All posts by Amber Gently

Suffering and Love in Queerskins

Queerskins (Szilak, 2012) was the first piece of electronic literature I came across that made me think – so there IS something I can wrap my head around in this field! Not only was it more visually and navigationally pleasing, but the themes found within were close to my heart.

Placing this reading in the context of what we discussed with Pressman’s (n.d.) article and TwelveBlue (Joyce, 1996), Queerskins was much different to navigate. In many ways it is more book-like in structure because you move through it in a relatively linear way and there is a cohesiveness to the pieces of journal, video, audio, and still pictures. As I navigated through the whole thing, it had the feeling of zooming in on a timeline and being given a more intimate peak at the moments of this man’s life. The interactive way of scrolling through his journals and listening to clips of his family and friends and lovers talk was such a beautiful way to draw the reader into the story; It made it feel real. This realism was in large part due to the reader’s ability to virtually handle the objects and move them around. It was akin to finding an old shoe box in the attic and opening it to find it filled with mementos and letters, the remnants of a life.

 When you initially start the story, you are looking down into the shoebox – everything is mixed up and pieces of letters and images are strewn about. You haphazardly grab things and listen and look and feel. But as the story progresses, and you start to arrange the pieces, you discover it is about a man driven by a need to be loved and to love; we see a man who is seeking faith in something and who feels the ever present weight of shame from his Catholic faith, distant father, and submissive mother. Sebastian’s life seems to be a warped mirror of the life of the saints that his mother keeps tucked away in her room. Their sufferings and devotions and his interplay throughout the piece as Sebastian is pierced again and again with each love and loss. In his diligent devotion to his idealized view of love, and the salvation he feels it might bring him, he brings himself ever closer to the suffering that eventually frees him to experience the “pornographic” ecstasy of the saints.

Quite like Tony Kushner’s (1992) Angels in America with its Jewish and Mormon subtexts, this story is steeped in religious imagery and references. This is especially the case with the overarching theme of suffering and love being almost inseparable. An ideology often found in Christian theologies is the significance of suffering and how it can be redemptive and bring us in closer communion with God – the ultimate source and embodiment of Love. From Sebastian’s childhood, all he has are examples of people distorting this view and creating suffering for others in the name of ‘love’.

This dynamic is most obvious in Sebastian’s mother who plays the role of the long-suffering wife who turns a blind eye to whatever is too painful, be it her beliefs around her son’s sexuality, her husband’s treatment of their son, or her husband’s treatment of her. She loves through her silences and denials, and in turn she suffers and causes suffering. Instead of this ‘love’ bringing her and Sebastian to some closer communion with one another, it drives them apart so that in the end they are strangers. Sebastian’s mother must retreat to her religion and her trashy romances to find love, and Sebastian turns to distance and abusive lovers.

“It’s worse to feel far away at home than to be where nothing is familiar.” (Szilak, “Alex”, p. 22)

Apart from suffering and love, there are so many themes that could be unpacked in this story – the white savior, the relationship between gay men and the rest of the LGBTQ community during this time in history, homophobia and how it contributed to the deaths of these men during the AIDS epidemic, etc. I chose to focus more on the theme of suffering as love because it spoke to me the most. Nothing drives a story more than suffering. There is a natural movement that comes with suffering because it is always trying to alleviate itself, to escape. It seeks a meaning for its existence and drives its inhabitant into the depths of insanity in hopes of finding some modicum of reason. Love, the other supreme driving force, finds itself drawn in by suffering because it makes suffering beautiful – like frozen faces gasping in perpetual ecstasy. Whether those faces eventually turn back into grimaces of terror is up to the storyteller.

References

Joyce, M. (1996). Twelve BluePostmodern Culture and Eastgate Systems. https://collection.eliterature.org/1/works/joyce__twelve_blue.html

Kushner, T. (1992). Angels in America. Theater Communications Group.

Pressman, J. (n.d.). Navigating Electronic Literature. Electronic Literature: New Horizons For the Literary. https://newhorizons.eliterature.org/essay.php@id=14.html

Szilak, I. (2012). Queerskins. Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 3. http://online.queerskins.com/#

Blog 2

Ponderings on Michael Joyce’s Twelve Blue

Near the end of Pressman’s (“Navigating Electronic Literature,” n.d.) essay, she states, “…emergent forms of electronic literature complicate the ways in which we think about and engage with literature” (para. 12). Almost every piece I have experienced thus far in this field has left me with the sense I’ve entered into a psychedelic tinged world, where time and meaning are vague concepts and everything is about experiencing and feeling. This is not altogether unpleasant. The nature of literature IS to be a gateway into a kind of timelessness that is all about experience.

That said, I agree with Pressman that electronic literature is complicated to engage with. It makes me feel uncomfortable. When I read, I like my role as observer on a familiar path where words, plots, and characters line up before me in neat, curated lanes. A piece like Joyce’s (1996) Twelve Blue does not fit well into this framework; I can not stroll down the linear path. Instead, I am like a bagger at the grocery, characters and lines being conveyed to me in wild and unorganized ways while I try to quickly form it all into a meaningful package. Before reading Twelve Blue, and a few other pieces like it, I did not know that I was such a boring and linear reader. As I engaged with Twelve Blue for the assigned hour (a strangely devotional way of reading, reminiscent of my days of diligent Bible study growing up – maybe a topic for a future post), there were several ideas that came to mind.

What initially struck me was how overwhelming the piece felt to read. The power of navigation being in my hands (the act of “producing” and “performing”, as Pressman (“Navigating Electronic Literature,” n.d., para. 12) puts it) was a burden. My process began a little like this:

Me: Ah, it begins with numbers.

