All posts by lizhelm

Long Blog Post #2: The Evidence of Everything Exploding

“and from these languages comes another language”

–a greeting on the opening panel of the game/poem/animation

After a frustrating twenty minutes of clicking, dragging, and guessing, I finally began to appreciate Jason Nelson’s creation of this interactive digital poem. My frustration came not from an inability to maneuver the project, but rather by attempting to find justification to classify such a thing as poetry. I struggled to find any literary value in the actual text, however the fashion in which it is presented to the reader, or in this case the player, categorizes the experience as nothing short of intriguing and perplexing.

The poem is presented as an interactive game in which the reader controls the movement of the cursor through a labyrinth of obstacles, checkpoints, and words. At each checkpoint, an explosion occurs on screen followed by an image, a short animation, or box of some sort that proposes a new subset of text. The text only appears on screen for a limited amount of time. At several points throughout the game, I had to revisit the same checkpoint several times to read the entirety of the flash of text.

Not unlike flarf poetry, the text is borrowed from an unrelated source and reorganized in an attempt to create meaning. The “about EoEE” pop-up explains the author’s source of text:Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 4.16.59 PM

At first, I rejected this whimsical explanation. Perhaps the text truly derives from a treasure box discovered under layers of glacial ice. But more likely, it is another radical poem, an extension of the experience of the larger game. It is another way for the author to challenge the definition of literature. The list of “wondrous evidence” at the bottom of box provides a satirical ah-ha moment for the game. What makes this pop-up box, as is the entirety of the text, such a vital part of the poem is the way it is presented. The pop-up was a result of an accidental slip of a pointer finger onto a hyperlinked icon in the upper corner. It is entirely possible for the reader to complete the game without reading that piece of text. I felt that I was in control of the text. The animation and pop-ups depended on my active participation and willingness to play the game.

However, I had no control at all. As the game player and willing reader, I was a the subject on manipulation, not the text. Words are not simply given to the reader, but parceled out as a reward as the reader progresses to higher levels of the game. The author has complete control over how the reader reads, while the reader feels that he or she is in control of the game –an unprecedented expression of poetic metaphor.

By entering a new level of the game, the reader commits to moving forward through the poem. There is not a “back” option to re-play the previous level or return to the home screen. As the reader, I must constantly be alert and conscious of my moves, as each one permanently changes the experience of the game.

I have yet to discover the purpose or meaning of the repetitive animated explosions. But one thing I am sure of is that I hold on tighter to my Shel Silverstein collection as the category of poetry stretches to make room for interactive, digital, verbal games.Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 3.47.12 PM

Explore EoEE or check out other projects by Jason Nelson such as Birds still warm from flying


Flarf Poem: I’m Paul Simon, and you’re not

lol Chevy Chase

Chevy looks like my Uncle…

Chevy Chase sort of looks like John Cleese.

Omg he soo looks and reminds me of Will Ferrell !!!!


How tall is Chevy Chase?

I can’t tell if Chevy Chase is a giant or if Paul is tiny

I spent the first few years of my life thinking Paul Simon was tall.

Paul’s so short beside Chevy

i never realized how tall chevy chase is

Chevy chase is a giant


I wonder if Mr. Chase was the “class clown” back in his younger days?

Paul Simon looks and is infinitely cooler and more genius than Chevy Chase ever was

its chevy chase dumb asses

take that negativity somewhere else man, there’s no need

What a shame that is; Paul’s pissed.


After our class discussion about the publicity of comments on open media blogs such as YouTube, I decided that I would gather my flarf content string of a song. The poem above was built entirely from comments of the music video of Paul Simon’s You Can Call me Al. I chose the song randomly by shuffling through a playlist with hundreds of songs.  As I was reading the lengthy list of responses to the video, I noticed a trend. The topic of many of the comments had nothing to do with the song, but rather Chevy Chase who co-stars in the video with Paul Simon. I pulled as many comments about Chevy Chase as I could find, and re-organized them to sound more like a thought process or conversation, while keeping the original punctuation and words.

