Electronic literature has been around for the past couple decades but it continues to remain relatively unknown. In the simplest form it is literature that originates in a digital environment. Hypertext fiction, interactive fiction, installation pieces, generative art and Flash poetry are among the many types of work which make up this category of literature. It seems to be a largely unexplored strand of literature that hasn’t seemed to take off. In the world we live in today, technology advances at such a rapid pace. In fact, in many cases it advances before certain pieces become widespread and available. Electronic literature producers and the organization just don’t have enough support, resources, money or man-power to update and remain dynamic and cutting edge in the ever-changing technological world. Not only does it have trouble keeping up, it is almost entirely overshadowed by more advanced technology. Professionally produced video and computer games are much more aesthetically and interactively pleasing to the general public. The appeal to engage in these pieces is far more alluring than that of electronic literature. E-lit can’t seem to compete with print either. There seems to be a type of nostalgia surrounding traditional print. Readers enjoy having their own concrete library of print books. In addition to these books having a solid, effective system of archiving, there is just a comfort around the physical tangibility of novels running right down to the feel of it in the reader’s hands. Especially coming from a print-based background for the consumption of literature, readers face many difficulties in consuming e-lit. Frustrations such as not being able to “turn the page” in their own time for example, create feelings among many readers of automatic rejection. Many of these readers are unlikely to continue exploring electronic literature unless prompted to for reasons such as class requirements. Overall, electronic literature just can’t seem to compete with the giant electronic gaming companies or print-based literature. This has placed the branch in a stifling position with little room to successfully expand and appeal to the masses. Although there were vibrant and exciting intentions in breaking literary production into the electronic world, it seems to be a creative dead-end.
Urbanalities is a non-interactive piece of electronic literature depicting the nature of urban life. Authors Babel and Escha take an antagonistic view which touches on major issues of urbanization including, discrimination, stresses of everyday living, life on the streets, loose morals, and consumerism. Each of these issues is poetically illustrated throughout eight separate scenes that are just absorbed as would a movie or television show. Urbanalities is set up like a comic strip with the addition of movement and sound. It makes you think twice about the developed world.
Urbanalities is an engaging piece from start to finish. It’s made appealing through the use of bold colours and images as well as a soundtrack that is appropriate and ties in seamlessly with the piece. Each scene describes a different issue, and with that a different vibe that many urban dwellers can relate to or have witnessed. Unlike many of the other non-interactive pieces of the ELC1, Urbanalities is easy enough to understand and successfully maintains the attention of the viewer.
Along with the positive aspects of urbanization, come many downfalls which are highlighted in this piece using the bold colours, images and sound mentioned above. It forces the individual to re-access their own life with regards to the major downfalls and raises questions such as “Am I contributing to these problems?” and “What can I do to stop this?”. After engaging in this piece, the viewer feels encouraged to slow down and not get caught up in all these pitfalls of urban life.
Urbanalities is well put together, bold, clear and memorable. When compared to man of the other pieces, Urbanalities gets its’ message across clear to the viewer. It seems professionally put together and is therefore more interesting to the viewer. The print moves quickly but it repeats to connect the idea. Another great feature of the piece is the bar at the top of the screen which allows the viewer to backtrack at their own discretion. The only issue that the viewer may have with this piece is that it’s quite lengthy, and with no pause button their attention needs to remain on the screen for the full ten minutes.
Overall this is a very entertaining piece of electronic literature. The authors’ antagonistic views on urban living come across in a very engaging medium. It’s not very often that we as a society are forced to sit back and really contemplate how we live. Urbanalities effectively embodies the problems of modern, urban society in a bold, entertaining and thought-provoking format which keeps the viewer engaged from beginning to end.
The third (and final) virtual collaboration of the 2009 edition of the E-Lit Forum has reached the Q + A stage. Our third contributor to this year’s E-Lit Forum is Chris Joseph/Babel.
We began this afternoon’s class by rewatching Babel + Escha’s “Urbanalities”. The screening was followed by an extended rambling but often suggestive group meditation on the piece and Chris’s most excellent post from 30 October 2009.
Here are the questions that emerged from the discussion:
1. Could you comment further on your sense of the storyline that links the chapters/poems together?
2. If you decided to make “Urbanalities” a “closed” poem/story that did not vary from viewing to viewing, what would remain similar in this alternate version of the piece?
3. Why did you choose to adopt a feminine perspective in “Urbanalities”?
4. Are the grids and clocks symbolic of the human attempt to mediate and control the natural world and the natural rhythms?
5. How do you conceive of decay/destruction of the natural environment as being visually or textually linked to the decay/destruction of community/connectedness in “Urbanalities”?
It is Week 2 of the E-Lit Forum 2009.
This week’s guest blogger is Sharif Ezzat. The students are seated in a large circle quietly talking about Sharif’s post.
All we need is a campfire: a campfire to catapult us into our Coastal Mountains – a northern extension of the rocky spine that runs up and down the Pacific Coast – and our night sky a few hundred kilometres north of the Sierra Nevadas and San Fransisco.
