Blog 2: A Review of Tailspin

Andaiye Hall
Prof Mia Zamora
English 5081 Intro to Electronic Literature
September 27, 2016
A Review of Tailspin

As you begin the story, there is a slow and sudden appearance of the title. You see a diagram of what the inner ear looks like briefly displayed on the background. Then you see a series of revolving spirals. You hear a consistent heart beating along with a spooky musical tone at the same time. You also hear a banging of dishes. As you press each spiral, you see a few sentences along with a moving image and additional noises that corresponds to that part of the story.
Personally the background noises gave me a comforting feeling. It probably helped me connect with the old man’s situation and helped me remember I’m alive. If you look closely at the bottom part of the screen you see a circle that has a fraction shaded in. The more pages you go through, the more complete the circle becomes. When you can go to the next page a blue spiral appears to let you know to continue reading.
In comparison to the other e-lit texts we have read, it is pretty limited in hidden areas and extra portals. Even though it is relatively simple in design, it still is highly unique. On certain pages the background looks like the sky. The completion of the circle symbolizes for me the end of the old man’s life and the heart will eventually stop beating. The last thing that you can press is a red spiral. On the last page of the reading, there is a picture of what resembles an old fashioned disco player. It perhaps symbolizes the main character holding on to the past. The disco isn’t playing any music just his own imaginings. The sentence “hang onto deafness for dear life.”  It’s the last on the screen.
Upon doing some brief research, I discovered that some saw this e-lit text as an example of e-lit poetry. I was instantly astonished because I didn’t see it that way. I only saw it as an actual piece of literature to read. I saw no signs of it being poetic. The spirals to me were just parts of a short story.
The old man is described as having tinnitus and partial deafness. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, tinnitus is “a condition that causes you to hear ringing or roaring sounds that only you can hear.” Upon further consideration, one can immediately sympathize with the main character. He is hearing actual noises from his grandchildren with annoying sounds that are coming from his own head. Everyone knows that children can make a lot of noise while playing together. I can only imagine how annoying the two sounds can be in unison.
I consider this piece to be interactive fiction. You get to press different areas of the texts in any order you want. You see visuals pop up and audio effects change according to the page and the spiral.
I absolutely love this piece more than the others I have read for some reason. All the craziness of the text makes it feel and look so realistic to the reader. I think even kids can read this text and have fun exploring through the reading. I definitely look forward to exploring more e-lit texts from Christine Wilks in the future.

Blog 2: Tailspin

Unfortunately, I don't have much to say about this piece because I was unable to get it working on my computer (Flash and my computer just don't get along; when I try to run it, it crashes my browser over and over).  I was able to look at it briefly on a colleague's computer and get a sense of it; however, I didn't spend enough time with the work to offer an in-depth analysis.  I will offer my comments on what I did notice, and hopefully that will be better than nothing. 

This piece of electronic literature opens to a (rather disturbing) cacophony.  My colleague and I actually looked to each other with horrified faces when we heard it.  From that, and from the description provided by the anthology within which it's included, I can tell that sound is a major part of "Tailspin."  With that in mind, it's easy to see why the author gravitated toward the e-lit medium to tell her story.  Not even audio books can give the same experience of reading text while hearing certain unique sounds. The listener is taking in the story audially and not visually in the case of an audio book, and thus they are engaged in a much different way.  By engaging two of the reader's senses at once, the author creates something that is both richer and more chaotic, perhaps meant to mimic the emotional and family lives of her characters.

Sound is not the only asset of the e-lit medium author Wilks takes advantage of.  Using a field of animated spirals, the author allows her reader to navigate the text in a less linear fashion.  From what I saw, all of the spirals look identical and move the same way.  I wonder what kind of statement Wilks was trying to make with that design choice?  Having only spent a limited time with the piece, I don't think I can make an educated inference.  From the title, I can (uneducatedly) guess that she may have been trying to assert something about the deep-down uniformity of human flaw.  Not that everyone has the same flaws, but that everyone is flawed in some way that could send them into their own personal tailspin.

