I recently read Galloway and Thacker’s chapter on “Nodes” from The Exploit: A Theory of Networks on the systems of power and control within network structures. Borrowing terms from graph theory, “nodes” correspond to what we would call lexia, “edges” connect the nodes, and networks can be described in terms of their “order” or how many nodes they contain, or their “size” which relates to their edges. Networks can also be described in terms of their connectivity (the interconnectedness of the nodes) and their topology (how centralized or decentralized the structure is based on which nodes are linked to which).
A huge portion of the essay is spent on the idea of “protocol” in both the familiar, computer science sense, but more importantly as a broader concept that encompasses that understanding—the protocol is the set of rules and standards that governs the network. The protocol exists in a tension between functioning as an emergent governing force, and one that can be externally imposed by, say, a system administrator or by the design of the network itself.
Galloway and Thacker have an interesting idea of control—influenced by Delueze—through modulation. They argue that in node structures, control is no longer dictated from a central figure (and even the protocol control structure is not an all-encompassing power), but rather “emerge through the complex relationships between autonomous, interconnected agents.(29)”
Within the hypertext literary community, there has been much debate over the idea of “authorship” within interactive work, the argument being that when you give the reader agency to maneuver within the story, she becomes a co-author of the work. This argument has met resistance from authors who insist that in building the framework of the piece, they are in fact, allowing the reader only the impression of agency, and thus maintain full authorial control. Viewing hypertext literature as a series of nodes , and the author’s embedded link structure as the piece’s protocol, it becomes easy to see how “control is not simply manipulation, but rather modulation” (33). The author may not be forcing the reader into a specific choice (manipulation), but she is directing the reader through a series of diegetic choices and constraints (modulation).
Amazon released its new line of Kindle Fires recently, and a mob of pitchfork-wielding villagers are furious that the least costly model features ads on the unlock and home screens.
This move had been rumored for a while, so it really wasn’t a shock to me. In fact, if done properly, this could have been a really great thing: a way to reduce the price of tablets to make them more affordable for younger customers, students, or lower-income families (or school boards). This is a particularly important move if tablets are, in fact, the way the textbook market will eventually shift.
In practice, I’m not sure that was how things actually worked out. Apparently the convenience of not having ads on your device is only worth $15—not enough to make much difference for low-income families, but maybe enough for a significant difference if purchased in bulk by a school district or university department. At this point, the textbook market has a long way to go in improving digital availability before academic distribution is a legitimate argument for the ads.
Last Friday, HTLit attended (e)Merge, part of the Zero1 biennial in San Jose. This turned out to be a fun welcome to the West Coast! The event spanned a couple of blocks and multiple venues. It wasn’t as big or well organized as Boston Cyber Arts (this is Silicon Valley, there’s no excuse for the event program’s mobile app to constantly freeze), but it was definitely fun, and from what I heard from the other attendees, it’s getting better and better with each event.
Manifest AR and Leonardo Magazine threw a nice party that was well attended. The caterers left with the wine right as things really got going at sunset, which was a shame, but these things happen. The party featured Datagrove, a lovely sculptural piece which combined trending topics on Twitter and text-to-speech technology to verbally tell users what was trending as they walked by. The interactivity was minimal, and the “quiet whispering” of “data streams from sources near and far” were distracting “Have you heard of [trending topic]?” fill-in-the-blank statements in a grating robot voice, but the beauty of the piece’s architecture and thoughtful lighting made up for it.
The Zero1 Garage featured some interesting pieces. ADA is a giant interactive floating ball that draws on its environment. If there’s a deep, profound meaning here, it escaped me, but it was a heck of a lot of fun. The Garage also featured Murmur Study, a beautiful waterfall of Twitter data on receipt paper; Moving Objects, a mesmerizing display of moving metal washers on wires; and the startling FREE TEXT: Open Source Reading Room, a large library with on-site printing to disseminate found texts on the virtues of open-source and the evils of copyright. I was lamenting for the future of author’s rights by the time I left.
On the street, Jacob Garbe’s Stillness, a great interactive program that transforms the user into a tree, stood out for its cleverness and fun factor. Garbe is a UCSC student working with interactive narrative and AR, which he demoed at last summer’s ELO event. He’s very talented, and definitely a name to watch. Other UCSC students Eve Warnock, Tina Mathews, and Colin McDonald delivered a fantastic abstract performance called Denizen that drew a very large crowd as the performers howled and (literally) whipped into the night.
My favorite piece of the night focused on the Pythagorean three body problem as a metaphor for human relation. Beautifully choreographed dancers performed a solution to the problem while wearing LED-lit suits that also projected their movement onto a screen behind them. The music and visuals were stunning, and I was even more impressed to learn that the performance space turned out to be much smaller than the 40x40 space in which they had rehearsed, meaning their fantastic turns and lifts and all the mathematically-derived trajectories of the performance had to be adjusted the day-of.
“Ok I come late to all discussions, but this is awfully horrible. I am most shocked though at the actual trailer and the comments to that trailer in youtube by incredibly damaging shitbrained chauvinist morons! this is where you think: why the hell do I touch videogames at all?”
What’s missing here, and in the Brendan Keogh condemnation to which Tosca links, is a sympathetic effort to understand what the trailer is trying to say, an effort to explain why it does what it does. Demonstrating the existence of “rape culture” is simply strutting one’s superior virtue.
Instead, we might ask what’s going on in this strange demonstration of a scene from a forthcoming game. Robert Polito’s essay on Pauline Kael, “Finger In The Fuse” (in the current issue of Harpers) is a nice reminder of what criticism can accomplish. Let’s take a shot.
We open with a gray sky, wind-blown dust, and a seedy motel. The motel is a class marker and a genre hint. James Bond never stayed in a dump like this. We’re downmarket, and we’re going to hell.
A thick, brutal, isolated hero dresses his wounds. More class markers: this fellow has walked down plenty of mean streets. He has scars. He hurts, but he has a job to do. He is preparing in isolation for an ordeal, so we know he must be the hero. He is calm and unhurried.
A group of assailants approach. They are costumed as nuns, or rather as a sexy travesty of nuns. They are numerous and they are well armed. Their slimness and elegant dress are class markers, too.
The nuns tear off their habits, revealing latex and leotards. They line up and prepare to fire rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons at our hero’s room. They plan, literally, to shoot him in the back.
Why are they nuns? And why do they undress before trying to assassinate the hero? This is a very strange way to behave. We could assume that the game designers did this to support rape culture and endorse the Republican ticket, and if that convinces you I’ve got a great tinfoil hat for you to try. Instead, let’s assume that the designers are trying to do something that seemed like a good idea at the time — let’s generously assume they are decent men and women — and try to figure out what’s really going on.
We’re in a Western. In fact, we’re in the scene where the Cowardly Opponent tries to shoot us in the back. The conventional markers of the genre — horses and hats — have been dispensed with, but we now have our genre bearings. (Until this point, we might have been in a spy thriller.)
We all have read about the male gaze. The shots that Keogh finds especially objectionable are not in fact establishing the sexual attractions of the assassins, but rather the cinematographic authority of the game creators. The shots argue that the creators understand film grammar and promise that the game will offer interesting camera work – something we’ve wanted for a long time and that has turned out to be hard to get right. This is inside baseball, but it takes about six seconds to make the argument. (The torn fishnets are also a class marker, of course, but like the camera work they mark a class that is not precisely the one that first comes to mind.)
The aesthetic problem of the Western is our sympathy with the enemy. The superhero power fantasy demands that we can overcome numerous enemies that are inhuman, and so deserve to be overcome. In the bad old days, the enemy were bands of native Americans who were waging a race war against us. When this became preposterous, the enemy were corrupt and wealthy Easterners, or the ever-useful Nazis. In science fiction, the enemy are alien bugs. The enemy is like us, but they are not us. They look strange, and act strangely, and do strange stuff. The bugs shed their carapaces before combat.
The whole point is that the “merciless sisters” are inhuman. Their makeup renders them faceless. Their dress distances them from us. Their behavior shows that them to be ruthlessly inhuman. This is a world of violence, but the violence must adhere to rules, and the first rule is, you always face your enemy.
The Western’s second aesthetic problem is that its intended (or expected) audience is composed of young men. The Hollywood Western famously tried to address this with a Love Interest. That helped make the films acceptable to dating couples, at least when the Last Picture Show was the conventional prelude to making out, but it was never entirely satisfying. Games need not be experienced by couples; we don’t require mawkish and sentimental interludes. This frees us to cast women as the enemy. (Ian Fleming figured this out, too, for the spy thriller: Bond meets women who are Good, Evil, and Useful, and sorting them out is a full-time job.)
To the isolated hero, everyone is alien. Especially women. The combination of ridiculous, parodic clothes, absurd parodic makeup, risible parodic weaponry, and cowardly tactics lets us contemplate combat without losing sleep over the people we’re killing. This is essential for the genre, as it’s essential for the warrior. When you start thinking about the machine-gunner’s girlfriend, his aged mother, his plans to open a nice little Konditorei once they let him go home, that’s when you get your men killed.
Power fantasies are not more palatable if all the victims are male.
Down these mean streets a man must go. You don’t have Philip Marlowe to dinner. He’ll bleed on the tablecloth. You won’t like his manners; he doesn’t much like them himself. James Bond kills hundreds of minions casually and without remorse, and he makes sure that every girlfriend who betrays him dies horribly. Shane, Spenser, Mattie Ross, the guy who shot Liberty Valance: these people are necessary, perhaps, but they’re dangerous and unpleasant and most of the time you really don’t want them around.
And, incidentally, we’ve got some really complicated game mechanics. The remaining 1:40 of this 2:34 trailer is entirely about promising game complexity and depth by showing how complicated combat can be. I expect there are lots of technical cues here for people who have played lots of these games, but they’re over my head.
There’s nothing about rape, or sex, or women here, not beyond the premise that the “merciless sisters” can stand as inhuman. I’ve written elsewhere that, for preadolescents, adult women fall into the uncanny valley, the nightmare of beings not-quite-like ourselves. Those kids are also, if you recall, quite interested in greasy, grimy gopher guts, mutilated monkey meat, and french-friend parakeet.
Like our hero, little boys and girls can sometimes be nasty people you wouldn’t really want to invite to dinner if you could avoid it. You might not like that, but that’s the world we know. And we can tut-tut all we want about the nuns, just like our parents tut-tutted about Mad Magazine and those gopher guts, and look how well that turned out.
— MB, writing for myself, because our editor is somewhere in California and will likely rebut this presently.
Minecraft has turned out to be a spectacularly success and a fascinating counter-argument to the UX scolds who insist that users are always right and that meeting user expectations is always the right thing to do.
Suppose you’re playing Minecraft and you want to want some light. Without light, you know, you might be eaten by a grue or something. You can’t see what you’re doing, and what fun is that?
So you need a torch. To make a torch, you arrange a wooden stick and a piece of coal on a “crafting table.” What could be more natural? Well, anything would, since no one ever made a torch from a lump of coal. And this esoteric formula isn’t explained in the manual, because there’s no manual. You figure it out for yourself, or you guess, or you look it up in the Minecraft wiki.
It goes on like this. How do you make a bed? Easy! You arrange three blocks of wool and three wooden planks on a “crafting table”, and you’re done. Isn’t that the obvious way to construct a bed? How else would you make a bed? Want to eat some fish? Better make a fishing rod! You do this with sticks (same as for torches) and string (which you get by hitting giant spiders.) Go figure.
So, we have an opaque user interface that relies entirely on hidden, esoteric knowledge. Check. We have clever but unspectacular graphics. Check. We have no plot. Check. We violate every rule in the book. And what do we get? Lots of fun, it turns out, and reportedly lots of sales with very limited marketing.
Curiosity landed on Mars last night. The relay station in Mars orbit caught this picture of the lander’s parachute, seconds before the landing. The lander also announced its arrival on the Martian surface on Twitter.
HTLit will soon be traveling to back-to-back conferences to attend the Electronic Literature Organization’s biannual conference in Morgantown, WV, followed by a quick turn-around to the Narrative and Hypertext Workshop at Hypertext 2012 in Milwaukee.
ELO promises a packed schedule, and several parallel sessions mean we’ll have to miss some things we want to see. Still, we hope to see some interesting works at the several performances scheduled throughout the weekend, and to return with much to report.
The field of literary study is in a state of permanent civil war with regard to what constitutes its valid objects. What right have we to export this war to foreign continents? Even if important insights can be gained from the study of extraliterary phenomena with the instruments of literary theory (cautiously used), it does not follow that these phenomena are literature and should be judged with literary criteria or that the field of literature should be expanded to include them. In my view, there is nothing to be gained from this sort of theoretical imperialism, but much to lose: discussions of the “literariness” of this or that verbal medium are ever in danger of deteriorating into a battle of apologetic claims and chauvinistic counterclaims. When much energy is spent on showing that P is a perfectly deserving type of Q, the more fundamental question of what P is will often be neglected. These nonproductive (and nonacademic) campaigns in favor of marginal media or aesthetic forms of expression are pathetic signs of a larger problem, however: they illustrate only too well the partial and conservative state of the human sciences, in which nothing can be studied that is not already within a field; in which the type rather than the individual qualities of an object determines its value as an accepted member of some canon or other.
In “The Myth of English as a Global Language,” Tom Shippey traces the origin of common myths and pernicious metaphors of the evolution of the English language, many of which can be traced to nationalism, classism, and mistranslations over the centuries.
The dangerous one as regards English, I would suggest, is language as threatened female, whose “purity” is continually being “violated” or “polluted” by vulgarisms, Americanisms, anything one doesn’t happen to like. If one pursued this image, one would have to say that English, far from being a pure maiden, looks like a woman who has appeared out of some distant fen, had more partners than Moll Flanders, learned a lot in the process, and is now running a house of negotiable affection near an international airport. But metaphors can be taken too far.
The witty piece offers sound arguments on why our language has evolved as it has, and how its continuing evolution affects our social structure.
The real and serious issue must be the use of Standard English, and Standard American, to “strengthen social elitism and exclusion” in the present time, and here there are two views. To speak personally, I was once present at a lecture urging the use of “Ebonics” (African American Vernacular English) as a teaching medium in predominantly black American schools. At the end of the lecture an African American stood up and said, in Standard American, that he was a lawyer specializing in defending African Americans in the courts; and that if he did this in AAVE rather than Standard American, his acquittal rate would be much lower. So, stick to one’s principles, and see young men sent to jail? Lament the prejudice which creates such a situation, and do nothing? Or accept bidialectalism? It’s easy for linguists – writing, of course, in perfect Standard English, or else they wouldn’t get published – to take the high moral line.
