Author Archives: harbord

About harbord

Kicked by a donkey, eyes went crossed. Falls down a well, eyes go straight.

Confession of an E-Lit Illiterate

What to say about e-literature, my nemesis in culture and technology studies.

It is gimmicky. It is too slow, too fast, too fussy, confusing, boring, angsty, overly produced or not produced enough, seemingly made for a small audience of other e-authors (and a few culture and technology students; the Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1 comes with a textbook, the ultimate kryptonite for learning to enjoy reading anything). Worst of all, it is almost impossible to not compare this form of literature to the graspable, lovely, traditional containers of printed words we call books.

But it is when I compare these two forms of literature that I will admit, through clenched teeth, that many “real” books also fall into these categories of lameness listed above. And, to throw a wrench in my whole previously held notion that e-lit is a dead-end art form, some of the e-lit pieces we read this semester really worked. I think I can explain why my opinion changed over the course of the semester; I must have learned something that changed the way I read electronic literature, how I processed it, as well as a self reflection on what it was that made me hate it.

The more I read it, the more I liked it. From my extremely limited knowledge of sciences and maths I would call that a positive correlation, from which I can hypothesize that I gained a literacy skill which allowed me to understand something, to really read something. This skill didn’t just change my opinion about the interactive digital format, but also about poetry and writing and words and meaning.

In conclusion, I think that although I have had issues with a lot of the e-literature that we looked at this semester, a lot if it was also amazing. I think the digital format allows for ridiculous potential to tell stories.I look forward to seeing what new pieces will be added to the Electronic Literature Collection in the future.


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The Cheery, Eerie World of Christian

leishman__deviant_the_possession_of_christian_shawDeviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw, is the electronic literature piece I have chosen  from the ELC1 to review this week. Deviant is a visual narrative, a with story with no words or voices, simply an interactive animated story. It recreates the true story of an 11 year old girl in 1696 Scotland who was believed (at that time at least) to have become possessed by evil spirits. She blamed up to twenty local townsfolk for her possession, accusing them of being witches; an investigation was held and seven were found guilty. One of the men killed himself in jail, the other three women and three men were strangled, their bodies burned. It is now generally thought that Christian was most likely manipulated by the local priest and doctor.

Donna Leishman’s Deviant is as strange as the story of Christian Shaw. The story starts with an upside down tree. When reader clicks it an odd little town appears. There are four large buildings, a treed area with a lake, a church and a small house on the left, apart from the rest of the town, as well a large hill in the foreground. One of the trees has a ladder going up to it, like a tree house. The reader, who must seek out clues with the mouse on the screen to see parts of the story, first notices that the buildings make music when you run the mouse over them, eery electronic organ music that makes some of the trees grow larger and blossom. The blossoms can be knocked to the ground by the reader. This weird, childish activity sets the tone for the story.

This is the first electronic piece that I don’t want to give to many details about what unfolds because it is a story, with a beginning and end, although possibly not ordered like one would find in a book; to tell you what happens would spoil it. I will say that Leishman has created the first piece of electronic literature that really got to me. It was scary, not in the horror movie sense, although maybe it actually was a little bit, but mostly in the tension that is created by the cheerful yet disturbing  design and churchy music. It made me feel the same way I did when I saw the movie There Will Be Blood, tense and on edge. It was so atmospheric that I felt like something fucked up was going to happen at every movement of the mouse. And every time I watch it I see a new clue, another glimpse in strange Christian’s childlike (and possibly demonic) mind, which adds to the haunting feeling it evokes. This is the first piece of electronic literature that uses the platform perfectly. It is my favourite so far.

Jordan Harbord


I know the author, Donna Leishman, has discussed Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw in this blog, but I have chosen not to read it until after I am finished my review, and then any extra things I have to add after reading her post I will put in the comments section.


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Finding Synergy in Electric Poetry: A Reader’s Journey


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.

