Joyce, Moulthrop, Jackson

Gathering: Joyce, Moulthrop, Jackson

In the context of the 1990s, there are three writers to whom the phrase “electronic literature, c’est moi” could conceivably apply: Michael Joyce, Stuart Moulthrop, and Shelley Jackson. In particular, afternoon, a story, Victory Garden, and Patchwork Girl were generative works that exerted outsize influence both within and beyond the genre.1 The scale of proliferation that accompanied and followed this period, however, in tandem with the rapid commercialization of the Internet, was something few predicted. Issues of monetization, open access, how to define electronic literature, whether hypertext is dead, and whether print is dead or dying, are only a sampling of debates continuing to play out in the pages of ebr and elsewhere. These numbers will be outdated by the time of publication: 1.6 billion Facebook users navigate a constellation of image and narrative at least once per month; around 40% of humanity has Internet access (in 1995 that number was less than 1%). The growth since has been remarkable, but perhaps more unanticipated is the poignancy involved in the act of looking backward. Not only has our online experience changed, much of the old content is now inaccessible. A quote by N. Katherine Hayles is worth noting in this context: “Books printed on good quality paper can endure for centuries, electronic literature routinely becomes unplayable (and hence unreadable) after a decade or even less.” Indeed, a cursory search of my university’s library, as well as interlibrary loan, turned up four versions of Patchwork Girl: two on 3.5 inch “floppy” disks (1995 and 2000 editions), one on CD (with software from 2000), and one on USB flash drive (2014, though not requestable).2

Not only do advances in hardware and software render certain works of electronic literature irretrievable, but our distance from their origin confers a powerful nostalgia, even to their critical reception. A digital world-weariness, too, has set in. Assertions in the late 1990s that online advertising would never catch on evoke later handwringing over blogging’s rise, which in turn sounds just as quaint as the claim (briefly popular in 2010) that the iPad would never sell with a name so polysemic.

The following essays from 1995 to 2003 inhabit a utopian moment that has since been eclipsed, and a series of moments that continue to be eclipsed with increasing frequency. Central to the moment was the potential, not merely of non-linearity, but of interlinked nodes or “lexias” and the ability to interact with text via new technology. These essays interrogate the larger effects of this technology on narrative in ways that remain relevant today, as well provide a window on a revolutionary time of much excitement and promise. This gathering offers the chance to pair the question “What was that promise?” either with “What have we done?” or “Where to next?” To quote Moulthrop elsewhere in ebr, “These brief notes are offered in place of something longer and more fully considered, for which there will probably never be time.”


1. For evidence of the arc of electronic literature’s penetration into public consciousness, see Robert Coover’s “The End of Books” and Laura Miller’s “” in The New York Times in 1993 and 1998, respectively. See also Michael Joyce’s meditation of less than a decade later: “Paris Again or Prague: Who Will Save Lit from Com?,” in Othermindedness: The Emergence of Network Culture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001, 193-212.
2.For an example of hypertext preservation, see Dene Grigar and Stuart Moulthrop’s Pathfinders project, which documents four important early works: Judy Malloy’s Uncle Roger, John McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse, Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, and Bill Bly’s We Descend.

Collected by: 
Publication date: 

My Body the Library: Janet, Body art, and World Wide Web site


Michael Joyce looks at hypertext, body art, body piercing, and Web culture.

Stitching Together Narrative, Sexuality, Self: Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl


George Landow reviews Patchwork Girl by Shelley Jackson.

L'Affaire PMC: The Postmodern Culture-Johns Hopkins University Press Conversation


Joel Felix listens in on Postmodern Culture’s privatization debate.

PMC editor Stuart Moulthrop responds


On the futures of electronic scholarship - an exchange among editors.

Joel Felix posts a response


On the futures of electronic scholarship - an exchange among editors.

Reviewing the Reviewers of Literary Hypertexts


Thomas Swiss unravels Laura Miller’s arguments in the New York Times Book Review and finds news of hypertext’s demise premature - as was Robert Coover’s call for the end of books five years ago in the same journal.

Cybertext Killed the Hypertext Star


Nick Montfort reviews Espen J. Aarseth’s Cybertext, which stakes out a post-hypertextual terrain for literary criticism and practice. Interactive excerpts from some of the cybertexts that Aarseth discusses are included.

Of Tea Cozy and Link


Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink performs an autopsy on the hypertextual corpse.

Cyber|literature and Multicourses: Rescuing Electronic Literature from Infanticide


In response to Nick Montfort’s review of Cybertext, N. Katherine Hayles coins an alternative term, Cyber|literature.

Materiality and Matter and Stuff: What Electronic Texts Are Made Of


Following Katherine Hayles, Matthew Kirschenbaum agrees that materiality matters.

Cybertext Theory: What An English Professor Should Know Before Trying


Considering hypertext as a subset of cybertexts, Markku Eskelinen offers seven examples of how to implement Espen Aarseth’s seven-fold typology.

The Contour of a Contour


Despite talk of endings and absences at Eastgate Systems, Dave Ciccoricco investigates continuities in the work of Michael Joyce and Mark Bernstein.

Electronic Books?


Stuart Moulthrop re-opens the debate on the “electronic book” and its continued marginalization vis-a vis print.

Geek Love Is All You Need


Steven Shaviro reviews Shelley Jackson’s Half Life, the first print-based novel by a pioneering hypertextualist.

The Pleasure (and Pain) of Link Poetics


Entering the cyberdebates, Scott Rettberg moves beyond technique and proposes a more generative approach to hypertext, in which an author’s intention and poetic purpose have a role.