1995 NEH Summer Seminar for College Teachers "Literature in Transition: The Impact of Information Technologies"

Director, N. Katherine Hayles
June 26-August 18, 1995


Conceptual Itinerary (Provisional Syllabus)
Revised (Actual) Syllabus
List of Participants


The goal of the seminar, broadly conceived, is to understand the implications of electronic textuality for literary study. As computers become woven into the fabric of everyday life for publishers, libraries, authors, readers, teachers and students, the concepts that underlie literary study and the practices that constitute it as a profession are undergoing remarkable and far-reaching changes. Such fundamental questions as "What is an author?," "What is a text?," and 'What is a reader?" are asked with fresh urgency and answered in new ways in light of these technologies. The seminar will address these questions by exploring the implications of hypertext for literary theory and pedagogy; by looking at the possibilities for narrative offered by interactive fiction; by considering the implications of hypermedia for libraries, publishing, and such credentialing procedures as tenure reviews and promotions; by experiencing the aesthetic dimensions of the new media; and by discussing the changing contexts in which literature is produced and read as a result of the electronic word.

In addition to providing an overview of recent scholarship on electronic textuality, the seminar will offer participants the opportunity to develop their own electronic texts. Time will be provided for participants to pursue their individual projects, and there are a number of avenues through which they may do so. Some may wish to incorporate hypertext versions of major texts within their courses; others may be interested in using computers to teach writing and network with students; still others may be engaged in exploring the theoretical and cultural implications for litrature of the shift to electronic media. Because the textual, pedagogical, theoretical and cultural implications of electronic textuality are intimately connected, applications are welcome from all these areas of emphasis.

My approach to the seminar topic aims to combine wide-ranging reading of critical and cultural texts with hands-on experience with electronic media, especially hypertext. It will be useful, I think, to weigh the theoretical claims that have been made for literature in electronic format against the reality of interacting with hypertexts that seminar participants and others have created. I anticipate that participants will come with varying degrees of experience in electronic media. My expectation is that we will learn from one another about this rapidly developing field. The seminar will have available for its use a multimedia interactive studio with sixteen computer workstations, each equipped with CD ROM player and tied into the master station. The master station has an LCD projection system, so images that appear on its screen can be seen by everyone. The room is also equipped with a superb sound system, bringing text, image, and sound together. Participants will probably want to bring their computers with them. In addition, UCLA has available several clusters of Macintosh and IBM computers, along with laser printers, that you may use if you wish. Each participant will be given a computer account at UCLA that will permit you to use email and to access the Internet.

My own interest in computer media dates from over a decade ago, when I offered a course on "Computer Literacy," co-taught with a computer scientist, that aimed to talk about modular programming and expository writing as complementary modes of expression. As part of that course, we set up a local email network with the students, who submitted assignments and corresponded with us electronically. More recently, my work has explored the implications of computer media for the literary corpus and the human body. My articles on the subject include "The Materiality of Informatics" (in Configurations), "Embodied Virtuality" (forthcoming in a volume entitled Immersed in Techology ), "Artificial Life and Literary Culture" (in Kritik ), "Simulated Nature and Natural Simulations" (forthcoming in Uncommon Ground ), "Boundary Disputes: Homeostasis and Reflexivity in the Foundations of Cybernetics" (in Configurations ) and "Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers" (in October). My book on the subject, Virtual Bodies: Information, Cybernetics, Literature is scheduled to be completed this fall.

The seminar will be structured to facilitate work on individual projects as well as collaborative discussions. The seminar will meet twice a week for three hours each session, probably on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Each seminar participant will be asked to lead a discussion on a topic chosen from the syllabus. Most of our discussions will probably be centered on readings for the seminar; other possibilities include discussion of the electronic texts we will be using. In addition, each participant will be asked to pursue an independent research project that he or she can present in summary form. This might be the draft of an essay or other writing, an electronic document designed for use in a course and/or for publication, an annotated bibliography for a course you want to teach to teach, or an extensive outline or prospectus for a larger project such as a book. I will be ready to assist in this research by giving feedback and suggestions throughout the seminar and in the months following. I expect to meet individually with each participant during the first two weeks of the seminar, and at least once more during the closing weeks, in addition to any other meetings that we may wish to arrange. Seminar participants will have access to the excellent research facilities at UCLA, as well as to its renowned media and film archives and to specialized libraries in music, the sciences, law, and other fields. I would like to arrange discussions between seminar participants and well-known people in the Los Angeles area who are interested in electronic media, including the TV and film director Alex Singer, who is exploring the merger of interactive media with the entertainment industry; Richard Lanham, author of The Electronic Word; Robert Winter, author of prize-winning CD-ROMs on classical music; Michael Heim, author of Electric Language; and Peter Lunenfeld, coordinator of the Southern California Hypermedia Working Group. In addition to our seminar meetings, time will be set aside for visits to the University of Southern California, site of one of the country's first entirely electronic library; to the Electronic Cafe in Santa Monica, which regularly hosts interactive media events; and (depending on the interests of participants) joint meetings with the Interactive Fiction SIG (Special Interest Group) and Virtual Reality SIG. A wonderful bonus comes in August, when Los Angeles will host SIGGRAPH '95, the huge trade show/conference for computer graphics, where virtually all the newest state-of-the-art interactive technology available in this country will be exhibited and demonstrated. Many other events will no doubt be available, ranging from cyberspace art galleries to consultations with editors from the Voyager Company, one of the leading publishing companies for electronic texts.

