Lit 80, Fall 2013

Humanity of AI [ABSTRACT]

November 8th, 2013 | Posted by Sai Cheemalapati in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Artificial intelligence is a field of computer science that has fascinated science fiction writers and researchers for decades. Alan Turing devised of a test in the 1950’s for a machine’s intelligence. Simply put, a machine passes the Turing test if a human is unable to distinguish it from another human. Over the past few decades, artificial intelligence has jumped from a theory to a developed art.

The aim of this paper is to analyze the history and development of artificial intelligence. Analysis will include implementations of AI in the real world and in fiction.

The media element will be a simple chat bot I’ll make using the above techniques. The element will demonstrate the technology behind making a Turing complete (maybe…) machine and the advantages/disadvantages of certain techniques.

There is more to cancer research than just raw data. My project is a tumblr compilation of visual representations of scientific literature that depict what would be considered concrete data in an artistic manner—establishing a connection between the research processes, the results, the components of the disease, and the impact it has on people’s lives. Research is not one-dimensional; there is a beauty behind analyzing the building blocks of life—even when they’ve gone wrong—and that can be extracted through manipulation of the text, diagrams, and data of the official paper.

The goal of this project will be to investigate how augmenting the text of figures of scientific literature can alter the reader’s perception and interpretation of both the literature and the data. Interpreting the data in this manner sheds a different light on the subject and makes a connection between the concrete and abstract ideas associated with the disease and subsequently forms a bridge between the molecules, the scientists, and the patients. There will be multiple elements in my project that will collectively augment the scientific literature. The tumblr will have images generated by text analysis tools, manipulations of the data using visualization tools, mapping of certain processes, and other interactive elements that together establish a way of looking at science through an artistic lenses. The literature that I will be using will be a collection of scientific articles found online that all relate to cancer research.

Through the media elements, I will aim to compare and relate different concepts and features from the various articles, augmenting them in a way that will form connections and go beyond the factual data to demonstrate that there is more to scientific research than just charts, numbers, and molecules. Some examples of ways that this will be achieved are through text analysis, such as words clouds, that analyze major concepts in research based on the words used in the discussion of the findings and through manipulating discovered sequences of important molecular components to create an artistic image of what makes up a disease. I think it is important to look deeper into research literature and having a visual and artistic depiction of the components of a disease can expand the range of understanding that can be obtained from the work.


The gaming market has been continuously spiking as computer and digital devices emerged around our lives from the 1980s till now. The exponential increase in video game companies has led to a boom in players as well. Video games, compared to its first emergence, seem to play a much bigger role in our lives now, and still little do we know about how such a potential medium could influence our thoughts.

This project aims to investigate the different genres of videos-games, such as action-adventure, role-playing (RPG), strategy games etc. and seeks to compare and contrast how these games, set in virtual (digital) worlds,  subconsciously alter our perceptions and decision-making process in the real (physical) world. The project will first attempt to boldly recontextualize the setting, plot and characters in various games to illustrate the societal impact if people acted exactly like video game characters. Subsequently, to comprehensively and specifically discuss the impact of games in our lives,  numerous attributes of games, such as linearity versus non-linearity, sandbox versus just narrative, will be scrutinized. Game samples that are representative of each attribute will also be taken into account. By making these concrete analysis, the project attempts to ask the reader: How do different game genres and game styles change our perspectives in our real world?

Last but not least, the project seeks to research how subconscious perceptions of the physical world is different for a person who is playing a game (controlling the protagonist and making the decisions) and for a bystander who is watching a game. To minimize error, the same part of a game (genre and attribute to be determined) will be presented to the player to play and remediated as a video for the “watcher” to watch.  This interesting comparison will give us a glimpse about how interactivity/interpassivity of video games encompasses potential societal implications.


See more than texts

With the development of computational ability, more and more literature pieces are “born-digital” or have been digitized. To have a multidimensional  view of the literature, we have to develop tools to see something behind texts. In this project, I will cover the tools and projects about how to see more than texts when reading literature. Interesting topics like text visualization, data-mining will be covered. Tools and projects like Ngram Viewer, Wordle and Textarc will be introduced. And some experiments with those tools and projects will be presented. Finally, there will be some analysis about how these tools and projects change the way of literature research, how they change our attitudes toward literature and how they make us think about digital humanity. I hope that with this final project I can have a new view towards the literature in digital age.

