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A Long Post on a Digital Poem

Computer technology endows the poet with unique capabilities, many of which K Michel and Dirk Vis have taken advantage in their electronic poem “Ah (a shower song).” Upon clicking the button on the appropriate webpage, which is accessible from the Electronic Literature Directory, to “BEGIN,” the reader is transported to a white screen. A sequence of words formed with black letters slides leftward into view at a leisurely pace, but some words slide faster than others. At times, one may be able to discern only a jumble of nonsensical letters, but the seeming chaos resolves into logically ordered words. Michel and Vis’s messages are cryptic and invite imaginative interpretation. Just as all people have unique thoughts and emotional states while in the shower – or anywhere else –, all readers will have unique emotional experiences of this poem and ideas about what it – or anything else – may mean. There is likely to be less variety in the interpretations of a very straightforward message; “Ah (a shower song)” likely is deliberately ambiguous, befuddling, in order to generate a diversity of impressions upon its readers. But while the words may seem chaotic at some instances, nothing about this digital poem is random. Its every feature is a manifestation of precise computer programming. Similarly, although the thoughts that come to one in the shower may seem random, they are manifestations of precise biological workings, so only in appearance are words or thoughts random – I think.

One of the earliest strings of words in the sequence, which runs for about five minutes but replays indefinitely on a loop, is “not Einstein no after a lifetime’s study this morning while singing in the shower I realised time passes but doesn’t exist no not,” but because of the ceaseless motions of the words, these words only exist in this order for a few moments. The entire poem has no punctuation or capitalization; it can be thought of as a single line, a single continuous thread, just as one’s thoughts in the shower are a single continuous thread. At the junction between thoughts, one thought intermeshes with the next. “Not Einstein no after a lifetime’s study” is such a junction between thoughts; the speaker’s musing about time’s nonexistence is a seamless, immediate continuation of his thinking about Einstein. Perhaps the “no” in between “Einstein” and “after” is an expression of doubt the speaker has about what he just thought about Einstein, as in ‘no (that cannot be).’ Perhaps that “no” is more like a ‘no (Not Einstein. Nooooo)’ – maybe even ‘no (not Einstein)’ in an Et tu, Brute kind of way. Maybe the “no” is a subliminal cue planted by the authors to seed doubt in the reader about his/her own interpretation of the poem. I certainly have no idea what to make of the words, “time passes but doesn’t exist.” How can one define existence, and in what senses can time be thought to exist or not to exist? I have no idea. The words’ mobility and varying speeds, which cause them to become jumbled, contribute to the poem’s ambiguity. Ambiguity is the essence of “Ah (a shower song).”

The poem continues to expand upon the nebular nature of time with the phrase that a “clock counts the smoke of the hours but you don’t see it.” We can directly observe the results of the passage of time (“the smoke of the hours”), but do we observe time itself? Our experiences are manifestations of the unseen (time is unseen), just as the poem’s visual elements are manifestations of unseen code and as thoughts are manifestations of unseen biological activity; ordered processes can have chaotic, seemingly random manifestations. In addition to ambiguity, continuity of motion – defiance of stasis – is a central theme of the poem. Consider the stretch “despite that the rusting goes steadily on ah yes.” The flow of time is inexorable, just as is the flow of words across the screen. In this instance, the form of the poem reflects its content, as both form and content involve continuing motion. Perhaps the “ah yes” following this thought on the march of time reflects pride speaker feels at the thought he just had, as in ‘ah yes (good thought, Me).’ The “ah yes” may in fact have been planted to influence the reader subconsciously to agree with the statement that precedes it. The role these words play, as well as the original intentions that account for why they have roles to play at all, is ambiguous.

Before the content of the poem repeats itself, it continues to develop the ideas of continuity and ambiguity. One stretch reads, “there and here are banks of the same river ah aha you and me are both liquid oh ah ah oho.” The metaphors “river” and “liquid” mirror the fluidity of all the words’ motions. The roles of the “ah aha” and the “oh ah ah oho” are ambiguous, but they could be musical sounds sung by the speaker; the poem is entitled “Ah (a shower song),” after all. “You and me are both liquid” could be a comment on how human bodies consist mostly of water molecules, or it could be a comment on how a person’s identity is fluid – that is, it is always in flux. In “Ah (a shower song),” which parallels aspects of the process of thought, there is no escape from ambiguity or flux.

What aspects of thought have specific parallels in the poem? Thoughts seem to have lives of their own. They come from an unknown source, and if they leave my head, I can’t necessarily call them back. Just as I cannot choose the words that appear in my head (if I ‘decide’ to think about puppies right now, did I really decide that? Where did puppies come from? Why not urban poverty in China? Why not lemons? Why not some other topic that hasn’t yet come to mind? It doesn’t seem to me that I control what comes to my mind), I cannot choose the words that appear on the screen, nor can I influence the behavior of those words; additionally, once those words have gone off-screen, there is no calling them back. Just as the form of the poem embodies its theme of perpetual motion, the form of the poem also embodies its theme of ambiguity. The poem directly references ambiguity in the following way: “where you see a vase I see two faces see here.” Michel and Vis are speaking to the ambiguity of their own words. Then, the form of their words itself becomes ambiguous, as I hope the following screenshot demonstrates.

