chapter  26
E-LITERATURE
ByJOSEPH TABBI
Pages 14

Despite a landmark essay by the novelist Robert Coover, the emergence of literary writing in new media does not signal an “end of books.” Conceivably, there could be an end to literary studies as an autonomous discipline and a cessation of literary reading as a significant cultural practice. However, what new media enact is a more direct engagement of the literary arts with the arts of image, sound, and computation, and hence a renewed appreciation of a long-standing insight, available in the writings of Walter Ong, Elizabeth Eisenstein, and Marshall McLuhan but only now reaching general consciousness: the idea that print literature has long been part of a fragile “media ecology” (Tabbi and Wutz 1997). The representational requirements of literary narrative, for example, change radically after film takes up the burden of depicting realistic settings, and the placement of words in proximity to filmic, video, and sound elements continues that relocation of the literary in new media. With the redrawing of narrative and visual boundaries comes the emergence and continued differentiation of modern literary forms (whose reflexivity foregrounds verbal inventions that were always present in earlier writing, especially in sui generis narratives such as Tristram Shandy). The continuation of the print legacy itself remains as uncertain as the fate of

globalization and modernity (see Cochran 2001). For reading to re-emerge as a consequential activity in the new media ecology, more is required than the scanning, storage, and promotion of our classics. As books cease to be the primary storage vehicle for recording, preserving, and disseminating thought, our legacy texts need to be engaged actively in “born-digital” writing – which is to say, in works that are designed for the media where the current generation does its reading. We should not look to the internet for forms and genres that emerged in print and continue to thrive there. Rather, the task of defining electronic literature is an ongoing process of differentiation, not the least of which is the distinction between how we read books and how these practices circulate in current reading and writing spaces.