English 236: Writing And The Electronic Literary (Spring 2014)

Photo Credit: "Turmoil" by Clonny

In her influential volume Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary, Katherine Hayles explains that "writing is again in turmoil." The spread of mechanical type allowed for more writers and more texts, troubling those who were accustomed to a manuscript culture in which texts were copied by hand. In a similar way, Hayles explains that electronic literature opens up difficult questions about writing in our current moment: "Will the dissemination mechanisms of the internet and the Web, by opening publication to everyone, result in a flood of worthless drivel?...What large-scale social and cultural changes are bound up with the spread of digital culture, and what do they portend for the future of writing?" But Hayles also argues that electronic literature encompasses a broad range of digital writing practices, from video games to interactive fiction to hypertext. She proposes that we shift from a discussion of "literature" to the "literary," which she defines as "creative artworks that interrogate the histories, contexts, and productions of literature, including as well the verbal art of literature proper." This course will use Hayles' definition of the literary in order to read, play with, and create digital objects.


Professor: Jim Brown
Class Meeting Place: 2252A Helen C. White
Class Time: Monday, 2:30pm-5:00pm

Jim's Office: 6187E Helen C. White
Jim's Office Hours: M/W, 1:15pm-2:30pm [Make an Appointment]
Jim's Email: brownjr [at] wisc [dot] edu

Course Website: http://courses.jamesjbrownjr.net/236_spring2014

Course Objectives
In this course, we will develop the following skills and strategies:

  • Conduct Medium-Specific Analyses of Digital Objects and Environments
  • Develop a Writing/Design Process
  • Use New Media Technology to Express Ideas
  • Collaborate on Creative Projects
  • Practice Critical Reading Skills

Required Texts
Electronic Literature, N. Katherine Hayles
Making Comics, Scott McCloud
The Private Eye, issues 1-5 and "The Making of The Private Eye" [available for as a pay-what-you-want download at panelsyndicate.com

Course Work
In this class, the following work will be evaluated:

  • Attendance and Participation
  • Short Writing Assignments
  • Collaborative Interactive Fiction Project
  • Collaborative Comic Project

Learning Record
Grades in this class will be determined by the Learning Record Online (LRO). The LRO will require you to observe your own learning and construct an argument for your grade based on evidence that you accumulate throughout the semester. You will record weekly observations and you will synthesize your work into an argument for your grade. You will construct this argument twice - once at the midterm and once at the end of the course. We will be discussing the LR) at length during the first week of class. See below for more details.

Success in this class will require regular attendance. I will take attendance at each class meeting, and your Learning Record will include a discussion of attendance. You are required to attend class daily, arrive on time, do assigned reading and writing, and participate in all in-class work. Please save absences for when you are sick or have a personal emergency. If you find that an unavoidable problem prevents you from attending class or from arriving on time, please discuss the problem with me.

If you are more than 10 minutes late for class, you will be considered absent. If there is something keeping you from getting to class on time (i.e., you have a long trek across campus right before our class), please let me know during the first week of class.

Computers, Smartphones, etc.
Please feel free to use your computer or any other device during class, provided that your use of it is related to what we are working on in class. Please silence cell phones during class.

Grades in this course will be determined by use of the Learning Record, a system which requires students to compile a portfolio of work at the midterm and at the end of the semester. These portfolios present a selection of your work, both formal and informal, plus ongoing observations about your learning, plus an analysis of your work in terms of the five dimensions of learning and the goals for this course. You will evaluate your work in terms of the grade criteria posted on the LRO site, and you will provide a grade estimate at the midterm and final.

The dimensions of learning have been developed by teachers and researchers, and they represent what learners experience in any learning situation:

1) Confidence and independence
2) Knowledge and understanding
3) Skills and strategies
4) Use of prior and emerging experience
5) Reflectiveness

In addition to analyzing your work in terms of these dimensions of learning, your argument will also consider the specific goals for this course. These goals are called Course Strands (these are also listed above in the "Course Objectives" section):

1) Medium Specific Analysis
2) Writing/Design Process
3) Digital Expression
4) Collaboration
5) Critical Reading

The LRO website provides detailed descriptions of the Course Strands and the Dimensions of Learning.

Your work in class (and in other classes during this semester) along with the observations you record throughout the semester will help you build an argument in terms of the dimensions of learning and the course strands. We will discuss the LRO in detail at the beginning of the semester, and we will have various conversations about compiling the LRO as the semester progresses.

