Author Archives: Erin Delia Carolan

The Literary Berlin Wall

            Upon first encountering the Electronic Literature Collection, I found myself frustrated, challenged, and generally disgruntled as a reader.  However, the turning point in my experience with E-Lit occurred during the class discussion of Megan Sapnar’s reflection on her piece “Cruising”.  As more authors began sharing their intimate relationships with this seemingly trendy genre, it became obvious that there is something meaningful to take away from each unique piece of E-Lit.  Overall, the commentary from the ELC1 authors not only helped me to discover how to constructively approach and interpret electronic literature, but more importantly the personal remarks from each author provided insight into how much more powerfully a story can be told through this technological style of presentation.

My initial feelings of frustration towards E-Lit came primarily from my inability to be open-minded about this new form of literature.  With absolutely no idea how to navigate and move through this virtual space, the easiest reaction for me was to simply reject the “unknown”.  Perhaps most exasperating was my inability to find a starting point.  By this, I mean that I did not know where to begin interpreting each piece in the ELC1.  From the series’ inflexible ten minute media clips to its interactive directionless games, I found it very difficult to see any good in adding these extra, unnecessary elements to each piece – what I thought was a tacky approach to presenting learning material.  These mediated elements seemed to take away from the text itself by creating “noisy” distractions – at least that is how I thought of it, and I am sure that other active interpretive readers of my peer group would likely feel the same way. 

However, when authors Sapnar, Ezzat, and Joseph offered up their insightful reflections about the minute details of the relationships formulated within the structure and content of their pieces, it became more evident to me that I had missed the point of their approach.  I realized this after our class discussion about Sapnar’s “Cruising”.  Details in her piece that I had initially deemed nonsensical began to seem more meaningful to me.  For example, the “unstable” interface of “Cruising” was created intentionally to “highlight the work a reader must do to make a poem meaningful”.  The struggle between reader and interactivity establishes an intimate connection to both the content of the piece and the user’s personal experiences.  By creating this “realistic” connection with the story I began to understand how the mediated aspects of “Cruising” play a major role in the unique delivery of the text itself.  This entirely new experience of E-Lit helped to break down my bias towards traditional literature, which I realized had become as solid as the Berlin Wall.  I had naturally assumed that a book was the only way to genuinely deliver a story.    

Since then, through my experience with works of online literature and their authors, I have gained a better understanding of how much more the E-Lit genre has to offer.  With innumerable creative possibilities for presentation, each work not only gains strength through the inspiration and language of its author, but also through the electronic mode in which it is presented.  By reflecting upon each author’s forum contributions, it has become increasingly evident to me how the media aspects of E-Lit can create an entirely new and intriguing experience of literature.  The carefully designed details in the “form and content” relationship of each piece offer up a dynamic reading experience that is unique to the E-Lit genre.    

In conclusion, though the commentaries of the ELC1 authors were able to influence my attitude towards electronic literature in general, there are still pieces that I do not really understand as well as I would like to, and will most likely never grow fond of.  For this reason, I would like to see Maria Mencia (author of “Birds Singing Other Birds’ Songs”) featured in the 2010 Electronic Literature Forum.  Perhaps a look into her thought process behind the creation of her awkward and hard to like piece “Birds” could help make the story more accessible.  Presently, it still feels like a piece to me that does not have a valid purpose other than being obviously “arty”.


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“Fishnets Look Better on Shaved Legs”

            A strong feeling of nostalgia arises as Shelley Jackson’s semi-autobiographical work my body – a Wunderkammer reminds the reader of awkward teenage years spent struggling to discover one’s own identity.  Jackson’s raw and honest reflection of life is revealed through an anecdotal tour of her body, and establishes an intimate connection between reader and writer.   This captivating piece invites the reader to identify with each reflection, providing a strangely inviting story for those willing to spend the time getting to know Jackson from the outside, in.      

            my body – a Wunderkammer begins with the presentation of an interactive body, labelled and modelled in Jackson’s likeness.  Each part of the body is connected to another through hypertext links that, one by one, reveal personal anecdotes from Jackson’s life.  We are invited to explore her body, and in turn piece together these memoires to ultimately gain a better understanding of Jackson’s journey of self-discovery.  The reader learns that Jackson’s dissatisfaction with her “different” body (in comparison to her peers’) turns into appreciation as she realizes there is more to beauty than what the conventional ideas of it dictate.  She embraces her “unconventional” qualities – her manly arms and hairy legs – and uses them to shape her identity.  Each story, though quirky and bizarre, is in some way endearing, revealing how Jackson’s imperfections have formed her identity as both an author and an individual. 