Jordan Harbord


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a review, followed by a response to that review, of “Self Portrait(s) [as Other(s)]” (which will then be followed by questions)

Jen’s Review:

Memmott’s Self Portrait(s) [as Other(s)] is one of sixty pieces in the Electronic Literature Collection that easily distinguishes itself against other pieces by its use of combinatorial. Memmott takes 12 very well known self-portraits of artists dismantles them and reconstructs them into an unrecognizable new self-portrait. Each piece comes with a miniature biography of the original artist, which seems oddly out of place when the picture no longer matches its description. Memmott’s use of combinatorial automatically draws the eye to the distorted image making one question the reasoning behind the destruction of a self-portrait. If this is how an artist painted him/herself, why would anyone want to destroy that self-professed image? None the less, Memmott has recreated a virtual image of these dozen artists in an ever-evolving sensation of clicks, so one must take the time to examine whether he has or has not succeeded in portraying a new image of the artist through the use of combinatorial. The message portrayed by Memmott’s work is one of self-identity, self-awareness, and self-reflection. With each new image, the viewer questions the very image that they are seeing, which further emphasizes the actual process of identification. If the original artist’s portrait is lost, how can a new identity be formed? One click may bring the predominant image of Van Gough infused with Gauguin, whereas another click will bring Renoir infused with Goya. All of these complex and convoluted creations leave the viewer questioning Memmott’s use of technique to create meaningful identity. Despite using a technique that is only possible when one destroys another’s work, these misshapen facial portraits do leave a lasting impression and an insatiable sense of curiosity over what would happen if I clicked again?

Jordan’s Response:

I agree with Jen that the author, Talan Memmott, is playing with themes of identity in his piece, Self Portrait(s) [as Other(s)], although my approach to the work was far more light-hearted. Instead of seeing an attempt by Memmott to destroy or break down the artist’s self-portrait, I saw instead a playful attempt to restructure the paintings and biographies, using easily accessible images and information to create new portraits and stories. Taking advantage of the electronic format, Memmott allows the reader to change history with each click, to humorous ends, creating a giant art history mash up. In one portrait Matisse was spending time with Andy Warhol, and Degas was the personal painter to the King of Spain in 1786 (Degas was not born until 1834). Van Gogh supposedly painted The Old Musician (actually painted by Manet) and Francisco Goya started out as a junk bonds trader whose “bohemian desires were incompatible with the business world”.

A moment of honesty: due to a personal bias regarding any literature that I have to read for school (even when I helped pick it out), it actually took me a couple of minutes before I caught the misinformation; I had just assumed it would be a few lines of boring facts so I wasn’t actually processing what I was reading; I assumed it was dry, factual and academic. It wasn’t until I read that Starry Night was painted by Renoir that it struck me that most of the information was incorrect. Being outsmarted by a piece of e-literature made me take notice. Fist bump, Memmott. Respect.

Back to business. As Jen said in her review above, if the original artist’s portrait is lost, how can a new identity be formed? I don’t think that Memmott is trying to create new identities for the artists; he is instead just creating compilations of digital information, but mixed up and out of order and randomly generated, to provoke the reader to see the errors in the biographies and portraits. It is easy to see they don’t work, or fit together properly. By seeing how wrong they are, that the portrait is cut and pasted or the facts are incorrect and topsy turvy, we can witness our own process of identification, as we recognize the artist by what he wasn’t rather than what he was.

Discussion Questions:

1. In the author description, Talan Memmott states, “The piece deals with identity in an art-historical context, self-identity for any given artist, and identification as a process.” How does the electronic medium used by Memmott help him to convey this as opposed to more conventional literary or artistic formats?

2. Is there a line between using other’s work to create a new story and selective, or, in this case, “collaged” plagiarism? Are we more accepting of this because it is online? What does this say about the way we judge and value information online as opposed to newspapers, books, paintings, etc.?

