Motions, by Hazel Smith, really grabbed my attention this week. The sounds really messed with my mind while trying to read through the different pages. So much so that I had to mute the sound after about ten minutes of it. It was really nerve wracking. I liked the easier navigation on this work. However, when I tried to go back, to the left, it took me somewhere different than before.
Smith has created a piece of Electronic Literature that needs national attention. Sure, we are in a pandemic and everyone is concerned about COVID, yet the media has never been one to really discuss the other national epidemic, human trafficking. Smith showed us several different ways that the ‘slaves’ are being used and some examples of how they are trafficked.
One of the first screens was black and had the sounds of passing airplanes and trains. It initially made me want to close my eyes and imagine being blindfolded and forced into the train. I could only imagine what is going through the minds of the kidnappers, transporters and the kidnapped. The visualizations were a bit odd at times. I found myself questioning what it was that I was looking at. That may have been an intended element to the piece.
I am looking forward to hearing Medea guide us through this piece. I know she always does a spectacular job on her presentations and I’m curious to see if she gets too sing any for us in this one.
The other piece this week, Pieces Of Herself, by Juliet Davis, was a bit perplexing. Davis explains that the game was derived from the works of Elizabeth Grosz. Elizabeth Grosz is a professor at Rutgers University and teaches Women and Gender studies. She is known for her written works on the body, sexuality, space, time, and materiality. All of this information about her inspiration, made the game make a little more sense to me.
At first, I was just plugging pieces onto the body and trying to figure out what the end game was. I guess there was no real method to placement because I had to clear my board numerous times so that I could continue with the game.
It seems that the world of e-lit has took on a new shape after this week’s readings. I am starting to see a trend that has evoked some deep reflections on my part. The idea of mixing different media into ones work can open the door to the next level of reader engagement. We have visuals, sounds and text. Maybe the future will allow for other sensory play, such as smellovision. Imagine the technology that will allow for someone to paint a visual with their words and show you an actual picture of their description and that creates a smell that can be associated with the imagery. That would be powerful and prolific.
Part of Nives’ presentation that stood out to me last week was the fact that she incorporated the people behind her e-lit piece, Window , into her walk-through. This added a layer of depth and meaning that made the material come alive in a different way than I had experienced up to this point. As I interacted with the assigned pieces this week, I decided to try this approach and see if it could help give me a deeper experience. I wasn’t disappointed with the results, though I still found myself bewildered by the amount of jargon in this field that I am still not familiar with.
My focus this week was on Juliet Davis’ Pieces of Herself. In her article “Fractured Cybertales: Navigating the Feminine” we learn that Davis has a background in advertising and that as she moved into feminist art and web media design, her past experience with the use of “visual and verbal rhetoric” (27) in targeting an audience gave her an interesting approach to her art. Her background can be seen in the design of Pieces of Herself as it simulates the common interface that is used with games that allow young women to drag-and-drop clothing onto a virtual mannequin (29). Davis uses this particular interface in order to critique the messages sent to women and in the process sends her own anti-messages (so to speak) to her ‘consumers’. The set up of Pieces of Herself creates an experience where the consumer is eased into a familiar process of dressing up a doll-like figure only to discover that the ‘materials’ they are having to use are at once strange and all too familiar. As we drag-and-drop symbols onto the doll-body, we are exposed to sounds and pieces of dialogue expressing concerns about body image, responsibilities to others, the desire to be wanted, expectations of how women are to act in the work place, etc. Davis describes this process as a “subversive experience”(27) where the consumer is being forced to consider how they are impacted by the environment they have been steeped in and the messages that have formed their identity. Her anti-message calls attention to the seemingly innocuous platforms and interfaces we use regularly and what messages they are reinforcing every time we interact with them.
I had none of these things in mind when I initially interacted with this piece. When I was a little girl, I wasn’t one to play with the kind of interface that is being recreated in this work, but I was familiar with the messages that I heard as I dropped random objects onto the body of the doll. One thing that was unnerving as I interacted with this piece was how the sounds I placed on the body would either be repetitive or overlap with each other. This cacophony of messages and stimuli felt disorienting and made it hard to concentrate on enjoying my interaction with the work. After I read Davis’ article, I saw this annoying experience as not just a feature of navigation, but a way of using navigation to create further commentary on what the piece is getting at. As women we are sent messages our whole life that contradict and interfere with each other, causing a chaotic inner experience that makes it difficult to function at times and steals our joy. As a woman who doesn’t identify with many of these societal concepts of womanhood, I have often felt the burden of trying to figure out how to be female in a world where few of the models of femininity resonated with me. What is even more frustrating, and adds to my own inner noise, is trying to block out the noise of others who try to decide for me where I should fit in the societal view of womanhood.
