Piecing Myself Together

Am I in pieces?

“This was the hardest thing to internalize; that something permanent but invisible had happened.” The Raven Boys – Maggie Stiefvater

2018-10-13 (9)

In Juliet Davis’ Pieces of Herself, the embodiment and construction of feminine identity as well as the relationship of the female self to public and private space is explored. This work of Elit operates through a drag-and-drop interface which allows readers to comb through different environments of the work for icons that can be “dragged” and “dropped” on the female, paper-doll-like motif adjacent to her environment. In this way, readers are able to see how a woman’s environment inscribes itself upon her. More, readers are able to explore how different contexts, such as home, community, and work, affect construction of identity and perception of the self. “Dropping” an icon on the paper doll triggers an audio clip that typically reveals something about how the space being explored imprints itself emotionally or physically on the woman. The icons themselves, paired with the nearly 400 pictures used to create this piece, seem to denote more than their mere connotation would suggest as well (i.e. blood drop icons in the shower room, diary entries and hidden keys in the bedroom, a fetus en-wombed by a church, a sex toy behind a discreet couch cushion etc.). The mere act of uncovering these icons seems reflective of the many layers of feminine identity and the further act of layering these icons atop the paper doll motif seems to suggest the multiplicity, the mutability, and precarious balancing of feminine embodiment. How each sound is layered atop another until there is a steady cacophony of steadily increasing headache-fuel seems to only further illustrate how jarring and overwhelming a task it is to be all these women–at once. Though seemingly simple in design, operation, and presentation of its ideas, Davis’ work is quite a compelling and profound exploration of the intricacies at work in constructing feminine identity as well as a frightening one in how accurately and heartbreakingly it articulates how social and cultural contexts can be all-consuming.

Perhaps it is because of my own context–my gender identity, my age, my education–but I found this work to be particularly poignant. Especially as I combed through the unspecified, female narrator’s private spaces–their bedroom, their bathroom, their kitchen, their living room–I felt this growing lump in my throat, this increasing ache in my chest. The diary entry in the hamper–“In my dreams, I’m home but it’s not really home. And I don’t recognize the town but I know where everything is. So why do I keep running into things…”–reminded me of my own journal, sitting beside me as I write this post, and all of the secret parts of me inside its page no one will ever know. The rain cloud in the bedroom reminded me of the nights no one will ever see. The narrator recalling how hard they tried to but never could quite recreate their own mother’s passed-down recipes–“In the kitchen, where she was forever looking for the right ingredients”that hurt. It hurt me but also made me ache for all the girls and women I know who–secretly–try so hard to be half as good as their moms. Who are are always almost but neverI wonder if my own mom aches like this too? The mask at the front door in the living room and the narrator’s recollection of the monetary worth of what they’re wearing–of who gave it to them— made me remember a time when I was showered with all the gifts babe’s money could buy. I remember finding out the return on that investment did not equal love. Maybe it never could have.

 

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Who I became~

To me, this work, in its content, purpose, and design, is one of the most powerful and compelling pieces of Elit I’ve come across. There’s something so inherently moving about making an unseen, hidden process–such as social inscription; more, construction of feminine identity–visible. Maybe that’s the voyeur in me but I’d also argue that Davis is placing us purposefully in the role of voyeur. But, it’s like we’re spying on ourselvesIs that really spying???? Questions of ownership of the self are raised in this piece and authenticity as a construct seems to be being challenged here. Rather than constructing who we are from navigating our environments, Davis’ work seems to posit that our environments navigate us, that our navigation of our environments is decided long before the question can be posed. According to Davis’ work, we are not imprinting ourselves on our environments. No, our environments are imprinting upon us until we are, essentially, composed entirely of pieces of our environments. This work seems to ask readers to really consider the nature of feminine agency and autonomy in a culture that poses so many, often conflicting, restrictions upon women.

Maybe my reading of this work is singular, a response to the many interactions of my life that brought me to experiencing it. But, if anything, I believe Pieces of Herself is trying to communicate the significance of lived experience. Of all women’s lived experiences.  Of my lived experience. I think that’s an incredibly profound message. More, I think it should not be as revolutionary as it is and yet…. How ’bout that Kavanaugh hearing, right??

Ultimately, Davis’ Pieces of Herself operates on many levels but, perhaps most importantly, it seems to read as almost autobiographic, allowing the reader to assume the unspecified narrator’s identity as they simultaneously engage in the process, navigation,  and negotiation of constructing that identity. Davis achieves this level of engagement through the drag-and-drop interface of the work, the use of audio and commentary, and the visual/design aspects working in tandem in this piece to create an inviting and immersive experience. This work left me feeling overwhelmed and naked(?) as well as left me with many questions about the complex nature of the self and its complicated presentation and representations. How much of me is me? How much is what others want me to be? How do I tell the pieces apart? And, am I broken into pieces? Scattered? Shattered?

Mostly, though, I was left wondering this:

Can I be a mosaic?

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References

“Pieces of Herself” – ELMCIP

“Bookish Electronic Literature: Remediating the Paper Arts through a Feminist Perspective” – Jessica Pressman, ELMCIP

“‘Pieces of Herself'” by Juliet Davis – Cynthia Roman, I ❤ E-Poetry

Fun Fact

I actually wrote about this piece a while back, during my first Elit “rodeo”. I decided to read what I had previously written until after I finished this post. Let me tell ya, it is wild. Like, reading something you wrote when you know you were an entirely different person than you are now is wildSlightly cringe-worthy. Anyway, I figured I’d provide you with a link to that initial post for your own entertainment. Also, I think it’s interesting, in the context of reading Pieces of Herself, to compare and contrast who I am and who I was in writing. It was fun revisiting her. I miss her, who I was. I wonder if she sees who I am now and wishes she could’ve done more.

Anyway….

BTW

So, this work reminded me of a couple songs I thought I’d share with the class~ I couldn’t help singing them in my head as I was reading this piece and so I thought I’d share that particular level of my experience as well….

Pretty Little Head – Eliza Rickman

Francis Forever – Mitski

Copycat – Billie Eilish

Gasoline – Halsey

~Till next time~

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Re-imagining Assemblage in the Taroko Gorge Remix Collection~

Some Reassembly Required…

Taroko Gorge (2009) is a work of generative poetry created by Nick Monfort and inspired by a body of poetry written about the Taiwanese national park of the same name. Lines of poetry are generated via a JavaScript program, designed to format each line of the work in a specific way. Monfort states, “…this generator forms strophes that begin and end with a “path” line and may have one or more more static “site” lines in between. Between each pair of such strophes is a “cave” line that trails off, as if into darkness, like the tunnels in the park that were carved by Chiang Kai-shek‘s Nationalist army.” Essentially, the work is designed to generate a pattern that alternates between providing a pairing or grouping of lines and a singular line. That singular line always ends with an em-dash, inviting readers into the void beyond the text. Inviting readers to walk beyond where the sidewalk ends. This text is produced limitlessly, the poem without an end until the reader decides to stop reading and exit the screen.  The work’s generative programming challenges traditional notions of authorship and of agency in navigating a text (how do I know when to stop reading?), has inspired multiple creative and compelling remixes (which I’ll get to), and was not very interesting to me at first (tbh).

See, I’m all about challenging the academy/the establishment/whoever the authority is but, in the case of Taroko Gorge and its remixes, I was a little underwhelmed by the gauntlet being thrown down. I guess, in comparison to other works of Elit I’ve encountered, this body of work just seemed so much less??? That was until I came across an article by our friend Katherine Hayles in which she described the design of Taroko Gorge and its subsequent remixes as a kind of digital assemblage. That’s some art shit. My kind of art shitHeck yeah. Once I donned those art lenses, I was able to see past the work’s seemingly simple interface and really take a gander and what I was looking at: neo-assemblage. Double heck yeah.

Taroko Gorge 1

First page of Taroko Gorge for me~

So, assemblage has existed in many forms over the years. Most notably by Picasso and good ol’ Duchamp but also by artist such as Dubuffet (real cool guy with a real cool body of work) and Tatlin. Many Dadaists preferred “photomontage“, a cousin to assemblage and a precursor to Photoshop, while Neo-Dada artists, like Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, preferred to call their process of making works of art from composing found objects into different arrangements “combines“. Assemblage also brings to mind bricolage, which is a kind of “do-it-yourself” combining of seemingly disparate found objects into a whole work (a topic I’m researching for my thesis).

