Electronic Literature

Welcome and "Becoming Beside Ourselves"

11:40 am PST
Katherine Hayles

Welcome to the website accompaniment for Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. We hope to make the site a place for spirited exchanges, information sharing about matters relevant to electronic literature, and a growing resource for teachers and students interested in electronic literature. I hope that visitors will share their experiences, draw attention to works relevant to the topic, and speculate on theoretical matters as well.

To initiate the discussion, I would like to comment on Brian Rotman’s forthcoming book, “Becoming Beside Ourselves.” Rotman is interested in changes of subjectivity accompanying different media regimes. Starting from orality, he traces the importance of gesture to speech (unsurprisingly) and (more surprising) to writing as well. Drawing on recent work in brain physiology, he argues that articulation begins in gesticulation, thus assigning to gesture a fundamental role in human communication. The “lettered self” that emerges from the regime of writing (from handwriting to word processing) partakes of what Rotman sees as the disembodied nature of writing. This is an area of his thesis that could benefit from revision, for he does not take into account the kinds of embodiments that writing has assumed (the development of fonts, spacings, paragraphs, and so forth, on which Johanna Drucker and others have written so eloquently) or the implications of moving, for example, from the hand to the typewriter to the computer (a la Kittler). Nevertheless, the progression he traces takes a fascinating turn when he comes to computational regime, where he associates electronic textuality with dispersed subjectivities and flexible assemblages. A unique contribution is his discussion of disembodiment in mathematics (an idea he developed at length in Ad Infinitum), where the actions performed theoretically by the mathematical imperative (“draw a line”) are now theorized in terms of media ecologies. Altogether, this text makes a strong contribution in its speculative engagements, its wide-ranging expertise, and its careful working-out of ideas. Highly recommended for anyone interested in media theory, media change, and gesticulation in relation to different media forms.