All posts by mmelitblogging

VIII. One-Star-Reviews

Yes, I can’t believe it either: this is my final blog post for this class. My time in Bergen has flown by – nostalgia, here I come! But first, let’s take on one more topic. This week’s E-Lit brings me into a forum I have managed to avoid so far: Reddit. It is a whole new world that opens up the depths of the internet – but doesn’t that make it perfect for a netprov? Okay then, sign me up, I guess… Having never navigated the site, I did not find everything as obvious at first. The thing I struggled with the most was that I did not understand at first whether this was the only place to post, or whether the actual netproving would take place on the product sites themselves. But once I had a basic understanding, I did find some very funny reviews. So, I left my own review to this great product in the role of Dolly Fletcher, a middle-aged gadget lover with 2 kids:

“I love gadgets. Everything that makes my life a little easier is very welcome in my house. So, when I stumbled upon this little helper here, naturally I had to have it! I must say that I was not sure at first what to make of this amazing product – is it for cheese? For butter? For very buttery cheese? But now I can assure you – it is everything your heart desires. With one firm grip you can slice up whatever you can fit in there (being a little engineer myself, I had a lot of fun with bananas, very soft bread in small quantities and even soap). And the description does not lie – you really can cut an entire stick of butter in less than one minute! In fact, with a little practice I managed in only 43 seconds. Try that with an ordinary butter knife! All in all, this is a nice addition for my kitchen. Thumbs up!”

I feel like the basic idea of this netprov is great – it just might lack the right forum. The fact that it is based on reddit removes the illusion and makes it a sort of inside-joke among experienced netprovers. However, I should still put a disclaimer here: I might just have missed the point! Some of the interactions under the reviews make it clear that there are some very witty people behind the posts. I will keep an eye on how this develops.

Now, a few words on my personal E-Lit project. As always, I keep running into the same problem here: in my mind, everything works out perfectly – on my screen however, everything is a mess. Over the weekend, I have tried my luck with wordpress, but I must admit that I find it rather difficult. Finally, I got so frustrated that i went back to hand-coding everything with HTML and CSS. That also means that I haven’t got much to show in class… I just hope that I will have an epiphany in the next couple of days, because I’d really love to continue on my idea the way it is now.

To end this post (and this blog), I want to say that I really enjoyed this class. There was a great vibe in the room all semester long and I really appreciate how many creative people are working on awesome things right now. I am so sad that I cannot be there for the final exhibition, but hey – who if not a class of DIKULT-experts could come up with a way to show us around digitally? 🙂

VII. Galatea

Galatea was a beautiful experience. I liked the medium, the language and the certain eeriness of the piece. Not only that: it made me think about my interaction with objects, to be more precise technological artefacts. We are constantly surrounded by machines that know us so well that they can predict which word we will type next, what brand we will like and which show we would love to see. Artificial intelligence is evolving at an alarming (or admirable?) rate.

That’s why this text can teach us a lot about how we interact with those humane machines. Galatea goes back to the very beginning of our obsession with breathing live into objects. The myth around the sculptor who loved one of his statues so much he wanted her to be alive has influenced literature, music and art so much that entering this story feels kind of familiar.

One think I always like to ask myself is: where is the connection to Elit? Because it is so artfully and beautifully written, one might be led to think that this piece could exist outside of this genre, for example as a book – however, that is only true at a first glance. This piece depends on the variety of choices, turns and endings this story includes. Also, the electronic surface adds a complexity and depth to the story that a simple “choose-your-own-adventure-story” could not provide. Again, the medium connects to the content: By interacting with Galatea, we are  talking to a machine and the machine is responding according to what we decide to say. This has an influence on her character and on the way she thinks and acts. So far, so good, but Galatea also goes one step further: through talking to her, we are also discovering truths about the literary “you”, about who we are in the story. It is an exchange, a learning process that goes both ways. This piece asks the interesting question about the relationship between us and our devices. It is the same question that the movies “her” asks and the same question we should ask ourselves when we notice that our phones know more about us than we would have expected.