Anyway, art history lesson over, viewing Taroko Gorge and its subsequent remixes such as Along the Briny Beach (2012) by J.R. Carpenter and Tokyo Garage (2009) by Scott Rettberg, as contemporary assemblage, I think, generates some interesting questions about the composing process and its performance–how much of what we write is simply found language, pasted together and given meaning because we decide it has meaning? All of it. But, also, I think viewing these works as digital assemblages helps re-conceptualize the seeming nonsense of their decontextualization.

5-paulhan

Self portrait made out of butterfly wings by Dubuffet

Assemblage was a way to help expand the mind beyond the constricting constraints of traditionalism by pairing non-like objects together and asking viewers to read them as related, as a new whole. Taroko Gorge and, especially, Along the Briny Beach, seem to do something similar in the ways both works make use of their lexia and display. Taroko Gorge places absurdly paired wording in a traditional strophic form while Along the Briny Beach does the same, even using quotes about beaches and the sea from traditional literature, but adds further complexity to the canvas, so to speak, by having 3 additional strings of lexia run horizontally across the screen, one string invisible until an image of a beach slides behind the otherwise background-colored text, revealing it. Kind of overwhelming at first, tbh. Both pose unique challenges to readers and their processes of reading and processing information. But, they also offer so many fascinating possibilities in regards to both. Like with Michael Joyce’s Twelve Blue, there are no clear answers and there is certainly no easy sense of closure. Only limitless possibility. A large expanse of blank space open to interpretation.

Along the Briny Beach

My first page of Along the Briny Beach~

I’m reminded of what Hayles said in an earlier article of her’s we read–that there is no story; only readings. I think this concept applies to Taroko Gorge and its many remixes (and also too many works of assemblage). The traditional notion of authorship is blown out of the water by pieces like these. The program combines the text into stanzas. And, I would argue, the traditional notion of reading is also obliterated by the infinite scroll. I can’t go back. I can only watch. Watch and remember. In this way, the poem becomes a little bit mine–for as long as I can remember it. This work and its design places readers in this odd space, somewhere half-between passive observer and cognitively engaged participant. Along the Briny Beach and Tokyo Garage similarly place readers in this limbo.

Tokyo Garage 1

My first page of my fave Tokyo Garage~

The text that slowly inches up the screen is often intellectually or aesthetically or poetically stimulating but, at the same time, its steady and unending ascent can make the text become this endless stream of nonsense, without clear purpose or intent to guide reading. In some ways, these works read as a kind of counter-to, anti-poetry. There is no inherent meaning. No specific place to start nor any closure. At the same time, though, there seems to be this invitation to meditate on the use of language to convey poetic thought and aesthetic appeal and just beauty. What does any of this language really capture? It’s all words. What is beautiful about their repetitive recombinations? Anything? What is the function of poetry and language, especially in this digital age where forms of aesthetic representation are vast and varied and so easily accessible but so rarely able to be appreciated?

Ultimately, I think Taroko Gorge and its remixes provide a way for readers to explore their own preconceptions about language, semiotics, authorship, authorial intent, and reader expectations. The works certainly challenge many traditional conceptions of these topics. But, I think viewing these works as both digital and cognitive kinds of assemblages allows these works to become a question about the overall nature of composing, creating, and interpreting meaning and signification in online spaces as well. At the very least, doing so engaged me with the work in a new–and interesting–way and provided me with a way to develop insight I might not have otherwise.

Sources

Taroko Gorge collection

“Literary Texts as Cognitive Assemblages: The Case of Electronic Literature”

 

~Till next time~

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I Can’t Believe It’s Not Journalism!

“It’s like journalism–only better.” (pg. 6, slide 3)

This is bad

My Second Rodeo

So….that Hobo Lobo of Hamelin is some story, right? Some great work of far-off, far-fetched fiction, right? Like, could you even imagine living in a world like that???? Wild, right?

nervous laughter

I’m dying

WildHelp.

Alright, alright. Enough thinly veiled references to the blazing “hugest” dumpster fire politics in the greatest country in the world have become. However cathartic it may be…. 

I’m ready for Ashton Kutcher to pop out and reveal America’s been punked.

I remember when I first read Stevan Živadinovic’s Hobo Lobo a few years back, during election year, I believe. I was blown away, then, by how poignant the piece seemed. The allusions to socio-political points of contention such as xenophobia, nationalism, and big news media corporations (like Fox News) seemed so clear and so powerful, especially when paired with the invocations of Big Brother and the Fourth Estate. These complex, complicate, and, often, dark concepts seemed such a contrast, too, to the storybook, Dr-Seuss-esque elements used to convey them. It was shocking to see these elements so overtly packaged for consumption by the youth. Indoctrination is supposed to be subtle, you know?

Hobo Lobo seemed to be as much a modern reimagining of The Pied Piper medieval folktale as it was scathing commentary on contemporary politics, the 24/7 news cycle, and the effects of late-capitalism on the US.

Now, the work is f*cking horrifying.

the horror

If Hobo Lobo was too close for comfort before, now it’s a living nightmare.

I mean, look at this face:

Dick's bulbous head.png

Could use more orange….

Nightmare fuel.

And, that’s just the imagery. When paired with the actual language used in this work, Hobo Lobo becomes highly unsettling. In fact, despite this work being ELit, I found it very difficult not to read it as I would a traditional narrative. The work, though, I think lends itself to that kind of reading–being modeled after a hybrid of the standard design of a pop-up storybook and the typical design of comic books. Unlike comic books proper, though, pages shift fluidly into each other, elements of both language and imagery flowing from one “panel” to the next, creating a “poly-linear timeline” and a kind of “infinite canvas”. Time seems to progress as the work “flows” from one event into the next. Persistence of narrative occurs in that the imagery of each page coincides with the lexia beneath it, nothing de-contextualized about it. In fact, everything seems embedded in a thinly-veiled context–i.e a not veiled at all one #didn’teventry~ The pieces of propaganda strewn purposefully in the background of most panels seem to reinforce a socio-political reading.

1st screen_LI

I mean, you can’t reference Big Brother and not expect the ghost of Orwell to ruin the party. That’s his thing.

Hobo Lobo is a work that is meant to be read. Even the pages that do not make use of lexia, use images and sound–like pipe music and the laughter of children, the resolute thud of stone against earth–to convey not-totally-illusive narrative.

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I mean, these images are narrative. Even if I did not have the accompanying limerick to direct my interpretation, I think I could figure out the story. 

Anyway, regardless of what contemporary parallels I draw from the content, I believe  Živadinovic’s Hobo Lobo is a compelling work of Elit, whose language, design, and aesthetic all work in tandem to immerse readers in this upside-down, surreal-but-hyper-real, topsy-turvy caricature world.  It’s combination of whimsical, folktale, Dr. Seuss-esque with snarky, political satire is both charming and revealing of the dark truth of indoctrination: that it’s all child’s play until the stone bites the dust and you’re swallowed whole.

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References How I know my sh*t:

Elmcip “Hobo Lobo of Hamelin”

I ❤ E-Poetry “Hobo Lobo of Hamelin”

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~Till next time~

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Viva La…Russian Revolution???: Analyzing Neo-Futurism & The Mutability of Reality and Story in Illya Szilak’s Reconstructing Mayakovsky

Здравствуйте~

Reality remains fatal, a bullet in the brain ~

In the names of progress and peace, what would you sacrifice? Some of your freedoms? Most of your voice? All of your body? Replace your autonomy with technology, swap democracy for technocracy? These questions seem to be at the narrative heart of Illya Szilak’s Reconstructing Mayakovsky (2008), a work of Eliterature (ELit) heavily inspired by the rise of both terrorist activity and technological advancement in the early 21st century as well as by the life and literature of early 20th century Russian Futurist writer and revolutionary Vladimir Mayakovsky. Szilak’s work seems to ask readers to not only immerse themselves in its rich narrative aspects but to consider, conceptually, the nature of reality and the complex relationships of story to reality, of self to machine, and of machine to nature. The work accomplishes this feat through a combination of textual, historical, navigational, and aesthetic “mechanisms” all working in tandem alongside reimagined, Neo-Futurist ideology to construct an experience that “promotes an idiosyncratic reading” (Gauthier) of the piece and reveals the mutability of meaning (story) and of humanity (the self).

