Electronic Literature as an Information System

Topics: Literature, Electronic literature, Literary theory Pages: 26 (7951 words) Published: October 2, 2014

Hyperrhiz.06 » Essays » Electronic Literature as an Information System


Juan B. Gutierrez CAVIIAR (Advanced Research Center in Artificial Intelligence)

Mark C. Marino University of Southern California

Pablo Gervás Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Laura Borràs Castanyer Universidad Oberta de Catalunya


Electronic literature is a term that encompasses artistic texts produced for printed media which are consumed in electronic format, as well as text produced for electronic media that could not be printed without losing essential qualities. Some have argued that the essence of electronic literature is the use of multimedia, fragmentation, and/or non-linearity. Others focus on the role of computation and complex processing. "Cybertext" does not sufficiently describe these systems. In this paper we propose that works of electronic literature, understood as text (with possible inclusion of multimedia elements) designed to be consumed in bi- or multi-directional electronic media, are best understood as 3-tier (or n-tier) information systems. These tiers include data (the textual content), process (computational interactions) and presentation (on-screen rendering of the narrative). The interaction between these layers produces what is known as the work of electronic literature. This paradigm for electronic literature moves beyond the initial approaches which either treated electronic literature as computerized versions of print literature or focused solely on one aspect of the system. In this paper, we build two basic arguments. On the one hand, we propose that the conception of electronic literature as an information system gets at the essence of electronic media, and we predict that this paradigm will become dominant in this field within the next few years. On the other hand, we propose that building information systems may also lead in a shift of emphasis from one-time artistic novelties to reusable systems. Demonstrating this approach, we read works from the _Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1_ (Jason Nelson and Emily Short) as well as newer works by Mez and the team gathered by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph. Glancing toward the future, we discuss the n-tier analysis of the Global Poetic System and the La Flood Project.


The fundamental attributes of digital narrative have been, so far, mostly faithful to the origin of electronic text: a set of linked episodes that contain hypermedia elements. Whether or not some features could be reproduced in printed media has been subject of debate by opponents and proponents of digital narratives. However, as the electronic media evolves, some features truly unique to digital narrative have appeared. For instance, significant effort has been invested in creating hypertexts responsive to the reader's actions by making links dynamic; additionally, there have been efforts to create systems capable of producing fiction, with varying degrees of success. Both approaches have in common that they grant greater autonomy to the computer, thus making of it an active part of the literary exchange. The increasing complexity of these systems has directed critical attention to the novelty of the processes that produce the texts. As critics produce a flood of neologisms to classify these works, the field is suffering from a lack of a shared language for these works, as opposed to drawing from the available computer science and well-articulated terminology of information systems.

The set {Reader, Computer, Author} forms a system in which there is flow and manipulation of information, i.e. an _information system_. The interaction between the elements of an information system can be isolated in functional tiers. For instance: one or many data tiers, processing tiers, and presentation tiers. In general we will talk about n-tier information systems. We will expand this...

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