Tag Archives: Experiencing ELit

Because I Am Alive

Better to live on a beggar’s bread with those we love alive, than taste their blood in rich feasts spread and, guiltily survive.

(Pics on this one so be sure to check out the blog)

If I had the chance to start my own Elit piece all over again, I would want to make it like Porpentine’s With Those We Love Alive. To me, it is the most compelling piece of Elit I’ve read so far and I am a little bit more than a little jealous that I did not pick this piece for my own presentation (though I was rather taken with Nelson’s This is How You Will Die).

With Those We Love Alive is a hypertext work created in Twine that transports readers into this fantastical and casually violent world in which they must use their magickal abilities to serve a merciless larval queen and her bloody empire. In this nightmare-scape, there are rat and slime kids, diremaidens, silent gods, and dream thieves. It seems dreams fuel this nightmare world, actually. Or, at least, the thievery of these dreams fuels this world, death standing audience. Maybe we’re all dead….

I found this metaphor of absent/stolen dreams to be a very powerful representation of abuse and its lasting mark. In this work, you as the character you create are able to travel to different spaces in this world–the balcony, the garden, the throne room, your workplace, the city–and, once in these different spaces, you are able to interact with other spaces. It’s kind of like a web. Anyway, the city-space has the Dream Distillery where you can drink the dreams harvested every day (from the eternally sleeping), each day offering a different mixture of flavours–things like anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure), miscarriage, agoraphobia. exile, etc. After you drink of the dreams, you can talk to the workers who will tell you something about the process of harvesting dreams. And, one of the things they say is something about the dreams usually becoming too bitter for consumption after 6 years (they say something to the effect of wanting to change the pipes, I think, to remedy that problem). But, this line made me think of how many child abusers don’t want their victim anymore once they reach a certain age. The child becomes too “old” for them. To me, this idea with the dreams seems to be referencing this commonality in cases of abuse. The dreams become symbolic of youth and childhood and naivety and the siphoning of them as fuel for monsters, their breeding, and their monstrous world becomes symbolic of abuse and its lasting effects. I think this reading is further supported by what we find out about our character’s younger years.

At least, when I played this piece, I discovered that when I (my character) was younger, my (their) mother made them drink this vile potion that made me (them) dream all the dreams I (they) ever could have in one sitting so that I (they) would not be taken to have my (their) dreams harvested (as was in vogue to do at the time). In consequence, I never dreamed again. There is only darkness and emptiness. This dream thievery represents a different kind of abuse from the previous mentioned but I think its lasting effects are still evident in my (character’s) apparent apathy and depression.Their is this resignment and listlessness to my actions that seems to relate back to this emptying of my dreams against my will. I believe Sedina, at some point, says that what was done to her can be seen on the outside (meaning her scars) but what was done to me was done to the inside and so cannot be seen. All of this, I believe, is meant to reference abuse and its many varieties and levels. And, Sedina and me (my character) and the rat and slime kids, the dreamers in the distillery, and the diremaidens are all meant to show that abuse manifests in different ways. No two people cope–or don’t cope–the same way. Some of us turn to religion while others turn to whatever will make us most numb, even if that means allowing ourselves to be consumed or sucked dry.

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Focusing specifically on myself (my character), I think my listlessness and apathy were very well-conveyed through the medium. There is this kind of blase feeling that is communicated through allowing me only to keep flipping pages, going from one thing to the next without much room for processing. Everything is very shallow by allowing me only to click and flip. There is this lack of depth in my ability to navigate this piece. Even the music remains relatively unmoved throughout the reading of this piece, morphing only at certain points. Also, I’m only allowed 1 choice of response sometimes, making me a complicit entity in this abusive and ugly world; which seems to represent how abuse and its effects make choices for us sometimes. Again, Sedina says something that seems to relate to the overall experience of this phenomena–“The brain won’t let you know what happened till it’s over.” Often, the exact nature of abuse suffered doesn’t really come to light or hit until many years after the fact. More, you are so young when it occurs that you don’t even have the words to identify it let alone process it. I think this line and what the interface of this piece is trying to communicate is that idea–that the true impact of everything read won’t really come until later. Like, my (our character’s) escape that doesn’t come until after many shallow readings through what seems like an endless cycle of events. Freedom, like realization, takes time. So much time.

