Upon opening the link of the poem, I was pleasantly surprised with the user interface. It was interesting and my initial thought was to click my way through the poem. The drawings and the background combined with the sound effects were all very appealing. The voice recording of the poems was also helpful since the font was not that legible. The transition was also smooth, however slow, so there was a lag in switching the pages.
As for the poem, I was interested in the mini stories behind each of the places I clicked. The graphics supported what was happening, and the interaction behind every country, and their story made it inviting to view more. I was pleasantly surprised as how it was able to depict the angst, the stories, the need, and hunger to show what happened during global capitalism. The poem was able to visually show how the immigrants felt. It made it easier for me to understand it. Each of the places showed different struggles that the Chinese immigrants felt, and it pushed those emotions throughout the pages. The effort for each country, each story, each frame was well thought of. For me, it was an effective approach. I found myself wanting to listen, read, and learn through interacting with it.
Some of the videos though were time consuming, although I get the reasons and the lessons behind it. It depended too much on my internet and I found it hard to play some of it. Also, like Twelve Blue, there was no given manual or steps to interact with the poem in a given order. The transitions also were kind of slow and I had to wait until the page loaded. There were few hints on what to do so I would believe a user could be initially lost upon entering the page. Should the poem be read in a certain order? Would it have more meaning if the poem and the interactions were done in a specific way? It felt almost as if by clicking the dots across the screen, I was playing a game of Chinese checkers.
“High Muck A Muck” by Fred Wah, Nicola Harwood, Jin Zhang, Bessie Wapp, Thomas Loh, Tomoyo Ihaya, Hiromoto Ida, Phillip Djwa and Patrice Leung, is a straightforward navigation with many different aspects. Initially, I thought I was going to be playing board games and gambling but was surprised to be given different stories and videos about ships, seas, townspeople, buildings or cities. My favorite section of this experience was choosing the people like the family, shopkeepers, explorers and farmers. I enjoyed how each piece of poetry or literature was unique to those characters and related to how they functioned, their beliefs or their occupation.
As soon as I opened “Queerskin” by Illya Szilak, I got an elegant and fancy vibe. One page plays Pachelbel’s Canon in D. I love the use of audio clips in this experience to immerse the reader and be able to, mentally, be in the story, hearing the birds and wildlife exist. The whole plot in Missouri gets you into a southern bumpkin relaxed mood. Throughout the story we experience death, loss and suffering. The movement of the experience feels a little like a series of eulogies at a funeral for Sebastian. Sebastian seemed to have loved love and lived a hard life of neglect and unacceptance. Reflecting on my initial statement about the tone being elegant and fancy based on the playing of Pachelbel’s Canon in D, it now makes more sense thinking of this as a funeral.
I think referring to a majority of elit as literature or story or text is an understatement. I think the only way to accurately describe the process of going through it is “experience.” You’re in the story, you’re exploring the village or finding poetry about different people or sitting in a pew at Sebastian’s funeral as his loved one’s talk about him or reading diary entries. You’re not just reading, you’re learning, you’re participating and you’re experiencing
Sebastian’s Agonies and Ecstasies in Queerskins: A Love Story
The Agony and the Ecstasy is a biographical film about the figure, Michelangelo Buonarotti, a sculptor and painter. For me, his most moving piece is David (Davide in Italian). As revealed in the opening and closing chapters of Queerskins, in Dr. Sebastian Adler’s journal, true “beauty eviscerates.” It “hollows” us out and results in us becoming “vessel[s].”
In my 2008 trip to Italy, I experienced a transcendent experience of beauty when staring at Michelangelo’s David in La Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze (Florence):
David is stunning. This image above cannot do it justice. The body is so well-articulated it looks like David is going to walk off of the platform! When I first saw this piece, I was gobsmacked. My friend was prattling on about Seinfeld and I had to turn to him and say “I need complete silence for 40 minutes.” Call me a snob, but you cannot converse when looking at this sculpture. It captures the divinity of humanity and if you open yourself up to be moved, you will be stunned into silence. You can see the pulsing veins in David’s arms, legs and feet. His pupils and irises almost seem to reflect a tangible image of God’s glory. Man is made in God’s image, as the Bible tells us. There are outlines of hearts in his eyes! To think that this piece was made out of a piece of marble that was rejected twice is unreal. Davide’s glory is ecstatic, like Sebastian’s passion for James, Alex and Jean-Marie, the men in his life.
