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.