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Sci-fi and the Transreal: The Beginnings of…. Something? I hope?

The creation process so far has been a little bumpy. My biggest fear is spending the windows of time I actually have to work on this going in a direction that doesn’t work out and then having no time to start over. Commitment to an idea is scary. Thankfully, I have learned by now that waiting for the “right” thing to come along usually means never doing anything, so I am running with what I’ve got.

Of all the pieces we went through this semester, I would say that the sci-fi ones that spoke to deeper issues were my favorite. I’m a sucker for a good sci-fi story, and I am fascinated with the way that the genre can take the absurd or inconceivable and use it to say something thought provoking. Granted, this isn’t always the case, but for those pieces that do capture something, it is a thrill to unlock the possible messages behind them.

That said, I have a story going on right now that falls into the sci-fi realm, but I am not 100% sure how it will come off. Originally, I was going to go for a very personal and serious angle on this project, but I decided to take a step back. I still don’t know how serious or campy it will come off, but I know for the personal side of things I will go with what Micha Cardenas’ calls a “transreal” approach. Transreal meaning melding reality with fiction to make a piece that averts the terrifying gaze of the viewer who wants to know – is this you or is it something you made up? The answer will most assuredly be both.

Because I have limited understanding around coding and technology, I am playing it safe with the user-friendly platform Twine. Since using it for the first time with Hunt for the Gay Planet, and then seeing how it can be used on an even deeper level with Those We Love Alive, I knew this would be the platform for me. As I mentioned several times before, I enjoy the stripped down format of Twine. I like how it speaks directly to me and involves me; I’m not simply a passive observer watching a story unfold or reading about another person’s life. When the reader enters my piece, I want them to feel they have suddenly been transported into the action. I want to create the kind of atmosphere for my reader that allows them to use their imagination to see what is occurring in the text; they will be a co-creator with me both in what they imagine in their mind, and with how they choose to navigate this hypertext story.

Last night I had a vision for how the story will play out, so I am being as vague as possible in this reflection about plot because I don’t want to give anything away. I don’t know if what I saw last night will actually be the end product, but I am going to try my best to follow the inspiration wherever it takes me.   

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My “Hunt for the Gay Planet”

The LGBTQ+ representation in the e-lit pieces this semester has meant a great deal to me. The last time I was in college, I was in the closet and wrestling with what my faith said about my sexuality. Though the university I attended was liberal for a Christian university, it was founded by a conservative denomination who held the purse strings. Those on campus who were queer – there were some brave souls who were open about it – were treated like aliens who were allowed to roam our little campus, but they needed to retreat to their little planet when the board came around to dole out some cash. Anna Anthropy’s piece Hunt for the Gay Planet is a perfect satire on how this notion of limiting LGBTQ people to their own little “planets” to keep them happy and out of the way occurs, not just in the gaming world, but in society at large.

I have never played the game this piece is based on, but everything in it was all too familiar. But before I jump into that, I want to try to be more mechanics focused in this blog. Since I am now trying to think about what I am going to create for my own e-lit piece, I have been exploring some of the platforms that can be used to create it. Twine is one that I feel would be the most likely candidate for my piece of work, so it is great to look at how a piece like Hunt utilizes the platform.

Much like With Those We Love Alive, this hypertext piece is strictly text based and relies on description and the reader’s imagination to come up with how things look. I am noticing Twine works well for this simple format as the default template is a blank background with limited text on each page. Though I have loved the past pieces that incorporate images, video, and sound, I have to admit that I really enjoy this stripped-down style that feels more like the experience of reading a book. I don’t need pictures to see the planets the reader is given the options to pick from, I can see each of them clearly in my head. As I was faced with the choice of the purple planet, the dusty planet, the asteroid planet, and the planet spinning on its side in the void, I tried to think where my people would most likely hide. Of course, when it comes to mechanics, trying to pick the right planet is actually pointless because if you go through the game a few times, you find that no matter what you pick – SPOILER ALERT – you will always go through the same sequence of events and in the end, none of them are Lesbionica.  

So, though the reader has an option of how to navigate through the world, everyone gets the same story no matter where they decide to go. I can see from a mechanics angle how this would be important because you need a way to make sure that the story flows in an linear way for it to make sense. I’ll admit, it is kind of sad that it takes away from the reader having “real” choice, but I can see the necessity for it, and I would probably make the same decision in my own piece. This more linear approach to Hunt is unique in some ways from what we have seen from other e-lit pieces, as many of them allow for the reader to get lost in the ability to go to different pages, even if it creates a disjointed story.

