Saturday, March 2, 2013

Thursday night, the Institute for Multimedia Literacy [IML] at USC hosted an event called E-Lit Under the Stars, in which writers and artist presented some of their electronic projects. Mark Marino introduced the event and also finished out the evening by walking us through his own digital project, "Living Will".

I can't address every project in this blog post or else I will get overwhelmed and start spewing nonsense, so instead I'm posting the few photos I remembered to take at the event, along with a small discussion of some of the pieces that speak most directly to my work in the digital humanities. I know I've used this space multiple times in the past to articulate what it is I do, but I have to keep articulating so as to not get lost in the giant maze that is DH, and to constantly re-contextualize myself in the tradition of Literature, since that is and always has been my home department.

Here are a few of Thursday night's presenters [I didn't get a chance to take photos of Micha Cárdenas or Mark Marino presenting because I was so cold at that point, I could only focus on what was being presented]:
Amaranth Borsuk reading from her book, Between Page & Screen.
Samantha Gorman reading from her project, which is currently called Penumbra.
Erik Loyer presenting his iPad apps, Strange Rain and Upgrade Soul.
Jody Zellen presenting some of her web to mobile app projects.
Adam Liszkiewicz showing us afeeld and some browser extensions he helped create.

Adam had a couple really beautiful word play pieces on his site, afeeld [which turns into afield] when you mouse over it, suggesting that you are rolling through a field of language, of words. And who doesn't want to do that? We do it every time we use the web anyway, so it was interesting to be made conscious of it. Adam's work falls out of the range of what I do because he's not explicitly composing stories and/or poetry on afeeld, but watching him present, I realized I need a borader scope through which to investigate whatever it is that I do do. He directs his audience to the smallest units in language: letters, and creates new perspectives through which to view such a basic unit. These projects are microstories, in a sense. They tell small narratives about the significance of individual letters in the context of other letters [read: words]. Adam also introduced us to some hilarious browser extensions like markdittomark and memeorial where you can install a plug-in that occasionally sends Officer Pike [remember the UC Davis police brutality in 2011?] across your screen to pepper spray you. What fascinates me about these browser exertions is what Adam said about them being an unexplored space on the internet. Many of us with access to computers take digital spaces for granted, and browser extensions are a great way to disrupt that space, much in the same way that street art disrupts and reconfigures our outdoor space [I'm working on something here with street art and the digital realm, given the hundreds of photos I've taken of street art over the years].

The other project I'll mention is Samantha Gorman's iPad app, Penumbra. The app is pending a name change and will likely be released later this year. I'm sure there are a lot of sophisticated, technical names for what I'm about to describe, but I don't know those names, so bear with me. Samantha's piece exhibits a few lines of story text on the screen. The reader pinches the text outward, from the middle, away from itself to reveal more text, more story. The effect is accordion like, and previously read texts fades to grey as more new text appears. Occasionally, the reader can pinch open the text to discover beautiful flashing colors, shapes, and video footage, the action of which accompanies something in the story. The stark white text on black background bursts to life in these moments, and pulls the reader along with it into what seems like a second story realm. I've seen a lot of work over the last couple years that tries to integrate video or photographs into a story, and I almost always feel like the work then becomes some art other than writing. It becomes film or photonarrative or videogame. But Samantha seamlessly integrates video into her narrative in a way that actually enhances the writing instead of replacing it. You can check out a video demo of what I'm talking about  below, and you can see more on the project's website.

Oh and I can't end this post before mentioning Erik Loyer's gorgeous iPad graphic narrative, Upgrade Soul. I bought this app when I first got my iPad during last year's Thanksgiving and I was so distracted by Erik's other app, Strange Rain, that I forgot to explore Upgrade Soul. Erik read chapter 4 from that piece at the event, and I was almost in tears. The musical accompaniment does something I've never seen music do for writing based [as opposed to film based] narrative. Erik has an incredible ear for sound. The comic panels shake a little on the screen while you read, adding a layer of seeming interactivity without actually asking anything of the reader. The piece opens up an entire new world for the graphic novel and its possibilities as a story telling device in the digital age. 

Now how all this relates to my work... This is the kind of "literature" I want to study. This is the kind of writing I want to analyze, critique, write theory about. And I can do that linearly, I can write a traditional article and submit it to a traditional paper based journal. But I can never help but feel I'm not doing the work justice in that format. If you looked at any of the above pieces, you might agree with me that they deserve more than tradition. They deserve to be written about in ways that are just as formally innovative, just as experimental and challenging as the ways in which they are written/presented to their audience. I want criticism to look like these works of art look. I want criticism to be a piece of art that does not operate in a hierarchy of critical analyzing the creative, but that functions along side the creative, that is, in itself, also creative. If writers are breaking boundaries with new forms of narrative, shouldn't critics be breaking boundaries in the same way with new forms of criticism? 

I can tell you this right now [knowing it might get me in trouble if the wrong person sees it]: I am writing a digital dissertation. 

No comments: