Tag Archives: ELit

Oddly Soothed

I don’t think I express my appreciation enough for the words I read remaining still on their pages. I’m not sure if it was the intention of Sooth, by David Jhave Johnston, to evoke this heightened sense of appreciation but, it certainly accomplished that.

In Sooth, the poems presented for reading “float” in a kind of amniotic space. They appear to recede into and return from some depth in the screen. Like water, they ebb and flow. Sometimes they graze, others they assault. Point is, the words are not fixed in place. This movement creates for a different kind of compelling experience with poetry.

Because the words are constantly in motion, each line floating in and out of sight, there becomes no one way to read the poem. There is no linearity here to these narratives. Coherence is what you make of it. In order to make the lines appear on your screen initially, you have to click with your mouse. And, as you continue reading, the lines will keep coming, the “beginning” and “ending” lines just cycling back into the poem until there really isn’t even an entry or exit point anymore. Paired with the rather trippy sounds that play in the background for this poetry, this looping motion becomes almost meditative. I know I found myself focusing more on each individual line if only to try to “catch” it. In a way, I feel like I savored each line of poetry more in this piece than I have with other strictly print-based works.

The imagery that went along with this poetry was also interesting. At least, an interesting choice. I believe there was a Venus fly trap, a woman in bed, possibly some abstract sand dunes, water, a fish in a tank, and what looked like a close-up of either snow or sugar granules. There seemed to be no explicit connections to any of the imagery chosen with the poetry. I mean, I definitely formed my own connections but I don’t think there’s anything in the poetry itself that directly addressed its context as it relates to the imagery. I know I found it weird that the poem titled Weeds did not have the Venus fly trap imagery but that of the woman’s body. This piece seemed to play on and off of our perceptions and associations.

For a moment there, I also thought this piece wanted to play off of our perceptions of communication and of language because the last 2 poems began in French instead of English. I was trying to draw on my 4 years of high school French to get through them before I realized I could just change the language via a little icon on the bottom right hand corner. I made it farther than I thought I would but, anyway….

Sooth utilizes a rather simple interface to engage readers with the text floating across their screens by, literally, making that text float. By giving the poetry actual movement, readers are encouraged to follow the text with their eyes and so focus more on that text than if it what stationary. Readers become immersed, submerged, in the water-like movements of this poetry.


Gallows Humor–Now with Less Rope: Nihilism & Neo-Dadaism in Jason Nelson’s “This is How You Will Die”

“The concept of death as a familiar and anonymous event was replaced by the suppression of death.”

Dark comedy is risky business–making light of subjects such as death, murder, suffering, etc. still controversial and oft times incendiary when done on stage, let alone when done through the screen. But, Jason Nelson seems to have made it his business not to shy away from provoking his audience–both to laughter and to discomfort. In Nelson’s This is How You Will Die (2005), an early hybrid of digital poetry and–to an extent–generative fiction, readers not only explore death and the macabre as poetic thematic but also experience their own deaths as if a punchline to some kind of joke just beyond grasp. Nelson’s piece owes much of its power and whimsy–can’t forget that whimsy–decidedly to its slot-machine interface which serves to communicate, among other things, a sense of chance (i.e luckiness vs. unluckiness), a sense of the unknown, and an overall sense of play (i.e winning vs. losing). Despite entering a space filled with rather mature and morbid themes, readers feel as if they are playing a game because the presentation of those darker themes is in an unassuming context. Even when paired with the grungy, scrawled aesthetic Nelson has going for this piece (and most of his pieces), there is nothing overtly scarring about reader-interaction with the content. Which, I myself attribute heavily to this piece’s slot-machine interface, yes, but also to its, uhm, nonsense–something I consider to be influenced by a brand of Neo-Dadaism with a hearty sprinkling of nihilism thrown in for good measure.