A significant navigation mechanism to highlight in this piece occurs when you get to the sequence where you have to explore a tunnel and are given four options to try. When I first did this piece in the beginning of the semester, I got so confused and frustrated by this part because I didn’t know how to move forward. I had to watch the video to find out that you have to go back into one of the options you already tried in order to get a new choice to pop up. With Those We Love Alive had a similar mechanism, and when I encountered it in that game, it was because of Hunt that I understood that I needed to figure out what I needed to go back to in order to move the story forward.

Okay, mechanics aside, I want to look some at this story and explore the themes that show up. No offense to my straight folks out there, but there is so much in this story that captures a special cultural aspect of the lesbian/bi/queer community that I don’t think you can fully understand unless you are part of our community (Not to say you can’t understand the element of having things that only you and those in your community will fully understand, I’m speaking specifically to the queerness of this piece). If you have ever spent much time interacting with lesbian literature, pop culture, film, music, etc. you will find this piece captures so much of the tongue-in-cheek humor, sexual tension, and deep longing for belonging and relationship that is distinct to the work. Anna Anthropy’s piece is brilliant in combining all these elements into this science fiction tale of hunting for the gay planet. Her humor shines in her pun-ny asides about digging but not finding what you dig and following a straight path even though you can’t even THINK straight. And the reader’s interaction with a whale(?)-like creature that can send messages telepathically made me giggle with child-like glee. But, what is interesting about this kind of humor is when you realize it is a kind of coping mechanism born out of a need to find a way to deal with the deeper themes of her piece, like a frustration with not belonging in a heteronormative world. Anthropy captures the true spirit of satire and queer humor (which seem one in the same sometimes) in this piece with the way she uses scenes like those listed above to emphasize the real issues of lack of representation and inclusivity.

The reader is faced with a sudden darkening of humor when they finally make it to Lesbionica. Instead of a paradise, we are faced with a trashed planet that is run by a dictator that utilizes police force to procure new sex slaves for her pleasure. I found this part to be very disheartening. I know it has many different interpretations and meanings, especially politically, but the main thing I took away from it is the destruction that occurs when the LGBTQ+ community turns on itself in times of distress and oppression. Look back at the early gay rights movements and you will see with the beautiful examples of harmony, that there was also a great deal of discord. Lesbians and gay men were at each other’s throats, transgender individuals were kicked out of both gay and lesbian groups and told they didn’t belong, and bisexuals were told to hurry up and pick a side. I find the imagery of a lesbian police force using violence against their own people to be very fitting to capture this darker side of queer history. Not only this, but the leader of this planet is a great representation of much of the ingroup fighting that goes on about what compromises we are willing to make to gain the freedoms we so desire and so deserve. Overall, Anthropy’s piece has a spirit of humor, but it is this final scene when we finally land on Lesbionica and face the abusive dictator that the humor of the piece turns sour and reveals what it has been hiding the whole time.  

I think Anthropy did an amazing job on this piece in making it reach beyond the gaming audience she was targeting. Even if you aren’t familiar with the game this refers to, you will recognize the themes because it is found throughout society. Keep in mind, this game was created in 2013 – that was only seven years ago. There might be a conception in 2020 that what is portrayed in this piece is something of the past. Though our society has begun to shift to be more inclusive, the rights and lives of LGBTQ+ people are still not secure. The sense of belonging that we so seek is becoming more of a reality, but it is still a daily fight to not feel like an alien on an inhospitable planet.

Works Cited

Anthropy, Anna. Hunt for the Gay Planet. Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 3, 2013, https://collection.eliterature.org/3/work.html?work=hunt-for-the-gay-planet. Accessed 14 Nov. 2020.

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The Price of Language: Thoughts on Letter to Linus

Letter to Linus is a piece of electronic literature that uses a cube like structure to explore the nature of language in authorship, activism, and propaganda. Set in what feels like a dystopian world where language has been “patented” and is used as “military technology,” the reader must piece together the six pieces of poem to understand this new world. When engaging with the poetry on the different pages, the reader has a feeling of trying to keep up with a conversation they arrived late to, but never being able to fully follow what is being discussed. This feeling of disorientation is emphasized by the unique navigation of the six sides of the cube. As the reader, you have the choice of which side to start with and where you will go next, thus becoming part of the creation process.

My experience of Linus was certainly one of disorientation. The order I followed from the beginning resulted in, “Away the sun, shut off language, lock up the revolution, blow out the public, break in your feelings, and cut down resistance.” After I reached the end, I went back through a few times to see if rearranging the order would help me understand any better, but I feel I was left with more questions. The most obvious question, due to the title of this piece, is who is Linus? Even as I read the sections on this person, I found I didn’t understand who they were or even if they were supposed to be good or bad. On the one hand, the writer seems to be worshipful of them: “Your body were dragged through the dirty world, tethered behind a soaring mind.” Linus was quite brilliant, it seems. But in another section of the poem that feels like a strange transcription of only one side of a conversation, the writer finds out that Linus is part of the propaganda program that the government is carrying out. The government, the reader discovers, is “bombing” the public with poetry to get across messages like, “Real friends don’t need money.” Linus has apparently been writing poems that have been used to bomb the public. That said, you find out that the writer too is trying to get their poems used for propaganda, “I need an institution to give my writing credibility,” which creates questions around what would you do to be published if you were restricted in getting out your work. Are Linus and the writer bad for giving into the pressure to go through the government? Is there something redeemable in them using their talents to create messages for others?