In traditional publishing terms, I’m a classic mid-list literary fiction author. At this stage in my career, I’ve written a lot of books, and many of them are no longer in print. The exception to this is my most recent novel, The Mistress of Nothing; the fate of this book was transformed when it won the GG in 2009, Canada’s Governor General’s Award for Fiction. […] But even now, with several translations yet to appear, this book is fading from the market; it will doubtless have greater longevity than anything else I’ve written, because of the prize, but - unless of course the movie gets made - it will have a placid, quiet, life.
But the opposite is true of several of my digital fictions, and the powerhouse in this field is, as mentioned earlier, Inanimate Alice. IA has not published any new episodes (there are four existing, out of a projected ten) for several years now, well before The Mistress of Nothing first came out. However, the audience for this digital fiction, about a girl growing up in the near future, surrounded by technology, continues to grow and grow.
These are interesting points. Pullinger credits Inanimate Alice’s publisher and its popularity as a teaching tool for children. Whatever the reason, we can always use more thoughtful new media — and more criticism.
Luminaris, a beautifully choreographed short film by Juan Pablo Zaramella, tells a love story through stunningly beautiful stop-motion. The cinematography is incredible, and the work took almost 2 years to create due to unpredictability of weather and natural movement of shadows.
(The short is currently restricted, but Zaramella’s web site offers excerpts and other interesting work.–ed)
Alexis Madrigal for the Atlantic worries that with so many analog distractions – people, cats, swimming pools, coffee – we will never be able to sit down and read books. Naturally, the only reprieve from an endless bombardment of distraction comes from reading on a screen.
Can you concentrate on Flaubert when your cute cat is only a few feet away, or give your true devotion to Mr. Darcy when people are swimming in a pool nearby?
People who read books on paper are realizing that while they really want to be reading Dostoyevsky, the real world around them is pretty distracting with all of its opportunities for interacting with people, buying things in stores, and drinking coffee.
It's a brilliantly written article, one that leaves you wondering why nobody has written it before now.
Haptic perception is of vital importance to reading, and should be duly acknowledged. The reading process and experience of a digital text are greatly affected by the fact that we click and scroll, in contrast to tactilely richer experience when flipping through the pages of a print book. When reading digital texts, our haptic interaction with the text is experienced as taking place at an indeterminate distance from the actual text, whereas when reading print text we are physically and phenomenologically (and literally) in touch with the material substrate of the text itself.
The problem with this argument is that it makes assumptions about the virtues of haptic feedback, positing that some subconscious phenomenon occurs that shapes the reading experience when we physically touch a book. The physicality of the book does not bring us any “closer” to the materiality of the signified. We can’t rely on the assumption that the ability to touch or feel our content enriches it without an argument for why it does, and many of the current arguments can be explained by bad interfaces or other outside factors. Superficial arguments, like that haptic feedback signals to the reader where she is in a book, ignore the fact that much of this information can be easily mimicked by other technologies: completion percentage or a scrollbar with a “page x of y” display are now familiar substitutes for assessing how far one is in a story. How many of us really physically feel where we are in a story beyond the first and last few pages anyway?
Mangen isn’t just interested in ebooks; she writes of hypertext fiction:
In Narrative as Virtual Reality [Marie-Laure Ryan] concludes that ‘the hypertext format could provide the type of immersivity of the detective novel, as do some computer games, if it were based on a determinate and fully motivated plot’ […] I will argue, however, that when it comes to the (in)compatibility of digital technology with phenomenological immersion, plot is not the whole story. In my view, the incompatibility has at least as much, if not more, to do with the sensory-motor affordances of distinctly different materialities of technology than with plot.
(This explains why early stories like Esther and Ruth, which were designed for the sensory-motor affordances of the scroll, worked so poorly in the form of the codex book that they were soon forgotten. – MB)
I’m skeptical that haptic feedback is really at issue here. One can imagine a work in which tactile sensation is important (“words that yield” takes on a new meaning) but surely haptic feedback is not the only—or even most important—component. Do touch or—more broadly—mimetic sensations encourage more immersive experiences, or are other factors at play? How does agency contribute? It seems plausible that certain physical actions illicit Pavlovian conditioned emotional responses, but is there research to support such claims? Is touching an object, alone, enough to trigger such a response?
Creator Katie Shannon and executive producer Amy DePaola introduce 617 The Series, a new media project aiming to bring TV-formatted serial episodes directly to the Web. The production quality is high, and the acting is great (Nick Apostolides , who appeared in Mark Bernstein’s The Trojan Girls, steals the show as Sully).
Aside from a few standout examples of high-quality short web serials, the television and film industries have lagged behind the publishing and music industries in terms of producing content designed primarily for Web distribution. Shannon and DePaola hope to change that.
Musicians like Amanda Palmer and Jonathan Coulton have embraced self-publishing on the web as a way to connect more directly with fans. DePaola shares her hope for 617 to have the same connection with fans:
We can control the content that is addressed in the series as well as make the experience for our audience more fulfilled by providing a curtain behind the show. Right now we allow our audience to experience more than just our pilot by providing spoof videos, which allow you to learn more about our characters, as well as a podcast where Katie and I discuss the creative initiatives that we are taking. As our funding increases we hope to expand the interactive experience that our audience can have with our cast and production.
The next step for 617 is to secure funding, and the producers have created a Kickstarter project to expand the show into a multi-platform new media experience. DePaola explains the project:
The web based platform allows us to understand our audience more. That is a no-brainer these days. For us to figure out how to better engage our audience we definitely need more funding for our social media and marketing campaigns. We'd love to expand into applications and games for our audience to participate in that are inspired by or related to the characters on our show.
The Kickstarter deadline is January 16. The money will fund production of two more episodes and the marketing behind the social media aspect of the show.
At one point Bigelow asserts that no idea exists which can only be conveyed through an electronic medium, no idea that can't be conveyed through traditional media. "It's the idea that counts," he says, not the delivery.
While I think this is superficially true, there is a powerful performative aspect to electronic literature unique to the form, and which can create a different relationship to the work than other forms. This isn't to say that this connection can express a certain idea that others can’t, that it can express it in a different way than other forms. The role of the reader's relationship to an avatar, for example, might make the player directly responsible for a catastrophe. This doesn't always happen, but the fact that it can makes electronic literature very different. It's the difference between reading "To know my deed, 'twere best not know myself" and feeling the regret of knowing that you, the reader, killed Duncan out of ambition and a lust for power that you actually felt first-hand.
Bigelow also argues that the story is more powerful than the level of interactivity, and I think he's right. You won't actually feel sorry for killing the king if he hasn't been properly developed as someone you should feel sorry for killing. Likewise, a flashy interactive piece loses its impact if the story isn't good enough for the interaction to mean something. The problem with things like vooks is that there needs to be a good reason for the piece to have video, sound, or "interactivity," and it needs to be part of the original concept of the work, not an awkwardly interjected afterthought. The story and impact have to gain something from a piece being interactive, otherwise interactivity is just a gimmick. And gimmicks are not art.
Because the ultimate goal is to present electronic literature in a way that makes it understandable to non-practitioners and scholars new to it, we have chosen to organize the work, first, by medium—desktop, mobile, and readings and performances—and, second, by approach and style, like locative, multimodal, and literary games, instead of genres, such as hypertext fiction or flash poetry, etc., usually associated with electronic literature.
This statement makes an interesting supposition about genre in eLit, namely that it is a relatively unchanging—a bold assumption in such a young field, but one that is made frequently. If our genres aren’t based on approach and style, what are they based on?
Perhaps it may useful to look to other artistic forms. Genre is a shorthand for the reader to understand how to approach a work. If we separate art into content and delivery—terms which do not exactly correspond with the narratologists’ fabula and sujet, but are more concerned with subject and form respectively—we see that different media take different approaches to classifying genre. Music focuses almost entirely on delivery and formal issues, especially within popular music. The lyrics to a song make no difference to which genre the song belongs, hence why artists of different genres cover the same song, altering the delivery to fit the constraints of their own genre.
Film and books are a bit more complicated. If an alien appears in your story, no matter how it’s framed, it’s a good bet your story will be shelved in sci-fi; thus, we have a case for genre being content-controlled. However, genres also have established formal conventions: we expect more extreme long shots in epic battle films than in romantic comedies. We expect that biographies will have a certain discursive structure and tone. Moreover, delivery and formal treatment might push a film from a drama to a comedy through a complex combination of fabula and sujet. Genres blur together, and edge-cases are easy to find.
What about video games? The gaming industry has established genres based on interaction method. An action-adventure game and a first-person-shooter might have the same story, items, enemies, protagonist, and tone. The genre is completely defined by delivery, though certain genres tend to keep to similar content.
Most eLit researchers (including the exhibit curators) have defined eLit genres in terms of the genres proposed by Katherine Hayles in Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary
. Hayles outlines several genres of eLit: hypertext fiction, network fiction, locative narratives, installation pieces, codework, generative art, and Flash poem. Again, we see a focus on interaction method (delivery) over content, regardless of fabula or sujet.
Genres are indeed a useful shorthand for discussion, however we shouldn’t feel constrained by them. Platform-specific demarcation, while useful and well-conceived in the context of the exhibit, is not plausible for serious academic discourse. Some forms, such as interactive fiction, have clear conventions and expectations. More nebulous corners of eLit, like the catch-all “digital poetry,” might benefit from the definition of clearer poetics and critical practices before we corral ourselves into genres.
Christine Wilks’s Out of Touch is an exploration into the detachment and superficiality of virtual interaction through video poetry reminiscent of the Expressionists. The piece opens with a black screen, ambient typing noise, and inviting phrases that the reader will recognize from various social networking platforms. As text appears and disappears, the nebulous background coalesces into two ghostly images, faces reduced to abstractions.
The audio, video and starkness of the piece serve the mood very well, imparting feelings of loneliness and uncanny horror. Brian Kim Stefans’s assessment that there are “echoes of The Scream” in this piece is certainly founded. The ghastly monochrome visuals evoke feelings of detachment, curiosity, and repulsion that are all a part of the online experience.
The lines of text often complement the other media well, but the places where they don’t are too numerous to ignore. I’m reading this with acute awareness of the postmodern, and the aesthetics that generative works have contributed to digital poetry, but I grow tired of the poets—presumably caught up in the quest to combine words in new ways—forcing the reader to decipher or impose meaning onto nonsensical phrases.
Some lines are clear and resonant: “Do I mean anything to you?” But these are often overshadowed by cryptic lines like “You’re too touchy typey” or “Dream me texts” that are grammatically on par with generative poetry. The words themselves are not sufficiently emotionally charged, not effective forms of rhetorical devices, and not presented in such a musical rhythm as to excuse the lack of clarity. There are many arguments for why these lines might work—fractured language symbolic of fractured relationships, a reflection of online communication, it’s fashionable in digital poetry—but the piece does not gain anything from such grammatically fractured lines that couldn’t have also been achieved through clearer language.
Still, the visuals are powerful, and the work as a whole successfully explores loneliness and the fetish (and artifice) of human connectedness inherent in social media, a theme to which many of us can relate.
When I first read Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile, I thought it was a clever idea. Though I thought the form would have been easier to follow on a computer screen, I recognized that much of the charm came from the fact that it wasn’t. Still, when I found out that Andrew Plotkin was working on an iOS implementation, I was excited to see how the adaptation compared to the codex version.
Interacting with the narrative on the iPad feels very natural. All of the story’s panels are contained in a single sprawling map. The current panel illuminates while the rest of the map darkens around it. Tapping on the panel moves you to the next panel or decision. At any time, the reader can select to browse the entire map, and can select any panel to begin the story from there.
The background doesn’t darken very much, so distraction and temptation from other panels is constant. At first I took objection. Surely, the digital platform allowed the author to force the reader to follow the panels as they were intended. But the distraction of possibilities of alternate pages and panels is also present in the original; at any time, a reader can flip to a new page and start the story from there. In that respect, the fact that the reader is free to explore the entire map is a deliberate release of control that could have been more rigidly enforced by the author or implementor—a good decision in keeping with the spirit of the original codex. Where the book controled how visible the consequences of choices were by hiding them on another page, the iPad interface analogously hides consequences with zooming when necessary. My only complaint is that I think the legibility might benefit from the map being more closely-zoomed by default. This problem is easily fixed with pinch zoom, but moving to the next panel automatically resumes the default zoom level.
Zooming issues aside, Meanwhile uses Scott McCloud’s idea of the infinite canvas to good effect. McCloud points out that the space-as-time metaphor can be better used digital comics because authors can make temporally distant events also physically distant without the fear of wasting paper. The narrative of alternate timelines benefits from the events being laid out on the same screen to give the whole work a feel of simultaneity.
Mark Wernham packs the fragments of a novel in progress into Machine #69, a "‘fractured digital experience’ that "half-tells the story of a time-travelling salesman who is trying to save the world in the 1960s.” The voice acting is superb, and the script is cleanly written though it sometimes verges on beat parody.
It was early. The diner was serving breakfast. The diner served breakfast all day, and most of the night. Jefferson pushed the glass swing door open and sat down on the banquette nearest the solitary waitress. He made sure he caught her eye.
The navigational scheme – a collection of icons linked to story fragments, arranged in what seems to me to be an arbitrary pattern – is not entirely convincing. It provides access and agency, but there’s not much sense of structure or intentionality. New media skeptics always fear that their leg is being pulled, and the arbitrary interface might reinforce their anxiety.
Machine #69 recalls Ryman’s 253, and especially Bob Arellano’s Sunshine ’69 both in its embrace of arbitrary connection and its fond nostalgia for the era when cheap booze, good drugs, fast cars and hot guns seemed to offer everything worth wanting and when nothing was worth wanting very much.
Last night’s Purple Blurb event featured Russian video poet Natalia Fedorova, who gave a short lecture on the historical influences and motivations of Russian digital poetry before showing several video pieces. Her work has strong roots in futurist poetry, as well as other modern traditions of collage and montage. Music was heavily featured in most of the pieces, as was the remixing and repurposing of video clips.