OnewOrld, the world of Reconstructing Mayakovsky, is one in which humanity, and its propensity towards violence and chaos, has been abandoned for the seeming safety of virtual reality. “Inhabitants who survived a major cataclysm…live in hibernation units immersed in a virtual world” (Gauthier). The program and its safety are guaranteed by the Monad Global Attention Group, the financial investors behind the OnewOrld project. According to the short video clip–that ostensibly adopts the traditional style of a financial investment PowerPoint– found when one clicks on the “Movies” mechanism–hovering in the starry pocket of an otherwise infinitely dark and empty universe main interface screen–“real bodies cost money” and “the end of profitability is near”.

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Physical reality has become unstable and so must be converted to a virtual system. This story, the overt one, plays out in 46 chapters whose text can be accessed via clicking on the “Mechanism B” mechanism floating in the aforementioned abysmal/primordial miasma (Gauthier).

Oneword background

Example of the Chapters + Some background info on OnewOrld~

Audio versions of the chapters can be found by clicking on the “Audio Podcasts” mechanism. The OnewOrld language is English that has been translated into French and then back into English using the Babelfish program–literally removing it that much further from ourselves. This makes the language read/sound quite mechanical, adding additional complexity as well as a sense of eeriness to readings. These chapters float chaotically in no specific order in their own, bright red or solid black pocket universes of the site. Readers are given no directions on how to navigate the narrative nor interpret the mechanical language within. Instead, readers seem asked to construct meaning on their own as though the work were one large, deconstructed poem, whose inherent order matters less than a reading’s interpretation.

This format lends itself to the idea that navigating an ELit piece is also, “an act of producing a work’s signifying properties in the moment of engagement with them” (Pressman). Meaning cannot be interpreted in this work until a node–a hyperlink, in this case–is clicked and its encoded lexia accessed. Even then, though, there is no promise of revelation. What do 46 chapters mean when, “We reject the absolute truth of the number”? Or, when “The difference between a lie and the truth rests in its utility”? This lack of inherent meaning seems to both be at odds and celebrate the work’s Neo-Futurist undertones. Futurism was an early 20th century art movement that rejected the past and the mere idea of the past influencing the future and instead celebrated the future, the youth, speed, dynamism, violence, and, above all else, the machine. Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurism calls for the abolishment of libraries and museums and, most famously, compares the automobile to the splendor of “the Victory of Samothrace”. Bold. But, also an ideology that seems promoted in Reconstructing Mayakovsky.

That said, while attributing meaning of this otherwise seemingly disjointed work through a kind of Neo-Futurism reading would be easy, it seems not to suffice. Contradicting elements appear throughout the piece, promoting violence but also a way for “non-violently defining, creating, and animating the world”. Pieces irreverently discard the human and its agency but also claim, “In so far as we are bodies and minds We are the embodiment of nature In so far as we use technology as an extension of our bodies and minds there are choices we can make [sic]”. These contradictions complicate any simple understanding or navigation of Reconstructing Mayakovsky.

Most of these contradictions can be seen when the overt narrative of the work is compared to its accompanying manifesto, which can be found by clicking on the “Manifesto” mechanism. A condensed version of the manifesto titled “a petit Manifesto: or how I learned to stop worrying and love the movies” can be read on the screen that first appears or a longer version of the manifesto, “Do You Think Malaria Makes Me Delirious?”, can be accessed by clicking “download print version”. The condensed version hits some of the manifesto’s highlights such as, “All realities are virtual, but few of us can live here”, “Art is to life as Kitsch is to death” and “EVERYTHING HAS BECOME US, But we are nowhere in the world” while the longer version elaborates on these subjects and many more–such as poetry, language, memory, religion, humor (“We believe that all humans can laugh but most jokes don’t translate well”), etc.–eventually concluding that, “Our future demands a feminine art that knows and appreciates the body and its ornaments” (Szilak). Not very Futurist proper and, in comparison to the narrative aspect of Reconstructing Mayakovsky, this manifesto seems to contrast greatly. In fact, it seems to be a rebuke.

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The manifesto reads as quite a scathing critique of the virtual, technocratic world of Reconstructing Mayakovsky but also of some of the key tenets of Futurism, adding an element of self-awareness the Futurists themselves seemed to lack to the work itself if not the narrative within. Additionally, the manifesto seems to challenge notions of reality and perception, stating, as mentioned earlier, “When the wor(l)d has any meaning The difference between a lie and the truth rests in its utility [sic]”. Reconstructing Mayakovsky, then, becomes a mirror for readers, inviting them to explore the relationship between truth and perception of truth via its decontextualized, free-associative interface and its Neo-Futurist framework which invites a kind of contradictory, Orwellian “doublethink”.

Perhaps, though, some of these contradictions can be reconciled in Mayakovsky himself, who is a main character introduced into the world of the narrative aspect of this piece but who is also the author of much of the conceptual underpinnings of Reconstructing Mayakovsky. More, perhaps taking a closer look at Russian Futurism specifically and its conceptual underpinnings can bring a degree of understanding to an otherwise nebulous and mercurial work.

Vladimir Mayakovsky was born in the Russian Empire, pre-revolutions, in what is now  the country of Georgia. He came of age and became a writer and artist during a time of ideological upheaval as well as national and cultural revolution. In the early 20th century, Mayakovsky joined the Russian Futurist movement, an art movement that was influenced by Italian Futurism’s ideology which promoted/idealized modernization but that also, almost antithetically, appreciated traditional Russian folk art and life. Many members of this movement, like Mayakovsky, sought to dismantle the Tsarist autocracy that had been governing Russian for hundreds of years and replace it with some form of socialism–communism most commonly. Many artists from the movement participated in the generation and proliferation of Bolshevik propaganda.

Most members of the movement rejected the work of the so-called, “Great Masters”. One of the most famous Russian Futurist manifestos Mayakovsky contributed to, “A Slap in The Face of Public Taste”, proclaims, “The past constricts us. Academia and Pushkin make less sense than hieroglyphics. [burn] Dump Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc., etc. overboard the ship of Modernity” (Burliuk et al. as quoted in Lawton). Essentially, the Old Masters are dead and should stay dead.

Many Futurists also came to reject the title of Futurism itself, Mayakovsky stating in a short essay titled “We, Too, Want Meat!” (1914), “What’s a Futurist? I don’t know. I never heard of such a thing. There have never been any”. Perhaps this rejection is what led to the eventual dissolution of the movement. Perhaps is was the fall of the Russian empire. Perhaps it was always just disillusionment in need of voice and performance….

Regardless, the movement essentially dissolved in Europe with the onset of World War I and dissolved in Russia after the Russian Revolution of 1917, the assassinations of the last of the Romanov family, and the rise of Stalin and the Soviet Union. Mayakovsky continued writing in the “Futurist spirit” though, penning multiple books of surreal, decontextualized, or otherwise counter to poetry and becoming an outspoken spokesman for the Communist party until his suicide in 1930. A bullet in the brain heart.

In many ways, Mayakovsky embodies the ideals Reconstructing Mayakovsky espouses–which makes sense. (The work is literally titled Reconstructing Mayakovsky and, in the piece, Mayakovsky’s character is resurrected.) Evoking Mayakovsky is evoking the complex, often contradictory nature of Russian Futurism–its promotion of both the machine and traditional folk art–but also of that time period of upheaval and revolution in which the movement and Mayakovsky existed. “We believe that art is the memory of the future and memory is the art of the past”, the manifesto states. Mayakovsky is both the art and the memory. Reality is what exists in between, is what exists in the vast blackness surrounding “Manifesto” and “Movies”.

The “Archive” mechanism seems to also enhance the idea of reality being made mostly of what is remembered and created. This mechanism consists of images, documents, and articles related to events referenced in the narrative aspect of the work. In this way, the reader and the reader’s reality are being tied to the reality of Reconstructing Mayakovsky as all of the events referenced in the narrative aspect of the work have a basis in our reality (i.e. the bombing of Nagasaki, the existence of complexity theory, etc), making questions about the reality of Reconstructing Mayakovsky also questions about our reality.