Long Blog Post #1: The Rules of Reality

As we continue to explore the interactions between technology and society, I can’t help but question the ultimate goal of the creation of such tools. Boredom alone could not possibly be the motivation that drives the creation of virtual universes, chat rooms, and artificial conversation with a computer (for example). Anderson provides one possible answer the question of the purpose of the creation of artificial intelligence and the constant integration of technology into the human life. Although technology could never replace the balanced ecosystem of the planet, it serves as a way for humans to cope with the acknowledgment of their ultimate fate.

In FEED, the use of technology, particularly the Feed, reflects the societal strategy for pursuing happiness. The dead ocean and dwindling population of trees and animals reflect the future for humans. As the natural world disintegrates around them, the Feed offers the characters a way to escape reality. The original anatomical structure and function of the human body and brain can never be replaced, but like an additional limb, the Feed is a tool for human to use for improved quality of life. Anderson contrasts the foreign, constant buzzing of information with familiar moments of human interactions and creativity to illustrate the degree to which the Feed removes a human from his natural state.

Within the first pages of the novel, unfamiliar terms and ideas immediately contrasts the lives of the characters with the life of the 21st century reader. Words such as “null,” “meg,” “unit,” “youch,” and “re:” create a new culture based on the influence of the Feed. Additionally, visits to the moon and Venus describe the advancements of technology and illustrate a seemingly limitless society, with the ability to defy the laws of gravity.

In between slang and feed terminology, Anderson slips a few moments of intense imagery of animals and uses metaphor to describe the world from Titus’ point of view. Titus describes Violet’s touch, “It felt so soft. Like something I’d never felt before. It felt like the neck of a swan in the wind” (p40). Poetic and thoughtful, his language reflects the ability for original, creative thought, unaffected by the Feed.  Titus again uses animal metaphor to describe a sight, “It’s like a squid in love with the sky” (p62). Weather or not Titus has ever seen a live squid or swan, he has the ability and knowledge to relate to the natural world. Without the influence of the Feed, he describes a human experience in a way that could only be understood by another human. Though rare, his allusions to the wild life offer a glimpse of human originality, where the Feed is not present in his view of life.

As the entirety of the novel suggests that “the end” is approaching soon, Anderson keeps the essence of humanity close and reoccurring, keeping the tone from sinking into an apocalyptic depression. Woven through the discussion of societal tension and human deterioration are precious moments of young love and teenage angst that are present at any time period. In theses moment, the reader can relate to characters, root for them, and temporarily forget the inevitable impending doom that seems to cast a shadow on the entire novel. Titus and Violet’s puppy love serves as a distraction to the ultimate ending of the novel, and the end of the human existence.

“It was a filet mignon farm, all of it, and the tissue spread for miles around the paths where we were walking. It was these huge hedges of red all around us… They had these tubes, there were bringing the tissues blood, and we could see the blood running up and down… They had made part of if into a steak maze, for tourists, and we split up in the steak maze and tried to see who could get to the center first. We were big laughing and we’d run into each other and growl and back away. There were other tourists in the steak maze too, and they thought we were cute.” (p142)

Anderson presents quite a strange tone of heartwarming disgust: the playful, innocent flirtation between two young people in a sea of artificially grown beef. The beef that must be artificially gown because the cow either no longer exists or cannot support the gross human population and lifestyle. There is nothing natural about the generation of tissue in the farm. Ironically, the only thing that seems natural is the simple bliss achieved by Titus and Violet. Anderson satirically juxtaposes the natural and unnatural, and evokes sympathy while challenging the reader to pine for the characters’ innocence at a place of natural destruction.

The intimate essence of this scene lies in the fact they neither Titus nor Violet actively use the Feed during their time together in the maze. This is one of the rare occasions in the novel where they are physically active, playful, and fully present in the people and place in front of them. Here, the characters are happy without the help of the Feed; a glimpse of hope for the future or simply a sad reflection of the past that can never fully recover.

These examples simply highlight the moments that lack major influence of the Feed and are still humanly successful (happy). They illustrate the natural curiosity that is threatened by the availability of immediate and available information. This discussion raises further questions about the purpose behind creating artificial life and interactions. At a time when we are aware of our ultimate fate as a species, with or without distractions, can we ever be happy?