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Another aspect of this piece that is compelling is the, well, physical one. In this work, readers are invited to draw sigils of remembrance on themselves.

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This one really got me.

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Marks for letting go, for new beginnings, for shame, for pain, for choices made…. I think doing this is supposed to be reminiscent of how abuse and violence imprint themselves on us, oft in very physical ways. Very personal ways, as well. These marks we draw on our skin become a record not just of our journey through this piece (that is instructing us to draw them) but also a record of our own realities that inspire–individualize–them. Through these marks, this Elit piece is able to transcend its technological bounds and merge with our own realities. In many ways, this interaction, too, becomes symbolic of how abuse transcends whatever “neat little box” we try to tuck it away in and bleeds into all aspects of our lives. Meeting Sedina again for the first time in the palace, just meeting their eyes, seeing their scars, was enough to silence me and transport me back to a time in which I (my character) was powerless. Looking at the weapon I made for the queen gave me no sense of accomplishment and seemed, also, to be only symbolic of my powerlessness. And, the telescope, served only as a reminder that I am trapped on the inside, an eternal observer. All of these little things brought me back to this central idea that I am what has been done to me and not what I choose to be. And, that is how abuse operates. It bleeds into every interaction with the world. Swallows everything you feel till it is all you feel. Watches you like a dead person only you can see. Makes you feel like a dead person.

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Clicking each word makes them disappear until only damage is left and then it disappears.

It is very isolating as well which, I think, is another aspect this piece captures very well. Throughout play, you rarely interact with another (living) soul. Mostly, you are a quiet observer. A ghost moving from one haunt to the next. Messengers are sent for you when the queen needs you and the workers at the dream distillery feed you the same lines on repeat but, other than that, there are no pages that offer you (your character) meaningful or thoughtful interaction. It isn’t until Sedina shows up that dialogue is really introduced in this work.

Through interaction with Sedina, you are given more avenues of expression. There is less complicity and more individuality (perhaps showing how the system is created to silence while people are not). You can choose how you are “coping” or how you imagine what your character has gone though. As I read this piece as a narrative of abuse, I chose to say things that related to that experience. Like, when Sedina asked if it still hurt, I’d say, “Yes.” Or, if she asked if I was doing okay though, I’d lie and say, “I’m okay.” And, Sedina seemed to both commiserate with me and counsel me. She is the instigator of escape. Sedina wants to kill the queen. I write her a letter begging her not try for trying is in and of itself an act that will not be forgiven. And, my reaction seems to be a very accurate response. Tackling the monster that is abuse is very scary and seems like something that will come back to bit with vengeance. But, as this piece communicates, it is necessary to face our monsters. And, it’s alright to fail–as Sedina does. Killing the monster is not the point. Facing it is. Realizing that there are things that are more important than it is. Wanting things again is. Realizing you are alive is.

Honestly, there are far too many aspects of this piece to touch upon in one analysis. I could go on and on and probably still find new things every time. Like, I didn’t even really get to go into detail about the diremaidens but I think those characters are infinitely fascinating even though their time in the piece is brief. They surrender themselves. Humiliate themselves. Empty themselves forever into boxes. In ritual. People leave petals of memory to worship their plights. To me, they are the victims who could not live with the idea that there were no gods to give greater purpose to life and thus provide reason for their abuse and suffering. So, they made themselves into offerings. Chose to forget themselves/lose themselves to a cause. After a few pages, all memory of them disappears. Exactly as they wanted.