The evening capped off with a promising Q&A session that fell just short of interesting debate. One question observed that avant-garde cinema had clearly been an important influence on “video poetry” and asked what, if anything, distinguished the two. Rather than the given answer (which spoke to the institutionalization of the form in shaping the nomenclature), the question evokes a deeper argument on why these digital works are considered “poetry,” with interesting implications on how we make such distinctions in ever-converging media. Most of the works featured had a particular emphasis on text or spoken language. There was also a clear focus on speech pattern and rhythm in relation to music, though in most cases the two were intentionally asynchronous. Such work forces us to rethink media as a spectrum rather than discrete forms.
Another questioner observed that much of the repurposed video shown in the work had come from diverse cinematic traditions. What significance does this suggest for video poetry as a whole? I think this also returns to the convergence of media. While it’s important to recognize the historical significance of such traditions, we must also keep in mind that in combining media, all the aspects that make up a work come from different traditions. This does not mean we can’t still talk about the work as a combined whole.
Touch Sensitive is a digital comic by Chris Ware, published as an in-app purchase for iOS by McSweeney’s. The comic explores the nature of touch, and how the act of touching changes in meaning and importance in our relationships.
A name like “Touch Sensitive” on a platform that requires tactile interaction piqued my interest, and I probably would have liked it more if it hadn’t been described to me as an “interactive comic.” Only a few of the panels respond to user input, and never in a way that affects either the narrative or the reader’s understanding or emotional experience.
That said, digital comics are now able to utilize time and space metaphors in new and interesting ways. Touch Sensitive had some nice transitions between panels, reminiscent of panning shots in film. However, because the reader is expecting the space-as-time metaphor that paces comic strips, the animations between panels served as interesting transitions between both space and time. One could easily see how panning and zooming animations might also signal changes in perspective or allow for sight gags and other shifts in the reader’s consciousness.
Writing in Salon, Paul La Farge argues that the future of the novel lies in hypertext – and that we’ve been doing it all wrong. He thinks that the early hypertext writers (with the exceptions of Shelley Jackson and Geoff Ryman) “just weren’t good enough writers to carry off such a difficult form.”
But I believe that the promise of hypertext fiction is worth pursuing, even now, or maybe especially now. On the one hand, e-books are beginning to offer writers technical possibilities that, being human, we’re going to be unable to resist. On the other, the form fits with life now..... Just as the novel taught us how to be individuals, 300 years ago, by giving us a space in which to be alone, but not too alone — a space in which to be alone with a book — so hypertext fiction may let us try on new, non-linear identities, without dissolving us entirely into the web.
La Farge’s own hypertext is Luminous Airplanes. It begins with a menu – help | about | begin – that recalls the opening of afternoon and its famous question, “Do you want to hear about it?” The response to “help” has a familiar ring:
My god, you think you need help? You’re not the one sitting in his room in New Haven, Connecticut, right now, wondering what the hell happened to your life.
Looks like an interesting, if sparsely-linked, hypertext,
My quest for coffee this morning brought me to my local library cafe, where I noticed that the teen section was covered in caution tape. The library was not a crime scene, but recognized certain controversial titles for National Banned Books Week.
The American Library Association (ALA) sponsors Banned Books Week each September, an observance that started in 1982. Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular.
This observance stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read.
Ford Maddox Brown, Work (detail), Manchester Art Gallery
Lorie Emerson tweets, “Hypertext is the new realism,” a reflection that deserves some thought. Hypertext has long been associated with postmodernism, and occasionally with modernism, but realism has never really crossed my mind. It’s an interesting claim, one that probably needs clarification in a field of mixed ontologies and contended vocabularies.
First, what do we mean by “hypertext?” HTLit (and our sponsor Eastgate Systems) takes a broad view of “hypertext,” encompassing any kind of linked structures or interactive work. Links don’t have to be underlined blue bits of text; they are evident through a reaction within the work that is triggered not just by clicking, but by any interaction that the author specifies should cause something to happen. However, the idea of “hypertext fiction” put forth by Kate Hayles in Electronic Literature is probably more widely used within the field. She breaks electronic literature into “genres,” distinguishing “hypertext fiction” for its lack of sound, image, and video as the “first generation” or “classical” works, (echoing Coover’s Golden Age) thereby limiting the scope of what “hypertext literature” actually includes.
By “realism” I assume we’re talking about the 19th century artistic movement that focused on capturing an objective truth. But how is hypertext (either as a subset of eLit or as an encompassing entity) realism or something like it?
If we limit the scope of hypertext to Hayles’ definition, many of these pieces were direct in their representation of the structure of the work. Readers could see the entirety of a work’s structure more clearly than is possible in interactive fiction, for example. However, this is not true for all of them, especially once we started viewing hypertext work on the Web. Likewise, if we’re interested in visual aesthetics of hypertext pages and their stripped-down appearance, surely IF is a closer fit, especially works like Dan Dan Shiovitz’s Bad Machine, though arguably their awareness of this fact puts them more in line with moderism or postmoderism.
In visual art, the practice of realism was influenced by the camera, a revolutionary technology affording new artistic possibilities and in turn influencing aesthetic sensibilities. Camera’s could produce images that seemed to captured the objective truth. Perhaps like the camera, hypertext has not only acted as a new technology that allows for innovative forms of electronic literature, but it has also changed our sense of what makes a work of eLit good. Surely, though, every artistic movement has faced similar changes in critical practice, and technology has always shaped art.
If we limit the scope of “realism” to literature, the search for the objective truth manifested a focus on gritty realistic depictions of life and hardship. Hypertext is perhaps analogous, as it reflects intricacies of connectivity that have become more and more foregrounded in 21st century life. If moderism’s stream of consciousness is a romantic impression of the mind at work, perhaps hypertext’s fragmented and sporadic paths and its dead ends are the reality of the contemporary experience, a gritty representation to overtake that romantic ideal.
We might have come to a new objective truth here, except that many of these works actually deemphasize the idea of an objective reality. Instead, they highlight the fact that truth, meaning, and interpretation of experience are created by context; the reader imposes them onto the artistic vessel. Although hypertext may seek to capture a “realistic” view of connectivity and intertwingledness, its heart still lies with postmodernist relativism.
“A number of contributors cannot resist the temptation to take Clement Greenberg’s old essay “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” for another spin. I find this absurd. What on earth does a piece of writing that was meant to explain the miracle of Picasso, Braque, and Mondrian have to tell us about the work of a man who, though undoubtedly full of himself and his achievement, is mostly out to make a buck?”
Perl doesn’t think much of Kinkade’s paintings, filled with nostalgia for an imaginary past in which everyone lived in a Main Street USA where it was always a nice Spring Sunday and everybody would soon be heading to church with armfuls of flowers from their family gardens. Neither, it seems, do the contributors to this academic volume, who seem to fly to theory as a defense against the banality of their subject.
Perl’s real target, however, is not Kinkade but the enterprise of academic media critique.
This sort of self-aggrandizing pseudo intellectual discourse puts me in mind of Edmund Wilson’s unforgettable attack on pedantry in the English departments, “The Fruits of the MLA,” in which he bemoaned—way back in 1968—“the indiscriminate greed for this literary garbage on the part of the universities.” The only thing that really distinguishes the new greed for garbage from the old is that garbage has itself become so chic. In the Kinkade anthology one finds garbage embraced with both guilelessness and aggressive high-camp cheers.
I have been reading McLuhan off and on since, at age sixteen, I bought a copy of The Gutenberg Galaxy. His centenary — McLuhan was born in Edmonton, Alberta on July 21, 1911 — provides an occasion for me to clarify my own oscillating responses to his work and his reputation. I have come to certain conclusions. First, that McLuhan never made arguments, only assertions. Second, that those assertions are usually wrong, and when they are not wrong they are highly debatable. Third, that McLuhan had an uncanny instinct for reading and quoting scholarly books that would become field-defining classics. Fourth, that McLuhan’s determination to bring the vast resources of humanistic scholarship to bear upon the analysis of new media is an astonishingly fruitful one, and an example to be followed. And finally, that once one has absorbed that example there is no need to read anything that McLuhan ever wrote.
Jacobs is the author of the intriguing The Pleasures of Reading in An Age of Distraction
, which sets off from a critical but not entirely unsympathetic reading of Mortimer Adler, whose fascination with Great Books and popular treatise on How To Read A Book
are the very incarnation of middlebrow. Neoconservative Adler and Neoliberal McLuhan are interesting bookends to the study of new media, though on bad days one might think that New Media pundits have too readily mixed McLuhan’s polemics with Adler’s reactionary conservatism.
The Electronic Literature Organization celebrated its move to MIT Monday night with its Open Mic/Open Mouse event. Several prominent digital authors turned up to read their work, as well as some very promising student authors. John Cayley demonstrated a version of his speaking clock. Fox Harrell presented his Loss, Undersea project as well as bits from his Living Liberia Fabric project.
Eastgate author Robert Kendall presented his poem Faith, published in the Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1, which features an interesting application of stretchtext using color, animation, and sound. He also premiered a followup work that looks promising but which is only partially completed.
Aimee Harrison presented a a digital poem with audio and video accompaniment. Though I’ve complained in the past about video illustration, this was not the awkward videos of the vook, and the verse itself was good. Starting with hypochondria and dealing with issues of sanity and perceived health, the images of medical tests that look for neurological disorders were creepy and disquieting.
Samantha Gorman—who will be reading at a Purple Blurb event later this fall—read from an interesting poem that explores the idea of the machine as a coauthor. With a methodology reminiscent of John Cayley’s presentation at the Future of Digital Studies conference last year, Gorman translated an original poem from English to Spanish using Google translator, then translated the piece back to English. The resulting poem, though changed in wording and (in many ways) also in meaning, still held a certain metric beauty and metaphorical meaning. It’s an exercise that probably wouldn’t work with prose, but because a reader approaches poetry with the expectation of metaphorical and lyrical language, the result was convincing.
The open mic platform is an interesting idea for digital literature, and it worked well. I wonder if the format would work as well with more game-focused works like Every Day the Same Dream that focus on agency, discovery, and frustration. ’m generally a fan of showcasing IF through readings even though it offers a completely different experience from actually playing the work. Overall, the event went well and I look forward to another season of Purple Blurb events.
Björk has hit another important milestone in digital music distribution. Rather than releasing her new album as a typical digital download, she is introducing her Biophilia project as both an album and a “mother app” that will house interactive song apps. The Guardian reports:
One song, “Virus,” features an app that appears to ask the user to stop an attack by a virus on a biological cell. However, if the user succeeds, the song stops playing. The user learns that they must allow the virus to accomplish its purpose in order to complete the song. App creator Scott Snibbe describes it as “a kind of a love story between a virus and a cell. And of course the virus loves the cell so much that it destroys it.”
Hobo Lobo of Hamelin is a beautifully animated side-scrolling narrative by Web designer Stevan Živadinović. The illustrations are something between comic panels and a continuous mural scroll. Each scroll, made up of several panel section nodes, constitutes a “page.” So far, there are only three pages, but this is a promising work to follow and an intriguing technique for immersive, standards-friendly Web imagery.
Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians
, responds to Pottermore, J.K. Rowling’s announced interactive Web site aimed at expanding the Potterverse. His analysis touches on the difficulties of incorporating reading and other media.
When publishers mix reading with other media, the way Pottermore does (or the way that The 39 Clues, another Scholastic creation, does), I find it confusing. Every time I see more of the Potterverse realized in other media, as video or audio or even still images, it undoes the work I did by reading about it. It takes away from the marvelous, handmade Potterverse I've got going on in my head and replaces it with something prefabricated. It was prefabricated by a super-talented artist, but still.
The issue here is probably less that a new interactive experience mixes reading with other media, but the way in which it goes about it. The Harry Potter books were not written with these other interactive forms in mind, and attaching other media after the fact, rather than integrating them into the reader’s experience as a fundamental part of the telling the story, can be gimmicky.
On the other hand, it could be an interesting experience to see the Potterverse realized through new media. We have a familiar story that has the potential to take advantage of other storytelling venues, a situation that will be familiar to readers of Queneau or other Oulipeans. This might offer interesting study for the narratologists, as we see the remixing of sjuzhet and the effects of retroactively adding agency to a linear narrative.
Vinay Chilukuri presented an interesting paper at Hypertext a few weeks ago. Starting from the cognitive theory that a certain level of achrony in narrative keeps the reader more engaged, Chilukuri details an algorithm that can arrange story events in an order that makes them comprehensible, while still being complex enough to keep the reader engaged.
The paper sparked an interesting debate. Our ability to understand narrative devices is a learned skill. We don’t tell asynchronous stories to our kids. Children have to learn the conventions of storytelling, and though they do this at a very young age, the way we process narrative is shaped by our environment. This becomes particularly important when we start discussing the correct way to read hypertext literature. Ten years ago, we needed to teach students how to read literature with links, though today that is less true.
Studies like Chilukuri’s are interesting because we don’t know the background of the subjects, though we assume they are probably people who use the internet on a regular basis. But how fair is a comprehension study that is based on a learned skill if we’re not controlling the skill level of participants? Perhaps it’s more fair than it would have been 10 years ago if we believe the people who say that the Web has made us better at processing information in small bits and connecting them. Or perhaps it’s less fair because it goes against Web habits—like pausing while reading to search for missing information, a reference, a definition, etc—that have by now become well-ingrained. Or maybe it’s a third option, and we don’t understand our Web habits as well as we think we do.
The strong narrative presence within the hypertext community of computer scientists has always impressed me. The computer scientists seem to embrace the artists more than one would expect. Using Russian formalist narrative theories to build computers that can tell stories isn’t an obvious research approach if you’re a computer scientist, and it’s this kind of interdisciplinary work that the Hypertext Conference fosters.
HTLit spent the last couple of weeks in a whirlwind of travel and conferences, but we have finally returned with much to report. There’s a lot of great work going on out there, and the conferences led to many new ideas and fruitful discussions.
Traveling directly from Hypertext 2011 in Eindhoven to Web Science ’11 in Koblenz, though demanding, provided a solid couple of weeks of stimulating ideas. There are several good writeups of the conferences: Clare Hooper gives an interesting impression of the overlaps between the two conferences, David de Roure gives a good introduction to Web Science as a discipline, and Jean-Rémy Duboc offers great observations as well.
