Review by Carly McDiarmid
Dan Waber and Jason Pimble’s Electronic Literature piece is a 3D Java collage of different sized texts of different colors. This poem is a part of Harvard University’s Dudley House in spring 2005, in the Infinity exhibit; the Infinity exhibit was an exhibition of visual poetry and artwork built from/ on/ and around letters and words. Waber and Pimble describe this poem as an “infinite cube that can be rotated endlessly without returning to the same view.” The piece utilizes three colors: green, blue and red.
The words you (Blue), and we (light green), are spread across the readers gaze. A singular word “I”, which is red, is centered at the bottom of the screen. Flowing throughout these 3 words are many different dark green words; the authors express these words as “a river of verbs.” This text is a pleasant and readable piece. Whether one is searching for the deeper meaning of the poem, or just playing around with the flow, this piece is quite enjoyable. But, what is the purpose of this poem?
Why choose these colors? Out of all the colors on the spectrum, why green, red and blue? And why are the texts different sizes, and why are there more “we’s” than “you’s” and” I’s”? Looking beyond the fact that different colors on a screen serve as borders to differentiate topics, why change the colors of the texts, when you can easily differentiate between the facts that the words are not the same. Well, when you look closer at the meaning of these colors, it becomes evident that the authors intended to tie in different aspects of emotions, feelings and traits into these words, using color. On a color wheel, green stands for nature; it symbolizes growth, harmony, freshness, fertility and safety. The word we implies a notion of more than one person. In the text, the word we is the smallest; this lack of size is made up for in the attendance of the word “we” throughout the piece; it is the most prevalent word. The author is trying to correlate the idea that nature and what green symbolizes is a task of multiples. Safety and growth and harmony are all most effective when enforced on a global scale. Certain “green” missions cannot be conquered singularly; the author is suggesting that a greater force of “we” needs to be applied.
Now let’s inspect the word you and its color. “You” is a slightly larger size than “we”; it is less prevalent throughout the text, and is the color blue. On a color wheel, blue is described as the color of the sky and the sea. It is associated with depth and stability, and symbolizes health, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence and faith. All of these things are the responsibility of one; however, they are pressured upon a person through social boundaries and concepts. The word “you,” can be seen as commanding word; it has the tone which embodies a command or task which is enforced onto you. The ideas that the color blue symbolizes are all different notions of societies expected traits. An individual in a society is expected to be loyal and wise; they are required to provide something extra, or something to bring to the table, to help the society as a whole. But in the end, it is the responsibility of that individual person or “you” to acquire and share these traits.
Thirdly a singular, red “I” is stationary and centered at the bottom of the screen; its font is the largest size. The color red symbolizes energy, strength, power, determination and love. These things all correlate with ones inner self. There is no presence of outside pressures or peoples involved like the other colors; the color red only deals with ones inner being. Red is the color that portrays a person’s ability to force all of their will to do something which they desire. The compellers of these desires are the existence of strength, energy, determination, power and love. Without these forcers, what would drive a person to achieve goals, or strive for excellence, or perhaps even pursue a crush? Instead, this person would be unmotivated and unhappy.
Finally let’s examine the “river of verbs”. A verb is any word that represents an action or a state of being. In Waber and Pimble’s poem, intertwined throughout the words “I, You, and We” are many different verbs, these verbs change sizes in texts, and different words rotate into and out of the foreground of the piece. Most cities are built around structures of water, like rivers. The author used the river of verbs in the poem to refer to the daily actions of all the “I’s, You’s, and We’s” that are living within a city; everybody’s intents and reasons for doing things are all different, there are no repeats, hence, the poems infinity.
To conclude, Dan and Jason’s piece, “I, You, We,” is a first-class portrayal of a society’s actions or state of beings. It uses color to exemplify different traits and characteristics of a person; not only does it look at a singular person and their inner self, but it also explores a person with respect to societies pressures; and finally it investigates a person with regards to group of people. There are no biases here, simply a holistic view of society and persons as a whole. Elegant, pretty, and interesting,” I, You, We,” is a beautiful piece in the Electronic Literature Collection that I would declare a treat for anyone to further explore and analyze.