This attempt to find where I fit and to fight against where others try to make me fit is not a unique experience to me or to women in general; most of us in our humanness are trying to figure out where we fit. The messages about who we should be in light of what ‘society’ determines is best are all around us. Davis’ piece is one more message in the mix, but in amplifying the messages that she is critiquing she creates a space to cathartically practice cutting off the noise. I found that when I got too overwhelmed with the interaction of sounds, I would just start over and turn off the volume until I knew everything was quiet again. This ability to have agency over how much I listened to the messages within the piece opened up a space in me to consider how I might start doing this in real life. I don’t think it is possible to get away completely from these toxic messages and their influences, but I think it is possible to start recognizing where they come from and find ways to turn them down or off completely.
Though unassuming at first glance, Davis’ piece is deeply moving, which makes it quite fitting for the subject matter she is critiquing. I found it interesting that though there were very few physical words to read, there were plenty of mental narratives that automatically played in my mind at the sight, sound, or experience of the objects I would place in the doll. I wonder if we all were to write the words that come to mind in response to this piece, if we’d find we have all written the same book, just in different shades and tones – and what power would lie in working together to write something new.
Davis, Juliet. “Fractured Cybertales: Navigating the Feminine.” The MIT Press Journals, vol. 4, no. 1, 2008, pp. 26-34.
I found myself trying to put the pieces of myself together as I navigated my way through this absorbing piece. While simultaneously plucking away at any stray grey hairs that I happened to find or that I purposely go looking for (Smh, I guess I like pain). Ugh, and when I accidently pull out the good ones in addition to the grey bad ones, I totes freak out! I found it ironic that I was literally grooming myself as I started up this latest electronic literature piece. After clicking around a bit I quickly realized this piece was all about being a woman and what that really means. Honestly, do I even know what it all means? At 38, soon to be 39 in four months (cringe), I’m still discovering new aspects of my being all the time. Whether it be spiritual, emotional and even physical, being a woman and coming to terms with what that encompasses is a huge deal. A process that I suspect won’t end for me any time soon. That brings me to the first room I explored, the bathroom. The bathroom, where women always seem to go in pairs, wait why do we do this again? I have no clue but I find myself instinctively asking my girlfriends to “come with me” or ask “hey don’t you have to go?” always secretly wishing they say yes. Why do we do this I wonder?
Men certainly don’t. Maybe it’s a fear of being alone? Or of losing ourselves on the way there? It’s kind of like animals that gather around the watering hole, it’s like half social, half survivor mode. Or it could be that the Pisces in me is over thinking, over analyzing and seriously needs to get out of her own head. Okay, so before I go completely off track, and back into my own feelings, lets get back to Pieces of Herself, shall we? I found the interface and navigation user friendly and easy to navigate. The menu gave clear and concise instructions. Though it took me the second time around of exploring this piece to realize I could click and drag the items to different parts throughout the body diagram. I loved the black and white motif with the bright colors of the various objects. The contrast was striking. It illuminated the different objects within the body and made me think of our circulatory system and what’s running throughout our bodies. It’s definitely not just blood flowing throughout these veins. The bathroom scene resonates with me because it can be a woman’s sanctuary and escape from a hectic day and life filled with work, school, relationships, domestic duties and let’s not forget the little or big kiddies even, who never give Mom a break!
The bathroom can be a mini getaway, where some Mom’s quickly lock the door behind them, back against the door as they slowly slide their way down to the floor. Until their bums hit the ground and they can finally exhale for maybe five minutes, or ten if their lucky. When I picture myself doing this as a single lady with no kids, I envision a glass of Pinot with a Milano cookie in hand, exhaling after a long, hard day of surviving through another trying day in this crazy and unforgiving world as a female. On the contrary the bathroom can also be a death trap of sorts. It’s like a booby trap, we take a step inside and suddenly we’re pulled up by our legs by an invisible vine, now we’re dizzily dangling upside down, wondering what the hell just happened to us!? This happens to me whenever I stare too long in the bathroom mirror. Wiping away the dewy fog on the mirror that reveals the latest traces of cellulite on my thick thighs. I soon notice the new laugh lines settling in the corners of my mouth. I try to hide behind the shower curtain and dim all the lights (lighting is everything after 30) but that only lasts for so long, before we have to step out of the bathroom, and into the light, flaws and all. Sometimes the harshest person we have to face in life is, ourselves. This is what I personally envisioned when I walked through the bathroom scene in Pieces of Herself. I also found the sound, the dripping of the faucet to be haunting and relentless, just like this awesome piece of elit.