The main thing we realized at both conferences is that there’s a lot of interest in computers and narrative (whatever we’re calling it). Several groups need to be talking to each other but are only peripherally aware of the others’ existence. People want to make things happen but aren’t sure where to start. Over two weeks I heard murmurs of no fewer than 4 ideas for future meet-ups, unconferences, workshops, etc. that would focus more on discourse and collective creation than presentation. People want more discussion.
Blogs and Twitter will never replace a conversation over a coffee or glass of wine, but we, as a community could be doing more to foster discussion in online environments. I’m not talking about building another directory or repository for work. Even just linking to each other, discussing each other’s ideas, and using the familiar hashtags to have better conversations would be a start.
The Aporetic makes an interesting argument for the “decentering of the self” in film. A viewer can see multiple points of view at once; each shot is a different perspective. The viewer can be omnipresent in ways that don’t exist in real life, and there are “multiple nows” that exist within the narrative space. The Aporetic argues that this idea of the decentered self has crept into reality with the ever-present stream of data across media—a very real stream of multiple nows that exists between real life, our projected self as we craft it in social media, the stream of information we are constantly seeking on our mobile devices, and the conversation we might be having with our sister via text message.
The idea is an interesting one, and he makes a point that he still demands that students “pay attention” and focus subjectivity in a single now—a method of engagement and learning that has become contrary to the ways they are learning things on their own. This is not, as he points out, a decline in a virtuous attention span, as the argument is normally presented. Rather, it is a shift in the way we are processing information. Perhaps it is better to recognize and embrace it.
With the buzz of tweets from the Electronic Poetry Festival (#epf11), the #elit hashtag has seen more attention today than it has in several weeks. Much of today’s discussion has focused on the representation of women within the field of eLit, with some prominent women arguing that women are not recognized sufficiently within the field.
What I think is the problem here is a limitation of shared language. Saying “eLit underrepresents women” is not necessarily true, if your definition of eLit is narrative-based digital works. If, however, you expand your definition to include other fields that the narrativist is not considering, it might be. Women are certainly underrepresented in computer sciences in general, but let’s not be too quick to make a claim without proper qualification.
On the other side of the debate, being able to list several names and even to say that the top writer or researcher in the field is female doesn’t necessarily make the field gender-balanced. There can still be an underrepresentation of women even if the women you have are extraordinary.
The danger with a claim like this is that, without proper qualification, a generalization makes its way into the collective consciousness of a group. Perception is reality; what someone perceives to be true is necessarily the truth to that person (or group). This becomes dangerous, as women who are aware of a stereotype might feel immense pressure that only results from that consciousness. From personal experience, I found myself afraid to ask questions and participate in male-heavy programming classes lest I reinforce a stereotype that women don’t understand programming. We don’t want to instill the same anxieties in our young female eLit writers.
However, if there are inequalities, ignoring them will not make them go away. In this case, we must properly identify if and where the problem exists. The most productive way to do this seems to be to identify a benchmark and assess how we as a field are measuring up to it. We need to figure out what we’re trying to achieve before we can discuss whether we have or have not achieved it.
Jim Emerson gives an interesting and insightful analysis of how young children instinctively “know” when a movie is ending before the last shot. There are several non-obvious aspects of scene framing and social conventions that situate us within a narrative arc, and Emerson gives a good introduction to how these work. The comments also contain interesting examples of famous closing shots with good discussion of why they did or did not work.
Freely licensed manuscript images of the Venetus A Manuscript of Homer have just been released on the iPad, thanks to an initiative of the Homer Multitext Project. The HMT originally scanned the images so that fewer people would have to physically handle the work. Now, thanks to the iPad’s touchscreen interaction, more people may be virtually touching it than ever before.
The Homer Multitext Project is a hypertext endeavor that seeks to combine scanned manuscripts, translations, and other historical scholia to build a historical framework that demonstrates how Homeric texts have changed over time.
ADM for Fimoculous discusses anonymous blogging and asks whether blogging is dead. Citing the increased popularity of “TL;DR” (too long; didn’t read), he concludes that blogging is on its way out, in favor of Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook—that we would rather simply hit the “Like” button than pursue thoughtful discourse across blogs.
The author does bring up interesting questions on the value of skimming.
A confession before I continue: for every one of those sites I mentioned, I have often found myself getting the gist of a post, thinking "that's a good insight," and then skimming the rest of it. Does that matter?
The post also includes a list of some blogs that are alive and kicking and worth checking out.
Edward Picot offers a thoughtful analysis of Andy Campbell's Nightingale’s Playground. The review does an excellent job of explaining the format and interaction with the work, and analyzing the piece. The reviewer is clearly familiar with elit and Campbell’s previous work.
This is the kind of thoughtful reviewing of actual elit work should be encouraged, and Picot's Hyperliterature Exchange looks like a promising source of these reviews–particularly considering that their mission is to aid in the sales of these works. All of the reviews the site covers are works that are currently for sale.
We hear the argument all the time that digital works should be free. The ELC offers a collection of free work, and many writers and creators release their work for free or on a donations basis. As a consuming audience, we seem to expect digital materials to be free or cheap, and so we expect our writers to work at a wage that no other industry demands. It's nice to see a site unapologetically promoting authors' work, and telling us a bit about it, so we're not buying on blind faith.
Office productivity everywhere has come to a grinding halt this week with the sudden popularity of The Great Gatsby, a Flash adaptation of a mysterious NES game.
The game plays more or less like your typical NES platformer, except that you are Nick Carraway. You begin at Gatsby's party, where you must dodge pestering butlers and raucous partygoers to find the host. The game features several NES-style cutscenes with dialogue taken directly from the book.
The Online Education Database recently published a list of the 50 best blogs for humanities scholarship. Most of the literature blogs listed are in fact, the literature sections of online newspapers and magazines. However, these do serve as good springboards to other sources, and there are a few independent literary blogs listed.
There are also several very interesting weblogs for other disciplines including philosophy blog Think Tonk , Games With Words – a linguistics blog concerned with the connection between words and cognition, and the edgy art blog Juxtapoz .
Microsoft Research has buit a new system for creating and experiencing "Rich Interactive Narrative," built on top of their Silverlight browser plugin. The system aims to provide a richer multimedia experience, allowing for both a reading and authoring environment.
So far, most of the examples are enhanced video experiences. They seem to offer video with deep-level zooming and annotation. I didn’t find these particularly deeply engaging from a narrative perspective, but can easily envision future works with more diegetic complexity.
Brian Kim Stefans shares a handout discussing the tropes we see in literature. The talk serves as both an overview of criticism and as a survey of the horizon of our current vision. The “Holy Grails” of Electronic Literature he identifies struck me as particularly apt:
1. Writing Without the “Author”: To write a piece that can be read several different ways – none predetermined by the “author” – which will provide distinctive, compelling reading experiences each time – that is, displacement of the “author” onto the algorithm.
2. Reading Beyond the “Page”: To write text for an environment that serves a textual function at nearly all times while maintaining the illusion of a dynamic, three-dimensional, processed space that is moving as far away from the “page” as possible.
3. Writing/Reading as Gameplay: To create a programmed object that serves equally as a piece of literature and which also serves as a “game” with all the “fun” implied in such a title — that is, to incorporate the user completely into the world of algorithm and the world of the screenspace.
Stefans also includes 7 “crises,” including crisis of signification i(n which the word becomes split from it’s meaning), crisis of eschatology (in which we don’t know where we are in the story), and crisis of subjectivity (in which point of view is skewed)
Almost every serious gamer I know has at one point flirted with the idea of working for a game development company. Game Dev Story capitalizes on this desire with a loose story about starting a small company and making it larger. The player controls all aspects of game production from concept through production and sales and marketing.
Tom Armitage explains that the game "boiled down, is nothing more than a tarted-up spreadsheet," but that it suggests an interesting case of player-generated story. Though there is little direct narrative, there is (necessarily) an underlying narrative framework without which the real narrative would not be possible. The game offers suggestive bits that imply a greater story world beyond that with which the player directly interacts.
Players do create narrative through the small amounts of input:
In that little flight of creativity, the game opens up: the player starts writing their own story. The player isn't just typing names into boxes. They're saying the words aloud in your head - and that conjures images of box-art, screengrabs, scathing magazine reviews; cardboard standees packed full of buggy, terrible, detective puzzle games, waiting to be flogged.
Game Dev Story exemplifies a kind of mechanical storytelling: stories told not through text or voice-acting, but through coherent systems that cannot help but generate stories. I'm not waving my hands in my air here and making an excuse - "Oh, it has emergent narrative"; my point is that, in good mechanical storytelling, narrative cannot help but emerge. It's designed into the system.
The Boy With Nails for Eyes is an inspired digital serial comic from Shaun Gardiner. Each panel is revealed slowly, utilizing time as well as space to tell the story and control the narrative pacing in real time. The sound and art design complement each other perfectly to capture a very dark and gritty mood. The audio is not intrusive (except where it's supposed to be), and the artwork is fantastic.
My only complaint would be that the text's font requires the reader to zoom in on the text. In such a complete multimedia experience, one that does not otherwise require clicking the text, the zooming feels superficial and slows down what is otherwise a wonderfully immersive experience.
Echo Bazaar creator Failbetter Games hosted guest blogger and game designer Elizabeth Shoemaker Sampat for a series on narrative development in gaming. Sampat argues that all games are simulations, falling into different categories —for example physically-simulative in which the focus is the physics engine (like Pong) or narratively-simulative.
Sampat also discussion two distinct narrative development styles: Right to Dream is the style in which the goal is primarily world-exploration, the style of Echo Bazaar. Sampat writes, “The experience isn’t about changing anything; instead, it’s about learning what more is there, as opposed to changing the things you’ve already discovered.” The other play style is the “Story Now” concept in which the player is just thrown into the middle of a situation and the action tells the story. This style requires less world-building but more attention to the narrative action, for which Sampat provides a well-explained diagram.
The series is interesting—particularly the second post —in relating the player’s actions and game mechanics to narrative exposition. Agency must lead to narrative escalation in order for the game to succeed narratively and for the player to feel she has affected that narrative.
Animated literature may be so alien to readers' habits of a steady flow of pages, and the reader’s ability to control their reading pace, that the immediate reaction is often disruption and frustration. For many, there is something highly unsettling about the physical movement or transformation of writing.
While this may be true, does this reaction arise from o the words changing over time, or from the experience of approaching a new form of art? These reactions echo the familiar responses to first encounters with literary hypertext, particularly "disruption and frustration." Still, the post also points to a few interesting-looking Dreaming Methods pieces that exemplify this type of work and this idea of the written word becoming a performative object as time plays out is an interesting approach to new media.
The fascinating anachronism-lover’s blog, How to be a Retronaut, recently featured Ghosts of Amsterdam, an incredible work by Jo Teeuwisse which combines old photographs with photographs of the same locations today. Uncanny, ghostly images of present-day places blend with haunting people and mementos .
I’ve just recently started Michael Betcherman and David Diamond’s Daughters of Freya, a serial email mystery about a San Francisco cut that believes sex with strangers is the way to world peace. So far, the narrative seems promising; 4-5 emails are delivered each day over the course of the 3 weeks the story takes to unfold.
The format allows for pacing and anticipation, but can retain the author’s intended schedule no matter when the reader begins reading. If you read a serial in a magazine, and you begin while the 4th issue is in publication, the anticipation is no longer a factor for the first 3 issues. With the Daughters format however, no matter when the reader begins reading, the story will always unfold the same way in real-time. The reader can't jump ahead or cheat.
Authorial control has been debated in hypertext circles for decades, but Daughters of Freya work asserts control elegantly, chiefly because the work does not make any pretenses toward interactivity or agency. This shouldn't be remarkable, but in digital literature, it has been a surprisingly unusual approach. The work’s Web site mentions that emails do contain links to fictional webpages made specifically for the work, but I haven’t seen any of these yet.
Daughters of Freya can be purchased for $3.99, or you can sample the first 3 emails free.
The Poole Literary Festival has selected Christine Wilks’ Underbelly for the New Media Writing Prize. Michael Bhaskar, one of the judges, gives an overview of a couple of the pieces and the diversity of the field. He writes that
Underbelly is an intense, educational, visceral experience, that delves deep into new media territory and transforms our expectations of what could be called literature. Exploring the experience of women miners in the nineteenth century the look, sound and writing of the piece are all magnificently distinctive and skillfully designed. I learned a lot “reading” and it hung around for days. This is powerful stuff.
Bkaskar underestimates how long new media literature has existed – he thinks tr(A)ce a precursor – but he makes a useful point that new media could benefit from "the market or at least reader focused approach of commercial publishing.” Of course, market-driven publishing is often deplored by writers, and is among the main reasons for having literary festivals and awards. If publishers and the marketplace made consistently sound judgments of quality, we’d simply read best-sellers and would hardly need the Booker, Pulitzer, Nobel, PEN, or Poole awards!
When I saw the title of Susan Gibb’s blog post “Must my sentences dance?” I naturally thought she meant the metaphorical injection of vigor and excitement into prose. On the contrary, though, she’s concerned about the role of the traditional text-based hypertext narrative in a field that seems increasingly dominated by the glitz of animation:
I do love the audio visual narratives that play up the graphics and motion over story, but isn’t there a place for digital text as the main vehicle of narrative? It seems that hypertext as a way of storytelling, without the added pizazz of preferably moving visuals and audio that to me at least sounds annoying when repetitiously run throughout the piece, is either a dinosaur or needs the help of much more than color and background images. And yes, sentences that sing no long mean eloquent writing.
We as digital consumers are indeed very concerned with glitz and glamor, but does that necessarily mean that we can’t do text-based narratives anymore? I don’t think it does.
Then again, audio visuals distract us from the anxiety of making choices and closing doors. Do we really want branching narratives? Moreover, do we want those choices to be so conspicuous?
Digital: A Love Story is a free downloadable interactive narrative by Christine Love. Its interface has a quaint late-80s feel—appropriate for the 1988 setting—which certainly got some confused looks on the subway as my shiny MacBook was running an archaic system. The work invites the user to traverse the story by dialing into BBSs, reading messages, and downloading new applications to the in-story desktop.