Blog Post #2: The Walt Whitman Archive

The Walt Witman Archive is a project that aims to collect Whitman’s work in a comprehensive, accessible space for any purpose and all readers. Why go digital? As the creators describe, “his work defies the constraints of the book.”

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I found the home page attractive and clear. In fact, the entire site is easy to maneuver and extremely organized. The organization of the site actually invites the user to explore the site. Without a specific subject in mind to search, I began investigating the contents of the archive and found myself overwhelmed by the amount of information available to the user. The simplicity of the site emphasizes purpose of the project: to collect and make available the works of Walt Whitman.

One page that has unique value is titled “Resources” that lists tools, addition links on Whitman, and even a teaching syllabus. Upon clicking the “Tools” link, I was presented with a text analysis tool called TokenX. The page offers a full description of the tool as well as instructions and suggestions for use. Pages such as this one offer an advantage to a researcher using digital archives over printed ones. The tool is explained and then can be instantly downloaded for use.

I am hesitant to call the site complete, as it is described as a “dynamic site that will grow and change over the years” by the authors, who mention the future addition of Whitman’s poetry to the archive. However, I found every time of source that I could use for my own scholarly papers or projects within the pages of the archive. Scanned photos of Whitman’s notebooks, transcriptions of his works, history of Whitman’s life, full books translated into several languages, published works, a gallery of images… the list continues. Honestly, I wish I had known of this resource in high school. The criticism is somewhat limited, due to copyright permission of the authors.

This project is fully developed, financially supported by several education institutions, including University of Virginia, as well as donations from researchers and other outside institutions. With an entire page dedicated to the creators and contributors of the archive, it is obvious that the site derived from a passion of literature and a great appreciation of Walt Whitman. Overall, the project is extremely successful in fulfilling their purpose, and serves as an excellent model for other digital archives.


Blog Post #1: “Home” and “House”

I found these words in the reflection of my own life, actually during an argument with my mother. After visiting some family this weekend in Richmond, I commented that I wanted to return home before dark –unknowing offending my mother by referring to my apartment in Charlottesville as “home.” The home that she was thinking of is a white house within walking distance of downtown Winchester, VA. I haven’t spent more than two months in that house since I was fourteen; having gone to boarding school, I’ve mastered the art of packing and easily set up a comfortable dwelling almost anywhere. That “house” is just a building, but wherever I live at the moment is “home”. Then I asked myself, does the fact that I don’t live in the house keep me from calling it home? What’s the difference? And how have the two words grown into American culture?

“House” from the OED:

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 4.35.43 PM

“Home” from the OED:

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 4.40.34 PMScreen Shot 2014-01-26 at 4.39.51 PM

The definitions make the difference very clear (as well as make myself a bit guilty for implying that our house has no familiar content). Home includes the contents of the house that stimulate the senses.


Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 5.09.23 PM

On this comparison, notice the two times where the lines meet and diverge. Around 1920 and 1935, the frequencies of the words are about the same. Over all, “home” begins in 1800 at about 2% lower than “house,” but eventually surpasses “house.” Another point of interesting behavior occurs between 1940 and 1980, where both words seem to decrease in frequency.

I am not convinced that the difference of the two words in meaning relates to the difference in frequency. Rather, the difference is due to a change in writing style from formal to colloquial. Perhaps the usage of the words fluxuated during The Great Depression, when many American’s struggled to keep their houses or were homeless. With this idea in mind, I added “homeless” to the list of comparison. It’s line was flat and shallow compared with “home” and “house,” but alone it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 7.27.33 PM

The word gradually grows in usage, until a jump between the years of 1980 and 2000.

Ngram continues to fascinate me, but I don’t think it is the ultimate word tool. With little detail provided by google about how these words are searched for, I find it hard to credit. Although these words are different according to the OED, they could be too similar to see any major differences in usage. Analyzing the ngram data could be forcing or creating meaning in literary culture where it doesn’t really exist.  While the graphs are clear and attractive, I find them more dramatic than actually informative.