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Some examples of the Archives referencing Mechanism B~

And, again, readers are given no directions for how to navigate this space of stacked images. The onus of coherence and persistence of narrative falls on the reader. This decontextualization seems another callback to Futurism while the compilation of meaningful subject matter seems to be what connects the overall concept back to Russian Futurism (which still values the traditional or “sentimental”) specifically.

Ultimately, the decontextualization of this piece allows for multiple readings of this work and, so, multiple constructions of reality, something that becomes apparent to readers as they attempt to, almost like “astronauts”, forge connections in that amorphous, black space between content and meaning. Additionally, the resurrection of Mayakovsky in this work resurrects and brings into question the ideals and contradictions of Russian Futurism, further complicating the understanding of thi piece and ensuring that no easy answers bring reconciliation. Through concept, design, and aesthetic, Reconstructing Mayakovsky seems programmed to function as an exploration of the contradictory nature of reality, perception, and the relationship of the self to both. Or, perhaps, it is meant to be a joke and its meaning just “does not translate well”.

Works Cited

Gauthier, Joelle . July 25, 2011. ”  Reconstructing Mayakovsky  “. Sheet in the NT2 Laboratory Directory of Hypermedia Arts and Literatures. Online on the NT2 Laboratory website. <http://nt2.uqam.ca/en/repertoire/reconstructing-mayakovsky >. Accessed September 23, 2018

Lawton, Anna M. Russian futurism through its manifestoes, 1912-1928. Cornell Univ Pr, 1988.

Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso. “The futurist manifesto.” Le Figaro 20 (1909): 39-44.

Pressman, Jessica, and N. Katherine Hayles. “Navigating Electronic Literature.” Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary (ebsite)(2008).

Szilak, Illya. Reconstructing Mayakovsky. June 2008. Web Design and Development: Cloudred. Art for animation and graphic design for manifesto: Pelin Kirca. Original music for animation: Itir Saran.

Further References:

http://pelinkirca.com/reconstructed/

http://cellproject.net/creative-work/reconstructing-mayakovsky-2

https://www.theartstory.org/movement-russian-futurism.htm

https://helenbledsoe.com/?p=238https://helenbledsoe.com/?p=238

https://www.estorickcollection.com/exhibitions/a-slap-in-the-face-futurists-in-russia

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До свидания!

~Till next time~

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Hopeful Monster: Exploring an ELit Frankenstein of Hypertext & Kinetic Poetry~

Done Its Over GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

This week, we’ve finally begun our much-anticipated exploration of Elit. (Perhaps, it’s only much-anticipated on my end though…?)

Delving into Elit ❤

As I may have mentioned before, I’ve taken a few courses already on ELiterature and networked narratives. And so, I’ve already developed a bit of a soft spot for the genre. I find the experimentation and spontaneity and interactivity of Elit to be engaging in a way that is not better than traditional literature but that allows for more of my senses to be involved in the experience of the work. It’s different. Especially when it comes to poetry and prose shared in this genre, I find something special and almost magickal about the work.

I’ve often heard criticism that digital work–writing and art, particularly–are somehow less meaningful for their “digital-ness.” Like, because a work is made to be experienced through a digital interface, it is somehow inherently less capable of  conveying meaning or initiating meaningful dialogue. Or, more simply, it’s just less.

That line of thinking couldn’t be farther from my own. More, it couldn’t be farther from the truth of my own experience of both interacting with works of Elit and with making my own work of Elit.

Two particular works of Elit that come to mind when I think of ones that have touched me are Jason Nelson’s This is How You Will Die and Porpentine’s With Those We Love Alive. I mentioned Nelson’s work earlier when discussing Dada in new digital media and have written at length about this particular work. Nelson’s work is a kind of kinetic poetry with a dash of generative fiction thrown in. As for Porpentine’s work, I went into great detail about my thoughts on this piece here.  The “story” is a work of hypertext fiction created using Twine (a platform of which I’m not so much a fan myself but that seems to work amazingly for other people) and it is an absolutely beautiful work. I love everything about it from the diction used to the background sounds and the colours. Read my full review of it if you want but I found this work of Elit to be a particularly poignant articulation and exploration of experiencing trauma and moving on from it. (*Fun fact, this work was on display at the Whitney Museum’s 2017 Biennial exhibit and I got to see it~)

Revisiting EPoetry and Prose ❤

For this week, I decided to explore another work of EPoetry/Prose from the 3rd volume of the Elit collection. The work I chose is Ask Me for the Moon by John David Zuern. It is a work of kinetic poetry. The lines of the poetry in the piece ebb and flow into each other likes waves on the shore of a beach.

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*The work starts with one line of poetry that overlaps and fades until it becomes the horizon for a slowly increasing cityscape–that of Waikīkī, this work being set in Hawaii.

Once you enter the work–by clicking on the screen in order to “ask me for the moon”–there are also missing spaces in some of the lines and particular quoted phrases in some of the lines too. These differences in the lines are filled in by excerpts from related works once the poem finishes ebbing and flowing out and from the screen. The poem will fade into the background and either the quoted phrase or the blank space will be emphasized as an excerpt from another work fades in on the screen.

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The contents of the introduced excerpts revolve around the colonization and industrialization of Hawaii. More, around the commodification of the islands’ themselves, their natural resources, and the natives’ culture. The seen vs. the unseen is also invoked by this piece as the images one clicks to engage with the poetry are of different kinds of labor and work–the line of these images cutting across a beach scene at night. In the editorial statement for this work, these decisions are described as such:

“John David Zuern’s Ask Me For the Moon is a digital poem created in Adobe Flash using juxtaposed images, words, and sounds, to create the feeling of the labor behind the scenes at a Hawaii resort. The images and colors (black, white, and turquoise dominate) paint a picture of Waikiki that is emphasized in Zuern’s notes on the piece, which observe that at the time the piece was made there was approximately one worker for every two and a half visitors to Waikiki. The text of the piece plays over the faded gray landscape of the island, while the moving pictures depict fragments of labor moving through like waves along the shore. The visual poetics serve as a poignant reminder of how much work is done at night, out of sight of the tourists who swarm the island.”

Zuern says of his own work, “I was looking for a way to bring concrete details of my experience of working in Waikīkī into some kind of dialogue with what I was learning about the history and politics of the tourism industry in Hawai‘i. I wanted the poetry to quote but also, in a sense, to inhabit and illuminate the writing of philosophers and critics, calling attention to their own deployment of image and metaphor. At the time, it seemed important to keep the file size as small as possible, and notions of compression and constraint wound up governing many of my formal considerations, including my decision to write in haiku, to employ a somewhat restricted vocabulary and palette, and to include small images with minimal animation.”

For his purposes, I think Zuern’s work becomes a compelling commentary. At first, I was thrown off by the constrained format and the minimal amount of direction/interactivity of the work but once I realized the scope of the content of the work, I began to appreciate the aesthetic and technical decisions of the work. It’s definitely more simple than many other contemporary works of Elit but I think that simplicity makes a statement about what is being lost. In that way, I think this work transcends itself.

What do you think, though? More, what do you feel when engaging with this work? Do you feel the loss, the longing for a return to something simpler? Or, do you feel something else?

On Making Our Own Elit

If we are making our own works of Elit, I’m definitely interested in making a work of EPoetry/Prose. So far, I’ve translated my poetry into metalworks (which is a process, let me tell you) but I would like to expand into Elit with it. The work of Elit I created before was one of prose and so I would definitely like to expand upon what I can do with Elit and the medium.

That said, I would like to express concern with the time-frame for creating this Elit piece–if we are. I had an entire semester to work on the other piece of Elit I made and during that semester I was learning how to use many different kinds of tools and whatnot to create my piece. It was a whole, long process. And, even then, it was still a struggle to create the work I did due to how long it takes to do anything/translate anything it seems into a digital format as well as how overall challenging and strenuous it can be. There were many, many ideas and drafts scrapped along the way.

Anyway, I guess I just want to both inform, maybe, expectations as well as ask for a clearer understanding of what will be expected of us if we are making a work of Elit.

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Links

Twit 1 & Twit 2

Goodies

Porpentine’s Twitter

Because I Am Alive

Better to live on a beggar’s bread with those we love alive, than taste their blood in rich feasts spread and, guiltily survive.