From “beginning” to “end”, readers of This is How You Will Die are thrust into a space devoid of much understanding beyond the fact that there is a game of sorts that must be played in order for any kind of meaning whatsoever to gleaned. Upon first entering the space, readers are greeted by a discordant humming and by the slot-machine interface which is housed within a pair of picture frames–that switch back and forth throughout interaction with the piece. The slot-machine itself begins blank (white) except for three clickable choices. All of them are located towards the bottom of the slot-machine–two on the left and one on the right. There are some red, grey, and yellow scribblies that colour some of the white space and extend beyond the frames but none of them are clickable. So, that leaves the three options. Choosing the “Explain Death” on the far left causes a screen to roll down from the top of the frames. Its content is quite interesting, to say the least. If there were an overall point to this piece, it would have to be what is explained/posed here–that life’s a gamble. An ultimately meaningless gamble but a gamble nonetheless. The nihilism is very strong in this excerpt. In clear reference to this piece, it is explained that, “These are words, motions, and doorways, and your last is your death.” So, have fun. The instructions leave little to be desired but they serve their purpose. Moving the mouse over the other clickable option on the left, “Demise Credits”, reveals that a player needs to retain at least ten credits in order to continue “forecasting [their] death.”  Twenty-eight credits are always available (allowing for at least three spins since each spin costs nine credits). And, that leaves one last clickable option on the right–“Death Spin.” Clicking on that gets everything rolling. And, by everything I mean five things. According to the description of this piece provided by Nelson, there are 15 five-line poeticals a reader can come across in a variety of combinations.

It is interesting to note how many cyclical/circular references there are within this piece. There is the slot-machine itself. Then, there’s each slot on the machine. The loop of humming in the background. And, there are these “door” options that will accompany some of the poeticals. Doors numbered 1-9, when clicked, will each play a loop of a short video, a soundbite, and a text. On and on it will go until the reader clicks for another spin and resets the slot-machine. All of these cyclical elements seem to reinforce the nihilistic sentiment in that “Explain Death” blurb–that life is a meaningless gamble because all life is, well, is endless repetition. “Continue styling your hair, adjusting your clothes, lifting, placing, washing, breaking, mending.” the blurb says. None of these things separate you from the herd nor single you out as remarkably purposeful. And, so, what really is the purpose of all of these loops in this piece if not to echo that purposelessness of life itself? Even the words in the poeticals will soon be nothing but repetitive. All possible permutations will wear themselves out eventually and nothing new will be generated (which is why this piece is generative fiction only to a certain extent). All the content behind those additional doors will eventually be exhausted. This piece will wear itself out as it operates, in essence, around a loop. That is its coding–to generate loops… Until the demise credits run out, of course. Then, it’s game over.

But, the screen doesn’t fade to black or anything. Nothing flashes or scribbles out. No, that would conflict with the philosophy being forwarded here. Instead, all a reader is left with once they run out of demise credits is their “death”–a piece of work that puts MadLibs to shame. Perhaps, an additional video as well–also, pretty trippy. Very nonsensical and disjointed. To me, both the lexical and the audio-visual content read distinctively Dada-influenced/inspired. For those unfamiliar, Dada was an early twentieth-century (anti)art movement that, in many ways, acted as a response to the fragmentation of Europe during and especially after WWI. It was a way for artists, writers, and the like to understand how countries like England, France, Italy, and Germany–generally considered the pinnacles of Western culture–could have spent so many many brutal and bloody years fighting over, really, fifty-feet of mud. Dada is characterized by nonsense and absurdity because what created it was nonsense and absurdity. It eventually got shoved to the peripheral by Surrealism and then Abstract-Expressionism…  But, a kind of Neo-Dadaism has been popping up lately in contemporary spheres. There is a growing appreciation for art and for expression that is free-associative–which, I think certainly describes Nelson’s piece.