Seizures effect millions of people around the world and can be very harmful to normal bodily function and can in some cases even cause death. The aim of this project is to visualize the occurrence of seizures using Electroencephalograph (EEG) data. By visualizing this data through music, one can vividly see the effect a seizure has on a patients brain and how large of an impact it has on normal brain function. In order to do this, raw EEG data will be taken and converted into a WAV file, which can then be analyzed by music editing programs. There will then be two different elements to this media project. First, the raw WAV file will be analyzed by WIDI Pro, which will analyze the peaks and troughs of the WAV file and convert any peaks it recognizes into piano notes. Along with this visualization, I will also mirror an actual piano piece and match the tone, tempo, and volume to the EEG data. In order to do that, I will analyze the changes in distance between each peak on the WAV file and use that measure to change the tempo of the piano track. I will also measure the heights of the peaks and troughs of the WAV file and subsequently change the volume of the piano track. Therefore, the seizure data can be visualized with actual tonal music, and the listener can enjoyable see the effect of a seizure on the brain. I believe this visualization is important in showing listeners what actually occurs in the brain of someone suffering from seizures and the severity of the issue. This could also further be used to educate people who are at risk for developing seizures and elucidate how it effects their brains and body’s.

In her book Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary, Katherine Hayles defines “electronic literature” as “work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer” (3). In the classic sense, literature refers to the written medium exclusively. Thus, “e-lit” has many distinct characteristics that validate its existence as a separate medium. It is afforded certain functions that augment the reading experience in a unique way; when comparing it to popular media such as film, video games, or print, e-lit bridges the gap between text and multimedia most effectively. In other words, the balance between writing and audiovisual content is the most even. In addition, e-lit is able to utilize a wider variety of tools that enable authors to create a very specific experience for their audience (more so than static illustrations alone). These artistic media elements can be merely supplementary or integral  components of the work, both of which can be seen in Eric Lemay’s “Losing the Lottery” and Mark Marino’s “Living Will.”

Lemay’s “Losing the Lottery” features a very interesting media element to supplement its writing. The work first brings you to a lottery mini-game: the screen shows rapidly moving random lottery balls with numbers, six of which the reader must choose to continue. The reader is then shown a two-column layout that displays a lottery simulator algorithm on the right side and a collection of 49 pages on the right side. Each of the 49 pages has a short paragraph, quote, or absurd statistic that has something related to the unlikelihood of winning the lottery, interspersed with personal anecdotes and thoughts from the author. The lottery simulator uses the six numbers chosen by the reader and cycles through randomly generated lottery sequences, with headers that show the number of times you have won, the degree to which your numbers match, and the time and money spent/earned playing the lottery.

elit lottery

“Losing the Lottery,” Eric Lemay

            This media element is supplemental to the text, but definitely enhances the simple message being portrayed. The combination of short excerpts and the miniscule winnings shown by the simulator shows the reader on a deeper level just how futile it is to play the lottery. The simulator serves as a personalized firsthand experience, and quietly runs alongside the text as you read. It allows the reader to glance over to the right and view his or her “progress,” while simultaneously taking in information about how difficult it is to win the lottery. Although the message in this piece is pretty simple, it is a very clear demonstration of how such a media element can simultaneously reinforce the ideas of a text effectively. This interactive simulator is a much more interesting method of visualizing an idea than merely showing data aggregates in a graph or table. While the simulation might not be essential, the work would be far less interesting without it.

