Reading at the Thresholds to Electronic Literature: A Paratextual Study

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This study relates to Gérard Genette’s book-based theory on paratexts published with Seuils in ’87 and proposes to adapt it to literature in programmable media. Electronic literature often is experienced and in theory discussed as “works without end”. An article by Yellowlees Douglas, author of The End of Books – or. Books without End (2001) investigates the reading experience of interactive narratives and tellingly asks: “How Do I Stop This Thing?” (1994). Similar to the nature of endings, fixed beginnings in turn often are not a given in electronic literature: Some works randomly generate beginnings according to programmed algorithms such as in ingen elge på vejen den dag (Sonja Thomsen) in which the works development is dependent on the weekday it is accessed at. Other works such as hypertexts offer readers a choice of links to choose from to begin a reading (e.g. Twelve Blue
by Michael Joyce). In a sense, there are often non-beginnings and non-endings that readers encounter in a number of e-lit works. In this presentation I paraphrase Douglas and ask: how do I begin "this thing"? I propose how narrative beginnings in electronic literature can be approached paratextually - by reading at the threshold: the opening pages to works of electronic literature.

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Patricia Tomaszek