Turtle, crab, jellyfish, lips, hat, Pringle-guy mustache, camel hump, flying saucer, hut, DNA?
Turtle, crab, jellyfish, lips, hat, Pringle-guy mustache, camel hump, flying saucer, hut, DNA, none of the above, all of the above?

Whereas previously the words slid across a single horizontal plane and traced out a straight line, their motion becomes more complex and traces out arcs.  Just as the words that form these arcs can be interpreted, the arcs form images that can themselves be interpreted.  For instance, the bottom half of the image looks like a DNA double helix, a twisted ladder, or the mustache on the face of the Pringles logo.  What is the significance of the prominence of “etcetera,” “not,” and “one?”  I don’t think that question has a clear answer.  The functions of these words are ambiguous, just as is the function of the larger image they create.

“Ah (a shower song)” is an exemplary work of digital literature.  Its authors utilize the unique capabilities of computers in order to make the form of their poem directly reflect the themes of their poem.  The motion of the words is outside the watcher’s control, just as the stream of thoughts one has in the shower is largely outside one’s control.  Additionally, the ceaseless motion of the words reflects the ceaseless motion of time.  The poem directly addresses the notion of ambiguity, and its visual form as an image adds an additional element of ambiguity.  However, though much about the poem may remain unclear to its watchers, every aspect of the poem is as it is and appears as it does for very particular reasons, even if those reasons are unknown.

The Gray Planet: Forecasting Failure to Promote Awareness – Blog Essay #2

Think about it: so many of our perceptions of the world are framed by the corporations that fill it. This idea is represented literally in Jason Nelson’s project “With love…from a failed planet,” as accessed from the Electronic Literature Directory. The work superimposes the logos of 45 of the world’s most famous businesses on a globe, allowing users to read Nelson’s forecasted demise for each and every one of them. Ironically, however ludicrous these predictions seem, they are often also very appropriate, a dichotomy that, given the rapid change in expectations that the digital era has ushered in with the latest i*insert noun* or new smallest computer, challenges our initial impressions as to what is and is not plausible.

For example, Nelson forecasts Sony’s demise as stemming from the creation of the “ALLMAN,” a gadget that, like contemporary devices, attempts to pack as many sources of pleasure as possible into one thing. While Sony could only make 12 of these before collapsing (presumably from bankruptcy), the purchasers of those 12 gadgets each lived for a thousand years. Unrealistic as it may seem, this scenario captures a significant maxim of the digital era: the gains are bigger than ever, but so are the risks. By making such a ridiculous gadget – I mean come on, even the name is awful – Sony has, in one fell swoop, hit both ends of this spectrum by defying life for 12 humans while killing itself.

According to Nelson, similarly “outrageous” (as they initially seem) ends are in store for McDonalds and YouTube. While a tiny defective fryer part coupled with ensuing public paranoia and legal outrage precipitates the fall of the fast-food titan, manipulation of copyright laws strips the video site of any uploads that include consumer goods/services. These two scenarios and many others also address the risk side of the earlier paradox. With how powerful and pervasive McDonalds, YouTube, and other companies are, it would be only natural to think that their downfall would be equally as great and take the form of some unprecedented catastrophe. Instead, many of these giants are taken down by small, subtle errors that have colossal consequences. The downfalls seem more plausible because many of these blips in the otherwise perfect corporate environment resemble troubles that the digital era has introduced to society.

For instance, the widespread panic with which McDonalds’s mistake is met can be attributed largely to communication, that which, with cell phones, laptops, etc. is now faster and more far-reaching than ever before. While this communication can quickly bring flocks of eager customers to an innovative company, it can also destroy entire enterprises almost overnight. Similarly, the nuances in the copyright laws that lawyers manipulate to lay waste to YouTube can be likened to the opportunities presented by coding. Much progress in the 21st century has stemmed from this digital code of law. However, today, if a computer or website is incorrectly programmed, it can be vulnerable to DDoS attacks, viruses, and remote control that can either destroy users’ information or use it for malicious purposes.

But perhaps the most cryptic component of Nelson’s work is its nonstop navigation. At first, I was merely annoyed with the discovery that the globe on which the logos of the 45 corporations, countries, etc. lie wouldn’t…stop…moving. Since one has to hold their mouse over icons to read about the failures, this means that, unless he/she constantly follows the icon with his/her mouse, he/she will not be able to continue reading about his/her selected failure. Hellish? Yes. Meaningless? Perhaps not.

