Review of Pathfinders Published in Digital Literary Studies

Today is the 1st anniversary of Pathfinders. A year ago today Stuart and I published our NEH-supported project on the Scalar platform, making it available in a book-like webbed environment for free for anyone with an interest in electronic literature, experimental writing, literary history, and preservation. The project, for me, was the culmination of over 25 years of study and active collecting. So, it brings me much joy to read Elika Ortega’s view in-depth review of Pathfinders, entitled “Preservation Paths,” for the inaugural issue of Digital Literary Studies, edited by James O’Sullivan.

Here is my favorite passage, which comes at the last paragraph of the review:

As a result, Grigar and Moulthrop open the door for renewed studies of the works included in Pathfinders and set the ground for a subfield of E-Lit reading studies (my emphasis). The description and study of E-Lit reading like the ones found in the traversals might in time be explored further. Ultimately, these protocols propose and invite the development and establishment of a novel approach to E-Lit preservation.

Okay, so why did I emphasize “reading studies” in Elika’s excerpt? Because I believe one of the most exciting aspects of reading literature is analyzing the way it is constructed. The question I was trained to ask when reading lit was, “How does the work come to mean what it means?”

In analyzing the four works of e-lit for Pathfinders, Stuart and I used a combination of literary theory, traditional literary analysis, and digital-based platform studies. This approach, I find, provides a very robust way of making sense of born digital writing. With various theorists like Nicholas Carr, Cathy Davidson, and even N. Katherine Hayles  telling us that engagement with digital environments is changing the way we think, it seems to me a good direction to go with teaching reading in the late 21st century involves the deep reading practice that Stuart and I argue for with Pathfinders, one that takes into account both the literary features of a text along with its mechanic practices. So, yes, “reading studies” is exactly what we suggest.

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