(Pics on this one so be sure to check out the blog)

If I had the chance to start my own Elit piece all over again, I would want to make it like Porpentine’s With Those We Love Alive. To me, it is the most compelling piece of Elit I’ve read so far and I am a little bit more than a little jealous that I did not pick this piece for my own presentation (though I was rather taken with Nelson’s This is How You Will Die).

With Those We Love Alive is a hypertext work created in Twine that transports readers into this fantastical and casually violent world in which they must use their magickal abilities to serve a merciless larval queen and her bloody empire. In this nightmare-scape, there are rat and slime kids, diremaidens, silent gods, and dream thieves. It seems dreams fuel this nightmare world, actually. Or, at least, the thievery of these dreams fuels this world, death standing audience. Maybe we’re all dead….

I found this metaphor of absent/stolen dreams to be a very powerful representation of abuse and its lasting mark. In this work, you as the character you create are able to travel to different spaces in this world–the balcony, the garden, the throne room, your workplace, the city–and, once in these different spaces, you are able to interact with other spaces. It’s kind of like a web. Anyway, the city-space has the Dream Distillery where you can drink the dreams harvested every day (from the eternally sleeping), each day offering a different mixture of flavours–things like anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure), miscarriage, agoraphobia. exile, etc. After you drink of the dreams, you can talk to the workers who will tell you something about the process of harvesting dreams. And, one of the things they say is something about the dreams usually becoming too bitter for consumption after 6 years (they say something to the effect of wanting to change the pipes, I think, to remedy that problem). But, this line made me think of how many child abusers don’t want their victim anymore once they reach a certain age. The child becomes too “old” for them. To me, this idea with the dreams seems to be referencing this commonality in cases of abuse. The dreams become symbolic of youth and childhood and naivety and the siphoning of them as fuel for monsters, their breeding, and their monstrous world becomes symbolic of abuse and its lasting effects. I think this reading is further supported by what we find out about our character’s younger years.

At least, when I played this piece, I discovered that when I (my character) was younger, my (their) mother made them drink this vile potion that made me (them) dream all the dreams I (they) ever could have in one sitting so that I (they) would not be taken to have my (their) dreams harvested (as was in vogue to do at the time). In consequence, I never dreamed again. There is only darkness and emptiness. This dream thievery represents a different kind of abuse from the previous mentioned but I think its lasting effects are still evident in my (character’s) apparent apathy and depression.Their is this resignment and listlessness to my actions that seems to relate back to this emptying of my dreams against my will. I believe Sedina, at some point, says that what was done to her can be seen on the outside (meaning her scars) but what was done to me was done to the inside and so cannot be seen. All of this, I believe, is meant to reference abuse and its many varieties and levels. And, Sedina and me (my character) and the rat and slime kids, the dreamers in the distillery, and the diremaidens are all meant to show that abuse manifests in different ways. No two people cope–or don’t cope–the same way. Some of us turn to religion while others turn to whatever will make us most numb, even if that means allowing ourselves to be consumed or sucked dry.

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Focusing specifically on myself (my character), I think my listlessness and apathy were very well-conveyed through the medium. There is this kind of blase feeling that is communicated through allowing me only to keep flipping pages, going from one thing to the next without much room for processing. Everything is very shallow by allowing me only to click and flip. There is this lack of depth in my ability to navigate this piece. Even the music remains relatively unmoved throughout the reading of this piece, morphing only at certain points. Also, I’m only allowed 1 choice of response sometimes, making me a complicit entity in this abusive and ugly world; which seems to represent how abuse and its effects make choices for us sometimes. Again, Sedina says something that seems to relate to the overall experience of this phenomena–“The brain won’t let you know what happened till it’s over.” Often, the exact nature of abuse suffered doesn’t really come to light or hit until many years after the fact. More, you are so young when it occurs that you don’t even have the words to identify it let alone process it. I think this line and what the interface of this piece is trying to communicate is that idea–that the true impact of everything read won’t really come until later. Like, my (our character’s) escape that doesn’t come until after many shallow readings through what seems like an endless cycle of events. Freedom, like realization, takes time. So much time.

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Another aspect of this piece that is compelling is the, well, physical one. In this work, readers are invited to draw sigils of remembrance on themselves.

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This one really got me.

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Marks for letting go, for new beginnings, for shame, for pain, for choices made…. I think doing this is supposed to be reminiscent of how abuse and violence imprint themselves on us, oft in very physical ways. Very personal ways, as well. These marks we draw on our skin become a record not just of our journey through this piece (that is instructing us to draw them) but also a record of our own realities that inspire–individualize–them. Through these marks, this Elit piece is able to transcend its technological bounds and merge with our own realities. In many ways, this interaction, too, becomes symbolic of how abuse transcends whatever “neat little box” we try to tuck it away in and bleeds into all aspects of our lives. Meeting Sedina again for the first time in the palace, just meeting their eyes, seeing their scars, was enough to silence me and transport me back to a time in which I (my character) was powerless. Looking at the weapon I made for the queen gave me no sense of accomplishment and seemed, also, to be only symbolic of my powerlessness. And, the telescope, served only as a reminder that I am trapped on the inside, an eternal observer. All of these little things brought me back to this central idea that I am what has been done to me and not what I choose to be. And, that is how abuse operates. It bleeds into every interaction with the world. Swallows everything you feel till it is all you feel. Watches you like a dead person only you can see. Makes you feel like a dead person.

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Clicking each word makes them disappear until only damage is left and then it disappears.

It is very isolating as well which, I think, is another aspect this piece captures very well. Throughout play, you rarely interact with another (living) soul. Mostly, you are a quiet observer. A ghost moving from one haunt to the next. Messengers are sent for you when the queen needs you and the workers at the dream distillery feed you the same lines on repeat but, other than that, there are no pages that offer you (your character) meaningful or thoughtful interaction. It isn’t until Sedina shows up that dialogue is really introduced in this work.

Through interaction with Sedina, you are given more avenues of expression. There is less complicity and more individuality (perhaps showing how the system is created to silence while people are not). You can choose how you are “coping” or how you imagine what your character has gone though. As I read this piece as a narrative of abuse, I chose to say things that related to that experience. Like, when Sedina asked if it still hurt, I’d say, “Yes.” Or, if she asked if I was doing okay though, I’d lie and say, “I’m okay.” And, Sedina seemed to both commiserate with me and counsel me. She is the instigator of escape. Sedina wants to kill the queen. I write her a letter begging her not try for trying is in and of itself an act that will not be forgiven. And, my reaction seems to be a very accurate response. Tackling the monster that is abuse is very scary and seems like something that will come back to bit with vengeance. But, as this piece communicates, it is necessary to face our monsters. And, it’s alright to fail–as Sedina does. Killing the monster is not the point. Facing it is. Realizing that there are things that are more important than it is. Wanting things again is. Realizing you are alive is.

Honestly, there are far too many aspects of this piece to touch upon in one analysis. I could go on and on and probably still find new things every time. Like, I didn’t even really get to go into detail about the diremaidens but I think those characters are infinitely fascinating even though their time in the piece is brief. They surrender themselves. Humiliate themselves. Empty themselves forever into boxes. In ritual. People leave petals of memory to worship their plights. To me, they are the victims who could not live with the idea that there were no gods to give greater purpose to life and thus provide reason for their abuse and suffering. So, they made themselves into offerings. Chose to forget themselves/lose themselves to a cause. After a few pages, all memory of them disappears. Exactly as they wanted.

I didn’t really get to talk about the queen and just how symbolic of abuse she is. I mean, she communicates via implanting her thoughts directly into your brain. How much more intrusive and invasive can this monster be? How much less can she care about your bodily autonomy. And, when she wants something, the only options this piece gives you are to fulfill the queen’s desires. You are complicit and made a conscript. Which is what an abusive context does.

And, we have the gods who derive power from silence.

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Never any explanation.

Truthfully, this concept makes me think of that graffiti that was supposedly found on the wall in one of the concentration camps– “If there is a god, he will have to beg my forgiveness.” And, I think this whole concept is supposed to juxtapose the diremaidens–who are putting themselves in the service of these silent gods–the ones who presumably chose silence over interfering with their abuse. There’s an accusation of betrayal charging this statement, to me. A, “where were you?” A, “why didn’t you do anything?” Ultimately, I think this aspect of the piece is meant to convey the betrayal victims feel towards figures of authority who either committed the act of abuse or violence or who simply did nothing, whether they were aware of what was happening or not.