Lastly, I’ll write about the next room that I connected with most and that ignited a sense of self awareness within me, right along with feelings of self loathing and self doubt. This was the bedroom scene. Although, I must say all the rooms were a magnificent representation of what women feel and think about themselves, in both public and in private. The themes throughout were easy to identify: gender, identity, gender roles, self love, self hatred, tolerance, pain, angst. Just to name a few that stuck out to me in particular. I always try to connect these electronic lit pieces to my own personal life experiences. My writing tends to be very personal, even in my academic work. I write from my soul, no caution signs ahead. I guess I wear my heart on my sleeve and it just flows right onto the paper. I can’t help myself, when I write I always try to connect with others. I do it instinctively, it’s not a learned process or anything I’ve ever been taught. I’m not sure if it’s wrong or right but I just follow my heart each and every time I put my pen to paper. I guess I’m always looking for new ways to heal myself through my writing and maybe subconsciously help heal others through my raw self expression and by openly sharing my inner most thoughts and feelings. I connect with this electronic literature piece in that I openly share my private thoughts about myself, my life and the world around me, in public. Without hesitation or and without shame. Perks of almost reaching a new decade in my life. I’m way more gentler on myself these days. Go easy, Nives.
Okay, back to the bedroom scene! I’ll just continue to blame the Pisces in me for my random thoughts and rants. Forgive me guys for going off on tangents! Okay, so when I clicked on the bedroom and made my way inside, I immediately thought of sex, oppression, aggression, regret and men’s cologne. My young adult self flashed before my very eyes. I literally closed my eyes for a minute before opening them again. As I continued to explore the bedroom further I was reminded of my very first love. My true love (so I thought at seventeen), my first kiss, my first heart break, losing my virginity etc. Although some of these milestones in my life didn’t actually happen in my bedroom, it still reminded me of those times. Or maybe of the aftermath, of what lied in the wake of all my bad and impulsive decisions. These powerful memories came flooding back to me as I clicked my way throughout the bed, the closet, the dresser draws, the hamper, and the bedroom desk. The bothersome sound of the frog made me think of my unhealthy thoughts and relentless ruminations, of what could have, or should have been. I envisioned myself curled up in the fetal position in my bed, crying into my tear soaked pillow, wondering why he hurt me? why he lied to me? why did he scare me like that? did I deserve it? I hate myself! This pain is forever. Time to call Mom back, she left me several voicemails. Time to try my best to lie. If she ever finds out what’s really going on she would hate me, like hate, hate, really hate me, her own daughter.
This is why electronic literature is so distinct and so very poetic. There is no rhyme or reason to most of the pieces, it’s fragmented and scattered, a lot like real life. It’s supposed to be, I think? The wistful doo wop song playing in the background is pure magic and adds to the atmosphere. I also connect with the various messages left from the guy, who I’m assuming is the boyfriend or lover. Why don’t men just get it? Dude we’re busy! Or we’re not and just don’t care to talk to you right now. Get over it! Why does everyone in our lives expect so damn much from us? The rainy storm cloud that we get to click and drag and then hear the roaring thunder play out is also perfect and adds a sullen feel throughout the bedroom scene. I placed the rain cloud right on the head of the diagram. The key icon and the messages from the boyfriend or lover I placed right on her heart. Because men no matter how good or bad they are to us, we always take whatever they say or do straight to the heart. Keeping it locked away in there forever. As it slowly begins carving little holes and indentations throughout. Without us even noticing, or maybe we do? We just don’t do anything about it, we just let it fester, not realizing the implications of this. The last part of the bedroom scene that stuck with me was the very last item I clicked on, which was the computer screen. The sound of static and disconnection blared loudly. Looking into the fuzzy, blinking computer screen made the old memories of my life and regret flash before my eyes, yet again. I was reminded of all the pieces of myself. And of how I don’t think I’ll ever completely put all the pieces together, and maybe that’s okay. I’m forever evolving and learning to be unapologetic for my journey through this life.
The official class site for Dr. Mia Zamora’s Fall 2020 Electronic Literature course.