I didn’t really get to talk about the queen and just how symbolic of abuse she is. I mean, she communicates via implanting her thoughts directly into your brain. How much more intrusive and invasive can this monster be? How much less can she care about your bodily autonomy. And, when she wants something, the only options this piece gives you are to fulfill the queen’s desires. You are complicit and made a conscript. Which is what an abusive context does.

And, we have the gods who derive power from silence.

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Never any explanation.

Truthfully, this concept makes me think of that graffiti that was supposedly found on the wall in one of the concentration camps– “If there is a god, he will have to beg my forgiveness.” And, I think this whole concept is supposed to juxtapose the diremaidens–who are putting themselves in the service of these silent gods–the ones who presumably chose silence over interfering with their abuse. There’s an accusation of betrayal charging this statement, to me. A, “where were you?” A, “why didn’t you do anything?” Ultimately, I think this aspect of the piece is meant to convey the betrayal victims feel towards figures of authority who either committed the act of abuse or violence or who simply did nothing, whether they were aware of what was happening or not.

There is just so much to explore through this piece. Even though the interface is relatively simple, the story that is being told is infinitely inviting of deeper reading. So, I suppose this is a decidedly literary piece of Elit. Most of its meaning is derived from its text paired with sound and some colour. This simplicity, though, I think resonates because it allows readers to realize how  abuse can be so simple in process but so difficult and complicated to process. The complexity of it exists in its implications, in the marks it leaves and that are remembered.

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It is so hard to fill the emptiness.

“This was the hardest thing to internalize; that something permanent but invisible had happened.” ~ Maggie Stiefvater

(I got so absorbed in this piece that I’m not sure whether or not I’ll be writing about the other piece yet–sorry Jess if I don’t. In fact, I’m very inspired from this piece to work on my own Elit work.

As for the title suggestions for TiM, I’ll either add them to this post later, create a new one for them, or just bring my suggestions to class. It’s hard to be clever when you’re trying to be. I need more time to mull.)


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.


Finding the Right Words

To an extent, I think we are all aware of the editing of ourselves we do. Whether it be in regards to how we write or how we dress or speak or move, I think we all are aware of the compromises we make in our conduct. Oft, these compromises are made to spare feelings–our own or another’s. So, in a sense, the way we edit ourselves is actually an exercise of our power. It is how we exert a measure of control over otherwise nonsensical, uncontrollable existences. Excuse me, though, if that is getting a little too deep. I just know that, in regards to my own interactions with the world around me, I make plenty of compromises. I hold my tongue. Restrict. Constrict. Contain. Toe the line but never cross it. Scratch down words then scribble them out. Replace them with the “right” ones. The ones that understand and accuse no one. The ones that seek abnegation in place of self- actualization.

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, there are rules of conduct in this world. And, every role you assume has its own tailor-fit code. This is how it has been for a very long time–something I believe Emily Short and Liza Daly’s First Draft of the Revolution captures considerably well. In this work of ELit, the ways in which we compromise and edit ourselves are explored though an interactive, letter-constructing interface. Readers of this piece assume the role of 1 of 4 different letter-writers and are then able to “revise” or “review” or “construct” letters based upon the unique concerns presented to them according to which letter-writer’s role they are assuming. All of those option are in quotations (i.e “review”) because, while there are certainly many responses to different revisionary suggestions, all of those responses are provided by the interface. So, readers don’t get to generate their own, entirely unique responses. Though, sometimes, you do get the option to erase a line entirely from a letter which I would argue, to a certain extent, allows some level of personal contribution to the piece–through exemption, oddly enough (i.e refer to the mention of abnegation above).