In Queerskins: A Love Story, we are immersed in an interactive novel. I only wish I could have played it in full virtual reality format, as it was intended. That would lead to an even more transcendent feeling! This piece is beautiful because it hurls us into the world of what Sebastian considers to be sacred and yet, due to his staunch Catholic upbringing, the allegedly profane (his own homosexuality). We see him struggle with his sexual orientation throughout the piece. Thankfully, he does open himself up to love but it isn’t until the end that he is able to find a beautiful, equal partner in Jean-Marie, which is heart-breaking. The relationship does not come into its fullest fruition because Sebastian contracts HIV and AIDs and he dies in the desert in Mali, on the continent of Africa. It is almost as if Sebastian sought hyper-virile and careless men in James and Alex to punish himself. Although he says that he has “rejected the God of his parents,” he seems to experience a lot of self-punishment and guilt.
This piece is multi-layered. It demonstrates the fragility and deliciousness of phyllo dough, which comes in large sheets. I’ve worked with phylla to make spanikopita appetizers for parties. You need to be patient with it, carefully painting the sheets with olive oil and folding in the spinach mixed with an egg mixture, red onions and feta cheese. If you rush it, you end up with tears and crumbles. If you aren’t vigilant in the baking process, you burn it. If you take it out of the oven too early, you get a sodden mess. Basically, you MUST take your time!
From the moment I opened it, Queerskins required me to take my time to consider it. The playing of Pachebel’s Canon in D was haunting. This is something I usually hear at weddings. Here, it is being played at Sebastian’s funeral. If we look at the funeral from Mary-Helen’s (Sebastian’s mom) perspective, his death is a rebirth because he has been cleansed of sin and is reborn back to God, as she states in her Midwestern accent in the “Missouri” and “Return” chapters. I strongly disagree. I don’t think we have a God that punishes homosexuality; but rather, He accepts and loves people as they are.
Sebastian undergoes multiple agonies and ecstasies in the form of worship, sex and self-reflections. In a sense, he is a double for St. Sebastian. I researched the saint and discovered that he was pierced through with arrows because he was Christian. He survived the bloody onslaught, which was a miracle. Sebastian perceives his chest as being pierced when as he is dying in a tent in Mali. Jean-Marie assures him that it is just an accidental burn from his cigarette, but Sebastian is in a hallucinatory state. He thinks that he sees an angel, which his mother takes as a sign that God has accepted him. The death itself is luminous and darkly beautiful. He seems to exist outside of his sick body and floats somewhere in the ether, perceiving himself to be surrounded by water and reeds. He sees his mother in a “Mona Lisa smile.” It seems that Sebastian is dissolved. This reminds me of the experience of taking Communion during Mass, when the host dissolves in your mouth as you walk back to your pew. He talks about the Satisfying beauty of being defined without edges.
The fact that Sebastian is persecuted is further embodied in the fact that his father, Ed Adler, is cruel and callous. He states that he spanked him for the smallest of errors when he was a child. Ed does not even attend his own son’s funeral. He has only been an armchair Catholic during his life. He financially supports children in Africa, along with his wife, but when she suggests that they visit children in Mali, he scoffs, calling her “crazy.”
It is so poignant that Sebastian is persecuted by Jesus, a Hispanic man he encounters in a barrio when he gets lost in trying to find his boyfriend Alex. Alex recounts that Sebastian was always bad with directions. Jesus and another assailant hit him with a cement block and he sustains a traumatic brain injury that leaves him in a coma. Like Alex, I think that Sebastian was never really the same after this incident.
Sebastian becomes an ultimate martyr when he refuses to identify Jesus as his assailant in court. His attorney Carlos is furious with him. However, Sebastian feels that he cannot name Jesus because the man is suffering from Kaposi’s sarcoma, one of the hallmarks of HIV/AIDs. Several months before the attack, Sebastian saw Jesus as a patient in the ER where he worked. Despite Sebastian’s desire to let Jesus be, the latter still dies sick, “chained to a [jail]bed,” according to Alex’s narrative. There is no hope for redemption for Jesus.
The religious aspect of this piece is further reinforced by the visual representations of lexias. The photos are presented in stark relief on the screen. They have all the urgency of saints on Catholic prayer cards. There is something lurid in the suffering of the saints. Their deaths are gory and they seem to weirdly revel in suffering in God’s name. That has been something that struck me when I was a young Catholic school student. As an Italian-American, I was also very familiar with the prayer cards and devotionals my grandmothers placed in their bibles. Sebastian feels the same way. Furthermore, Sebastian connects the ecstatic state of the saints with sexual excitement.
