Studies in Criticism: Electronic Text
Lind Hall 202
Widespread electronic networking has renewed some old questions
about the status and function of text:
Does the text speak for itself? Does it depend on or
construct the authority of an author, or community of authors?
How does gender inflect text? What difference does the reader
make? Whose text is it? Who can read it? Who has the right to
copy it? How can the text change, or stay the same? Can texts be
adequately described or reproduced? Can texts err? Are texts
displaced or changed by images? How do they relate to other
texts? How long can a text last?
This seminar will investigate many of these and related questions
as reframed by the phenomenon of electronic text.
Readings will be excerpted from books-in-common (parts of which
will be read by everyone enrolled in the course), supplementary
books (parts of which may be read by some), and various
Walter J. Ong. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the
Word. Routledge, 1982. ISBN 0-415-02796-9. $13.95.
Landow. Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary
Critical Theory and Technology. Johns Hopkins UP, 1991. ISBN
- A concise introduction to the history of orality,
manuscript culture, print literacy, and electronic text.
George P. Landow. Hyper/Text/Theory. Johns Hopkins UP,
ISBN 0-8018-4838-5. $16.95.
- The most influential account of electronic writing to
Richard A. Lanham. The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology,
and the Arts. U of Chicago P, 1993. ISBN 0-226-46883-6.
- Recent essays on electronic nonlinearity and related
Myron C. Tuman. Word Perfect: Literacy in the Computer
Age. Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture.
Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1992. ISBN 0-8229-5489-3. $19.95.
- A widely-read collection of essays, which relates the new
technology of writing to the subversive vitality of classical
Cynthia L. Selfe and Susan Hilligoss, eds. Literacy and
Computers: The Complications of Teaching and Learning with
Technology. Research and Scholarship in Composition 2. New
York: MLA, 1994. ISBN 0-8735-2580-9. $19.95.
- Some implications of electronic text for the teaching of
Michael Auping. Jenny Holzer. New York: Universe, 1992.
ISBN 0-87663-615-6. $13.95.
- Twenty articles on technology and literacy instruction,
including: Ann Hill Duin and Craig Hansen, "Reading and Writing
on Computer Networks as Social Construction and Social
Interaction"; Billie J. Wahlstrom, "Communication and Technology:
Defining a Feminist Presence in Research and Practice"; Catherine
F. Smith, "Hypertextual Thinking."
- Lapidary and electronic inscriptions in the art of Jenny
Supplementary books (excerpts)
Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the
Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. ed. Routledge, 1991.
ISBN 0-86091-546-8. $13.95.
Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and
the History of Writing. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1991. ISBN 0-
- The affiliations of capitalism, print literacy, and
J. Hillis Miller. Illustration. Essays in Art and Culture.
Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992. ISBN 0-674-44358-8. $19.95.
- Often called the basic book in the field.
Sven Birkerts. The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading.
Faber, 1994. ISBN 0-5711-9849-x. $22.95.
- Two essays after deconstruction and Benjamin, one on the
coming of "the electronic book," and one on the play of relations
between word and image.
Michael Joyce. Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and
Poetics. University of Michigan Press, 1995. ISBN 0-472-
- Popular essays in defense of the old technology.
- New! By the author of the well known hypertext fiction,
Afternoon, A Story (1982).
Electronic text archives
Don't worry: this course does not presuppose experience
with electronic networking or hypertext. However, students will
be encouraged to explore the available electronic resources,
using networked facilities in the computer lab in Lind Hall 26
(where we will hold occasional classes) or elsewhere. These
resources include files published at various sites on the World
Wide Web (WWW), a linked subset of publicly accessible Internet
addresses. (Lynx, a user-friendly program already available on
University e-mail accounts, can be used to navigate text files
across the Web; Netscape, installed on lab machines, can access
graphics on the Web.) For example:
- The electronic journal Postmodern
Culture, where you can find such works
as Stuart Moulthrop's article, "You Say You Want a Revolution?
Hypertext and the Laws of Media" (1991), Kathy Acker's story
"Obsession" (1992), Charles Bernstein's "Three Poems" (1994), and
Elizabeth Croker's article "'To He, I am For Evva True': Krazy
Kat's Indeterminate Gender" (1994).
- Excerpts from avant-garde hypertext fiction
published by Eastgate Systems, such as
Michael Joyce's Afternoon, A Story (1987), and Stuart
Moulthrop's Victory Garden (1991).
