"High Muck a Muck," a multimedia piece of electronic literature, uses watercolor visuals, written poetry, sound/music effects, and superbly-edited videos to capture the experience of Chinese immigrants to Canada. Although I can see the artistry in each aspect of the piece, I feel as if the videos carry the most power, so much so that every other part of "High Muck a Muck" actually feels extraneous to me. The same power and viewer empathy could have been achieved by the videos alone, and thus the e-lit medium was perhaps not the most appropriate for this amazing piece.
The piece begins with a watercolor ink blot on a Chinese lottery card. This ink motif continues throughout the piece, and it seems to be the thread holding it all together. When the viewer clicks on the ink blot, they are taken to a map painted in watercolor on a man's back. More ink blots are used to mark towns and regions of Canada, as well as "Everywhere and Nowhere." When clicked, most of these ink blots take the viewer to a watercolor scene of the town that includes images of Chinese immigrants, regional landmarks, and some more abstract symbols/images. Everywhere and Nowhere takes the viewer to a yin-yang symbol that opens a video. In the town scenes, there is always a man with a camcorder, who when clicked brings the viewer to a short video. The other people bring up short snippets of poetry. In my opinion, these town images are unnecessary, especially once the viewer realizes that the same poetry is included in a much more vivid way in the videos: a voice-over read by a man with a Chinese accent. That's a big deal for me to say because I don't usually like to take in literature audially; nine times out of ten, I would rather read than hear a story or poem. "High Muck a Muck" is that rare 1/10 where I get more out of hearing the poetry read to me. Perhaps it has to do with the reader's accent and cadence, or perhaps it has to do with the images in the video that complement the poetry being read; I'm not sure. I just find the written poetry in the town scenes a lot emptier and flatter than the same poetry in the videos.
Two recurring elements in this piece really stuck out to me: the calligraphy and the strange puppet. I think they are actually meant to stand in opposition to each other to represent the conflicting identities of Chinese immigrants. The calligraphy, watercolor ink, and paintbrush imagery is fluid, beautiful, and organic; it evokes images of ancient Chinese culture and the pride associated with such. In one video, there is even a performance by a man suspended by his ankles pantomiming the movements of the head of a paintbrush. Although this image is quite jarring at first, I think it shows the deep connection Chinese immigrants have to the calligraphy brush. They are their writing utensils; their words push and pull them. Even the most romantically-minded American writer would have a hard time admitting or convincingly expressing such a vulnerability and intimacy with their pens or word processors. In contrast, the puppet, which has no arms (perhaps representing feelings of powerlessness?) and wears the wide conical hat associated with old Chinese stereotypes, is stiff and awkward in its movements, and it looks out of place whenever it is shown. I'm not sure if this awkwardness is meant to express the feelings of isolation/alienation provoked by living in a land so separated from their history, or if it is supposed to show how poorly and painfully Chinese immigrants actually fit into Western stereotypes. Either way, the strange little puppet does a great job of grabbing the viewer's attention.
One word comes to mind when thinking of “High Muck a Muck,” and that is confusion. This Elit piece was not easy to get through and I found myself stopping and coming back to it several times. I do believe that the authors did this purposely because its main genre is poetry and poetry is how you interpret the idea of the author or authors and what they are trying to express. In this piece the words from different poems would appear at a different pace. That pace would indicate how fast or slow the author intended the reader to get through each part. Some lines would appear and then disappear and others would appear and remain there until I decided it was time to move on. I also believe this showed the importance of the messages the authors were trying to portray.
This interactive Elit piece had me going all over the place which was a bit confusing, but that is what also made it entertaining. Nothing in this piece was predictable as to how it would appear on the screen. The authors used many types of ways to communicate to the reader with videos, images, sounds, text, etc.
My favorite part on “the body” also known as “the map” was Vancouver. I spent most of my time focusing on that part because there was so much and I knew picking a specific part was important in understanding the piece as a whole. While reading through the poems and listening to the noises that appeared from the small ear in the bottom left corner, I realized that I am only half understanding what is going on throughout this piece. But like I mentioned before, poetry is made to understand and interpret what you can. The reader may not always see what the author is trying to discuss. I noticed that every single person had their own story to tell and there were so many different types of people. The music playing in the background of each person would indicate the emotion surrounding each individual and help to explain the story being told.
