Bastardo and EXPOSED

I started my reading this week with David Núñez’s Bastardo. It is described as a digital fiction and electronic novel that combines fragments of a novel to create 10×149 different texts, “optimized in 4 billion stories coherent with narrative structures.” I am not very good at math, so I wasn’t thinking all too deeply about just how many possible combinations there really were…until I opened up the work and hit Google Chrome’s “translate” button to read the explanation page, where I was informed that “if every person were to read a version of Bastardo, it would take 60% of the current world population to explore the entire search space of this dynamic system of hyperliterature.” 60% of the current population of the entire world. I know enough about the world to know that there are a HUGE amount of people on this planet, so yeah, this really put the sheer size of Bastardo into context for me. I realized that I was about to start reading a story permutation that was, among our class members at the very least, among all the past and current readers of Bastardo very possibly, unique to me.

I read through the entirety of the story that was generated for me. I read about John Rowlands, who had many other names, who ended his life as Sir Henry Morton Stanley. John was born a bastard in Wales, to a mother who didn’t, it seems, love him. He was raised by an abusive grandfather, then lived in an orphanage for a time before he escaped. He wound up in America, first in New Orleans, and fought for the Confederate army, then for the Union. At some point, he went to Africa, where he became a cruel explorer. He was eventually knighted for his expeditions in Africa. He married and had a son, and died of cancer in his sleep. This is the gist of the story I got, though there were many other details, too many for me to relate.

I found the storytelling extremely fascinating. Different passages took place at different points in John’s life. It was confusing, yes, the way it jumped abruptly from one point to another, but it was still remarkably coherent for a story whose overall structure was determined by a computer. There were a few passages that repeated, and I’m not sure if that was intentional on Núñez’s part or a flaw in the code, but really, I’m impressed by the story. One thing that I’m confused about, though, is the opening. It started with a girl named Sara, doing research on what “bastard” meant, apparently also a bastard herself. I’m not sure where she is supposed to connect with the rest of the story that I read. After finishing the story, I saw in the text that followed that Sir Henry Morton Stanley was a real historical figure, and that this piece is a “search for identity” based on that man’s life. Perhaps Sara is the character searching for identity?

I really enjoyed this piece and would love to hear what stories everyone else experienced.

EXPOSED is a non-fiction piece by Sharon Daniel and Erik Loyer that serves as a database and interactive timeline chronicling the spread of COVID-19 across U.S prisons, jails, and detention centers. The “About” statement on the work website states that “EXPOSED reveals the overwhelming scope and scale of this humanitarian crisis. The monochrome, image-less, headline-styled interface, which allows viewers to step through thousands of prisoners’ statements, is designed to visualize their collective suffering, and signal that the injustices they endure are structural.” Furthermore, the statement on the website builds a connection between the term quarantine, one we’ve become so familiar with over the pandemic, and the prison system, stating “…prison yards, once reserved for those that society may have had a legitimate reason to fear, have filled to over 100% capacity with people that society finds annoying, fails to educate, and refuses to help. The disproportionately poor, Black, or Brown ‘offender’ is treated as a pathogen to be isolated and contained. Having nothing to do with justice or public safety, the quarantine of ‘undesirable others’ is the means and the end.” This, and the other information shown when the website is launched, serves as the background to the piece. A “what we can do tab” provides instructions for contacting governors in order to work towards a massive reduction in prison populations, as well as other measures that readers can take to work towards reforming the law enforcement and prison systems.

EXPOSED was painful and eye-opening. The stories it contained were horrific, and it really makes one question how America can claim to be such a great country when its incarcerated people continue to be treated like this into the 21st century, left, helpless, to die of a pandemic that the rest of the country is being urged to fight with masking and social distancing. The piece serves as a great example of how e-lit can share harsh realities and push for social and systemic changes. EXPOSED not only educates, it also gives the reader the opportunity and resources to act.

Bastardo / Exposed

Two differing pieces this week. I started off with Bastardo and, from its title, I kind of expected something with humor like “Everything is Going To Be OK”. I was wrong but, like most e-lit pieces we’ve explored, the freedom to choose your journey continues. I was instantly intrigued by the typewriter clicks that introduced to the piece. Something about the inescapable rhythm of it worked really well with the list of random names presented to us. I don’t know, but my eyes felt like they were reading lyrics to a rap. Then, things took a complete turn when I noticed it was heavily based on history?

The confusion was frustrating, truly. I thought about the purpose of mixing so many contradictory chapters about Henry Morton Stanley and why the author would do it. The only message I could come up with is the illegitimacy of history itself. I mean, we’ve all been in a history class reading about the same people. But, no one ever questions the factual element of it. How do we know these things happened and why is it important to note who did them? It reminds me of a game of telephone, where the message is mistranslated because people will say what they want to hear. No one knows if this man even existed, yet we credit his ghost with all of these historic accomplishments.

It’s clever of the author to use Henry Morton Stanley’s “legacy” because it’s already seen as a made up story. He just chose to jumble it up and expose the contrasting versions of his life that don’t add up, which lead me to that frustrating confusion.

Speaking about exposing, “Exposed” was such an eye-opener. I’m sure most of us are aware, to some extent, about the gruesome U.S. prison system. But, during COVID, we were so engrossed in our own lives and losses, it was easy to forget about those who had an extra (devious) hand playing with their lives and losses.

Listening to these real-life stories and concerns, I can feel their desperation for change and their loss of hope for it at times. Some tell of people taking their lives because of this hopelessness and some tell us about people who almost had a chance at life, but lost it because of that extra hand toying with their time. Time waits for no one and prison officials are aware of that. They make it abundantly clear. But, because they have that control and power over prisoners, they’ll dangle freedom in front of their faces and snatch it just at the right moment. “Exposed” shows us how COVID-19 & neglect of medical attention instilled absolute fear in these people who are fighting time everyday in hopes of seeing the world again.


As a public record of the pandemic’s effects on prisoners, EXPOSED exposes the all-too-familiar cruelty of a system built not on justice but rather on control and absence — on quarantine. There are more than 100 statements from inmates who have the virus or who are going through a lot of stress, anxiety, and difficulty on July 8, 2020, alone. Families complain about not having access to information, such as chatting to an inmate one day and then being called in by prison officials to identify a body the next.

It is so sad to see people die under poor management in prison, which reminds me of when the pandemic outbroke in China. A Chinese lawyer who requested anonymity told the BBC that since the outbreak of the epidemic, most prisons have implemented a 14-day working system for police officers, during which they are not allowed to go out. If a police officer has been infected outside, it will infect other colleagues who are also working in closed work and the prisoners under their management during this period.

“There may be underreporting, but it is limited to prisons and local governments.” Hubei Provincial Health Commission said, who believes that once the relevant departments obtain data from one prison, it may be necessary to review the situation in all prisons. Therefore, this timing, while it may seem political, is more a result of the data collection and reporting process.

Since late January 2020, many places in China have implemented a community isolation mechanism. Most people returning to their places of residence from other places are required to register and isolate themselves at home for 14 days, hoping to prevent the virus from spreading locally. Hubei Provincial Health Commission pointed out that the prison outbreak shows that these places have “systematic loopholes” in self-isolation procedures, personnel tracking, and virus detection.

Unfortunately even today people in China are not allowed to travel otherwise they will isolate themselves at home for 14 days…