High Muck a Muck

I actually looked at High Muck a Muck initially for my own project and I am glad to get a chance to play. The phrase itself means an important or influential person, especially one who is pompous or conceited. It comes from Chinook Jargon in the period (later 1800’s) and area (Pacific Northwest) in which the story is set. The first screen appears to be the Pak Ah Pu lottery card that they reference. Interesting that it seems the game is set up to be multimodal (text, video and sound) and it indicates that the player has final decision on how the game unfolds, since the front page promises that the site can be explored “in any order and for any length of time”. No other part of the page is clickable except Enter. The text reveals slowly. The poem begins two lines at a time, referencing the lottery book which then replaces the poem large in the center of the screen. Some of the Chinese letters seem to be darker than others and I found that at least one was clickable, but while I was checking the others, blue ink stains appeared over some of the letters and then it all disappeared, replaced by a map. Starting over, I tried clicking on the one spot and all it does is erase the spots and then they come back again. So I let it go to the map. The lottery  card in the corner acts as a kid of a map key and reveals a list of places you can explore if you cursor over it. There is the sound of Chinese flute music – very calm at first, but soon replaced with conversations and silverware, etc – sounds very much like a restaurant. The blue stains are now on a person’s back covered with a drawing that looks like a map. By messing with the key, I discover that this is the home page. If you click on the book that says “British Columbia” in the left corner, it takes you to a poem. The seven biggest and darkest blue dots correspond to the seven locations in the lottery key. Clicking on “Everywhere and Nowhere“, you get a mystical horn sound, like a digeridoo. There are the images of two men facing away from each other and a ying yang between them. The ying yang takes you to a video that shows an old man emerging very slowly from the black screen – so slowly I thought the link was broken. It then pushes in on him. Is this the man with the lottery card from the beginning of the story? Discordant music plays over the video which just keeps pushing into the old man’s left eye. At about the halfway point, it dissolves into a bay’s eye and slowly pulls back. The juxtaposition of old and young is interesting – perhaps it means that if we look closely enough, we find things about us that are all the same? Just like the baby and the old man’s eyes are the same when you look closely?

Back to the home page and I’m trying to figure out what this is a map of. The opening page mentions that the idea of this game is to explore the difficulties of Chinese immigrants in North America’s Gold Mountain, which I discovered is a reference to both San Francisco and Canada’s British Columbia. The closest parallel I can find using Google Maps is Vancouver Island just north of Washington state. The lighter blue dots on the map reveal short poems, seeming to channel Chinese immigrants’ experiences and perhaps the locals as well (dealing with the wave of immigrants). One poem talks about villages a hundred years ago and describes them as “elegance in tune” – perhaps a reference to life before the immigrants came. But another says he marks his time “in sluice” – a type of gate that can be used in panning gold (a big part of what drew immigrants to the region). There are references to Chinese cuisine and names. By the way, interesting that each poem has an FW at the bottom – I’m guessing a reference to Fred Wah, one of the makers of the game. Click on the Pacific Rim, I realize that it has a book in the corner. I go back and check and the Everywhere and Nowhere page does not have a book. Clicking the book, I get a poem about the location. It seems to be referencing the troubles for someone going back and forth between China and Canada – “the counterbalance to the Mainland not so man at home” – maybe means the man is no longer welcome back home?  “Here and back again, stopped stunned and caught in this double-bind of information, Chinese-Canadian, China Chinese tongue-tied”… maybe the man is finding it difficult to jump back and forth both physically and mentally and getting caught unable to speak the language fluently either place. On the man page for the Pacific Rim, there are three ships (actually the middle one is several ships).  That middle one shows a bunch of stuff shipped by China and the label “Made in China”, so perhaps this is about how critical China is to other parts of the world and how Chinese immigrants want to be recognized for that? In Richmond, the poems and images are about Chinese immigrants longing for you and complaining about being disillusioned by the U.S. One video shows expensive American houses and complains about this “empty life”, saying “it’s just not me.” Interesting that this is a modern story with modern images – not so much a reference to life in the 1800’s (although the sensibilities may have been the same).