Aside from questions of who Linus is and the act of writing as propaganda, I found this to be a piece that was enjoyable to read for the imagery. One of the many things I love about literature and writing is the way words can come together to form beautiful nothings. Sometimes I don’t care what something means, I just want to sit with how beautiful it sounds and the way that beauty makes me feel. I found many passages in this poem that did this for me:

“bleeding adjectives”

“glistening stains”

“published in midair”

“write lines of steel to bend the reader”

Of course, in context, all of these lines mean a great deal. Meaning in language and who has the right to create this meaning seems to be another theme of this piece. The very first page I came to explores this in-depth and is where we learn that in this world, language is being regulated by a company called Linguatech. As a result, language can only be used by those who can pay to use it because, “Some things are too important to be entrusted to just everybody.” As I read this part, it brought me back to a lot of the thoughts I have had during this semester around the literary value of electronic literature. Some of what I have seen and read feels like a stretch to call it literature; the pieces sometimes feel too abstract or unclear about what they are trying to say, if anything. This is of course based on what are ultimately arbitrary guidelines of what is ‘sophisticated’ or ‘cultured’ enough to be deemed literature, but I think that there are a lot of questions around quality that are brought up in this era of anyone being able to write something and self-publish it. Among my ponderings are questions of, does the widespread ability to write and publish create a cannon of literature that is less ‘superior’ to the eras before us? Will this ‘decline’ in ‘sophistication’ have consequences? Taken to the extreme, will we ever find ourselves in a position some day when language and writing will go from the tools of the masses, to weapons of the few?

Letter to Linus is a piece that is simple in appearance, but carries within it a great deal of meaning and food for thought. I am still trying to process what it was that I experienced.

Works Cited

Gillespie, William. Letter to Linus. Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 2, 2001.

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A New Literacy: Inanimate Alice

            Of the two pieces of e-lit this week, I have to admit I loved Digital, A Love Story. I haven’t finished the story yet, so I am not sure how it ends, but I really enjoyed the mystery of it and the format of it being transported back in time to an 80’s interface. One thing that quickly got old though was getting so many messages and emails – it was a little too much like real life. So though I felt a little burnt out by the time I stopped, it was still a neat format to create multiple storylines at once. All of that said, I am not going to write on Digital (at least directly), I want to instead look at Inanimate Alice.

            Unlike Digital, I wasn’t super into Alice. Not that it wasn’t also mysterious and intriguing, it just felt kind of tedious. As I was moving through the game, following a disembodied arm and ghost boy through a warehouse I was trying to escape from, I found myself asking once again, is this really literature? There were literary elements to it like the narration and plot, but the piece felt more like a game with pretty pictures and simplistic dialogue. The story is from a 14 year old girl’s perspective and it sounds like a 14 year old is writing it – which made it feel a little too young for me. When I reached the end I felt like I was missing something about the piece that made it special, so I decided to do some digging to see what I could find about it.

            As I dug into the creators behind Inanimate Alice, I discovered an article called “The Compelling Nature of Transmedia Storytelling: Empowering the Twenty First-Century Readers and Writers Through Multimodality”. The article uses Inanimate Alice to discuss and research the changing understanding of literacy that has been brought about by our digital age. Initially, when I read the article, I was taken aback at the idea that literacy was something beyond simply reading. I know about other forms of literacy, but in my mind they seemed to be distinct from each other, with some overlap here and there. As I continued to read, I discovered that there is a movement in education to teach students how to read and write in new ways that align better with this digital age we live in. According to the authors, their idea of literacy now, “…is increasingly recognized as a social practice, a perspective which draws on the idea that literacy is a human activity shaped by tools unique to the community in which it is practiced” (Hovious, Harlow Shinas, Harper par.7). This means that because our society uses so many different forms of creation and communication, literacy extends to just about every sense of the body – sight, smell, touch, hearing, etc (par.7). The authors throw around the words “multimodality” and “transmedia” to describe the literacy that is needed in classrooms to engage the students of today (par. 9). These days, students have to not only being able to read, but be interpreters and co-creators; not only this, but the tools they use to do this are more than just the paper and pen. The tools of the literate student today can encompass film, photographs, sounds, coding, etc (par. 9). The reason why Inanimate Alice is special is because it is one of the main pieces of electronic literature that is being used right now as a way for teachers to start teaching this new version of literacy.

