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.

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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:

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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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