That's really all I have to offer for this one...  Sorry guys... >.<

Week Two: Tailspin

Tailspin, by Christine Wilks

First: the title. Before I even opened the link to read Tailspin, the title was already evoking images of being out of control, dizzy, and of plummeting or falling. It turns out that these images are appropriate to the theme of tailspin. Yet the title does double duty; it is also a reference to George’s time served in the Air Cadets.

The Electronic Literature Collection, where Tailspin can be accessed, refers to the piece as one that succeeds at “metaphorically associating imperfect hearing with imperfect communication”. Told from two perspectives: George, an older man who suffers from Tinnitus and partial deafness, and his daughter, Karen, the piece uses sound and short bursts of text to create the sense of overwhelming frustration and disconnect experienced by the two.

When the reader opens Tailspin, they are met with a white, patterned background overlaid with a number of ever-spinning spirals. When the reader hovers over the spirals, they activate the text and sounds associated with that piece of the story. Throughout the story, and in addition to any additional sounds, there is the sound of a constant, slightly rapid heartbeat.  

This is an effective element within the story because it creates a sense of unease that the reader shares with both Karen and George. Karen (and her two children) fear George because of his angry outburst. They cannot relate to him or understand him. At one point during the dinner, “Karen turns, catches a fleeting glimpse of hateful anger on her father’s face. He was looking at Chloe. She sees fear in her youngest child”. Karen can relate to this fear; she grew up trying to find ways to avoid her father’s anger, trying to be as quiet as possible.

There is a parallel that can be drawn from the text when Lauren, Karen’s other daughter, is told to ask Grandad when she wants something. She says that she never will; she is too apprehensive of George. Karen, when she is a child, is also told to ask her father when she wants something: “Mummy’s busy. Ask Daddy, she says, like always”. Karen is also reluctant to approach George. Both Karen and her children are fearful prompting an outburst from George.

George also suffers from a constant state of unease. His Tinnitus is made worse by the sounds of the children. He says, “Anything can set it off: loud noises, high pitched, piercing noises…alarms”. He once tried a hearing aid, but that too made his Tinnitus worse. When the reader activates this piece of text, a sharp, shrill sound accompanies it. And that is not the first time that the reader is treated to George’s experience. There are frequent overwhelming assaults of the electronic sounds of videogames, jumbled voices, and the too-loud clatter of silverware and glasses. The only time George seems to experience relief is when he imagines what it would be like to glide through the silent sky like a bird.

At one point, the background changes to the wispy blue and white of a sky and the sounds of birds fill the air as George flashes back to the day that he joined the Air Cadets.

It is assumed by both Karen and the reader that George was a pilot. Yet it turns out that he was “nothing more than an aircraft fitter”. Karen admits to making assumptions as a child.

This is not the only example to a lack of communication and understanding between father and daughter. Karen continues to try to sell her father on the idea of a hearing aid. She seems unaware that the hearing aid made George uncomfortable and worsened his Tinnitus. Karen cannot comprehend why George becomes so angry when she again brings up the subject. So at dinner, while Karen is sitting on her father’s deaf side, she acts as if he isn’t even there, as if he is a blank wall. George feels as if he might as well be invisible.

One of the last bursts of text reveals that George witnessed a young man burn to death in a plane that had crashed. An image of a plane spiraling while a man’s voice repeatedly begs, “help me, help me” accompanies the text “cowardly relief/ he failed/ thank God/ for his deaf ear”. This seems to be the reveal of how George went from having ambitions of being a pilot to becoming an aircraft fitter. He mentions how heroes usually die young, and he seems to see himself as a coward.

The piece concludes with the image of what looks to be a ladder in the center of a pulsating sound wave spiral which takes up the entire screen.