Another interesting section was at the top, center of “the map” labeled “Everywhere and No where.” This piece had no text, just one video that was not too long, but felt as if it were never going to end. This video was of an old man which started from a distance and slowly went closer and closer up until it reached his eye. Once it got to his eye, the image changed to another eye and as the camera moved further from that image I noticed an infant. To me this was a symbol of life. The idea of someone from the end of their life moving onto the beginning of it. I am not sure why it went from old to young as opposed to young to old like the way we grow in life. It kind of gave me that idea Benjamin Button.
Another important thing discussed and what I believe was the main focus of this piece was the idea of racism. Each person, no matter what class they were in, felt a part of racism at some point in their life. Each person told their own story of what they have been through and as things appear and disappear, so do the emotions of the people who have gone through their own situations.
I feel like there was so much in this Elit piece and it was hard to capture the entire meaning of what was trying to be said. This was one of those pieces that did have an ending once you got through it, but it took forever to reach that ending. I went through it for about an hour and a half and didn’t even make a dent in it. I hope to learn more about this piece as we discuss it in class this Tuesday!
High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese, An Interactive Poem is a very complex project that is the result of the collaborative efforts of many authors. Wah, Harwood, Zhang, Wapp, Loh, Ihaya, Ida, Djwa, and Leurig worked together for several years to create this digital, interactive piece. In a statement from the author's on the Electronic Literature Collection's website, the author's explain that the piece is meant to act as something that "troubles the cliché of historical tales of Chinese immigration to North America's 'Gold Mountain'". To add to that, the editorial comment on the site let's readers know that the piece deals with topics such as "racism, intercultural exchange, imitation, history, economics, and Chinese immigration to Canada".
As I click the link to enter, I know that I can expect a mix of sound, poetry, video, and interactive text. A swirling Ying-Yang symbol gives way to the title screen and a picture of what looks to be a square filled with lines of Chinese characters. The picture, I learn shortly after, is a Pak Ah Pu lottery card, and if I click on certain Chinese characters, I will be met with poetry, videos, and oral histories.
I enter. Blue ink spots appear after I clicked on the first link. The ink spots on the lottery card than transfer to ink spots on what looks to be a crud geographic image on a human torso. Everything looks hand-drawn and painted. The ink spots turn out to be clickable links. Some, the larger ones, have titles such as "Canada", "Nelson", and "Richmond". The smaller ink spots are paler and do not have titles.
I begin by clicking on "Victoria", and I am brought to a page that is filled with drawn images. A large brick establishment without a roof sits in the center of the screen, and it is surrounded by drawn images of civilization: people, families, town.
First, I chose to click on the family in the top left corner. I am brought to a page where text appears and disappears fairly quickly. I had been trying to read critically, slowly, but the text disappeared too quickly for me to absorb it. I have to reenter the page in order to reread what is perhaps a brief description pertaining to tradition and history. There is a line about mah-jong and New Years celebration.
Back at the previous page, I click on the image of the man smoking next to a building. This is perhaps poetry? Then I go back and click on the image in the bottom right corner. This time the text does not appear on a separate page, rather I stay on the main page, and the text overlays the images on the screen.
The image of the lottery ticket remains at the bottom right hand corner of this page: a way to go back and access the page with the blue ink spots. I click on "Pacific Rim" next.
The main screen is a watercolor image of what appears to be water on a map. Little outlines of boats are the gateways here. I click on one boat and again receive text that appears to be poetry. Again the text is fleeting; it is frustrating, and I wish that I could hold on to the text for longer.
Back on the water screen, I click on the largest boat in the center. I am brought to my first video, which begins with the sound of musical instruments and the image of what appears to be a map. As the video goes on, the music speeds up and becomes more intense. There are so many tiny strips of paper on the screen that all say "made in China". What looks like news clippings also briefly appear. One says "cheap labor".