There is just so much to explore through this piece. Even though the interface is relatively simple, the story that is being told is infinitely inviting of deeper reading. So, I suppose this is a decidedly literary piece of Elit. Most of its meaning is derived from its text paired with sound and some colour. This simplicity, though, I think resonates because it allows readers to realize how  abuse can be so simple in process but so difficult and complicated to process. The complexity of it exists in its implications, in the marks it leaves and that are remembered.

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It is so hard to fill the emptiness.

“This was the hardest thing to internalize; that something permanent but invisible had happened.” ~ Maggie Stiefvater

(I got so absorbed in this piece that I’m not sure whether or not I’ll be writing about the other piece yet–sorry Jess if I don’t. In fact, I’m very inspired from this piece to work on my own Elit work.

As for the title suggestions for TiM, I’ll either add them to this post later, create a new one for them, or just bring my suggestions to class. It’s hard to be clever when you’re trying to be. I need more time to mull.)

Oddly Soothed

I don’t think I express my appreciation enough for the words I read remaining still on their pages. I’m not sure if it was the intention of Sooth, by David Jhave Johnston, to evoke this heightened sense of appreciation but, it certainly accomplished that.

In Sooth, the poems presented for reading “float” in a kind of amniotic space. They appear to recede into and return from some depth in the screen. Like water, they ebb and flow. Sometimes they graze, others they assault. Point is, the words are not fixed in place. This movement creates for a different kind of compelling experience with poetry.

Because the words are constantly in motion, each line floating in and out of sight, there becomes no one way to read the poem. There is no linearity here to these narratives. Coherence is what you make of it. In order to make the lines appear on your screen initially, you have to click with your mouse. And, as you continue reading, the lines will keep coming, the “beginning” and “ending” lines just cycling back into the poem until there really isn’t even an entry or exit point anymore. Paired with the rather trippy sounds that play in the background for this poetry, this looping motion becomes almost meditative. I know I found myself focusing more on each individual line if only to try to “catch” it. In a way, I feel like I savored each line of poetry more in this piece than I have with other strictly print-based works.

The imagery that went along with this poetry was also interesting. At least, an interesting choice. I believe there was a Venus fly trap, a woman in bed, possibly some abstract sand dunes, water, a fish in a tank, and what looked like a close-up of either snow or sugar granules. There seemed to be no explicit connections to any of the imagery chosen with the poetry. I mean, I definitely formed my own connections but I don’t think there’s anything in the poetry itself that directly addressed its context as it relates to the imagery. I know I found it weird that the poem titled Weeds did not have the Venus fly trap imagery but that of the woman’s body. This piece seemed to play on and off of our perceptions and associations.

For a moment there, I also thought this piece wanted to play off of our perceptions of communication and of language because the last 2 poems began in French instead of English. I was trying to draw on my 4 years of high school French to get through them before I realized I could just change the language via a little icon on the bottom right hand corner. I made it farther than I thought I would but, anyway….

Sooth utilizes a rather simple interface to engage readers with the text floating across their screens by, literally, making that text float. By giving the poetry actual movement, readers are encouraged to follow the text with their eyes and so focus more on that text than if it what stationary. Readers become immersed, submerged, in the water-like movements of this poetry.

Finding the Right Words

To an extent, I think we are all aware of the editing of ourselves we do. Whether it be in regards to how we write or how we dress or speak or move, I think we all are aware of the compromises we make in our conduct. Oft, these compromises are made to spare feelings–our own or another’s. So, in a sense, the way we edit ourselves is actually an exercise of our power. It is how we exert a measure of control over otherwise nonsensical, uncontrollable existences. Excuse me, though, if that is getting a little too deep. I just know that, in regards to my own interactions with the world around me, I make plenty of compromises. I hold my tongue. Restrict. Constrict. Contain. Toe the line but never cross it. Scratch down words then scribble them out. Replace them with the “right” ones. The ones that understand and accuse no one. The ones that seek abnegation in place of self- actualization.

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, there are rules of conduct in this world. And, every role you assume has its own tailor-fit code. This is how it has been for a very long time–something I believe Emily Short and Liza Daly’s First Draft of the Revolution captures considerably well. In this work of ELit, the ways in which we compromise and edit ourselves are explored though an interactive, letter-constructing interface. Readers of this piece assume the role of 1 of 4 different letter-writers and are then able to “revise” or “review” or “construct” letters based upon the unique concerns presented to them according to which letter-writer’s role they are assuming. All of those option are in quotations (i.e “review”) because, while there are certainly many responses to different revisionary suggestions, all of those responses are provided by the interface. So, readers don’t get to generate their own, entirely unique responses. Though, sometimes, you do get the option to erase a line entirely from a letter which I would argue, to a certain extent, allows some level of personal contribution to the piece–through exemption, oddly enough (i.e refer to the mention of abnegation above).

Anyway, it is very interesting to see how each role you assume imposes its own concerns on your psyche as a reader.For example, when I “was” Henri, I definitely felt more conservative with what I wrote–like I was withholding information in order to preserve some of my own concerns. Whereas, when I “was” Juliette, I felt more manipulative while I was choosing my words–revealing or not particular things depending upon what would get me to my own ends. The ends justify the means and all that. So, I viewed secrecy in different ways depending upon which role I had. And, this was definitely not a conscious decision. It’s only afterward, thinking about how I chose to conduct myself, that I realize these distinctions. Which, I think is also reflective of real life–there are many roles we play whose rules are just intuit or inherent now. When I’m on the train, I immediately curl inward–shoulders hunched, bags close, legs crossed. I’m trying to take up as little room as possible. And, if I someone still brushes shoulders with me, I apologize. Especially if they’re a man. Even though I don’t always want to–because it’s not always my fault–I’ve been taught to be small and apologetic first. Men, not so much. Man-spreading is every bit the issue you’ve heard–lots of space on public transportation devoured without thought by the male sex. Because, taking up space is not ingrained as a taboo in them. It is not an ever-conscious concern the same ways in which it is for me as a young woman. My role dictates conscious concern. Though, as I said, sometimes that concern just becomes so embedded that you no longer pay it much concentrated attention. It’s just something you do. Which, is what happened for me in First Draft of the Revolution.

And, while I appreciate the attention of this piece to reality, I found myself irritated at certain points because I had to revise all of the letter sometimes instead of just parts of it. The piece would not let me send the letter if I did not edit some lines. Sometimes, there were multiple choices of revision and you could just settle for one and the piece would let you move forward but other times, if there was only one suggestion for revision, you had to take it in order to send the letter and progress. For example, one of Juliette’s letters started with, “Do you think I am so stupid?” and I really wanted to keep that as the first line for that letter but the piece would not allow me to progress without erasing that beginning entirely. To me, I did not think it was so outlandish for the material that was being addressed in the letter itself but I guess that was just my interpretation. To me, that was a perfectly acceptable reaction for a young wife finding out about her husband’s bastard child and then being spared as know the knowledge were not perfectly clear. Like, who did Henri think he was attempting to for one second pull the wool over Juliette’s eyes? Juliette knew long before Henri’s letters even began to broach the suspicion. At least, I believe she did.

Perhaps, the role Juliette had to play struck a chord too close to home for me as a young, female reader myself. That, “Do you think I am so stupid?” is a kind of sentiment about a lot of things I’d definitely like to feel more comfortable expressing and so, maybe, I imprinted that on Juliette. Maybe the role she is in does not allow for such liberties with language. Maybe I just want it to.

Overall, I found this piece to be a rather compelling exploration of how the roles we are made to assume compromise our abilities to freely express ourselves as individuals. The ending (I experienced) I found to be a bit rushed–like, I have questions about the bastard son! Is he really on his father’s side now? What became of the country friar? And, of Bernadette? Did she come to live with her son in Paris? What was her story? The Countess, too? What does she know about magic and the rebellion being stages against it and the aristocracy? Like, this could be a book! ….Well, it was a book. At least, it was presented in a traditional kind of book format with pages to turn and plot points which is unusual for more contemporary pieces of Elit–which this one is (2012).