VI. Queerskins

This is a piece that really got to me. On one hand, regarding the aesthetics and the design, on the other, the topic and the emotional value. Queerskins tells the story of a young gay man who has passed away. Layer by layer, we uncover his story. And that was exactly what this reading experience felt like: peeling away the facades to go deeper and deeper into the life of a fictional character – except the fictionality seemed to become less and less obvious. It reminded me of the feeling when a very good novel is finished and you go online, trying to make the story continue as long as you can. The facettes of the story are lain out beautifully in an installment of videos and text. There is really not much more to say about it, except that this is how you should tell a multimedia story – incorporating all the bits in equal weighing, making them seem like homogenic parts of one big impression.

For my own E-Lit piece, I realize now that I failed to elaborate on it in my last post. Therefore, that is what I am going to do now. I have already mentioned that I want to write about filter bubbles, but failed to say how. I would really like to experiment with storytelling while exploring this multi-dimensional topic. Since my coding skills are limited, I would actually like to focus on the content first and then consider how to make the story accessible in the best way. That is why the next week will be dedicated to finding a story I want to tell. The basic premise is: at the beginning of the piece, there will be a choice of who the reader is – either, I want to ask about gender and age and go from there, or I will create a few characters with specific features. Either way, the choice at the beginning will determine which side of the story will be presented to the reader. I realize that this topic is incredibly broad. The big challenge will be to find the balance between conveying a bigger message and telling an interesting story. However, I am very excited to get started.

V. Being Spencer Pratt

This post comes a little delayed, as I had planned to write the post on my ferry trip to Denmark. I can now say that I have learned two things: firstly, I get seasick quite easily. Secondly, looking at a screen makes seasickness worse. So, there’s that.

But now that I have some solid ground under my feet again, I want to use this week’s blog post to reflect on a piece that was presented to us last week: Being Spencer Pratt. I had never heard the term netprov before, so even when I had a look around before the presentation, it did not fully make sense to me. After the presentation, I feel I have understood it enough to talk about it – but as we already discussed in our session, you probably “had to be there”. Aside from the more obvious discussion about whether this is literature just because it takes place in written form, I want to talk about another aspect of this piece: the “literary value”. Sophia and I had a discussion last week about why we have this strange perception of a certain hierarchy in literature (of course, you could say the same about everything from film to music to paintings.) “Being Spencer Pratt” has a strong connection to reality TV, which does not really have a serious place in the field of the arts. But where does this come from? After all, the definition of what is pop culture and what is not fluctuates constantly – just look at the Beatles, Shakespeare, Bob Dylan. What is considered highly intellectual now might not have been regarded as worthy of academic analysis just some years ago. So, reality TV really navigates that field in a quite interesting way. After all, what if we stop calling it that and start addressing it as a performative real-time television experiment? Isn’t Keeping up with the Kardashians just a TV-prov?

In media studies, especially in the last years, the focus has shifted more towards an inclusive look at all parts of media, whether they have a high academic value or not, and I always find it especially interesting to have a very thorough look at something that you usually only scroll by in your twitter feed. In the case of Being Spencer Pratt, there is an additional dimension: the piece has been included in the ELit-collection. This drastic change of context suddenly shows Spencer Pratt as an artist instead of a social media phenomenon, and the entirety of his posts as a piece of literature. As Sophia pointed out, the artist himself cannot be clearly separated from his online persona – so, where does Spencer Pratt end and where does Spencer Pratt start? Is he a performance artist, a former TV-star looking for fame, or both?

And lastly, there is another interesting aspect: why do we tend to consider the intended audience? Often, we tend disregard whole genres, just because it is something that teenage girls like. Authors of YA-fiction are viewed in a wholly different category as Serious Fiction Writers, which I find quite unfortunate. Maybe pieces like Being Spencer Pratt can help to blur those dichotomies that seem so clear and enables us to reconsider (artistic and) literary value.

High Muck a Muck

Tomorrow, we are going to hear about “High Muck a Muck”. Like last week, this piece dealt with a topic that I knew little to nothing about: Chinese immigration to Canada. This is a piece that doesn’t require as much interaction as some of them have. You can click through the collection of text, images, music and videos on your own pace and spend as much time there as you want to.

In general, I liked the atmosphere of the piece. It was very multi-dimensional and wonderfully put together – it was just like visiting a multimedia-installation in a museum. However, I have to admit that I did not have the most enjoyable experience at first. I think you need the right mindset for this piece. Anyway, the loud sounds and the changing images were a bit too much for me last night. But maybe that was also due to the order in which I clicked on the links – the first video kind of overwhelmed me. It showed the picture of an old man, which kept coming closer and closer, followed by the picture of a baby. The video was accompanied by intense, traditional music. It was unexpectedly hard for me to just lean back and listen or watch, I had to physically restrain myself from skipping the video, taking my phone or exploring the rest of the page.

Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed the following pages. I especially liked the little snippets of poetry that were included in some parts. Also, once I got accustomed to the sounds, I really enjoyed the soft, traditional Chinese music that accompanied the page.

A lot of the pieces made me think of another seminar I had at home: there, we talked about “Bookishness”, a term used by Jessica Pressman, whom we also heard about in this seminar already. Here, you can find the link to the text if you’re interested. She describes here how we are more and more drawn to “textuality and the book-bound reading object”. And even though she refers to more traditional forms of literature, I have found this to be true for a lot of E-Lit-pieces, too. It is amazing how many of them incorporate images of physical books, have you flip pages or aesthetically resemble picture-books. This is also true for “High Muck a Muck”; a lot of the charm of this piece comes from its specific aesthetic. On the background of what seems to be yellowed paper, we see amazing paintings of nature, beautiful drawings and the poems we encounter seem to be in handwriting, too. Even though we just sit in front of our screens, we have the urge to touch the piece, to smell the paper, to turn pages. It is very interesting to think about the piece with the Pressman-text in mind and to question how and why we are so keen on physical paper in this age of digitalization.

III. Kuryokhin: Second Life

This time, I have decided to write about possibly the strangest of the E-Lit-pieces I have encountered so far: “Kuryokhin: Second Life”.

When I started to read the text, I had only skimmed the description and thus did not really know what I should expect. However, even the first few words already cause an eerie feeling: “In 1996 you were diagnosed with a rare disease […] Now you need to take special care of your health”. This short introduction immediately sets the tone for the whole experience: the piece addresses “you” personally and is set at an unknown time (“now”). The very simple layout does not feature any illustrations except of a picture of Kuryokhin himself at the beginning, which also makes the game hard to place. Still, it makes you want to keep going.

I played the game three times in total. Once, I completed the game (I think?), once I committed suicide and once I died from the disease. The first time was the most interesting one: here, the text starts out the same as in the other versions, but because I handled the “health” better, I survived and the text began to change to different bits and pieces. The narrative now consisted of emails, diary entries, and even a footnote leading to an article about the same game I was playing at the moment. This métalepse narrative (I could not find the right English word for this term) is the most interesting part: it makes you question the legitimacy of the whole text and you start to wonder if you are really playing a completely different game, namely some kind of experimental simulator. This part reminded me a lot of the book “House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski, where the same technique is used – different footnotes referring to fictional books or even to the book itself make you question the fictionality of the story. The fact that every research leads you to pages and videos in Russian does not really help the confusion – but I enjoyed the fact that I had to broaden my horizon for this; it makes you realize that there are more languages than English and script that you cannot even read.

Just when I almost thought that I could make some kind of sense of the game, I ended up at a Youtube video of a Russian song by Kuryokhin himself. That was maybe the peak of the confusion: a Russian band dressed in weird costumes playing pleasant music, the only comments being in Russian and translating to compliments about the beauty of the song. I could not figure out any way to continue – but is this really the end?

What is most interesting about the game to me is how the readers deal with this omnipresent confusion. I personally started researching the musician and the Russian music group he belonged to, the highlight of my google-search being a video in which he eloquently explains why Lenin was a mushroom. I still am not really sure if I understood the goal of the text, but I can say that I liked the excitement of the experience and am looking forward to hearing about different reading experiences – maybe someone “won the game”, after all!


II. Hobo Lobo of Hamelin

The second piece I have decided to write about is the “Hobo Lobo of Hamelin”. A little disclaimer first: I was not able to listen to the music when I first encountered the piece. So, this is a feedback on the visuals, the story and it’s general workings – I will try to read it with the music before class if I can.

