All posts by K M

Cape Disappointment

Examining J. R. Carpenter's "The Cape" was actually somewhat painful for me.  This was not because of the content, but because the of the way it was presented.  I'm jealous of how well this author conquered the whole story-of-place thing, and their piece's design was similar to what I would have loved my individual e-lit piece to be, at least on a page-by-page level.  The combination of maps, geological surveys, photographs, simple animation, and monochrome color palette really helped readers get a sense of the place the author was talking about.   One criticism I have, however, is that I don't see the connection between the theme of the story and the character of Cape Cod.  I think of Cape Cod as a very ritzy, exclusive, beautiful vacationing spot for the elite; I don't see the connection to the sense of alienation the narrator seems to feel from his family.  Like, an island or isolated place might have been more appropriate metaphorically.  Maybe I need to read it again, or look into it in a deeper way.  The non-linear, clickable menu aspect of "The Cape" also would not have applied to my piece.     

"With Those We Love Alive" is actually similar to what I managed to create for my individual piece on the surface.  It uses the same platform, Twine, but the story branches a lot more.  I got stuck at the part in the piece where I was exploring the castle/estate thing of the Empress, so I'm really not sure how the rest of the piece functions.  I did like that my option referred to childhood as a "larval state," though.

I already posted my idea for a Thermophiles article title in the shared document, but I will post it here as well (because, honestly, I can't remember where it's supposed to go).  My title idea was "Contextualizing Our First NetProv Experience."  

Antiseptic and Ambiguity

The electronic literature piece "Separation" by Annie Abrahams is a strange look at the relationship between the human body and the computer.  The user must click continuously to force each word onto the screen, and every so often, the piece interrupts the text with a prompt to engage in a physical exercise.  I'm assuming there is a special way to get to the end of the text, but I just continuously got a pop-up box that told me I didn't have the right attitude toward my computer.  I didn't really like this piece, but I can definitely respect the stylistic choices the creator made. 

The introduction to the piece says that the author made it during a stay in the hospital.  The sterile white background and black text definitely give off the same rigid, antiseptic sense of confinement as a hospital stay.  To me, this was the most haunting aspect of the piece.  Having to click to get each word to appear also evokes the strain and effort a sick/injured person might feel when trying to accomplish a task or make sense of the world through a pain-killer fog.  Adding to the whole hospital patient effect, the exercises the piece makes the reader engage in are reminiscent of physical rehabilitation or occupational therapy.

The ambiguity in the actual text prompts the reader to reflect on their relationship to technology.  At first, I thought the text was alluding to a dysfunctional romantic relationship between two human beings, but as it continues (and once the reader looks at the intro and editorial comments) it becomes apparent that the text is actually talking about the relationship between a human being and their computer.  I have used this kind of technique before in my own fiction writing (I once wrote a piece where malaria is talking to a human it has killed, but the language is similar to a break-up note), but I still found myself blind-sided when I realized what the author of "Separation" was doing.  By tricking the reader into thinking they're reading about a romantic relationship, "Separation" draws the reader in and makes them become more emotionally engaged than they would if they knew from the beginning that the text is about a computer.  It also makes the reader consider just how much time and attention they give to something that is supposed to be a simple electronic tool.  I can say, to my own deep shame, that there are some relationships in my life that I would mourn less than the destruction of my laptop.  There are also some relationships in my life that were begun, or are still made possible by, my computer.  It's troubling to see just how parasitic the relationship between man and machine can be.  If not parasitic, then humans and computers are at least commensals (one gets a benefit, while the other is not majorly harmed).      

Hobo Lobo of Hamelin Review

Here is a link to a GoogleDocs version of my E-Lit review: 

I also shared the document with everyone through e-mail. The version I shared via e-mail contains the proper formatting, whereas the GoogleDocs version looks kind of weird.  The content is basically the same, though.

I'm looking forward to sharing this piece with all of you tonight!

