All posts by allyouellette

Long Blog Post 2: Anipoems

For some reason only a few of the gifs are working in the post. Click on the image to see the poem or follow the link provided to the collected poems. 

Something Old Something New: Placing the Anipoems of Ana Maria Uribe in a Literary Tradition

The poems of Ana Maria Uribe are simply a collection of animated gifs. Initially I hesitated before picking choosing this particular work; poetry has never been my forte and Ana Maria Uribe is a Spanish language poet. However, the electronic literature directory listed her as Spanish and English so I decided to click through and see what the poems were all about.

Conceptually Uribe’s poetry has its roots in the concrete poetry of the early 1900s. The words of the poem are arranged so that form literally mimics content. Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes are a great example of concrete poetry. Even though the text of the poem itself is in French, you do not need to understand French to understand that the poem “Il Pleut” is about rain. (To see more of Apollinaire’s work I have provided a link to a site not unlike the e.e.cummings site we looked at in class together.) Similarly the language which the text of Uribe’s poems is written in becomes irrelevant.  The text is arranged in such a way to resemble the subject of the poem itself. The Anipoem “Dry Red Leaves” features the words “hojas rojas secas” (which, according to Google Translate translates to “dry red leaves”) in autumnal colors. The “s”s tumble down the white background of the gif mimicking the motion of leaves falling to the ground in an autumn breeze.

Il Pleut (It Rains) by Guillame Apollinaire
Il Pleut (It Rains) by Guillame Apollinaire
Dry Red Leaves by Ana Maria Uribe
Dry Red Leaves by Ana Maria Uribe

While Apollinaire’s text is French and understanding of French is ultimately essential for a thorough understanding of the poem, Uribe takes the idea of concrete poetry and pushes it a step beyond simple content-form equivocation. In traditional semiotics a sign indicates a signifier. What this breaks down to is a word represents a concrete material object. What Uribe’s poetry does is have the letter become the sign. Singular letters become the ideas around which Uribe builds her poem. Those letters are then arranged into the forms of traditional concrete poetry.

The letter itself as art is then an extrapolation of the word as art or text as art. Like concrete poetry, this is a concept that goes back well beyond the tech boom of the 1990s (the animpoems were written in 1998). Illuminated manuscripts of the middle ages illustrate the blending of the literary arts with the visual arts. The blending of the two media allows the artists to express ideas with more exactitude than available outside of the mixed media platform. The broadened range of expression derives from the manipulation of the sign and signifier.

Chi Rho page from The Book of Kells
Chi Rho page from The Book of Kells

Uribe adds yet another layer of expression by animating the text. The poems are a collection of animated gifs with the text moving in simple patterns. The animation of the letters allows the viewer to realize, and to further explore, the ideas behind the letters. For example, the poem “A Herd of Centaurs” consists of a footed letter “h” moving right to left across the screen. The counter-intuitive motion of the letter transforms the character into a simulacrum of a centaur.

Centauros en manada 2 (A Herd of Centaurs 2) by Ana Maria Uribe
Centauros en manada 2 (A Herd of Centaurs 2) by Ana Maria Uribe

Without the animation Uribe’s poetry would lack the form which creates the content. The herd of centaurs, if simply written down in plain text would read: “hh hhhhhh hh hhh hhhhhhhh h,” or something which very closely resembles that grouping of characters. Perhaps the suggestion of the centaur form is present based on the shape of the letter, which is the basis of Uribe’s semiotic pun, but the poem would be essentially unreadable without the inclusion of motion to solidify the connection between form, text, and title.

Similarly, in Uribe’s “Pas de Deux” there is no way to separate the text from the animation and retain the poetic integrity of the work. The letters “R I P” cycle through continuously, side by side. In every other cycle the R and the P are flipped into mirror images of themselves. The cycling of the feet of the letters allows them to resemble the positions of the ballerinas which would be dancing the pas de deux side by side. Without the animation, the text is never spelled out. The function of the work as a whimsical mediation on morbidity is removed without the inclusion of the digital aspect of the work.

Pas de deux by Ana Maria Uribe
Pas de deux by Ana Maria Uribe

In the realm of digital literature Uribe’s work is rather simplistic in execution. A large part of the simplicity has to do with the technology available in 1998 that Uribe was working with to create her anipoems. However, even with the comparatively basic level of animation Uribe was still able to integrate the digital world into her work so thoroughly that the animated text cannot be separated without sacrificing the integrity of the work. The playfulness of the poems relies on the visual artistry of the animated gif. And, while the anipoems are a work of digital literature, they draw upon and reinvent a long literary tradition.

Blog Post #3 Let’s Feather Pen Me

Will this help me write better
Let’s start with a feather.
Maybe this will help me 🙂
“Let’s not lose touch. Drop me a line.”
Shhhhh let the Feather Pen speak for you.
Never thought a little bird could make me feel scared
I stared on in disbelief as he circled me, his prey, without ever moving from his seat
The pen does the work.