Nelson’s deviation from the intuitive exhibit design of allowing the reader to stick with their choice, when coupled with his digital age subject matter, communicates a lack of constancy in the digital era. However famous and relevant Google, McDonalds, and Wikipedia might be, they – and, indeed, most of the other organizations on the globe – have only existed for perhaps a few decades. This is especially apparent upon examining the context Nelson displays them in, i.e. the Earth, which has existed for these decades plus, oh, quite a few zeroes. Therefore, while Nelson’s imagined deaths of such mainstays in our everyday lives may initially seem childish and insane, when considering the fleeting nature of life (albeit human or corporate) compared with that of Earth, they accrue an eerie aura of realism. Does the world care? Nope – just like in Nelson’s project, it keeps on spinning.

Another apparent aspect of Nelson’s portrayal is the representation of such powerful and revered companies with mere logos. The globe is tightly crowded with these 45 symbols, some of which are wordless (ex. Apple, Mercedes Benz, etc.). Covering such an emblem of nature with which people have identified for generations with designs that would appear foreign to anyone before just half a century ago is unsettling and enhances Nelson’s seemingly negative view of the digital age. Also, instead of placing the logos atop the standard land/water diagram of Earth, Nelson’s globe is a barren ball of gray. This color illustrates the grayness of the paradox that the companies’ successes and downfalls reflected: the digital era is neither black nor white, but is a mixture of massive risks and rewards.

While the inclusion of “failed planet” in the project’s name lends Nelson’s view of the digital era negativity, the gray maxim presented as well as the sheer predictive quality of the diagram gives the project more of a warning nature. Much like the dystopian literature we have read during the semester, Nelson’s work is futuristic, even providing dates in the 2010s (after the project’s date of 2011) and 2020s to chronicle some downfalls. By creating an interval between these dates and the present, Nelson, like Forster, Anderson, and others, hatches hope that humanity can counteract the risks wrought by the digital era.

Blog Essay 2

 

Anipoems: How Simple Technology Can Enhance the Meaning of Text on a Page

As an avid reader of poetry, I jumped on the opportunity to explore Ana Maria Uribe’s anipoems.  These short texts are animated letters or words that bring the title of the poem to life.  Though this type of technological poetry was created in 1998, they resemble the gifs that we often see in popular culture today.  They integrate the elements of text, movement, and visuals to not only simulate the contents of the title (e.g. the poem entitled “hojas rojas secas,” translated as “dry red leaves” depicts the s’s falling like leaves from the words) but also to add a layer of playfulness to these short poems.

hojaschicb

The anipoems seem to redefine the idea of concrete poetry.  Uribe was not, of course, the first poet to think of the concept of “shaped” or “patterned” poetry.  This literary tradition dates back to poets like George Herbert, who wrote two famous shaped poems–“Easter Wings” and “The Altar”—which serve as religious emblems.  In the same way, the form of Uribe’s poems suggest their meaning.  However, she takes this art beyond the tradition of the shape poem by minimizing the actual text and enhancing the visual aspect with color and movement.   In some poems, like “more centaurs,” Uribe just uses repetition of one letter and animation to create a literary piece.

This begs the question: Is this really poetry?  According to Merriam Webster, poetry can be defined as “something very beautiful or graceful” or “writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sounds, and rhythm.”  In my opinion, Uribe’s works fit this description, as they play with language/ sound to produce an experiential reading for viewers.  However, the way in which we read these digital poems differs from the way we read traditional texts, or words that run from left to right on a page. The anipoems are multimodal texts that require the reader/ viewer to process a plethora of mediums all at once.

That is not to say that the anipoems are particularly complicated.  To the contrary, they seem to refute the idea that technology is too complex and overwhelming for the average reader.  The sense of minimalism that they evoke in the technological world is actually very refreshing; they are unapologetically simplistic and yet meaningful at the same time.  For instance, on the surface, Uribe’s “pas de deux” is simply the black letters “R,” “I,” and “P” flashing in mirror-image pairs on a white backdrop.  Upon closer inspection, I found that the French “pas de deux” is a ballet maneuver that literally translates to “step of two.” The morbidity of the R.I.P becomes even more interesting and complex when juxtaposed with the idea of the graceful ballet duet, leaving us to question how one relates to the other.  One might even say it’s a poetic treatise on mortality.   The fact that the poet can say so much in just three letters is no less than incredible.  In this way, Uribe not only redefines the genre of poetry but proves that her work is the antithesis of the cognitive overload that is the technological boom of the 21st Century.

Long Blog Post #2: Deep Surface

The electronic literature project that I chose to explore is Deep Surface. The project promptly caught my eye while I was skimming through the online Electronic Literature Collection, as it has a delicate and evoking cover picture— a young woman and a young man standing naked in deep water, both staring thoughtfully into the distance. We only get to see their backs and thus cannot tell the expression on their faces, the mysterious sense of which further rouses my curiosity for discovering the story.

After conducting some research using Google, I found that the project was written by a professor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Stuart Moulthrop, who is specifically interested in the way hypertext works. Consequently, Deep Surface manages to exploit the functions of hypertext as well as exploring the differences between hypertext and traditional plain text. As Moulthrop claims in the “About the Work” section related to the project, the story is supposed to be about “a strange romance between a reading machine and a free-diving simulator”, where “literature at crush depth” and “hypertext gets wet”. While the introduction might sound weird and confusing, the project itself turns out to be fun and easy to manipulate after a careful read-through of instructions and several tryouts.