Artifice is the Engine

I'm glad Dave decided to present "First Draft of the Revolution" by Emily Short and Liza Daly; I was intrigued by this piece earlier in the semester when I was browsing through Volume 3.  The combination of an 18th century setting, with all the worries of a noble European family, and magical elements reminded me a little of the novel "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell," despite the fact that said novel was set in the 19th century (if I remember correctly).  The woodcut images, elegant font, and book framing device all accentuate the period piece aspect, as does the period-appropriate language.  I also think it's interesting to have a piece of electronic literature mimic the publishing traditions of an earlier era; it draws the reader's attention to the artificiality of it.  This artifice is, I believe, a driving theme in "First Draft."

The metafictional elements (if you could call it that since the letters being sent aren't fiction to the characters; maybe metacompositional would be more appropriate?  Metaepistolary?) in the piece contrast with the magical elements to make the reader engage more fully its theme of artifice.  It creates a kind of irony, and I think it's metaphorical for the power of writing in general.  Because humans instinctively organize their thoughts and experiences through narration, when one writes, one has the power to alter reality; this is especially true if they're writing about history or experiences.  Like the magic in the piece, however, that power is tempered by societal norms.  Each time a character changes a piece of what they have written, whether the character is male or female, magic-user or not, they are giving away a little bit of their power, and they have made their communication more artificial.  The fact that the piece won't move forward until the reader has rewritten or erased certain parts of the letters emphasizes the fact that the authors wanted their readers to see how each writer is altering their words due to the expectations/possible reactions of others.  It's fascinating to see the different writing processes of each character (for example, Henri makes a list of the points he wants to address), and the limited choices for revisions also raise a number of questions about gender and society, both historical and modern. 

It's also worth noting that by involving the reader in multiple characters' writing processes, "First Draft" blurs the line between reader, writer, and fictional entity.  In this case, all three interact to create meaning, or to dilute it.  This feature is all the more powerful because the reader is seeing the true thoughts of multiple characters, so the reader is omniscient, and dramatic irony is infused into everything.  The reader is asked to act as every character, though, as if they don't know the truth of the other characters' thoughts.  This ties into what I was saying earlier about the surrender of power and the triumph of artifice over truth.  The reader must pretend they don't know all they do know in order to make revision choices and move the story forward.  Artifice is the engine, but is it only the engine driving the story, or is it driving all our lives?

Thermophiles in Love Reflection

There were a number of issues that arose during my period of participation in the “Thermophiles in Love” (TiL) improvised network narrative (netprov).  Firstly, because the characters were fictional bacteria with a unique sense of gender, I had to decide on the way I wanted to use gender neutral pronouns.  I decided on Rickter’s “xe” pronouns because they sounded the most otherworldly to me, and thus best suited to the science fiction/slipstream genre of the netprov.  TiL also influenced the way I interacted with some of my classmates in real life.  Being careful not to reveal our online identities, we had detailed discussions about characters and events on the netprov, both in person and via text message.  We even developed some specific lexis to describe things in the real world based on features from TiL.  The most significant issue, however, was the unexpected emotional distress that arose from the incongruities between my real-life self and my character.  I do a lot of creative writing, and I have written from the points-of-view of fictional characters countless times before (I’ve even written from the point of view of a parasitic worm!), but the layered aspect of communication on the netprov made things a lot more nerve-wracking.  Because I knew I was going to be interacting with my professor, classmates, and other scholars and academics in the career field I wish to enter, I still felt pressure to present myself well.  I worried that people would confuse my words and ideas with those of my character, and it would somehow come back to bite me.  

One outstanding incident occurred when another person’s character, Acido_EColi, began to argue with my character, hype_solium.  Due to the open-ended, uncertain nature of the relationship between the netprov’s universe and real-world microbiology, our characters had conflicting ideas about the relative societal and evolutionary positions of E. coli to Thermophiles.  I had imagined E. coli as less developed bacteria that Thermophiles kept as pets, almost like dogs.  The person writing Acido_EColi had actually imagined their character as an E. coli cell.  When hype_solium talked about xyr pet E. coli cells and the way that xe treated them, Acido_EColi was incredibly offended, and xe wrote about xyr feelings as a response to hype_solium’s thread.  At that point I became very anxious because in real-life I would have apologized profusely and done everything I could to avoid a conflict with another forum user, but hype_solium would not.  In accordance with the characteristics laid out by the netprov’s creators for xyr gender, my character would not listen to Acido_EColi’s point; xe would argue back.  So I argued back, risking appearing ignorant and confrontational to my professor, classmates, and contemporaries if they happened to figure out my online identity.  The anxiety it evoked was so distracting that I almost forgot to lock the door on the way out of the Writing Center, where I work as a tutor, that evening.  I also thought about the fictional argument for the duration of my commute, worrying obsessively about how Acido_EColi would take my character’s response, and planning possible comebacks in xyr voice.    