The overarching theme is of someone who doesn’t feel like they belong – either in the homeland they have left or in the new land they now inhabit. Canada is similar – it shows a map of the Northern U.S. along with the Great Lakes and images of workers and the railroad. The poems speak of loneliness (ancestors who wont remember you) even though it seems to refer to a lot of ancestors being in the area (or maybe just a lot of Chinese). Interesting to note all of these maps are on images of a body, showing that the land and the experiences of these lands are ingrained in the people and that the people and land start to become inseparable for better or for worse. When these immigrants came to these areas, it changed them forever.”Nelson” is another dot (a city I discovered). The images you can click on are more modern – restaurants and shops and a small house… The poems again speak of homesickness – of dreaming of a land across the water – and disconnectedness from the Chinese people who are living there – the “uncle” in the shop, the people playing mah jong. The main character questions everything – how are they related to him?  or more likely, how are they like him? Another image of a man with a camera takes us to a video. More action in this one – mostly showing people playing mah jong, with a close up on the game (not a lot of faces) and an odd toy or something showing a figure with a Chinese hat on a string leash of some kind. Again, faceless and unidentifiable. In the poem, it’s interesting that the narrator admires a man named “Charley” who he says “is China”. Apparently he finds it easy to move between the two worlds – a trait our  narrator finds admirable.

After I clicked through the locations, I tried the “Legend” which I should have looked at first. It told me what all the images meant (and I went back to look at another video hidden behind a character in Vancouver. It showed people moving cups around) And it told me that ears had audio from people who told stories about the places they lived and their experiences. The key also had an option to learn about the making of the game and all their awards, as well as an option to tweet about it or share the game on Facebook. All in all, this is a very involved, multi-layered game with lots of different options for the player. The drawings and audio put you very much in the mind of an Asian/Chinese experience and with the different text, video and audio options, there are lots of places to draw a sense of what the authors are trying to do. That said, the entire game seems very much to stay with the theme which, to me, is that of people coming to a new land, trying to maintain identity and yet feeling disconnected, at odds with the new culture even as they try to maintain their own, and in some ways disillusioned with where they find themselves. And yet, the sense is they don’t really have an option to go back (although they admire those that can move between the two worlds) and so therefore are stuck to try and make the best of it. Looking back, I think the image of the lottery card may simply be telling us that all of life is a game of chance. You make your choice, buy your card, and hope to come out ahead.

 

 

 

 


Blog Post #2: A Review of Tailspin

This piece took me on a whirlwind. I didn’t expect to get so musically and dramatically involved in a piece that forced me to click through different portals to put pieces of story that by the end felt incomplete. Clicking through the revolving spirals reminded me of my doodling I used to do during a boring class. On the other hand, I felt as if the spirals had somewhat of a significance to them.

As I progressed through the reading, I noticed the sounds were become more dramatic and extremely gloomy. Listening to several heart beats, and fast paces noises as if airplanes were coming to a crash was a great was to correspond the sound with the story. It was almost like the story took you on a never ending adventure, because at one point you thought it would be the end until you find another swirl to click on.

Christine Wilks does a great job at making sure the reader is engaged as well as having emotion put into each section of her e-lit piece. I enjoyed this piece for the interactivity, solidarity, and the all-around tone of where the story lead to towards the end.


Blog#3- High Muck a Muck

high-muck
http://www.agentic.ca/work/high-muck-muck

One word comes to mind when thinking of “High Muck a Muck,” and that is confusion. This Elit piece was not easy to get through and I found myself stopping and coming back to it several times. I do believe that the authors did this purposely because its main genre is poetry and poetry is how you interpret the idea of the author or authors and what they are trying to express. In this piece the words from different poems would appear at a different pace. That pace would indicate how fast or slow the author intended the reader to get through each part. Some lines would appear and then disappear and others would appear and remain there until I decided it was time to move on. I also believe this showed the importance of the messages the authors were trying to portray.

This interactive Elit piece had me going all over the place which was a bit confusing, but that is what also made it entertaining. Nothing in this piece was predictable as to how it would appear on the screen. The authors used many types of ways to communicate to the reader with videos, images, sounds, text, etc.