Anxiety: How do I know what number I should pick first?

Me: Never go for 1… 4 is a solid middle choice.

Anxiety: Oh, no…but what if I was supposed to actually start at 1 and now I have messed it all up?

Me: Do you think I should go back?

Anxiety: [continues to worry about going back to number 1]

Me: Oh well, I am already reading…

“She looked out on the creek and measured out the threads…” (Joyce, 1996).

After I read the first ‘page’, I felt a little of the initial burden ease because curiosity grabbed me. I weaved in and out of a story that seemed to be about loneliness and longing in the lives of two doctors with teenage children; in the background, a deaf man’s death was threaded into each of their stories – “zeppelin dolphin” (Joyce, 1996). In the end, I found my way back to the woman by the creek, her ponderings now more meaningful, but still lacking any kind of conclusion to the story. The burden came back, and I felt anxious. I hadn’t navigated enough to understand – did the two doctors get together? How did the boy drown? Who was the little girl by the sea who “thought sperm was a shore” where she might be able to find her dead mother? Had I failed in my engagement of the author’s text, navigating in a way that didn’t capture what the author intended me to understand? Or was that the point – I was supposed to experience it in the way I experienced it, and that was okay?

Of course, I know from Pressman’s article that I engaged the piece in the way it was meant to be read; my haphazard navigation was part of the meaning making experience of the story. That said, to return to the idea of my “boring” and “linear” way of reading, I found myself thinking about the concept of what makes a story. Pressman addressed how electronic literature challenges the typical structure of story in her article, specifically when she quoted Jay David Bolter. Bolter (as cited in Pressman, “Navigating Electronic Literature,” n.d.) basically says story in hypertext isn’t just a one and done kind of thing. With each reading, what we experience varies and changes, and because of this, the reader could actually question if there is a story to be found at all!

The idea that something that calls itself literature might not even have a ‘story’ once again challenged my ideas around literature. I don’t think that Twelve Blue is without a story, but it is without traditional structure – and after spending the summer reading through The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop (Koch, 2003), this seems sacrilegious! In Koch’s words, “Good structure clarifies” (p.71). I would say Twelve Blue is anything but clear in it’s structure. But in this murky ‘story’ there is something more true to story telling than I think the traditional structure is fully capable of capturing. Twelve Blue feels like living, and what is life but one long story full of incongruities. What I mean by this is the imagery drew me into brief emotional experiences, not unlike the moments of life. Even if the scene’s context was confusing and didn’t seem to fit in the larger picture, there was something about the way I felt that made it okay if I just wanted to take it as it was or try to find more of the story. That feels like the way humans live in their stories. Sometimes they chase a plot to it’s end, but sometimes they let it drift off.

There is something completely chaotic to this whole process of electronic literature. Letting people author with you, having stories that may not actually be stories, never having people experience your piece in the same way, letting navigation dictate meaning, etc. But in that chaos is a type of freedom that I’m finding I am drawn to. Often the writing I have produced has been spurts of images and people and stories, but it never felt story-like in the traditional sense. Experiencing Twelve Blue and learning more about the theories behind electronic literature in Pressman’s article gives me the creative spark that comes when I recognize a path through the marsh of doubt I’ve been mired in around my writing. Maybe it is time to leave my linear ways behind – at least just a little.

References

Bolter, J.D. (1991). Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Lawrence Erlbaum.

Joyce, M. (1996). Twelve Blue. Postmodern Culture and Eastgate Systems. https://collection.eliterature.org/1/works/joyce__twelve_blue.html

Koch, S. (2003). The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop. The Modern Library.

Pressman, J. (n.d.). Navigating Electronic Literature. Electronic Literature: New Horizons For the Literary. https://newhorizons.eliterature.org/essay.php@id=14.html

Blog Post 1: Introductions

“Why am I at Kean?” An existential question if I ever saw one. But let’s talk rhetorical for now, because that is much more straight forward.

My background is in psychology, but in a BA way, no BS. I went into the field for a number of reasons:

 1) because it seemed the most ‘practical’ subject I could pursue that would satisfy the expectation that I get a degree that would translate practically into a job.

2) because I genuinely wanted to help people struggling with their mental health.

3) because I felt afraid to pursue my creative interests in a serious way, but psychology felt mysterious and creative enough to fill some of that need.

Unfortunately, after a semester in my program I realized being a mental health provider was not a good fit for me. I let things get to me too much, and I didn’t feel I would be able to manage the impact of other’s trauma on me in a sustainable enough way. Thankfully, my education still created a lot of opportunity for me to explore my creative side. In the end, I went through my undergrad experience as a psychology major in name but a writing and philosophy major in spirit.

Since graduating in 2014, I have worked in the ‘real’ world in higher education and, most recently, in mental health. In that time, I confirmed my undergrad concerns about my ability to manage the impact of secondary trauma on my mental health. But I also solidified that I have a desire to combine my passion for helping others with my creative pursuits and interest in the technical side of writing.

So that is why I am here. I love the combination of the creative and technical that the English-Writing Studies program offers, and I hope to refresh and strengthen my skills in writing so I can help others. My time in mental health instilled in me the value of community support from colleagues, so I also look forward to forming relationships and learning from others who are pursuing creative endeavors.

I felt the need to focus this introduction more on why I am here at Kean than on random facts about myself because I have written a little about myself already in the About section of this blog. If you would like to learn more, go check it out. 😊