The moments in which Sebastian indulges in ecstasy, unsullied by the Catholic church’s traditional position re: homosexuality, are few. It seems that he is guilty about sex. It should also be noted that the general public’s view of homosexuality was different in the 80s. It was much more taboo. We have to also remember that this was an era in which HIV/AIDs was thought of as exclusively a “gay disease.” Even though he boldly tells his mother that being gay is who he is, he doesn’t seem to fully live out this reality. Unlike Alex, who is much more comfortable in his own skin, Sebastian seems to be hung up on convention and religious prohibitions.
What really bothers me about the ending is that Mary-Helen is so tortured about the status of her son’s soul. Why wasn’t she more solicitous of him when he was alive? Why didn’t she communicate with him or visit him in Los Angeles before (when she knew where he lived)? I understand that she was cowed by her husband, but she could have done a better job by reaching out to her only son. Worrying about him when he is dead? Too little, too late! The fact that Father Jim tells Mary-Helen that her son died in a state of grace by reading the journal is ridiculous. Why is he the arbiter of Sebastian’s fate in the afterlife? Also, this brings me to a question that I don’t think was answered. Alex indicates that Sebastian once told him that a priest once “fondled” him. Is that man Father Jim?
Sebastian also fits into the saint role because he devotes his life to his patients. He also sells all of his possessions after the trial in order to move to Mali to serve patients. He seems to want to save everyone despite the fact that this is an unrealistic goal.
Ultimately, this piece of electronic literature is gorgeous because of its multi-media forms. Hearing the characters’ voices is so pivotal. Curiously, we never hear Sebastian’s voice. We only get to hear him in first person in his journal. I think that the author of the piece did this on purpose because he wants us to have our own interpretation of who Sebastian is. Furthermore, although this piece was beautiful, it felt like it was intentionally pushing the viewer/reader to be a voyeur. I see each piece of art, text and image as a “window” into which I was peering
Chinese Displacement in High Muck a Muck
This body of work consisted of interactive poetry and it was beautifully marked with Canadian landmarks and Chinese calligraphy. I also enjoyed the markings on the outline of a body and arm, which seemed to branch out like tributaries on a map. These functioned as hyperlinks into written material. I was able to glean that Chinese individuals have been displaced as a result of immigration to Canada. The communities that they have built there seem to have been eroded by the muck a mucks. A high muck a muck is “a person in a position of authority, especially one who is overbearing or conceited.” It seems that the Chinese population has been absorbed and folded in on itself in favor of the dominant, white majority. Chinese people are seen in terms of stereotypes: i.e. the coolie, the launderer, etc. The lyrical language of the poetry points to a very real reality of oppression. This reminds me of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
There were haunting visual images in the piece as well. The most haunting was an almost four-minute video into which we are brought into the eyes of an old Chinese man, which convert into the eyes of a baby. This seems like an expression of infinity. This visual is made even more eerie by the music that is played.
This week’s venture into electronic literature engaged all of the senses. That is pretty exciting! I am a visual reader and I see a story unfold as I read. However, to have visual and auditory cues immerses the readers into a fuller experience. Electronic literature is so engaging and I am happy to learn more!
For this week, we were assigned two new electronic literature readings (Queer Skins / High Muck a Muck…). And as always these types of readings vary in form, shape, context, presentation, and even style. These two are not exception, with one being electronically based around hypertext and interactive literature sub-genres.
First, I started with the reading of Queer Skins (the interactive online-experience version), and I couldn’t help but to find it to be about a love story about a young gay man who dies of aids at the start of the epidemic. In addition, the work seems to be narrated by the parents of Sebastian (the gay physician). The work itself consists of layers of text, sounds, and images that come together to influence the experience of the reader, as he or she navigates trough it. I also felt there was a strong theme of death and love all over this work, which is strongly emphasized and showcased with the overall context of the story and work. I felt drawn into a world or realm surrounding this family, their home, and memories, as I listened to various short clips or soundtrack narrated by the parents and short personal readings about Sebastian.
Similarly, to the reading of Queer Skins, the electronic piece of High Muck a Muck uses various electronic interactive elements to affect the reading experience for the reader, as well as interpretation. But unlike the previous work, this one is in poetic form and style of literacy. The various poems themselves embedded in different image maps, are short yet powerful and effective in emphasizing a theme of Chinese culture and history. I noticed that they appear to be in Haiku form. What’s interesting about this is that Haikus are a Japanese form of poetry. But although they are known as being traditional of Japan, over the years this form of poetry has been used around the world, thus making sense of why they were used here (to help strengthen the Asian culture). In addition, I couldn’t ignore the soundtrack being played as I navigated myself through this work. It was very calm and soothing, and allowed me to experience the reading of poems as if I was being coated by Asian culture (in this case, Chinese).