Media elements can also play an integral role in the consumption of an e-lit work; Mark Marino’s “Living Will” is a great example. This piece functions as a highly interactive click-and-scroll story that allows the reader to choose what happens on a whim. As the reader scrolls through and reads the will, different parts of the text become clickable. Depending on what the reader selects, the document will alter itself instantly. The left hand side of the page has a box that explains who the reader is and what he or she is reading, and the right side of the screen features a simulator (just like Lemay’s piece) that runs simultaneously as the reader goes through the document, tallying up the inheritance (bequests, fees, taxes, etc.). In addition, the simulator features multiple points-of-view that let the reader see how much money the different characters of the work have earned as a result of the reader’s browsing through the document. This media element is very immersive and provides a rich storytelling experience. In a way, this feels like a role-playing video game (RPG), in that the decisions that the reader makes alters the course of the story. However, each of the various permutations of the path follows a parent storyline, implying that all arcs will eventually lead to the same conclusion.

living will

“Living Will,” Mark Marino

This type of e-lit piece shows the powerful applications the medium can have when it comes to fictional storytelling. It is hard to compare this to film or video because it is mostly comprised of words as opposed to moving images; however, it is a dynamic experience that could be more aptly described as a video game of sorts (maybe not the most entertaining or colorful, but certainly interactive).

One of the few flaws that e-lit pieces are unable to rectify currently is the issue of accessibility. While they can serve as very interesting and immersive methods of consuming literature, one must have a computational device (a smartphone, computer, tablet) to experience it, which restricts access to many different people. Also, depending on which device is used,  the full experience can vary. Personally, I would not enjoy navigating through “Living Will” on a small smartphone screen as opposed to a regular laptop screen. These are all considerations the author must put into account when producing a work. Furthermore, while this is not necessarily a limitation to the medium, it is difficult to reproduce such a work and present it in other media, as the author has purposefully designed the work with a specific representation in mind. Having a knowledge of coding flash/java/html scripts would be quite useful in attempting to do so.

While “Losing the Lottery” and “Living Will” are quite in depth, they do not showcase the entire range that the e-lit medium possesses. Some other e-lit works such as Robert Kendall’s “Candles for a Street Corner” or Campbell and Jhave’s “Zone” feature much more audiovisual content than text. In this way, they are more similar to other visual-heavy media such as graphic novels or film. There is an emphasis on what is seen in order to communicate certain emotions and feelings more effectively than text alone. However, one cannot exist without the other in e-lit pieces; without the writing to justify the media element, it is enormously difficult (and often unsatisfying) to navigate these elements without direction or apparent purpose. This is one of the reasons why the e-lit medium has such great potential as an effective means of telling a story or communicating information – the tools it has in its arsenal to relay a multidimensional experience far outnumber those which books can employ, which help the reader understand works on a significantly more personal and profound level.


Works Cited

Campbell, Andy, and Jhave. “Dreaming Methods : Zone.” Dreaming Methods : Zone. Dreaming Methods, 2013. Web. Nov.-Dec. 2013. <>.

Hayles, Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 2008. Print.

Kendall, Robert, and Michele D’Auria Studio. “Candles for a Street Corner.” Candles for a Street Corner. Michele D’Auria Studio, July 2004. Web. Nov. 2013. <>.

Lemay, Eric. “DIAGRAM :: Eric LeMay.” DIAGRAM :: Eric LeMay. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2013. <>.

Marino, Mark. “Living Will.” Living Will., 2010. Web. Nov. 2013. <>.

According to Katherine Hayles, an electronic literature piece is “a first-generation digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer” [1]. Due to the dynamic presentation forms provided by computers, electronic literature is able to provide more dimensions of interaction with viewers. In class we explored several different projects that presented text and audio and responded to user interaction. Electronic literature pieces intend to augment the user’s experience in a way that is not possible by traditional print literature. As a result, there exists much potential for the form as an artistic and meaningful medium. This paper explores Dan Waber’s “Strings” project and analyzes its merits as an electronic literature piece [2].

“Strings” is composed of several individual demonstrations of a simple idea. A string is shown in a small window that morphs into words and shapes. For example, the string could curl up on one side of the screen to form a “yes.” While more than one string may be present, none ever break or join. They may change shape freely.

The "yes" side of the "argument" piece.

The “yes” side of the “argument” piece.

