On the “Effect(s) of Living Backwards”: A Platform-critical, Collaborative Analysis of Kathryn Cramer’s In Small and Large Pieces

Abstract (in English): 

From its earliest beginnings, electronic literature has eschewed canonization and institutionalization by manifesting itself as a “set of [dynamic] practices” (Pawlicka 2017; Ensslin 2007) that have responded to and generated new and perpetually morphing forms and methods of writing and reading. This processual, personalized and platform-contingent textuality can only adequately be studied in a concerted approach that takes into account the numerous platforms on which electronic literature has been accessible pre- and post-Web. Similarly, it raises important questions about original design and intent, and the breakage thereof across platforms.

To demonstrate how platform contingency can lead to complementary, diachronically pertinent analyses, this panel focuses on a seminal, pre-web hypertext published in issue 1:3 (1994) of the Eastgate Quarterly Review of Hypertext. Kathryn Cramer’s In Small and Large Pieces first appeared in a folio containing two 3.5-inch floppy disks for Macintosh and PC, and later on a single CD-ROM requiring 2 MB RAM and a hard disk drive. It was originally written in Storyspace 1.08 and used 875K (Grigar et al. 2019). To access the work in its original format, historical machines such as a Macintosh Classic or Performa are required. However, there are other platforms on which the text can be rendered and emulated, including for example Eastgate’s Tinderbox and Windows XP emulators like Oracle VM VirtualBox. Focusing on these three hardware and software constellations and their individual aesthetic and embodied affordances, this panel will explore the ways in which reading “the same” work in different technological environments yields platform-specific analytical nuances, and how, collectively, these readings open up new forms of collaborative, connective textuality. Our work will deepen our understanding of how platform-conscious readings can shed light on discrepancies between reader experience and original design and intent, and how contemporary technologies might make it possible to bring back an obsolescent work. In doing so, we explore how platform studies can operate synchronically and diachronically, especially if combined with post-pandemic forms of remote collaboration and presentation that enable scholars to read from their own site-specific premises.

Our presentation will begin with some introductory notes from Kathryn Cramer about the genesis of her work (8 min). This will be followed by three short analytical demos from the other panellists, with Grigar reading from a Macintosh Performa 5215CD (8 min), Pisarski from Tinderbox (8 min), and Ensslin from VirtualBox Windows XP (8 min). Cramer will close with a commentary on the analyses (8 min), followed by plenary discussion (20 min).


Ensslin, Astrid (2007) Canonizing Hypertext: Explorations and Constructions. London: Bloomsbury.

Grigar, Dene, Nicholas Schiller, Holly Slocum, Mariah Gwin, Andrew Nevue, Kathleen Zoller, and Moneca Roath (2019) Rebooting Electronic Literature: Documenting Pre-Web Born Digital Media, Volume 2. https://scalar.usc.edu/works/rebooting-electronic-literature-volume-2/index.

Pawlicka, Urszula (2017) “An essay on electronic literature as platform,” Przegląd Kulturoznawczy, 33, 430-444.

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Record posted by: 
Milosz Waskiewicz