Introduction to Multimedia Composition: Digital Literature
351: 209: 04
Monday 6,7 (4:30-7:30pm), MU-038
Dr. Michael Leong
Office Hour: Monday, 3:15-4:15pm, Plangere Culture Lab (Murray 309); also by appointment

Course Description:

This course will explore new forms of literariness enabled by Web 2.0.  We will engage with, learn from, and write about a variety of online compositions from video essays to digital poetry to sound art to interactive fiction by writers such as Claudia Rankine, Stephanie Strickland, Tan Lin, and Alexandra Chasin.  We will also strategize how digital tools can be helpful for the emerging writer in terms of composition as well as distribution, and we will study specific online literary communities that are influential around the blogosphere.  While we will briefly survey the fields of electronic literature and media studies, the focus of this course will be your own creative compositions.  The semester will culminate with your creation of a multimedia portfolio to be exhibited online.  Attendance, participation, regular blog posts, and a sense of experimentation will be required.

This course fulfills the SAS Common Core Curriculum Goal—“Students will engage critically in the process of creative expression.”  This course also fulfills the Department learning goal—“the ability to write persuasively and precisely, in scholarly and, optionally, creative forms.”

Assigned Texts: Class readings will be hyperlinked in the course schedule below or provided to you as handouts or PDF files.

Grading Criteria:

Attendance/Participation: 20%
Literary Reading Review: 15%
Blog Postings and Responses: 20%
Presentation: 5%
Final Project: 40%

Attendance/Participation: College policy is that more than 2 weeks’ worth of absences puts a student at risk of failure; in this particular class, be aware that—since we meet only once a week—2 missed classes will decrease your grade and put you at risk of failure.  Program policy dictates that students with more than 4 absences (in our case, 2 classes), regardless of the reason for the absence, are not eligible to receive an A grade.  University policy excuses absences due to religious observance or participation in Rutgers-approved activities, and permits students to make up work missed for these circumstances. Students are expected to attend all classes; if you expect to miss one or two classes, please use the University absence reporting website to indicate the date and reason for your absence.  An email will be sent to me automatically.  Being twenty minutes late to class constitutes ½ an absence.  Full participation credit requires active and regular engagement with the course material and with the work of your peers (particularly the student presentations).  If you find that you are at a loss of what to say, try to formulate a question in response to the course content; you are encouraged, in fact, to come to class with at least one carefully considered question and comment about the assigned reading. 

Literary Reading Review: You are required to attend, document, and review a reading on campus; the review should be posted on your individual blog by Dec 1st, 5pm, but you are encouraged to post it as soon as you can.  You have the choice of attending readings by Jonathan Skinner & Brian Teare (9/24, 4:30pm), Geoff Dyer (9/25, 8pm), Adam Zagajewski (10/2, 8pm), Zadie Smith (10/23, 8pm), David Shapiro (10/24, 3pm), or Salman Rushdie (11/13, 7pm).  See the class schedule below for more information.  It is important to plan ahead for this assignment.  Length guideline is 800-1,000 words, which is about the average length of a standard book review, but you are encouraged to write as much as you want.  You are required to take a photograph of the writer(s) during the event and post it with your review; it is advised that you arrive at the reading early to secure a good seat if you will be attending a Writers @ Rutgers reading.  Your review should contain a well-written description and analysis of the event.  You are also required to engage with the printed writing of the author (for example, a poem by David Shapiro or Adam Zagajewski, an essay by Geoff Dyer, or a short story by Salman Rushdie) and quote and analyze at least one printed passage in your review; whether you read the author before or after you attend the event, your review should mention how the live event enriches, contradicts, or complicates your experience of reading the author on the page.  Again, you should plan ahead to complete this small bit of research, which may involve a trip to Alexander Library or submitting an ILL request if the work of the author is not easily accessible online.  If you live closer to Newark than New Brunswick, it is permissible for you to attend an event from the 2013-4 reading series at Rutgers-Newark; click here for the schedule and directions.

Blog Postings and Responses:  You will be required to periodically comment on the class blog and you will also be required to publish blog posts on your own individual blog, which you will set up at the beginning of the semester.  This blog will also be used to host your final project.  The writing on your individual blog and on the class blog should be clear, carefully considered, well crafted, and error free; it is advisable that you compose with Microsoft Word before publishing your writing online.  If you struggle with writing prose, see me for extra help and/or consult with the Plangere Writing Center for tutoring options. 