A Reaction to "Tailspin"’s Visual Vertigo

Undoubtedly, Christine Wilks captures the breeding tension of an uncomfortable family dinner between three generations of people in her piece of electronic literature, "Tailspin." What I especially liked about this piece was how it still functioned as what we would consider a "normal" narrative, in that I still got a feel for a "structured" plot, characters, setting, and meaning, in comparison to the works we read last week. Even though it was broken up and the reader could read the paragraphs in different order, you are still able to arrive to the same conclusion of the piece at the end. Additionally, I liked the fact that you could hover over the spirals and have the text, sound, and visuals, which helps to immerse the reader in that bubbling tension of the family. From the video game noises and characters, piercing sharp noises of the hearing aid, loudness of the plane, and the scraping of utensils against plates, it partly echoes the last iteration of the work, which warns the reader to cling on to the deafness of it all.

Again, I found the use of sound to be particularly effective in utilizing the potential of elit again. More specifically, I liked that Wilks used the video game Animal Crossing without ever explicitly mentioning it; however, she used the character art, as well as various sounds from the game, to add to what the grandfather was confusedly and angrily seeing and hearing. For an outsider of the video game, I can imagine it also gives off a weird, unsettling feeling too, with the noises so distinct to the game; I know if I didn't know the reference, it would come off as a nightmarish, twisted cartoon. It definitely added to the overall feeling Wilks was getting at, too.

Ultimately, I really liked this specific piece of elit, and that it drew from the interesting parallel between deafness and ignorance, or at the very least, wishing to forget. With its complex meaning, a narrative that you could follow, and effective computational elements, it helped pull the whole piece of electronic literature together to make it very compelling and satisfying.

Spinning Tales


As soon as the world of Tailspin by Christine Wilks is open, there is movement and sound. Intricate designs grow and move in the background as the shape of an ear appears. If one did not read the description of the piece before entering, the ear would seem confusing, but after reading, it becomes clear that sound is crucial to this piece because of the grandfather’s tinnitus. I tried to do some research behind spiral shapes and their meanings, but did not stumble across anything that made it clear why the author chose to have swirling spirals as the point on a screen to click on. The reason could have very well been because Wilks just needed a shape or a spot for the reader to click. As you roll over the spirals, words fade into view to reveal part of a story. What happens next will be different for every reader because one may not roll over the spirals in the same order as another. I like the fact that everything does connect. The spirals could have been blurbs of unrelated pieces of text, but it connected to a larger story.


The story mostly centered around the lives of the mother, her two boys, the dad, and the grandfather. There are moments in the story that trails back to when the grandfather was in the war. Animations and caricatures sometimes moved across the screen as the story unfolded. At times, rolling over a spiral would result in the background transforming into a sky and plane would fly around. Once all of the black spirals on a single page is rolled over, a blue spiral will appear usually toward the center of the page to click on and move the reader to the next set of pieces to the story. I felt there was some sort of clear ending even though it may seem impossible in any type of electronic literature setting. There was a point where I was able to get to a red spiral in the center, and that brought me to the credits.


Some of the spirals will have noses associated with them, in addition to the ongoing clinking of the grandchildren’s toys and the buzzing of tinnitus in the grandfather’s ear. Moments of the story even went back to when the grandfather might have been flying a plane and bullet sounds will blare out of the speakers. I can understand the feel the author might have been going for with such intense sound throughout the piece. The feel of the world reminds me of simulators that let individuals experience the kind of illness or disability another person has. I feel that the world is a great way to step into another person’s shoes and get to experience what is happening from the grandfather’s point of view. I can only imagine how annoying the constant ringing and buzzing is to him. All of the different moving parts on the screen emphasize how distracting it is to have so much going on at once.

The ability for a person to hear and the implications that the text makes allude to the fact that hearing is vital to human life. While some with hearing defects learn about the world in a different way to be able to adjust/adapt, if one is able to hear, they are automatically at an advantage and have a different view of the world than others. I felt a sort of weight once the author wrote “He can’t hear birdsong anymore” (Wilks “Tailspin”). I also felt there was a very distinct way in which the author went about sound so differently, and that was manifested when I’d roll over a piece of text and hear some of the words within it in a muffled shout. This aspect was creepy at first, but it is such a prevalent and striking detail. Overall, I didn’t know how much I would like this piece when I first started navigating it, but I feel like I found more joy in picking it apart than actually being immersed in the world and getting to go through it and navigate it.