What #elit art is to political life (?)….

This week our #elitclass conversation was truly compelling as we spoke about how art may strive to speak truth to power, and the role that art might play in engaging people’s understanding of citizenship & the state (and privacy vs. freedom).  Justin kicked off our evening with a walkthrough of the mash-up email-text generator entitled Scaremail Generator by Ben Grosser.

Justin shared with us his analysis of the web browser extension that makes email “scary” in order to disrupt NSA surveillance:

As the ELC 3 states: “Extending Google’s Gmail, the work adds to every new email’s signature an algorithmically generated narrative containing a collection of probable NSA search terms. This “story” acts as a trap for NSA programs like PRISM and XKeyscore, forcing them to look at nonsense. Each email’s story is unique in an attempt to avoid automated filtering by NSA search systems.”  Scaremail addresses the governmental surveillance machine which algorithmically searches and then collects our digital communications in a (futile?) effort to predict behaviors based on words in emails.  The Scaremail generator uses a Markov chain mash-up of words extracted from Bradbury’s canonical novel on the horror of censorship entitled Fahrenheit 451, blending this iconic literary lexia with the NSA’s predetermined keywords or “selectors” which are used to identify communications by presumed terrorists.  The result is nonsensical and “scary” email content.

There was some discussion of the wholesale embrace of the technology tools employed to ensure safety (but that in that process, there is also a dismissal of a citizen’s right to privacy).  Scaremail brings to our attention the right to use whatever words we want as one of our most basic freedoms, and the threat of our first amendment rights. As Ben Grosser states in his blog about his artwork:  “ScareMail reveals one of the primary flaws of the NSA’s surveillance efforts: words do not equal intent.”

From concerns over privacy to an allegory for fascism in late-capitalism

As many of your blogs have attested to this week, several of you seemed to “turn a corner” regarding your overall comfort-level with reading/understanding electronic literature .  I am grateful that Christina chose Hobo Lobo of Hamelin early on in our semester  long exploration of electronic literature.  Despite her humble tweet, Christina’s work (and presentation) on Hobo Lobo was excellent.  Please take a look at what she has to say about this compelling piece in her blog here:

This whimsy yet onerous web pop-up comic is more than frivolous fairy-tale, but a kind of dark satire into the perils of fascism (it also works as a searing critique of current politics, social issues, and mediascape).  The comic strip narrative in prose and verse reinvents the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.  HoboLoboChristina shared some effective imagery to indicate the innovative technical design that uses layers to produce a three dimensional parallax effect.  In a richly illustrated world a wolf character called “Hobo Lobo” agrees to eliminate the rat population which has served as the corrupt mayor’s political scapegoat (a useful distraction from his own will to power and greed).  Along the way the “fourth estate” is exposed as a major player in the resulting evil.  Meanwhile, the lobo who is a hobo, represents a kind of deeply flawed ethical ambivalence in the midst of a corrupt world.  We spoke about the political dimensions of the work and how prophetic this piece has turned out to be.  This commentary on Hobo Lobo’s nightmare-fuel-come-everyday-reality is also worth your attention:

Christina wrapped up our engaging discussion of #elit with some challenging questions as she asked us to reflect on the allegorical dimensions of the work.  Where are we today in all of this?  It is not an easy question to answer.  Are we all to identify with the wolf? Or the children headed to the cave? …Sigh.

For next week:

1. Please read the Taroko Gorge Remixes – from Electronic Literature Collection (Volume 3).  Start by taking a close look at Nick Monfort’s generative poem entitled Taroko Gorge. Then take a close peek at “Along the Briny Beach” and a few other remix versions.  See will present a walkthrough and lead our discussion on this mini-collection.

2. Please read Brainstrips by Alan Bieglow from Electronic Literature Collection (Volume 2).  Susan  will present her walkthrough and offer an analysis of this series of comic strips for the web.

3.  Please write your fourth #elitclass blog post:  you can write on one of the above two selections or both texts if you feel inspired.  And another reminder not to forget to tweet your blog post using the #elitclass hashtag and check out your classmates blogs as well.

I am including again some questions to get you started with the reflection: -What are some of the significant textual elements?  -How did you choose to navigate these texts?  -What visual, sound, interactive elements left an impression?  -What overall effect do these texts create?  -What themes and symbolic language emerge in navigating the text?  -What is literary about the text?

Finally, I am hoping you will all start using the class twitter hashtag #elitclass more often in order to respond to presentation ideas (as we grow our backchannel conversation regarding electronic literature).  I am encouraging you to join in the tweeting during our class discussion.

See you next week for more #elitclass insight!

Dr. Zamora

 

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