I think this piece lends itself to a lot of speculation. And, a lot of intrigue, of course. I think the letter-writing interface really communicates this idea of “seeing behind the curtains.” Discovering how a trick is performed. Which, interestingly enough takes away some of the magic but does have its own mystique nonetheless. There is something deeply personal about writing letters. It carries this connotation of divulging, of revealing the otherwise unstated. And yet, here, we see that is seldom the case. Even in our seemingly personal spheres, we are still subject to outside influence. Prisoners to circumstance, even. I think this piece gets you to contemplate the ways in which you strip your own freedoms from yourself and why. While I don’t think this piece encourages direct confrontation with the status quo of conduct, I do think it invites readers to think about why they don’t speak their minds as oft as they no doubt want to.

“Be brave. No remembers a coward.” ~ Something I wanted to tell Juliette sooner but something I think she learned nonetheless toawrds the end of the piece.

 

Gallows Humor–Now with Less Rope: Nihilism & Neo-Dadaism in Jason Nelson’s “This is How You Will Die”

“The concept of death as a familiar and anonymous event was replaced by the suppression of death.”

Dark comedy is risky business–making light of subjects such as death, murder, suffering, etc. still controversial and oft times incendiary when done on stage, let alone when done through the screen. But, Jason Nelson seems to have made it his business not to shy away from provoking his audience–both to laughter and to discomfort. In Nelson’s This is How You Will Die (2005), an early hybrid of digital poetry and–to an extent–generative fiction, readers not only explore death and the macabre as poetic thematic but also experience their own deaths as if a punchline to some kind of joke just beyond grasp. Nelson’s piece owes much of its power and whimsy–can’t forget that whimsy–decidedly to its slot-machine interface which serves to communicate, among other things, a sense of chance (i.e luckiness vs. unluckiness), a sense of the unknown, and an overall sense of play (i.e winning vs. losing). Despite entering a space filled with rather mature and morbid themes, readers feel as if they are playing a game because the presentation of those darker themes is in an unassuming context. Even when paired with the grungy, scrawled aesthetic Nelson has going for this piece (and most of his pieces), there is nothing overtly scarring about reader-interaction with the content. Which, I myself attribute heavily to this piece’s slot-machine interface, yes, but also to its, uhm, nonsense–something I consider to be influenced by a brand of Neo-Dadaism with a hearty sprinkling of nihilism thrown in for good measure.

From “beginning” to “end”, readers of This is How You Will Die are thrust into a space devoid of much understanding beyond the fact that there is a game of sorts that must be played in order for any kind of meaning whatsoever to be gleaned. Upon first entering the space, readers are greeted by a discordant humming and by the slot-machine interface which is housed within a pair of picture frames–that switch back and forth throughout interaction with the piece. The slot-machine itself begins blank (white) except for three clickable choices. All of them are located towards the bottom of the slot-machine–two on the left and one on the right. There are some red, grey, and yellow scribblies that colour some of the white space and extend beyond the frames but none of them are clickable. So, that leaves the three options. Choosing the “Explain Death” on the far left causes a screen to roll down from the top of the frames. Its content is quite interesting, to say the least. If there were an overall point to this piece, it would have to be what is explained/posed here–that life’s a gamble. An ultimately meaningless gamble but a gamble nonetheless. The nihilism is very strong in this excerpt. In clear reference to this piece, it is explained that, “These are words, motions, and doorways, and your last is your death.” So, have fun. The instructions leave little to be desired but they serve their purpose. Moving the mouse over the other clickable option on the left, “Demise Credits”, reveals that a player needs to retain at least ten credits in order to continue “forecasting [their] death.”  Twenty-eight credits are always available (allowing for at least three spins since each spin costs nine credits). And, that leaves one last clickable option on the right–“Death Spin.” Clicking on that gets everything rolling. And, by everything I mean five things. According to the description of this piece provided by Nelson, there are 15 five-line poeticals a reader can come across in a variety of combinations.

It is interesting to note how many cyclical/circular references there are within this piece. There is the slot-machine itself. Then, there’s each slot on the machine. The loop of humming in the background. And, there are these “door” options that will accompany some of the poeticals. Doors numbered 1-9, when clicked, will each play a loop of a short video, a soundbite, and a text. On and on it will go until the reader clicks for another spin and resets the slot-machine. All of these cyclical elements seem to reinforce the nihilistic sentiment in that “Explain Death” blurb–that life is a meaningless gamble because all life is, well, is endless repetition. “Continue styling your hair, adjusting your clothes, lifting, placing, washing, breaking, mending.” the blurb says. None of these things separate you from the herd nor single you out as remarkably purposeful. And, so, what really is the purpose of all of these loops in this piece if not to echo that purposelessness of life itself? Even the words in the poeticals will soon be nothing but repetitive. All possible permutations will wear themselves out eventually and nothing new will be generated (which is why this piece is generative fiction only to a certain extent). All the content behind those additional doors will eventually be exhausted. This piece will wear itself out as it operates, in essence, around a loop. That is its coding–to generate loops… Until the demise credits run out, of course. Then, it’s game over.

But, the screen doesn’t fade to black or anything. Nothing flashes or scribbles out. No, that would conflict with the philosophy being forwarded here. Instead, all a reader is left with once they run out of demise credits is their “death”–a piece of work that puts MadLibs to shame. Perhaps, an additional video as well–also, pretty trippy. Very nonsensical and disjointed. To me, both the lexical and the audio-visual content read distinctively Dada-influenced/inspired. For those unfamiliar, Dada was an early twentieth-century (anti)art movement that, in many ways, acted as a response to the fragmentation of Europe during and especially after WWI. It was a way for artists, writers, and the like to understand how countries like England, France, Italy, and Germany–generally considered the pinnacles of Western culture–could have spent so many brutal and bloody years fighting over, really, fifty-feet of mud. Dada is characterized by nonsense and absurdity because what created it was nonsense and absurdity. It eventually got shoved to the peripheral by Surrealism and then Abstract-Expressionism…  But, a kind of Neo-Dadaism has been popping up lately in contemporary spheres. There is a growing appreciation for art and for expression that is free-associative–which, I think certainly describes Nelson’s piece.

The poems one gets out of his piece here are largely nonsensical. Rarely, do the five parts of each poetical provide any coherence, any kind of traditional trajectory. While this piece is certainly literary–at least, as literary as something akin to Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake could be considered–identifying how exactly it is literary poses some unique challenges (many that mirror the ones Dada had and still has with fitting into the art world). What is considered a part of the story here? Just the fragments that fill the slots when they are spun? What about the doors and the additional material they provide? Are they a part of the main story? Sub-plots? Should the doors used to access this information be identified as chapters or, maybe, page-breaks? Because, the content “behind” the doors is not clearly delineated. It overlaps the slot-machine interface –little frames house videos with embedded text while audio plays, discordant humming uninterrupted by the additional audio. And, none of the additional audio seems to connect. Some is interview-like while other is list-like. Usually, the images in the videos correlate to the audio but some of the inlaid text doesn’t necessarily connect so clearly. So, are these nine doors portals to separate vignettes? Is each poem its own vignette? Its own story? Nelson describes the interface as working from 15 five-line poems but does that mean that readers should view this work as only having 15 five-line poems and discard the new permutations? I would think not. Especially if Nelson is trying to evoke Neo-Dadaism in some way, viewing this work as being so structured defeats the purpose of it–which, as previously stated, seems to be a celebration of purposelessness and meaninglessness. It is all very paradoxical (loops within loops).

Looking for meaning in why there are nine doors also seems to veer away from the message. At first, I thought they might be related to the Seven Deadly Sins or to Dante’s nine circles of Hell but, unless I’m missing something very obvious, there seems to be no correlation to either of those things. I’d have to force the content to mean what I want it to mean. Though. I am rather fond of the idea of the doors relating to the idiom, “a cat has nine lives.” It seems to fit with the spirit of the piece (i.e the role of chance, luckiness vs. unluckiness). Also, extra demise credits will be awarded on random spins–usually at the cost of something awful like “blood disease” or “electrocution by a lover”–which seems to further invoke this idea of “the luck of the draw.” There is no rhyme or reason to why a bus didn’t hit you today or for why you didn’t develop a cancer in your life other than it being your “lucky day.” And, when you run out of demise credits so too have you run out of luck. Used up your ninth life.

