e-lit: any online work utilizing text that induces a sense of e-cstasy.
Disclaimer: This article-list is a limited general overview of contemporary e-lit resources available as of September 2003. It does not include any hypertext fiction; it does not include any poems set within plain old html; it does not claim to be inclusive; it is quite simply a list of stuff I like (email me at email@example.com if you think I missed anything fantastic); it deals mostly with English language sites (due to my own deficiencies as a polyglot); it focuses generally on sites containing vast reservoirs of diverse work; it exclusively emphasizes works utilizing contemporary software tools; and it approaches the subject with varying degrees of irreverence.
Literary theory in previous centuries was often characterized by reverence, it relied upon the establishment of icons: works of extremely high-caliber that utilized the tools, devices, and tropes of that era in an exemplary way were studied for centuries as iconic texts (obvious examples: Aristophanes, Sappho, Shakespeare). Contemporary e-lit has a shorter half-life: as the tools evolve hyper-entropically, practitioners find themselves stylistically trumped with each new evolutionary gasp of the great software factories. So this list is actually just a brief momentary blip on the cultural horizon that will be eclipsed by next season's GMO crop of e-lit wunder-kit-software-gizmos.
Historical homage to the Marrow Monkey
To begin with a mild brief historical moment, a seminal exquisite work which incorporates a high degree of sophisticated dynamic programming is The Lair of the Marrow Monkey. It was created by Erik Loyer who has recently provided a webTake on Writing Machines by n. Katherine Hayes. Marrow Monkey was created in Shockwave which gives it a slightly different feel than Flash work. Tangential note: after a while of experiencing these online works, experienced observers can intuitively detect the software used in their creation, in the same way that early booksellers of antiquity could discern inks by smell, or papers by touch. MarrowMonkey is impressive in its blend of traditional narrative voice-overs with interactive pixel-influenced graphics.1
A few exemplary elit magazines, an independent gallery & a meta-festival
If a resonant quality of luminous sanity is to your taste, then be sure to visit Born Magazine which is a major imaginative resource for new-media fiction. Its archives stretch from 1997 html-based fictions to beyond its incorporation as a Portland, Oregon, non-profit group in 2003. Technical evolution is palpably evident in any cursory sampling of these archives. It has consistently exhibited work with a graceful thoughtfulness; Gabe Kean, Born Magazine's founder and current art director, demonstrates a keen eye and skillfully avoids the temptation to cling to obsolete literary modalities.
As AnnMarie Trimble, Born Magazine's editor, wrote: "We currently publish artists' interpretations of submitted poetry and short prose (our "Just Born" section), but also pair writers and interactive artists to concept and create experimental projects especially for this medium".
Since all of the artists' and writers' work is donated, and the work consistently exudes an extremely-strong technical expertise mingled with developed aesthetic sensibility of the highest quality, Born Magazine exists as a compelling argument for an open-source e-lit movement, or a radical redefinition of how art is economically created and supported.
If you want to visit a powerful nexus point of modern American new-media poems, then visit Poems that Go. It continues to be edited by Megan Sapnar and Ingrid Ankerson (check out Ingrid's design for the Dada Sprokets). Their curatorial edge has been undergoing some modulations; where previous years works have been heavy on the textural beauty and sinuous acrobatics of poets devoutly trying to re-consecrate the screen with elusive symbology, the current crop of 2003 exhibitors are heavily inclined to creating interactive devices that allow users to modulate, mix, shred and distort sonic or linguistic samples. Nouveau concrete meets the Flash new Sound() object event model; Neil Jenkin's Orbital pings the IP of every visitor and uses inbuilt cyber voices; goodbye Wallace Stevens and hello Kurt Schwitters (bonus example, Spawn by Andy Campbell) .
In terms of intriguing residue, the gallery archive of the Electronic Literature State of the Arts Symposium that occurred in April 2002 is still a rich repository of diverse approaches to the medium. Many of the links are to CD-ROM projects, a few are to installations, some links are already dead, but some are genuinely intriguing. Examples of mobile-text work linked from here: a simple bilingual mapping of the French concrete poem Dentelle by Pierre Albert-Birot (put into Flash by F.J. Bergmann); Motomichi Nakamura's delightfully sardonic Java applet animations of Thomas Swiss's writing, entitled Hey Now; the more formal elucidated Glide project created by Diane Slattery from RPI will appeal to some viewers because of its interactive & ambitious nature (it allows the user to experiment with a visual glyph language).
And then there is the repository to end all repository, the Electronic Literature Directory, a database-biomass labyrinth of such depth that few minds can travel there without executing a thread search. It certainly makes one aware of what happens when 6 billion plus other sentient humanoids begin creating simultaneously. For a Canadian twist, try the Vispo work of west-coast poet and prolific gentle-polemicist, Jim Andrews . Beyond that suggestion, I can only wish you good luck inside the directory; by my rough estimate, there are over 1500 entries under the Poetry category alone. If you are an obsessive-compulsive historian of the genre, take a seven week vacation and manacle yourself to the screen.