From a technical perspective, the project is designed as an interactive game that reproduces the process of diving. When you first get on the project page, you will see a square of greenish blue hear the sound of sea, indicating it being a simulation of water. On the right side top of the square is your “life indicator”, a blue circle that will change color if you drag it to the lower level for a period time. The level of the indicator decides the text that is displayed in the square, so the deeper you “dive” into, the more things you get to read. Nevertheless, if you spend too much time at the lower level and “run out of air”, the indicator will gradually turn into red, suggesting that you need to stop reading and go back up to the “surface”. The project/game will automatically pull you “up to the surface” the first few times you try, but after a while you will have to keep an eye on your indicator yourself—you will “die” if you stay too long in the bottom part and will have to start all over again. Meanwhile, a female robot voice will serve as your guide, where it will constantly warn you at the beginning stage that you are running out of air, as well as declare your “death” after failing an attempt. The project/game also calculates score for your each “dive”, where the score will go up as you “dive” deeper and read more different texts. You also get a picture after each “death”, which is also the cover picture that caught my eye, but the picture can be somehow different depending on your score. Below are four different illustrations I got after trying a couple of times, where it is clear that a higher score gives you more details in the picture:

Screen shot 2014-04-30 at 11.32.35 PM

(Scored around 30, only blurred shadows of the two figures)

Screen shot 2014-04-30 at 11.24.34 PM

(Scored around 80, a little below the shoulder)

Screen shot 2014-04-30 at 12.49.22 PM

(Scored around 120, entire upper body in a dark hue)

Screen shot 2014-04-30 at 12.58.11 PM

(Scored around 400, entire upper body with bright color)

Regarding the content of the texts, it was somehow hard for me to figure out the relationship between the texts from different levels. The contents at the first level, namely, the shallowest part of “water”, seem to consist of random excerpts from the news. For instance, there is news on announcements from NASA scientists, some kidney transplantation surgery, and discovery of a newly found creature. Those in the lower levels, namely, “deeper water”, look more like fragments from some mystery and love fictions. Unfortunately, because of the limited time you get to stay in the lower level, I hardly got to finish any complete paragraphs or even sentences, and thus could not tell what those stories are about or whether their contents are important. The lowest level, also the “deepest of water”, contains a creepy picture of a man wearing glasses, with a male robot voice talking about topics related to American politics. In general, the “deeper” you “dive” into, the more confusing and disturbing the texts get to be.

Multhrop claimed that the project was inspired by a 2004 report called “Reading at Risk”, where he intended to use it as a way to test whether people really understand the risks of reading. As far as my experience went, I think Multhrop did a decent job, as the possibility of “drowning” really urges you to keep keen caution on the time while reading through the texts, where the sense of intensity would otherwise be impossible to achieve during traditional print reading. Nevertheless, the ideas that the project is trying to convey appear somehow as contradictory to me. On one hand, the texts are fluid like water, which makes it tough for readers to grasp their meanings. Such effect seems to suggest that more information does not necessarily empower the readers with more knowledge; yet on the other hand, the picture in the end (which will display more details as you read more text) seems to be implying that further exploration will allow you access to a “final truth”. Regardless of the ambiguity, I believe the project/game is worth readers’ time and still has a lot for readers to explore.

 

Treehouse: A Found E-Mail Love Affair

“I’ll be sure to write to only you, my dear Jackson. To save my pennies for a midnight thought.” – Treehouse (Pennies for midnight)

 

Sifting through the myriad selections of works that the Electronic Knowledge Database has to offer, I stumbled upon this rather unconventional love story compiled by Joseph Alan Wachs. The romance is told through an interactive storytelling iPhone application, based on a series of real-life email exchanges between a man named Jackson and his lover nicknamed Treehouse. In the foreword of the application, Wachs explains how he uncovered this online love affair: “In early 2008, while restoring the corrupted computer files of an old hard drive, I discovered a lengthy back-and-forth e-mail correspondence between two people…As I sifted through the countless megabytes of fragmented data, I realized there was a love story buried within the files.” These exchanges take place over the course of six months, between February 6th and August 5th, 1996. There is a total of four appisodes, and the first one hundred exchanges are featured in the first appisode that I downloaded onto my phone and read (the other three appisodes require payment).

When you first open the application, it provides you with a tutorial of how to read through the exchanges in a chronological order. The screen is divided into two columns: the left hand side features the titles of the emails that you can easily scroll through, while the right informs you of which email number you are currently looking at. This function allows you to scroll through all the emails picking out the one that interests you, almost like chapters to a novel. This however is not advisable, as the story really only makes sense if you read from beginning to end. The length and format of the exchanges vary, as most emails do. Within each email/chapter, you can tap the screen to scroll down to read what is below. One tap on the paper clip featured in the top right corner of your screen would bring you to the next email. Jackson’s emails have blue headings, while Treehouse’s are yellow. All emails feature date and time stamps. The design of the application is fairly logical; the only one flaw I can think of is that while it is easy to access the email that comes next, there isn’t a function to easily return to the one before.