The general aesthetic of this piece is amazing. When you first open the site, it just looks like a pretty picture-book-like illustration, but when you interact with it, it turns out to be so much more than that. The author has cleverly constructed a multi-layered piece that makes use of the new possibilities of digital art while still playing on the conventions of classic literature. It is easy to navigate and because it works from left to right, it feels like reading a picture book. Also, the effect of cut-out paper seems to be a vital part of the visuals. What struck me was the colour scheme: the contrasts were so well set and changed according to the narrative. This was not just pretty, but changed the whole experience of the story and added a new way of perceiving the narratological structure. For example, when the green changes into red, the connotation of violence and blood is obvious. And on page 5, the two colours are combined to mark the point where the Lobo’s attitude towards the mayor changes and he decides to take revenge. The colours subconciously influence the way we read the story and the way in which we generate meaning.

The most interesting question to me was: why is it so witty and funny? I think the author achieves this through two things. First, it is a clever mix between old and new. The story is so well-known that it serves as common ground for the reader and the author so that puns and references work without having to establish them first within the story.  Interestingly, it still works as a fairy tale – it’s still “once upon a time” and probably “in a land far away”, even though people have TVs, newspapers and IKEA furniture. However, like “Redridinghood”, it calls the clear black-and-white distinction between good and evil into question that traditional fairy tales rely on. This leads me to the second point: it has a very clear political message. The “progressive Fascist-Calvinist coalition” that is in power turns out to be a dictatorship that has a part of it’s population assassinated. However, this is not really surprising – after all, the mayor is literally a Dick Mayor. This piece is a wonderful and clever tale about the importance of democracy, especially in a time where right-wing populism is becoming increasingly popular.

I. RedRidinghood

RedRidinghood by Donna Leish seemed like a good choice for my first analysis of electronic literature. This is mainly due to one reason: had I encountered this piece in another context, I would probably have regarded it as anything but “literature”.

This modern retelling of the popular fairy tale leads the reader through a video-game-like adventure that offers different ways for the story to unfold. What surprised me was that it felt more like an interactive video than a text. The visuals are reminiscent of comic books and the whole story is set to a variety of upbeat songs – however, the feeling the story leaves you with is anything but “jazzy”. RedRidinghood is a story of violence, about being devoured by your own mind and about passivity and helplessness. The motifs of the well-known fairy tale are cleverly used here: the hood becomes a hoodie, the mother is a vamp-like figure with doubtful intentions and the wolf becomes a very human predator.

Now, this is by no means a new approach to the story. Even in one of the most well-known versions of the tale from the 17th century, Charles Perrault writes “[…] there are real wolves, with hairy pelts and enormous teeth; but also wolves who seem perfectly charming, sweet-natured and obliging, who pursue young girls in the street and pay them the most flattering attentions. Unfortunately, these smooth-tongued, smooth-pelted wolves are the most dangerous beasts of all.” (Carter, Angela, ed. Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Other Classic Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault. New York: Penguin Books, 2008 p. 3)

So, the interpretation of the characters is not the most suprising element of the story. What makes this piece unique, though, is how it conveys the feelings of the protagonist to the reader. In older fairy-tale versions, the characters are flat and just serve to illustrate the obvious moral of the story. In this case, however, we can easily identify with the protagonist and her unfortunate situation. Like Little Red Riding Hood, we are stuck between a variety of choices that all seem unappealing, and like her, we feel lost, trapped and hopeless. This is most obvious at the end of the story. When the protagonist sits on her rapist’s bed and has a gun to her head, we can not do anything to change her fate either and like her, we just have to await the end of her story. This aspect could be seen as a feminist comment on fairy tales and the passivity of the female characters we usually encounter there.

The part of the story that impressed me the most was the diary. I stumbled upon it by accident, clicking random parts of the picture. However, even though it is not the most obvious part of the text, I would think it is almost the most important one. Here, we encounter the deepest and darkest thoughts of the girl and can follow her on her journey – she falls in love with the man who then turns out to be her worst fear. This is depicted in several poems and drawings that go from upbeat to simply disturbing. The “I” and the “You” are not always clear, the voice of predator, victim and reader are shifting, as can be seen here.

I was amazed at how much the form of the text corresponds with the content. The story literally works on many levels, simultaneously playing in different tabs. The dreams, the diary and the main story work like an assembled collage, the motif of an abusive relationship working like a thread through the text. Using a well-known fairy tale as a base for this experimental form seems like a good choice – the reader already has expectations towards the story and is surprised even more once the tale shows its true and admittedly quite dark nature. This text was a good introduction to more image-based texts, showing how words, images and animation can work together to create a multidimensional story.