Waber’s first piece, titled “argument,” shows a single string stretching the window oscillating from left to right. When the string reaches the left, the string forms a “yes”. When it reaches the right, the word “no” is formed. Interestingly, I think that this piece would be just as understandable sans the title. It is apparent from the motion of the string that there is stress in the exchange – the “yes” is pulled to the right until the string is flat while a “no” is formed on the right hand side, and then the “no” is pulled flat as a “yes” appears in the left hand side. In my head, when I first saw the piece my mind automatically applied a voice to the two words as they were dragged across the screen. A “yes” and “no” would sound in my head at each oscillation. The animation was able to easily reproduce the dynamics of an argument in my head. In text or image, the same situation would be very difficult to convey so simply and quickly. This several second animation with two words was able to convey the situation, tone, and apply some character to the words.

Another piece – “youandme” – shows the word “you” slowly moving across the screen while the word “me” buzzes around. The animation seems to give a personality to the words. In my mind, I imagined an old man walking across a room while his grandson/daughter runs about in excitement. The “you” has a slow and deliberate character to it, while the “me” appears to be playful and energetic.  I felt like a story was being told with the words. I was able to construct characters with unique traits and even produce a plausible scenario behind the interaction. The idea  – an old man walking as his grandson zips about – even put a smile on my face. It was pretty cool to see such a simple animation produce so much in me and even evoke some emotion.

Waber’s final piece, titled “poidog” shows a string morphing into the sentence “words are like strings that I pull out of my mouth” [2]. This piece reveals a little of Waber’s thoughts about the project. It’s an interesting premise, as his entire project is based around string morphing into words. When I imagine speaking and just pulling a morphing string out of my mouth, my mind attributes physical properties to the string. Gravity pulls the string down, and when changes are made at the beginning of the string, the end morphs slightly. It makes me think about how sentences are very interconnected structures and how altering a single word can change the whole structure’s meaning and presence.

I believe “Strings” is an attempt to show that a very simple structure – a “string” – can be embodied with both meaning and emotion. On paper or canvas it’s incredibly difficult to produce a story with just a few words that can convey a situation as well as Waber’s animations. His use of timing and stress in the string provides character and allows viewers to connect and project onto the words. With each piece, I understood very quickly what he was trying to show and I enjoyed watching the animations. As for where the piece fits in to the electronic literature scene, I believe it definitely makes its mark. I wonder however whether it would be as effective at scale. The format seems most effective at its current size – showing a small scenario. I think though that the idea can be expanded to a larger animation with more complex story and deliver an equally interesting experience.

To show that Waber’s piece fits into the contemporary literature scene, consider the following questions proposed by Hayles.

“Is electronic literature really literature at all?” [1] I argue that it is. Literature can be defined as “Imaginative or creative writing, especially of recognized artistic value” [3]. What Waber produced is definitely creating writing. He transforms words using animations produced on a computer to reveal a story. I believe literature in the creative sense should tell some kind of story. Other electronic literature pieces fail in this regard. Take for example, “Sea and Spar Between” [4]. The piece shows stanzas of Dickinson’s poems and “Moby Dick” presented meaninglessly on the screen on an immense grid. I couldn’t pull any meaning from it or decipher any kind of story. Really it just seemed like a lot of text was thrown on the page to make a point I didn’t understand. “Strings” does not fail in this regard – it’s immediately obvious what can be drawn from the animations available.

“Is literary quality possible in digital media, or is electronic literature demonstrably inferior to the print canon?” [1] Literary quality is absolutely possible in digital media. In “Strings,” Waber is able to tell a small story with the use of only a few words. I believe it would take a few sentences at least to produce the same level of story as the piece “argument” for example. The electronic aspect of the piece was able to convey meaning that would be hard to bring across in text so easily. Well made electronic literature can certainly show where the print form can benefit from the flexibility provided by code.

For the above reasons, I believe “Strings” is an excellent example of electronic literature. Waber was able to use computer animations to bring a string to life in engaging and interesting scenarios. Neither the animation nor the words are overbearing, and the piece is able to effectively communicate what it’s trying to accomplish. I hope in the future that Waber expands his concept with different, longer scenarios. Perhaps he would be able to allow users to animate words or their choice on a string and allow any chosen word to morph into another. Overall there is certainly merit to the piece, and I can imagine a lot of ways it could expand in the future.







