Upon first encountering the Electronic Literature Collection, I found myself frustrated, challenged, and generally disgruntled as a reader. However, the turning point in my experience with E-Lit occurred during the class discussion of Megan Sapnar’s reflection on her piece “Cruising”. As more authors began sharing their intimate relationships with this seemingly trendy genre, it became obvious that there is something meaningful to take away from each unique piece of E-Lit. Overall, the commentary from the ELC1 authors not only helped me to discover how to constructively approach and interpret electronic literature, but more importantly the personal remarks from each author provided insight into how much more powerfully a story can be told through this technological style of presentation.
My initial feelings of frustration towards E-Lit came primarily from my inability to be open-minded about this new form of literature. With absolutely no idea how to navigate and move through this virtual space, the easiest reaction for me was to simply reject the “unknown”. Perhaps most exasperating was my inability to find a starting point. By this, I mean that I did not know where to begin interpreting each piece in the ELC1. From the series’ inflexible ten minute media clips to its interactive directionless games, I found it very difficult to see any good in adding these extra, unnecessary elements to each piece – what I thought was a tacky approach to presenting learning material. These mediated elements seemed to take away from the text itself by creating “noisy” distractions – at least that is how I thought of it, and I am sure that other active interpretive readers of my peer group would likely feel the same way.
However, when authors Sapnar, Ezzat, and Joseph offered up their insightful reflections about the minute details of the relationships formulated within the structure and content of their pieces, it became more evident to me that I had missed the point of their approach. I realized this after our class discussion about Sapnar’s “Cruising”. Details in her piece that I had initially deemed nonsensical began to seem more meaningful to me. For example, the “unstable” interface of “Cruising” was created intentionally to “highlight the work a reader must do to make a poem meaningful”. The struggle between reader and interactivity establishes an intimate connection to both the content of the piece and the user’s personal experiences. By creating this “realistic” connection with the story I began to understand how the mediated aspects of “Cruising” play a major role in the unique delivery of the text itself. This entirely new experience of E-Lit helped to break down my bias towards traditional literature, which I realized had become as solid as the Berlin Wall. I had naturally assumed that a book was the only way to genuinely deliver a story.
Since then, through my experience with works of online literature and their authors, I have gained a better understanding of how much more the E-Lit genre has to offer. With innumerable creative possibilities for presentation, each work not only gains strength through the inspiration and language of its author, but also through the electronic mode in which it is presented. By reflecting upon each author’s forum contributions, it has become increasingly evident to me how the media aspects of E-Lit can create an entirely new and intriguing experience of literature. The carefully designed details in the “form and content” relationship of each piece offer up a dynamic reading experience that is unique to the E-Lit genre.
In conclusion, though the commentaries of the ELC1 authors were able to influence my attitude towards electronic literature in general, there are still pieces that I do not really understand as well as I would like to, and will most likely never grow fond of. For this reason, I would like to see Maria Mencia (author of “Birds Singing Other Birds’ Songs”) featured in the 2010 Electronic Literature Forum. Perhaps a look into her thought process behind the creation of her awkward and hard to like piece “Birds” could help make the story more accessible. Presently, it still feels like a piece to me that does not have a valid purpose other than being obviously “arty”.
Electronic literature has been around for the past couple decades but it continues to remain relatively unknown. In the simplest form it is literature that originates in a digital environment. Hypertext fiction, interactive fiction, installation pieces, generative art and Flash poetry are among the many types of work which make up this category of literature. It seems to be a largely unexplored strand of literature that hasn’t seemed to take off. In the world we live in today, technology advances at such a rapid pace. In fact, in many cases it advances before certain pieces become widespread and available. Electronic literature producers and the organization just don’t have enough support, resources, money or man-power to update and remain dynamic and cutting edge in the ever-changing technological world. Not only does it have trouble keeping up, it is almost entirely overshadowed by more advanced technology. Professionally produced video and computer games are much more aesthetically and interactively pleasing to the general public. The appeal to engage in these pieces is far more alluring than that of electronic literature. E-lit can’t seem to compete with print either. There seems to be a type of nostalgia surrounding traditional print. Readers enjoy having their own concrete library of print books. In addition to these books having a solid, effective system of archiving, there is just a comfort around the physical tangibility of novels running right down to the feel of it in the reader’s hands. Especially coming from a print-based background for the consumption of literature, readers face many difficulties in consuming e-lit. Frustrations such as not being able to “turn the page” in their own time for example, create feelings among many readers of automatic rejection. Many of these readers are unlikely to continue exploring electronic literature unless prompted to for reasons such as class requirements. Overall, electronic literature just can’t seem to compete with the giant electronic gaming companies or print-based literature. This has placed the branch in a stifling position with little room to successfully expand and appeal to the masses. Although there were vibrant and exciting intentions in breaking literary production into the electronic world, it seems to be a creative dead-end.
Chris Joseph’s work “Urbanalities” is a series of seven visual pieces that demonstrates the destruction and chaos of urban life. Each scene in particular targets a certain idea about the city and how people view it to be; along with this, each person have a different aspect of how they view the city.