As I was struggling for the inspiration to write a piece of uncreative fiction or flarf, I glanced around my room. On my desk is a feather pens and written in fancy calligraphy below the block letters that proudly declare in English that it is a Feather Pen Set are those same words in French: Plume D’Oie. Plume d’oie literally translates to goose quill in English. Still grasping at straws I decided to make a Tumblr account using the pseudonym plumedoie. That user name was already taken. However, Tumblr gave me a gift that I shall never be able to repay it: under the suggested usernames was letsplumedoieme. Let’s feather pen me. There was something weird and downright disturbing about those words in that order. So I Googled it. The poem is a compilation of lines from a Google search of “let’s feather pen me”. The lines I chose to incorporate are mined from the first two pages of the Google search and are strictly those which have nothing to do with the purchasing of a feather pen. I kept all of the original punctuation intact and each line comes from a different webpage.

FEED and the Teachers of the Purpose of Existence

Skip Epigraph

“His inventions and valuations maybe utterly foolish and overenthusiastic; he may badly misjudge the course of nature and deny its conditions- and all ethical systems hitherto have been so foolish and anti-natural that humanity would have perished of every one of them if it had gained power over humanity- and yet, whenever “the hero” appeared onstage, something new was attained; the gruesome counterpart of laughter, that profound emotional shock felt by many individuals at the thought: “Yes! I am worthy of living!” Life and I and you became interesting to ourselves once again, for a little while” – Nietzsche “The Teachers of the Purpose of Existence

Nietzsche, Feed, and the Teachers of the Purpose of Existence

        Generally speaking young adult novels are not compared to high modern philosophy. However, in Feed M.T. Anderson offers up a dystopia that shows what happens when the herd mentality over takes civilization in a technologically advanced world. In the world of Feed, Nietzsche’s “teachers of the purpose of existence” are the feed: Anderson’s machine offers his characters an incessant stream of information dictating to them how to live their lives. The mechanical impulses of this technology function the same way that Nietzsche’s ridiculed teachers of the purpose of existence do. The feed provides the impulse, for those who have it, “the profound emotional shock” which spurs the thought “Yes! I am worthy of living!”. As Titus sits in a hospital bed, having been temporarily disconnected from .feednet, the internet-like service which broadcasts the information, he thinks about the corporations controlling the feed:

they’re the only way to get all this stuff, and it’s no good getting pissy about it, because they’re still going to control everything whether you like it or not… In fact, the thing that made me pissy was when they couldn’t help me at all, so I was just lying there, and couldn’t play any of the games on the feed, and couldn’t chat anyone, and I couldn’t do a fuckin’ thing except look at that stupid boat painting, which was even worse, because now I saw that there was no one on the boat, which was even more stupid, and was kind of how I felt, that the sails were up, and the rudder was, well, whatever rudders are, but there was no one on board to look at the horizon (49)

Without the influence of the corporations controlling the feed Titus feels empty. The vehicle for Titus’s clumsy metaphor is not the boat, which he scrambles to accurately articulate in his mind, but rather the person who is missing from the boat. His tenor is absence and nothingness. Without a functional feed Titus’s life lacks direction. He is the “no one” who is not on board to look at the horizon. Titus is unable to process the loneliness of silence. The days spent in the hospital are the only time in the novel when the characters are given the opportunity to think independently of the feed. Rather than develop a sense of individual purpose, Titus spends the first couple of days in the hospital clumsily expressing a sense of ennui that in a more verbose character might read as an existential crisis of faith. The novel makes it explicitly clear that the feed is not necessary for the survival or well-being of the characters; a day after Titus has his heady rant he declares the days without the feed to be “one of the greatest days of [his] life” (57). And yet, when the time comes to reconnect to .feednet Titus does not even think twice about re-engaging with the technology. The feed is switched back on and Titus is inundated with corporate information.

        More concerning than the character’s perceived dependence on the feed, is the way in which the commercial culture perpetuated by the feed interferes with that character’s rational decision making: Anderson illustrates the degeneration of healthy decision making through the development of lesions. On a large scale, the lesions are a consequence of poor air quality and a decimated environment. The body rejects the new technologically dependent way of living but instead rectifying the underlying environmental issues, the human race treats the symptoms exacerbating the environmental issues.