Late Assignments
Due dates for assignments are posted on the course schedule. While I will not be grading your assignments, I will be providing comments and feedback. I will not provide feedback on late assignments. Also, late assignments will be factored into your argument in the LR (see the grade criteria for more details).

Intellectual Property
Much of what we'll be working on this semester involves the appropriation of existing texts. This is no different than any other type of writing - all writing involves appropriation. The key will be to make new meaning with the texts that you appropriate. Copying and pasting existing texts without attribution does not make new meaning. Some of your work will make use of different materials (text, video, audio, image), and you will have to be mindful of intellectual property issues as you create texts for this class. If you have questions about the University of Wisconsin's Academic Misconduct policy, please see the Student Assistance and Judicial Affairs website.

Technology Policy
We will use technology frequently in this class. Although I am assuming that you have some basic knowledge of computers, such as how to use a keyboard and mouse, and how to use the Web and check e-mail, most things will be explained in class. If you don’t understand what we are doing, please ask for help. If you are familiar with the technology we are using please lend a helping hand to your classmates.

Course Website and Email
You should check your email daily. Class announcements and assignments may be distributed through email. The course website will also have important information about assignments and policies. Pay close attention to the course calendar as we move through the semester. I reserve the right to move things around if necessary.

Emails to me must come from your wisc.edu email address. They must include a title explaining the email, a salutation (for example, "Dear Jim"), a clear explanation of what the email is about, and a signature.


Unit 1: Computational Writing

January 27
Read: Hayles, pp1-30; Gillespie, Letter to Linus
["The Electronic Literary"]
[Introducing "Intermediation"]

February 3
Read: Hayles pp43-70; Moulthrop, Reagan Library, Browse Learning Record
Write: Summary/Analysis Paper 1 Due
In Class: Discuss learning record, readings, and Summary/Analysis papers
[Introducing "The Body and the Machine"]

February 10
Read: Hayles, pp87-126; For a Change, by Dan Schmidt
In Class: Discuss readings
["The Body and the Machine"]
[Introducing "How E-Lit Revalues Computational Practice"]

Friday, February 14

February 17
Read: Hayles, pp131-157; Glass, by Emily Short
Write: Summary/Analysis Paper 2 Due
In Class: Discuss readings, Twine Workshop
[How Electronic Literature Revalues Computational Practice]

February 24
Read: Montfort, pp. 1-36; Adventure (Crowther and Woods)
In class: Twine Workshop

March 3
Read: Montfort, pp. 37-64
In Class: Twine Workshop
Interactive Fiction Project 1.0 due by end of class

March 9

March 10
Interactive Fiction Project 2.0 Due prior to class
In class: Twine Workshop

March 14

Unit 2: Networked Writing

March 24
Read: Private Eye 1-3, McCloud "Writing With Pictures"
In Class: ComicLife workshop

March 31
Read: Private Eye 4-5, "The Making of Private Eye," McCloud "The Power of Words"
In Class: Comics Project Workshop-Storyboarding, Layout, Art

April 7
Read: McCloud "Stories for Humans"
In Class: Comics Project Workshop-Storyboarding, Layout, Art

April 14
Read: McCloud "World Building"
In Class: Comics Project Workshop-Revisions

April 21
In Class: Comics Project Workshop-final revisions, beginning building website

April 28
In Class: Comics Project Workshop-continue work on website

May 5
In Class: Comics Project Workshop-complete and roll-out website

May 12


Summary-Analysis Papers

Due Dates

February 3
February 17

S-A papers due prior to the beginning of class, submitted to your Dropbox folders.

As we read Hayles' Electronic Literature, we will be learning new theoretical concepts that help us make sense of works of electronic literature. In an attempt to apply those concepts, we will write three short Summary Analysis (S-A) papers.

Paper Assignments

Paper 1 (2/3)
Define Hayles' concept of "intermediation," and use it to conduct an analysis of Stuart Moulthrop's Reagan Library.

Paper 2 (2/17)
Hayles says that electronic literature "revalues computational practice." Summarize what she means by this phrase and use this idea to analyze Emily Short's Glass

Keep the following things in mind as you write your S-A papers:

The summary section can be no longer than 250 words in the three short papers. Fairly and adequately summarizing a theoretical concept is a difficult task, especially when space is limited. The summary section of S-A papers should very concisely and carefully provide a summary of Hayles' theoretical concept. Please note that you are providing a summary of a particular concept and not the entire chapter. Because your summaries are limited to 250 words, you won't be able to mention every single point the author makes. Your job is to decide what's important and to provide a reader with a clear, readable, fair summary of the concept. While you may decide to provide direct quotations of the author, you will need to focus on summarizing the author's argument in your own words.

