Destination Unknown: Experiments in the Network Novel

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

PhD, University of Cincinnati, Arts & Sciences : English & Comparative Literature, 2003.

Advisor: Dr. Thomas LeClair

The dissertation contains two components: a critical component that examines recent experiments in writing literature specifically for the electronic media, and a creative component that includes selections from The Unknown, the hypertext novel I coauthored with William Gillespie and Dirk Stratton. In the critical component of the dissertation, I argue that the network must be understood as a writing and reading environment distinct from both print and from discrete computer applications. In the introduction, I situate recent network literature within the context of electronic literature produced prior to the launch of the World Wide Web, establish the current range of experiments in electronic literature, and explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of writing and publishing literature for the network. In the second chapter, I examine the development of the book as a technology, analyze "electronic book" distribution models, and establish the difference between the "electronic book" and "electronic literature." In the third chapter, I interrogate the ideas of linking, nonlinearity, and referentiality. In the fourth chapter, I examine some specific examples of network novels: Robert Arellano's Sunshine '69, Shelley and Pamela Jackson's The Doll Games, Rob Wittig's Blue Company, and The Unknown. In discussing these network novels, I illustrate how the network imposes certain constraints on the form of the novel, and discuss some of the strategies that authors have employed to create distinctly literary reading experiences for the fragmented reading environment of the network. In the conclusion of the critical component, I survey some of the new forms and genres currently in development, and delineate some of the challenges faced by the field of electronic literature at this time. The creative component of the dissertation includes forty "scenes" from The Unknown, the 1998 trAce/AltX International Hypertext Competition-winning collaborative hypertext novel. The preface to these selections discusses the effect of remediating sections of a novel written for the network into print. In print, the selections from the hypertext novel function autonomously as a comic, metafictional, and intertextual road-trip novel, and track the rise and fall of the eponymous authors of The Unknown.

Critical writing referenced:

Title Author Year
The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age Sven Birkerts 2006
Nonlinearity and Literary Theory Espen Aarseth 1994
Information Management: A Proposal Tim Berners-Lee 1989
Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature Espen Aarseth 1997
Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing Jay David Bolter 1991
As We May Think Vannevar Bush 1945
The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society Manuel Castells 2003
Literary Hypertext: The Passing of the Golden Age Robert Coover 1999
The End of Books--Or Books Without End: Reading Interactive Narratives J. Yellowlees Douglas 2003
Call for Action on Problems in Scholarly Book Publishing: A Special Letter from the President Stephen Greenblatt 2002
Flickering Connectivities in Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis N. Katherine Hayles 2000
Materiality Has Always Been In Play N. Katherine Hayles, Lisa Gitelman 2002
Synesthesia and Intersenses: Intermedia Dick Higgins 1965
The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making Adrian Johns 2008
Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics Michael Joyce 2002
The History of Communications Media Friedrich Kittler 1996
Gramophone, Film, Typewriter Friedrich Kittler 2006
Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology George P. Landow 1997
The Art of Excess: Mastery of Contemporary American Fiction Tom LeClair 1989
The Language of New Media Lev Manovich 2000

Events referenced:

Title Datesort descending Location
2001 Electronic Literature Awards 18.05.2001
Swayduck Auditorium at the The New School University New York City , NY
United States
New York US
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Scott Rettberg