The poems one gets out of his piece here are largely nonsensical. Rarely, do the five parts of each poetical provide any coherence, any kind of traditional trajectory. While this piece is certainly literary–at least, as literary as something akin to Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake could be considered–identifying how exactly it is literary poses some unique challenges (many that mirror the ones Dada had and still has with fitting into the art world). What is considered a part of the story here? Just the fragments that fill the slots when they are spun? What about the doors and the additional material they provide? Are they a part of the main story? Sub-plots? Should the doors used to access this information be identified as chapters or, maybe, page-breaks? Because the content “behind” the doors is not clearly delineated. It overlaps the slot-machine interface –little frames house videos with embedded text while audio plays, discordant humming uninterrupted by the additional audio. And, none of the additional audio seems to connect. Some is interview-like while other is list-like. Usually, the images in the videos correlate to the audio but some of the inlaid text doesn’t necessarily connect so clearly. So, are these nine doors portals to separate vignettes? Is each poem its own vignette? Its own story? Nelson describes the interface as working from 15 five-line poems but does that mean that readers should view this work as only having 15 five-line poems and discard the new permutations? I would think not. Especially if Nelson is trying to evoke Neo-Dadaism in some way, viewing this work as being so structured defeats the purpose of it–which, as previously stated, seems to be a celebration of purposelessness and meaninglessness. It is all very paradoxical (loops within loops).

Looking for meaning in why there are nine doors also seems to veer away from the message. At first, I thought they might be related to the Seven Deadly Sins or to Dante’s nine circles of Hell but, unless I’m missing something very obvious, there seems to be no correlation to either of those things. I’d have to force the content to mean what I want it to mean. Though. I am rather fond of the idea of the doors relating to the idiom, “a cat has nine lives.” It seems to fit with the spirit of the piece (i.e the role of chance, luckiness vs. unluckiness). Also, extra demise credits will be awarded on random spins–usually at the cost of something awful like “blood disease” or “electrocution by a lover”–which seems to further invoke this idea of “the luck of the draw.” There is no rhyme or reason to why a bus didn’t hit you today or for why you didn’t develop a cancer in your life other than it being your “lucky day.” And, when you run out of demise credits so to have you run out of luck. Used up your ninth life.

Overall, This is How You Will Die operates on multiple heuristic and stylistic levels to create a new kind of literary experience. While the interactivity is quite minimal in comparison to more contemporary works of E-literature, here the simplicity of it serves its purpose to transform the reader into the author of their own demise. Which, is quite the joke, isn’t it?

Click to view slideshow.

***Be sure to tell me in your blog posts how you “died.” ;P***

**Extra:

Here‘s an interesting paper that talks about this piece (that I couldn’t really find a way to incorporate into my own analysis).


Playing Alice

So, I have an oddly specific fear–I don’t like being in locked rooms or rooms that only have one entrance and can be locked if I don’t have a key or another means of vacating them. I’m not claustrophobic or anything like that. The size of the space doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the space has an entrance that can be locked and I might not have a means of getting out of it. Escaping. At my old school, there was this locker room–really more of an over-glorified hallway–that only had one door into it. No windows. Totally not up to fire code. Anyway, I remember watching that door like a hawk. Staying as close to it as I could while changing. Being locked in that room was a constant fear of mine every time I went to get ready for gym. Somebody might slam it too hard behind them or bump it into it while getting ready–not privy to my worries. Unable to understand them. I don’t think my fear unreasonable–Not. One. Bit.–but perhaps, when I was younger, it posed problems for understanding. Kids can be cruel. Didn’t want to end up locked in there as some kind of joke, you know.

Anyway, while playing Inanimate Alice, this old fear of mine came rearing its ugly head. In this Elit piece,  you–the reader–assume the role of Alice and have to navigate your way through an abandoned and dilapidated old factory-structure. While climbing to the top of the place on a dare, the staircase “falls out” from under you and forces you to “go through” the factory in order to get out. I use quotation marks here because nothing actually, physically happens to you–the reader. On the screen, images of stairs and of the factory appear one after the other like snapshots in order to create the illusion that you are traveling or navigating through the space. The progression of images accompanied by the text on-screen is very effective in creating this illusion of movement. When the stairs “fall out” from under you, the images appear one on top of each other at angles, corners overlapping, piling up as if they are stairs falling one after the other. As if you were actually disoriented or shocked, the images seem to appear in the haphazard, chaotic kind of way. The view on your screen seems quite comparable to reality if reality appeared just in snapshots of action.