As I was watching the seven scenes unfold, there were a few scenes in particular that stood out to me specifically the portion with the sniper and the ticking clock scene. The sniper scene reminded me of a revolution but exclusively the Chilean Coup d’Etat in 1973. Perhaps my family’s background was an influence on me but as I saw the target moving around the screen it reminded me of the paranoia that occurred during that time. Anyone could have been killed for doing anything; doing one small thing and you would be dead. This piece is not relatively old, but other viewers would have a different idea on what the sniper scene could be about. Another view that could be suggested would be about the amount of crime and corruption that is dwelling in urban settings; how things of violent nature is ignored by the public and there is nothing that could be done about it.
The ticking clock scene was a part of the visualization that ties in with the theme of urban culture, chaos and destruction; where there is no time to reconstruct an establishment of order. The clock constantly ticking away makes the viewer feel anxious, as if time were wasting away and they have not completed their task and it must be put off until the next day. The rushing of time reminds me of Canada’s response to vaccinating the country for the H1N1 virus. Much was said about how prepared we were but with the flu season coming we are quickly running out of time.
Joseph’s work cannot be summed up due to the various scenes that he plays with to portray urban life in an artistic form. What was enjoyable was the fact that the idea of Dada-ism was highly an influence to the piece. The strict colours of white, black, red and blue where strung throughout the piece, gave it a sense of disorder but a conservative outlook on the publication, which again reflects the lifestyle of those living in the city. The idea of Dada is especially enjoyable because of its nature of an idea as a random art form; again, reflects how random urban life is perceived. The scenes of the moving target and the ticking clock are constant reminders of the fear of the city for it is constantly changing. The randomness of this work would have particular views for each individual and in this case I had viewed it in a negative fashion.
Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw, is the electronic literature piece I have chosen from the ELC1 to review this week. Deviant is a visual narrative, a with story with no words or voices, simply an interactive animated story. It recreates the true story of an 11 year old girl in 1696 Scotland who was believed (at that time at least) to have become possessed by evil spirits. She blamed up to twenty local townsfolk for her possession, accusing them of being witches; an investigation was held and seven were found guilty. One of the men killed himself in jail, the other three women and three men were strangled, their bodies burned. It is now generally thought that Christian was most likely manipulated by the local priest and doctor.
Donna Leishman’s Deviant is as strange as the story of Christian Shaw. The story starts with an upside down tree. When reader clicks it an odd little town appears. There are four large buildings, a treed area with a lake, a church and a small house on the left, apart from the rest of the town, as well a large hill in the foreground. One of the trees has a ladder going up to it, like a tree house. The reader, who must seek out clues with the mouse on the screen to see parts of the story, first notices that the buildings make music when you run the mouse over them, eery electronic organ music that makes some of the trees grow larger and blossom. The blossoms can be knocked to the ground by the reader. This weird, childish activity sets the tone for the story.
This is the first electronic piece that I don’t want to give to many details about what unfolds because it is a story, with a beginning and end, although possibly not ordered like one would find in a book; to tell you what happens would spoil it. I will say that Leishman has created the first piece of electronic literature that really got to me. It was scary, not in the horror movie sense, although maybe it actually was a little bit, but mostly in the tension that is created by the cheerful yet disturbing design and churchy music. It made me feel the same way I did when I saw the movie There Will Be Blood, tense and on edge. It was so atmospheric that I felt like something fucked up was going to happen at every movement of the mouse. And every time I watch it I see a new clue, another glimpse in strange Christian’s childlike (and possibly demonic) mind, which adds to the haunting feeling it evokes. This is the first piece of electronic literature that uses the platform perfectly. It is my favourite so far.
I know the author, Donna Leishman, has discussed Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw in this blog, but I have chosen not to read it until after I am finished my review, and then any extra things I have to add after reading her post I will put in the comments section.
Firstly thanks to Aurelea and CultureNet/CapilanoU for inviting me to write something about Urbanalities here. During the actual process of creation things often come together more or less by chance; it is only after some time away that the reasoning and process behind various decisions becomes clearer, and I’ve found thinking again about Urbanalities has been very interesting in this way.
Before talking about Urbanalities itself I’ll begin with a brief background to me and my practice, as I think both are relevant to understanding how the piece came about, and what it tries to be or do.
The extremely reduced CV bit: I was born in England, but am also Canadian, and have lived in in Montreal for several periods in my life, most recently from 2000-2006 (so Urbanalities was created there, which may or may not be significant). My degree was not in computers or the arts, but my exposure to computers and multimedia began when I was young with a ZX Spectrum 48k, and I think that little rubber-keyed computer ended up being a much greater influence on my life than my ‘official’ studies.
The Electronic Literature Collection has been divided up into keywords for easy navigation. Under the keyword, “Games” falls seven different pieces; some of which do the keyword justice and some that fall short. Digital gaming is broad sector consisting of video, arcade and computer games; a category too broad to place the pieces of this keyword under. Even if we place it under the category of computer games, it still doesn’t really live up to the expectations of a computer game. The aim of the pieces in this keyword is to use text and interactivity (Taking advantage of the computer input devices) to convey a message or a story to the reader.
