Letter to Linus
I expected “Letter to Linus” to be warm, just by reading the title. I have been influenced by the gentle voice of reason that is Linus, Schultz’s cartoon character in Peanuts. He carries around a fuzzy blanket. Even though he gets hectored by his sister Lucy, he is not mean-spirited. He always seems to have good advice for Charlie Brown, who always seems to be plunged into a childlike form of existential questioning.
Experiencing this piece of literature was not warm. It was apocalyptically freezing. We are talking about the appropriation of words here! The piece is an exhortation for another Linus (a poet/writer) to get onto the scene and sort out madness of word gobblers, commercial entities that seek to patent words and hold them hostage. To a lover of words, books and knowledge, this is very frightening.
The genre of the piece is interactive fiction, because it allows one to click on hypertexts (or rather, sides of a hypercube) to advance the story. The author, William Gillespie, defines a hypercube as “a work of electronic fiction based on the structure of a cube. It comprises six pages, each of which links to four others.” The backbone of the story is comprised by the center cubes, which are the action verbs “cut, shut, blow, break, take, and lock.” These appear in pink in the center of the cube’s interface. The other sides surrounding it contain the hyperlinked words in blue boxes. The story has a kind of rhythmic pulse to it so I would categorize it to be poetry.
We never learn the author of these letters to Linus. Is that because he has had to write in a secretive fashion to evade the money train society that has come to appropriate words? From the very beginning of the piece, the heart sinks due to a feeling of desolation. It seems like there is a brief lull in the war to steal words. There are featureless figures who are hiding in the corners in silence. Libraries are “culverts.” I get the sense of a dark alley at night: a place I do my best to avoid if I am alone.
Poetry is so scarce that it needs to be “squeezed from stones.” Several lines stemming from the hyperlinked phrase “out the public” conjured a dystopian view: People “in decrepit basement rooms, gather daily or train, recite the alphabet backwards and forwards in seconds, write in complete darkness, memorize dictionaries/ When necessary, you ration a single poem so that it lasts for weeks, having disciplined yourself to read only a word at a time…”
This affected me deeply. One of my favorite books is The Book Thief. I immediately thought of the protagonist, Liesel Memminger, learning and savoring the alphabet like a hard lemon candy and then luxuriating in the few books she received and those that she stole. The context for this work is Nazi Germany, where books were burned at will and catching people with certain types of literature could literally mean death. Liesel is one of my fictional heroes. The thought of someone having to hoard words and books is heart-breaking and it also raises my ire. I also get a sense of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
Yet, there is real gunfire being falling from the sky when “up the revolution” is selected. The interior has been bombed out: it is practically a shell. Words seem to be shotgun shells. They can be used offensively and defensively. The letter writer explains that he wants to be hired as a writer and that his parents “bought him English as a graduation present,” but it is an “outdated” version. This word appropriation has been going on for a long time indeed! What peaks my interest is this–> This invisible writer to Linus is anti-establishment: he plans to keep writing “as long as there is a potential enemy somewhere.” What happens if he flips though? What if his intelligence, his word-mastery gets coopted by Linguatech, “the aggressive young company that patented language?” That is scary. Writing should not be a tool of an “exclusive club.” It should be free like air. But what if Linus’ letter writer gets tired, has no food in his stomach and weakens? He can be flipped. Everyone has to have a weakness.
Although this work was extremely dark, I appreciated it greatly. It taught me to appreciate freedom of thought and expression. I now realize that they must be defended vociferously and not taken for granted.
To date, this piece of interactive electronic literature has stir-fried my brain the most. Myakovsky’s futurism and Monad, Inc.’s conception of virtual reality collide. It appears that the artists of Myakovsky’s time eschewed the traditional arts in favor of technological advancements and urbanism, yet at the same time they subscribed to art of human feeling and emotion (quite a contradiction).
I wanted to learn more about Myakovsky in order to understand this piece. He was in his formative years when the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 came about. He was excited for advancement and he eulogized Lenin. Then came WWI, which disillusioned the world because of its senseless, brutal violence. I think that this had to have influenced Myakovsky’s personal life and his art. He seemed to cling to love and to life, yet his life was complicated by these very same things. Then another blast came into his consciousness: Joseph Stalin. Stalin’s goal was to stamp out all the literati and to allow nothing but self-serving propaganda about the great Soviet State to be disseminated. This was a blow to Myakovsky and he committed suicide in 1930. I question if he really did this or if Stalin’s henchmen got him. It wouldn’t be the first time. I would have to dig into the forensics of the issue in order to give a more informed opinion about this.
Reconstructing Myakovsky is such a puzzle. There are so many disparate parts to piece together and frankly, it is overwhelming and confusing. The part that I found most stunning and on a sort of parallel with Russian futurism was the video by Monad, Inc. in favor of constructing a Virtual Environment, where the human being (as we know it) is vitiated. This is on par with Russian futurism’s drive to laud technology. But, Monad takes things really far. I watched the video, voiced over by a cold robotic male voice, four times in disbelief. I know this is interactive fiction, but still! Replacing human experiences so that the elements of chance are eliminated, no more misunderstandings in language, etc? Constructing a purely virtual world where the human is completely disposable? Look at what damage the human has done in the past: war, pestilence, terrorism, etc, the video elucidates. I may be wrong, but I see a little neo-Dadaism here. In any event, Monad’s world really revolted me, even though it was meant to underscore human absurdity and how participation culture has thrown a wrench into reality; therefore, away with the humans! The strange thing is that I can see a push to eliminate the human so that technology can do more of the work that society allegedly needs: i.e. algorithimization. Scary.
I look forward to class to discuss these very unique pieces.