Furthermore, my personal intake and experience in these two readings is one that left me both emotionally touched, as well as culturally mentality stimulated. The first reading appealed a lot to my emotions, and left me feeling a bit sad as I couldn’t help to remember a dear family member who I recently lost in the past 5 years. She was someone who also endured a lot of pain and battled for her life in her with a deadly disease. But thankfully, the next reading help soothe my mind almost into a meditating state, thanks to the music and various poems which I interpreted in my own ways. For the most part, I really enjoyed the readings since I felt emotionally stimulated, whether it was consciously or sub-consciously. And I have to say that it was the ability of interacting with the various electronic elements in the literature, that I was able to reach such synchronous state of mind, which reminds me again of how unique and powerful is this form of literature.
The title page is so aesthetically pleasing; it made me want to dive right in. The music fit so well with the page; the sound of violins kept me there for all four minutes and thirty-nine seconds. I clicked on all the pictures on the title page, thinking it will take me somewhere, not noticing the bottom at first.
I’m not going to lie, last week, I still wasn’t sure if e-lit would be my thing, but Queerskins swept me off my feet. The story is compelling; each piece, whether it’s Sebastian’s letters, his mother’s stories, a picture, a gif, sounds, they all add an absorbing feeling. The experience feels very personal; it’s as if I know Sebastian, I am grieving for him. I am sad and angry with him. I am yearning for him to come back alive, just like his mother.
I began with Missouri, though I know we can navigate any which way we want, I am a sucker for an order, a structure. The first thing I clicked on was a recording from his mother; it was a picture of trees with the sun beaming through, and his mother explains she found “the diary.” It made it very obvious to me then that the letters included in the chapters were those of her son. I sat there still trying to correlate the pictures; I didn’t understand the images and sounds of nature and a car throughout the chapter. I am guilty of somewhat cheating and googling Queerskins, and I am glad I did because it put the piece in context. I found that Sebastian’s parents were driving through Missouri, their hometown, with their son’s box of belongings. ONE BOX.
Mother was my favorite chapter! At first, the many chapters seemed daunting, but they are rather informative. We meet Alex, Sebastian’s boyfriend, who describes Sebatian’s very Christian mother, who he says is almost identical looking to Sebastian. I loved that we could learn about his mother not just through her speaking but from someone else’s viewpoint. Through this chapter, we also feel his mother’s grief towards her dead son, the difficulty she has of understanding him, and the burden and impact she feels as she uncovers that he was gay. As I kept moving the pieces around, I realized it looked kind of like a collage; everything was everywhere but in an appealing sense.
I went back to the beginning page, realizing there was more to Queerskins then just the novel, which I had forgotten entirely about because I was so invested in the story. Then I realized I didn’t have to google the account because the information I needed lingered on the next pages that were titled “virtual reality experience.” And OMG, the virtual reality experience was incredible! I am livid; it was the cherry on top. Honestly, I would recommend everyone start by reading excerpts in the novel and then going through the virtual reality experience. It was like reading a book, and then your teacher allows you to watch the movie at the end! But don’t quote me, everyone has their own experience, but I really enjoyed it in this order.
I will be frank, I looked at High Muck A Muck with full intentions of understanding it, but was I the only one who felt overwhelmed upon entering it? It started with a poem, which moved way too quickly for me to comprehend. Then it brought me to a board, and one of the pieces was highlighted blue and was blinking, tempting me to click on it, so of course, like a child, I clicked on the shiny blue thing. This led me to a sketch of a person’s back, and on that back, there were more blue shiny dots, all labeled with places and clickable links such as “Canada,” “Vancouver,” “Richmond.” So I went back to the introduction page because I didn’t read what the piece was about…after all, I was trying to be less structured, but that was not helpful for this piece! I learned that this piece was about Chinese immigrants traveling to a new nation, the United States. That’s when I became interested in the work; it was now relatable because, after all, my parents are Indian Immigrants who traveled to the United States. I clicked on Vancouver and ventured into many pieces, one that stuck with me was when I clicked on the man with the telescope, which brought me to a video of a man who was brought to Chinatown in Vancouver, standing there, thinking, “This is not china town.” It’s like when people go to Indian Square in Jersey City and believe this is what India might be like, but it’s nothing like it!
And that’s where I’ll end my journey with both pieces for today! I might still go back to Queerskins just for a good read because I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The official class site for Dr. Mia Zamora’s Fall 2020 Electronic Literature course.