As an author, Shelley Jackson finds the relationship between human identity and the physical body to be the muse for the majority of her work.  In keeping true to this theme, my body is a perfect vessel for Jackson to deliver and develop her autobiographical reflection of her relationship between body and soul.  She brings to light the power possessed by the human body in the discovery of personal identity.  Jackson’s interactive body, though virtual, is real in the sense that its imperfections are highlighted rather than hidden.  It is these imperfections that set her apart from the rest of the world, and allow Jackson to learn more about herself as an individual.

By offering up an intimate reflection of her struggles with image and identity, Jackson gives the reader the opportunity to reflect upon their own stories.  She acknowledges that the process of discovering one’s identity is not an easy feat.  She urges her readers to not become caught up in trying to remodel themselves to fit a certain mould, but rather to create and fill their own.  Jackson ultimately invites her readers to reflect upon their own identities, and the level of comfort they have within their own skin.  This captivating piece leaves the reader with much to think about in terms of the strength of the relationship they have with their body.  Jackson delivers a delightfully honest reflection, deconstructing the body piece by piece to ultimately reconstruct an understanding of the importance of personal identity.

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Carrier (becoming symborg)

Carrier (becoming symborg)

Keyword: Audioooooo

Alysha Rohla

Erin Carolan


Carrier (becoming symborg) is an interactive piece of electronic literature designed to make the reader feel as if they have contracted the Hepatitis C virus. Using VRML, Shockwave and Java, the authors create 3D images, moving text, etc. to give the virus an image and personality while immersing the reader into a personalized, virtual storyline. An unsettling soundtrack of eerie, electronic sounding noises (Like the kind you’d hear in a sci-fi horror flick) adds a sense of nervousness and angst to the piece. The Hepatitis C virus first asks for your name then gives you choices throughout the story leading you through 2 different story lines based on the decisions. Regardless of which route is taken, the reader is eventually told they are a carrier, a nameless number. This gives them a sense of loneliness and helplessness, a feeling that the only thing they’ve got left in the world to relate to is the virus itself. Overall I really do like the piece, but unfortunately I think it has a few flaws… My presentation unfortunately isn’t interactive like carrier, so you don’t get to choose what comes first.

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“Community, Individuality, Stability”

The innovative, futuristic world conjured by Aldous Huxley in his novel Brave New World proposes that even the most ideally modelled and mediated society is capable of exhibiting flaws. Huxley’s provocative work provides the modern day reader with food for thought as the advancements in bioengineering, he seems to suggest, created in his dystopian society are already becoming a reality within our own lifetime. It may be that Huxley wrote this novel to warn us of the dangers that such things as cloning, stem cell research and the like could hold for our society. Through his novel, he fabricates a biologically controlled, sterile society where aging is never ugly and death has no profound emotional effects.

Huxley’s novel opens with a vivid tour of Central London’s cold and surgical “Hatchery and Conditioning Center”, where social values and communal roles are fed to an assembly-line of bottled “individuals” that will shape them into a social hierarchy, or caste system. Whether “Alpha-Plus” social elite, or “Epsilon Semi-Moron”, each mass produced class is programmed to carry out their intrinsic social duties in ignorant bliss, knowing not of the world they are missing beyond their caste. Within this new pseudo society that Huxley calls the “World State”, the emphasis is on control, and this is symbolized in the motto of “community, identity, stability” which helps to maintain social order. From bottled foetus to mature adult, the tried and tested processes of socialization engrain conforming values that fabricate a society in which discomfort needn’t ever be experienced.