My favorite part on “the body” also known as “the map” was Vancouver. I spent most of my time focusing on that part because there was so much and I knew picking a specific part was important in understanding the piece as a whole. While reading through the poems and listening to the noises that appeared from the small ear in the bottom left corner, I realized that I am only half understanding what is going on throughout this piece. But like I mentioned before, poetry is made to understand and interpret what you can. The reader may not always see what the author is trying to discuss. I noticed that every single person had their own story to tell and there were so many different types of people. The music playing in the background of each person would indicate the emotion surrounding each individual and help to explain the story being told.

Another interesting section was at the top, center of “the map” labeled “Everywhere and No where.” This piece had no text, just one video that was not too long, but felt as if it were never going to end. This video was of an old man which started from a distance and slowly went closer and closer up until it reached his eye. Once it got to his eye, the image changed to another eye and as the camera moved further from that image I noticed an infant. To me this was a symbol of life. The idea of someone from the end of their life moving onto the beginning of it. I am not sure why it went from old to young as opposed to young to old like the way we grow in life. It kind of gave me that idea Benjamin Button.

Another important thing discussed and what I believe was the main focus of this piece was the idea of racism. Each person, no matter what class they were in, felt a part of racism at some point in their life. Each person told their own story of what they have been through and as things appear and disappear, so do the emotions of the people who have gone through their own situations.

I feel like there was so much in this Elit piece and it was hard to capture the entire meaning of what was trying to be said. This was one of those pieces that did have an ending once you got through it, but it took forever to reach that ending. I went through it for about an hour and a half and didn’t even make a dent in it. I hope to learn more about this piece as we discuss it in class this Tuesday!


Piecing Together the Pieces

“We imagine things are not so fixed and integrated into waterfalls…” ~ F.W.

I’ve heard nostalgia is a liar, one that makes the past shine brighter than any polishing you remember giving it. A gleam in your rear-view mirror you can almost place. Always vanishing in your blind-spot when you try to slow down for a closer look. Nostalgia teases for its own sake, its own amusement. Or, so I’ve heard. I’ve also heard they don’t make nostalgia like they to, though. And, that makes me laugh. Mixes longing and sadness with fondness. Creates bittersweet.

Nostalgia, I find, tends to be similar to if not interchangeable with bittersweet.  While reading High Muck A Muck, I found myself thinking a lot about, as you can no doubt guess, nostalgia and the things that oft cause its blossoming. For me, it was almost hard not to. From the light washes of colour to the seemingly “light-handedness” of the text (its font) to the text itself as it appears, everything appears fading if does not outright fade from sight. Your memory of the words or the figures or the people is the only thing left. I think this idea is best symbolized by the deep, blue smudges on the body background of the “main page.”

Each richly pigmented dot is a memory–it contains a story and characters, depth beyond its borders. But, the dot is also smudged, its deep pigment uneven upon a closer look. When I look at those dots, I remember some lines from the story–“anger at the empty, emptied, voice…”, “Trust ugly words to show how heavy beauty….”,  “Don’t mention yourself when you show a family portrait…”, and “nostalgia is the future….”–images of the characters, the timber of a voice but, ultimately, my impression is imperfect. Shallow is some places. Bleeding through in others.

This piece’s connection to nostalgia is further solidified by the fact that almost the entirety of it unfolds atop/from an image of the body. Memories are stored in the body. Build up on the skin like residue. A film (of which we had many in this piece, if you’ll mind the play on words). The body is the storehouse for memories. It is the gateway to memory. Something that does not go overlooked in this piece. “The Liver, the Stomach, the core and the surface, the rock and the lake. These are the gates and you can either kick them open or walk through in silence.” it says in the British Columbia book. On the body map, the place where the liver would be located is where blue and cream collide, water and flesh blend. Streams of blue become veins and veins, streams of blue. There is an ambiguity created here. No clear separation. Is the Victoria island/mass breaking away from or joining with the rest? It becomes a metaphor for the overarching idea that courses through this piece: that Chinese-Canadians are neither Chinese nor Canadian. They don’t know where they fit. Canada is the found home but China is the home home. Or, it was.

Yearning flows throughout this piece, literally as you move from one point, one memory to the next. “Lillooet could sound like jade.” “Far means near/ the rule is similar…” “The valley is not empty/ full of ancestors…” “a China in the heart….” There is so much longing to have it both ways (if only) in this piece. Navigating it is like driving towards the origin of a heat haze–you’ll never reach it. I click and click, move from one dot to the next, but I never find closure. No comfortable answer. No comfort. Only bittersweet.