Despite what my subway neighbors were thinking about the dial-in modem noises,within minutes I was living my childhood fantasy of hacking into mainframes and corresponding with other hackers. The narrative invites you to choose a screen name for yourself, and I admit that at first I gave myself a generic name. However, after about 3 messages, I changed it to something that sounded more screen-name-appropriate, only to change it to something that sounded more like a cool hacker later. It was on-par with the difficulty of choosing a gaming handle, perhaps because I have always equated the two. I was so into the story-world that I wanted my name to say something about me and project an image the same way that I would for an online video game.
And through the course of the narrative, I made friends and enemies, though I’m sure it had nothing to do with my screen name. But I don’t want to give too much away, since discovering the story is really the fun part.
Clotilde Dusoulier recently posted a wonderful article on how to taste chocolate, which emphasized the impressive skill of professional chocolate-tasters:
[T]he sample beans go through a mini production line, and emerges as chocolate the tasters will grade along thirty different descriptors. A tough job, I'm sure -- and I'm not being ironic.
Thirty! Chocolate tasting involves thirty different descriptors, but if you asked this panel of critics, their job would depend on being able to come up with nearly the same answer. You would be hard-pressed to find the same consistency among most literary criticism, with possible exceptions of a few canonical works.
Music has a canon, yet Western music has rubrics by which new works are compared. The rise to a major fifth here is pleasing; the dissonance of the tonic note and its fourth is resolved to create euphonic melody. Or something is dissonant or different, but still moving, so people ask why and change the rubrics (cf. Stravinsky and Cage). Films—though to a lesser extent than music—are similarly critiqued by familiar breakdowns: acting, direction, production value, depth/believability of narrative, soundtrack, etc.
We do not possess, or aspire to, similar consistency in literary criticism.
A while ago I mentioned how interesting audio hypertext might be. In my recent locative narrative research, I foundPapa Sangre, a fascinating audio-only locative mobile game by Somethin’ Else . By utilizing our ability to determine which direction a sound is coming from, Papa Sangre invites players to navigate an invisible landscape and avoid terrible creatures on a quest to save the a loved one.
New online recordings of William Faulkner discussing his work have been posted by the University of Viginia. The archives contain around 28 hours of readings, interviews, and student questions from 1957 and 1958 when he was UVA’s Writer in Residence. The site also features essays, articles, and photos of the writer.
Faulkner: Not at all. I was trying to talk about people, using the only tool I knew, which was the country that I knew. No, I wasn’t trying to—to—wasn’t writing sociology at all [
audience laughter]. I was just trying to write about people, which to me are the important [. . . ]. Just the human heart. It’s not—not ideas. I don’t know anything about ideas, don’t have much confidence in them.
What I couldn’t do, reading that book, was hear how he said what he said. There was no intonation, there were no pauses, there were only the words on the page, and while I devoured them, that was as far as I could go […] I didn’t know what I was missing. Now I do.
Readercon 2009 reading for Clockwork Phoenix 2. Clockwork Phoenix 3 debuted at this year’s Readercon; editor Mike Allen at right. Photo: Michael Curry cc
Last weekend’s Readercon brought writers, book lovers, and small publishers together to discuss the state of, well, writing and publishing. As Mark Bernstein noted, the conference culture expects that you are a serious reader. Though this culture keeps Readercon free of wannabe panels on “how to find an agent and get published,” it also means that it might be less accessible to casual readers. Still, amidst reports of gender discrepancies among readers, I was happy to see a roughly equal gender spread (however, the one SF panel I attended was woefully male-heavy).
Panels offered a glimpse into the publishing world that —for the most part—seems to be adapting well to the changes in to the book market despite continuing reports that the sky is falling. If even the small presses are doing fine, where is the gloom and doom coming from?
According to several of the panels, the problem is not with the writers or publishers, but with the supply chain: the distributors, wholesalers, and retailers. One publisher commented that they’d had three distributors go out of business in the past year. One panel explored not only what a market might look like without today’s economy entirely, exploring economic approaches beyond the pay-per-copy system.
The digitization of books was heavily felt throughout the conference. Even with the collapse of the supply chain, small presses are able to produce digital books at very low cost for sale through Amazon or directly to the customer. Many publishers reported record eBook sales, though most agreed that formatting is a problem. An additional concern seemed to be the lack of instructions on how to digitize a book correctly, which explains some of the strange page layouts and linking systems I’ve seen on some of the works I’ve downloaded recently.
Though a panel by the delightful Cecelia Tan revealed that much of the work previously done by publishers has shifted to the author (copy editing, proofreading, promoting) a couple of writers in the audience pointed out that they liked having such control over the marketing of their books and did not mind paying for it out of pocket or through time investments. As Tan notes, with the larger publishers, books were rarely getting this kind of attention anyway, and the writers would pay in sales.
And while we’re on sales, the exhibition area was exquisite. It combined everything I love about small bookstores—knowledgeable staff with friendly, personable service, who have actually read most of the books they sell—with the buzz and excitement of a convention. My main caution to anyone thinking of attending next year is to withdraw an allotted amount of cash ahead of time, because the vendor exhibition will call to you, and (quaintly) none of the vendors I spoke with accepted credit cards.
Though the format looks as though it provides little more than the interactive cut scene, I’m excited to see new forms of interaction appearing in these types of works. In three of the four stories, the reader/viewer takes the role of the player in a God game, her extradiegetic actions affecting the characters and events within the story. Shaking the iPad, for example, results in an earthquake in the story world. In the fourth story, the player character begins tied up in the trunk of a car and must hit the screen to kick the door open and swipe the screen to untape her mouth. Even though the interactions are functionally the same, something about this last example not only feels more like the “press a to not die” interactive cut scene, but it also seems more awkward.
The answer here seems to lie in the player-character’s existence within the story world; we’re more likely to accept our role as a God character straddling the line between existing inside the story and out than to be forcefully planted within the story world.
Touching Stories is available from the App Store .
Jakob Nielsen reports findings on a study comparing reading on a tablet, PC, and in a book. The study found that subjects read significantly faster from a book than on a tablet and also that they preferred reading on a tablet to reading on a PC.
Nielsen’s report appears to overlook potential biases in testing. All the subjects were familiar with codex books, which they have used for decades, but none had used Kindles or iPads for decades. Were the subjects accustomed to using an iPad or Kindle prior to the test? The report mentions that the PC text was administered in a typical “office” type setup whereas the tablet testing was done in a comfortable armchair. This alone is reason to prefer reading on a tablet; would preferences have been different if the PC testing had been done on a laptop with the subject relaxed on a sofa?
Although the study is already being widely reported as proof of the codex’s superiority to eBooks, the overall effect is trivial. Twenty four subjects read short stories by Ernest Hemingway on various devices. The mean reading time was 17.3min. iPads were about 6% slower and Kindles were about 10% slower — the difference among devices is not statistically significant but the different between electronic devices and print it. But the difference amounts to 84 sec/story. That means you might take an extra 20 minutes to read Hemingway”s 1927 collection, Men Without Women . If you want to read all 70 Collected Stories, including posthumous works and juvenilia, you’d better allow an extra ninety minutes.
What will be interesting, I think, is whether the new 300dpi display of the iPhone 4, once it becomes available for book-size devices, further improves reading speed.
On several occasions, as I frustratedly jabbed my backspace button sharply, I’ve thought to myself, “If only I were some troubled soul, trapped and unable to express myself in life! Then, by God, I’d be able to express real emotion!”
A separate question is the effect on Forster as a writer. Would he have written better novels if the antihomosexual laws had been reformed in the 1890s rather than in the 1960s? He seems to have thought so. On the other hand, fans of Maurice are thin on the ground.
The article recapitulates the fascinating account of the effect Forster’s homosexuality had on his work proposed by Wendy Moffat, who believes that it played a much larger role than academe tends to acknowledge. More importantly, the article raises interesting questions about inspiration as a result of oppression.
Neal Stephenson (and a few others) are releasing The Mongoliad, a serialized literary project for mobile devices. The project will also include a series of extra-narrative content for iPhone, iPad and Android clients.
Not much is known about the project to date, but it’s billing itself as “something of an experiment in post-book publishing and storytelling.” Stay tuned!
On Saturday, Astrid Ensslin did a great close reading of Deena Larsen’s The Princess Murderer with focus on the word “you” as a diagetic/extradiagetic signifier. Nick Montfort demonstrated Curveship , hisdynamic narrative platform, with previews of a couple of upcoming works: Adventures in Style, an interesting cross between Queneau’s Exercices de style, and Will Crowther’s Adventure . Fox Harrell gave an impressive demonstration of his Living Liberia Batik. And after a day of good talks, we had a huge banquet to honor Robert Coover and to announce new ELO board members and officers (congratulations to all!).
As the conference wound down on Sunday, issues of archiving arose, underlining the fragility of the medium and questioning the role of an archivist; whose job is it to preserve these digital works? Questions of the ELO’s commitment to self-reflection and betterment arose at the very end, but after a weekend of heated debate and excited discussion and reminiscence, many were ready to go and attentions fizzled on what could have been a productive discussion.
Overall, though, the conference was very active , and I did think the mixture of artistic productions and scholarly papers worked nicely. Huge thanks to John Cayley and his students for their hard work.
StreetMuseum from the Museum of London uses Google maps and geotagging to show how the streets of London looked in the distant past and provides the kinds of historical facts you might hear on a walking tour.
Alan Bigelow offers an interesting new flash narrative, My Nervous Breakdownl on the nature of sanity and culture.
Upon entering the narrative, the viewer hears the rhythmic cadence of an exhausted march. We’re presented with a top-down view of a brain, with separate sections representing four different areas of the narrative.
The first section I read was the topmost, “What My Therapist Said,” and I expect this is the section with which many people would start. I wasn’t prepared for the sensory overload I received immediately upon entering this area. From an unsettling sound clip of a woman singing—looped playing forward and then backward—to the old, home-movie feel, the therapist’s words were surrounded by a sense of dread. The effect creates an interesting pull away from the background world.
The repetition of the line “my therapist said” suggests both skepticism of the therapist’s authority and detachment from the therapist’s representation of sanity. This detachment is further realized in the section “My Brain Is,” in which repetition of the titular line presents a kind of self-realization and independence from the carnival of the outside world that we experience as background to our thoughts.
My favorite section is “The Metaphor Room,” which consists of soothingly calm, drifting video and invocations of water, floating, and lightness throughout. The text in this section is the most blatant in its invocation of the insane. The section seems to suggest that the only way to be at peace with our insanity is to embrace it. The final section, “How to Dream a Suicide,” echoes this sentiment, as many of the suggestions it offers of clever ways to commit suicide sound more like living than dying.
I found my thoughts returning to this short narrative for several days after I read it.
What if readers of our deliverables were guided through a set of predefined flows? What if the flows we design required readers to make choices in order to achieve multiple endings? On one end of the extreme spectrum we have passive documents such as wireframe decks where there is often a single thread of experience. Here we have guidance, but no choice as we flip from the first page till the end. On the other hand of the spectrum, we might have a fully interactive prototype. Here we have zero guidance and tons of choice (perhaps even too much). Could this more balanced combination of guidance and choice then be a more powerful means of conveying interaction and narrative in our field?
After pondering this conflict between of choice versus guidance, it occurs to me that digital narrative has been striving for the artifice of choice, knowing fully well that this artifice exists. It is not possible to give choice completely to the reader, a fact which has been discussed at length in the eLitcommunity.
Technical constraint, artfully masked as narrative constraints, offer comfort and guidance to readers. The dungeon master exists for a reason, though the ideal story seems to require his infrequent, invisible guidance.
It hasn’t taken long for interesting reading formats to reach the iPad, though I must admit I wasn’t expecting anything beyond eBooks and perhaps Vooks for a little while. However, Alice for the iPad has landed, and faliing somewhere between Voyager’s electronic edition of Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice and a children’s game, the work offers something different.
Interactive illustration with a small element of puzzle-solving is a cute way to make literature more engaging, and it certainly does seem particularly well-suited to children’s literature. It also attracts media coverage, since it’s easy to grasp and you don’t need to read the book in order to write a story about it.
One could certainly envision an original work that takes these ideas and expands them, with the puzzles and interactive illustrations actually influencing the outcome of the narrative. The trick is to make the narrative immersive and engaging without the interactivity feeling gimmicky—and this may be harder than it sounds.
This detailed approach to film prompted if:book’s Dan Visel to observe that this type of “reading” seems “luxurious,” and he invites us to become more luxe readers. To be fair, much of the content that we’re quickly consuming and discarding is designed to be disposable; news buylletins, weblog posts, Tweets, internet memes are all products of their temporal context. I think that most of today’s truly great works are being pored over. After all, isn’t that what scholars do?
But Visel might be on to something with this idea of luxury: many of my favorite books, plays, games, and films have taken on a whole new majesty after I spent hours dissecting them and writing about them. Perhaps it’s worth reminding people to stop and smell the roses.
Freese read from Violet, an interesting interactive fiction told in the voice of the protagonist’s girlfriend. She entreats you to write a thousand words of your dissertation, overcoming obstacles of procrastination that seem to keep popping up.
Short read from Alabaster, a work that experiments with a collaborative process of IF creation. You are the huntsman. You are traveling into the forest with Snow White. You intend to kill her. Is she as innocent as she seems, or is there more to the story than we know? The player interacts with Snow White, asking her questions to glean bits of information.
I had never been to an IF reading, and I must say that the experience is very different from reading the work at home, or even watching it played. The readers read the text while an “interactor” manipulated the software, typing in commands to ensure that no time was wasted. Thus, the audience did not get to experience the pleasure of solving the puzzles, but instead was privy to easter eggs and areas of the text that they might otherwise have missed. The format also allowed for showing lots of the text in a brief session.
One of the issues brought up during the IF panels at Pax East was the problem that IF games, though popular as hobby, academic, and amateur projects, have not been commercially successful since the fall of Infocom in the late 80s.
Don Woods noted in the panel, “Could the problem be that we still think of them as games instead of literature?”
I think this is a core problem. Newer IF games are addressing this central issue: with the rich stories of novels and console games, it’s no longer sufficient to tell us we need to go into the cave to kill the dragon. Oh – and solve these puzzles and navigate this maze on the way. Never mind graphics; iinteractive fiction needs to be able to compete with both the commercial game and the novel in narrative depth and complexity.
Thinking of Interactive Fiction in literary terms certainly seems like a step in the right direction. And the genre has been moving in this direction. English departments seem to be fostering the study of IF.