There is this brief interlude in the midst of this disaster. In it, you explore some of Alice’s past–how she came to England, what her home-life is like, what her school-life and friends are like, and what she thinks of the city. Of course, all of these different nodes are accompanied by images and text which make them your sights and your thoughts. All of this background info, I think, is meant to help readers better assume the identity of a 14-year-old girl living in a new and unfamiliar city, trying to make friends and discover who she is. Readers even get an almost meta sort of experience when another stories appears on Alice’s PDA-like device. It is showing viewers how Alice likes to create digital stories but, honestly, it is showing the readers how Inanimate Alice was made. It is reminding readers that this is a game, a piece of fiction, in a very off-hand-but-not-really kind of manner. Which, didn’t do me much good while I was going through that factory.

Because I have a legitimate fear/phobia, I think it is understandable that I rushed through escaping from the factory. Even though there were no locked doors I could see (in fact every way you went through this space, there were multiple avenues to explore), I still felt like I was in an enclosed space I couldn’t get out of. The use of pictures and images of real places definitely contributed to that feeling. It made everything feel more real. Like, I was actually lost and scared in this creepy, old building trying to find my way out. And, the sounds, too, made the space feel more like a physical place. Water drips, metal clangs, and footsteps sound as you navigate through this space. And, all the walls are graffiti-ed with monsters–so many eyes follow you. Text appears on-screen when you veer from the “correct” path, asking if you’re always going to be lost or if you’ll ever find your way out. It definitely got my heart pumping. But, remember I do have phobia. So, maybe my perceptions were a little off. It’s understandable, remember?

Constantly, I was clicking “B” and asking Brad for help through the space. I’m so glad a companion was offered. As of yet, I have not just gone through and read the piece, so I can’t speak to that, but I know that Brad turned out to be an excellent guide. I don’t know if they’re offered in the Reading Only option. Though, I do wonder who Brad is? An imaginary friend of mine/Alice’s? It wasn’t really explained to me. Though, this installment is number 4 in an apparent series, so, maybe, Brad as a character is explained in one of them. All I know of them is that they appeared as a handy–get it?–silhouette over an image that directed you through the space as necessary–or, in my case, throughout the entirety of the piece. There was no limit to how often you could call on them for help.

When I did finally get back outside, the relief I felt was palpable. Seeing the white rays of daylight brought my heart-rate back down. Honestly, I don’t think we’ve gone over a piece as interactive as this one yet. It is kind of similar to Tailspin in that you click around to navigate through the piece, but there’s more action in it. More movement created with the progression of images on-screen. It’s also kind of like High Muck-A-Muck in that there is a multi-leveled story here. But, Inanimate Alice is arguably less complex. High Muck-A-Muck had many different veins of story and so many different modes of articulating those stories. I’m not saying one is better than the other–just that one is meatier than the other. As mentioned, this is only one installment of Inanimate Alice so, maybe, all the installments together are just as meaty as something like High Muck-A-Muck. I suppose I should say, to be more accurate, that Inanimate Alice and High Muck-A-Muck differ in how their content is collected and then presented. One is altogether and the other is divvied up.

I played one piece from Volume 3 of the ELit collection–The Tower, I think–that had a similar kind of navigation to Inanimate Alice. It was first-person oriented. You used your mouse and computer keys to move through the space. And, it was all presented as if your computer screen were your eyes. Sort of like most video-games now. Still, it was definitely different from Inanimate Alice. This piece reads very similarly to a traditional story. We have a clear beginning, a middle, and an ending. When you emerge outside the factory, the piece ends–cuts to credits. It is the middle of the piece that is different and more organic. I consider this piece to be like a hybrid between a book and a video-game. We have a blending of elements–but also some delineated elements like the PDA scene which is very digitally driven versus the opening scene which just has text that identifies Alice as a character. Having the text move around an image or fit onto a shape within the image–like a stair or a door frame–was a very interesting detail and a very simple one that incorporated the two mediums together–digital and textual. It got me moving my head and being interactive, at least.

Overall, I found Inanimate Alice to be a very interactive–if fear-inducing–piece with a nice blend of traditional and new literary techniques.

