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Moreover, if any Thomas, Richard or Harold could find his way into print, would not writing itself be compromised and become commonplace scribbling?And how would the spread of cheap printed materials affect the culture of the Word, bringing scribbling into every hut and hovel whose occupants had hitherto relied on priests to interpret writing for them?To see electronic literature only through the lens of print is, in a significant sense, not to see it at all.This essay aims to provide (some of) the context that will open the field of inquiry so that electronic literature can be understood as both partaking of literary tradition and introducing crucial transformations that redefine what literature is.Because this essay is the first systematic attempt to survey and summarize the fast-changing field of electronic literature, artists, designers, writers, critics, and other stakeholders may find it useful as an overview, with emphasis on recent creative and critical works.Thom Swiss, Professor, University of Minnesota The quote Joseph Tabbi employs from Don De Lillo for the epigraph to his essay is a helpful one: "You didn't see the thing because you didn't know how to look.When he demanded to see it, Brother Jacob shamefacedly produced a codex, but not one that the antiquarii of this monastery had copied — or of any monastery, for this Psalter was printed.
Readers come to digital work with expectations formed by print, including extensive and deep tacit knowledge of letter forms, print conventions, and print literary modes.Just as the history of print literature is deeply bound up with the evolution of book technology as it built on wave after wave of technical innovations, so the history of electronic literature is entwined with the evolution of digital computers as they shrank from the room-sized IBM 1401 machine on which I first learned to program (sporting all of 4K memory) to the networked machine on my desktop, thousands of times more powerful and able to access massive amounts of information from around the globe.The questions that troubled the Scriptorium are remarkably similar to issues debated today within literary communities. Will the dissemination mechanisms of the Internet and World Wide Web, by opening publication to everyone, result in a flood of worthless drivel?Both essays are major contributions to the study of electronic/new media literature — useful, I believe, to those readers new to digital literature as well as those writers, critics and teachers who have helped develop or actively follow and critique the development of literature in a born-digital mode.While both Hayles and Tabbi agree on many points (and cover some of the same territory), there are also some interesting differences between the essays. Katherine Hayles is largely concerned with defining a field, Joseph Tabbi is concerned more with defining the possibility and conditions of literature's persistence in digital environments.