Tag Archives: volume 2

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

 


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