Electronic Literature (e-lit) and Covid 19

One of the nine winning projects for this year’s Theme Funding call from DARIAH-EU is the project “Electronic Literature (e-lit) and Covid 19” by Søren Pold, Aarhus University and the Digital Aesthetics Research Center (DARC). Read more about the project below.

About the project

How is the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting measures, and movement of cultural life online reflected in electronic literature and other digital narrative practices online? With this project, the team will develop an analytical research study, an open-access research collection, an online exhibition and a critical study of electronic literature and digital art produced during this time of COVID 19.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, public libraries, theatres, cultural festivals have been closed to various degrees across many countries and much cultural life and many creative practices have moved online. This presents an opportunity for electronic literature and networked art forms, but also necessitates new ways of understanding online media and making sense of current life worlds.

With the COVID-19 crisis digital networked platforms took center stage and corporations like Facebook, Google, Apple and Zoom increasingly form main interfaces to our public space. As pointed out by Naomi Klein our cities, public spaces and institutions are transformed by a “Screen New Deal” where commercial technology platforms are introduced to a much larger extent and integrated in our private spaces and homes. Besides the solutionism of keeping institutions and spaces working during social distancing situations, this also furthers the development of new forms of critical reflection, e.g. about how platforms invade privacy,
intimacy, individual spaces and simultaneously collaboration, communities, cultural and political life.

About DARC (Digital Aesthetics Research Center)

DARC brings together researchers at Aarhus University and functions as a shared intellectual resource that identifies, analyses, and mediates current topics, producing experiments and research projects.

We focus on bringing together researchers at Aarhus University, forming research projects, collaborations and international networks. We publish newspapers and a a journal, arrange yearly international PhD seminars, internal research seminars, larger research conferences, and organize public exhibitions and events with digital media artists and researchers from around the world. Besides contributing analytically and theoretically to the field, DARC also engages in practical experiments (often in collaboration with artists and practitioners).

The aim is to provide new knowledge about the relationship between art, culture and technology.

Works of e-lit, such as poetry and narrative generators, collective narratives, and interactive fiction, have already been developed that deal contextually and thematically with the virus, social distancing and isolation, and the absurdities of everyday life as we adjust to an online social sphere. In their research so far, the team has found works that reflect on social distancing, some exploring popular platforms such as Zoom, Facebook or Instagram and some work with collaboration and virtual meetings. Many works reflect the various discourses of power, e.g. the cancellations, the get well soon messages and the rhetoric of authorities.

Furthermore, there are many works mourning the deceased, the sick, as well as the loss of human connections that were not long ago taken for granted. Many works developed during this time are also reflective of public clashes and rebellion, e.g. in relation to Black Lives Matter, during a period in which dominant power structures are exposed and actively questioned. Finally, there are works that confine with the near space, locality, nature, various constraints impacting embodiment practices, the home and homely. Forms of a collective creativity, such as the popular meme of imitating classical paintings while sheltering place, also signal the emergence of new e-lit related practices emerging during the COVID era.

At the same time, considering the widespread and multifarious forms of creativity in networked media, not much research has been carried out so far on the motivations informing both amateur and professional activity in this field in times of the crisis. By collaborating with authors and artists working in electronic literature, exhibiting works produced during the pandemic that respond to it, and by analyzing those works in critical context, our project will open up new understanding of how our period of crisis is spurring new forms of online creative practice.

The exhibition in the DARIAH funded project “Electronic Literature (e-lit) and Covid-19” will be presented on and part of the next ELO conference.

This conference will take place May 24-28th, 2021. Workshops will take place May 24-25 and the main conference will take place May 26-28th. The arts program will unfold over a longer span of time, with a series of events and exhibitions during March, April, and May 2021.

Registration for the academic conference opens in March 2021.

The output of the project

The output will be three-fold and connected:

  1. A research collection on Covid 19 Electronic Literature on the ELMCIP Knowledge Base, an international research resource for electronic literature with >3500 records hosted at University of Bergen Electronic Literature Research Group with Prof. Scott Rettberg. Starting from our contribution the collection can grow further since the Knowledge Base is used and developed by the international e-lit communities around ELO.
  2. An online exhibition, “The Electronic Literature Pandemic Platform” (working title) curated by the project with a collection of selected works of high quality. The exhibition will be presented on and part of the next ELO conference that will be virtual in 2021. The design will be critically modelled on current platforms.
  3. A critical study on Covid-19 e-lit and the project and exhibition for the open access journal Electronic Book Review (an international, peer reviewed journal of highest quality and central to the field of elit).


The deadlines for the call for the ELO 2021 conference have been extended. Check out the submissions deadlines here and read more about the call here.


Electronic literature is a field of creative and critical practice that comprises works of narrative, poetic, and performance writing that take advantage of the capabilities and contexts of the networked computer. As a field it has been active as far back as the history of computers from the 1950s — its production has intensified in the past 30 years and particularly since the popular adoption of the Web.

Genres of electronic literature include interactive fiction, hypertext fiction, poetry and story generation, kinetic poetry, and collective narratives. Electronic literature has consequently been tightly connected with the development and exploration of the computer, and currently it offers ways to understand digital media environments and platforms through digital literacy.

The current pandemic situation presents a potential opportunity for forms of culture, such as online literature and net art, that are made specifically for the network context, but also necessitates new ways of understanding online media and making sense of current life worlds.

About ELO (Electronic Literature Organization)

With just over 30 years of development under its belt, electronic literature, the field that the ELO represents, is relatively a new area of investigation when we consider it within the historical context of literary works produced for the oral, written, and print mediums.

But if we think of it within the framework of literature expressed in yet another medium, the digital, then it can easily be regarded as the continuation of a very long tradition, one that is exploring the affordances and constraints of this new medium much like we saw the “written” visual/concrete poetry in the 2nd and 3rd centuries in Alexandria and “printed” novels like Laurence Stern’s Tristram Shandy in 18th century did in theirs.

What makes the work that the ELO does absolutely imperative in this “Digital Information Age,” as scholar Paul Ceruzzi calls it, is its leadership in developing methods for evaluating quality of “digital” creative and critical works and its insights into cataloging its growing body of “digital” fiction, poetry, and other literary forms, for the ELO is the only scholarly body in the U.S. dedicated solely to the investigation of literature produced for the digital medium.