Overall, This is How You Will Die operates on multiple heuristic and stylistic levels to create a new kind of literary experience. While the interactivity is quite minimal in comparison to more contemporary works of E-literature, here the simplicity of it serves its purpose to transform the reader into the author of their own demise. Which, is quite the joke, isn’t it?

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***Be sure to tell me in your blog posts how you “died.” ;P***

**Extra:

Here‘s an interesting paper that talks about this piece (that I couldn’t really find a way to incorporate into my own analysis).

Playing Alice

So, I have an oddly specific fear–I don’t like being in locked rooms or rooms that only have one entrance and can be locked if I don’t have a key or another means of vacating them. I’m not claustrophobic or anything like that. The size of the space doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the space has an entrance that can be locked and I might not have a means of getting out of it. Escaping. At my old school, there was this locker room–really more of an over-glorified hallway–that only had one door into it. No windows. Totally not up to fire code. Anyway, I remember watching that door like a hawk. Staying as close to it as I could while changing. Being locked in that room was a constant fear of mine every time I went to get ready for gym. Somebody might slam it too hard behind them or bump it into it while getting ready–not privy to my worries. Unable to understand them. I don’t think my fear unreasonable–Not. One. Bit.–but perhaps, when I was younger, it posed problems for understanding. Kids can be cruel. Didn’t want to end up locked in there as some kind of joke, you know.

Anyway, while playing Inanimate Alice, this old fear of mine came rearing its ugly head. In this Elit piece,  you–the reader–assume the role of Alice and have to navigate your way through an abandoned and dilapidated old factory-structure. While climbing to the top of the place on a dare, the staircase “falls out” from under you and forces you to “go through” the factory in order to get out. I use quotation marks here because nothing actually, physically happens to you–the reader. On the screen, images of stairs and of the factory appear one after the other like snapshots in order to create the illusion that you are traveling or navigating through the space. The progression of images accompanied by the text on-screen is very effective in creating this illusion of movement. When the stairs “fall out” from under you, the images appear one on top of each other at angles, corners overlapping, piling up as if they are stairs falling one after the other. As if you were actually disoriented or shocked, the images seem to appear in the haphazard, chaotic kind of way. The view on your screen seems quite comparable to reality if reality appeared just in snapshots of action.

There is this brief interlude in the midst of this disaster. In it, you explore some of Alice’s past–how she came to England, what her home-life is like, what her school-life and friends are like, and what she thinks of the city. Of course, all of these different nodes are accompanied by images and text which make them your sights and your thoughts. All of this background info, I think, is meant to help readers better assume the identity of a 14-year-old girl living in a new and unfamiliar city, trying to make friends and discover who she is. Readers even get an almost meta sort of experience when another stories appears on Alice’s PDA-like device. It is showing viewers how Alice likes to create digital stories but, honestly, it is showing the readers how Inanimate Alice was made. It is reminding readers that this is a game, a piece of fiction, in a very off-hand-but-not-really kind of manner. Which, didn’t do me much good while I was going through that factory.

Because I have a legitimate fear/phobia, I think it is understandable that I rushed through escaping from the factory. Even though there were no locked doors I could see (in fact every way you went through this space, there were multiple avenues to explore), I still felt like I was in an enclosed space I couldn’t get out of. The use of pictures and images of real places definitely contributed to that feeling. It made everything feel more real. Like, I was actually lost and scared in this creepy, old building trying to find my way out. And, the sounds, too, made the space feel more like a physical place. Water drips, metal clangs, and footsteps sound as you navigate through this space. And, all the walls are graffiti-ed with monsters–so many eyes follow you. Text appears on-screen when you veer from the “correct” path, asking if you’re always going to be lost or if you’ll ever find your way out. It definitely got my heart pumping. But, remember I do have phobia. So, maybe my perceptions were a little off. It’s understandable, remember?

Constantly, I was clicking “B” and asking Brad for help through the space. I’m so glad a companion was offered. As of yet, I have not just gone through and read the piece, so I can’t speak to that, but I know that Brad turned out to be an excellent guide. I don’t know if they’re offered in the Reading Only option. Though, I do wonder who Brad is? An imaginary friend of mine/Alice’s? It wasn’t really explained to me. Though, this installment is number 4 in an apparent series, so, maybe, Brad as a character is explained in one of them. All I know of them is that they appeared as a handy–get it?–silhouette over an image that directed you through the space as necessary–or, in my case, throughout the entirety of the piece. There was no limit to how often you could call on them for help.

When I did finally get back outside, the relief I felt was palpable. Seeing the white rays of daylight brought my heart-rate back down. Honestly, I don’t think we’ve gone over a piece as interactive as this one yet. It is kind of similar to Tailspin in that you click around to navigate through the piece, but there’s more action in it. More movement created with the progression of images on-screen. It’s also kind of like High Muck-A-Muck in that there is a multi-leveled story here. But, Inanimate Alice is arguably less complex. High Muck-A-Muck had many different veins of story and so many different modes of articulating those stories. I’m not saying one is better than the other–just that one is meatier than the other. As mentioned, this is only one installment of Inanimate Alice so, maybe, all the installments together are just as meaty as something like High Muck-A-Muck. I suppose I should say, to be more accurate, that Inanimate Alice and High Muck-A-Muck differ in how their content is collected and then presented. One is altogether and the other is divvied up.

I played one piece from Volume 3 of the ELit collection–The Tower, I think–that had a similar kind of navigation to Inanimate Alice. It was first-person oriented. You used your mouse and computer keys to move through the space. And, it was all presented as if your computer screen were your eyes. Sort of like most video-games now. Still, it was definitely different from Inanimate Alice. This piece reads very similarly to a traditional story. We have a clear beginning, a middle, and an ending. When you emerge outside the factory, the piece ends–cuts to credits. It is the middle of the piece that is different and more organic. I consider this piece to be like a hybrid between a book and a video-game. We have a blending of elements–but also some delineated elements like the PDA scene which is very digitally driven versus the opening scene which just has text that identifies Alice as a character. Having the text move around an image or fit onto a shape within the image–like a stair or a door frame–was a very interesting detail and a very simple one that incorporated the two mediums together–digital and textual. It got me moving my head and being interactive, at least.

Overall, I found Inanimate Alice to be a very interactive–if fear-inducing–piece with a nice blend of traditional and new literary techniques.

 

***Now, for my idea for my own Elit piece!

As with most of my work, I would like for my project to be both personal and fantastical. Exploring my experiences through a fantastical or mythical lens has been a long-time focus of mine. That distance is helpful for me but, also, I think, it helps add interest for other readers. Makes my stories something different to read. A blend of non-fiction with fiction.

Anyway, I’d like to create a (probably) hypertext piece that explores abuse and its lasting ramifications. The way hypertext allows for an “out-of-order” experience and the way it creates this illusion of moving back and forth through layers of consciousness I think suits my topic very well. Abuse, especially abuse suffered as a child, imprints itself differently at different junctures of life. Sometimes, living with it, can be 2 steps forward, 1 step back. Or, really, there is no forward or back. No beginning or end to its effects and its impact. You think you’re over it, moving forward, and then something happens or someone says or does something and you’re there, back in the moment. It’s almost escape. A lot of the time. And, I think this electronic medium lends itself to communicating and articulating that.

Most of my piece is probably going to consist of prose, poetry, and other mixed kinds of poetic narrative. I don’t want it to be too graphic because that’s not how I most commonly remember or reflect on what happened. And, I don’t think it needs to be too graphic in this medium to communicate depth and dislocation and disquiet. Speaking of, I’d also like to incorporate taking sound away in this piece because I’m planning on naming it Silent Screams Weren’t Always. It’s a line that came up in one of my prose I was writing for this piece and I think it would really fit. Silence or silencing is a large part of any abuse narrative and so I think it is important to include. Especially since this medium allows for sound, I really want to play around with taking it away.

I don’t have too many characters that are going to be a part of this story. Most of them are going to be from myth or story. Philomela, Persephone, Cassandra, Ophelia, Echo, Lavinia, Medusa, Red Riding Hood, The Little Mermaid, etc. I’m still working on it. Trying to add characters who either connect to abuse or silence.

So, that’s what I’m working on right now. Mainly, I’m doing writing and some story-boarding. Would love to learn more about some sites to check out in order to start trying my hand at creating 🙂

Image courtesy of Google Images: Fire Escape