 

***Now, for my idea for my own Elit piece!

As with most of my work, I would like for my project to be both personal and fantastical. Exploring my experiences through a fantastical or mythical lens has been a long-time focus of mine. That distance is helpful for me but also, I think, it helps add interest for other readers. Makes my stories something different to read.

Anyway, I’d like to create a (probably) hypertext piece that explores abuse and its lasting ramifications. The way hypertext allows for an “out-of-order” experience and the way it creates this illusion of moving back and forth through layers of consciousness I think suits my topic very well. Abuse, especially abuse suffered as a child, imprints itself differently at different junctures of life. Sometimes, living with it, can be 2 steps forward, 1 step back. Or, really, there is no forward or back. No beginning or end to its effects and its impact. You think you’re over it, moving forward, and then something happens or someone says or does something and you’re there, back in the moment. It’s almost escape. A lot of the time. And, I think this electronic medium lends itself to communicating and articulating that.

Most of my piece is probably going to consist of prose, poetry, and other mixed kinds of poetic narrative. I don’t want it to be too graphic because that’s not how I most commonly experience it. And, I don’t think it needs to be too graphic in this medium to communicate depth and dislocation and disquiet. Speaking of, I’d also like to incorporate taking sound away in this piece because I’m planning on naming it Silent Screams Weren’t Always. It’s a line that came up in one of my prose I was writing for this piece and I think it would really fit. Silence or silencing is a large part of any abuse narrative and so  think it is important to include. Especially since this medium allows for sound, I really want to play around with taking it away.

I don’t have too many characters that are going to be a part of this story. Most of them are going to be from myth or story. Philomela, Persephone, Cassandra, Ophelia, Echo, etc. I’m still working on it. Trying to add characters who either connect to abuse or silence.

So, that’s what I’m working on right now. Mainly, I’m doing writing and some story-boarding. Would love to learn more about some sites to check out in order to start trying my hand at creating?

Image courtesy of Google Images: Fire Escape

 


Piecing Together the Pieces

“We imagine things are not so fixed and integrated into waterfalls…” ~ F.W.

I’ve heard nostalgia is a liar, one that makes the past shine brighter than any polishing you remember giving it. A gleam in your rear-view mirror you can almost place. Always vanishing in your blind-spot when you try to slow down for a closer look. Nostalgia teases for its own sake, its own amusement. Or, so I’ve heard. I’ve also heard they don’t make nostalgia like they to, though. And, that makes me laugh. Mixes longing and sadness with fondness. Creates bittersweet.

Nostalgia, I find, tends to be similar to if not interchangeable with bittersweet.  While reading High Muck A Muck, I found myself thinking a lot about, as you can no doubt guess, nostalgia and the things that oft cause its blossoming. For me, it was almost hard not to. From the light washes of colour to the seemingly “light-handedness” of the text (its font) to the text itself as it appears, everything appears fading if does not outright fade from sight. Your memory of the words or the figures or the people is the only thing left. I think this idea is best symbolized by the deep, blue smudges on the body background of the “main page.”

Each richly pigmented dot is a memory–it contains a story and characters, depth beyond its borders. But, the dot is also smudged, its deep pigment uneven upon a closer look. When I look at those dots, I remember some lines from the story–“anger at the empty, emptied, voice…”, “Trust ugly words to show how heavy beauty….”,  “Don’t mention yourself when you show a family portrait…”, and “nostalgia is the future….”–images of the characters, the timber of a voice but, ultimately, my impression is imperfect. Shallow is some places. Bleeding through in others.

This piece’s connection to nostalgia is further solidified by the fact that almost the entirety of it unfolds atop/from an image of the body. Memories are stored in the body. Build up on the skin like residue. A film (of which we had many in this piece, if you’ll mind the play on words). The body is the storehouse for memories. It is the gateway to memory. Something that does not go overlooked in this piece. “The Liver, the Stomach, the core and the surface, the rock and the lake. These are the gates and you can either kick them open or walk through in silence.” it says in the British Columbia book. On the body map, the place where the liver would be located is where blue and cream collide, water and flesh blend. Streams of blue become veins and veins, streams of blue. There is an ambiguity created here. No clear separation. Is the Victoria island/mass breaking away from or joining with the rest? It becomes a metaphor for the overarching idea that courses through this piece: that Chinese-Canadians are neither Chinese nor Canadian. They don’t know where they fit. Canada is the found home but China is the home home. Or, it was.