This is the end of my exploration for now. I enjoyed clicking on some of the links and seeing what I could find, but I am not usually one for poetry. Poetry has never been something that I can easily enjoy. So while I thought that this project was interesting, and I can appreciate the amount of work that went into it, I do not enjoy it as much as some of the other projects that we have seen. Perhaps this is a little too abstract for me? Maybe I'll do some more exploring before we next meet.
Unfortunately, I don't have much to say about this piece because I was unable to get it working on my computer (Flash and my computer just don't get along; when I try to run it, it crashes my browser over and over). I was able to look at it briefly on a colleague's computer and get a sense of it; however, I didn't spend enough time with the work to offer an in-depth analysis. I will offer my comments on what I did notice, and hopefully that will be better than nothing.
This piece of electronic literature opens to a (rather disturbing) cacophony. My colleague and I actually looked to each other with horrified faces when we heard it. From that, and from the description provided by the anthology within which it's included, I can tell that sound is a major part of "Tailspin." With that in mind, it's easy to see why the author gravitated toward the e-lit medium to tell her story. Not even audio books can give the same experience of reading text while hearing certain unique sounds. The listener is taking in the story audially and not visually in the case of an audio book, and thus they are engaged in a much different way. By engaging two of the reader's senses at once, the author creates something that is both richer and more chaotic, perhaps meant to mimic the emotional and family lives of her characters.
Sound is not the only asset of the e-lit medium author Wilks takes advantage of. Using a field of animated spirals, the author allows her reader to navigate the text in a less linear fashion. From what I saw, all of the spirals look identical and move the same way. I wonder what kind of statement Wilks was trying to make with that design choice? Having only spent a limited time with the piece, I don't think I can make an educated inference. From the title, I can (uneducatedly) guess that she may have been trying to assert something about the deep-down uniformity of human flaw. Not that everyone has the same flaws, but that everyone is flawed in some way that could send them into their own personal tailspin.
That's really all I have to offer for this one... Sorry guys... >.<
First: the title. Before I even opened the link to read Tailspin, the title was already evoking images of being out of control, dizzy, and of plummeting or falling. It turns out that these images are appropriate to the theme of tailspin. Yet the title does double duty; it is also a reference to George’s time served in the Air Cadets.
The Electronic Literature Collection, where Tailspin can be accessed, refers to the piece as one that succeeds at “metaphorically associating imperfect hearing with imperfect communication”. Told from two perspectives: George, an older man who suffers from Tinnitus and partial deafness, and his daughter, Karen, the piece uses sound and short bursts of text to create the sense of overwhelming frustration and disconnect experienced by the two.
When the reader opens Tailspin, they are met with a white, patterned background overlaid with a number of ever-spinning spirals. When the reader hovers over the spirals, they activate the text and sounds associated with that piece of the story. Throughout the story, and in addition to any additional sounds, there is the sound of a constant, slightly rapid heartbeat.
This is an effective element within the story because it creates a sense of unease that the reader shares with both Karen and George. Karen (and her two children) fear George because of his angry outburst. They cannot relate to him or understand him. At one point during the dinner, “Karen turns, catches a fleeting glimpse of hateful anger on her father’s face. He was looking at Chloe. She sees fear in her youngest child”. Karen can relate to this fear; she grew up trying to find ways to avoid her father’s anger, trying to be as quiet as possible.
There is a parallel that can be drawn from the text when Lauren, Karen’s other daughter, is told to ask Grandad when she wants something. She says that she never will; she is too apprehensive of George. Karen, when she is a child, is also told to ask her father when she wants something: “Mummy’s busy. Ask Daddy, she says, like always”. Karen is also reluctant to approach George. Both Karen and her children are fearful prompting an outburst from George.
George also suffers from a constant state of unease. His Tinnitus is made worse by the sounds of the children. He says, “Anything can set it off: loud noises, high pitched, piercing noises…alarms”. He once tried a hearing aid, but that too made his Tinnitus worse. When the reader activates this piece of text, a sharp, shrill sound accompanies it. And that is not the first time that the reader is treated to George’s experience. There are frequent overwhelming assaults of the electronic sounds of videogames, jumbled voices, and the too-loud clatter of silverware and glasses. The only time George seems to experience relief is when he imagines what it would be like to glide through the silent sky like a bird.
