Reading Electronic Literature: Everything is Significant

One of the most important aspects to consider when reading electronic literature is the form it takes and how this affects the way we read it.  As with many of the electronic texts we’ve read this semester, Stephanie Strickland’s “Vniverse” gives the reader much freedom when it comes to ordering the text at hand and deciding which order to read it in.  As we know, in “Vniverse,” each part of a is assigned a star in a constellation.  Stars, as parts of constellations, are parts of a greater whole.  This is also true of the pieces of poetry that appear in “Vniverse” when you hover your cursor over a star.  The place in each constellation the pieces of poetry are assigned is as important as the poetry itself.  Each part of the whole is important to consider while looking at electronic literature such as this.  Without examining and taking into consideration each piece, the entire system can fall apart.

Vniverse 4

Take, for example, this constellation and individual star.  The constellation as a whole resembles the shape of a person, and, if we take into consideration the first star in the constellation (highlighted above) it can be assumed that the shape is meant to depict a woman.  The repeated use of the letter V gives reason for this assumption, as V is used as a slang term for female genitalia.  Also, the series of three Vs in a row resembles a wave, which is a cyclical motion or pattern.  Many biological functions of a woman’s body also exist in cyclical patterns.

If we look at the constellation as a whole, we can see that the figure consists of many V shapes at varying angles of open—two oblique lines connected at the point by a star.  This repetition of V shapes mirrors the repetition of the letter V in the snippet of poem associated with this particular star.  The part of the poem that reads “If you understand virginity / you understand abstraction, you understand V” is a direct association with the shape of the constellation.  Virginity is often a virtue that is associated more commonly with women, than it is with men.  Additionally, the word “abstraction” can refer to the shape of the constellation itself.  Upon first glance, the shape is abstract, but it is possible to discern a particular shape.  Essentially, by understanding that virginity is more commonly a female virtue than a male virtue, you can understand that the abstraction of lines and dots in front of you is meant to be the shape of a woman.  It is only by taking both this bit of poetry and the shape of the constellation into account that we can make this reading.  By understanding these aspects, “you understand VVV,” meaning you are able to understand exactly what the constellation is and what it represents.

In electronic literature, everything from the language to the method of reading it to the platform it uses is significant.  If you write off a seemingly irrelevant part of a text, you are writing off an element that could provide you with a clearer reading of the text and something that is vital to the system that the author has created.

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5 Responses to Reading Electronic Literature: Everything is Significant

  1. argyle8 says:

    It was helpful to read about your method of interpreting Vniverse; as I read Strickland’s work, I hardly tried to understand it in the traditional sense. I mostly just assumed that Strickland intended her stanzas to be so cryptic that the reader couldn’t glean reasonable meaning from them. In my first read-through, I paid more attention to the structure and visual layout, but when I return to Vniverse, it will be helpful to pay close attention to the stanzas like you did.


  2. leficorn93 says:

    This is a very telling example of the tactics involved when reading electronic literature. Like pieces of a puzzle, no one part can be discarded, without stripping meaning away from the puzzle in its entirety. Every part must be pieced together, and when each part is analyzed and understood, only then can the reader gain insight into the full meaning of non-linear literature. You say, “In electronic literature, everything from the language to the method of reading it to the platform it uses is significant.” Unlike a linear text, where one embarks upon the text with a predetermined method of reading (from start to finish), the reader of a text, such as “Vniverse” much actively decide the means by which he/she will tackle such a text. The necessity for this decision-making process by the reader himself successfully creates a piece of interactive fiction.

    Out of all the electronic texts that we have read thus far, the one that has jarred me the most is “Anchorhead.” Even in other electronic texts, where we get to choose which word to click, we are still watching a pre-written text unfold. In “Anchorhead,” we must give our character (we are the main character) instruction–we are actually contributing to the plot. I found this experience liberating and somewhat thrilling. All those times I have wished I could be a character in my favorite texts, could potentially come true with electronic literature. This requires an entirely new method of reading, attention to detail, and clear understanding of the world of the text.


  3. 1ady1azarus says:

    I’m interested in your idea that this constellation represents a female body specifically, and what seems to be your overall interpretation of this work as being concerned with the feminine sphere. This reminds me of our discussion of Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl in class, since Jackson was heavily interested in analyzing the female body as a text, as the site of discourse (and she actually physically rendered a female body through text, like you’re suggesting Strickland is doing right here). I’m also thinking about Strickland’s essay “Quantum Poetics” and her thoughts regarding the femininity inherent in digital literature.
    Also, I wanted to know if there is a constellation that was shaped like a V, just to add another layer of meaning to your take on the letter. Apparently, the Hyades star cluster (which is not the same thing as a constellation, but I know nothing of astronomy) is one of the most studied star clusters and is distinguishable by its v-formation. In Greek myth, the Hyades were nymphs born from the titan Atlas and they were associated with rain. So there’s another feminine association for the title, though I’m positive there are many more.


  4. mattdice says:

    Good insight about the connectedness of each of the poems. While I was thinking something similar, I didn’t ultimately come to the conclusion that if even one of the poems (or stars) in the whole (constellation) the entire thing would be incomplete. This does indeed show that everything is significant. Even though the order that we read the poems in doesn’t matter, we do have to read every one in the end for the full picture to be complete. The constellations also correspond to networks, where each star represents a node. If one node in a network is removed, then the same connections cannot be made. Especially if that node is a pivotal part of a crossroad, then many paths would be disconnected and unaccessible if that one node was removed. Thus, your statement that everything is significant definitely holds true.


  5. festsjester says:

    Although your post has many comments already, I’m continuing because what you’re saying is interesting. I was initially stumped when I read that specific tercet and felt underprepared when we were talking about it in class. However, your breakdown of the intended meaning made more sense than anything I myself could come up with, so thanks. It’s an interesting message to imply in such a novel method of presentation for literature, and, being one who enjoys all things meta, enjoy the levels of interpretation available in the explanation you give, which makes a lot of sense. More than anything else I like the novelty of the presentation itself because it implies that we’re nowhere close to exhausting the outlets that literature presents us. And because of the advent of electronic literature, it seems like the possibilities go on ad infinitum.


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