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 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).
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.
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.
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)
 Hayles Katherine N., Electronic Literature: What Is It?, http://eliterature.org/pad/elp.html. Accessed Nov. 3, 2013.
 The Knotted Line, Electronic Literature piece, http://knottedline.com/. Accessed Nov. 3, 2013.
Why do you stay up so late? is a poem written by Marvin Bell that utilizes digital media to enhance the reading experience by augmenting the literary elements. In the poem, Bell uses traditional elements such as theme, conflict (internal), style, tone, and figurative language; he uses colors, sounds, and animations to compliment his words and heighten the meaning in his work. The sounds set the somber tone of the poem before the author’s words have the opportunity to create it. The animation of a lit match on the first page reminds the reader that it is late at night and there is very little light to work by.
Additionally, the hand tapping a pencil on the table is a visual of the author’s restlessness in attempting to write. The tapping makes the reader feel just as restless as the author, allowing the reader to sympathize with the author’s internal conflict. Also the animations visually represent the figurative language the author uses.
When the author describes the young poets and then transitions back to himself, the animation mirrors the transition by shifting from many tapping pencils to one tapping pencil.
The lone tapping continues until he says “I am frozen in the white page.” It is at this moment that the animation freezes, highlighting his conflict and figurative language.
Additionally, colors are used to set the scene as well as accent specific words and lines. For most of the poem, the words are set on a black background. It all changes with the appearance of the word “light”. The word is the only brightness on a dark surrounding because it is meant to be a single source of light that appears “through the ice.” This is followed by the screen flashing, and the background shifting to white. Here the sound maintains its repetitive beat, but the tone changes. This change creates a sense of optimism, but reminds the reader that things are still the same. This sentiment is echoed when the screen returns to a black background and Bell writes “this is not the story.” The contrast with colors and word selection is used throughout the poem as Bell sometimes highlights certain words by using different colors.
The affect that producing the poem in this form has is emphasized when you look at the poem in its pure html form. Here the reader finds a 24 line poem that when read does not touch us emotionally like the animated version does. Also, the animated version requires the reader to spend more time on the poem than one may necessarily spend reading it because you can only transition pages when the author allows. By using electronic literature as his medium, Bell is able to utilize multiple tools to create what traditional authors attempt to do with one. He creates the readers’ environment through manipulation of sounds, colors and time while traditional authors can only use words. Though critics may argue the latter is more difficult and therefore more impressive, the former assures that the reader experiences the environment the author intends.
Looking at how this contributes to the electronic literature conversation, I turn to the questions presented by Katherine Hayles in Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary (2008).
1) “Is electronic literature really literature?” (Hayles 2008)
This question is difficult to answer because it depends on your definition of literature. Hayles has a more inclusive definition of electronic literature that includes work that that provides the reader with an experience (or gives meaning to it) and is “digitally born” to be read electronically. Personally, it is too specific but at the same time too inclusive. If Hayles limits electronic literature to work created electronically, then she eliminates some the projects discussed in class. By her definition, projects created using code would be the only forms of electronic literature because that is the only way for something to be truly “digital born.” Would her definition exclude remediations? Implementation, for example, is in a remediation of a book. Since its origin in a print source, does it lose credibility? Or perhaps should it be considered experimental or some other form of literature.
To me, literature must use words in the form of a poem, play (scripts), or novel to create an experience. By this definition, Why do you stay up so late? would de defined as a type of literature. Bell’s poem uses words to create an experience. However, not all electronic literature falls under this category. For example, Arteroids is an ‘end of language piece’ that uses words to create meaning. However, the medium is a game, and the words are used more as a piece of art rather than a piece of literature.
As a result, I would alter Hayles’s definition to include remediation, but to exclude projects that are without words in the form of a poem, play, or novel.
2) “Will the dissemination mechanism of the internet and the Web, by opening publication to everyone, result in a flood of worthless drivel?” (Hayles 2008)
In short, yes. Based on the list that was discussed in class, there are numerous examples of “worthless” electronic literature. Nonetheless, I do not think this is a reason to prevent its development. In traditional literature, there are plenty of examples of literature that critics view as worthless, but that has not deterred writers. If poorly written books did not end traditional literature, then a few poorly created projects should not end electronic literature. Furthermore, the presence of mediocre literature, electronic and traditional alike, creates a contrast by which ‘valuable’ literature can appear even better.
3) Can traditional literature coexist with electronic literature?
This question parallels the discussion we had earlier in the semester on whether E-readers will eventually become more prominent than written novels. I think that in this scenario, both forms are invaluable so they should both continue. Unfortunately, because of the trajectory humanity has taken away from books and towards television and video media, electronic literature may be the only way to captivate future readers. Therefore, I think that electronic literature will become the primary source of literature, but I hope that future authors include non-augmented transcripts like Bell does.
All of the attributes I described involving how Why do you stay up so late? augmented the nature of the poem are not only why I feel that it is an effective use of electronic literature, but also the reason I like it. Bell effectively balances the electronic and traditional literature elements to create an aesthetically pleasing and well written poem. Nothing too abstract is done, and the electronic medium is used to achieve features that cannot be completed in different media. As electronic literature develops, I hope that it will be able to utilize improvements in technology to augment and improve the reading experience.