"The future is in nostalgia…"

"High Muck a Muck," a multimedia piece of electronic literature, uses watercolor visuals, written poetry, sound/music effects, and superbly-edited videos to capture the experience of Chinese immigrants to Canada.  Although I can see the artistry in each aspect of the piece, I feel as if the videos carry the most power, so much so that every other part of "High Muck a Muck" actually feels extraneous to me.  The same power and viewer empathy could have been achieved by the videos alone, and thus the e-lit medium was perhaps not the most appropriate for this amazing piece.

The piece begins with a watercolor ink blot on a Chinese lottery card.  This ink motif continues throughout the piece, and it seems to be the thread holding it all together.  When the viewer clicks on the ink blot, they are taken to a map painted in watercolor on a man's back.  More ink blots are used to mark towns and regions of Canada, as well as "Everywhere and Nowhere."  When clicked, most of these ink blots take the viewer to a watercolor scene of the town that includes images of Chinese immigrants, regional landmarks, and some more abstract symbols/images.  Everywhere and Nowhere takes the viewer to a yin-yang symbol that opens a video.  In the town scenes, there is always a man with a camcorder, who when clicked brings the viewer to a short video.  The other people bring up short snippets of poetry.  In my opinion, these town images are unnecessary, especially once the viewer realizes that the same poetry is included in a much more vivid way in the videos: a voice-over read by a man with a Chinese accent.  That's a big deal for me to say because I don't usually like to take in literature audially; nine times out of ten, I would rather read than hear a story or poem.  "High Muck a Muck" is that rare 1/10 where I get more out of hearing the poetry read to me.  Perhaps it has to do with the reader's accent and cadence, or perhaps it has to do with the images in the video that complement the poetry being read; I'm not sure.  I just find the written poetry in the town scenes a lot emptier and flatter than the same poetry in the videos.

Two recurring elements in this piece really stuck out to me: the calligraphy and the strange puppet.  I think they are actually meant to stand in opposition to each other to represent the conflicting identities of Chinese immigrants.  The calligraphy, watercolor ink, and paintbrush imagery is fluid, beautiful, and organic; it evokes images of ancient Chinese culture and the pride associated with such.  In one video, there is even a performance by a man suspended by his ankles pantomiming the movements of the head of a paintbrush.  Although this image is quite jarring at first, I think it shows the deep connection Chinese immigrants have to the calligraphy brush.  They are their writing utensils; their words push and pull them.  Even the most romantically-minded American writer would have a hard time admitting or convincingly expressing such a vulnerability and intimacy with their pens or word processors.  In contrast, the puppet, which has no arms (perhaps representing feelings of powerlessness?) and wears the wide conical hat associated with old Chinese stereotypes, is stiff and awkward in its movements, and it looks out of place whenever it is shown.  I'm not sure if this awkwardness is meant to express the feelings of isolation/alienation provoked by living in a land so separated from their history, or if it is supposed to show how poorly and painfully Chinese immigrants actually fit into Western stereotypes.  Either way, the strange little puppet does a great job of grabbing the viewer's attention.          

Blog 2: Tailspin

Unfortunately, I don't have much to say about this piece because I was unable to get it working on my computer (Flash and my computer just don't get along; when I try to run it, it crashes my browser over and over).  I was able to look at it briefly on a colleague's computer and get a sense of it; however, I didn't spend enough time with the work to offer an in-depth analysis.  I will offer my comments on what I did notice, and hopefully that will be better than nothing. 