But many of the IF developers in an earlier panel spoke of IF in relation to commercial games rather than in relation to the novel. Perhaps this was a matter of setting—the convention was a gaming conference after all. But IF is really a form between literature and games, perhaps it’s time to lean a little more heavily on the side of literature. Making the puzzles and —God forbid—mazes part of the narrative is certainly a step in the right direction.
J. R. Carpenter has been an author of electronic literature for at least a decade and a half. Much of her work features cartography, using services like Google maps as both visual art and narrative setting. Maps have been used in art and literature throughout history. With electronic literature representing a shift toward media convergence, it seems appropriate that her work would use them to bridge the gap.
Serial fiction plays an central role in narrative today. The serialized novel started in the 19th century, driven in part by the cost of books: people who could not afford to purchase an expensive novel instead bought one piecemeal, in weekly or monthly installments. Recurrent characters in short stories also proved a reliable source of readers, and then radio and television series preserved the tradition of the serial. Whether we’re talking about television episodes, webisodes, or the fact that every film and video game blockbuster seems determined to have a sequel before opening day, serialization has certainly crept into our lives in a very powerful way.
Jo Walton examines the joy of an unfinished series , arguing that an unfinished series leaves us wondering, speculating, and (in my opinion most-importantly) talking about what might come.
If you come face to face with James Clavell in the afterlife, my advice is to tell him first how much you like his books, before asking if he’s had time up there to finish Hag Struan.
Of course, many of us read hypertext narratives serially. Hypertext naturally lends itself to open-ended narrative, and the joy of an unfinished series is relevant whether we’re talking about a hypertext series or just an exceptionally long hypertext. And with the immediacy of Web publishing and hypertext’s ability to be constantly changing and expanding, there’s very little real difference between the two anymore.
Brian Greenspan was one of the most fun and colorful people we met at the Future of Digital Studies conference. In addition to seeming to always be at the center of the most interesting conversations, he proved to have very interesting ideas on electronic narrative. His current project, StoryTrek, looks to provide fascinating and immersive possibilities for the future of digital storytelling.
The idea behind StoryTrek is that authors could combine their digital texts with geospatial location systems to provide location-specific text. Reading the text on her phone, the reader might be traversing the text as she walks, only to read a passage about arriving at a brook as she does so in the real world. Going a bit further might reveal a passage about dipping one’s feet into the water and so forth.
Editors Felix Kuehn & Alex Strick van Linschoten will discuss this harrowing autobiography by Taliban member Abdul Salam Zaeef. The book begins with the author’s early childhood before turning to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Zaeef’s decision to join the mujahideen resistance. Countering conventional accounts that the Taliban emerged in the 1990s, Zaeef maintains that the movement existed as early as the 1970s. The author traces his rise in the Taliban to his appointment as ambassador to Pakistan in 2000, and his subsequent arrest and imprisonment in Guantnamo Bay after September 11 and the fall of the Taliban regime.
Discussion and book signing will take place 7:00-8:30 PM on Friday March 12.
Treehouse is an interesting example of real-life events accidentally becoming a digital narrative. The work offers the love story of two people through long-forgotten emails recovered from an old hard-drive. It’s an artifactual hypertext, presented in “appisodes” downloadable for the iPhone.
After finding out today that my favorite Runner’s World weblogger will no longer be posting, I was deeply saddened and touched in a way that felt very unique to the medium. It’s funny; the retirments of many of my favorite writers, composers, and artists haven”t touched me deeply. But Web reading is a different experience; one doesn’t often go back and read (someone else’s) old archives just for fun to see how the story unfolds with knowledge of the future, despite hypertext literature’s emphasis on rereading.
So when a blogger retires, that’s it. Runner’s World may choose to take the all of the archives down in a couple of months, cutting off my access forever. With reading a book, looking at a painting, or listening to a song—even though those pleasures exist in a finite space of time like reading a weblog—the experience is repeatable in a way that reading social media updates isn’t.
Where is the line drawn? I wouldn’t read a newspaper a second time, though I would reread the anthology of an interesting columnist. And I would argue that the interesting columnist is the closest analogy to the blogger. And indeed, though I’ll never browse the archives, if the blogger’s posts were bound into a book, I would probably reread them. So why the difference? What is it about the Web that makes this distinction?
And in the age heralded as the birth of universal publishing, does the achievement really count if people won’t ever reread those works?
Over the next few days, HTLit will be reporting from Future of Digital Studies 2010 at the University of Florida. Mauro Carassai, a graduate student at UF, has organized an event which brings together an impressively strong program, including some of hypertext’s most esteemed authors and critics.
Mark Bernstein mentions his upcoming talk on NeoVictorian New Media and the problems with criticism and promises more information to come.
Shadow Unit s a serial Web fiction by Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette and Will Shetterly. In addition to the episodes available on the main website (now in its third season), many of the series’ characters have Livejournal blogs, allowing fans to interact with the characters. The series crosses Criminal Minds with TheX-Files, adding a dash of several other paranormal TV series.
The FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit hunts humanity's nightmares. But there are nightmares humanity doesn't dream are real.
The Behavioral Analysis Unit sends those cases down the hall.
Welcome to Shadow Unit
Though many Web fictions are serialized, the insistence on likeness to television drama is interesting. Breaking the narrative into episodes and seasons seemed limiting. At the end of each season, however, writers release “bonus content,” analogous to DVD extras, including “deleted scenes.” What an excellent idea! This way, writers can go back and fill plot holes, expand on certain characters without interrupting the pace of the overall narrative, explore counterfactual plots, and answer some of the cries of fans.
The idea of including interactive character profiles is narratively engaging. I have not read through all of the seasons, but my curiosity was immediately piqued when a link to one of the character’s profiles had a note next to it that read “No longer updated.”
This series is a step toward the maturation of Web fiction, and its appropriation of television tactics is a welcome move toward more engaging living Web narrative. The latest episode is available in RSS, ePub, PRC (Kindle), and PDF format. Seasons one and two are available in ePub.
Listening to Susan Gibb’s “Lust” read by Finnegan Flawnt got me thinking about the idea of hypertext audio books. Superficially, the idea seems little more than a gimmick. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like an interesting experiment.
Interaction is such an integral part of hypertext, would a complex linking structure be possible if interaction was taking place without a visual field? Even if those structures existed, would we be able to understand them the same way? What kind of voice-recognition platform might be designed to allow a work to interact with the user in an interesting way? The thought of a work and a user interacting back and forth through sound to create a narrative is worth exploring.
Sure, you might look like that person on the subway who talks to yourself, but you’ve been doing that for years on your Bluetooth phone. Why let it bother you now?
Graphs of family discussions and changes in his son’s mood through adolescence are entertaining and remarkably good at conveying meaningful narrative. Surprisingly, the graphs are able to provide the characters with depth and believable motivations. The music, by Stanford undergraduate David Kettler, adds the appropriate emotional accompaniment
2K Games recently released Bioshock 2, the followup to the 2007 masterpiece that introduced us to Andrew Ryan’s failed attempt at a utopian super-society. Where the first game offered a harsh criticism on ideas of objectivism, Bioshock 2’s villain hopes to save the fallen society with an obsessively altruistic approach.
Nods to such literary predecessors as steam punk, H.G. Wells and Ayn Rand are so prevalent, that the designers released a recommended reading list before the game’s release, including an additional section of nonfiction “for supernerds” which includes several works of philosophy. The 2k forums are even fostering a Bioshock bookclub.
So far responses to Bioshock 2 have been positive, delivering praise to the complex and interesting narrative that manages to deliver high-brow narrative in a blockbuster game.
Mr. Dehaene shows how the brain works around its lack of an evolved module for reading. It turns out that a reader, scanning a text for meaning, is drawing not on a "module" but on a large set of brain regions. Each probably evolved for other purposes, but they are now "recycled" by the demands of our culture for understanding printed text. Areas for understanding language, lodged near the front of the brain, are linked with others farther back that recognize visual details and process the distinctive sounds of human speech.
[This functionality] accounts for why the faddish "whole language" method of teaching reading has proved inferior to the traditional phonics approach: Only teaching letter-to-sound correspondences enables the brain's systems for vision and hearing to cooperate efficiently and decode words they have never encountered before, an ability that allows children to go beyond what they have been taught by others and to learn new words and ideas.
A fascinatingting article by Jed Birmingham follows the aging of Charles Bukowski and William Burroughs as they move into the computer revolution, focusing on how their work changed with the technology. Though the Birmingham is careful not to call Bukowski a pioneer of the level of Michael Joyce , he does note how innovations such the ability to quickly capture thoughts and edit/delete functions greatly influenced Bukowski’s work.
In late 1992, Bruce Kijewski approached Bukowski with the idea of electronic books. Bukowski was intrigued. He wrote back, “Yes, you have a strange project: electronic books. It might be the future as more and more people find that the computer is such a magic thing: time-saver, charmer, energizer.” […] But there are still reservations and a sense of nostalgia. The same letter to Kijewski continues, “But, still, when [the electronic book] comes I will still miss the old fashioned book.” Despite such statements, it is clear that Bukowski was a writer not afraid of, or pessimistic about, the future.
Occasioned by the opening of the Berg’s William Burroughs digital archive , the second part of article explores Burroughs’ relationship to the computer. It seems he did not use a computer to write. He embraced film, audio recording, and painting, but apparently he never experimented with writing and the computer to the level that Bukowski did.
As far back as the mid-1960s, Burroughs was aware of the possibilities of the computer and computer-generated poetry. In Insect Trust Gazette , Burroughs’ work appears alongside an early computer poem. In his interview with Conrad Knickerbocker in Paris Review, he stated that he had yet to experiment with the computer, but thought that such literature was valid and interesting, if it stood on its own merit. Yet as time passed — again, as far as I know — Burroughs never experimented with the computer. On one level this makes sense given the fact that Burroughs was well advanced in age and set in his ways by the time the personal computer was generally available. You might say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but Bukowski proves that you, in fact, can.
Critical Mass, run by the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Board of Directors, is currently publishing a series on The Next Decade in Book Culture.
In a response to Katharine Weber’s bleak outlook, in which she sees converging texts blurring the boundaries “where the conversation about books ends and the book itself begins”, Peter Friedman writes ,
Prophets of doom tend to prescribe remedies intended to recall comforts forever past. That’s why a cultural freakout is not a healthy thing. It leads to bad decisions. Had Jack Valenti and the entire film industry had their way, there would be no VHS machines, no CD and DVD burners, etc., etc. But it turned out that the VHS was the biggest financial boon the film industry had ever experienced…
Like the businesses that once dominated the film and music industries, the monopoly held by the industry over production and distribution is now in the hands of any kid with a laptop. The film and music industries are still making money. But that money is now made in a far wider variety of ways, and is split among more parties. It’s no wonder these industries are therefore decrying their deaths.
Hypertext pioneer Cathy Marshall has just written Reading and Writing the Electronic Book. Marshall offers a brief history of electronic books, and focuses on what facets of reading eBooks inherit from print, how they are written and read, and how they are presented, and what they do to advance the future of literature. In contrast to much of what’s appeared to date, Marshall doesn’t base her opinions of books on received wisdom, nostalgia, or press releases, and this book’s explanation of how we can study actual readers is at once rigorous and accessible. Based on extensive research and thoughtful consideration, this volume is clearly the authoritative source on new ways of reading and new reading tools.
I have to admit, I was surprised at how good this was. The re-mediation is a suprise, moving from Twitter to voice is not an obvious choice. I expected to hear many different voices pulling the narrative in different directions; I expected the sentences to feel short and staccato. I expected to be driven to distracted. And I didn’t realize I expected any of this until I found that it wasn’t there. The story is immersive, with much credit given to Kellgren’s narratiom. There were a few moments which would occasionally remind me that the work was written over Twitter, with sentences like “Then Sam couldn’t believe what happened next.” But the story is fun, and it made my long and chilly commute much more enjoyable.
Sweet Agatha is a mystery narrative-building game by Kevin Allen Jr. that allows players to put together the mystery of a girl who vanished. It plays like a cross between a tabletop role playing game and a campfire story session. The game calls for two players. One player reads through an included booklet—her investigative journal—which includes cut-out clue tiles. Another player, The Truth, controls the clues, revealing them during dramatically important points in the story. The Reader and The Truth go back and forth to build the story of Agatha’s disappearance.
The very well-written booklet creates a sense of eerie mystery while leaving the scenarios open-ended enough to allow for creative input from both the Reader and The Truth. The images are haunting, and serve as great points of departure for the imagination.
This game would be a great exercise for writers looking to test their narrative development skills, or anyone looking to spend an afternoon building an interesting story.
Michael Joyce’s “Twelve Blue”, a hypertext fiction by the author of afternoon: a story, explores the duality and the flow of life not only through the well-crafted segments of text but through its very structure.
Joyce begins one section by announcing there are “many ways to go over Niagara Falls”, illustrating a central concept of the story: that there are often many different ways to get to the same place. This idea applies to life in general, as Joyce elaborates through descriptions of maze-like roadways (all leading to Route 9), the motif of flowing water and a dose of religious skepticism – likening the mind of god, at one point, to the swirling mind of a drowning boy. Story segments comment on the scant control we have over our lives, not due to some divine plan but to life’s randomness and natural gravitations between certain people or things.
This interpretation is paralleled in the way the hypertext is set up: there are many ways to click through the links, thus giving the reader the illusion of choice, but there are very few options once a number is chosen at the beginning. We may take many different paths to reach conclusions, but we’re all reading the same story.
The narrative often splits or flows back, much like the rivers Joyce discusses. Points of interest for him are the brief moment a current flows in two distinct directions and the feeling of being overpowered by the river while either drowning or going over the falls, as people are overpowered by their lives’ flow.
“Twelve Blue” demands patient reading; time must be taken to appreciate the language and figure out how the different story lines relate. I found the story recalls the subtle lyrical style of Faulkner or Ondaatje. True, the meaning doesn’t jump out at you, but that’s what makes it appealing. The challenge of exploring the text and putting the meaning together through snippets of clues enhances the reading experience, and in this case parallels the central theme of human submission to life’s natural flow.
Michael Kinsley offers one reason why newspapers are dying which has nothing to do with cost, technology, or distribution: the wordy conventions of newspaper articles. Kinsley notes that newspaper conventions dictate that the article give “context” and “backstory” whereas Web articles get right to the point. Thus paper articles often give more context than content.
