Electronic Literature and Culture 
Department of English, University of Minnesota 
Spring 2000 
Rita Raley

In what ways is the “literary” relevant to the Information Age? What are the differences between a novel on the page and a hypertext novel on the screen?  What we have seen in the prophecies of the “death” or “end” of the literary book has been the end of the belief in the book as repository and transmitter of definitive cultural value; that sense of value has in part been displaced onto the chip, the database, the electronic archive, and their framing mechanism, the screen.  Hypertext narratives, though, complicate this displacement—they are a site of literature’s adaptation to the digital condition that is perpetually “under construction.”  Thus, one premise of this course is that literature is by no means an antiquated cultural form relegated to the obsolescent spheres of print—it has instead virtually morphed in response to the new electronic culture, and we will investigate how it has done so.  We will also discuss the relations between text and image; post-humanism; cyborgs and the technology of reproduction; simulation and the simulacrum; the tropes and figures of electronic culture; the digital condition; techno-paranoia; “making do” and the figure of the hacker; the theoretical and cultural antecedents of hypertext; the end of the book question; the anamorphic text; the stylistics of hypertextual narrative; and the general problem of aesthetics in relation to “Information.”

See also, "Hypertext Fiction & Theory" (Winter 1999 graduate seminar), also taught at the University of Minnesota


William Gibson, Neuromancer

Jean Baudrillard, Simulations

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl (Macintosh or Windows format from Eastage Systems

Espen Aarseth, Cybertext:
Perspectives on Ergodic Literature

Other Reading
- EngL 3070 Reader is available at Paradigm; reader selections are marked (R) on the syllabus. 

- Online or electronic readings are marked (OL) on the syllabus and are reachable from our class webpage. Some of the electronic reading may need to be done on a relatively high-powered computer, and I recommend you visit one of the computer labs for this purpose.  When it comes time to browse an index or site, I will direct you to a few particular texts. 


1.  Précis: 10% 
2.  4-5 pp. Paper: 20%
3.  Final Paper or Project: 40%
4.  Take-home Final Exam: 15%
5.  Class Participation & Presentation: 15% 

  1. One of the requirements for this course will be a précis, or critical summary, of a work of theory of your choosing.  There will be a separate handout with guidelines for the assignment.
  2. Topics for the short paper will be assigned.  Due date: March 23
  3. At the end of the quarter, seminar participants will place their work, however temporarily, online. (I will hold a separate tutorial for anyone interested in learning the basics of HTML, WYSIWYG editors and FTP’ing.  Otherwise, there are a number of technicians on campus who can assist you.)  If the project is a standard seminar paper, then the approximate length should be 10 pages in print.  If the project is more explicitly hypertextual, however, then the guiding quantitative principle should be subsumed to conceptual scope; that is, the project should be equivalent to a seminar paper in argumentative range and ambition.  Hypertext fiction projects are also welcome, but they should be accompanied by a short (3 pg.) critical analysis of the composition.  Due date: May 4 
  4. The final exam will be made up of essay questions and close readings that ask you to demonstrate your knowledge of the material covered in the course. Questions distributed May 4; Exams due May 11
  5. Another requirement for the course will be a short class presentation, usually opening up into a question for general discussion (5 minutes).  You should either speak with me over email or make arrangements to see me briefly the week before the class in which you are to present, so we can speak about your proposed topics or questions.  These presentations may be collaborative; that is, you may choose to present with someone else in the class.
Some of our class sessions will be in a campus computer lab.  The movie screenings will be Thursday evenings at 7:30 in Smith Hall 100.  On those days we will not have class at the usual time.


    “multiple fragments which are assembled under a new law”
    - Walter Benjamin

    “there is no story for which the question as to how it continued would not be legitimate"
    - Walter Benjamiun

    “She quivered as she blew back the tissue paper from each engraving …those pictures of every corner of the world.” 
    - Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary



    “I have erected a monument more durable than bronze/
    And loftier than the pyramids’ regal structure,/
    One that no voracious rain, nor violent north wind/
    Will destroy, nor the numberless sequence/
    Of years and the rush of time.” 
    - Horace, 1st Century B.C.
    Chapter Zero: Diagnosis

    January 18:  Introduction

    January 20:  Bruce Sterling, “Unstable Networks” (R); John Nňto, “Bring the Noise” and “Camcorder” (R)

    January 25:  William Gibson, Neuromancer (3-135) 

    Links: Postmodern Science Fiction and Cyberpunk; Study Guide with good contextual references
    January 27:  William Gibson, Neuromancer (137-271) 

    February 1: Tactics & Infiltration (the hacker)
    Michel de Certeau, from The Practice of Everyday Life (R); Michel Foucault, “Panopticism,” from Discipline and Punish (R). 