E-Lit Critique: The Knotted Line

November 4th, 2013 | Posted by Zhan Wu in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)
ELit-Zhan 01

Electronic Literature

The end of the 20th century saw a huge advancement of digital technologies. Hand-written letters, hand-held books, etc., though not totally eliminated from use, were slowly becoming obsolete. The digital and virtual era was approaching as mankind strove in technological evolvements such as computers, cell phones, and the construction of a widely shared virtual network: the World Wide Web. With this tremendous impetus in the time of seemingly incessant new inventions and breakthroughs, the academic disciplines had to majorly adjust, redefine and even reform many of their expressive ways and methods. The digital humanities were created, which relied on computational technology to virtually “copy” the many words written on books to operation system file formats such as doc., pdf., html, and the list goes on, while simultaneously adding elements that were never possible before: videos, augmented pictures and plots etc. As the 21st century beckoned, people become increasingly inventive and constructed a new form of expressionistic art form: electronic literature, or E-Lit. E-Lit was only able to be construed because the transformation of the millennium generated even more “high-tech” computational technology. Software as well as hardware became more and more sophisticated and more intricate software programming software gave rise to complex games, rendering utilities and so on, which E-Lit readily utilized as one of its manifold forms of expressions.

One element that sets E-Lit apart from the digital humanities and other written pieces is that E-Lit itself does not necessarily need verbal expressions. In layman’s terms, E-Lit might have no words in it, but still be a piece of literature. This is a very important aspect to realize before analyzing any electronic literature pieces. Admittedly, most people would think about a written book or anything in alphabetic words or characters when asked to define literature. Our propensity to connect the word literature with written elements actually constraints us from constituting a more comprehensive picture of this sort of art. N. Katherine Hayles, in her book Electronic Literature: What Is It?, specified E-Lit as “digitally born…[and] digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer”. (Hayles 3) She also indicated that electronic literature pieces might have “no recognizable words, [but might have] important visual components [and] sonic effects…”. (Hayles 4) In class we have extensively discussed the basic elements and inner meanings that are representative of typical E-Literature pieces. Additionally, we have scrutinized many examples of E-Lit pieces on the internet such as MUPS (digital augmentation system), SKIN, City Stories, and the Xenotext Experiment, which “takes programming language and practices into account” (Hayles 28).

The Xenotext Experiment aims to use computational software to code/decode written words into DNA sequences.

The Xenotext Experiment aims to use computational software to code/decode written words into DNA sequences.

One E-Lit piece that I appreciate most was The Knotted Line, which utilizes actual miniature painting created in the 17th-19th century along with a digital timeline to explore the historical relationships between freedom and confinement and the question about how freedom is measured. The general E-Lit was extremely well-constructed. If the program launches successfully, the user will be brought to an all-black colored timeline which shows the “beginning” of American history, or the many confirmed accounts for that matter. The user can then use the mini-map of the timeline, a unique “navigation scheme” (Hayles 7), at the top right corner of the browser to get to the desired time period. The user interface was fraught with game elements. In order to know more about the happenings of a specific famous historical moment, one must move the mouse several times on the black lines of the timeline to virtually “cut open” the timeline, which will subsequently reveal the miniature paintings as well as a very short (usually 10~30) word description of the specific historical time period in America.

Navigation Mini-Map of the Knotted Line.

Navigation Mini-Map of the Knotted Line.

Black Lines

Black Lines

Miniature paintings and description one line is "cut open" with the mouse.

Miniature painting and description once line is “cut open” with the mouse.

In light of Hayles’s interpretation of E-Lit pieces, The Knotted Line fits perfectly into the definition of electronic literature. That is, the piece comprises of as little words as possible, while making up the lack of written elements through stunning visual displays, interesting and explorable game elements, and backdrop sounds to create the ambiance needed to truly appreciate this great workpiece. Through its impressive visual and sound interface, we can clearly see that The Knotted Line uses them dexterously in setting the mood and tone for the things it wants to show. The whole piece, in terms of literary elements, also incorporates numerous themes such as American Slavery history and the fear and isolation of the American society from foreigners and the differently-cultured in the 19th and 20th century (i.e. 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act/ internment camps for Japanese Americans during WWII). Though not extensively clear, the Knotted Line also implies its question of freedom/confinement by telling a historical narrative of the subject matter.