“Handing President Obama a hard-fought victory, the House narrowly approved a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health care system on Saturday night, advancing legislation that Democrats said could stand as their defining social policy achievement.”
Fewer than half the words in this opening sentence are devoted to saying what happened. If someone saw you reading the paper and asked, “So what’s going on?,” you would not likely begin by saying that President Obama had won a hard-fought victory. You would say, “The House passed health-care reform last night.” And maybe, “It was a close vote.” And just possibly, “There was a kerfuffle about abortion.” You would not likely refer to “a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health care system,” as if your friend was unaware that health-care reform was going on.
While it’s certainly true that weblog posts tend to be more tightly-worded than newspaper articles, an important factor to remember is that weblogs can be more concise because they link. Rather than giving backstory, we can just link to it. We no longer need to spend several words introducing our source or proving that it’s credible; the reader can easily follow the source and determine its credibility for herself.
Susan Gibb points to new media professor Dennis Jerz’s screencasts of his 11 year old son, Peter, playing Interactive Fiction for the first time. Familiar with the conventions of modern video games, Peter’s responses and hesitations at the constraints of the IF parser are reminiscent of my own (though perhaps a bit more emphasized due to the awareness of the recording). Though the clips are edited, watching someone new to the genre play through pieces for the first time is enlightening and makes for interesting study.
Interesting to note are Peter’s questions to his father, which are all highly influenced by his experience with other software as he tries to draw correlations to the new form. He asks, “If a word isn’t recognized, can I add it to the dictionary?”
Matthew Battles responds to Robert Darnton’s The Case for Books, reminding us that the facets of blogging and social networking that are supposed to be shortening our attention spans—serialization, focusing on small bits of text, jumping from bit to bit—have all been part of the practice of creating commonplace books for centuries.
Deep in the early modern bibliosphere, readers kept notebooks to record especially amusing, provoking, and useful quotations. The resulting commonplace books not only preserved a record of one's reading life, but also furnished material inspiration for further study, contemplation, and writing… [Darnton] declares that early modern readers read "segmentally, by concentrating on small chunks of text and jumping from place to place and jumping from book to book..." does it sound familiar?
With Twitter use at all-time highs and growing interests in flash-fiction, the book is appropriately timed, but I found myself genuinely surprised at it’s release in paperback. This actually seems like a book which would be better suited to a screen, and particularly well-suited to something like daily serialization through blogs or Twitter.
I was recently watching a feature-length fanflick video inspired by the Legend of Zelda series. The production value was on par with some of the “dramatic reenactments” I’ve seen on the low-budget History Channel documentaries—good enough that you know what they’re trying to do, but not good enough tto sit in a theater and watch. For a fanflick, it wasn’t bad.
The comments for the movie were mixed, but many of them expressed that the idea of a film adaptation of a movie was doomed because the narrative of a game is too long and dense to be easily compacted into a two-hour film.
And then it occurred to me: Perhaps for the first time, we’re moving into narrative media that are not backwards-compatible. The written word can be spoken, the printed word written, movies can be translated to books, but games and hypertext narrative don’t go backwards.
Li-bel is an interesting new electronic bookmark which seeks to add another dimension to book reading. It’s a bookmark, designed to be used with printed books, that provides complementary information to the text, such as video, sound, and reference text.
The idea was born from the designer’s pursuit of the hybridization of books—a point in between print and hypertext literature. So far, information on the li-bel is sparse, but it’s something to watch . We were told that computers would come to books, and not the other way around; this is an interesting example of that theory.
The Purpling is a hypertext poem by Nick Montfort in which each sentence links to another lexia. As each page is visited, the sentences begin to turn purple. The text of the poem focuses on how we read and the nature of reading hypertext.
Adam Penenberg speculates on the evolution of the book and future of reading. Unusually for pundits dazzled by the Kindle and iPhone, Penenberg observes that the real future of eBooks surely lies in books that do more – not merely paper simulators or books with video illustration.
The first movie cameras were used to film theater productions. It took early cinematic geniuses like Sergei Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, Charlie Chaplin and Abel Gance to untether the camera from what was and transform it into what it would become: a new art form. I believe that this dynamic will soon be replayed, except it will star the book in the role of the theater production, with authors acting more like directors and production companies than straight wordsmiths. […] Instead of stagnant words on a page we will layer video throughout the text, add photos, hyperlink material, engage social networks of readers who will add their own videos, photos, and wikified information so that these multimedia books become living,
Much of Penenberg’s vision, while accurate, is not very new. When he writes that
A novelist could create whole new realities, a pastiche of video and audio and words and images that could rain down on the user, offering metaphors for artistic expressions. Or they could warp into videogame-like worlds where readers become characters and through the expression of their own free will alter the story to fit. They could come with music soundtracks or be directed or produced by renowned documentarians. They could be collaborations or one-woman projects.
he’s saying rather less than Robert Coover wrote in 1992, or Eric Drexler wrote in 1987, or Ted Nelson in 1976. Though Penenberg couches this paragraph in the future conditional, all these possibilities (and more!) have been realized in published works.
The article sparked some interesting and intelligent comments. Maryanne Conlin posts:
I do however have to ask- why veer away from the analogy in the article? I DO agree with your vision of the “ebook” of the future…but I also think, as we still have lots of theatre production of all sizes today….we will still have books published too!
Just because we have newer, richer forms of media does not mean that the old ones must die. Though computers can create stunning digital images, the oil painting has not been cast carelessly aside.
The collection also includes Larsen’s many early computers. MITH will be opening the collection to scholars on a limited basis. Researchers interested in visiting Maryland to work with the Larsen materials on site should write apply to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Artist Richard Wright was this year’s winner of the prestigious Turner Prize. Wright was shortlisted for his gold-leaf frescos on exhibit at Carnegie International, Pittsburgh and the Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh. His work is painted directly onto gallery walls, and is destroyed at the end of its exhibition. According to an interview with BBC News, he believes this process is important to the spirit of his work:
"I am interested in placing painting in the situation where it collides with the world; the fragility of that existence. Being here for a short period of time, I feel, heightens the experience of it being here."
Previous winners of the prize include Martin Creed, Grayson Perry, Gilbert and George, and Damien Hirst.
Rick Moody recently delivered a Twitter Fiction via several publishers in an effort conceived by Electric Lit to reach readers unfamiliar with Twitter fiction. Unfortunately, many people were following more than one of the publishers and became annoyed at the repetition. Some of the publishers backed out, calling the attempt a “noble failure.”
But is this fair? The story is actually pretty good and addresses how the internet connects people.
If anything failed, it was the delivery, not the fiction. Too many figures in the online literary world were too quick to jump onboard without considering the logistics of the delivery. Much of this could have been resolved through Twitter’s new retweet function.
But I liked the narrative. And according to the comments on Vroman’s so did others who were not aware Twitter fiction existed as a form. And those people are telling their friends about social media as a platform for narrative.
Abrina Jaszi introduces Flavorwire, a site which straddles the line between culture and popculture, to electronic literature and its possibilities, emphasizing the openness of a form which is “not constrained by the physical world.”
Some of the best reads this season are being produced by electronic writers — techies devoted to the life of literature off the printed page. Their experimental fiction and poetry is colorful, cacophonous, animated and interactive — and often mediated by a host of different technologies. The term “electronic literature”
This is, of course, wrong: most writers of electronic literature are not particularly technical. Beyond this, it’s a good introduction.
But did he consider that the alternatives he propose are also not fun? He contends that moral choices in video games a la Fable, Knights of the Old Republic, or Fallout 3 are black-or-white, subverting the impact the system is supposed to have. He proposes alternatives like having truly difficult moral decisions to make. Rather than either helping an orphan or killing her, you’d have to choose between saving the orphan and her baby brother. (This is a choice? – ed.) McCalmont wants the consequences of the player’s decisions to be more consequential:
The real challenge facing morality mechanics is realism. Because in-game moral decisions have no real-world consequences, it is all too easy for moral choices to become tactical or aesthetic ones. It is precisely because these decisions are not real that it is vital to make them feel real. They must be based not only in a real understanding of the psychology of moral decision making but also a grasp of how people react to the people they disagree with and disapprove of. It is not until gamers feel as though they are making real moral choices that moral choices will become fun again and no amount of force lightning can change that.
The problem with making moral decisions more realistic is that it would not necessarily the game more fun. Moral dilemmas are difficult, and we hate to make them. Moral dilemmas add depth and dimension to the story, but alone they will not make the game more engaging. On the contrary, they might make the game confusing or frustrating if they are not given a very clear reason for being there, as they were in Modern Warfare 2.
I want moral decisions because it makes sense within the story, not just as a gimmicky platform for prestige or sales. Fable players were disappointed when their moral choices affected their avatar’s appearance, not because the game didn’t do what it said it would do but because that’s all the game did: the story and characters were shallow. The fun behind killing people to get horns only lasts for so long before you’re left with an unmemorable story. And horns.
McCalmont’s morally grey system will be fun for as long as it’s novel, and you won’t even be done playing the first game by then. I believe what McCalmont actually wants is more than a facelift to a tired morality system. We want more than, "do this to get horns." The answer is good narrative development that uses the medium’s proximity to the player to affect our emotions, and this narrative must be threaded into every facet of the game’s development.
Recommended reading: Jason Morningstar’s Grey Ranks explores teenage resistance fighters in 1944 Warsaw. D. Vincent Baker’s Dogs In The Vineyard turns the players into enforcers of a sternly alien and arbitrary morality. Both are narrativist tabletop games.
The Miracle in July is a fiction blog that incorporates music and images into its text in an interesting way. Rather than just including images in the text body, Michelle Anderson hides the images behind links, allowing the reader a sense of exploration and discovery. More importantly, however, her use of music is unique: she places links in the narrative that begin or change the background music to enhance the mood of the story.
Sometimes this technique proves awkward, as when she includes the name of the song to link in the text, which often has the same effect as having characters recite the title of a movie . It does, however, reveal some interesting ways that this could be done very effectively. Music could pace the narrative—that is, it could be used to demonstrate the passage of story-time or to exaggerate inconsistencies between story time and real time.
Starting a song just as you begin a long and detailed description of a brief encounter which actually takes very little story-time (narratological deceleration), and trying to time it so that the clip ends as you finish reading the passage, could be used to good effect. Everyone will read at different speeds, but I can’t image more than several seconds of difference.
Electric Literature is a quarterly anthology of five short stories per issue. Their goal is to distribute the short story “in every viable media,” bridging the gap between print literature and electronic media:
We're tired of hearing that literary fiction is doomed. Everywhere we look, people are reading—whether it be paperbooks, eBooks, blogs, tweets, or text messages. So, before we write the epitaph for the literary age, we thought, let’s try it this way first: select stories with a strong voice that capture our readers and lead them somewhere exciting, unexpected, and meaningful. Publish everywhere, every way: paperbacks, Kindles, iPhones, eBooks, and audiobooks. Make it inexpensive and accessible. Streamline it: just five great stories in each issue. Be entertaining without sacrificing depth. In short, create the thing we wish existed.
Electric Literature hopes to place the emphasis back on the story and not the medium, and aims to provide easier access to literature for readers and fair pay ($1000/story) to the authors they feature.
Nick Montfort posted a link to Morpheus Biblionaut, a new work created by William Gillespie with stunning visuals by Travis Alber. The work follows an American astronaut and poet who is sent to Alpha Centauri to test a nuclear weapon capable of destroying a planet but returns to find that there are no longer radio signals. Except, maybe, one.
The Louvre is currently featuring an exhibition by Umberto Eco entitled “Mille e tre,” which focuses on the concept of the list:
The exhibition “Mille e tre” traces the evolution of the concept of a list through history and examines how its meaning changes with the passage of time: from its ancient use in funerary traditions to its present-day use in everyday life, via the creative processes of contemporary artists, the list is a vehicle for cultural codes and the bearer of different messages.
"Mille e tre", 1003, is the length of Don Giovanni’s list of lovers.
Eco draws from several disciplines including printed literature, poetry, and paintings. In a recent interview, he explains that lists both serve as an expression of limitless concepts which language can not express, and also serves to highlight the concept of death:
We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That's why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It's a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don't want to die.
This idea that lists serve to express that which can never be expressed reminds us of Michael Joyce’s Twelve Blue , in which “each ever after” lists many things which “can be read.” This list, which is repeated often in most readings of the work serves to demonstrate the interconnectedness of all that “can be read” and indeed is also indicative of that which can not be expressed: the complex relationship between people, lives, events, and words and their meanings.
Some people argue against electronic fiction because the codex book offers a certain tangible manipulation. There is certainly something to be said for having a product in your hand, especially for children who learn spatial reasoning from their physical interaction with the world. David Merrill and Jeevan Kalinithi’s Siftables respond to this critique.
Siftables are programmable interactive blocks with screens. They respond to movement, orientation, and each other’s presence. They can also produce sound. As you can see in the demo, these blocks show amazing promise as a learning tool for kids, allowing them to practice their multiplication tables, as well as hone their authoring skills. (Also interesting: the Taco Lab Blog)
David Gelernter of Yale University recently made some interesting predictions about the future of books in the “Room For Debate” section of the NY Times
I assume that technology will soon start moving in the natural direction: integrating chips into books, not vice versa. I might like to make a book beep when I can’t find it, search its text online, download updates and keep an eye on reviews and discussion. This would all be easily handled by electronics worked into the binding. Such upgraded books acquire some of the bad traits of computer text — but at least, if the circuitry breaks or the battery runs out, I’ve still got a book.
Matthew Battles notes that electronics have already crept into the codex, like RFID tags, and asks interesting questions about what else could be done for the book.
Could little piezoelectric sensors be incorporated in the binding to furnish a digital "bookmark"? Would it be useful to store the resulting data somewhere to track how quickly you read the book? How could the digitized text of a bound book be linked to/accessed/interacted with, within the confines of the codex, to enhance the reading experience?
I was recently able to attend, courtesy of the ART, and it was truly one of the most memorable theater experiences I’ve ever had. I had never been to a hyperdrama before, but I was familiar with the concept and, having a fair amount of experience with hypertext, knew that my choices on which characters I decided to follow would influence my experience.