Bell, Marvin, and Nikki Ruddy. Shakespeare’s Wages: Fifteen Poems. [S.l.]: Gendun Editions, 2004.
Hayles, Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 2008.
Thank you Amanda Gould for the advice and recommendations to improve my critique.
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.
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.
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
Electronic Literature is one of the more interesting forms of literature that I have come across. The main premise behind electronic literature is the idea that it is created on the computer, and is meant to be read and accessed through a digital medium like a computer, tablet, etc. Therefore, this literature is created and distributed through many variable sources, yet holds all of the powers and tools that a computer can process. That is why I believe that e-lit, if implemented well, can augment literature in ways that were previously unimaginable and significantly alter the reader’s experience, for the better. The internet and computer hold millions of tools and allow the writer to take full creative control over the literature and tailor their pieces perfectly to relay their message to the reader, using multiple media rather than just text. An example of great implementation can be seen in the E-Lit piece titled “Entre Ville” by JR Carpenter.
Through his implementation of text, pictures, videos, and audio, JR Carpenter effectively contributes to E-Lit and immerses the reader into his quaint neighborhood. The title “Entre Ville” means “the city between us” in French, and that is essentially what Carpenter aims to show. It is an interactive “notebook” that coincides with a poem written by Carpenter that gives the reader the complete aura of the neighborhood that the poem takes place in. Upon opening the piece, one sees a beautifully depicted apartment building in the province of Canada with interactive windows and elements that can be accessed. When you click on the windows of the apartment building, you often get a video that coincides with a segment of the poem. For example, one of the poem stanzas says, “a french man, waits for dinnertime, while he points his trumpet towards our window.” When you click on the coinciding window, a video of the beautiful view out the window with trumpet music in the background pops up, immersing the reader into the specific stanza. I liked this E-lit piece because for someone who is reading this poem, to experience the ambience of a city or neighborhood, reading about it can only get you so far. In order to fully be immersed into the area, the videos and audio that coincide with the text give you a fully immersive experience where you almost feel like you are in the city, in the apartment, etc. This is successful E-lit because it takes the best parts of writing, and its ability to vividly and specifically describe aspects of the neighborhood in detail with the sense-drawing appeal of video and audio, which allows the reader to delve even deeper into the text. This text shows not only the artistic side of Electronic Literature, but also the functional aspect of it. It completely visualizes what is already a very sense-provoking poem and serves as a “virtual tour” of the neighborhood. Along with E-Lit pieces such as “Entre Ville” which further describe and augment the original text, some authors have taken E-Lit and molded it to form political pieces.
This is definitely the case with “Death Moves it Forward” by Jody Zellen. This piece is actually a little frightening with all the information being thrown onto the screen, which makes it very effective in portraying the intensity of death in war. In this piece, clicking on some parts of the screen pulls up cartoon figures indicating how many people have died each day during the Iraq Crisis, another click, on the word ‘death’, begins to zoom out more and more eventually showing the sheer number of people who have died, especially women and children. Finally, the screen fills up rapidly with the figures of women and children, creating a sense of fright and it is very shocking and shows how many people actually die through conflicts like the Iraq War. Another click causes a scrolling through a bunch of newspaper articles that show key words like “bombing”, “death”, “guns”, etc. Throughout this piece, there is radio broadcast in the background that often is very jumbled making it difficult to hear what is actually being said. Overall, this piece explicitly uses all of the reader’s senses to get its message across. Many of the pictures that pop up tend to show horrifying images of war. The jumbled and muffled radio broadcasts in the background, instill a scary aura due to the fact that you cannot really make out what is being said. This seems to be a political version of E-lit and can be quite disturbing to the reader as it gives off a deep dark aura regarding the deaths that occur daily through violence. It does it well through its use of quick flashing images, scratchy noises, and overall dark appearance, all which invoke a fear like state in the reader further making the actual content of the E-lit, more effective and eye-opening.
As a reader, this piece was a little difficult to take in all at once. It was necessary to replay the animations multiple times and analyze each aspect separately to fully understand what was being said. Going through the piece, I had to focus on just the text the first time through and then proceed to analyzing the audio in the background and then the pictures that were being displayed. This sense of utter confusion and fast paced images being flung at the screen again show the confusing and catalytic nature of war itself, and how devastating it can be to all of the senses. Compared to “Entre Ville,” this piece felt a little less “literary” in the sense that the words displayed on the screen had less of an impact than the pictures and audio that was displayed. But in its entirety, the pictures and audio augmented the literary elements and the through-provoking words and phrases that were being displayed.
Overall, I think that both “Entre Ville” by JR Carpenter and “Death Moves it Forward” by Jody Zellen are perfect examples of the multi-faceted nature that Electronic literature can display and how that affects the reader’s experience in understanding the message of the pieces themselves. Electronic literature in this case employs the use of audio, video, and images to immerse the reader in what is being stated and thus makes a profound impact in the reader’s mind. Whether the impact is pleasant in the case of “Entre Ville” or disturbing and thought provoking in “Death Moves it Forward,” Electronic literature has the ability to implement virtually any form of media to augment literature and make a significant impact on the reader.