Yearning flows throughout this piece, literally as you move from one point, one memory to the next. “Lillooet could sound like jade.” “Far means near/ the rule is similar…” “The valley is not empty/ full of ancestors…” “a China in the heart….” There is so much longing to have it both ways (if only) in this piece. Navigating it is like driving towards the origin of a heat haze–you’ll never reach it. I click and click, move from one dot to the next, but I never find closure. No comfortable answer. No comfort. Only bittersweet.

 

“it’s not the heart has wings

but just the mind that clings…” ~ F.W.

 

**Edit: I mentioned a book early–for British Columbia–and didn’t really explain it. In High Muck A Muck: Playing Chinese, there are multiple ways to navigate. Or, rather, there are multiple ways to read the same text. It can be presented via clicking on characters on a page, watching a video, or clicking on a book icon in the corner (if there is one) and reading. The content really lends itself to this multi-modal expression.

Speaking of content, I hope you’ll excuse my lack of analysis on the actual content of this piece. I chose to stick to the context of the content instead because, well, I feel like I personally don’t have the context to reply to this piece. Whenever I tried to speak to the content of this piece, I found that I didn’t have the words. They wouldn’t come. Experiencing this piece and talking about that is one thing but commenting on the experiences of the real people who created this piece just felt–just didn’t feel like my place. And, I hope you’ll excuse the oversight this time and respect my boundaries on the issue.

Image courtesy of the Electronic Literature Directory.

 


Taking a Nosedive: Exploring the Complexity of Communication in Christine Wilks’ “Tailspin”

When stories want to describe a place as “abandoned” or “eerie”, “desolate” or “lonely”, words such as “quiet” or “still” are usually used, a phrase like, “no sounds of life” thrown around. Rarely, have I thought hard on those descriptions and, more, what they implicate–that life is noisy. The click of my computer mouse, the creak of my desk chair, and, yes, the sharp clang of cutlery against my plate are all distinct communicators of actions–affirmations of those actions, even–but, so easily taken for granted. These everyday sounds are background noise.

But, what if they weren’t? What if they were loud? The volume in your own head already at 100 but it’s like someone is lead-footing the control on the remote. Those clicks and creaks and clangs now ring in your ears. Everything hurts.

In Christine Wilks’ Tailspin, this scenario is not some hypothetical what if–it is an experience. Felt and internalized. Upon entrance into this experience, the clangs and scrapes of cutlery are almost completely devoured by a persistent, high- pitch ringing sound–that doesn’t abate. A cluster of spiraling animations appear on the screen, accompanying these sounds and overlaying a diagram of the inner ear. They mimic the shape of the cochlea, the tiny organ in the ear responsible for, simply, translating sounds into messages. A quick Google search reveals that Tinnitus is commonly caused by damage to the cochlea.

Moving your cursor over these cochlear, downward spiraling animations, makes text appear on the screen. It fades slowly into focus, almost hazily. Lilian Wang (Electronic Literature Directory) describes the text as appearing, “almost reluctantly.” It’s as though the reader is dredging up these memories. And, these bits of text read as scenes from memory, each pulsating spiral revealing some nostalgic or repressed moment. Audio clips seem key in distinguishing which feeling each memory fragment is trying to provoke.

The twitters and tweets of birdsong tend to sound when a nostalgic memory appears on screen–usually when the grandfather, George, is recalling his dreams of being a fighter pilot. Though, they sound as well when Karen is remembering a time she tried to help some baby birds without disturbing her father only for that to blowup in her face. So, these sounds communicate messages specific to the characters themselves as well.

Explosive or crackling sounds, alarms screaming, tend to arise when George is remembering his time as an airplane fitter but alarm sounds also go off when more “present” memories appear, such as when George is telling his family that anything can set off his tinnitus. So, stress seems to be a connecting element. When paired with the nonstop ringing in the background, these alarming and explosive sounds certainly provoke feelings of frustration. Why can’t everything just be quiet? What will make it all stop? The sounds of everyday life that flow into this narrative become added irritants when paired with that continuous ringing, as communicated by the text and associated audio–shouts.