3. Do you consider Memmott, the author of Self Portrait(s) [as Other(s)], an artist? Is there a sense of artistic skill or craft in this work? Does new media technology change the definition of what an artist is in the commonly accepted sense? If so, how has the definition shifted?


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Sex, Drugs, and Engineered Utopia: A Brave New World


A Brave New World was written by Aldous Huxley in 1932. It is a speculative science fiction novel that portrays an engineered population dwelling in a hyper-organized, caste system based society, where each person is born to their assigned duties, procreation takes place on the assembly line of the Hatcheries and Conditioning Centre, and sex and soma, an opiate-like drug, are the recreational activities of (sleep taught) choice. Natural birth is taboo, as well as the ideas of family and monogamy. Everyone is attractive. Death is a planned event to aid in controlling the planet’s population and to keep resources plentiful. All people are happy. Well, unburdened at least.

A wrench is thrown into the Utopian machine when the character of odd, antisocial Bernard Marx returns from a trip to an Indian reservation with a man, John the Savage, the son of his boss (who had recently condemned Bernard to a job he doesn’t want) and an abandoned, wrecked woman, Linda. John has lived as an ostracized member of the Indian community, humiliated by his drunken, promiscuous mother and desperate to belong. Back home, Bernard pimps John out as a celebrity talking monkey, only to lose control of the situation. Spoiler alert: the story does not end well.

When I first read this book in high school I enjoyed it far more for the humourous, satirical bent to the novel, as Huxley elbows the promises of utopian idealists in the ribs, from communists to capitalists, scientists to religious leaders. This time around, the piece feels far more contemptuous, a reactionary piece of fiction; it seems darker, more cruel. Still reeling from the First World War, in the midst of rapidly advancing technological endeavors and appalled by the culture of American-style capitalism, Huxley’s disgust and fears haunt each paragraph. My adolescent self had only seen the novel as a simple mockery of the society that we lived in, but now I see it as the an illustration of the cold need to control human behaviour and feed the consumer-based idea of  “happiness”, a purchased feeling that is not an emotion at all but rather a lack of contradictory or critical thought.

There are no hero’s in Huxley’s book. The author teases the reader into thinking that this fictional dystopia can be cracked by the actions of a few men and women, but then shows us how these actions only reinforce the society as a whole. Huxley’s world is too far gone to be saved, as illustrated by the brutal, unforgiving ending of the story. Hopefully the world of the reader can still has a chance.

Jordan Harbord

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“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”


I have never thought about why I read. Or why anyone else does, or doesn’t. What does it even mean to read?

Reading is a skill, something learned, that allows one to interpret symbols. It is a task, requiring effort and ambition. It is a one-way exchange of information. It is technical. It is simple and difficult. It is entertaining and it is tiring. It requires little fuss. Reading is a privilege, a distraction, a necessity, a comfort, a danger, a right, a ritual, a hazard, a control. Reading is a strictly individual and personal act. It is a key, a lock, a door, to be decided by the reader as the work is processed through messy perceptual inclinations, synapses ricocheting as beliefs strengthen, falter, evolve or become extinct.

The best explanation about why we read, or why we should read, came from Stan Persky, my Philosophy teacher “…reading allows a person to become a different person than the options being offered by the culture they live in.” Reading offers the potential to connect with humanity and the world in a way that can’t occur through any other medium. Reading allows a person to borrow a different reality while still relying on the reader’s input (unlike television, which has no room for the viewer’s imagination). This transplant of point-of-view creates the basis for empathy and understanding, two things that, while I am sure we are all born with these qualities, need to be cultivated or they can be lost. Books also have the potential to expose the reader to experiences that would be difficult or dangerous, inaccessible or impossible due to social, political, economic or religious constraints. A reader’s mind cannot stay rigid or systematic; it will bend and bow, shift and reorganize to make room for new perspective, as wonderful or painful as that might be.