    Links: “The Hacker Ethic” (MIT); Worldwide Piracy Initiative; hacked.net; AntiOnline (Computer Security-Hackers & Hacking); A way to find your path in the digital underground; Takedown (for just-released Kevin Mitnick); WebTracker
    February 3:  Class Canceled

    February 8:  Nervous Conditions
    Holo-X (OL; “Originating from the hypothesis that psychotropic effects can be instigated without a chemical trigger and instead by data interpreted visually”); Mark Amerika, “Hypertextual Consciousness” (OL).  Begin browsing the Beyond Interface Index (OL).

    February 10: The 'New Law'
    Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” 

    February 15: Stories vs. Information
    Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller” 

    February 17:  Text and Image (Hypermedia) 
    Mitchell Stephens, Preface, “Multiple Fragments,” and "Thinking ‘Above the Stream’” from The Rise of the Image and the Fall of the Word (R); Roland Barthes, “Rhetoric of the Image” (R); Olia Lialina, “My Boyfriend Came Back From the War” (OL). 

    February 22:  Text and Image, continued
    Lisa Bloomfield, No Memory (1996; OL) and Random Readings (1995; OL); Browse the entropy site: <entropy8zuper.org>; continue browsing the Beyond Interface Index (OL). 

    February 24:  Mediation
    Speaking Parts (1989; Atom Egoyan): Smith Hall 100, 7:30.

    February 29:  Jean Baudrillard, Simulations (1-58)
    March 2:  Jean Baudrillard, Simulations (83, 92-115, 138-152)

    The Cyborg and the Posthuman

    March 7:  Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (5-98)

    March 9:  Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (99-end)
     Optional evening film screening: Frankenstein (1931; James Whale)

    March 14:  Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl (Eastgate Systems)

    March 16:  Jean Baudrillard, “The Ecstasy of Communication” (R); Sigmund Freud, from Civilization and Its Discontents (R); Gray Matters (OL)
    Optional: Shannon McRae, “Coming Apart at the Seams: Sex, Text and the Virtual Body” (R) 

    March 21: The Promises of Monsters
    Donna Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” (R; some excerpts are online and a scanned copy of the book version is also online)

    March 23:  Blade Runner (1982; Ridley Scott). Smith Hall 100, 7:30. 
        Links: 2019: Off-World Blade Runner Page
        4-5 pp. paper due

    The Work of Art in the Information Age

    April 4:  Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think” (OL); Ted Nelson, from Literary Machines (R) ; John Tolva, “The Heresy of Hypertext: Fear and Anxiety in the Late Age of Print” (OL) 
    Optional: Browse Project Xanadu (OL); Michael Heim, “Hypertext Heaven” from The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality (R) 

    April 6:  Jorge Luis Borges, “An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain” (R); M.D. Coverley, Fibonacci’s Daughter (OL) 

    April 11:  Espen Aarseth, “The Cyborg Author,” from Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature; Permutations (OL), especially Raymond Queneau, “A Fairy Tale as You Like It” (OL) 
    Links:  William Burroughs.net; RACTER FAQ (about the supposed text-generation program)

    April 13:  Judy Malloy, l0ve 0ne (OL); Geoff Ryman, 253 (OL)

    April 18:  Matthew Miller, “Trip” (OL); Raine Koskimaa, “Visual Structuring of Hypertext Narratives” (OL) 

    April 20:  John Widdowson, “What is ‘The Literary’?” (R) 

    April 25:  Espen Aarseth, “Introduction,” Cybertext; Browse Hyper-X (OL) (“an ongoing ‘network installation’…state-of-the-art narrative environments made-for-the-Web”)

    April 27:  Espen Aarseth, Chapter Four, Cybertext; Browse Salt Hill (Syracuse U) and Burning Press

    May 2:  Janet Murray, “Hamlet on the Holodeck?” (R); Browse 101: One Zero One 

    May 4:  Coda: The Matrix (1999; The Wachowski Brothers). Smith Hall 100, 7:30.
    Final Projects Due

    Last revised:  May 10, 2000
    the galoshes of remorse  Rita Raley Dept of English
    University of California, Santa Barbara
    "Today, how can we not speak of the university?"
    -- Jacques Derrida, "The Principle of Reason: The University in the Eyes of Its Pupils"