Blog Prompt #3 – Shelley Jackson’s My Body

For this week’s blog entry, we are going to perform an exercise. Pick one webpage from Shelley Jackson’s My Body that was particularly interesting to you, and paste its contents into a plain text editor like Notepad so that any hyperlinks or images are no longer embedded in the text.  Then, copy and paste the contents into the top portion of whatever word processing software you will be using to write your blog post (this will not count as part of your argument’s word-count).  If you are using WordPress itself to compose your  blog entries, you should be able to directly copy and paste the text from the webpage into the new post text box in WordPress, and any hyperlinks will be stripped out of the text automatically:

Screenshot 2014-06-18 05.47.59

For our second paper, due next week,  you will have an opportunity to work with the components of Jackson’s electronic literature that are enabled by HTML, but for now your focus should be on how the text itself is meaning, as if it were a vignette from a print-based work.  As I described to one student over an email conference during the first week of class, a close reading should explore the text for evidence, not just of what it means, but in some sense, how it means, how it conveys meaning.  A close reading might examine how metaphors are deployed, how phenomena or experience are represented, or how gender norms are represented or challenged. And, as a reminder, you need to cite or quote examples of whatever evidence you are deploying to support the argument you are making.  It is not, in this way, your personal opinion, or at least not simply that.  You must write convincingly about what the text is doing and how.  You are, in essence, looking at the text as an object of study

Please adhere to the blog guidelines and go ahead and cite the webpage that you are using so others can compare your arguments with the text itself.

Week 5- Introduction to Electronic Literature -Shelley Jackson’s My Body


This upcoming week, you’ll be getting your introduction to the emerging field of electronic literature by way of the essay, “Electronic Literature: what is it?”, written by Katherine Hayles.

As you’ll see, one of the interesting wrinkles regarding some of the earliest forms of electronic hypertext literature is that they were written prior to the emergence of the world wide web, and were thus written on the hypertext authoring software, Storyspace. Since you’ll be reading Shelley Jackson’s web-based hypertext My Body: A Wunderkammer this week, you may be interested to see a short video that will give you a sense of what her earlier 1995 Storyspace hypertext work Patchwork Girl, a rewriting of both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and L. Frank Baum’s The Patchwork Girl of Oz, looks like:


As you begin exploring our first example of electronic literature, Shelley Jackson’s hypertext My Body, I’d recommend that you spend at least an hour or so with the text, here, before moving on to watch the course video, here.

I’ll post the blog prompt this weekend.  I’ll also be distributing an  updated syllabus soon (I understand it did not come through on ELMS messaging), but for now use the original syllabus, also available on ELMS.

Also, don’t forget to post your first papers on your blog by Sunday night.  Please begin your paper’s blog post title with Paper 1 – [Insert Title of Your Paper].  

Good luck!

Week 4- Reading Literature in a Digital Age – Recap

After reading Chapters 3-4 in Literature in Digital Age, we considered the experience of reading a poem’s text once it has been printed in a book: either the experience of reading a pdf that is a digital reproduction of a printed text of Blake’s poems  or a webpage that has used a printed book as its source for the text, as with the link to the text of Dickinson’s poems on

We then compared that experience with reading the same poem in the digital archive–both The William Blake Archive, which contains all surviving copies of William Blake’s published engravings, or the Emily Dickinson Archive, which provides digital reproductions of Dickison’s manuscript “fascicles.”

We considered how the meaning of the poem in question changes (in manuscript handwriting v. printed type, arrangement on page, illustrations), how the material mode in which we read something affects how we receive it, and what information is available in either case that makes us question how we might have read a poem in print form.

We also watched a video outlining Blake’s engraving production process.  You can watch it again below:

Neuromancer – Blog Prompt #2



After you have finished reading Neuromancer, consider writing in your blog post this week about one or more of the following questions and form an argument that grapples with it/them:

How can we read the critical essay “Mythinformation” by Langdon Winner, published in 1986, alongside William Gibson’s Neuromancer, published in 1984? Are the concerns articulated in them complementary, or are they of a wholly different order/kind? Does “Mythinformation” help to cast Neuromancer in a new light? Does Neuromancer provide added texture through speculative examples to help us better understand Winner’s arguments? If science fiction is a form of history, as Gibson suggests, how does reading the two works together help us to understand the anticipatory “history” that Neuromancer might be projecting for us?

I will post another course video early next week to give you some additional things to think about as we continue our discussion with Neuromancer next week.

Reminder: Don’t forget to post your first reader response by Sunday night!

Blog prompt #1

Next week, we’ll explore Neuromancer from a number of perspectives: why the novel is considered one of the founding documents of the cyberpunk science fiction sub-genre, Gibson’s theory of science fiction as a form of history, what the novel might have to tell us about the close bodily relationship we have with technology and how these relations shape our ideas about what the “self” is, about technology as both a mental and physical prosthetic, and about how access to technologies (or the lack therof) establishes relations of power. This week, Gibson’s novel will offer us our first opportunity to do a close textual reading, while engaging with the essays we’ve already read by Hayles and Ong.

Before proceeding to write your blog entry for this week, watch this lecture on Neuromancer.

Blog Prompt #1

Pick one of the following prompts to which your first blog post will respond:

1. Reread pages 79-81 of Neuromancer and then explore in your blog post both what Walter Ong’s essay enables us to understand about the impact that the hypothetical technologies in the novel (and those contained on these pages in particular) have on how language is processed and understood, as well as how the novel helps us to better understand Ong’s essay and its arguments. You might consider, for instance, assumptions about language that printing press technologies encouraged, some of the consequences of post-typography and secondary orality, and how one or all of these topics (as they are represented in this passage of the novel) reinforce Ong’s arguments, open new or different issues for consideration, or invite questions that Ong does not consider in his own essay.