Apart from my explanation above, there is something more that comes with reading as well, although it seems even less tangible than what I previously discussed. I think I mainly love to read because it makes me feel connected to something bigger than myself, a feeling that does not occur often. I’m not a spiritual person, but there is a sense of the sublime when reading the right book at the right time, the one that makes you keep thinking, “just one more chapter” even though it is two in the morning and you have to be at work at seven. It always strikes me as amazing that in a little pile of stitched up, typed-on papers, a person can get so lost, so far away.

I can’t speak for everyone, but this is why I read.

Jordan Harbord

*Title by Harper Lee

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Big (Kindle) Brother, Terris’ Time Tower and Judgmental Garbage Cans

Wow! Summer! In years past I would be slogging it out in a windowless cubicle, “working for the weekend” as wise sage Mike Reno of 80’s band Loverboy once described it. Did you know he owns Mr. Tubesteak? I don’t know if that’s true, but I want to believe it. Anyway, there have been some culture and technology items and issues that have caught my eye this summer in between working on my unemployment tan and fighting the urge to cut my own bangs.


I have been following a story that I originally read on the New York Times technology blog about an Amazon/Kindle controversy: after the publishing company that owns the right to George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984” changed its mind about e-book formats, Amazon removed the book from hundreds of Kindles during the night. As the article explains, after the extensive campaign by Amazon to convince people that e-books are exactly the same as real books, this is akin to “Barnes & Noble sneaking into our homes in the middle of the night, taking some books that we’ve been reading off our night stands, and leaving us a check on the coffee table”. Some other interesting differences between e-books and real book are pointed out, like the inability to resell or donate e-books, and that made me think that you also can’t just pass a good book along to a person who might enjoy it, either. Amazon says they will deal with the situation differently in the future, but I don’t like the idea that they can still remove books when ever they want to, not that it effects me greatly, as I can’t use a Kindle in Canada. And sometimes I don’t think corporations really think things through; if it had been any other author it would not have been half the story. Come on, Amazon, Orwell? Really? They did apologize later, displaying the corporate adoration for the motto “it’s easier to beg forgiveness than ask for permission”.



I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery this week. There are several exhibits on, like “Vermeer, Rembrandt, and the Golden Age of Dutch Art” (yawn), Andreas Gursky’s super cool large format photographs, and Anthony Hernandez’ mesmerizing street photo’s (seriously, the 80’s Beverly Hills pics are worth the ticket alone), but the one I wanted to see the most is the Reece Terris, “Ought Apartment” exhibit. The art gallery has a tower in the middle staircase with six apartments from six decades stacked on top of each other, the lowest being from the 50’s and the highest being the 2000’s. It is completely interactive so you can open cupboards, sit in chairs and walk around inside the spaces (although the toilets are wired shut, I felt compelled to check). “Through this process of ‘making strange’, Terris invites viewers to consider their relationship to the consumption and construction of domestic space and the role this space plays in locating a public as social subjects.” If that doesn’t sound Culture Net-y, I don’t know what does.


Lastly, I was at a fast food restaurant not that long ago, and when I deposited my coke cup in the trash the garbage-can-box-thing thanked me for it with an electronic voice. Oddly enough, I sort of felt bad for the trash can at first, then angry; I couldn’t help but feel like it was saying “thank you for filling me with your waste, fat, self-destructive, always-consuming human”. It made me decide that I am against everyday inanimate objects having voices. I don’t like to being reminded of these things.


That’s about all I have to report on. It’s time for me to get back to watching bootlegged Chinese HBO television series (I’m looking at you, Deadwood) and google-researching interesting topics to make me more popular at parties (The Tetris Effect! Lancet Flukes! Alien Hand Syndrome!). I will leave you with some random online links that I have looked at recently and enjoyed. 


Self destructing digital data:

Surprisingly non-grating environmental site:

“Get Your War On” gets co-opted by Jamba Juice:

Buzz Aldrin punches Moon Landing Conspiracist:

Cool project:

British police bust rave (aka people eating hamburgers) by monitoring Facebook posts:



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