Editing Electronic Literature in the Global Publishing System

Contemporary “format disruptions” (Savikas) lead to a new experience and practice of scholarly publishing: it is global, virtual, and instantaneous. How does this apply to electronic literature? Elit works exist in a field of publication, characterized by circulation, commentary, and archiving. They are subject to complex corporate toolchains, software updates, social media, etc. The work is no longer just the work but the entirety of this field. Publication is no longer a single event or a single thing. Think of this in terms of Luhmann’s systems theory: the differentiating distinction between artistic production and critical discourse is shifted; the difference made by artwork - its “poetics” - is now systematically linked to critical discourse. Our essay is a call for editors and publishers of works on / about elit to become active participants in the process of creating the entire work and in creating the field around works of elit. Traditionally editors were invisible, working in the background. By contrast, the contemporary publishing situation - as well as the specifics of publishing on elit - enables publishers and editors to address the global with local realities of writers, the virtual with the material concerns of the text, and the instantaneous with the measured need for critical reading. We look at two case studies. The first is a discourse analysis of existing publications on elit. Scholarly publishing is already in a tight reflexive relation with elit works (e.g. the ELD). We recognize these contributions, but we also examine how in many cases the unevenness of the existing field of critical discourse re-distributes and re-names these works as dealing with “new media” or “electronic culture,” or similar topics. Our second case study is Po.Ex, a collection of essays on intermedia and cybertext by authors from Portugal, currently being co-edited with Rui Torres, and due to be published in 2013 by the Computing Literature series - releasing print and ebooks - developed at West Virginia University, in collaboration with the University of Paris 8. The three primary contributions of the book are: 1) a historical model of elit within a continuum of avant-garde writing stretching back to the Middle Ages; 2) a hermeneutic model for finding meaning in electronic literature through intermediality; and 3) a semiotic model for the computer as the cybernetic extension of human creativity and as an enabling medium for merging writers with readers as mutual authors (as wreaders). While these essays demonstrably shaped the field of elit, especially in Europe, their influence is limited because new generations of artists, critics, and students of elit do not have access to the works. Our case studies shows that scholarly publishing as a critical practice can address such limitations. Our overall claim is that publishing can organize and create the field of discourse for elit. We conclude with proposals and questions for future directions of critical publishing on elit.

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