The field of electronic literature and its criticism do not represent a break from the traditions of literature and criticism. Rather, they represent an opportunity to delve more purposefully and deliberately into questions about representation. I chose to focus in the first week on Neruda, which I thought would simplify things. I deliberately chose to avoid some of the writers who are known proto-hypermedia poets, only to discover that poetry in general seems to be hypertextual… and that hypertext is not about choice, but about depth. To state it differently, I could say that hypertext does not exist, but poetry always has and will, as long as we communicate through representation.
In terms of analyzing my own work, I would say that I need to proceed with humility. I come back to Hayles’ Writing Machines (MIT, 2002), in which she explains that technotexts “play a special role in transforming literary criticism into a material practice, for they make vividly clear that the issue at stake is nothing less than a full-bodied understanding of literature” (26). All texts are “technotexts,” and the question of new media helps us to see this. A simple observation. But many of the most complex questions have simple solutions. And simple solutions often have complex consequences.
I believe that Dorothy’s musings about Utopia offer instruction for the place where poetry exists:
“A place where there isn’t any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place Toto? There must be. It’s not a place you can get to by a boat or a train. It’s far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain.”
“Well, I – I think that it – it wasn’t enough to just want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em – and it’s that – if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?”
In other words, to find poetry you’ve got to travel to exceptional places. But, in the end, the exceptional place is where we live. Good poetry is a vehicle for estrangement; it launches us into new frames of experience.
About my colleagues, I have learned a great deal. They are diligent, bright, creative people. But more importantly, I learned the value of bringing a highly personal approach to the work that we do. How do we ground our work in our experience? And I was reminded of how important it is to be integrated with a community.The people involved worked well. I attribute its success to the personalities involved.
What did not work well were the consequences of poor planning on my part. The pacing was too quick. The size of the cohort was too small. The season seemed wrong (particularly as we ran into August). And, I did not allow (as Jason Nelson correctly pointed out) for community to develop as fully as it might have.
In the future, I would work on a larger cohort, perhaps twice as many people. I would include a discussion list and orientation period so that people could get to know each other online before, during, and after the symposium. This would encourage a more relaxed approach and improved commenting.
Having said that, there are many great pieces that have emerged from this experiment. Personally, I have written a great deal that I would like to refine and consolidate for publication. This is true for each of our active participants. And I am convinced that this format would be incredibly useful for a graduate or, even, an upper-division undergraduate seminar.