It’s interesting to not that George’s frustration seems primarily communicated through the use of audio and accompanying images–animations of birds and planes flying when he waxes wistful about wanting to be a pilot–while Karen’s frustration seem most intimated through text. “She has an urge to smash the plates….” One of the cochlear spirals reveals, no sound but the persistent ringing to accompany it. “but doesn’t.” In another slide, Karen wonders, “Why does he [George] never listen to her?” And, in another she admits, “It hurts.” That sound is more emphasized by audio when the scenes are in George’s perspective versus how sounds–or their lack thereof–are more often referenced in text in Karen’s POV seems to highlight the fundamental problems of communication in George and Karen’s relationship. Too much sound has made George demand silence while too much silence has made Karen resent it. More, all the sound seems to represent shame and failure to George–images of flames and planes flying every which way accompanying the barrage. “He fears the shame,” one of the spirals reveals, a pounding alarm and an image of smoke and fire assaulting the reader. But this deeper level of meaning never goes addressed, instead fading into the ringing and the screen, symbolically and metaphorically never reaching Karen or the rest of George’s family.

As a reader, you move through these slides of spirals as if sinking deeper into the psyches of the characters. Text–memories, dreams–incite sounds and images that give way to other sounds and images. This story could have been presented in a traditional, linear way–past to present–but by presenting it in spiraling, free-form, organic manner a kind of consciousness is created, assumed. The audio brings the reader into that consciousness. It’s not George’s ears that are ringing but ours. Sound immerses us in this narrative, the communication disconnect between George and Karen something we can not only read but hear, feel, and see.

At the end of Tailspin, a red spiral takes you to a slide with a tuning fork on it, black-and-white lines reverberating outward from it. The words hang onto deafness for dear life rest in between 2 reverberating lines. These words along with that continuous ringing seem to echo the lack of closure received from the story. Karen continues to speak from her father’s deaf side, tells her children to leave their grandfather alone, doesn’t reach for him and George doesn’t extend his hand either, instead remains like that boy trapped in the downed fighter jet, surrounded by so much noise, his screams unable to be answered. They exist in endless staccato. They exist in deafening silence.

“She was extending a hand I didn’t know how to take so I broke its fingers with my silence.” ~ Jonathan Saffran Foer

This whole piece made me think of this quote I had to hunt down on Google.

Image courtesy of WebMD


Closing the Distance

There is something about entering a story for the first time, ignorant yet to all it has to say but oh so ready, willing to listen, that is magic–or, at least, the closest thing to it we humans will come. Stories occupy spaces beyond any one understanding or purpose yet still offer a kind of universal escape whose impact is second, perhaps, only to that of music. But, really, are songs not stories put to music? Melodies and harmonies not stories of notes?

Stories are magical, the clearing of a storyteller’s throat or the cracking of a book’s spine practically a spell in action…. But, what about when the story is no longer tucked snug between pages of print? Kept warm by the constant lull of a speaker’s voice?  What about when the story’s space is now online? How does that affect the magic?

Sharif Ezzat’s Like Stars In A Clear Night Sky is a great example of how the magic of the story is not so much affected, meaning positively or negatively–one way or the other, but, more, transformed. Upon entering this story’s space (i.e not by flipping any pages or parking oneself down before a speaker but by clicking a link on a computer screen), a reader is greeted by a man’s voice, deep and soothing and decidedly not speaking in English which may be disorienting at first, especially when paired with the English words appearing across the screen in-time with the man’s voice. He is speaking in Arabic the English sentences appearing and disappearing across the otherwise black screen. This understanding (that the voice and words are communicating the same sentiment) takes less than a second or two, leaving just enough time for it to settle in before the realization that there is music playing hits.

