VAL-Symposium 2023

Abstracts keynotes

Astrid Ensslin (University of Regensburg):
Historicizing E-literature Research: A Ludic Approach

In this talk, I offer a historical overview of electronic literature research and scholarship since its inception in the 1990s. I trace its growth and genealogy alongside and in response to techno-aesthetic developments from the early days of computation to the present day, taking into account its transmedial embeddedness and medium-specific materiality. I shed light on the development of the e-lit community and its institutionalization, internationalization and diversification through the Electronic Literature Organization from the late 1990s onwards. My orientation is positioned in Anglophone digital-born fictions and literary games, and I will use vignettes from my own research to illustrate the unfolding of waves of e-lit and generations of e-lit scholarship, from analyzing playful pre-web hypertext to studying reader-players of VR fiction. I also offer some projections on the future of the field and its main potential for evoking social change.

Astrid Ensslin

Nick Montfort (MIT / Bergen Center for Digital Narrative):
Seventy Years of Computer-Generated Literature in English

Hypertext fiction, interactive fiction, multimedia works and online performance are just a few of the types of literary art where computational and the digital are essential. Because social media and the news media have recently seized on a few corporate products that are “generative,” we may now be particularly attuned to another type of work: computer-generated literature. This sort of work did not emerge recently from a San Francisco startup company, however. Even restricting the discussion to English-language work (and work well-known in English translation), literary generation dates from 1953, and has many distinctive features. Much of it is in minor genres: Generating letters, conversational dialogues, and even literary sentences has been at least as important as producing novels and stage plays. Early on, artists and researchers made more significant contributions than writers did. Major advances have been made throughout the decades by people who program computers rather than just managing projects. A wide range of formal techniques have been employed and many different material manifestations have resulted. Finally, while today’s large language models aim to mimic human writing (even when their output is semantically vacuous), historical projects have often taken a radically different approach: Using computers to do overtly non-human writing that nevertheless resonates with human readers.

Nick Montfort