Destination Unknown: Experiments in the Network Novel
PhD, University of Cincinnati, Arts & Sciences : English & Comparative Literature, 2003.
Advisor: Dr. Thomas LeClair
The dissertation contains two components: a critical component that examines recent experiments in writing literature specifically for the electronic media, and a creative component that includes selections from The Unknown, the hypertext novel I coauthored with William Gillespie and Dirk Stratton. In the critical component of the dissertation, I argue that the network must be understood as a writing and reading environment distinct from both print and from discrete computer applications. In the introduction, I situate recent network literature within the context of electronic literature produced prior to the launch of the World Wide Web, establish the current range of experiments in electronic literature, and explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of writing and publishing literature for the network. In the second chapter, I examine the development of the book as a technology, analyze "electronic book" distribution models, and establish the difference between the "electronic book" and "electronic literature." In the third chapter, I interrogate the ideas of linking, nonlinearity, and referentiality. In the fourth chapter, I examine some specific examples of network novels: Robert Arellano's Sunshine '69, Shelley and Pamela Jackson's The Doll Games, Rob Wittig's Blue Company, and The Unknown. In discussing these network novels, I illustrate how the network imposes certain constraints on the form of the novel, and discuss some of the strategies that authors have employed to create distinctly literary reading experiences for the fragmented reading environment of the network. In the conclusion of the critical component, I survey some of the new forms and genres currently in development, and delineate some of the challenges faced by the field of electronic literature at this time. The creative component of the dissertation includes forty "scenes" from The Unknown, the 1998 trAce/AltX International Hypertext Competition-winning collaborative hypertext novel. The preface to these selections discusses the effect of remediating sections of a novel written for the network into print. In print, the selections from the hypertext novel function autonomously as a comic, metafictional, and intertextual road-trip novel, and track the rise and fall of the eponymous authors of The Unknown.