Reading electronic literature is frustrating. Analyzing electronic literature is frustrating. I like traditional literature. I understand traditional literature. You analyze the context of the passage or linearity of the plot, etc. But here? There’s none of that. I’m not saying that context isn’t important. But I couldn’t summarize the text I just read if I tried. And that frustrates me.
Stuart Moulthrop’s Hegirascope begins with several three-line passages that flash across the screen. There are no other buttons on the screen. In the minute it took me to realize that the words were going to change regardless of how fast or slow I read, two passages had flashed by. I was a passive reader in this moment. Continuing on, there are several longer passages, each surrounded by four links. Each link takes you to the next link, and then the next, and so on, until you realize that you already read this passage, and suddenly, you wonder, what have you been doing for the last hour? There’s no definitive ending to the texts we’ve been reading. If you click on a link there’s a new passage. If you click on another tab and come back to the text, there’s a new passage. Where is the order? There is no official definition of what literature is—it’s fluid, ever changing.
One passage by Moulthrop in particular that struck me was about the use of the Internet:
The effective deployment of Internet technology requires both strategy and tactics. Tactics was once known as a science of limited solutions, but technology has changed that. The twentieth century taught its warriors to use all available means without fear or hesitation. The arsenal of freedom has grown mightily: machine guns, antipersonnel mines, submarines, poison gas, radio, tanks, movies, aerial bombardment, biotoxins, television, napalm, rocketry, radar, digital computing, psychotropic drugs, lasers, satellites, particle-beam weapons, simulations, counterinformation systems… “killer apps” all, to use the language of modern warfare.
The youth of today may no longer know the awesome thrill of riddling an enemy’s fuselage with 50-caliber rounds or laying down a stack of incendiaries along the Ginza. But that does not mean he should shy away from the full potential of his tools. Use every weapon at your disposal.
Reading this text in 2015 gives an entirely new meaning to modern warfare in a world of technological advance. The transformation of literature from solely print copies to electronic literature shows society’s reliance on technology. One criticism of our generation is the lack of focus and long-term attention to anything. Our interactions have boiled down to whatever can be communicated in 140 characters. There are new venues to read, explore, and analyze new types of literature. Texts such as Hegirascope, texts that are concerned with form and interactivity, call for a new type of analysis, one that isn’t about linearity or content. Hegirascope is a story about Gina and Bent, driving towards Memphis, but I wasn’t concerned with the story. I was concerned with the words on the screen, how they were linked, what the connection was between this passage and the next. It’s not what you’re reading; it’s how you’re reading it.