Response by Kayla Larkin
I really like that Carly went to a visual place with this piece as well. When the conversation turned to what we were doing in class this semester I tried, and mostly failed, to explain e-literature to a couple of my closer friends. Now admittedly we are talking about a graphic designer and a trust fund Communist studying a lot of art history, but they couldn’t quite wrap their head around “I, You, We” as a work of literature. As visual art they were both readily on board with it and both really liked it when I actually showed it to them. I think part of my inability to explain it to them as literature comes from my own trouble accepting it as literature.
It was the morning before this was due when I finally started to see it as more than a really beautiful use of words. Up until that point I’d been more interested in figuring out how I could make a room from giant iPod touch screens which would do nothing but play this piece. The most interesting part for me had been the way the angles of words played off each other and created this feeling of physical space. The idea of having Waber and Pimble’s piece playing across an entire room with the almost sole purpose of messing with my depth perception was pretty entertaining.
I was watching it rotate all on its own, however, kind of zoning out of the pretty, spin-y colors when a very particular set of words settled near each other for a second.
It immediately made me think of a Nine Inch Nails song which my grade nine self loved with a sort of intensity that had previously been reserved for Nick Carter. I stopped looking at it as words floating together to build physical space and began looking at it as the parts of a sentence: subject, verb, object. I, apparently, was constantly verbing you so we could verb together. As soon as I acknowledged that first line the words were no longer visual aspects but a vast array of possible poems with various visual forms.
I’m on board with Carly’s city analogy now. We didn’t talk about the piece in any great depth so that we could come to our own conclusions about it but I think that “I, You, We” is done in such away that the metropolitan life analogy becomes apparent all by itself. I didn’t read it quite the same way, with a metaphorical river of words parcelling out the moments in my, your, our lives. Rather, I became quite caught up by making little sentences of no more than three words of subject verb object. I took the piece to be less individual and more communal. I think there is a really strong play on relationship, on how my life affects yours or what we are doing together.
The layout of the pronouns is also important. The “I” is central, a constant in any layout which the page takes on. It’s the one thing that is unchanging within the body of the piece. (I’m irritating even myself by constantly referring to it as “the piece”) “You” is placed next, taking a place in the central foreground of the poem and “We” follows, placed such that it stays around the edges and in the background. This is an interesting play on the way that we see the world around us. Obviously, I am the most important thing in play here, my state is something I can be intimately familiar with and understand with relative ease. Likewise the idea of your existence is fairly simplistic, I may not be correct in the assumptions I make about you but it’s easy for me to make them anyway. The idea of “we” however, the idea that you and I are operating as part of a collective whole or as an intentional set isn’t so easily considered. It demands that I consider you in a depth like my own, that we are equal (if sometimes opposing) forces. It asks that “I” consider “You” with the same attention that I turn to myself, something most people are hesitant to do.
Waber and Pimble’s “I, You, We” is a city unto itself. It’s asking us to consider our relationships with the people in our city and to consider ourselves as part of that greater whole. All seriousness aside I’m not going to lie, my very favourite combination is probably “we worry you tan”. It’s true, you could get skin cancer, sweetie.
1. We read intent and deeper meaning into the color choices for the text but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was really there. Did you agree with our assessment of the color choices? Did they mean different things to you?
2. I took the “I” character to refer to me the reader although, really, “you” might have made more sense. Did you see yourself as the noun behind any of these pronoun choices? Alternately, were they not so much aligned with specific pronouns as with states of being?
3. When Carly read the piece the words as a whole became the body of the poem. When I read the piece the words formed hundreds of minute, individual poems and the piece itself became a pseudo anthology. What role did the specific verbs play in your interpretation of “I, You, We”? Were the verbs just a tool to fill the theoretical city with the vague actions of daily life or did their specificity serve a purpose to create minute, quantifiable poems which stood in for the relationships within the city?