It is a tinkling sort of lullaby, one that reminds vaguely. eerily of Twinkle, Twinkle Little StarPerhaps of wind chimes, swaying gently in the breeze. Either way, the tune seems to appear from the blackness same as the words, the voice, and, then, the stars, specks of white that flicker into being slowly, leisurely dotting the space behind the words on screen that are just beginning to taper off. It’s as though the words give way to the stars, the man’s voice their incantation. Some of the stars (9 exactly), glow blue. Once the opening narration (I guess you would call it?) ends, these stars become one’s guide, each one titled with a bit of text–from the narration–that appears when the cursor hovers over them. The stars are not in any specific order–their positions different each time one enters the story space–nor are there any guiding symbols like numerals or arrows pointing from one to the next. It is up to the reader to decide where to start.  Go in the order in which the story titles were mentioned in the opening narration? Follow the stars in a circle? Zigzag? Left to right? Up down? “Most interesting” title to “least”? Choice is yours.

Well, the choice is yours insomuch as you have 9 options and no definitive starting point so….

Anyway, hovering over one of the blue stars causes it to pulsate–blue-to-white-to-light blue-to-blue and back–as its title appears in white, script-like text beside it. Clicking on a blue star makes text appear in the center of the screen, sometimes long, sometimes short. In essence, each star is its own story, an elaboration upon the morsels mentioned in the opening narration. As their are no guides for reading, each story can be read as self-contained or as pertaining to a greater whole. I know I said earlier that reader can “start” wherever they would like but their is no “beginning” story, one that a reader could point to and say, “This is where the story begins. This event came first.” Subsequently, their is no “ending” to this story, this story space, beyond the one a reader creates when they finally exit, click that “X” in the upper right-hand corner. Their is no chronology in these stories. One speaks about the stars and their distance while another speaks about a sister and her inconvenient love. One tells of a boy and his dreams while another tells of an uncle and his indiscretions and the pain they caused. Should the one about the stars and the universe come first? The ones about the uncle and sister later? And, what of the boy? Where does he fit in?

While Like Star In a Clear Night Sky certainly differs from printed literature, it still has enough traditional elements to it–titled stories/chapters and lines of organized, stationary text–to make readers want to look at it from a familiar viewpoint. Who is the main character? Who are the other characters? What is the plot? What connects it all? The impulse to answer these questions is like a steady thrum at the back of the mind. There has to be something in the text that connects all of these stories. Perhaps they are about the narrator and he is the boy, the brother, the nephew, the cousin, the lover. That each story is represented by a blue star is not enough to connect it all, is it? That this story space “reads” like most traditional literature is perhaps what makes it more difficult to digest and navigate. You want it to be like a book with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. It looks so much like a book! Just online. Just different.

Perhaps if one distinct and actualized story won’t appear, maybe it best to read each star as a vignette? After all, each star offers a coherent stringing-together of text. Poses some questions, as well. Maybe they’re poems. Prose.

The desire to categorize this story space is almost overwhelming. Each star offers such a magical experience but, oh, wouldn’t it be perfect, transcendent, if they, altogether, constructed one giant, cohesive, magical moment?  It’s very difficult to accept that these stories may be interconnected–or not–by something not evident, behind the screen. It’s frustrating that they are only almost chapters.

And yet, I think it is this frustration, this feeling of standing on a precipice, that makes Like Stars In A Clear Night Sky as magical and as enchanting as any other story experience. Books put you on that precipice through a careful groundwork rooted in an organization meant to titillate and arouse. The navigation is clear–forward–one page to the next, chapter to chapter. Reveals are planned and placed in precise locations. The precipice is a point, identifiable in most cases. The rising action and the denouement. With storytellers, much is the same, with the addition of one’s tone, the cadence of their voice. Stories are spells. They enchant us over and over again, right?

Well, doesn’t Like Stars In A Clear Night Sky do that as well? As frustrating as it is to have so many almosts, isn’t there something enchanting about it, too? Something that invites you to come back again and again? To read over and over, to wish upon stars for answers, to stand on that precipice one, twice, thrice? It’s like a curse, no? An enchantment? A spell? Magic.

Sometimes the best stories are not always the happiest or easiest but the ones that transform.

“The finite limitation was himself!” ~ Shall I tell you about the boy who dreams the world? , Sharif Ezzat

photo credits to nasa.gov