One problem I couldn’t figure out was how the audience could watch the action without getting in the way or detracting from the experience. The solution is brilliant: each guest wears a white mask. In the dimly lit rooms, the masks make us seem like spirits gathering around a group of mortals who were only faintly aware of our existence. Though we were asked to be silent, the occasional stifled giggle or whisper between other ghosts added to the ambience. As the action moved down a hall, groups of spirits would break off their exploration of scenery to join the larger group on the move, and as more and more spirits gathered and followed, the action seemed to take on a new sense of foreboding. The experience created by the masks was incredible, like watching a scene from beyond the grave.
I was also struck by the authenticity with which the play space was transformed: smells, temperatures, textures, and sounds brought the experience to life. The choreography was impeccable, and the cast did a wonderful job of helping the audience understand exactly what to do. I may even go back to catch some of the things I missed the first time.
If you’re in the Boston area, treat yourself and go see this production! Shows run through January 3, 2010.
Roger Ebert recently republished his review of Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa’s groundbreaking film, which depicts a murder through the subjective flashbacks of 4 different characters. The movie was so influential that a psychological theory accounting for the effect of subjectivity on recollection is named after it.
Ebert remarks on the incorporation of “Rashomon” into English lexicon:
Its very title has entered the English language, because, like "Catch-22," it expresses something for which there is no better substitute.
Dan Jurafsky of Stanford University has recently started a blog on the language of food which covers topics like how “entrée” came to describe a main course and why “tomato ketchup” is not actually as redundant as it seems.
Jurafsky teaches a course on the linguistics of food; the syllabus is worth a look. Coming up, for example, we’ve got a lecture on “The Grammar of Cuisine (or, Why do we eat dessert at the end?)”, starting with Claude Levi-Strauss and ending with “Taking the Biscuit: the structure of British meals”.
Interestingly, it appears that language influences food, and not the other way around.
Maple-glazed apple bacon donuts are an anomaly. Why?
Twitter has proven, yet again, that micro blogging is a great venue for emerging literature. Neil Gaiman, the creator of Stardust and The Sandman comic series is teaming up with BBC Audiobooks America to produce an interactive story which will be written through the collaboration of Twitter users. Gaiman started the story last Tuesday, and others may pitch in and help create the narrative by adding the hashtag #bbcawdio to their Tweets. BBCAA then sorts through the chaos and compiles the results to string together the best narrative. You can check out the story so far by following @BBCAA .
Once the project is finished, BBCAA will record the result and it will be available for free download at the BBCAA website and will also be available at iTunes or other audiobook retailers.
He writes of Susana Pajares Tosca’s two papers, “I like very much her writing” and declares, “Greco is super interesting.” He particularly singles out Mark Bernstein’s new essay, “Into the Weeds":
“I find Berstein’s writing illuminating…There is something very decisive about his writing. Something very performative. He sees how to translate a simple phrase into a sort of philosophical and practical maxim.”
Roger Ebert, the movie critic famous for his thumb being up or down, has almost as many books as Eastgate’s own Mark Bernstein. I found out about Bernstein’s books when dropping by for dinner, finding that they covered most surfaces not occupied by the plates. Ebert recently described just how one can come to own so many books — including multiple editions of the same title — and why he can’t get rid of them.
“I cannot throw out these books. Some are protected because I have personally turned all their pages and read every word; they're like little shrines to my past hours. Perhaps half were new when they came to my life, but most are used, and I remember where I found every one...Like an alcoholic trying to walk past a bar, you should see me trying to walk past a used book store.
I think the answer to this question is a bit more complicated than Miller’s observation that many kids today are reading printed books to find “a welcome break from staring at screens all day.” The reaction to vooks has been pretty clear: people don’t want books interrupted by video; but does that mean they don’t want to the two to come together?
Good books offer readers complex narrative, interesting language, and most importantly, imagination. Good video offers beautiful visuals and can enhance the viewer’s experience through use of lighting, color, sound, and the composition of the shot.
If people weren’t interested in combining video with reading, the current video game market would never have gotten off the ground. Original Nintendo RPGs relied heavily on text delivering the story, and even the most recent Kingdom Hearts game for the PS2 has no less than a 10 minute introduction, conveyed through a combination of cutscenes and textual character dialogue.
The key component that these vooks are missing--and which video games and hypertext fiction offer--is interactivity.
Simon and Schuster, the book division of CBS, have introduced the vook™, which they hail as a new form of eBook that integrates text with video illustrations. Of the vooks in the initial launch, two are fiction. The others seem to be what the platform is really designed for: instructional books, promising toned abs and better skin.
The fiction intrigues me, as I’m wondering how they would be able to offer video interjections without losing the level of immersion that print books and fully visual narratives offer. It seems that a Richard Doetsch thriller like Embassy would not want to interrupt its “page-turning suspense” with “dazzling video components that advance the storyline.” Don’t get me wrong, there are ways to join text and video together beautifully, but what sound like video cut-scenes to an otherwise straightforward linear text narrative seems like an awkward way to do it.
It’s a little surprising that none of the members of the 8-person Leadership Team at Vook.com seem to have come from the ebook, hypertext, or publishing worlds. There’s a lot of real-estate talent on view. Meet Peter Richter, the lead engineer:
“ Peter Richter spent the last 11 years working for the GlobalEnglish Corporation which provides an online English Learning service for ESL learners. There he combined his former experience as a teacher with his technological skills to help pioneer the world of eLearning. Peter brings with him the experience of create dynamic, engaging user experiences while architecting sophisticated data driven web applications.”
The company can afford a Brand Director and a Social Marketing Manager and a Creative Director and a VP of Content Development; they might want to get an editor to rethink that “architecting”.
Bob Stein, whose Voyager Expanded Books ploughed this furrow years ago, isn’t impressed.
“Basically it's an ordinary romance novel with video clips interspersed in the pages. In terms of form the result is ho-hum in the extreme, particularly as there doesn't seem to be much attempt to integrate the text and the banal video, which seems to exist simply to pretty-up the pages.
What greatly interests me about these vooks, however, is their accessibility through the iPhone and iPod Touch. I can’t wait to see what new and interesting possibilities writers can come up with using video, sound, and creative use of the touch screen.
Golovchinsky mentions the ever-present copyright issues and the durability of the files, but his main concern is the ways in which eBooks are inferior to print books. They cannot, for example, show color or images. He disputes that the book is an obsolete tool.
One reason eBooks loose the drag race with paper is that they don’t yet take much advantage of hypertextuality. The ebook simulates paper. It is produced in advance, linear and rigidly structured, and one organization must fit everyone.. It must be read in a particular order, and it can’t be added to once it’s complete. Perhaps this comforts the completionists, but it’s not the way information works.
Urban Sketchers creates art using pen, watercolor, even iPhone’s Brushes app. They display their art on their Flickr group , but they also have a blog which features various artists (currently an incredibly talented 10-year-old) and includes articles by the artists, discussing their inspiration and technique.
I was actually surprised at the quality of some of the Brushes work. One artist in particular, Xoan Baltar , stands out . His work is truly incredible, especially to think that it’s drawn on a touch-screen!
It’s great that artistic communities like Urban Sketchers are embracing new forms of art creation. Interestingly, though, Urban Sketchers does not accept art that is altered drastically in programs like Photoshop. This fact suggests that something about Brushes is still considered organic in this artistic community, even preferable to Photoshop. What, then, constitutes too much intervention of the machine, and is the use of touch screen the only factor to make Brushes more organic?
The HBO Cube presents its stories from four different camera angles simultaneously, while the viewer switches between them, choosing how to watch the action. The project is reminiscent of hyperdrama: that from one space to the next at any given time can alter the viewer’s interpretation of a scene dramatically.
The stories use their scenery to create visual barriers, which interrupt the camera’s line of sight, so that the viewer really does need to switch views to catch everything. The importance of barriers in interactive media is not sufficiently understood or appreciated.
The Cube would definitely be improved if the audio followed the angle you were watching, for example, in this scene having the couple’s dialogue slightly muted if you were watching them through the doorway of another room. Also the movement can be a bit quick, but overall the Cube is clever and innovative. It’s glance in the right direction for new media on portable electronics.
What is the relationship between images, words, and narrative?
Antione Bardou-Jacquet’s The Child raises these questions and more. This short film uses words as images to provide background scenes, portray moving vehicles, and even act as characters (oh the puns!). The narrative action of the piece is actually conveyed by the combination of these words, diaglogue, and mise en scène.
It might be interesting to do a Lacanian reading of the piece, examining the relationship between the word-images as signifiers, the signifieds conveyed through filmic aspects of the piece (e.g. sound, dialogue, etc) and how the words convey meaning through their role as images.
It’s a very interesting piece; definitely worth watching a couple of times to catch some of the words you missed the first time.=
A few days ago, Prof. David Millard from Southampton twittered about a new tower defense game for the iPhone. It’s David Whatley’s GeoDefense Swarm. Clare Hooper also twittered about it. They’re right; it’s very good.
Millard’s work on Auld Leakey points the way, I think, toward an interesting new approach to thinking about links and, especially, hyperdrama. Claire Hooper is part of the Learning Societies Lab at Southampton, and wrote another interesting card-shark hypertext system called Storyspinner.
But what does it mean, exactly, to say that a tower defense game is good? And to what kind of “good” can a tower defense game aspire?
With all this [Dashiell Hammett] did not wreck the formal detective story. Nobody can; production demands a form that can be produced. Realism takes too much talent, too much knowledge, too much awareness. Hammett may have loosened it up a little here, and sharpened it a little there. Certainly all but the stupidest and most meretricious writers are more conscious of their artificiality than they used to be. And he demonstrated that the detective story can be important writing. The Maltese Falcon may or may not be a work of genius, but an art which is capable of it is not 'by hypothesis' incapable of anything. Once a detective story can be as good as this, only the pedants will deny that it could be even better."
It seems to me that this argument can’t work for tower defense games. What tower defense game could justify our confidence that it could be capable of anything? Anything? But there’s got to be a better way to talk about art like Geodefense Swarm, a way that is more satisfying than simply saying “I liked it.”
Dene Grigar hails the results of the 24-Hr. Micro-Elit Project. “Over 85 stories were submitted by 25+ participants from five countries,” she says. Also of interest to fans of Twitter-narrative is Laurent Sauerwein’s Taploid project, though these Tweets are individual narratives while Taploid’s episodic tweets come together to form a narrative.
The two approaches offer different experiences and raise different questions. Taploid recounts a trip to South India over the course of several Tweets, emphasizing social media networks as a medium for imparting episodic narrative. The question is, at what point do we separate the cheese sandwiches and trivial experience from the serious literary narratives? Or do we? How do we criticize such a piece?
The 24hr project is more concerned with a collaborative effort to create stories no longer than 140 characters, à la Hemingway’s famous “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Here we face the familiar flash fiction question: how short is too short? Whatever that threshold is, I would argue that we haven’t reached it yet, as the stories in the 24 hr project are still able to invoke emotion and understanding of character. Some of my favorites:
Brian Eno has introduced his new app for the iPhone and iPod touch, Trope. The new app is a follow-up to Bloom, an application that would create different sounds and images when the user moved her finger around the screen. Eno explains,
“Trope is a different emotional experience from Bloom—more introspective, more atmospheric. It shows that generative music…can draw from a palette of moods.”
The blend of music, visual art, and user interaction make this a very interesting app—more interesting when you ask how we should think about or critique this type of art.
In the Wall Street Journal, a great article by Terry Teachout on The New-Media Crisis of 1949 which details the decline of network radio. The music, television, and print industries should be taking notes. Sentimentality won’t save a medium, and those who embrace the new form tend to be more successful. Thanks. George Landow!
“Whether the Google books settlement passes muster with the U.S. District Court and the Justice Department, Google's book search is clearly on track to becoming the world's largest digital library. No less important, it is also almost certain to be the last one.”
The article points out errors in the scanned books’ metadata including category listings, publication dates and even titles. Google has already faced criticism for the legal and ethical aspects of creating a digital library, but this is the first article I’ve seen that addresses the quality of the project’s execution. Thanks, TiltFactor.
“So what is the impetus for selection [of which link to follow]? Does it depend upon the individual as far as style (first, second, third link in order) or experience either of reading hypertext or of knowledge of the author’s style? Is it the text itself that creates desire to go further in that direction, whether it be the single word (or phrase) that is obviously the link, or the context in which the link resides?”
Gibb is able to trace the path of her readers, finding out which link they clicked on and how far they went afterwards. She uses this information to revise the text— fascinating!
Be sure to check out the comments as well, as she brings up interesting points of discussion on the fact that a reader might be done with the piece and not have visited every link:
“As far as am I okay with a reader missing many of my most eloquently written spaces, I’m getting used to it. There are two evident solutions for the author to take: 1) ensure that the paths lead through the story in a way that would both please the reader and satisfy the writer, and 2) more importantly, make each and every writing space a piece of art.”
In elementary school, I was asked to be a reading tutor for children a few years younger than me. My teacher told me to remember the golden rule of teaching: "I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand."
One trend that I’m seeing more in recent years is the employment of same tools authors are using in creating hypertexts, including having students use Storyspace and Tinderbox for projects.
Pamela G. Taylor, who teaches Art Education at Virginia Commonwealth University writes:
I'm teaching a graduate class in visual culture and they are organizing all their work---reading synopses, connections to other realms of experience (readings visual and popular culture) and a special class project----into a Tinderbox process-folio
Not only do assignments like these generate more interest in the subject, but they allow for more flexibility and creativity in presentation, perhaps also offering a glimpse into another often-overlooked aspect of hypertext narrative: its role in nonfiction.
by Mark Wernham. Machine #69 recalls Ryman’s 253, and especially Bob Arellano’s Sunshine ’69 both in its embrace of arbitrary connection and its fond nostalgia for the era when cheap booze, good drugs, fast cars and hot guns seemed to offer everything worth wanting and when nothing was worth wanting very much.
A new hyperromance for the Web. Sparsely linked, La Farge’s new hypertext nods at Stephanie Strickland’s design and to Michael Joyce’s direct address to the reader. but brings a new voice and sensibility to Web fiction.
Multimedia notes from underground, where a traumatized girl furnishes a cozy space in an underground tunnel. Script by Lynda Williams, music and code by Andy Campbell and Matthew Wright. A web work that’s especially nice on the iPad. (The floor lamp is a nice allusion. Get it?)