Electronic Literature clicks in Providence

Archive panel at ELO/AI
State of the Archive panel at ELO/AI

Scores of practitioners and theorists of electronic text assembled at Brown University this weekend for the fourth annual conference of the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO). The conference, whose theme was "Archive and Innovate" was a four-day round of papers, installations, readings, and a Saturday night banquet celebrating the contributions of Rhode Island's own star of American letters, Robert Coover.

During the conference, ELO announced the release of their new electronic literature directory, in keeping with one of the main themes, the problem of archiving electronic texts.

One highlight was a panel on archiving featuring Deena Larsen, Stephanie Strickland, Will Hansen, and Marjorie Luesebrink, talking about the challenges of determining just what constitutes an archive for a digital fiction, and the very real issues with operating systems and software changing out from under efforts at preservation. Respondant Elli Mylonas of Brown showed a very promising start, the Brown Digital Repository, and Hansen talked about efforts underway at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities.

I missed the panel by Jessica Pressman, Mark Marino, and Jeremy Douglass which comprised three approaches to reading a digital text, but had a chance to talk with them later. Jeremy's use of ImageJ, a tool for manipulating 3D medical images like CAT scans and MRIs, as a way of slicing a time-based image stream was just mind-bendingly innovative. Imagine taking a feature film and treating the entire two hours of frames as a three-d object, then taking slices through it. Amazing.

Okay, to be truthful, the real highlight for me was the "unconference" area that Denna Larsen had set up outside the main presentation room. People could just hang out there and talk in between — and, okay, sometimes during — the official panels, and it was an amazing primordial soup of people just dropping in: gearheads, poets, filmmakers, and literary theorists, all in the mix. Got a chance to see folks that I haven't since the digital lit conference I went to, which we all realized was about ten years ago.

There are a bunch of pix up on a Flickr group, and you can get a surprisingly good sense of the flow of the conference from the Twitter stream.