The analysis section can be no longer than 500 words in the three short papers. In the analysis sections of these papers, you will focus on applying the theoretical concept described in the summary section. You will use the concept you've summarized to explain how a piece of electronic literature works, and you will explain how one of Hayles' concepts allows us to make sense of this piece of literature. Just as Hayles does throughout the book, you will provide a close reading of a piece of literature (we will study examples in class).

Grade Criteria

While I will not be grading your papers, I will be providing feedback. Here is what I will be looking for:

* Is your paper formatted correctly (double-spaced, observes the word limit, name in upper-left-hand corner)?

* Does your summary fairly and concisely summarize Hayles' theoretical concept?

* Have you used your own words to summarize the concept?

* Does your analysis use Hayles' theoretical concept to explain and interpret the assigned work of electronic literature?

* Have you devoted the appropriate amount of space to the two sections of the paper? Remember that the word counts I provide are just guides (not strict word limits), but also remember that both summary and analysis have to be adequately addressed in the paper.

* Is your paper written effectively and coherently with very few grammatical errors?

* Was the paper turned in on time? (Reminder: I do not accept late work.)

Interactive Fiction Project

Due Dates:

March 3
Project 1.0 (due by the end of class)

March 10
Project 2.0; Paper, first draft (both saved to Dropbox prior to class)

March 12 (noon)
Final Project and Paper Due (both saved to Dropbox prior to class)

We've read about the history of Interactive Fiction (IF) and have played with/read some works of IF. Using Twine, you will work with one other person to design your own work of IF. Your project should be inspired by a previous work of IF and should also incorporate some of the ideas from Nick Montfort's Twisty Little Passages. Your goal is to create a meaningful and relatively complex experience for the interactor.

In addition to designing this piece of interactive fiction, each pair of students will write a paper describing and explaining what you've created. Your paper will be no more than 1000 words (four pages double-spaced) and will do the following:

  • Explain the inspiration for your project. Remember that you should be drawing on both Montfort's text and on the games we've been playing to develop ideas for your work of IF.
  • Explain your project in the terms laid out by Montfort in Twisty Little Passages. You may choose to describe your game in terms of the basic components of IF (laid out in Chapter 1), or in terms of Montfort's discussion of riddles, or you might compare your game to one of the examples of IF he discusses in the text.
  • Explain how you incorporated feedback that you received during the testing phase. Your classmates will play the various versions of your game, and you will incorporate the feedback you receive during these "user tests." Your paper should explain what changes you made and how you addressed this feedback.

Grade Criteria
When responding to these projects, Eric and I will be asking:

  • Does your project show evidence that you have understood and made use Montfort's discussion of IF in Twisty Little Passages?
  • Does your project take advantage of the Twine system? Does it provide a meaningful and relatively complex experience for the interactor?
  • Does your paper explain the inspiration for your project, and does it draw on the works of IF that we've discussed and played?
  • Does your paper explain how your piece of IF works, and how you've incorporated feedback?
  • Was your project submitted on time? (I do not accept late work.)
  • Does your paper observe the word limit?
  • Does your paper have minimal grammatical and/or structural problems?

Comics Project

Our final project will be to create a comic in collaboration with a class at the University of Utah. We will model our process on the one that Marcos Martin and Brian K. Vaughan use in the creation of The Private Eye, and our class will focus on artwork while the Utah class focuses on writing. However, these roles will inevitably bleed into one another.

This project will mean collaboration amongst all members of our class and with members of the Utah class, and this means that individual roles will be determined as we go depending on each person's interests. If you are interested in drawing, you will have an opportunity to contribute to that portion of the project. If you'd rather focus on page layout, then you can do that. At times, people will likely move between roles and subgroups.

Given the fluid structure of this collaboration, you will have two primary sets of tasks during the course of the project:

1) Get involved! This can take many forms, but your job is to find a place where you can contribute to the project.

2) Document your contributions. In order to discuss this project during your final LRO, you'll need evidence to analyze and evaluate. This means that you'll want to document your participation by saving copies of drafts, planning documents, sketches, meeting notes, or any other artifacts that emerge out of the collaboration.

You'll be receiving feedback on this project from me and your peers throughout this project, and you'll receive feedback on the final results as well. However, as with everything in this class, you won't be getting a letter grade on any individual portion of the project or on the final product. This is why it's imperative that you document your various processes and products - such documentation will be important during the composition of your final LRO.