Lit 80, Fall 2013
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Electronic Literature

November 3rd, 2013 | Posted by Kim Arena in Uncategorized

Throughout history, literature has continued to progress alongside the medium through which it is received. The development of print technologies increased public access to literature and expanded the methods through which it could subsequently be interpreted and analyzed. This trend continues today with the continual expansion of technology and electronics, giving rise to a whole new genre of media from which literature can be expressed, interpreted, created and manipulated. Electronic literature provides an endless stream of new ways to experience written works in ways that print cannot. But does this aspect take away from traditional literature? What is considered to be literature? According to Oxford Dictionary, literature is defined as “written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit”. Literature does not aim to make print obsolete, but rather to expand what we can obtain from written works. The technologies provide us with new ways to think and increase our level of interaction with the text—allowing us to explore concepts, patterns, and more that go beyond the words, but that delve into the art of the work itself and the components that make up the literature. In her book, Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary, N. Katherine Hayles describes how electronic forms of literature allow for “the criticism and analysis of programmed media without sacrificing the interpretive strategies evolved with and through print” (25). The use of technology as a medium for literature does not replace traditional print literature, but rather opens alternative ways through which it can be experienced. Electronic forms of literature expand the artistic merit of the written word, establishing different ways through which we can explore interactions between words and meaning. Similarly, we can employ multiple senses in our interpretations through visual and sonic components, altering our experience with the work and thus the understandings and interpretations we can extract from it.
Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, for instance, explores the interactions between music and literature and provides a medium through which we can appreciate the interplay between the two forms of art, thus augmenting the individual interpretations into something more complex. Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries pair their jazz pieces with a movie-like stream of words and phrases of varying sizes, speeds, and colors. Though the words do not form complete sentences, they are associated in a way that they flow with the music; rhythmically creating a disjointed stream of consciousness that comes together to tell a story. It is together the display, music and the words themselves that are telling the story, and thus how the story unfolds depends on the interpretation of the receiver, and how they associate the visual, sonic, and textual components. Thus, the result will be slightly different for everyone, and may even be different for a single person each time they listen. The patterns, colors, sizes, timing, and orientation of how the words appear on the screen in addition to the blinking and changing backgrounds augment the way that the meaning behind the text is associated along with the changing beats and notes of the music. These two artistic components are intertwined to establish an ultimate experience that changes that way we interpret both, interplaying off each other to affect the way each is perceived in relation to the other. Words can invoke feeling just as music can, and that feeling can affect how you interpret the music, or vice versa. Certain words may stand out to you, whether it is because of how they were oriented on the screen or the timing from which they appeared in relation to the music, whether it had gotten quieter or louder, faster or slower. This specific kind of experience differs for each person—different things stand out to different people and thus have different significance to different people. Subsequently, each person will have a different interpretation of the piece, and thus the story. These components can even establish a mood, and thus they are not only augmenting the perception of the work itself, but also the environment through which the receiver extracts such interpretations. The simultaneous interpretations determined from listening to the music, viewing the colors and timing of the words, and reading the text affect each other, thus the overall experience differs from the individual experience of each of these elements. This can be observed by muting the sound for one of the pieces. The words and their motions along still portray the story; yet do not produce impact on the reader. The music helps guide the reader through the text, providing pace and extracting emotions that the words along cannot. This process works in the reverse as well; listening to the music alone without the words deprives the sound of any particular meaning. It is the pairing of these two components that augments the way we perceive the literature as a whole. This concept can be experienced in their piece “Lotus Blossom”.
The Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries project adds an artistic element to written work that serves to enhance it and provide a means through which we can expand the boundaries of both music and literature to heighten the potential of both media and increase our levels of interaction and interpretation. The combination of reading and listening skills allows our interpretations to interplay with each other, forming an augmented version of a musical piece and a work of literature. Literature should not be bound by the confines of print, but rather should reach out to other medias to build on what the print has given us; to work together to build upon our knowledge and heighten our intellectual stimulation and explore the full potentials of the data presented by written word.
Jason Lewis in his digital poem “Nine” utilizes images, phrases, and game-like interactions to depict the layering of life and simulate how aspects of our lives interplay with each other and present themselves in different ways as time progresses. The convention is simple, nine squares each with a different image that can be shifted around—with the goal of forming a total media. Each time a square is moved, a textual piece of information is revealed about the life of the subject, whether it is a fact, an event, a thought, or another piece of the story. But, as the player interacts with the poem, the images change and fade into one another, creating a loop. While some of the images may not fade all together, some may be clearer than other and some may superimpose themselves upon another. These visual factors, alongside with the textual story, act as clues towards the lives of the characters—what is important at the time, what they may be feeling, what parts of their past may be reappearing or playing a subliminal role in the present. The artistry of this is that Lewis does not need to tell us these aspects of life—but rather lets us discover them on our own as he guides us through the story. And, because the reader is in control of the tiles, you are thus in control of how the story unfolds—which details you see at which time, which images are side-by-side, how the overall mood of the nine tiles is perceived—and it is through this interaction that the reader makes the story their own. Everyone who “plays” Lewis’s poem will be “reading” the same story, yet the path they take to get to the end will be different, thus the experience will be different. This concept expands the poem from a few lines with many interpretations to an infinite number of layers of information that can be perceived different visually, emotionally, and textually each time they are encountered. The interaction gives the poem a depth that reflects life itself, and thus establishes a connection with the reader that goes beyond written word.

Jason Lewis' "Nine" puzzle

Jason Lewis’ “Nine” puzzle


Both Jason Lewis and Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries incorporate multiple dimensions into their works to increase the output that the reader receives through experiencing their respective projects. In both cases the authors tell a story, yet it is the way that they present the story that determines the way the reader perceives it. The musical, visual, and interactive elements that both authors implement aid to demonstrate concepts and themes that the written words alone cannot. The timing and changing tones and beats of Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ pieces guide the reader through the text and put emphasis on certain ideas or phrases without having the text explain it—the reader simply experiences the increases or decreases and pairs the text and thus its meaning with the changes. Similarly, in Jason Lewis’ puzzle, the reader learns about the characters and the story through exploration and the connections between the text and the images on the tiles, along with the order through which they are revealed and the way that the tiles overlap, are established as the reader pieces the story together. These untraditional stories require the reader to learn as they go along, and it is this element of experience that helps to alter the perceptions produced by the literature.

Works Cited:
Chang, Y., & Voge, M. (1999). Young-hae chang heavy industries. Retrieved from http://www.yhchang.com/
Hayles, N. Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 2008. Print.
Lewis, J. (2003). Nine: Puzzling through several lives. Retrieved from http://www.poemsthatgo.com/gallery/fall2003/nine/nine.htm

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