This piece of electronic literature opens to a (rather disturbing) cacophony.  My colleague and I actually looked to each other with horrified faces when we heard it.  From that, and from the description provided by the anthology within which it's included, I can tell that sound is a major part of "Tailspin."  With that in mind, it's easy to see why the author gravitated toward the e-lit medium to tell her story.  Not even audio books can give the same experience of reading text while hearing certain unique sounds. The listener is taking in the story audially and not visually in the case of an audio book, and thus they are engaged in a much different way.  By engaging two of the reader's senses at once, the author creates something that is both richer and more chaotic, perhaps meant to mimic the emotional and family lives of her characters.

Sound is not the only asset of the e-lit medium author Wilks takes advantage of.  Using a field of animated spirals, the author allows her reader to navigate the text in a less linear fashion.  From what I saw, all of the spirals look identical and move the same way.  I wonder what kind of statement Wilks was trying to make with that design choice?  Having only spent a limited time with the piece, I don't think I can make an educated inference.  From the title, I can (uneducatedly) guess that she may have been trying to assert something about the deep-down uniformity of human flaw.  Not that everyone has the same flaws, but that everyone is flawed in some way that could send them into their own personal tailspin.

That's really all I have to offer for this one...  Sorry guys... >.<

Examining Kenneth Goldsmith’s "Soliloquy"

"Soliloquy" by Kenneth Goldsmith is apparently the result of the author recording and transcribing every word he spoke in the span of a week.  It is divided by day, and then further divided by numerical pages, which seem to correspond only to the length of the content, not to any other factors (for example, a certain number does not equal a certain hour).  Each page begins with one line visible; the other lines appear and disappear as the mouse cursor moves over them. 

In one sense, "Soliloquy" functions as a cautionary piece, prompting readers to consider the sounds that spill from their lips each day (and "Soliloquy" shows us some of them, a lot of them, are just sounds). A great majority of the text in "Soliloquy" is devoted to verbal fillers and incoherent sentences.  Even when it's clear that the topic of speech is something that required a lot of thought, it comes out stunted by parasitic ums and you knows.  At first, I found this annoying because it was hard for me to make sense out of what I was reading.  I wanted full thoughts and articulate insights; after all, this guy's a writer!  Then I realized that what I wanted was dialogue and not speech.  Even knowing that this was essentially a work of creative nonfiction, that it was a real person's real words from a real week, I wanted the clarity and significance of fictional dialogue.  In short, I was holding this man to an unreal (in every sense of the word) standard.  Real people, even brilliant ones, give birth to a lot of meaningless words each day.  In helping his readers realize this, Goldsmith urges them to make every word count.  He encourages readers to make their everyday speech as meaningful as they can, with the goal of living up to the unreachable significance of fiction.  I find this quite interesting because generally an artificial thing is deemed less meaningful than a real thing.  "Soliloquy" calls that into question.  If fictional dialogue, and the amount of meaning it conveys, is the unattainable divine in this case, then readers, and the hollow ramblings they engender each day, are the lowly sinners.  The artificial is above the real.  In the words and cadence of Jerry Seinfeld, "What's up with that?"

There is also literary significance in the way that words/phrases are found and accessed in "Soliloquy."  Readers can choose to run down a page one line at a time, trying to imagine the words or reactions of the other, invisible, speaker in the conversation, or they can randomly point their cursor and see what pops up.  Oddly enough, the phrases make just as little sense in order as they do out of order.  This calls to question the way that meaning is created.  Earlier this week, I read Kenneth Bruffee's "Collaborative Learning" for another class.  Although I was reluctant to accept it at first, Bruffee asserts that meaning and knowledge are created socially, through interactions with other people.  "Soliloquy" did more to drive Brufee's point home for me than "Collaborative Learning" itself.  Seeing how disorienting and meaningless only one side of a conversation is was genuinely eye-opening. 

When one takes the two points of "Soliloquy," the comparative absurdity of real speech to fictional dialogue and the meaninglessness of only one side of a conversation, together with the title, it makes another point: there is not, nor can there ever be, such thing as a soliloquy in real life.