When a young “savage” from Malpais is introduced to Huxley’s “Brave New World” by Bernard Marx, a disgruntled “Alpha-Plus” member of society, an unsettling sense of fabrication and falsehood emerges. Raised in a primitive community, John (the young savage) developed a romanticized idea of society through the eyes of a Shakespearian volume. In a community where pleasure is found in obtaining the material and superficial, John finds himself alienated amongst this sterile, consumerist society with which he shares virtually no common values with. In this society internalized conceptions of morality are warped as open sexual relations are encouraged, and guilt and emotion have absolutely no relevance. “Ending is better than mending”; mantras engrained into everyday life promote newness as a source for happiness. And yet, if the material and superficial still cannot satisfy, “a gramme is always better than a damn” to take you on a mind-numbing soma holiday when life gets too hairy. This “perverse” way of living couldn’t be farther away from John’s Shakespearian ideas about happiness, love, and emotion.

Huxley’s totalitarian society allows for the mediation of happiness and stability from the conveyer belt to the crematorium, but in contrast with the romanticized ideas of a savage, it is hard to imagine how true happiness can be felt in a society that is void of a full spectrum of emotion (both good and bad). The grim conclusion to this novel suggests that our pursuit of a technologically mediated society may be leading us towards a bleak future as well. As Controller Mustapha Mond states, “one can’t have something for nothing”, and Huxley’s Brave New World begs the question of how far we are willing to go in the pursuit of technology if community, individuality, and stability are at stake.

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Comic Sans: The Typographic Black Plague

Since its introduction by Vincent Connare in 1995, the Comic Sans font has become an exceptionally hot topic under scrutiny by today’s University students in particular.  Comic Sans critics are concerned with its scanty design, childish appearance, and overuse (especially in inappropriate contexts.)  This typographic travesty, once found only on the tags of Beanie Babies, has made its insidious mark on our everyday lives, more so than we may realize.          

Samantha Pagan and Anita Brown, creators of a YouTube documentary on Comic Sans, speculate that this generation of up-and-coming scholars are more aware of Comic Sans abuse due to its influence during the rise of the home computer. Originally introduced as the default font for Windows 95 and Microsoft Internet Explorer, today’s University student were raised using Comic Sans within chat rooms, games, and web pages. 

Pagan and Brown draw attention to the advertising industry as being bitten the hardest by the Comic Sans bug.  Luckily we will not find a four hundred page novel ridden with Comic Sans script in a bookstore (thanks to Connare’s uneven default kerning of the font), but unfortunately we do have to cope with seeing countless displays of it on store fronts, signage, and product marketing.  Pagan and Brown showed three students popular brand names such as FedEx, Starbucks, and Sprite written in the Comic Sans font, to observe how the initial reaction to each product changed.  Naturally, the students were offset by the discontinuity between product and font.  The students agreed that for labels which had “serious work put into them” (i.e. Harry Potter, Pink Floyd, and Absolut Vodka), the advertisements seemed less believable and enticing when replaced with Comic Sans scribbles.  Drinking imported vodka doesn’t seem so appealing when the label appears to be designed by a two year old.      

Microsoft has supported the creation of a Fontenstien by giving the Average Joe the ability to customize text with the click of a button.  Pagan and Brown’s documentary suggests that a font “shouldn’t call attention to itself unless there’s a purpose”, but this “groovy” font has certainly not gone unnoticed.   In fact, Comic Sans is about as subtle as a balding, post mid-life crisis man driving a Mazda Miata.  The overuse of Comic Sans is infectious, and it is imperative that our generation learns to keep Comic Sans usage at a minimum. If the spread of this Microsoft plague does not come to a screeching halt soon, I fear the integrity of our typographic history may very well be in grave danger.

– Erin Carolan

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Sherry Turkle and Tethering

By Erin Carolan

Sherry Turkle’s piece “Always On” instantly drew me in to a world of cell phones, cyborgs, laptops and PDA’s, bringing the issue of our crumbling social communication standards into focus.  Turkle explores the idea that we are “tethered” to our everyday technologies, and sneaks that concept into each different topic she discusses, urging us to keep this point in focus.   

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