A Review of Tao, authored by Reiner Strasser and Alan Sondheim
Reiner Strasser and Alan Sondheim’s entry, Tao, is a self described “interactive cinematographic Flash piece”. Tao opens with two matching videos, one brown and one green, shown concurrently, which are referred to by the authors as mirrors on a vehicle. In both videos, a flag flies over the ground towards a distant island acknowledged by Strasser and Sondheim as Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake. The videos are accompanied by Japanese flute music. As the videos progress, a short poem is unveiled slowly by a red cursor underneath the visuals:
“earth blown out to stars
stars blown down to earth by fast cars
baghdad and addresses of the invisible”
There are three interactive controls: underneath each video is a control that allows the reader to change the direction and flow of the flag. The third control allows the reader to begin the poem again. To watch the entire poem unfold takes 38 seconds; when the reader restart the poem, the cursor moves backwards, deleting the words before beginning again.
As I have admitted in previous comments on this blog, I have issues with a some of the pieces of the Electronic Literature Collection (ELC), Volume 1, as I have tended to judge them based on construction value and enjoyability. My immediate thoughts about this piece were, “Dueling screen savers and Spa Utopia soundtrack #7.” But my perception has changed after a discussion in class about what “literature” means, and after reading the reviews of some of the pieces from the ELC from other students. I have decided to make a concerted effort to shake the cynicism that is not allowing me to connect with the pieces. Just as the one of the concepts of Taoism is having an active and holistic conception of the world, I have decided to take an active and holistic approach to my review of this electronic poem and not regard it as “parts” to be compared and weighed but rather its merits as a whole.
Re-watching this poem with a fresh perspective made me realize that the poem is actually quite effective. Tao translates loosely in English as “way” or “route”, which nicely corresponds to the movement of the flags in the video. Even when the reader changes the direction of the wind in the video, the flag still moves along the same path. The reader can only see the journey through the reflections of the vehicle mirrors, maybe illustrating that the route one choses is sometimes only clear when reflecting on where one has come from. There is also a sense that the journey never ends, as the reader can restart the poem over and over again, still aiming for Antelope Island, but never reaching it. The use of Flash animation to convey this is very useful to the atmosphere of the poem, which, at least to me, conveyed a sort of mystical road trip (“fast cars”), a sense of uncontrolled movement from one place to another (“blown out/blown down”), and the idea that one can’t see what is ahead of them, the future, only the path that has lead them to this point (“addresses of the invisible”).
This poem by Strasser and Sondheim was an excellent place to start my attempt to end my struggle with electronic literature. I just needed to hit the restart button to find the poem was more than a sum of its parts.