            When I began to look at Alice through the lens of it being part of a new type of literacy, not just literature, it seemed astounding. Up to this point, e-lit has seemed like an avant-garde art form that has its niche, but I didn’t see its application beyond the e-lit world. What Alice and this article did for me was connect e-lit to what I have been exploring in ENG5020 – the idea that the old ways of creating, writing, reading, consuming, etc. are over. At this point, everything has to be processed through the lens of what the writers of the article described above as “a social practice.” Because our world has become so intricately interconnected through technology and the internet, everything we do is on a social level. When we log in and post something, look something up, or share something, we are being active participants in a larger collaborative meaning making society that literally encompasses the world. What is interesting about Inanimate Alice, is if you look on the website, it is used all over the world to teach students this new “transmedia” literacy that is now needed.  

From the website inanimatealice.com – A map of where Inanimate Alice has been taught or used for research purposes around the world.

The article that I found is a great window into this new world and though I was left with a lot of confusion and questions after reading it, I was excited to understand how e-lit connects to the bigger picture of our role as writers in society. Inanimate Alice, on the surface, at first didn’t seem like anything exciting. But after reading about the implications it has for students learning new a literacy, I am intrigued and excited by the possibilities it offers for the future.

Works Cited

Alice’s Map. Inanimate Alice, 2020, https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1-8EPgaFNDi8rw9GaS0n6gToEvFo&ll=21.373813254507102%2C-35.859375&z=2. Accessed 26 Oct. 2020.

Hovias, Amanda, Harlow Shinas, Valarie, Harper, Ian. “The Compelling Nature of Transmedia Storytelling: Empowering twenty-first century readers and writers through multimodality.” Technology, Knowledge and Learning, 11 March 2020, paras. 1-52.

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Blog 7: Thoughts on With Those We Love Alive

When I initially thought about what to write on for this week, I felt more comfortable going with Icarus Needs. I liked the simplicity of it. You enter into this silly dreamworld of Icarus and run around finding pieces to unlock the different doors and barriers. I could run my eyes quickly over the comic book-like panes of action and feel a little tickle of humor at it all. No scary feelings. Nothing too deep. My first impression of With Those we Love Alive was the sound of a loud NOPE resounding inside of me. The words associated with it like “mob violence” and “trash struggle” felt too heavy. But it continued to lurk in the back of my mind, so finally, I gave in and decided to do what it took to go through it.

From the confusing navigation, to the repugnant imagery, I found Those we Love Alive to be very disquieting. It felt strange to walk through this world that was stripped of anything human, except maybe you – I’m not even sure I was a human. This being stripped of humanity isn’t just a fun element of sci-fi, it is a dramatized journey of trauma. This story is incredibly powerful in the way it gets at the steady feeling of dehumanization that occurs with trauma and how the world can take on a grotesque and foreign appearance. That is one thing I love about the genre of sci-fi and I am researching more about for my own e-lit piece. Sci-fi is this crazy genre that lets people break the bounds of reality to say powerful things ABOUT reality. And it many ways, we need the strangeness and otherworldly settings of sci-fi to actually pack the punch we want.

Despite how disturbing it was to see rat children and slime children running around the streets, and nightmares oozing out in the canal, I was drawn into the story and kept wondering who I was and why was I making a choice(?) to use my skills to serve this “skull empress” (Not unlike my own real world thoughts – isn’t society itself a kind of oozing creepy skull empress?). At the same time I was thinking about the choices I was making and the way those around me were choosing to act. I wanted to connect to someone, but I also felt myself wanting to be completely separate from what was going on around me. At one point in the game, I had the choice to lick the fluids of the skull empress off the ground – and I did it. I wanted to do something that made me feel connected to all those who were being so worshipful of this being – a being that, ironically, I helped create and adorn with various weapons and armor. And yet, at another point, when there was a mob situation happening, and I was asked do I want to be part of the whole or be my own person, I said I was my own – I was separate from the filth and anger and vileness.

I think the element of this piece that really nailed home the desire to be separate from the ugliness around us, and that really helped me become the most connected to myself, was the drawing. On a basic navigation and memory level, I found it to be helpful in remembering where I had been in the story. On a more deep and personal level, I found it made me search myself for how I would use pictures to represent words like “shame” and “pain”. I found I could never quite find the perfect representation, but that the symbols I eventually settled on were a surprise to me. I could trace my path through the story and through my own heart each time I looked down at my arm.

Overall, this piece didn’t sit well with me – but it sat regardless and is still quietly waiting for me to come back and think about it and feel with and through it. I feel like this e-lit piece is genuinely one I would go through again – even if was just to go back to the lake and breath again.   

