Students consider the nature and form of major literary archive projects and experiment with hypertext writing and design for new media. In a recent article on Inside Higher Ed., Steve Kolowich defines “digital humanities” as “a branch of scholarship that takes the computational rigor that has long undergirded the sciences and applies it to the study of history, language, art and culture.” To this (and other definitions of digital humanities), I would add that the digital humanities must also consider the interface between digital and analog culture, between the pixels of our computer screens and the printed text of bound books. What we do online has little meaning if it isn’t linked (literally or figuratively) to embodied practice.

Electronic Literature Wordle
A printed book has weight, odor, a certain texture in our hands. Roland Barthes writes in The Pleasure of the Text, “Text means Tissue” (64), a nod to the literal substances from which books are made (pulp, rag, and animal hide), while also alluding to the materiality of language. When we read, we engage the physical object of the book in an intimate way, and the words themselves have physical character through the typographical choices that govern how they appear on the page.  Further, each word has shape as we say it, a part of our mouths, lungs, throat, or gut it tickles into action. Digital texts command even more deliberate physical attention by being increasingly interactive. They invite us to (or even demand that we) do multiple things with our eyes, brains, and bodies as we (and in order to) experience them. 

This course looks back even as it looks forward, considering conventional media like printed texts and film, in addition to examining more revolutionary digital media. Throughout the course, we will ask the following sorts of questions:  What influence does the container for a text have on its content? To what degree does immersion in a text depend upon the physicality of its interface?  How are evolving technologies (like the iPad or Kinect) helping to enliven (or disengage us from) the materiality of digital texts?  We will engage our subjects through discussion of primary and secondary texts but also through our own experiments in multimodal composition. We will work in unfamiliar media, coming to an understanding of varied interfaces by creating with and for them.

Garth Risk Hallberg, A Field Guide to the North American Family (2007)
Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2006)
N. Katherine Hayles, Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary (2008)
Online Links and PDFs (see schedule for links)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)
Inception (2010)
Helvetica (2007)

ATTENDANCE AND PARTICIPATION: Since this is a collaborative course, focusing heavily on discussion and work in groups, you have a responsibility to yourself and your classmates to show up for class on time and prepared.  The class will be a cooperative learning experience, a true intellectual community.  And so, you and your work are, in a very real sense, the primary texts for this course.  Because of this, participation will be a very large component of your final grade.  In order for the class to work together as a community, it is important that you complete all assigned work before each class session.  If you are going to miss class or can’t finish the assigned work for any reason, your best strategy is to discuss this with me in advance either in person or via e-mail.

OFFICE HOURS: I’m frequently in my office and also available by appointment. If you’d like to meet in person, I’d recommend setting up a time in advance. I’m always happy to meet with you (to discuss the course or just to chat). This is the most effective way for me to give you individual attention and get to know you better. I encourage you to meet with me as early in the semester as possible, especially if you have any particular questions or concerns. I’m also very easy to reach by e-mail. In fact, e-mail is (by far) the best and quickest way to contact me. You can send questions or comments to me at jstommel@marylhurst.edu. And you can also contact me via Twitter (@Jessifer).

E-MAIL: I will be sending regular announcements to you via e-mail, so if you do not check your e-mail regularly, you will miss important information.

ONLINE COURSE CONTENT: There are numerous links on this webpage that take you to various assignments and readings we will be doing throughout the term.  You can access e-texts of some of the readings via this web page--just click on the title in the schedule.  My advice:  if you make this web site your friend, you’ll have no trouble completing all the reading and assignments for the course.  As we proceed, I will be uploading additional content, including course notes, activities, and assignments, so keep checking for updates.

COLLABORATION: I encourage collaboration on many of the assignments you’ll complete this quarter, especially the final project.  If you have questions about the various ways collaboration can work, feel free to chat with me at any point. 

THE WORK OF THE COURSE: Specific details for major assignments forthcoming as the semester proceeds.

Participation. This includes your attendance, involvement in class discussion, in-class assignments, and small-group work. As mentioned above, this is (by far) the most important component of the course.

Leading Class Discussion. You will be asked to help lead discussion at least one time throughout the term. This is, by no means, a formal presentation. Rather, on the day you sign up for, be prepared to come to class with a few questions or topics related to the reading/film for the day, and bring at least one or two passages/clips which you’d like the group to look at in detail. You are also encouraged to engage the group in writing or other activities related to the text you’re discussing. As you are leading class discussion, I will be mostly silent, moderating the discussions to some degree but primarily acting as a member of the group w/ my own questions, comments, etc. This activity will generally help shape the direction our discussion takes for the rest of the class period.

