MS 168 // Writing Machines // Spring 2010
MW 2.45-4 // Crookshank 8

Kathleen Fitzpatrick // Department of English // Pomona College
Crookshank 4 // x71496 // kfitzpatrick at pomona dot edu
Office hours: MT 4.00-5.30
Online office hours: Su 4.00-6.00 // kfitz47 at gmail

“Writing Machines” proposes to explore the relationship between contemporary literature and computer technologies, focusing on the ways that new technologies of writing have affected the development and dissemination of narrative. This class works to bring the theory and practice of electronic literature together, meaning that we’ll be combining the standard seminar modes of reading and discussion with hands-on production. Over the course of this semester, we will explore the ways that various scholars have theorized the relationship between the electronic and the literary. We’ll complement those more theoretical readings with a careful look at a range of examples of electronic literature, from early hypertext experiments through contemporary mobile technologies. And over the course of the semester you will do lots of electronic writing, both individually and communally.

Please note: This is a paperless class; all of our work will be done digitally. This digital orientation will allow us the ability to take advantage of new technologies and texts as they arise throughout the semester. It also demands flexibility from all of us, in working with the changes that the technologies produce, requiring a more dynamic class experience than more established subjects do. All of which is to say that the syllabus below is of necessity a work in progress; please consult it frequently, and be sure to keep abreast of changes as they arise.


Attendance and participation (5%): See policies for more information. Bear in mind that participation doesn’t mean simply doing the work, or simply speaking up in class, but actively working to make the class a positive learning experience for you and your fellow students.

Class notes project (15%): Over the course of the semester, you will compile a set of collaborative notes for the class, detailing the important issues from our readings, the main threads of our discussions, any questions that we raise that remain open, and so forth. You’ll use a combination of Google Wave and Google Docs for these notes, Wave for the initial notetaking and discussion and Docs for the final product. Each of you will take turns serving as lead notetaker during each class session, though you’ll be expected to contribute to the collaborative notes for every class period.

Blogging (25%): We’re going to use a number of different technologies over the course of the semester, as a hands-on form of interaction with the computer-based communication structures we’re studying. The most important of these is our course blog, on which you’ll write frequently, using your posts to respond to our course readings, to think about the technologies we’re using, to draw your classmates’ attention to articles and artifacts you’ve found, and so forth. You are required to post at least two entries each week, one of which directly engages with the week’s readings, before the start of class on Monday; you are also required to read your classmates’ posts and leave at least two comments each week, before the start of class on Wednesday. (Note that you don’t have to post the two entries or leave the two comments at the same time; just make sure that week-to-week you get those two entries and comments in.) This weekly requirement is meant as a minimum acceptable level of participation; I hope that you’ll all contribute more, creating an ongoing, engaging dialogue.

Term project (40%): Each of you will undertake a semester-long writing project, in which you contribute to the field of electronic literature; there are two options from which you can choose:

  • Critical project: This is the standard term paper project, with a twist. For this project, you’ll produce a 20-page research-based term paper on some aspect of electronic literature, but you’ll publish this paper on the web in a form that you will develop, using the technologies that the internet makes available to supplement your argument.
  • Creative project: In this option, you will develop a significant electronic literature project. This project can take whatever shape you like, but it should be delivered to me via the web, and it should in some fashion reflect in its content the choices you have made about its form. You will include within this project, as an appendix, a 6-page analytical essay exploring the relationship between your project and the readings we do this semester.

ITS has many software and hardware tools available to help you with this project, including a wealth of software tutorials available at It is, however, your responsibility to find the help you need in developing the skills to complete your project.

You will select your option and submit a 3-page project proposal to me on Oct. 12; you will submit evidence of your ongoing work (which will vary depending on the option) at least twice during the rest of the semester. More information about this project will follow.

In-class presentations (15%): Each of you will be responsible for facilitating our discussion during one class session. This should not be a long, formal presentation, though you may want to begin with a few minutes of background information to aid our discussion; rather, you should prepare questions and other materials that guide us through an engaging conversation about the day’s reading. You will also each present the results of your term project to the class at the end of the semester. More details will follow.


All policies under which my classes operate (including policies about attendance, late work, accommodations for students with documented disabilities, and the like) are available at Please read those policies carefully, and let me know if you have any questions.


The following required texts are available at Huntley:

Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media
Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter
Lisa Gitelman, Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines
Matthew Kirschenbaum, Mechanisms
Espen Aarseth, Cybertext
N. Katherine Hayles, Electronic Literature
Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age
Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2
Ellen Ullman, The Bug

Other required readings are linked below. I also highly recommend Sams Teach Yourself HTML & CSS in 24 Hours, which will help you enormously with your projects.