        On the individual scale, the feed takes the lesions, the product of an unhealthy environment, and twists them into a fashion statement. At the beginning of the novel, the lesions are unsightly. Quendy, the resident fashion plate of the group, asks “how far is the air lock” upon discovering that her lesion has grown in size, implying that she would rather die than have the open wound on her face (22). By the end of the novel, after the characters on the popular feed show Oh? Wow! Thing! Make lesions fashionable, Quendy shows up to a party covered in artificial lesions. Quendy’s surgical incisions are a reaction to Calista’s artificial lesion which she got because, according to Quendy, it was “brag” (183). The two girls are posturing for higher social standing in a society where cultural values are dictated by the feed. In this case, the ways in which they achieve higher social standing is not only disgusting but it is unhealthy and expensive. Both girls have undergone major surgery to mutilate their bodies because the feed told them it was cool.

        The technological advances in M.T. Anderson’s world reveal a deficiency in human intelligence. With the devaluation of individual thought comes an increase in the herd mentality. Anderson’s world is not entirely without hope; characters do attempt to resist the feed. However, the character that resists the feed the most, Violet, ends up dying due to a malfunction in the technology. The novel is critical and pessimistic about the future of humanity. The last words, on the last page, are from the feed. The characters are unable to escape the influence of the feed even as their lives fall apart because of the feed. The characters are the herd and they have succumbed to the failings of blindly following the teachers of the purpose of existence.

Google Docs (and Google Drive)

If you have worked on a group project prior to this class chances are you are already familiar with Google Docs. Originally Google Docs started out as a storage device but as it got more popular Google shifted storage to the Google Drive and began to refine Google Docs as a more collaborative space.

Google Docs allows users to edit documents online. It can act as a spreadsheet, word processor, presentation tool, and an image editor. The service is offered free of charge. That particular aspect of Google Docs is not particularly interesting considering the wide spread access to the Microsoft Office Suite as well as Apple’s iWork. What makes Google Docs an important resource for group work is the ability to share and edit the files in the Drive.

Google Docs allows users to upload files into a cloud storage system which is the Google Drive. There is 15GB of free storage in the Drive. It supports Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Apple Pages, as well as Adobe. Uploaded documents may be shared with other users with a Google account. Since the UVa email is hosted by Google that includes all addresses. Shared documents can be downloaded by the users to be viewed and edited outside of the Google Docs program.

A Google Doc hosted by Google, as opposed to Apple or Microsoft, can actually be edited by multiple users online at the same time. This feature is what makes Google Docs invaluable as a resource. It is a little eerie when you see changes being made the document right in front of you but the edits you see are being done in real time and everything is saved by Google Docs to the Drive as the changes are made. Because all of the changes are saved to the Drive there is no need to download the Google Doc every time you need to make an edit. This means that the documents may be accessed on different machines and you do not need to worry about having your personal computer on you when you need to view a change. Google Docs also have apps for Android as well as the iPhone which allow you to view documents in the drive on mobile devices. It’s a great tool for planning projects. It allows everyone to be on the equal footing with regard to control over digital documents.

Hipsters and Hepcats

Let’s talk about the entomology of the word “hipster”. Now, according to my jazz aficionado boyfriend hipster (he actually said hepster) is a term that came out of be-bop jazz culture in the early 1940s. Hipster, he claimed, was interchangeable with the term “hepcat” and has been grossly misused in the 21st century to refer to a subculture of Brooklynites who insist upon wearing thrift store clothing large heavy framed glasses and drinking copious amounts of PBR. Curious to see if he was right, and eager to complete my ENMC assignment, I plugged the words into our handy dandy N-gram viewer. Lo and behold he was not making this up- hipster and hepcat first appeared, according to both google and my boyfriend, in 1939. For obvious reasons I extended my search parameters up to 2008. And, after realizing that hepcat and hipster do not occur before the 1930s I went ahead and set the parameters to search books from 1935 to 2008.

But, what about those PBR chugging, chain smoking Brooklynites? Regardless of how the word came into being, I now associate hipster with that piece of Brooklyn subculture. Looking at the Google searches of the word reveals something rather intriguing: up through the 1970s hipster remains associated with jazz culture. The hipster is “painfully cultured and laid back.” The hipster is a “low-lying rebel.” The hipster is always referred to in the context of a musical subculture. But, in 2002, there’s a sudden shift in the referent. The signifier remains the same; the actual word “hipster” remains in use. But the culture to which the signifier refers becomes an urban class whose identity as hipster refers to a way of speaking (the top three Google books were all urban dictionaries) as opposed to a musical subculture.

Hepcat, the sister term to hipster, never really seemed to catch on. The word never moved beyond its nascent meaning; even in the more contemporary book searches hepcat remains a relic of 1940s bebop. The Ngram viewer shows the changing definition of the term hipster, but it cannot explain why one of two initially synonymous words retains its original function whilst the other shifts in use and meaning. This is an instance where the Ngram serves well as a preliminary research tool. It shows a pattern in the words’ use which is often the first step in research. The very nature of the Ngram means that for indepth research it will not be extraordinarily useful. It displays the pattern, can help refine and better visualize that pattern, but to understand the pattern the researcher must move beyond the initial data provided by the Ngram.