A computer game should be able to keep an individual engaged. Using tasks that lead up to a goal, points, rankings, etc. the gamer should remain entertained. Many of the games in the ELC are dynamic in the sense that they have the potential to be different each time they are played. However, many of the games were too difficult to understand because the instructions were too broad and there were not clear guidelines. For many of the more complicated ones I just gave up (Ex. Jean-Pierre Balpe ou les Lettres Dérangées). Also, in a few of them there was no real “Right” or “Wrong” therefore there was no indication or incentive to the gamer on how well they were doing. The issue of accessibility was also a problem. Numerous games require complicated downloads (All Roads, Bad Machine, and Savoir-Faire ) which many people wouldn’t want to accept for the risk of their computer being harmed by potential viruses.
There is a lot of potential under the keyword “Games” for the pieces to be engaging, entertaining and enticing to modern generations considering the widespread interest and consummation of digital gaming. On the other hand, in the couple cases of games under this keyword that I actually liked (Stud Poetry, for example), I don’t think had much literary value. In the case of the ELC, I don’t think digital gaming and literature seem to mesh well. A gain in one of those elements seems to be a loss in the other. All-in-all, I’d rather just read a novel or a poem and play my digital games separately. Besides Stud Poetry (Which took up about four hours of my Saturday afternoon) and carrier (becoming symborg), I wasn’t engaged by the pieces under this category in the ELC and I can’t say I’d recommend them. Using the keyword “Games” to classify these pieces gives the individual a misguided preconception with high standards that aren’t fufilled.
Katherine Hayles’ Electronic Literature Collection (ELC) carries a variety of literature in different electronic forms. Authors come together utilizing different elements of fiction/poetry with the use of computer programs. Different writers use Flash Media as a way of expressing their works not only through words, but with music, images and animation. There are specific writers that utilize a certain program that allows the reader to interact with the work itself.
Jon Ingold’s All Roads is one story where the reader has certain command words to continue it. Unfortunately, the reader doesn’t know any of the key words so they fumble to find the correct words to continue on. There is some difficulty to this considering the list of initiating words is unknown. There’s a sense of instinctual word choice. The reader is to assume what the next word would be such as, “walk” or “jump”. There was one instant in the scene of All Roads where the character is hanging from a rope tied around his neck and one wrong move, the reader’s decision, to commit suicide. In some points of this work, the frustration sets in when one decides to stray away from the hidden keyword selection and tries to make the story go in their direction. Again, they are denied this choice.
Aaron A. Reed’s Who the Telling Changed is a slightly better version of this concept. Reed’s piece asks the user whether they want the key words emphasized to point them in the right direction. Also, if the user were to type in the wrong instructional word, a suggestive list of words appears on the screen to help progress the story. It is aggravating because the reader only has a few options to choose from in order to continue. Ingold and Reed have the commonality in where they want to direct their reader to a certain point but still have the control to manipulate the story to the way they want it to go. Reed has an advantage because he aids the reader on how they would like to end the story.
The frustration of interactive fiction is the disability for the reader to choose the next step to continue the story. It is difficult for the reader to choose the next option because they are denied by the program. If it is interactive fiction, why can’t the reader decide their character’s fate in the work? Why advertise to the population of readers that they are able to control fiction? It’s misleading. At the same time, it’s understandable that the author still wants the control as the manipulator of the story. This only teases the reader to have this option; but allowing the reader to have complete control of it would defeat the purpose. The author pushes the user to believe they have the directions to manipulate the story, but in the end, the author has complete hold over his/her work. In this case, it does seem have an advantage; it’s like the Choose Your Own Adventure books in electronic form.
By Chris Wilcox
Electronic literature (e-lit) seems very hard to try and place on the collection rack of artistry. It’s new and it can be seen as dangerous as it challenges us to do what we’re not normally comfortable with. This makes it hard for e-lit to have a voice in the world because of the way in which people are required to interact with it.
So where does e-lit find room to fit in our lives and how does it have a future? Currently e-lit seems to be a very small form of art yet has influences from all over the digital media realm. It’s biggest challenge as something small and new, lies within the viewer. This is because when people are faced with the “new” and “different” it can be hard to understand and easy to become frustrated. This is how I feel e-lit has been for me and I believe that because its hard to accept the “unknown”, e-lit will have a difficult time finding it’s way in the world.
It’s hard, it’s confusing, it’s annoying at times, so why read electronic literature at all? We can all remember back to when we were first read to. Books like Where the Wild Things Are taught us not to fear monsters, Mr Pines Purple House taught us to accept differences and the adventures of Whinny the Poo gave us an imaginary literary friend. Then we started to read to ourselves. Picking our way through the leveled readers until we became comfortable with books that had no pictures. Slowly as we worked our way through reading books became lees and less scary. We were taught the rules and how it worked. Learned that stories usually have a hero and a villain, and we were comfortable. (more…)
By Innessa Roosen
In Leonard Diepeveen and Timonthy Van Laar’s book Art with a Difference, the relationship between art and difficulty is explored through various examples of visual art and conceptual art movements. However, their connection parallels the same link between art and difficulty, as with electronic-literature and concerns relating to obscurity. (more…)