All-Over Writing:  

Weaving Image, Text, and Database Technology
in Electronic Literature.
by Joseph Tabbi


Electronic literature is not just a "thing" or a "medium" or even a body of "works" in various "genres." It is not poetry, fiction, hypertext, gaming, codework, or some new admixture of all these practices. E-Literature is, arguably, an emerging cultural form, as much a collective creation of new terms, keywords, genres, structures, and institutions as it is the production of new literary objects.

My purpose in this talk is, first, to introduce a mixed audience to an emerging field, electronic literature, that is itself a mixture of writing and design, image and narrative, text and texture. I derive the term, "All-Over Writing," from the practice of "All Over Painting" in abstract expressionism. What was once black and white and read all over – the printed book – is now viewed, annotated, navigated, and recombined within an expansive network of electronic texts.

I take ebr, the electronic book review , as my primary example. Consistent with language that emerged early in the development of the "web," I elaborate a vocabulary of running threads, folds, and textures rather than links and hotwords. The conceit of weaving, which was adopted as a visual metaphor in the early electronic book review interface design by Anne Burdick (EBR 2.0), has since developed in ways that affect the form and content of the journal, to the point where no single genre – criticism, fiction, poetry, advertising, visual arts – is ever presented apart from the others. A look at the development of the ebr interface, from version 1.0 in the year 1995 to the current, year-old version 4.0, reveals how semantic and conceptual content can be present "all over," even in database technologies.


Joseph Tabbi is the author of two books of literary criticism, Cognitive Fictions (Minnesota, 2002) and Postmodern Sublime (Cornell, 1995). He edits ebr ( and hosted the 2005 Chicago meeting of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts. He is professor of literature at the University of Illinois, Chicago and currently Fulbright Professor at the American Studies Department of the University of Munich.