In many aspects, The Knotted Line can be considered as a piece of interactive fiction, though most of its accounts are historically accurate. Hayles claims that “interactive fiction  (IF) differs from [other] works…in having stronger game elements….The demarcation between computer games and electronic literature is far from clear…, many works of electronic literature have game elements.” (Hayles 8) The form of expression, that is, using a timeline to document a narrative of freedom and confinement of American history, plus adding game facets such as mouse dragging to it, makes the piece a work of E-Lit that can immensely augment the American history reading experience by giving a graphical and tonal view of slavery and isolationism, thus helping the reader to understand history more thoroughly.

Little game near the end of the timeline. Year 2009.

Little game near the end of the timeline. Year 2009.

In conclusion, the Knotted Line utilizes various visual and sonic elements, which are highly representative of typical electronic literature pieces, to create a website that is both entertaining, composing of many small yet delightful game elements, and educational, researching and scrutinizing the relations between freedom and confinement while asking questions to make the “reader” think deeper into the subject. As Hayles would have it: Electronic literature “make much fuller use of the multimodal capabilities of the Web”. (Hayles 6)



[1] Hayles Katherine N., Electronic Literature: What Is It? Accessed Nov. 3, 2013.

[2] The Knotted Line, Electronic Literature piece, Accessed Nov. 3, 2013.

Electronic Literature Critique: Implementation


In the 1980’s, with the advance of computing technology, literature began to move from the printed books into computer screens. That is the birth of electronic literature. N. Katherine Hayles argues in the online article Electronic Literature: What Is It that, “electronic literature, generally considered to exclude print literature that has been digitized, is by contrast ‘digital born,’ and (usually) meant to be read on a computer.” According to the Electronic Literature Organization, electronic literature or e-lit refers to “works with important literary aspects that take advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer”. Although there are a huge amount of different forms of electronic literature, the Electronic Literature Organization gives nine categories of current electronic literature, which are “(1) E-books, hypertext fiction and poetry, on and off the Web (2) Animated poetry presented in graphical forms, for example Flash and other platforms (3) Computer art installations which ask viewers to read them or otherwise have literary aspects (4) Conversational characters, also known as chatterbots (5) Interactive fiction (6) Novels that take the form of emails, SMS messages, or blogs (7) Poems and stories that are generated by computers, either interactively or based on parameters given at the beginning (8) Collaborative writing projects that allow readers to contribute to the text of a work (9) Literary performances online that develop new ways of writing”. Implementation is the kind of electronic literature project that is a writing project that allows readers to contribute to the work.


Implementation is a project about how texts resonant with their environment. The authors put their book chapters on stickers and then distribute those stickers to individuals.  Instructions which encourage people to peel the stickers off and place them in  public area are along with those stickers. Then the authors collect the images of those sheets of stickers and put those imagines online. Those images which are photographed by the readers at different placements give us an idea of the resonance between the texts and the environment. As written in the project’s introduction, the authors hope that “this form of interaction will engender new and unanticipated meanings as Implementation is situated in specific public spaces that resonate with the texts in different ways.”