Posted in E-Lit Assignments

Shades and Tones of the Same Book: Thoughts on “Pieces of Herself”

            Part of Nives’ presentation that stood out to me last week was the fact that she incorporated the people behind her e-lit piece, Window , into her walk-through. This added a layer of depth and meaning that made the material come alive in a different way than I had experienced up to this point. As I interacted with the assigned pieces this week, I decided to try this approach and see if it could help give me a deeper experience. I wasn’t disappointed with the results, though I still found myself bewildered by the amount of jargon in this field that I am still not familiar with.

            My focus this week was on Juliet Davis’ Pieces of Herself. In her article “Fractured Cybertales: Navigating the Feminine” we learn that Davis has a background in advertising and that as she moved into feminist art and web media design, her past experience with the use of “visual and verbal rhetoric” (27) in targeting an audience gave her an interesting approach to her art. Her background can be seen in the design of Pieces of Herself as it simulates the common interface that is used with games that allow young women to drag-and-drop clothing onto a virtual mannequin (29). Davis uses this particular interface in order to critique the messages sent to women and in the process sends her own anti-messages (so to speak) to her ‘consumers’. The set up of Pieces of Herself creates an experience where the consumer is eased into a familiar process of dressing up a doll-like figure only to discover that the ‘materials’ they are having to use are at once strange and all too familiar. As we drag-and-drop symbols onto the doll-body, we are exposed to sounds and pieces of dialogue expressing concerns about body image, responsibilities to others, the desire to be wanted, expectations of how women are to act in the work place, etc. Davis describes this process as a “subversive experience”(27) where the consumer is being forced to consider how they are impacted by the environment they have been steeped in and the messages that have formed their identity. Her anti-message calls attention to the seemingly innocuous platforms and interfaces we use regularly and what messages they are reinforcing every time we interact with them.

            I had none of these things in mind when I initially interacted with this piece. When I was a little girl, I wasn’t one to play with the kind of interface that is being recreated in this work, but I was familiar with the messages that I heard as I dropped random objects onto the body of the doll. One thing that was unnerving as I interacted with this piece was how the sounds I placed on the body would either be repetitive or overlap with each other. This cacophony of messages and stimuli felt disorienting and made it hard to concentrate on enjoying my interaction with the work. After I read Davis’ article, I saw this annoying experience as not just a feature of navigation, but a way of using navigation to create further commentary on what the piece is getting at. As women we are sent messages our whole life that contradict and interfere with each other, causing a chaotic inner experience that makes it difficult to function at times and steals our joy. As a woman who doesn’t identify with many of these societal concepts of womanhood, I have often felt the burden of trying to figure out how to be female in a world where few of the models of femininity resonated with me. What is even more frustrating, and adds to my own inner noise, is trying to block out the noise of others who try to decide for me where I should fit in the societal view of womanhood.

            This attempt to find where I fit and to fight against where others try to make me fit is not a unique experience to me or to women in general; most of us in our humanness are trying to figure out where we fit. The messages about who we should be in light of what ‘society’ determines is best are all around us. Davis’ piece is one more message in the mix, but in amplifying the messages that she is critiquing she creates a space to cathartically practice cutting off the noise. I found that when I got too overwhelmed with the interaction of sounds, I would just start over and turn off the volume until I knew everything was quiet again. This ability to have agency over how much I listened to the messages within the piece opened up a space in me to consider how I might start doing this in real life. I don’t think it is possible to get away completely from these toxic messages and their influences, but I think it is possible to start recognizing where they come from and find ways to turn them down or off completely.

            Though unassuming at first glance, Davis’ piece is deeply moving, which makes it quite fitting for the subject matter she is critiquing. I found it interesting that though there were very few physical words to read, there were plenty of mental narratives that automatically played in my mind at the sight, sound, or experience of the objects I would place in the doll. I wonder if we all were to write the words that come to mind in response to this piece, if we’d find we have  all written the same book, just in different shades and tones – and what power would lie in working together to write something new.   

Works Cited

Davis, Juliet. “Fractured Cybertales: Navigating the Feminine.” The MIT Press Journals, vol. 4, no. 1, 2008, pp. 26-34.

Davis, Juliet. Pieces of Herself. Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 2, https://collection.eliterature.org/2/works/davis_pieces/index.html. Accessed 13 October, 2020.