Blog. This is an offshoot of class participation. You will create and maintain a blog where you respond to issues that are raised in our reading and during class discussion. Unlike journaling or response papers you’d submit only to me, this will give you a chance to practice your writing in a more social forum. Like journaling, though, this is meant to be an informal outlet, so you shouldn’t worry about this writing being scrutinized or evaluated. Just make sure your ideas can be understood and that you engage your audience to comment. I will occasionally ask you to post a blog entry in response to questions I give to you; however, the majority of your entries will be flexible, allowing you to respond to any aspect of what we are studying. You will post a new entry (of about 500 words) to your blog prior to each class session. You should also comment (twice each week) on a blog entry from at least one of your peers. These comments should be as collaborative as possible. In other words, don’t just throw your ideas into a vacuum. Instead, ask questions of each other and use the other comments as a jumping off point by answering questions, amplifying or complicating ideas, etc. Make sure to go back and respond to comments made on your own blog. This will help keep your readers happy.

Worksheets. As a tool to help us focus our discussion, there will be a number of short worksheets due during the term. These will consist of a single question or a set of questions designed to get you thinking about various themes, conflicts, and issues at play in the works we’ll be discussing. Refer to the schedule for more info.

Media Interface Analysis. For this assignment, you will create a visual essay that engages in an analytic or argumentative way with one of the media interfaces we're discussing this term. You can address the content of a specific text but should especially consider how that content is influenced by its container.
1. You can choose to analyze any of the media interfaces we're studying: printed book, pop-up book, web-based text, Kindle, Kinect, iPad, etc. You can also compare two media interfaces, such as theatrical film and the iPhone as a film-viewer.
2. While you can use images or figures in your analysis, the primary medium for this work should be text.
3. You are encouraged to rethink text as a medium, considering innovative ways that typography can be used to convey your argument and to illustrate the effects of the interface you examine.
4. Maintain strict attention to detail in both the form and content of your own work.
5. Focus on using images, layout, and graphic design to convey your central points. While you don’t need a thesis statement, you do need a thesis, an argument that you explore in a focused way throughout your analysis.
6. Think in terms of volume not number of words, both literally and figuratively. In other words, it matters less how many words you produce and matters more how much you communicate with them.
7. Post this assignment on your blog and include a description of the work and what it accomplishes.

Final Project. For this assignment, you’ll compose for a digital or interactive medium.
1. The parameters are fairly wide open, so feel free to creatively interpret any of the following rules.
2. You can choose to work with any of the digital or interactive media we’ve discussed throughout the term, including but not limited to artist’s book, pop-up, comic, video game, web-based media, installation, film, hypertext, etc. The idea is for you to do a bit of creative work yourself, investigating one or more of the subjects of the course, using whatever style/form/medium you find best suited to the task.
3. As with the other assignments, you should have a clear argument. Even if your work is primarily creative in nature, you should still think carefully about what you are trying to convey.
4. Include a 500 - 750 word artist’s statement along with (or as part of) your work.
5. You are encouraged to collaborate on this project in a group of 2-3.
6. Archive this project on your blog in whatever way feels appropriate to you.

GRADING: While I will be assigning final grades, you will also be evaluating your own work.  At the middle of the term, you will write a midterm self-evaluation that reflects on your work and contributions throughout the course.  You will complete a similar self-evaluation at the end of the term.  Having your account of your own process is a very big part of how I assign grades.  I will be giving feedback as necessary on major assignments, and you will definitely hear from me if I have concerns about your self-evaluations.  The intention here is to help you focus on working in a more organic way, as opposed to working as you think you are expected to.  If this process causes you anxiety, see me at any point to confer about your performance in the course to date. 

Participation (including worksheets, leading discussion, etc.) -- 30%
Blog -- 20%
Media Interface Analysis -- 10%
Final Project -- 30%
Midterm and Final Self-evaluations -- 10%

GRADUATE STUDENTS: Graduate students enrolled in the course will also complete an annotated bibliography, which will be associated with the work they do for their final project. They will work on this bibliography throughout the term, and this work will be included in the 30% of the final grade that the final project constitutes. Additionally, the leading class discussion component required of all students in the class will be slightly modified for graduate students, who will be giving a slightly more formal presentation to the entire class.

PLAGIARISM: First, I will say that if you are unable to complete an assignment for any reason, it is in your best interest to discuss the situation with me.  Authorship is a hotly contested topic in the academy.  At what point do we own the words we say and write or the images we create?  Among authors and filmmakers, creative influence, collaboration, and a certain amount of borrowing are acceptable (even encouraged).  So, what sort of statement or warning about plagiarism would be appropriate in this class?  Let me go out on a limb and say:  in this class, I encourage you to borrow ideas (from me, from the authors we read, from the films we watch, from your classmates).  However, even more, I encourage you to really make them your own—by playing with, manipulating, applying, and otherwise turning them on their head.  In the end, it’s just downright boring to rest on the laurels of others.  It’s altogether more daring (and, frankly, more fun) to invent something new yourself—a new idea, a new way of thinking, a new claim, a new image.  This doesn’t give you license to copy something in its entirety and slap your name on it.  That’s just stealing.  Instead, think very consciously about how you are influenced by your sources—by the way knowledge and creativity depend on a sort of inheritance.  And think also about the real responsibility you have to those sources.  

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