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Writing Machines - Syllabus

"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 is a hybrid literature and writing class, meaning that we'll be combining the standard seminar modes of reading and discussion with lots of 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 number of examples of electronic literature, from early hypertext experiments through contemporary blogs. And over the course of the semester you will do lots of electronic writing, both individually and communally.


Blog (25%): Each of you will maintain a blog specifically devoted to this course, and will post in it a minimum of three times weekly, using that space as an ongoing portfolio of your reading responses (which will make up at least one post weekly), thoughts about the course discussions, links to material relevant to the course, drafts of writing done for course projects, and anything else you'd like to contribute. This part of the course also requires you to keep up-to-date on your fellow students' blogs, and to comment frequently on their posts. The point of blogs (as we'll explore shortly) is the free exchange of information they produce and the social relationships they foster; you'll only get as much out of this part of the course as you put into it. I'll offer a tech session in the first couple of weeks designed to help you get your blog up and running.

Class wiki project (25%): Over the course of the semester, you will all work together to build a wiki covering any aspects of electronic literature of interest to you. Early in the semester, we'll take a look at some wiki projects and think about what purposes we'd like our wiki to serve; after that, getting it built will be up to you. Each of you will be expected to create a minimum of ten new entries, and to be an active editor on the entries created by your colleagues, in order to PASS this part of the course. Better grades require more. Your grade on this project will be determined partially individually, based on the effort you put forward on the site, and partially communally, based on the overall quality of the wiki's content. More information on this project to come.

Term project (30%): 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:

  1. Critical project: This is the standard term paper project, with a twist. For this project, you'll produce a 15 to 20-page research-based term paper on some aspect of electronic literature. You will 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.
  2. Creative project: In this option, you will develop a significant electronic literature project of your own. 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, perhaps as an appendix, a 5-page 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. 11; 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.

Presentation (10%): At the end of the semester, each of you will present the results of your term project to the class. This presentation will be brief but formal and extremely polished. More details will follow.

Attendance and participation (10%): See policies below 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.


My grading policy is pretty straight-forward, and comes in two parts:

The grade of B+ is yours to lose. Here are ways that you can lose it:

  1. Miss more than three days of class. I know you all have a lot going on, but this class is your job this semester, and I want you to take it that seriously. You each have one day of vacation and two days of sick leave -- that is, one day that you can miss for whatever reason, and two days that you can miss with an official medical excuse. Use them wisely. Further absences will affect your final grade in unpleasant ways.
  2. Show up late to class more than twice. It drives me absolutely bonkers when people walk into class after it's already begun (and if I'm talking, even if just to make preliminary announcements, class has begun). It's both rude and distracting. Get to class on time; every three late arrivals will add up to one unexcused absence.
  3. Turn your assignments in late. You each have three grace days to use as needed. For instance, if the project proposal is due on a Wednesday, but you have a big exam on Wednesday, you can use a grace day and turn that proposal in on Thursday. Please note, however: a "day" is twenty-four hours long, and ends at 5.00 pm. If you don't turn the proposal in until Friday morning, that's two grace days. Any lateness beyond these three grace days will count against your grade. Please note that because these grace days are freebies, I will give no extensions. Don't even ask.
  4. Don't take the blog or the wiki seriously. The blog and wiki assignments are key elements of the course; aside from the final project, they represent the vast majority of the writing you will do, and they count for half of your final grade. The blog is taking the place of formal, print-on-paper reading responses, and it's also a space in which you can feel free to explore your ideas about the class material in whatever way most appeals to you. Not posting regularly or ceasing to post halfway through the semester constitutes a failure to take the blog seriously, as do posts that have obviously been slapped together in two minutes or less. Similarly, leaving all of your work on the wiki until the end of the semester is seriously frowned upon.
  5. Fail to do the reading. Much of our in-class work is built around discussion, and you cannot participate fruitfully in a discussion if you aren't prepared. Read carefully, take notes on the reading, post your responses on your blog, and participate in class discussions. With respect to which:
  6. Fail to participate collegially in class discussions. You don't need to speak every day. And you absolutely must not monopolize the discussion. But both never speaking and appearing to overly enjoy the sound of your own voice constitute a failure of collegiality. Our discussions are a group endeavor, meant to help each member of the class reach the greatest possible understanding of the material.
  7. Turn in a weak, ill-thought-through, unpolished, dull, pointless, or generally mediocre final project. Need I say more?
  8. Give a scattered, unpolished, unengaged, or OVERLY LONG final presentation. Again, 'nuff said, except about the length question: I'm dead serious about this. I will stop you when time is up, and if I have to stop you, your grade will suffer. Practice your presentation, and time yourself carefully.
  9. Plagiarize. Academic dishonesty in any form will result in automatic failure of this class. Period. If you have any concerns about what constitutes academic dishonesty, refer to your student handbook, or ask me.