Posted in E-Lit Assignments

Ask Me for the Moon: The Beginnings of Inspiration

Poetry is the form of literature that I struggle with the most. The metaphorical nature of it allows for so much ambiguity and misunderstanding that it is frightening to even try to think about explaining a piece for fear of missing the point. Ironically, poetry is also the main form of literature that I feel naturally compelled to use to express experiences and emotions that feel too important to say in ordinary terms. The muddling nature of imagery that attempts to express intangible ideas has a beauty and emotion that the ideas themselves may not hold naturally. Poetry has a way of packaging things in a subversively visceral way, so that even those who may normally turn a blind eye when presented with difficult subjects in an informational way (e.g. minority experiences, political turmoil, environmental issues) can’t help but attend. We don’t have to look far to see the rhetorical power of poetry as social commentary, as it is evident in the works of some of our most popular poets – Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde, etc. I mention all of this because as I went through the e-poetry piece, Ask Me for the Moon, I found myself captured by the imagery of the piece (both literally and figuratively) and moved by some underlying feeling that something was very wrong. The themes of social injustice, neocolonialism, and environmental destruction were not ones that I was overly familiar with on an intellectual level, but as I moved through the piece, I could sense them on an emotional level.

I went through this piece at least three different times over the last month, and it took that long for me to actually grasp that something way over my head was happening. When I initially looked into the piece, I payed attention to the night images, the sounds of breathing that play over the pictures, and the movement of the words as they overlap and disappear. The second and third time, I tried to read through all of the initial descriptions and notes to get a better understanding of what the purpose of the poem is before I interacted with it again. After doing the technical reading, I was able to pay more attention to the words that were being used and the imagery they created in my mind.   

The initial imagery that struck me was the constant presence of the moon in this piece. When I think of the moon, it often invokes a sense of longing and love – “Blue moon, you saw me standing alone…”, “Because I’m still in love with you, on this harvest moon…”, “I’m just the words, looking for the tune, reaching for the moon and you.” So, before I really looked into the poem, I thought it might be about love or a lost love. And as the beginning screen played, it felt like it was headed that way. We are invited to step out with the poet to look at the moon, not unlike the beginning of most songs or poems about moonlit love, but the purpose of our midnight reminiscences shifts quickly. “Reef of spent muscle, secretion of hope and work…” dashes the delicate imagery we have been lulled into, and any sign of romanticism officially disappears with the continued description of our night view being filled with the lights of “palisades of purchased love.” This wasn’t as shocking the second time around because I read what the poem is supposed to be about, but I was still left with a shock at the moonlight shining not on a lonely lover, but on the darkness where truths reveal themselves in the forms of night workers “secreting sweat” as they clean and rakes upon beach sand, the tools of a cover up scheme that are slowly destroying the environment.

I think if you have experienced any kind of service related work – be it in a hotel, restaurant, bar, kitchen, golf course, etc. – you immediately recognize the spirit of some of what is being revealed here. Behind the veneer of the nicely made bed, the well-manicured lawn, and the perfectly laid plate, there is grease, fluids, machines, smells, and all sorts of human conditions that in the light of day cause grimaces and hushed whispers. These are the ingredients for creating luxury; it is appalling , but it also has a kind of sick charm. (Look no further than Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential about his life in the kitchen and you will find yourself revolted and yet strangely attracted to the chef life). But this poem is not just about the ups and downs and injustices of the service industry. I didn’t fully comprehend the deeper themes of oppression until I hit the first of several philosophical quotes that Zuern inserts throughout the poem.

As soon as the words “the state of verb, to the state of thing” and “deposition” appeared in the poem, I knew there was something beyond the confusion of poetic metaphor going on that I wasn’t understanding. When the page with the quote from Emmanuel Levinas’ Ethics and Infinity popped up, the poem shifted from airy imagery to weighted historical and philosophical undertones. Reading the philosophical blurb that was connected to the poem put the confusion I had about the poem to shame – I had no idea what it meant. Reading back through the description of the work, I noticed that Zuern (2005) calls this work “Poetry-as-scholarship.” His goal was to use the poem to highlight certain philosophical literary pieces by threading their imagery throughout the body of the poem. After the reader experiences them in the poem, they are taken to another page where they see the imagery in the context of the original philosophical piece. Though I struggled to understand the philosophy behind the imagery, I felt this technique was brilliant. It isn’t new for poets to refer to ideas with passing words and imagery in their works, but to be able to integrate the original sources into the actual piece is something that is unique to Ask Me For the Moon.

The ability to integrate something that is serving as a reference in a poem is a feature of e-lit that highlights the many possibilities it brings to traditional forms of literature. The multilayered nature of e-lit shows once again how a piece that is already rich in meaning can become even deeper, in both a literary and practical sense. The depth that coding and creating hyperlinks, as well as involving movement, sound, and imagery, bring to our experience with e-lit is truly groundbreaking. It was this depth and navigational aspect of the poem that made this piece one of my favorite elit pieces we have gone through thus far. The depth and layered nature of Ask Me for the Moon creates so many ways to experience its meaning. On the most surface level, I can read the poem by itself and get an emotional sense of the unjust conditions and history that Zuern is highlighting. On a basic understanding level, I can go into a side part of the poem (where it says ‘Notes’) and find a description from Zuern that gives me the historical and political context in which his poem was created. But at the deepest point of understanding, Zuern has created a way for the reader to explore the philosophy of his piece through integratiing the actual philosophical pieces in the poem.               