Click here to look at a screenshot of the menu

The story begins with an email written by Jackson to Treehouse, and we learn very quickly that the two lovers have been communicating for a very long time, even when Treehouse lived in Japan and was in a relationship with another man named Adrien. Jackson tells her he loves her and that he’s proud of her decision to return to school in Arizona. Treehouse proves herself to be rather witty in her response: “Man, I wish I could get in your Levi’s 2night (ad campaign!). But for now, I will resolve myself to lay between the keys on my keyboard, instead of between the sheets. Then, perhaps I could shift/command you to cap-lock my space bar. Is that an option (alt)? Too much Ctrl? Should I delete my request?” In response to her provocative words, Jackson composed her a digital collage that featured a denim printed background that repeated the Levi’s ad campaign in her previous email, and he accompanied the collage with the words: “You inspire me, you know.”

Click here to see Jackson’s digital collage for Treehouse

One of the most interesting aspects of this tale is how the lovers’ story is set against the backdrop of the Internet revolution. Reading through their exchanges, you are brought back to the days before most of the amenities we have grown so accustomed to became readily available. For example, the couple discusses the possibility of having a “real time conversation” (a.k.a. instant messaging), and Jackson writes: “Real time conversation is how I first got turned on to the ’Net in the first place in ’93…and I have wanted to figure out how to do it outside of AOL.” As the story progresses, we are made increasingly aware of Jackson’s familiarity with the Internet, and how he correctly anticipates our inevitable transition from AOL to World Wide Web: “But, now that you’ve gotten online and you have a taste (mmmm…) for it, and you see how lame AOL is and you’re STILL not seeing the World Wide Web and you’re missing out on all the action.”

What is impressive about this application is how Wachs was able to repair and decipher the corrupted data, translate them back to their original content, and then reformat them into a presentable, cohesive, and interactive story. As you flip from one email to the next, you become more and more immersed in the lives of the lovers, it is almost as if you are injecting yourself in their love story because you are tapping your finger to move from one day of their lives to the next. The cliffhanger that concludes this appisode, featuring the return of Adrien, is prompting me to purchase the entire app series. I really enjoyed this story and I am planning on downloading the next three appisodes.

Vito Acconci–from Removal, Move (Line Evidence): The Grid Locations of Streets, Alphabetized, Hagstrom’s Maps of the Five Boroughs: 3. Manhattan

Vito Acconci was an artist most well known for his performance art in the 1960s, despite the fact that he began his career as a poet. His performance art dealt with the kind of conceptual premises that are common in conceptual literature. Though no explicit product was made, Vito would record himself following people for long periods of time or standing too close to people to comment on his idea that each person has a zone of personal energetic space that can be invaded. The purpose of “Removal” is far less obvious, but it does have a method and a structure that is stated in the work’s subtitle. Here is an image of what that subtitle describes and what the premise produces:

J12 G13 G12 B11 K9 B11 F11 F14 D13 C6 C14 F2 A9 A9 B10 A9 C14 J9 B12 B12 C12 C12 C12 C12 C12 C12 D13 D13 D13 D13 D13 D13 D14 D14 C5 C14 C14 C14 H13 G2 B6 F14 G4 J9 F3 F6 F6 J7 H14 D14 K12 G4 B10 C12 K11 A9 D5 F14 E6 L7 F3 E9 H13 H13 E12 D9 J7 F14 H5 A9 F15 D15 D5 G4 H4 E14 E6 E13 E13 D15 C6

What Acconci has produced here appears initially quite trivial, repetitive, and, if no introduction or subtitle was given, seems to be complete gibberish. The result of the text, however, would be, according to the introduction given in Goldsmith’s anthology Against Expresssion, “an inverse projection of Manhattan roadways, itself largely a grid, in which the roughly regular series of frequently numerical names . . . encode a geographic and social account of the island’s historical development” (22). Hence, this alphabetical organization yields a fairly complex and interesting result, and acts as a means to a theoretical end of a mapping of the Manhattan borough. This is chiefly what makes the work so unique, because it does not only exist as an appropriation of grid locations from Hagstrom’s Maps, but is itself a possible source for later copying to create the image of the Manhattan grid.