Locus Novus is a lovely curatorial initiative begun in 2000 by Faruk Ulay. He has this to say of the work he exhibits: "Stylistically the general focus is simplicity. Most of the writing is already experimental and marginal (i.e. irreal) so I didn't want the design to get in the way of the text too much. I am a stubborn Modernist, therefore quite skeptical about post modernist approaches. Hence the flat colors, classical typefaces, simple geometrical shapes".
Don't be fooled, the visual look of the Locus Novus index (although indebted to Mondrian) is also adeptly-coded and seems post-po-mo; and the selection of works suggests an acutely developed aesthetic and a sensitive humanistic individuality. This site is highly-recommended if you still consider grace an aspect of art.
FESTIVAL INTERNACIONAL DE LINGUAGEM ELETRÔNICA, physically located in Sao Paulo, Brazil and now entering its 4th year: "Its goal is to express the main electronic digital manifestations in order to promote, stimulate and make them public as well as develop collective creativity and encourage the aesthetic-scientific-technological experimentations". Explore the invited artists. They are the international thoroughbreds of digital art. If all this seems incongruous in the face of the fact that 600,000 inhabitants of Sao Paulo live in extreme poverty (i.e. on the street), chalk it up to the insanity of our modern world.
A Pomo Hi-Res Momento: is advertising superior to art?
In general, literature has divorced itself from overtly commercial interests, yet a fascinating corollary of e-lit is that one of the most extraordinary fiction sites currently available (and keep in mind this is an incredibly-subjective judgment, namely: mine) was designed and built by www.hi-res.net to publicize the Hollywood-feature Donnie Darko. In terms of technical virtuosity (scripted masks, faked docs, gaming-style structure, seamless video integration) this site exists as a benchmark against which the e-lit novelists of the next few years would do well to evaluate their travail. Of course its been so extensively copied that a couple months from now it might be mistaken for a clone…
Anyway, at the centre of my admiration for Donnie Darko is also an awareness that the designers did not simply content themselves with duplicating the plot of the film; they deviated and expanded from its narrative structure. This anti-sacrosanct mode will probably become much more prevalent as palpable & mutable interactivity encourages designers to allow users to edit and integrate their own tastes into online e-lit. Check out everything by Hi-Res, dey r 'de bomb and at the forefront of a hybrid form which incorporates game-explorative sense hard-coding into fiction (much as was pioneered online by hypertext fiction).
Tendril & TextArc: computational textures for tech-heads
In the category of works too-computationally-intensive to be screened live online, is Benjamin Fry's Tendril. Lucid dynamic linguistic patterns abstracted from the living entity of the net. Wait a few years and this might become the next normative wave of literati screen-saver. Open GL rendered concrete poetry that updates itself in real-time from yahoo.
If computational re-workings of literature are to your taste, you might want to check out TextArc. It's a Java text-analysis tool built by W. Bradford Paley offering "an alternate view of text". It displays the entire text of any novel (using an extensive database supplied by the Gutenberg Foundation) on a single screen. Users manipulate this dense cluster word-field in order to find subcutaneous themata within the work. Caution: hardcore geeks or classicists only; as Paley sez: " It's more about how things work and map workflow or thought processes; less about how things look".2
Eccentric esoterica: late-nite nude-snacks for naked-lunch fans
If your synapses are stimulated by the thought of Tristan Tzara's tongue melded with H.P. Lovecraft's sensibility injected through a Francis Bacon painting done by Salvador Dali while on acid during a limited nuclear blast at a local strip-mall, check out www.oculart.com. Geoff Lillemon, site creator, deserves an award for outstanding eccentric of cyber-ville; his work is an acquired taste amenable to extreme drug use.
If you prefer an alt-NYC femme-junkie style try Crankbunny. There are not a lot of words here: it's mostly a video site. So, why is it in this article? because Crankbunny's sense of implicit narrative and stylistic attitudes will probably seed or be adopted by many future e-lit sites. Borrowing forms from modern dance, anime, and techno-videos, Crankbunny is created by Norma V. Toraya whose idiosyncratic imagistic genius will probably appeal only to those genetically-inclined to states of extreme hallucinatory despair; but, what the heck, that might be a wide-sub-spectrum of humanity given the current political madness, hunh?
Finally, Civilities is a clever collective web-essay-fiction, technically versatile and intriguingly rich in its depth and thematic that was featured in FCMM 2003.
As it says on its site "Civilities is a modular, collective fiction that brings together, in its final phase, some ten Montreal artists from a range of disciplines and backgrounds who offer diverse perspectives on "living together". Working from interfaces representing public space, that of the community and of civitas, small stories emerge like windows onto more universal situations, onto a certain state of the world, somber and violent indeed".
Directed by Eva Quintas, digitally realized by Guy Asselin, Civilities includes the participation of Mathieu Beausejour (Clarke Gallery), photographers Isabelle Hayeur and Lisa Ndeerju (who went to Iraq during the most-recent war), and is a perfect representation of Montreal culture: bilingual, technologically-savvy and inclusive of diversity.
1 : N.B. Read also the interview with Erik Loyer, the author of Marrow Monkey, by Carlo Zanni, in this issue.
2 : N.B. Read also the commentary on Textarc, by Cécile Petit, in this issue.
David 'Jhave' Johnston