Do I understand this piece? No. I can explain elements of it, but I don’t understand the full scale of what everything means. Did that take away from my ability to enjoy the poem and appreciate the methods used? Not at all. This piece highlights exactly the dynamic I spoke of at the beginning of this blog post about poetry bringing attention to social injustice issues that are overlooked. I knew some about the history of Hawaii and the oppression forced on it by the United States and other countries, but I didn’t feel the depth of it until I experienced it through the eyes of Zuern’s poem. Taking all the different elements of this poem together, I found that this piece of elit is probably the most inspirational for me in terms of the kind of elit I would want to create. Through this poem, I have found the beginnings of inspiration.

References

Zuern, J.D. (2005). Ask Me for the Moon. Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 3. https://collection.eliterature.org/3/work.html?work=ask-me-for-the-moon

Songs – Blue Moon, Harvest Moon, and Reaching for The Moon

Posted in E-Lit Assignments

Meaning and Structure in BOTS

When I initially started looking through the different bots, I didn’t feel like there was anything especially literary or special about them. A bot that is basically a teenage boy spurting out nonsensical euphemisms for sex acts? Anthropomorphizing a lost buoy out at sea by giving it the voice of Captain Ahab from Moby Dick? Creating weird formations that are interpreted as constellations? What is this and why is it literature? As I contemplated this, the two things I focused in on the most were the meanings found in the text and the creation of the structure of the pieces.

Though I knew coding was involved with the bots creative process, Iwas still under the misconception that there was little structure in the way they were creating ‘literature.’ “So the bot gets lucky and creates things with some syntactic structure and vague semantic significance,” I thought. “A monkey throwing slips of paper with poetic lines in the air could do the same thing.” But when I looked deeper, I saw that the process was quite a bit more advanced than that of said hypothetical monkey.

The key to getting a better understanding of this was when I discovered the word ‘Oulipo’ in connection to a few of the bots. Poetryfoundation.org defines it this way:

“An acronym for Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (Workshop for Potential Literature), a group of writers and mathematicians formed in France in 1960 by poet Raymond Queneau and mathematician François Le Lionnais. Unlike the Dada and surrealist movements, OuLiPo rejects spontaneous chance and the subconscious as sources of literary creativity. Instead, the group emphasizes systematic, self-restricting means of making texts.” (n.d.)

In light of this definition, I could see that the literary process of the bots is a result of a systematic formula, i.e. code. So, though random in combinations, the products are still contained within an organized structure; @_LostBuoy_ can only combine it’s weather data and lines from Moby Dick to create; @poem_exe can only draw from A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems and create something that has some kind of reference to the seasons. To me this makes the process seem slightly more literary because there is a method to the madness. The bots are programed to create work that is somewhat syntactic in nature so that we can identify their products as ‘poem’ or even just ‘sentence’. But, as I am learning in Linguistics, syntax doesn’t always mean semantics. We can have a perfectly syntactic sentence that means absolutely nothing. We can ALSO find semantic significance in a sentence that is ungrammatical, which bodes well for some of the nonsense these bots create (I’m looking at you ROM TXT). But, for something to be considered literature, it needs to have some level of semantics to go with syntax – the bots have structure, but do they create meaning?

Thinking about meaning was the most intriguing part of going through BOTS for me. I felt like the nature of the bots’ literary productions creates so many questions around meaning – what happens when you take something that was intended to mean one thing, and put it in a context that completely changes that meaning? Can the result of randomness really be called meaningful? Who is the meaning maker – the bot or the reader? In the midst of this questioning, I discovered a term in poem.exe creator Liam Cooke’s description that was fascinating to me both on a psychological level and on a literary level: ‘apophenia.’

After a quick read through in Wikipedia (2020, September 20), I learned that apophenia is basically when we connect things that are unrelated and drawing errant meanings from said connections. The distinguishing feature of apophenia is that the meaning and connections are not actually related in the way we believe they are; in other words, we are literally being delusional. And on every practical level, there IS a delusional feeling to the bots’ strange mash ups and the meaning we seem to draw from their random connections. Take the how 2 sext bot.

What do sexting and the wiki articles have to do with each other? Outside of there probably being a wiki article on how to sext, nothing. Sexting has its own contextual meaning and wiki articles have theirs; not only that, the two have totally different audiences and purposes in mind! So, what does that say about the nature of meaning when we take the wiki articles and place them into the context of sexting, transforming their original intention and meaning?

I don’t have an answer to that yet, but I am excited to be left with such big questions – especially from something as silly and strange as a Twitter bot.