W Jan 20 — General course introduction

Mediation and Remediation

M Jan 25 — Marshall McLuhan, Part I, from Understanding Media

W Jan 27 — Walter Ong, “Writing Restructures Consciousness,” from Orality and Literacy; Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, “Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation” and “Mediation and Remediation,” from Remediation

M Feb 1 — Lev Manovich, “What Is New Media?”, “The Interface,” and “The Forms,” from The Language of New Media

Writing and Inscription

W Feb 3 — Friedrich Kittler, “Gramophone,” from Gramophone, Film, Typewriter; Lisa Gitelman, “Making History, Spelling Things Out” and “Imagining Language Machines,” from Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines

M Feb 8 — Friedrich Kittler, “Typewriter,” from Gramophone, Film, Typewriter; Lisa Gitelman, “Automatic Writing,” from Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines

W Feb 10 — Matthew Kirschenbaum, “‘Every Contact Leaves a Trace’: Storage, Inscription, and Computer Forensics,” and “Extreme Inscription: A Grammatology of the Hard Drive,” from Mechanisms

Hypertext/Cybertext/Electronic Literature

M Feb 15 — George Landow, “Hypertext: An Introduction,” from Hypertext 2.0; Michael Joyce, Afternoon: A Story (Windows | Mac — must be run in Classic mode); Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl (Windows | Mac — must be run in Classic mode); Stephanie Strickland, The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot

W Feb 17 — No class — Prof. Fitzpatrick out of town

F Feb 19 — term project proposal due

M Feb 22 — Espen Aarseth, “Introduction: Ergodic Literature,” “No Sense of an Ending: Hypertext Aesthetics,” and “Ruling the Reader: The Politics of ‘Interaction’,” from Cybertext; Nick Montfort, “Cybertext Killed the Hypertext Star“; Zork

W Feb 24 — Katherine Hayles, “Cyber|literature and Multicourses,” and “Electronic Literature: What Is It?” from Electronic Literature; Christine Wilks, Fitting the Pattern (Also recommended: Markku Eskelinen, “Cybertext Theory,” Katherine Hayles, “What Cybertext Theory Can’t Do,” and Matt Kirschenbaum, “Materiality and Matter and Stuff”)
Comments on term project proposals due

M Mar 1 — Katherine Hayles, “Intermediation: From Page to Screen,” from Electronic Literature; Matt Kirschenbaum, “Save As: Michael Joyce’s Afternoons,” from Mechanisms; Michael Joyce, “Twelve Blue”; more texts from the Electronic Literature Collection

W Mar 3 — William Gibson, “Agrippa (a book of the dead)“; The Agrippa Files; Matt Kirschenbaum, “Text Messaging: The Transformissions of ‘Agrippa’,” from Mechanisms

Literature of the Electronic

M Mar 8 — Katherine Hayles, “Contexts for Electronic Literature: The Body and the Machine,” from Electronic Literature; Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2

W Mar 10 — Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “The Exhaustion of Literature: Novels, Computers, and the Threat of Obsolescence“; Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2
Term project outline due

M Mar 15 – F Mar 19 — spring break

M Mar 22 — Katherine Hayles, “The Future of Literature: Print Novels and the Mark of the Digital,” from Electronic Literature; Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age

W Mar 24 — Marie-Laure Ryan, “The Text as World,” from Narrative as Virtual Reality; Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age

M Mar 29 — Katherine Hayles, “Revealing and Transforming: How Electronic Literature Revalues Computational Practice,” from Electronic Literature; Ellen Ullman, The Bug

W Mar 31 — Rita Raley, “Interferences: [Net.Writing] and the Practice of Codework“; Ellen Ullman, The Bug

M Apr 5 — Talan Memmott, Lexia to Perplexia


W Apr 7 — Scott Rettberg, Kind of Blue; Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg, Implementation; Shelley Jackson, Skin; Jill Walker, “Distributed Narrative” and “Feral Hypertexts

M Apr 12 — McKenzie Wark, Gamer Theory

W Apr 14 — Kate Pullinger, Chris Joseph, et al, Flight Paths

M Apr 19The Big Plot
Term project draft due

W Apr 21 — No class — Prof. Fitzpatrick out of town

M Apr 26we feel fine; twistori; Cathy’s Book (iPhone App)

W Apr 28Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries
Comments on term project drafts due

M May 3 — no class — Prof. Fitzpatrick out of town

W May 5 — Final project presentations and conclusions
Term project due no later than 5 pm