My Surrealistic Pillow Sheet: Analyzing With Those We Love Alive and Icarus Needs

These pieces seem to skim over the surface of the brain, much like a silk pillow case skims your head as you lie down at night. But that is where the comfort stops. With those We Love Alive and Icarus Needs are strange, mysterious, and weird– veritable bits and bytes of unreality.

With Those We Love Alive

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Great Expectations Picture 45 | Havisham, Helena bonham carter, Miss  havisham
Miss Havisham: A Rotting Human Wedding Cake

I was stupidly excited for this piece. The introduction said that players got to draw sigils on their bodies. I saw some of the great images that people drew on their arms and legs. I was set to go with my ballpoint pen. What did I miss? I didn’t get a prompt to draw anything on myself. Was I supposed to draw the pink and purple words on me? But that doesn’t seem possible. It wasn’t in sync with what other players experienced!

Perhaps I was led into a different, non-drawing labyrinth because of my birth month, which was that of the “Broken Coffin.” The prompt told me that my real name was Sparna Umdof. I got to the agent of the Skull Empress and she told me that I was an artificer: “You make things. You were noted perhaps from your showings and sometimes victories, in the festivals and now you are going somewhere.” I was seriously thrilled. I’m an artist and I’m taking a journey? Let’s go, creepy Skull Empress and all!

Before proceeding, I’d like to underscore that the Empress was very disturbing. I got a sense of what was supposed to be female empowerment, but it was ugly and strange. If the Empress were a fruit, she’d be a rotting peach, strangely sweet-smelling, yet still revolting. She was still irresistible to behold, like the colorful, but old candy in Coraline. If the Empress were a person, she would most definitely be the haunting Miss Havisham of Dickens’ Great Expectations– a sweetly rotting human confection that is dangerous.

On to the journey! Oh the claustrophobia, literally, when I picked a choice that indicated that I was having trouble breathing! When I was offered the different breathing exercises, it was quiet uncomfortable because the sense of breathless confusion continued.

Honestly, I felt trapped during the entire game. I kept looping back to the same choices. True, the music was hauntingly beautiful and the ombre colors were a treat, but I didn’t get a resolution! Is that the point? I felt rather depressed, like I was circling the drain of the abyss somehow, despite the bright colors of the interface. The palace grounds took me to some dark places where there was a promise of renewal, yet a hard to describe wrong turn of events. Something happened that led the paths and cities to be barren. It made me very uncomfortable. It was almost as if I were visiting the barren remains of an apocalypse of a sort.

It was as if a dream were being deferred as I went through the piece. The Skull Empress had her palace grounds, but they did not really symbolize positive growth. It was just like going down a well, darker and darker and more unfamiliar as I continued to click.

Icarus Needs

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Icarus’ wings were plucked off before he came alive in this game, chopped up and put in the lovely container above to melt. I just did not get it. He was in search of Kit and they were both in a dream. That was good surrealism. I liked it. But what really happened during the game? I did not feel like my clicking resulted in anything whatsoever. Is Icarus just the gaming embodiment of a fait accompli? What was I supposed to learn? That video games can melt your consciousness and leave you feeling like you are in a fugue state? Let me be clear, I was not mad at the simplistic interface. But I wanted the game to go somewhere. It was over in a flash. Icarus really needed a long, restful nap. I think that this game was his hallucination. Perhaps the fact that I did not have an android to download the proper elements had something to do with the difficulty with the game.

Icarus definitely seemed to be in a labyrinth of some sort, as I believe he was wandering around his apartment in the dream.

Activist E-lit

This week we saw the way in which electronic literature can be both expressive and polemic at once. Works of electronic literature tagged as “activist” are those defined by the author as politically or socially motivated: they often reflect current conflicts, inequalities, and pressing issues of international social concern. The readings for the week had clear commitments. What has become apparent is that an immersive and interactive story can also be an emotionally powerful experience that transforms a viewer’s understanding.

Our slides:


Thank you Medea for kicking off the evening with a very powerful tour of Motions by Hazel Smith, Will Luers & Roger Dean – an activist multimedia web-book exploring the harrowing reality of human trafficking. An emotional piece about modern day slavery and sexual abuse, it employs visual artifacts combined with dissonant sounds files to capture the fear, dislocation, abuse, exploitation, and oppression experienced by the trafficked victim. The images, videos, and backgrounds of the pages are often abstract, or out of focus and include locations, vivid colours, close ups on peoples faces, and figures in distress. The atmospheric sounds often have a disorienting and relentless quality that enhances the feelings of tension reflected in the text. The work is particularly effective because it bridges the global and globalized nature of indentured servitude with the specificity of individual trauma experienced by victims. Medea provided extensive research on the realities of human trafficking, and she was quite articulate in outlining both the vulnerability and the loss of self that is at the center of this trauma. She also shared a glimpse of her heartfelt understanding of this work via a creative collage she felt compelled to compose as a way to express her synthesis of the work’s meaning. Bravo!

Pieces of Herself

Our discussion of Pieces of Herself by Juliet Davis was truly insightful, and it was a joy to read some many smart thoughtful blog posts about this reading.  Thanks to Teethee for her excellent walkthrough. This interactive digital art text makes use of much less lexia than we have seen in the previous e-lit pieces we have explored together.  Instead, this work makes great use of a drag and drop interface – viewers can scroll through familiar environments (i.e. bathroom, living room, outside, the office) to collect metaphorical “pieces” of the self and arrange them in compositions inside the body by dropping them down in a dress-up doll.   The reader/navigator can customize their exploration of the work by filling in the dress-up “paper” doll (or woman’s silhouette).  As each “trace” is dragged into the paper doll silhouette, it triggers animations along with audio clips from interviews with women, music loops, and sound effects, resulting in a layered narrative effect.

We discussed the traces and marks (read “scars”) left behind as a woman lives her life.  The marks left by private and public aspiration, desire, hopes and dreams, and violation too.  There is much challenge and pressure in becoming a woman.  The colorful accumulations on the silhouette emphasize the theme that so many competing ideologies leave lasting marks, imprinting a woman permanently.  Davis’ work emphasizes the irrevocable layering of all the experiences that shape and mark a woman, highlighting the social inscription of the feminized body.

Your to-do list

Read: Icarus Needs (Hugo’s selection)

Read: With Those We Love Alive (Jessie’s selection)

Your seventh blog post is due.  Blog about your reading experience and understanding of the Icarus Needs and/or With Those We Love Alive.

Have a restful and replenishing weekend!

Dr. Zamora