The Generative Literature Project & 21st Century Literacies

Abstract (in English): 

In Fall 2014 I taught a “special” version of my “Writing Electronic Literature” course. Throughout this class my students received an overview of established and emerging forms of Electronic Literature including hypertext fiction, network fiction, interactive works, and digital poetry. Students read, analyzed, and composed a variety of emerging genres of Electronic Literature. Yet what was unique to this particular iteration of my E-Lit class was that my students contributed to a transmodal generative novel to be published in late 2015 by the academic journal Hybrid Pedagogy. The idea of a generative novel is one that can be traced to the OuliPo group (Ouvroir delittérature potentielle) in France. According to the OuliPo website, the generative writer is “un rat qui construit lui-même le labyrinthe dont il se propose de sortir” (trans. “a rat who builds the maze he wishes to escape”). In this understanding of art and literature, the idea of creation, especially literary creation, is one of wordplay and gameplay. Therefore, the generative novel is, in itself, a game – one of interplay between people, cultures, and institutions. It is an open-ended enterprise that in many ways ensures new and unexpected results. In order to create a work of generative literature, there must be a creative constraint (limitation), which forces the writer to direct writing toward a particular purpose.

The Generative Literature Project is a crowdsourced gamefied digital novel about a murder. Nine writing professors and their students – from the US, The Marshall Islands, and Puerto Rico – completed a series of digitized artifacts about nine “distinguished alumni” of the fictional “Theopolis College”, a highly competitive Liberal Arts College that exists in the leafy suburb of the fictional town of Theopolis. In the artifacts created by my students can be found the clues and red-herrings, motives and alibis of the suspects in the murder of the Theopolis College president.

This paper/presentation will highlight our experimentation with this crowdsourced project as I consider some of the pedagogic affordances of digital writing within a networked and computational environment. As my students developed their fictional work for The Generative Literature Project, I watched how their evolving new sense of reading and writing (in a 21st century digitized context) shaped their own discovery of new ways to learn. What role might Electronic Literature play in transforming pedagogic practices for both reading and writing? In what ways does a networked learning context transform reading and writing methodology?

My discussion will highlight the work of my class’s contribution, offering a birds-eye view of the open ended electronic literary experiment. My presentation will include a further description of the project, including phases of development and forms of collaboration (i.e. the mechanics) and a schema of the digital writing spaces generated thus far (i.e. the infrastructure). Analysis of the project will include reflection on the element of creative play as an inherent entry point in the generative literature undertaking. It will also account for the ways in which community develops around a collaborative fictional enterprise. Other topics addressed include networked character development, social media as a space of fictional creation, pedagogical approaches & challenges, and examples of student generated character “artifacts”.

(Source: ELO 2015 Conference Catalog)

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Hannah Ackermans