The grades of A- and A must be earned. Here are ways to earn them:

  1. Produce an excellent final project. What constitutes excellence? Doing more than simply completing the terms of the assignment. An excellent final project is sophisticated, nuanced, engaging, and insightful. It is technically polished and free of any kind of errors. It shows evidence of a substantive, thoughtful engagement with the course materials. It is, above all, interesting, designed to draw the reader/viewer/user into full engagement with its content and its form.
  2. Maintain an excellent blog. Make me look forward to visiting your blog often, and stimulate thoughtful conversation in your comments.
  3. Contribute to an excellent wiki. Make sure that your own entries are substantive, and keep an eye on the project as a whole, taking the responsibility for making the entire wiki as complete and polished as you can.
  4. Participate excellently in class. Excellence in class participation means not simply speaking frequently, but contributing in an active and generous way to the work of the class as a whole, by asking questions, offering interpretations, politely challenging your colleagues, and graciously accepting challenges in return.
  5. Deliver an excellent presentation. An excellent presentation is one that is focused, organized, engaging, and to the point. It has what my predecessor, Brian Stonehill, used to refer to as "heart, smarts, and sparkle."


The following required books should be available at Huntley:
Rebecca Blood, We've Got Blog
N. Katherine Hayles, Writing Machines
Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan, eds., First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game

Other required readings are available as PDF files or downloadable hypertexts on the site, or online, as indicated in the schedule.


Generally speaking, Mondays will be discussion-of-reading days, and Wednesdays will be hands-on workshop days; unless otherwise instructed, you should complete the course reading assignments for Monday's class. Watch our course website for announcements of any changes or deviations.

Aug. 30 -- the basic intro

Week 1: Blogging and other social software tools

Sept. 4-6 -- Rebecca Blood, We've Got Blog
Explore blog links on course site

Week 2: Theories of media change

Sept. 11-13 -- Walter J. Ong, from Orality and Literacy [pdf]
Marshall McLuhan, from Understanding Media [pdf]
Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, from Remediation [pdfs]

Week 3: From novel to net

Sept. 18-20 -- Nancy Armstrong, from How Novels Think [pdf]
Ron Burnett, from How Images Think [pdf]
Vannevar Bush, "As We May Think" [pdf]

Week 4: Hypertext

Sept. 25-27 -- George Landow, from Hypertext 2.0 [pdfs]
Michael Joyce, from Othermindedness [pdf]
Michael Joyce, Afternoon: A Story

Week 5: On your own

Oct. 2-4 -- No class; Prof. Fitzpatrick at conference

Week 6: Writing machines

Oct. 9-11 -- N. Katherine Hayles, Writing Machines
Stuart Moulthrop, Victory Garden
Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl
Deena Larsen, Disappearing Rain
Talan Memmott, Lexia to Perplexia
Term project proposal due in class Oct. 11

Week 7: Cyberdrama and ludology

Oct. 16 -- No class; fall break
Oct. 18 -- "Cyberdrama" and "Ludology," in Wardrip-Fruin and Harrigan

Week 8: Games and interactives

Oct. 23-25 -- "Game Theories" and "Hypertexts and Interactives," in Wardrip-Fruin and Harrigan

Week 9: New reading, new texts

Oct. 30-Nov. 1 -- "New Readings," in Wardrip-Fruin and Harrigan
Online Caroline
Planet Jemma
Scott Rettberg, Kind of Blue

Term project stage 2 due in class Nov. 1

Week 10: Distributed narratives

Nov. 6-8 -- Nick Montfort, Implementation
Shelley Jackson, Skin
Jill Walker, "Distributed Narrative" [pdf]
Jill Walker, "Feral Hypertexts" [pdf]

Week 11: Networked and collaborative writing

Nov. 13-15 -- On social software:
Electronic Book Review
Many to Many

Week 12: The networked book

Nov. 20 -- Mackenzie Wark, GAM3R 7H30RY
Nov. 22 -- No class; Thanksgiving
Term project stage 3 due in class Nov. 20

Week 13: Your turn

Nov. 27-29 -- Your suggested readings

Week 14: Your turn, part two

Dec. 4-6 -- Final presentations
Term project due by 5.00 pm Dec. 6