One + One = Zero – Vanishing Text in Electronic Literature

The concept of “erased” text has been a recurrent theme in postmodernist criticism. While most speculation about the presence or absence of an absolute text is applied to print literature, the manifestations of digital text present a new and entirely separate level of investigation. The combination of visible language and hidden code do not negate the basic questions of language and interpretation – these continue to be important in our study of electronic texts. However, the visible text – under the influence of code – can be modified, transformed, and even deleted in ways that introduce markedly different implications for reading strategies and meaning structures. This paper will explore a selection of works from electronic writers illustrating text/code practices that involve disappearing “text.” Text can absent itself by the simplest of reader actions – the mouseover or the link which takes the reader to another “lexia” in the piece. But text can also be obliterated by actions of the code, unassisted by the reader/navigator. Moreover, there are intermediate techniques to create vanishing text. Oni Buchanan’s *The Mandrake Vehicles* – subtitled “meaninglessness and back” – is a good example of clearly visible, reader-activated, yet code-determined text manipulation. Stuart Moulthrop’s *Deep Surface* takes a different approach to “executed” text – imagining a “deep reading simulator.” Reiner Strasser and M.D. Coverley’s *In the White Darkness* proposes a symbolic function for elusive text and image. Stephanie Strickland’s *slippingglimpse* lets the movement of water itself be the mechanism for creation and erasure of text. These, and other works, begin to suggest a set of categories that might be identified in electronic literature. The presence/absence of meaningful information in electronic fiction and poetry can signify in many ways. And, we may ask, when the text is gone, does it leave a “trace”? Or is vanishing text in electronic literature actually a case of One (text) + One (Code) = Zero (0)?