We kicked off our #elit discussion earlier in the week with three very different #elit pieces from the first volume (-texts that certainly represent the vast diversity of the field). We also “warmed up” our critical acumen for electronic literature in general by doing a few “walkthrough” discussions of these pieces.
The first up was Donna Leishman’s RedRidinghood. This interactive narrative is a provocative re-interpretation of the well known French fairytale, and it invokes an ominous, dark, mysterious, and decidedly adult tone. With jazzy, contemporary background music, an urban setting, the highly stylized comic imagery of this piece announces itself as a clear “re-working” of a classic. It challenges the assumptions which stem from reading/knowing this age-old children’s tale. This version seems to unfold in three parts, beginning with a city highrise location. The second part of the text covers the forest/meadow interlude. Finally the third section of this narrative takes place upon arrival at “Grandma’s house”. The text is interactive throughout, the reader is choosing outcomes through a variety of link options. The reader is forced to seek for hard-to-come-by links which are for the most part hidden. There are definitely elements to discover that are not easily noticed (including a revealing and dark diary which provides insight into Redridinghood’s psyche). The necessary “active search” for links (that are veiled from reader’s immediate access) seems to suggest an emphasis on all things “hidden”. Things are not what they seem. There is more than meets the eye. There are dark realities that exist beyond the surface. This is most definitely a psychological piece, charged with frightening twists and uncanny discoveries. Was Redridinghood violated? Or was she a complicit agent in her own adulteration? The text provides complicated layers which render this question difficult to answer. This story seems to insist that there is indeed more than meets the eye at first.
I also asked all of you to read read both Like Stars in A Clear Night Sky and Soliloquy from Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 1. I thought that by reading these e-lit texts they would further deepen our initial familiarity with the potential of Electronic Literature. I also felt that by considering these texts together in a comparative light, we would be able to further hone our analytical skills regarding Electronic Literature.
I am including here my own brief analysis of these two texts (published in ELMCIP), in order to extend what we able to say by the close of class:
Subjectivity and Language in Sharif Ezzat’s “Like Stars in A Clear Night Sky” & Kenneth Goldsmith’s “Soliloquy”
By Mia Zamora, PhD
“Like Stars in A Clear Night Sky” is a flash-hypertext poem. Elegant and ethereal, the screen is a dark night sky with a constellation of stars that become the access point for further poetic lexia. Readers can explore the sky of interconnected poems at random. There is an introductory voice-over poem in Arabic (with translation on screen in English). The text is laced with ambient sounds of wind-chimes, offering the effect of a recollection of a distant place, a place of purity/simplicity, perhaps the “village” of one’s origin. The tone of the text is soothing, calming, and dreamlike. This lovely piece includes a reflective narrative voice who repeats “I am full of stories”, perhaps reminding the reader of that universal aspect of our human condition: that we are all “full of stories” – we are all a small universe within the larger universe. In this piece, subjectivity through words is achieved in the most traditional sense. There is a clear and stable “I” that is full of stories. That subject is established through his many stories which manifest in centered verse in the middle of the screen when clicking on a glimmering constellation. The reader wanders through the cosmos with the mouse, hovering on certain stars to reveal a variety of poetic verse which represent the texture of certain lives. “Like Stars in A Clear Night Sky” reminds us that our subjectivity is only apprehendable through narration, through words, through stories past on through time. In a subtle and wistful way, this text traverses an essential tension that is a part of the human experience. It prompts us to think about the ways in which we are inherently connected in both time and space, as well as the sting of our profound singularity.
Subjectivity is grappled with in different but equally poignant ways in the Kenneth Goldmith’s “Soliloquy”. Goldsmith is reflective of his “bound” subjectivity through expendable words. In exploring this idea, he documents of every word he utters during the week of April 15-21, 1996, from the moment he woke up that Monday morning to the moment he went to sleep on Sunday night. “Soliloquy” is a clever kind of provocation, as it is a web version-of a book edition-of a gallery installation. It is a week’s worth of the artist’s spoken language captured in a veiled database. The reader opens the text by clicking on the prologue quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein: “Don’t, for heaven’s sake be afraid of talking nonsense! But you must pay attention to your nonsense.” By clicking on the quote you gain access to his web catalogue of a week’s worth of spoken words, all in chronological order, but what is striking upon entering the text is the encounter of the blank screen of white. In order to reveal his lost words, you must mouse over the screen and a sentence of the carefully transcribed lexia appears (and disappears) as soon as the mouse moves on. The provocation is in the transient disposal of our words, as well as the utter banality of so much of what we say. Words are lost to the world as quickly as they are uttered, and what is left is like an empty canvas with a haunting afterlife. Words are rendered in “Soliloquy” like fleeting ghosts or traces that can be glimpsed but not captured. The title of the piece lends further comment, with it’s dramatic allusion to the inner life as a kind of performance.
Both of these significant Electronic Literature texts offer us a glimpse of the way that words shape our sense of selves and our place in the world. The affordances of the digital medium pay particular homage to the thematic concerns and poetics of these two works of art. While Ezzat employs traditional storytelling constructs to assert a timeless connection to narrative and memory, Goldsmith provokes us to consider the self consumed and disposal aspects of the words we use. Although the tone of these two elit texts are very different, they each elicit a deeper reflection about the dynamic world of words that shapes our human subjectivity. ______________
Congrats Fredrik on successfully kicking off your review presentations with insight. I think your choice of Quing’s Quest VII was a fun one, and it was a good way to start thinking about the relationship between games, elit, and communities of practice. This was a twine made game with a quirky nostalgic soundtrack. A parody that playfully address the subculture(s) of gaming, Quing’s Quest VII is a reversal of power fantasy in which creative non-conformists and non-“misogynerds” thrive by escaping and relaxing a bit. Through his walkthrough and direction of discussion, Frederik spurned and extended reflection on the identity politics found in games, and in the community of players that form around them.
What is up for next week?
Please read Hobo Lobo of Hamelin and Dwarf Fortress. Daniel Klaussen will start our week with a presentation on this/these text(s). I really look forward to hearing what he has to say about the work.
Please blog about one of these two texts, or the two texts Fredrik claimed interest in – Quing’s Quest VII, or also The Bubble Bath.
-And remember – keep up with the #elitclass twitter feed and tweet with our hashtag.