2. With the distinction that Katharine Hayles makes between hyper attention and deep attention, we have additional critical vocabulary at our disposal. Pick a passage in the novel that makes explicit the connection between technology and the mode of engagement with the world that Hayles would characterize as hyper attention. What aspects of the world Case and Molly inhabit encourage hyper attention over deep attention? How do they “read” the world through these modes of engagement? What aspects of the passage you’ve selected link with other parts of the novel and the context of the era in which Neuromancer was written?

In both cases, you are welcome to make comparisons with our own contemporary situation, but remember that all arguments must be focused on the novel and its language.  Please use MLA formatting for your citations when referencing the essays or the novel.

Because you’ll be evaluated in this course based upon the close reading and writing exercises (you can read this and this for more information on close reading, and this for a specific example of close reading) we’ll perform, you’ll need to deploy deep attentional modes of thinking to achieve successful outcomes.

The tendency toward hyper attention that digital technologies have encouraged us to participate in can make close reading and careful, critical writing more difficult. Try to find a quiet space and even unplug from other forms of media. This scenario from Portlandia, for instance, is probably a less-than-ideal one for reading carefully, thinking deeply, and writing cogently.

Good luck!

Getting Started with Neuromancer

As we begin to explore the ways that Gibson’s Neuromancer reflects some of the interrelations between technology, identity-formation, and modes of meaning-making, it’s helpful to have a good understanding of the technologies that were prevalent at the time the novel was written in 1984. While all science fiction is by nature speculative about future possibilities and thus cannot be said to depend entirely upon the present, every text arises within specific social, economic, political, and (yes) technological contexts. Every trajectory or possibility sketched out is somehow bound up with or related to present concerns, whether these are expressed and grappled with in the text or repressed through fantasy or escape.

So how do we develop a technological context for understanding Neuromancer? With the distinctions that Katherine Hayles makes in her essay between hyper attention and deep attention, we have one example of how we might think about the impacts of digital technology on our most basic, even minute-to-minute, patterns of thought.  Another example depends on our having some basic ideas about the technologies that were widely available to readers in their practical lives at the time the novel was written.  Even though the invention of the internet (click here to see a brief video) extends back (at least) several decades from the publication of Ong’s essay and Gibson’s novel, it is probably more helpful to account for the adoption rates of technologies in individual households. As this 2012 article from The Atlantic points out, we often confuse the invention of a device with its widespread use and impact.

Both of these infographs provide helpful reminders of just how long it took for communication technologies like color television (1972), computers (1996), and the internet (2001) to break the 50 percent adoption rate (in US households; we’ll discuss another important related topic, the global “digital divide”, starting next week):



Nevertheless, Gibson inhabited a world of multinational corporations, mainframe computers, and ever-multiplying stores of financial data, as well one in which marketing campaigns increasingly offered the personal computer as a labor-saving cure-all for everyone, as we see in this 1979 Apple ad that compares the Apple computer with the Ford Model T:

Henry Ford Apple Ad (1979)

Then, too, we might consider the popularity of 1980s video game arcades, an influence that we see not only in Case’s recollection of how he met Linda Lee–“…her face bathed in restless laser light, features reduced to a code: her cheekbones flaring scarlet as Wizard’s Castle burned, forehead drenched with azure when Munich fell to the Tank War, mouth touched with hot gold as a gliding cursor struck sparks from the wall of a skyscraper canyon” (8)–but also in one of the best descriptions we have in the novel of the matrix, and of cyberspace, two terms that Gibson coins in this novel: “The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games,’ said the voice-over, ‘in early graphics programs and military experimentation with cranial jacks.’ On the Sony, a two-dimensional space war faded behind a forest of mathematically generated ferns, demonstrating the spacial possibilities of logarithmic spirals; cold blue military footage burned through, lab animals wired into test systems, helmets feeding into fire control circuits of tanks and war planes. ‘Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…” (51).

These are only some first suggestions regarding the interpretive lenses you might bring to bear on the novel, with more to come this week and next.  This weekend, I’ll post the first short video lecture on the novel and on some ideas about how to perform close reading, as well as the blog prompt for this week’s assignment. Until then, get as much careful reading done as you can, and enjoy.



Welcome to Digital Literacy, Digital Selves: Literature in a Wired World

I expect this to be a rewarding course for everyone, myself included. As we engage with the literature we’ll examine over the course of the semester, we’ll have an opportunity to consider a number of key questions. Some of those questions will pop up in different places in the course, others will be underlying questions that drive our discussions throughout. Some key examples are:

1. How do literary texts address emerging technologies?
2. How do emerging technologies shape our interactions with various kinds of texts?
3. How do emerging technologies shape or change our conceptions of what literature is or could be?
4. How does technology change the way we express and identify ourselves?
5. How does technology affect the production of power, as well as the production and reception of knowledge?

By Thursday, September 1, please complete the following items:

1. Watch the introductory course video; (PLEASE NOTE: this video was created for a six week summer course that was originally held completely online.  As such, comments about the compressed nature of the course should be disregarded, and you should consult the syllabus for assignments and deadlines.  The other notable change is that you will be completing a group presentation during the second half of the semester, in addition to the other assignments listed.  Each component of the course will therefore be worth 20 percent.  Again, please consult your syllabus about this and we will discuss in more detail in class.)
2. Read the course syllabus;
3. Watch the short course blog instructions video.  You’ll be setting up your own blog at the beginning of the second week.
4.  Read Walter Ong’s essay, “Print, Space, and Closure,” Katharine Hayle’s, “Hyper Attention and Deep Attention,” and William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 138″ and the title page to the 1609 sonnets (available on ELMS);  Read Chapters 1&2 of Literature in the Digital Age (available in the UMD bookstore)