Final Project: Your project should be a multimedia work that will be posted on your individual blog.  It can take a variety of forms depending on your interests as a writer, and we will talk about multimedia poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in the first few weeks to give you some productive ideas.  Start thinking about your project early: a 3-4 page project proposal will be due to me by Oct 21 and you will have a chance to peer workshop your proposal on Oct 14.  Language from your proposal might eventually lead to a brief critical introduction that you will be required to include in your final portfolio.

Presentation: In November you will present your project proposal to the class in a five to ten minute, multimedia presentation; it might include a Keynote slideshow or a series of images, videos, or audio files.  You might want to have your presentation or media files loaded on a USB drive for this purpose.  You should also bring copies of your project’s textual component to distribute to the class.  We will then—as a group—briefly comment on your project and provide critical feedback.

Course Schedule:      

Sept 9th: What do we mean by “media”? Excerpt from Craig Dworkin’s No Medium (2013).  Excerpt from W.J.T. Mitchell’s “Addressing Media” (2008).  Examples of digital, new media, or multimedia literature: Sam Frank, “Happy Russia,” Kate Greenstreet’s “locating faraway objects,” Ander Monson’s “For Orts,” Sawako Nakayasu’s “Sign,” and Keith Obadike’s “Blackness for Sale.”

Sept 16th: What do we mean by “new media”? By “electronic literature”?  Excerpt from Lev Manovitch’s The Language of New Media (2001) (handout). Stephanie Strickland’s “Born Digital.”  ADDITIONAL READING HOMEWORK: review this document again and make sure you understand the expectations and policies.  BLOG ASSIGNMENT: Set up a personal blog (I recommend using WordPress but Tumblr has certain advantages as well) and email me the URL ASAP so I can link you to the course blog.  For your first blog post, I want you to respond—in approximately 300-500 words—to a work of e-lit mentioned in the Strickland essay (Brian Kim Stefans’ “The Dreamlife of Letters,” Aya Karpinska’s “the arrival of the beeBox,” etc.).  I want you to analyze and interpret the work and to describe your experience interacting with it.  I also want you to take a screen shot of the work and post it with your response.  Due Sept 15th, 5pm. 

Sept 23rd: Digital Narrative/Text & Image. Tan Lin’s “The Patio and The Index.” BLOG ASSIGNMENT: Post a comment (~150 words) on the class blog to the entry on “The Patio and The Index.”  Your comment can answer one of the questions I’ve posed or it can be a thoughtful response to another student’s comment.  Due Sept 22nd, 5pm.

[Tue, Sept 24th: Ecopoetics Now: A Poetry Reading w/ Jonathan Skinner and Brian Teare, 4:30pm, Plangere Annex, MU 302]

[Wed, Sept 25th: Writers at Rutgers presents Geoff Dyer, 8pm, Rutgers Student Center, Multipurpose Room]

Sept 30th: Text & Image II / Ekphrasis. Pamela Painter’s “Office at Night.”  Then compare the text with the YouTube video version “A View: Office at Night.”  “Art in America Portfolio”— Art in America (June/July 2013) (PDF FILE).  BLOG ASSIGNMENT: Write and post on your individual blog an ekphrastic poem or short fiction inspired by a work of visual art and include the image alongside your text.  Due: Sept 29th, 5pm.  

[Wed, Oct 2nd: Writers at Rutgers presents Adam Zagajewski, 8pm, Rutgers Student Center, Multipurpose Room]

Oct 7th: No class.  In lieu of class, you will be required to attend, document, and review an on-campus literary reading of your choice (there are six options); please plan accordingly.  See above for details.  I will be away this week in Vermont at Goddard College’s BFA Program (where I also teach) so I may have limited email access; please be patient if you require assistance.  BLOG ASSIGNMENT: Peruse the list of links under the “Resources” section at the end of the syllabus—such resources include the important online anthologies Electronic Literature Collection, V. 1 and V.2.   Choose one piece of electronic literature and write a 500 word analysis of it on your individual blog; include a hyperlink to the piece and a screenshot of the piece in action.  Due: Oct 7th, 7pm.