At one point, the background changes to the wispy blue and white of a sky and the sounds of birds fill the air as George flashes back to the day that he joined the Air Cadets.
It is assumed by both Karen and the reader that George was a pilot. Yet it turns out that he was “nothing more than an aircraft fitter”. Karen admits to making assumptions as a child.
This is not the only example to a lack of communication and understanding between father and daughter. Karen continues to try to sell her father on the idea of a hearing aid. She seems unaware that the hearing aid made George uncomfortable and worsened his Tinnitus. Karen cannot comprehend why George becomes so angry when she again brings up the subject. So at dinner, while Karen is sitting on her father’s deaf side, she acts as if he isn’t even there, as if he is a blank wall. George feels as if he might as well be invisible.
One of the last bursts of text reveals that George witnessed a young man burn to death in a plane that had crashed. An image of a plane spiraling while a man’s voice repeatedly begs, “help me, help me” accompanies the text “cowardly relief/ he failed/ thank God/ for his deaf ear”. This seems to be the reveal of how George went from having ambitions of being a pilot to becoming an aircraft fitter. He mentions how heroes usually die young, and he seems to see himself as a coward.
The piece concludes with the image of what looks to be a ladder in the center of a pulsating sound wave spiral which takes up the entire screen.
Undoubtedly, Christine Wilks captures the breeding tension of an uncomfortable family dinner between three generations of people in her piece of electronic literature, "Tailspin." What I especially liked about this piece was how it still functioned as what we would consider a "normal" narrative, in that I still got a feel for a "structured" plot, characters, setting, and meaning, in comparison to the works we read last week. Even though it was broken up and the reader could read the paragraphs in different order, you are still able to arrive to the same conclusion of the piece at the end. Additionally, I liked the fact that you could hover over the spirals and have the text, sound, and visuals, which helps to immerse the reader in that bubbling tension of the family. From the video game noises and characters, piercing sharp noises of the hearing aid, loudness of the plane, and the scraping of utensils against plates, it partly echoes the last iteration of the work, which warns the reader to cling on to the deafness of it all.
Again, I found the use of sound to be particularly effective in utilizing the potential of elit again. More specifically, I liked that Wilks used the video game Animal Crossing without ever explicitly mentioning it; however, she used the character art, as well as various sounds from the game, to add to what the grandfather was confusedly and angrily seeing and hearing. For an outsider of the video game, I can imagine it also gives off a weird, unsettling feeling too, with the noises so distinct to the game; I know if I didn't know the reference, it would come off as a nightmarish, twisted cartoon. It definitely added to the overall feeling Wilks was getting at, too.
Ultimately, I really liked this specific piece of elit, and that it drew from the interesting parallel between deafness and ignorance, or at the very least, wishing to forget. With its complex meaning, a narrative that you could follow, and effective computational elements, it helped pull the whole piece of electronic literature together to make it very compelling and satisfying.
As soon as the world of Tailspin by Christine Wilks is open, there is movement and sound. Intricate designs grow and move in the background as the shape of an ear appears. If one did not read the description of the piece before entering, the ear would seem confusing, but after reading, it becomes clear that sound is crucial to this piece because of the grandfather’s tinnitus. I tried to do some research behind spiral shapes and their meanings, but did not stumble across anything that made it clear why the author chose to have swirling spirals as the point on a screen to click on. The reason could have very well been because Wilks just needed a shape or a spot for the reader to click. As you roll over the spirals, words fade into view to reveal part of a story. What happens next will be different for every reader because one may not roll over the spirals in the same order as another. I like the fact that everything does connect. The spirals could have been blurbs of unrelated pieces of text, but it connected to a larger story.
The story mostly centered around the lives of the mother, her two boys, the dad, and the grandfather. There are moments in the story that trails back to when the grandfather was in the war. Animations and caricatures sometimes moved across the screen as the story unfolded. At times, rolling over a spiral would result in the background transforming into a sky and plane would fly around. Once all of the black spirals on a single page is rolled over, a blue spiral will appear usually toward the center of the page to click on and move the reader to the next set of pieces to the story. I felt there was some sort of clear ending even though it may seem impossible in any type of electronic literature setting. There was a point where I was able to get to a red spiral in the center, and that brought me to the credits.