- Miscellaneous canonical texts in the public domain. Many
electronic versions are directly accessible through the local
Gopher system of the University of Minnesota; for example,
Iliad (trans. Dryden), Hamlet, Wealth of
Nations, The Prelude, Wuthering Heights,
Origin of Species, To the Lighthouse. A
comprehensive index is The Alex
Catalogue of Electronic Texts on the Internet.
British Poetry Archive under construction at the University
of Virginia, which includes texts by Tennyson, the Rossettis, and
less canonical poets of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
- The electronic archive of the Discussion Group on
Electronic Text Centers (ETEXTCTR@RUTVM1.BITNET), which includes
controversy about method as well as general information.
- The electronic archive of TEI-L: Text Encoding Initiative
Public Discussion List(TEI-L@UICVM.BITNET), which deals with
- Intellectual Property and the National
Information Infrastructure: The
Preliminary Draft of the Report of the Working Group on
Intellectual Property Rights (1994), which weighs the
need to reform copyright law to accommodate new media.
In addition, we will probably be able to explore an electronic
recently purchased by the University of Minnesota Libraries,
The English Poetry Full-Text Database, published in CD-ROM
format by Chadwyck-Healey. This database comprises all the books
of poetry, ranging from 600 A.D. to 1900 A.D., that are reported
by The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature
(Cambridge Univ. Press, 1969-72), plus some additional texts
omitted by the NCBEL. Hardware support is now being
for this multiple-CD-ROM archive. Online documentation, tailored
the copy locally networked at the University of Virginia Library
generally relevant, is available here.
(For a recent popular review of this electronic archive, see
"Byte Verse," The New Yorker, Feb. 20-27, 1995, 101+.)
What counts as an electronic text?
The above-mentioned English Poetry Full-Text Database is,
in the jargon of the trade, "TEI-conformant"; that is, it
conforms to the Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and
Interchange (3rd ed., 1994), edited by C. M. Sperberg-McQueen
and Lou Burnard; published by the Text Encoding Initiative under
the auspices of The Association for Computers and the Humanities,
The Association for Computational Linguistics, and The
Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing; and funded in
part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. A copy of this
daunting technical manual, running almost to 1300 pages, will be
placed on reserve in Walter Library. (An indexed electronic
edition is also available.)
The elaborate and scrupulous description of text elements that
the Text Encoding Initiative recommends stands at the opposite
extreme from the "plain vanilla ASCII" aesthetic (or ethic) that
has been strongly advocated by others, including advocates of
Project Gutenberg. For several years Project Gutenberg has been
broadcasting numerous simple electronic versions of texts,
thereby earning the scorn of associates of the TEI. (See, for
example, recent postings on the Discussion Group on Electronic
Text Centers [ETEXTCTR@RUTVM1.BITNET]; or, for a more moderate
critque, Susan Hockey,
"Evaluating Electronic Texts in the
Humanities," Library Trends 42 : 676-93.")
The dispute between those who would totalize editorial
description of an electronic text and those who would minimize it
recalls other, older controversies, theological and philological.
(Not to mention ideological: this contest pits an establishment
of well-affiliated experts against populist amateurs.) Both
positions are prey to the kind of skeptical analysis repeatedly
pressed by Stanley Fish: What is natural about simplicity? What
is certain about complexity?
Doing things with electronic text
Despite the attractions of skepticism, which is often easier than
practice, especially new practice, we will try our hand at making
an electronic transcription of a short text: for example, an
early nineteenth-century broadside. There may be another brief
exercise as well, prompted by the course readings.
In the second half of the course students will present oral
reports on topics that specially interest them; each student will
also write a related seminar paper, about twenty pages long.
Throughout the quarter we will be able to communicate with each
other as a group, outside of class, by making use of an automatic
e-mail distribution list. At the end of the course students will
have the option of publishing their seminar papers on the World
A related course
Len Hatfield, Associate Professor of English at Virginia
Institute and State University, Blacksburg, has posted a syllabus
his course English 5334,
"Open Sesame: HyperText/HyperLiterature" (1995), on
the World Wide Web.
For more information
If you have questions (or suggestions) please send me a note,
stop by during my office hours, or leave me a phone
Professor of English
207 Lind Hall
E-mail address: email@example.com
Office hours Winter 1995 (will change Spring quarter):
Mondays, 2:00-3:30; Thursdays,
courses, spring 1995.
Department of English, University of Minnesota
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Created February 1995
Last revised 17 September 1996