Oct 14th: The Video Essay. See all the pieces in the “Video Essay Suite” in Blackbird: An Online Journal of Literature and the Arts 9.1 (2010)—pay particular attention to Claudia Rankine and John Lucas’ “Zidane.”  Also read Paul Bielecki’s “Working with iMovie” tutorial.  Small Group Workshops: BRING IN THREE TO FOUR COPIES OF A ROUGH DRAFT OF YOUR PROJECT PROPOSAL.  This document should contain a one page description of your multimedia project outlining what you want to achieve along with two to three sample pages of your project’s textual component (i.e. excerpt from an essay or short story or two to three poems that will eventually get a multimedia treatment).

Oct 21st: Sound Poems. Tracie Morris’ “Chain Gang.” Look at the “Text-Image” section on Afton Wilky’s website then compare it to her “Audio” section.  Also listen to Wilky’s “The Room Where.”  Billy Cancel’s “You Beat All Round the Bush for Electronic Crop.”    Download the free software Audacity and complete Paul B.’s short exercise in his “Intro to Audio Editing” post. Final drafts of your project proposals are due.  Bring a hard copy to class AND email me an electronic copy. BLOG ASSIGNMENT #1: Post a response to either Cancel’s or Wilky’s guest post on the course blog (they’ll be posted the week of the 14th). BLOG ASSIGNMENT #2: Look at the blogs of your fellow students (find them listed on the blogroll on the course blog) and post a thoughtful comment (~150 words) in response to another student’s post that fulfilled our last blog assignment.   Due: Oct 20th, 5pm.

[Wed, Oct 23rd: Writers at Rutgers presents Zadie Smith, 8pm, Rutgers Student Center, Multipurpose Room]

[Thu, Oct 24th: Poet David Shapiro, 3pm, Barnes & Noble, 2nd Floor]

Oct 28th: Visual Poems / Digital Chapbooks.  Read/see the “Women of Visual Poetry” special issue in The Volta 33 (2013).  Browse around the Lex-ICON site.  Read/see Richard Kostelanetz’s More Po/Ems (2010), Travis Macdonald’s BAR/koans (2011), and Jen Besemer’s Quiet Vertical Movements (2012).  Sign-up for presentations.  BLOG ASSIGNMENT: Post a multimedia collage that somehow incorporates both text and image on your individual blog.  This collage can be composed digitally or it can be done by hand and scanned or photographed. Alternately, you can follow Afton Wilky’s instructions for doing an erasure—see her guest post on the course blog. Due: Oct 27th, 5pm. 

Nov 4th: Student presentations/workshops.

Nov 11th: Student presentations / workshops II.

[Wed, Nov 13th: Writers at Rutgers presents Salman Rushdie, 7pm, Rutgers Student Center, Multipurpose Room]

Nov 18th: Looking forward to next week’s event. Brief excerpt from Alexandra Chasin’s Brief (also read about the project at Jaded Ibis Productions and read an interview with Chasin at 3 Quarks Daily).  See and interact with Stephanie Strickland’s V: Vniverse and slippingglimpseStudent presentations / workshops III.

Nov 25th: “Electronic Literature’s Cutting Edge.” Guest visit by critic and fiction writer Alexandra Chasin and digital poet Stephanie StricklandImportant note: we will be meeting in the Plangere Annex (MU 302)—not MU 038—for this eventThis reading and presentation will be open to all Rutgers students so feel free to bring a guest.  Be sure to check in with me at the beginning of the event so I can confirm your attendance.

[Thanksgiving Recess: Thu, Nov 28th – Sun, Dec 1st]


Dec 2nd: Literary Blogs.  Visit the following lit blogs: Bookslut, HTML Giant, Big Other, Montevidayo, and HarrietBLOG ASSIGNMENT #1: Find a post that you find interesting and respond to it on your own individual blog.  BLOG ASSIGNMENT #2: Comment—in approximately 150 words—on one of your peer’s literary reading reviews.  Due: Dec 2nd, 12pm.


Dec 9th: Concluding Discussion. BLOG ASSIGNMENT: Peruse the individual blogs of your peers and make thoughtful comments (~150 words each) in regards to at least two final portfolios.  Due: Dec 9th, 12pm. 

[Regular Classes End: Wed, Dec 11th]

Web Resources:


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