The Unexplored Link: Electronic Literature and Interaction Design

Critical Writing
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In 2010, Serge Bouchardon provocatively suggested that electronic literature can figure as a catalyst for disciplinary concerns, thus foregrounding its heuristic value. Bouchardon did not suggest that electronic literature cannot or should not be studied in its own right, for its literary, artistic, and conceptual qualities and histories, but rather, that it in addition to such concerns can function as a lens through which scholars can re-examine well-established notions within their disciplines. This paper proposes to do an inverse move and use recent ideas emerging in the field of interaction design to ask questions about the aesthetic and interaction qualities of electronic literature. It has become a commonplace to analyze electronic literature from neighboring fields such as art history, media studies, new media art, or performance studies. It is equally common for critics to note how electronic literature moves beyond conventional processes of creation and reception such as reading, viewing, and writing. Instead, concepts like experience, playability, interaction, and participation are foregrounded by artists and scholars alike (Wardrip-Fruin 2011, Simanowski 2009, Raley 2009). Commercial or practice-based fields such as web design or interaction design have, however, rarely been linked to digital literature, even as researchers in interaction design start to analyze artistic works (Löwgren 2009; practitioner Talan Memmott’s recent Ph.D. in interaction design from Malmö University is an exemption, however a problematic one). And, yet, interaction design of digital media experiences and creation of multimodal literary arts share many points of convergence, such as innovative and aesthetic explorations of digital interfaces, and a close link between theory (or reflection) and practice. In this paper, I explore how ideas within interaction design can add to our understanding of electronic literature as aesthetic experience. As it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate between a work of literary arts, a media art work, and an interface design, this paper asks what difference, if any, such a demarcation makes. More provocatively, if we refuse to make such a distinction, for a moment, what are the insights, or, perhaps, productive misunderstandings, that interaction design can give us concerning the experience of electronic literature? How does such an analysis challenge the privilege of “literariness” that is often foregrounded in the community as a mark of difference? (Most prominently articulated by the Electronic Literature Organization’s definition of e-lit as having “important literary aspects” And, what can electronic literature give to interaction design?

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Maria Engberg