I started my exploration of BOTS with very low expectations. In fact, I had a difficult time understanding how it was e-lit in some ways because it didn’t feel literary or as if I was really navigating in anyway, I was more of a passive observer. But as I came to understand the generative nature of bots, and saw the underlying questions they stir up about meaning and creation, I found this to be yet another enriching e-lit experience. I am coming away from this piece with a more technical understanding of e-lit and it makes me excited to continue to see other pieces and how they might shed light on the questions this one created for me.

References

Apophenia. (2020, September 20). in Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophenia

Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 3. (2016, February). BOTS. https://collection.eliterature.org/3/collection-bots.html

Poetry Foundation. (n.d.). Glossary of Poetic Terms: Oulipo. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/oulipo

Posted in E-List Assignments

Suffering and Love in Queerskins

Queerskins (Szilak, 2012) was the first piece of electronic literature I came across that made me think – so there IS something I can wrap my head around in this field! Not only was it more visually and navigationally pleasing, but the themes found within were close to my heart.

Placing this reading in the context of what we discussed with Pressman’s (n.d.) article and TwelveBlue (Joyce, 1996), Queerskins was much different to navigate. In many ways it is more book-like in structure because you move through it in a relatively linear way and there is a cohesiveness to the pieces of journal, video, audio, and still pictures. As I navigated through the whole thing, it had the feeling of zooming in on a timeline and being given a more intimate peak at the moments of this man’s life. The interactive way of scrolling through his journals and listening to clips of his family and friends and lovers talk was such a beautiful way to draw the reader into the story; It made it feel real. This realism was in large part due to the reader’s ability to virtually handle the objects and move them around. It was akin to finding an old shoe box in the attic and opening it to find it filled with mementos and letters, the remnants of a life.

 When you initially start the story, you are looking down into the shoebox – everything is mixed up and pieces of letters and images are strewn about. You haphazardly grab things and listen and look and feel. But as the story progresses, and you start to arrange the pieces, you discover it is about a man driven by a need to be loved and to love; we see a man who is seeking faith in something and who feels the ever present weight of shame from his Catholic faith, distant father, and submissive mother. Sebastian’s life seems to be a warped mirror of the life of the saints that his mother keeps tucked away in her room. Their sufferings and devotions and his interplay throughout the piece as Sebastian is pierced again and again with each love and loss. In his diligent devotion to his idealized view of love, and the salvation he feels it might bring him, he brings himself ever closer to the suffering that eventually frees him to experience the “pornographic” ecstasy of the saints.

Quite like Tony Kushner’s (1992) Angels in America with its Jewish and Mormon subtexts, this story is steeped in religious imagery and references. This is especially the case with the overarching theme of suffering and love being almost inseparable. An ideology often found in Christian theologies is the significance of suffering and how it can be redemptive and bring us in closer communion with God – the ultimate source and embodiment of Love. From Sebastian’s childhood, all he has are examples of people distorting this view and creating suffering for others in the name of ‘love’.

This dynamic is most obvious in Sebastian’s mother who plays the role of the long-suffering wife who turns a blind eye to whatever is too painful, be it her beliefs around her son’s sexuality, her husband’s treatment of their son, or her husband’s treatment of her. She loves through her silences and denials, and in turn she suffers and causes suffering. Instead of this ‘love’ bringing her and Sebastian to some closer communion with one another, it drives them apart so that in the end they are strangers. Sebastian’s mother must retreat to her religion and her trashy romances to find love, and Sebastian turns to distance and abusive lovers.

“It’s worse to feel far away at home than to be where nothing is familiar.” (Szilak, “Alex”, p. 22)

Apart from suffering and love, there are so many themes that could be unpacked in this story – the white savior, the relationship between gay men and the rest of the LGBTQ community during this time in history, homophobia and how it contributed to the deaths of these men during the AIDS epidemic, etc. I chose to focus more on the theme of suffering as love because it spoke to me the most. Nothing drives a story more than suffering. There is a natural movement that comes with suffering because it is always trying to alleviate itself, to escape. It seeks a meaning for its existence and drives its inhabitant into the depths of insanity in hopes of finding some modicum of reason. Love, the other supreme driving force, finds itself drawn in by suffering because it makes suffering beautiful – like frozen faces gasping in perpetual ecstasy. Whether those faces eventually turn back into grimaces of terror is up to the storyteller.

References

Joyce, M. (1996). Twelve BluePostmodern Culture and Eastgate Systems. https://collection.eliterature.org/1/works/joyce__twelve_blue.html

Kushner, T. (1992). Angels in America. Theater Communications Group.

Pressman, J. (n.d.). Navigating Electronic Literature. Electronic Literature: New Horizons For the Literary. https://newhorizons.eliterature.org/essay.php@id=14.html

Szilak, I. (2012). Queerskins. Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 3. http://online.queerskins.com/#