 

“it’s not the heart has wings

but just the mind that clings…” ~ F.W.

 

**Edit: I mentioned a book early–for British Columbia–and didn’t really explain it. In High Muck A Muck: Playing Chinese, there are multiple ways to navigate. Or, rather, there are multiple ways to read the same text. It can be presented via clicking on characters on a page, watching a video, or clicking on a book icon in the corner (if there is one) and reading. The content really lends itself to this multi-modal expression.

Speaking of content, I hope you’ll excuse my lack of analysis on the actual content of this piece. I chose to stick to the context of the content instead because, well, I feel like I personally don’t have the context to reply to this piece. Whenever I tried to speak to the content of this piece, I found that I didn’t have the words. They wouldn’t come. Experiencing this piece and talking about that is one thing but commenting on the experiences of the real people who created this piece just felt–just didn’t feel like my place. And, I hope you’ll excuse the oversight this time and respect my boundaries on the issue.

Image courtesy of the Electronic Literature Directory.

 


On “Tailspin”, and what is next….

As many of you know, I have been away at the Digital Media & Learning Conference held at the University of California-Irvine.  It was a wonderful week filled with inspiration and learning, and I return home with renewed passion for the work we are exploring together, and new energy regarding what is possible (as co-learners in this class together).

Thank you to Andaiye for setting the tone for our “close reading” presentations of e-lit texts.  Her choice to explore Christine Wilks’ Tailspin was a good one, leading us right away to apprehend the kind of literary nuance afforded in digital storytelling environment.  ‘Tailspin’ is elegantly written and constructed, with themes, imagery, and a symbolic language that complements the multimodal navigation required to discover the story.  Unknown-1 The story is about a WW2 vet named George – a man whose hearing impairment is a constant source of tension between him and his family, and in particular, his daughter Karen.  One of the first things we do notice about ‘Tailspin’ is the power of sound. From a constant heartbeat and an eerie, repeated, tinny melody, the story opens with someone humming and the sound of utensils scraping across plates. The reader is bombarded with footsteps, birdsong, muffled shouts, the silly banter of children, and the sounds of video games. The effect is a constant din, perhaps mirroring the tinnitus that George suffers from.  The pull of the story lies in a subtle but ever evolving sense of trauma rooted in George’s buried past.  The coil of the inner ear (cochlea) foreshadows the spinning swirls that readers must click on to navigate through the story. These spinning icons also echo the tailspin of the plane crash George witnessed during the war and the sense that things are “spinning out of control” in the family’s interactions with each other.  In this story, generations fail to connect, silence does not ensure peace, and trauma is the legacy that cannot be seen but is heard.  Andaiye had us think about each phase/layer of this story, and pointed to the way in which the multi modal use of sound, image and text (and links) all worked in concert to produce a coherent yet complex narrative.

For next class we will be exploring High Muck A Muck.  Hailey will be directing our “walkthrough” with her presentation on this new e-lit text from the ELC Vol. 3.  

Please be sure to blog a reflection regarding this text before class on Tuesday, and use the our class hashtag (#elitclass) to tweet your early thoughts.   After Hailey’s presentation in part one of class, we will start to think further about making e-lit in the second half of class.

See you soon! Dr. Zamora

Blog Post #1

Electronic Literature seemed like a distinct type of portal that takes you beyond the wrath of tangible means of reading books. Coming into this class I had no idea what it meant to find different ways of finding literature that is tastefully meant to be read on an electronic basis. There are many ways electronic literature can be effective in this day in age.

In a technological era, it has become convenient to effectively read pieces online. When I came upon my first piece of electronic literature I thought it was a clever way to engage readers to look beyond the surface of just the words. Making the reading an interactive experience, keeps reader engaged making them want to read further. For me, it was very hard to want to continue reading a piece that I found no interest in. In order for me to keep reading a lengthy piece, I would have to feel somewhat engaged.

My first encounter with electronic literature had to be during my first year of college. When learning about this class, I knew there would be more encounters. Reading pieces like “little red riding hood”, and others so far this semester, I can now see through clear analysis that electronic literature can really be something great if done correctly.