Some of the spirals will have noses associated with them, in addition to the ongoing clinking of the grandchildren’s toys and the buzzing of tinnitus in the grandfather’s ear. Moments of the story even went back to when the grandfather might have been flying a plane and bullet sounds will blare out of the speakers. I can understand the feel the author might have been going for with such intense sound throughout the piece. The feel of the world reminds me of simulators that let individuals experience the kind of illness or disability another person has. I feel that the world is a great way to step into another person’s shoes and get to experience what is happening from the grandfather’s point of view. I can only imagine how annoying the constant ringing and buzzing is to him. All of the different moving parts on the screen emphasize how distracting it is to have so much going on at once.
The ability for a person to hear and the implications that the text makes allude to the fact that hearing is vital to human life. While some with hearing defects learn about the world in a different way to be able to adjust/adapt, if one is able to hear, they are automatically at an advantage and have a different view of the world than others. I felt a sort of weight once the author wrote “He can’t hear birdsong anymore” (Wilks “Tailspin”). I also felt there was a very distinct way in which the author went about sound so differently, and that was manifested when I’d roll over a piece of text and hear some of the words within it in a muffled shout. This aspect was creepy at first, but it is such a prevalent and striking detail. Overall, I didn’t know how much I would like this piece when I first started navigating it, but I feel like I found more joy in picking it apart than actually being immersed in the world and getting to go through it and navigate it.
I enjoyed the layout of Tailspin by Christine Wilks. There are many things I can say about this piece on not only the story line but the layout as well. There were several characters that were mentioned throughout the story. Such as; Daddy, Moma, Edna, Karen, Lauren and Chloe. I could not tell who the narrator of the story was. Sometimes it felt like it was a girl telling the story but then at times I felt a boy was talking. That was one part that confused me along with other things.
I liked how I had to click on the different spinny things to continue the readings. One thing I would have changed with that part is including numbers on each swirl. I had no idea if I was hovering over the right swirls in the right order because they are all over the page with no obvious sequence. This caused confusing for me when reading the story because I was never sure if I was reading it in the right order. I did like that once I hovered over every swirl, a blue one would pop up in the middle to allow me to continue with the storyline.
There was a lot of imagery going on with this story. A few things I remember while going on this electronic literature adventure are: airplanes, the old phones you have to put your finger in to dial numbers, hearing aids, burning fires, war, dud ear, birds, etc. I noticed that the mom was the nicer one of the two parents. I kind of got the feeling that with the two parents there is sort of a "good cop bad cop" action going on and the mom would be considered the good cop while the dad is the bad cop. I also got the feeling that maybe he is a veteran who suffers from depression from being in the war? I got that idea just from hearing how angry he is and how he yells at the children and how he, "never listens". But then it is mentioned that the child thought that he was always a war pilot when in reality he later found out that the dad lied and he was just an aircraft fitter. Although he was just an aircraft fitter, his children seem to believe he is a hero anyway.
With my first Elit blog assignment, I have discovered that there can be some technical difficulties. When working with regular, non electronic literature, all a writer needs is his or her pen and paper and they are good to go. When working with Elit, there are more challenges a writer will face. For example, my first assignment was to read a hyper text and then blog about it. I could not read any of the readings assigned because apparently my Adobe Flash Player is out of date. Why wouldn't it be? Why wouldn't my mom's laptop be missing the ONE thing needed to complete this assignement?! So with that incident, I have learned that Elit might not work 100% of the time. There will be obstacles I'll have to face and work around. My current obstacle is this Adobe Flash Player. Even after downloading it, I am still unable to open the readings. The way I can work around my obstacle is to use the computers at school (I'm sure adobe flash player is up to date) so that I can complete my assignments. Eliterature involves a whole different world of electronics where programs need to be downloaded and computers need to be running and keyboards need to be working. Without just one of those things, the literature can't be completed! This is something I am going to have to learn to work with.
The official class site for Dr. Mia Zamora’s Fall 2022 Electronic Literature course.