Beyond its visual significance, Acconci’s collection of grid locations also presents a sort of commentary on urban planning. If one takes the time to read through the approximately five pages of fairly dry grid locations that are given in Against Expression, one gets the sense of the cold, calculated nature of urban structure, as the text is akin to a sort of program for organization of a city. Even more can be said of the work if it is read out loud, which it was meant to be, and was in a recording by Craig Dworkin, the link to which is given below (be warned, the site is terribly made, and the recordings’s a little bit down the page).

http://mp3skull.unblocked.co/mp3/vito_s.html           

            There is a sort of bare, minimalist poetry to this oral reading which Goldsmith likens to “the contemporaneous minimalist music of Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass” (22). Because so many sections of the text contain the same letters and sometimes long repetitions of the same letter with the same number as its pair, there is a possibly accidental rhythm to the reading that does make it sound like something composed musically and takes a lot of the boredom out of reading the text non-orally. The oral reading, as rhythmic as it is, nonetheless retains much of the aforementioned hollowness of the grid locations, sounding particularly robotic when it is read out loud. This hollowness results from the fact that the structure of Manhattan has been stripped down so much, concentrated to the point where everything but pure structure has been deleted, hence the use of the word “Removal” in the Acconci’s title. The deletion of masses of material to emphasize structural elements is quite common in conceptual literature, some examples being Monica Aasprong’s Soldatmarket and Derek Beaulieu’s Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, both of which are featured in Against Expression.

As many literary, visual, and auditory results as Acconci’s work has to offer, it is still important to note that, on the page, the text of “Removal” is unappealing and seemingly meaningless. The fact that such a repetitive collection of numbers and letters meant so much underneath was what made Acconci’s work stand out to me, as it reminded of Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Library of Babel.” In particular, Borges’ line “Those phrases, at first apparently incoherent, are susceptible to cryptographic or allegorical ‘reading’ . . . There is no combination of characters one can make . . . that in one or more of its secrets tongues does not hide a terrible significance” (117) seemed to describe fairly perfectly Acconci’s work here. Behind Acconci’s utterly dry combinations of letters and numbers is the entire street structure Manhattan, but at the same time it is looks like the kind of thing that could be randomly typed by a monkey, albeit one with a very consistent and organized agenda. This is also what interests me about conceptual literature and art in general. Though the product is rarely impressive or noticeable in conceptual art, the amazing thing about it is that it packs so much significance and, in many cases, labor, into a work that appears to be gibberish, the kind of thing occupants of the Library of Babel might toss aside as nonsense.

Long Blog Post #2–THE LAST PERFORMANCE

THE LAST PERFORMANCE

http://thelastperformance.org/title.php

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 8.28.59 PM

The electronic literature project that I chose to explore and engage for my second long blog post is a writing project called “The Last Performance”. It is a constrained archive of collaborative writings that has been synchronized under the theme of lastness in relation to modern art forms of interpretation like dancing (final art of expression), and theatre (a final performance). The Last Performance is an ongoing project that was “conceived in response to work of the Chicago-based performance collective, Goat Island, and their decision, after 20 years of practice, to create a last performance.” Upon completion of this writing project, the Goat Island Company will end in other to make room for the ‘unknown’ as they have put it on their mission statement.

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 8.33.42 PM

 

 

 

The Last Performance is a broad social interface that invites participants to contribute texts and words that will be incorporated into the unfinished work to function as raw (material) data for the site’s performance via algorithmic processes. The database is catalogues into lenses, and each lens has a word bank that fits less than one of the six project catalogues to reflect the derivative of the word Last. Tangentially the format of The Last Performance is structured to emulate the Haggai Sophia—the dome that was constructed as a church, then restricted into a mosque but now is a museum of arts that holds the history and jewels of Istanbul. The transformations of which the dome went through then become the precursor for this digital literature project.

The process of contributing to this particular project is guided by specific constraints or directives, (the project uses these two words interchangeably: the former being more usually associated with writing, the latter with performance), and the use of creative response to fit within the theme of Lastness. The constraints, which may be phrased as a question, an instruction, a topic, etc., are open to interpretation and may be responded to in any number of ways: directly or indirectly, overtly or discretely depending on how the audience

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 10.42.40 PM 

 

The image above is the structure of the main platform on which The Last Performance is constructed. The ©s are the six main constrains by which the database organizes the word contributions that are submitted to the lenses. Each lens serves a different purpose of cataloguing underneath the six different constraints.

 

Within one of the many feature that are showcased in the project is a Lasting Directive feature that shows the many forms in which the word last could be used in the English language. I found this to be very profound and useful to my person, as it was a way for me to expound on one of the many meanings of the project (which was to explain The Last Performance)

 

http://collection.eliterature.org/2/

Long Blog Post #2

http://collection.eliterature.org/2/works/kruglanski_whereabouts.html

The piece of electronic literature I explored for the second blog post was a piece called “WhereAbouts”.  It is an interactive poem by Israeli Barcelona based Orit Kruglanski and is part of a group of other interactive poem that she developed during her residency at the Institut de l’Audiovisual of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona). The poem is fashioned in the same manor as the “Example” district in Barcelona. The  structure and history of the Example is very important in the meaning of the interactive poem. It is a district of Barcelona that features long straight streets, a strict grid pattern crossed by wide avenues, and square blocks with chamfered corners. It was designed by Cerdà in the nineteenth century and was considered an innovative design for a city because it took into account the movement of a city, including traffic, people, and the optional path f sunlight. The needs of the city’s citizens was considered, making space for markets, schools, and hospitals every few blocks. This account for urban movement and how it is effected by the structure of a city is a central idea of the poem. 