Implementation sticker in Philadelphia

In my opinion, the most fantastic thing about Implementation lies in the interactivity. There are four kinds of people who participate in this project. The first kind is the “sheet readers” who have the sheets of stickers, read the texts and distribute those stickers. The second kind is the people who read those stickers in public area. And then there may be some “web readers” who want to know more about the book or the project by going to the website. The most important is the “participants” who read those stickers in public area, post the stickers they have, photograph those stickers according to their will and send those images back to the authors. It is those participants that make the whole project have interactivity because they decide the “interface” of the book and the way texts resonate with environment by photographing in different ways and at different conditions. This is a novel idea for interactivity. In the “classic” electronic literature such as Michael Joyce’s afternoon: a story, the interaction is achieved by hypertexts’ linking structures. In kinetic poems (such as City Story), chatterbots (such as Because You Asked) and interactive fictions (such as Knotted Line), the interactivity is achieved by the game element which means that the reader’s different reactions cause different but programmed  consequences. However, the interactivity in Implementation  is not achieved by either the linking structures of hypertexts or the programmed  game elements. In Implementation  the interactivity is achieved by the decision of the participants . The participants decide the places the stickers are situated, the way the images  are photographed, the resonance between the texts and the environment. Unlike hypertext fictions in which every link is read in isolation, the stickers in Implementation function  in a whole as a coherent narrative. The readers  who see the stickers can have access to the whole story by viewing the website to see the texts or images. Instead of using game elements which result in programmed  consequences according to the reader’s reaction, the consequences in Implementation are not programmed and are totally undetermined until the reader post imagines online.  This is the real interactivity instead of “inter-passivity”. This also offers a new way for collaborative writing.

Although the Implementation is an excellent electronic literature project, there are some aspects that can be improved from my point of view. The first one I would like to improve is how to show the places where the stickers are situated. In the current project, all the images are listed according to placement. This cannot give the reader a specific sense of how the stickers are distributed. It would be great if the stickers can be marked on a map just like what is done in the project Skin. In the project Skin, the literature pieces are written on the skin of volunteers with a map to show the place of each literature piece. From the map, the reader can easily explore the geographic features of literature. In the project Implementation, a map will be a great tool to find some resonance between the texts and geographic locations. The second improvement is about the way to show the images. In the current project, the images are not just listed according to the location name. It would be better to use some interactive way to show these images. For example, in the project the Knotted Line, the interactive way of reading makes the reader have a sense of development and a sense of uncovering story. For the similar reason, in Implementation, an interactive interface can give the reader a sense of the shift of geographic locations. That may cause some unanticipated meaning about the resonance between the texts and the environment.

In summary, the project Implementation is an electronic literature project that uses collaborative writing to allow readers to contribute to the work. The interactivity in Implementation is different from the hypertexts and game elements in other electronic literature projects. This collaborative writing way has unpredictable consequences instead of programmed consequences when interacting with the readers. It would be better if the project can improve aspects about the interactive interface on the website.




N. Katherine Hayles,  Electronic Literature: What Is It,

Electronic Literature Organization

Michael Joyce, afternoon: a story (Watertown MA: Eastgate Systems, 1990)

City Story

Because You Asked

Knotted Line,





The Xenotext Experiment

November 4th, 2013 | Posted by Craig Bearison in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Christian Bök’s The Xenotext Experiment is an ambitious attempt at harnessing emerging scientific technology to create new forms of artistic work.  Most generally, it is an endeavor to merge the humanities and ‘hard’ sciences. Bök writes about his plan to write a poem and encode it inside of the DNA of a bacterium to create ‘living poetry’. Along with the poem itself, Bök would create a number of supplementary materials and, all together, these would make up the Experiment. Bok is currently the first person to design a microorganism capable of writing a meaningful text in response to an enciphered gene. He is now working on getting a sample of the organism in culture. The purpose of the experiment is to convey the beauty of both poetry and biology and demonstrate potential ways for these fields to interact with each other in the future.

The idea of creating poetry in DNA is similar to a concept we read about earlier this semester, which is using DNA for storage. The article “Book written in DNA code”, published in The Guardian in August of 2012, discusses the first successful attempt at storing the contents of a book in DNA code. Currently, it is very expensive and time consuming to store information in DNA. The book was the largest file ever stored in DNA yet is was only 5.27 MB and it was stored in artificial DNA, not implanted inside of a real cell. However, the article reports that technology is improving rapidly and DNA might be a viable option for storage in the future, citing DNAs extremely efficient storage capacity. So the idea of manipulating DNA to create poetry and other forms of art seems like it will be a possibility sometime soon. Unlike the experiment with the book, The Xenotext Experiment is more than just using DNA to store the information of a text.