Anyway, it is very interesting to see how each role you assume imposes its own concerns on your psyche as a reader.For example, when I “was” Henri, I definitely felt more conservative with what I wrote–like I was withholding information in order to preserve some of my own concerns. Whereas, when I “was” Juliette, I felt more manipulative while I was choosing my words–revealing or not particular things depending upon what would get me to my own ends. The ends justify the means and all that. So, I viewed secrecy in different ways depending upon which role I had. And, this was definitely not a conscious decision. It’s only afterward, thinking about how I chose to conduct myself, that I realize these distinctions. Which, I think is also reflective of real life–there are many roles we play whose rules are just intuit or inherent now. When I’m on the train, I immediately curl inward–shoulders hunched, bags close, legs crossed. I’m trying to take up as little room as possible. And, if I someone still brushes shoulders with me, I apologize. Especially if they’re a man. Even though I don’t always want to–because it’s not always my fault–I’ve been taught to be small and apologetic first. Men, not so much. Man-spreading is every bit the issue you’ve heard–lots of space on public transportation devoured without thought by the male sex. Because, taking up space is not ingrained as a taboo in them. It is not an ever-conscious concern the same ways in which it is for me as a young woman. My role dictates conscious concern. Though, as I said, sometimes that concern just becomes so embedded that you no longer pay it much concentrated attention. It’s just something you do. Which, is what happened for me in First Draft of the Revolution.

And, while I appreciate the attention of this piece to reality, I found myself irritated at certain points because I had to revise all of the letter sometimes instead of just parts of it. The piece would not let me send the letter if I did not edit some lines. Sometimes, there were multiple choices of revision and you could just settle for one and the piece would let you move forward but other times, if there was only one suggestion for revision, you had to take it in order to send the letter and progress. For example, one of Juliette’s letters started with, “Do you think I am so stupid?” and I really wanted to keep that as the first line for that letter but the piece would not allow me to progress without erasing that beginning entirely. To me, I did not think it was so outlandish for the material that was being addressed in the letter itself but I guess that was just my interpretation. To me, that was a perfectly acceptable reaction for a young wife finding out about her husband’s bastard child and then being spared as know the knowledge were not perfectly clear. Like, who did Henri think he was attempting to for one second pull the wool over Juliette’s eyes? Juliette knew long before Henri’s letters even began to broach the suspicion. At least, I believe she did.

Perhaps, the role Juliette had to play struck a chord too close to home for me as a young, female reader myself. That, “Do you think I am so stupid?” is a kind of sentiment about a lot of things I’d definitely like to feel more comfortable expressing and so, maybe, I imprinted that on Juliette. Maybe the role she is in does not allow for such liberties with language. Maybe I just want it to.

Overall, I found this piece to be a rather compelling exploration of how the roles we are made to assume compromise our abilities to freely express ourselves as individuals. The ending (I experienced) I found to be a bit rushed–like, I have questions about the bastard son! Is he really on his father’s side now? What became of the country friar? And, of Bernadette? Did she come to live with her son in Paris? What was her story? The Countess, too? What does she know about magic and the rebellion being stages against it and the aristocracy? Like, this could be a book! ….Well, it was a book. At least, it was presented in a traditional kind of book format with pages to turn and plot points which is unusual for more contemporary pieces of Elit–which this one is (2012).

I think this piece lends itself to a lot of speculation. And, a lot of intrigue, of course. I think the letter-writing interface really communicates this idea of “seeing behind the curtains.” Discovering how a trick is performed. Which, interestingly enough takes away some of the magic but does have its own mystique nonetheless. There is something deeply personal about writing letters. It carries this connotation of divulging, of revealing the otherwise unstated. And yet, here, we see that is seldom the case. Even in our seemingly personal spheres, we are still subject to outside influence. Prisoners to circumstance, even. I think this piece gets you to contemplate the ways in which you strip your own freedoms from yourself and why. While I don’t think this piece encourages direct confrontation with the status quo of conduct, I do think it invites readers to think about why they don’t speak their minds as oft as they no doubt want to.

“Be brave. No remembers a coward.” ~ Something I wanted to tell Juliette sooner but something I think she learned nonetheless toawrds the end of the piece.

 


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

 


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