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This essay surveys the development and current state of electronic literature, from the popularity of hypertext fiction in the 1980's to the present, focusing primarily on hypertext fiction, network fiction, interactive fiction, locative narratives, installation pieces, "codework," generative art and the Flash poem.

It also discusses the central critical issues raised by electronic literature, pointing out that there is significant overlap with the print tradition.

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And you don't know how to look because you don't know the names." De Lillo's words orient us in the direction of the language-driven, social work that Tabbi argues for in his vision of a semantic literary web. Katherine Hayles opens the aperture more widely and the angle differs slightly as well.

Her electronic literature "primer" is a wide-ranging essay that takes the pulse of the e-literature field at this particular moment, reminding us that "literature" has always been a contested category.

The committee's choice was framed to include both work performed in digital media and work created on a computer but published in print (as, for example, was Brian Kim Stefans's computer-generated poem "Stops and Rebels").

The committee's formulation: "work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer." As the committee points out, this definition raises questions about which capabilities and contexts of the computer are significant, directing attention not only toward the changing nature of computers but also the new and different ways in which the literary community mobilizes these capabilities.

In this sense electronic literature is a "hopeful monster" (as geneticists call adaptive mutations) composed of parts taken from diverse traditions that may not always fit neatly together.

Hybrid by nature, it comprises a trading zone (as Peter Galison calls it in a different context) in which different vocabularies, expertises and expectations come together to see what might come from their intercourse.

Digital technologies are now so thoroughly integrated with commercial printing processes that print is more properly considered a particular output form of electronic text than an entirely separate medium.

Nevertheless, electronic text remains distinct from print in that it literally cannot be accessed until it is performed by properly executed code.

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.

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