Conceptual Itinerary

Week 1. Historical Perspectives on Electronic Textuality. In this session, we will explore how the underlying premises and assumptions of electronic textuality differ from those of print media. Of special interest will be the construction of electronic textuality as a medium that partakes both of writing and of orality. The main reading will be Jay Bolter's Writing Space: The Comptuer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Selections and references will be made to Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word; Eric Havelock, The Literate Revolution in Greece and Its Cultural Consequences; Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man; and Eugene Provenzo, Beyond the Gutenberg Galaxy: Microcomputers and the Emergence of Post-Typographic Culture.

Week 2. Hyptertext and Its Implications for Literary Theory. This week will be devoted to understanding how hypertext changes the experiences of writing, reading, and producing texts, from the changed kinesthetic and visual relations to the political and ideological implications of hypertext compared to print media. The central text will be George Landow's Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology, with discussion and references to Ted Nelson, Literary Machines, Landow and Delany, Hypermedia and Literary Studies, Bernstein's Hypertext '87 and Edward Barrett, Text, ConText, and Hypertext: Writing with and for the Computer.

Week 3. The Theory and Practice of Hypertext Pedagogy. This week's discussions will explore how hypertext changes teaching and learning practices, compared to instruction based on print media. Increased collaboration, the presence of sound and image as well as print, the decentralization of authority in hypertext, and the different styles of learning it encourages will be among the issues we consider. Reading for this week will focus on instructional hypertexts developed for classroom use. Final selections will depend on interests of the participants; possibilities include The Dickens Web, The Milton Project, and An Interactive Macbeth. Additional readings include Michael Joyce, "Siren Shapes," Elaine Brennan, "Using the Computer to Right the Canon," and David Jonassen and Heinz Mandl, Designing Hypertext/Hypermedia for Learning.

Week 4. Reading Interactive Fiction: Constructing and Deconstructing Boundaries between Print and Electronic Hypertexts. Discussion here will focus on how the reading experience of a print narrative structured like a hypertext differs fom that of an electronic hypertext. Readings will include Borges, "Garden of the Forking Paths and Milorad Pavic, Dictionary of the Khazars, along with Michael Joyce's afternoon and Stuart Moulthrop's hypertextual interpretation and performance of Borges's story, Forking Paths: An Interaction after Jorge Luis Borges.

Week 5. Implications of Electronic Textuality for Professional Practice. This week's discussion will explore how electronic media are changing libraries, publication, credentialing practices such as tenure and promotion, copyright, and academic freedom. Reading selections will be made from the editorial policies of The Journal of Postmodern Culture; Richard Lanham, The Electronic Word; Ethan Katsh, The Electronic Media and the Transformation of Law; Ithiel de Sola Pool, Technologies of Freedom, and Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution.

Week 6. Aesthetic Dimensions of Multimedia and Their Implications for Literary Study. Discussion here will explore the aesthetic dimensions of multimedia, comparing and constrasting them with print media. The central text will be Richard Lanham's The Electronic Word, with selections from Brenda Laurel, Computers as Theater, John Austin, How To Do Things With Words, and Robert Winter, CD Compantion to Beethoven's Sympony No. 9.

Week 7. Cultural Contexts for Understanding the Impact of Information Technologies on Literary Studies. This week will be devoted to exploring the larger cultural transformations that information technologies are bringing about that affect the contexts in which literature is read and interpreted. Texts will include selections from Jean Baudrillard, The Ecstasy of Communication; Walter Ong, Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology; Studies in the Interaction of Expression and Culture; Walter Wriston, The Twilight of Sovereignty: How the Information Revolution is Transforming our World; Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology; and Katherine Hayles, "Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers."

Week 8. Integrating the Changing Shapes of Literature in Our Teaching and Research. This week will feature presentation and discussion of the participants' own research and teaching projects.

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