Review #2

In Volume One of the Electronic Literature Collection, a memoir – by analogy with print – is a work drawing on and aiming to convey the experience of an individual person. I draw on two pieces here as examples of memoir: “carrier (becoming symborg)” by Melinda Rackham and Damien Everett, and ‘ii – in the white darkness: about [the fragility of] memory’ by Reiner Strasser and M.D. Coverley. These pieces incorporate the concept of the memoir in the form of electronic literature and incorporate the dynamic between computation and human participant.

To begin with, “carrier (becoming symborg)” is a clever little piece, although resembling a rather crudely made computer game, “that investigates the fluid boundaries of the body and the self via viral symbiosis in a biological and virtual [realm].” Against a background of eerie sound effects, carrier utilizes Java, Shockwave, and VRML to create a computer game involving the viewer and the hepatitis C virus, which is personified as “sHe,” an intelligent viral agent. We undergo cellular infiltration (and what I felt as revulsion) as “sHe” takes us through the game, relaying multiple screens of links connecting different facets of hepatitis C to its effects and its victims. Clicking on the popups yields separate memoirs-in-emails from an array of people, whose intimate lives we are invited to read into. The interaction between participant and interface makes “carrier” a very personal and personalized experience, which is especially unique, and enhances the intimacy of the game. Its specialty lies within its unconventional representation of memoir – featuring a situation where multiple authors and multiple biographies are represented in an interactive interface (as opposed to the singular and static print experience of one author/one biography). Here, the boundaries between author and reader, healthy and affected, as well as literal and figurative, are dissolved. “carrier” does well as an informative piece, but due to its crude structural composition, fails as an engaging literary game.

“ii – in the white darkness” is an interactive piece about memory which, in contrast, reflects the experience of persons affected with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases. M.D. Coverley expresses the condition of such illness as “not the erasure that [matters] so much as the act of trying to recover what we no longer can identify.” Two clicks is all it takes to get to the main interface, as opposed to the multiple clicks it takes to get through “carrier”. A grey rectangle of pulsing white dots appears veiled against a background that fades in and out every time you click on a link, which can be started, played, and combined. Each event is a memoir in itself: either a quote, an animation (such as the shoreline), a transitory picture (such as the sunset), or a series of sounds (such as running water), that blends in and out of the background when accessed. These events feel “soft”, and mimic remembering and loss of memory, using your very own memory in arrangement. One almost feels as if the events are being experienced by oneself, as opposed to watching a recording of something someone else has experienced. This produces a very poignant effect, which makes the piece very endearing.

 To sum up, both pieces represented different creative forms of the memoir and depicted the subjective experiences of different individual persons in different ways. All of the pieces and their authors drew on memory and the recording of memory and experience to portray the reimagining of the literary work as an instrument to be played. This occurs when computer and participant interact to produce the convergence that is known as dynamic intermediation.

Agnes Lee

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