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The poem is described as a piece to “juxtapose planning and order with movement and chaos”. When you click on the begin button, you are presented with a plain grid that reflects the grid of the Example in Barcelona. Each grey block can be clicked to reveal a snippet of a poem. The content of these poems are centered around urban life, geography, and the people that live in the urban sprawl. Examples of these poems are: “slower than traffic i move invisible,” “who makes geography to tease me?,” and “lost in thought i can be found”. Once you have clicked on a grey block and been presented with a poem, you have the option of creating movement within the blocks. When you drag a block away from the poem, the letters of the poem scatter and move in all directions within the “streets” of the structure. The letters can be moved quickly or slowly and can be recaptured by the grey block. If letters are not recaptured or exit the screen via a street, they remain in constant motion, bouncing off the walls of the grey blocks. Each time the letters scatter, you have the option of repositioning the block so that you can create an entirely different structure than the Example that it was originally based off of. In addition, each time you click a grey block again, regardless of whether or not there are still words or letters left, the same poem reappears in the same way it did the first time. The reader has the option of creating as much or as little movement that they choose. The reader also has the option to create as many or as few letters (or inhabitants, going along with the analogy).

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This interactive style allows readers to experience the change that the poem takes from order and structure to chaos and an unplanned structure. This is meant to be a representation of the movement and life of a city and how a city’s layout has an impact on the people who inhabit it. I was intrigued by the way the movement of the block effected the speed and freeness that the letters had. Some movement of the grey blocks can cause words to stay together and travel in straight, predictable lines while other movements of the grey blocks caused letters to scatter randomly and continuously bounce off of other grey blocks in a random pattern.

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I think that this particular interactive poem is quite successful in it’s mission. While I played with the blocks and letters of the poems, I pictured the letters as people who were directly impacted by the way in which I structured the city. Some structures would result in calm, orderly movement but others resulted in crazy movement that was similar to the hustle and bustle of a crowded city.

One revision I would make to this interactive poem would be to add more color to further the feeling of chaos and movement. The colors of the poem currently are beige, grey, and black but I think it would be more interesting if the poems appeared in a new color each time a reader clicked the grey blocks. This would show more clearly how the different poems and different versions of the same poem interacted with each other once they were sent into motion. Overall, though, this was a very interesting poem to interact with.

Technology to Art: The Round Peg in a Square Hole

The world that M. T. Anderson creates in Feed is a frightening one. This is not simply because his vision is meant to reflect our present culture to some degree, but it is because each and every character – disregarding Violet and her father – is profoundly lonely, trapped in isolation from fear. Their conception of friendship, intimacy, family, self-worth, life, and death is twisted and deformed, revolving around the shared delusion that happiness is pleasure and that love and acceptance is easily obtainable as long as one acts predictably. I cannot describe how much this novel disturbs me.

For this blog, I will focus on the world’s absence of art as the general public’s means to promote an abject ignorance and escapism from necessary mortal struggles.

Technology becomes a means to avoid fears of loneliness and death, and to escape sorrow. According to Sigmund Freud, art is created as a result of repression. An overflow of desires and questions means that intimidating notions such as death and the unknown often become the subject of thought in art and literature as a way of coping. Our fear and fascination drives us to pursue answers, thus artists create art while viewers look to art to fulfill their own desires. The artist’s expression becomes a way for viewers to connect with the rest of society and breach common individual fears.

However, in Titus’s bent world, there is hardly any mention of such expression; instead, the role that art takes in providing society with a coping mechanism is replaced with technology like the Feed, bombarding them with advertisements and transient pleasures to distract from vital thought.

 

True art – that is art that makes one ponder life’s qualities and sorrows – is entirely avoided, when mentioned. At the same time, some other art forms like music and film are no longer used to approach these heavy topics; rather they exist to extinguish them.

At the hospital on the moon, there is a painting of a boat with sails up, but devoid of people.  Although this painting is most likely just an image meant to relax patients and not necessarily a masterpiece in itself, Titus exclaims how boring and pointless it is and how little he sees happening in the image. He says, “I couldn’t figure out even the littlest reason to paint a picture like that” (Anderson 45). His initial reaction of boredom dissolves into “pissiness” as he is forced to stare at the painting and begins to notice how “there was no one on board to look at the horizon” (49). Titus has tried to reject the painting by playing games and connecting to the Feed, but due to his condition he instead is forced to see this generic painting of a boat. His ability to see the absence of people is a reflection of his own fear, while his frustration at how boring it is is his attempt to flee the thought of loneliness and emptiness.

The notion of self-expression and the search for any deeper meaning of life is so far removed from Titus that he calls it “stuff” (66). When Violet shows Titus that she can write and read, Titus is shocked and even demeans its value by asking about its inconvenience, “Doesn’t your hand get all cramped up?” (66). His concern is of ease of practice, and he is blind to the expansion of the mind one could experience through literature.