The Xenotext Experiment involves generating a poem with the intent in mind to have it stored as DNA sequence and having the molecules and bacteria themselves serve as part of the artwork. In living organisms, DNA and its associated machinery not only store information but also allow for the expression of the messages (protein production). Likewise, part of the The Xenotext Experiment is creating the poem and its cipher in such a way that the sequence containing the poem can be translated into a protein, which is itself another text. This concept is part of the art piece and the elucidation of the aesthetics of biology, having poetry mimic nature. The bacterium is not only the book but the printing press as well and part of the art piece.  As for the content of the poem itself, the topic is about the interaction of language and genetics. This, obviously, seems fitting given that the purpose of the project as a whole involves this relationship. Bök is also constrained in what he can write due to the nature of the media itself. As we learned from The Guardian article, artificially storing information in DNA is not only difficult but complicated and tricky as well. The poem has to be short to avoid a DNA sequence that is excessively lengthy and there might be more specific syntactical and dictional restrictions so as to make the sequence stable and capable of coding for the protein. Bok had to redesign the protein many times before he created one that could accomplish its intended function (in this case glowing a fluorescent green) while maintaining the poem sequence inside a cell. In the successful creation of the poetic cipher gene this year, the protein was able to glow and the poem persisted.

As part of the artwork, different types of images of the DNA, protein, and bacteria will be included in the piece. There are many imaging techniques in biology for visualizing organic structures, many of which produce aesthetically pleasing pictures. Bök plans to take advantage of this fact by including artwork of the compounds and in this way adopting the chemical foundation of the media as fine art. As we learned from our discussion with Jussi Parikka and Drew Burk a few weeks ago, the physical features of books are part of the experience of reading a book. The design of the cover, the type of binding, texture of the paper, and font/margins of the page are all attributes of the media and contribute to the message. In this new medium that Bök is envisioning, characteristics of the media again influence the message. Different poems and different coding schemes result in distinct DNA sequences that look different and create different proteins. Also, the choice of imaging techniques could be utilized by the author to establish styles and generate certain impressions, just like a painting can. Along with images of the products, Bök also plans to cover the scientific side of the Experiment as well by producing charts, graphs, outlines of the results, and an explanation of the chemical cipher.

The Xenotext Experiment is not just a written or digital text compilation of all of the documentations of this living poetry project. For example, Bök intends to organize an art exhibit with enlarged copies of the photos and charts, thereby creating a space for a discourse about the topic. One such tool Bök is already employing is a ball and stick model of his protein from a plastic model kit. The 3d protein sculpture has already made appearances in art exhibits. Bök also intends to publish a poetic manual at the end of the project detailing the text of the poem and including many of the pieces such as the chemical alphabet of the cipher, photos, and the scientific data. One cool plan Bök has is to include a slide with a sample of the bacteria with every book for the reader to examine. Providing an actual copy of the organism would enhance the affect of the poem by providing a tangible three-dimensional object for the reader to inspect and help the artwork resonate.

Picture of the protein sculpture on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver

Picture of the protein sculpture on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver

A final thing to consider is whether or not The Xenotext Experiment qualifies as electronic literature and if it even matters. On page x of the Read Me in Hayles’ Electronic Literature: New Horizons For the Literary, she says “electronic literature can be understood as a practice that mediates between human and machine cognition…” (Hayles x).  If we understand this statement with a broad definition of machine, including biological ‘machinery’ as a type of machine and not just interpreting it to mean computers, then I think this piece certainly counts as electronic literature. The Xenotext Experiment takes a human conception, poetry and other types of art, and puts it in biological terms. Hayles also comments that electronic literature is tied to the evolution of digital computers, just as print books were tied to the evolution of printing. Although existing in a biological and not computer form, ‘living poetry’ is dependent on and tied to digital computers for its creation and visualization so I believe The Xenotext Experiment fits this condition as well.

Currently, molecular biology and the arts are seen as exclusive fields of study and The Xenotext Experiment is an attempt to combat that notion. These two areas can be combined to create a multidisciplinary medium capable of transmitting information in an entirely new way. Additionally, this ‘living poetry’ makes arguments about both of these fields as well. Namely, biology can be art and poetry can employ technology and scientific principles.

Hayles, N. Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons For the Literary. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 2008.