The discussion is gently moving between students as they work towards a constellation of questions for Sharif:
1. What inspired you to select the specific stories that were in “Like Stars in a Clear Night Sky”?
2. Why did you include the stories of land and water? They appear to have no explicit connection to family as do all of your other stories?
3. Why did the individual stories not have their own audio narration like the introduction?
4. Do you think working in collaboration with another creator/artist helps or hinders your ability to produce E-Lit?
5. In your post you wrote, “As with most of my commercial projects, Like Stars uses xml-formatted data, decoupling the content and the interface which, among other things, allows the number of stories to grow and the content to be modified infinitely.” Have you ever thought about re-releasing this piece and allowing access to the programming so that the viewers could become part of the stories content?
The Electronic Literature Collection has been divided up into keywords for easy navigation. Under the keyword, “Games” falls seven different pieces; some of which do the keyword justice and some that fall short. Digital gaming is broad sector consisting of video, arcade and computer games; a category too broad to place the pieces of this keyword under. Even if we place it under the category of computer games, it still doesn’t really live up to the expectations of a computer game. The aim of the pieces in this keyword is to use text and interactivity (Taking advantage of the computer input devices) to convey a message or a story to the reader.
A computer game should be able to keep an individual engaged. Using tasks that lead up to a goal, points, rankings, etc. the gamer should remain entertained. Many of the games in the ELC are dynamic in the sense that they have the potential to be different each time they are played. However, many of the games were too difficult to understand because the instructions were too broad and there were not clear guidelines. For many of the more complicated ones I just gave up (Ex. Jean-Pierre Balpe ou les Lettres Dérangées). Also, in a few of them there was no real “Right” or “Wrong” therefore there was no indication or incentive to the gamer on how well they were doing. The issue of accessibility was also a problem. Numerous games require complicated downloads (All Roads, Bad Machine, and Savoir-Faire ) which many people wouldn’t want to accept for the risk of their computer being harmed by potential viruses.
There is a lot of potential under the keyword “Games” for the pieces to be engaging, entertaining and enticing to modern generations considering the widespread interest and consummation of digital gaming. On the other hand, in the couple cases of games under this keyword that I actually liked (Stud Poetry, for example), I don’t think had much literary value. In the case of the ELC, I don’t think digital gaming and literature seem to mesh well. A gain in one of those elements seems to be a loss in the other. All-in-all, I’d rather just read a novel or a poem and play my digital games separately. Besides Stud Poetry (Which took up about four hours of my Saturday afternoon) and carrier (becoming symborg), I wasn’t engaged by the pieces under this category in the ELC and I can’t say I’d recommend them. Using the keyword “Games” to classify these pieces gives the individual a misguided preconception with high standards that aren’t fufilled.
Sharif Ezzat is an Egyptian-American multimedia artist based in San Francisco. In 1998 he co-founded Good Food Productions, through which he works in a wide variety of digital media, from web sites and interactive installations to multimedia performance. Sharif develops the artistic dimensions of his work through many collaborations and participation in international exhibitions. His work has been featured by Adbusters, the San Francisco International Film Festival, and the Electronic Literature Organization. Each year he dedicates a portion of his time to helping produce the Arab Film Festival in California, providing print, web, and motion graphics design expertise.
Look for Sharif’s opening post on Sunday, October 25th. He will be writing about his piece Like Stars in a Clear Night Sky, which was anthologized in the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1. Later in the week on Thursday, October 29th he will be responding to the questions posed by the English 214 students here at Capilano University.
It is a Tuesday afternoon in October and two dozen English 214 students at Capilano University have been driving Megan Sapnar Ankerson and Ingrid Ankerson’s poem “Cruising” since Sunday night. “Cruising” was first published on the new media poetry site Poems That Go. It was later selected to appear in the Electronic Literature Organization’s Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1. This is where the English 214 students first encountered the poem.
Today’s we began by trading interpretations and readings of “Cruising.” The class then tackled Megan’s “On Cruising” from Sunday, October 18th which offered us a behind the scenes look at the poem’s compositional history + the background story on Poems That Go. It was from these discussions that the six questions below emerged:
1. How would you classify “Cruising” ? As a whole what categories do you feel exist in E-Poetry at present?
2. Why did you decide to change your style from having less reader interaction to full user interaction? Did you find it to be more visually appealing? What was the motivation behind it?
3. Back in 2000 open-source programs were not as capable as they are now. Do you see yourself using an open-source option in the future rather than Flash?
4. Why did you decide to change the piece from a love poem to a poem about adolescence?
5. How does the theme of struggle relate to your poem?
6. Are you worried about losing the poem/words/text within the other multimedia elements that are central to “Cruising”?
These are but six of the many questions that were contenders for this forum. And we apologize for not narrowing the list down further. And so – Megan – pick the three or so that you are MOST interested in answering!
The Students of English 214