Art through film is severely lacking, as we learn only about the very popular show Oh? Wow! Thing!, involving “these kids like us who do stuff but get all pouty, which is what the girls go crazy for, the poutiness” (48). The title itself is testament to the obligatory brainlessness the society buys into.

Art through music seems to be rather hopeless as well, as they are created not through emotion or the pursuit of sending a message, but to “get thirteen-year-old girls screaming” (101). Like a marketed drug, songs like “I’ll Sex You In” are perversely catchy and clearly only about temporal, physical pleasures (51). Just as Violet predicts, there is “no difference between a song and an advertising jingle anymore” and songs are simply another thing to get consumers hooked on and talking about (101). Titus, who desperately attempts to withdraw from his fears and discomforts, even notices how distracting the music is as he enjoys his time with Violet. In a rather dark scene, Violet and Titus enjoy the perfect night and look back inside to “see people moving to nothing” (88). This picture is the manifestation of this society’s escapism: they move to nothing and for no purpose other than to delude themselves into thinking they are having a good time and living life to its fullest.

 

By using technology to avoid and become uninterested in penetrative art, we see that art – which is supposed to be a way to relate to other viewers and confront the struggles of life – becomes unneeded, completely replaced by the Feed. The Feed feeds its users an excess of pleasures to overwhelm and distract. The dismemberment of the viewing society in understanding crucial questions involving mortality is the reason why fears are not dealt with, instead drowned out by loud noises and sexual innuendo. The absence of art in this society becomes the mirror to this society’s shallowness and empty desires.

Neuromancer as a Catalyst of Change

In William Gibson’s text entitled Neuromancer, technology acts as a fundamental force of change within society. The increasingly sophisticated nature of technology provides an avenue of enhancing the society one lives in. Case, the protagonist, essentially ponders whether or not the implications of technology will create an even more advanced society. In the text, technology can be described as a catalyst because it is a force that represents several actions such as escape, transcendence and enhancement.

Although technology assumes such a powerful role in Neuromancer, it surprisingly makes the conditions of society worse. Case recollects on the natural world, specifically in the final portion of the text when he is given an ultimatum consisting of two options. He is to choose to stay in a dream world in which he is comfortably on a beach or he is to return to the real world and facel his challenges. One challenge in particular being the situation that he has with an enemy who is out to kill him because he owes him money. Thus, Case arguably uses the computer to escape from reality. Another situation that occurs that seems to represent an element of escape in the text is the following,

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts…A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…” (Gibson).

This quote addresses the idea of cyberspace as an escape because it describes human experience with cyberspace being equated to an hallucination or an experience involving the apparent perception of something not present. The imagery presented in this quotation adds an element of escape while it also depicts the way in which it transcends reality. Although technology makes society worse in this context, it also enhances society’s intellectual capacity as it smartens society. This is apparent when Case transplants his mind to see from the perspective of the girl with the glass eye . This situation elaborates upon the fact that technology is an important component of society in Neuromancer while it also elaborates upon the idea of perception in the text.

Another interesting focus of the text is the relationship between humans and technology. As indicated by various examples within the text, humanity is dependent upon individual technology and kinesthetic enhancements. Interestingly, every human character in the text remains static, as fate seems to ultimately determine one’s destiny. As stated in Stephan Conway’s essay entitled “Transcedence and Technology in William Gibson’s Neuromancer,

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“Human characters seem unaware or incapable of forming or reforming an individual, provisional, less than absolute notion of self. Wintermute, an Artificial Intelligence, a computer, however, acknowledges and attempts to transcend itself. The boundaries between humanity and the machines it produces are blurred. Old paradigms of self, of identity seem obsolete. The character who possesses the greatest capacity for change in the novel is a machine. This is neither an indictment of humanity nor an endorsement of technology. Instead, the novel remains steadfastly ambivalent toward what Gibson himself calls “the very mixed blessings of technology” (Gibson)

In this quote Gibson elaborates upon the relationship between humans and technology, as it specifically relates to humans to the machine, Wintermute. The argument that the machine undergoes the greatest amount of change during the duration of the text is proposed. This is very interesting to the end that machines are not typically dynamic characters nor are they given human characteristics. Thus, one can argue that technology controls human nature. One particular example in the text is the Russian bartender with the rubbery arm who was at war and was able to regain his life circumstance through an avenue of technology. Another example is the centennial man who go Case went to for advice and lived to be very old because of technology. In both instances technology serves to preserves life, especially in the old man’s situation in which he keeps upgrading his body parts in order to maintain his health.

In conclusion, the novel asks us to consider the idea of individual identity in parallel with human existence within a technological framework. What does individual identity tell us about human existence? What does human existence tell us about individual identity? These questions have continued to remain unanswered. Thus, it is difficult to answer the question would new technologies fundamentally alter what it means to be human. However, one can definitely that this could indeed alter the state of humanity, as technology has a significant affect on the way that humans function in society. If a technological product has the capabilities of a human, then it will possibly supersede and eventually replace of the role of the human in society. Although the core of humanity has deeper implications in society, the role of technology in the text is indicative of the dynamism in ability that technology bears.