Posts Tagged With: composition

Perspectives On Ergodic Literature Within The Field Of Writing

As I wrote in my prior reflection about the creation of Topaz Galaxies, generative poetry is a completely different form of composition and experience than that of traditional, print-based literature—even nonlinear, print-based literature at that. Ergodic literature is distinctive in both its composition process and the reading, or interaction with it. Espen Aarseth, author of Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature defines ‘cybertext’ as, “the wide range of (or perspective) of possible textualities seen as a typology of machines, as various kinds of literary communication systems where the functional differences among the mechanical parts play a defining role in determining the aesthetic process” (p. 13).

This said, when approaching eLit, or cybertext, or ergodic literature, we must first recognize our expectations and biases that are subconsciously carried over from prior experience with print-based literature. For example, one expectation could be that the narrative must “make sense” in terms of its use, placement, or arrangement of channels of language (i.e., words, phrases, numbers, punctuation, etc.) Typically, we  approach a piece of writing thinking we are supposed to ‘get something out of it’, and the ‘thing’ we are supposed to get out of it  has been (mostly) pre-determined and pre-designed for us. (Just think of novels, newspaper articles and poetry. Most, on some level, operate within the framework of information transmission; and in line with this structural dynamic, the human act of  ‘reading’ is simply the exchange we make to get the message that the text contains.

Now, the metaphor for ergodic literature is more like what occurs in a dream-state: we are constructing meaning as we interact within the dream and simultaneously we are also constructing the dream itself. Using generative poetry for example, the meaning is created by the complex process of interacting with the text on multiple levels. Aarseth writes, “There is a short circuit between the signifier and the signified, a suspension of difference that projects an objective level beyond the text, a primary metaphysical structure that generates both textual sign and our understanding of it, rather than the other way around” (p. 3).  Looking closer at the transmission/translation process, which occurs inside the mind of the user and stems from the combination of physical, sensory experience and the technical nature of the medium: “During the cybertextual process, the user will have effectuated a semiotic sequence, and this selective movement is a work of physical construction that the various concepts of “reading” do not account for. This phenomenon I call ergodic using a term appropriated from physics that derives from the Greek words ergon and hodos, meaning “work” and “path” (p. 2-3). And, it is from this perspective that Aarseth introduces the concept of “nontrivial effort” (p. 2) on the part of the reader, which is decidedly different than what a person engages in when they read a book or a magazine—and, I would argue, even literature that is consumed in a digital space but constructed in a structure lent from a static, print-based ideas.

Now, examining the production and consumption of texts, and thus of literature, within the context of digital spaces, we must ask the question: can ergodic compositions and other forms of cybertext truly be considered literature?

If we examine the outworkings of culture, we see the creation and evolution of phenomena like the genre, for example.  Just as art imitates life, genres are birthed as offspring of a particular era, and they reflect the experience and values of the people. My point being: we can’t simply dismiss forms of expression because they don’t neatly fit within the construct of canonized works. When we relegate forms of composition to a place illegitimacy, it is often because we have approached them with misplaced expectations that (usually unintentionally) carry over from previous interactions, whose mental paradigms are rooted in constructs that are alien to the work at hand. But alas, culture evolves. And so do ways of communicating and interacting.

Franco Moretti, in his book Graphs, Maps, Trees, (2005) discusses abstract models for literary history; he argues, (quoting Mentre), “The aesthetic sphere [and thus, I would argue, the arts] is perhaps the most appropriate to reflect overall changes of mental climate” (p. 21). Further, regarding cultural evolution, Moretti argues that a ”generation style” depends entirely on “the trigger action of the social and cultural process” (p. 21).  Nelson, in Computer lib/Dream machines argues that the computer is a “projective system” and writes, “The things people try to do with movies, TV, and the more glamorous uses of the computer, whereby it makes pictures on the screens—are strange foldovers of the rest of the mind and heart. That’s the peculiar origami of the self” (p. 305).  In our emergent culture, we can conclude that technology, and thus electronic literature (eLit), are manifestations of society. Therefore, when we examine digital works, it should be with the intent of discovering changes in our social topographic landscape. As Aarseth argues, “If these texts redefine literature by expanding our notion of it . . . then they must also redefine what is literary, and therefore they cannot be measured by an old, unmodified aesthetics” (p. 13).

In sum, these new kinds of literature are already literature simply because they are external manifestations of a present cultural current; and that current is active and alive, evolving and growing—whether we want to acknowledge it as being legitimate or not in the canonized sense. If we can appreciate electronic literature by placing ourselves within its ecology, we can then perhaps begin to awaken our faculties to expressions that were already present within us, but were never given voice to because the external apparatus (conduit) wasn’t yet realized.  But now, we have a whole new playing field.

Sources

Aarseth, E. (1997). Introduction: Ergodic literature. In Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved from http://cv.uoc.edu/~04_999_01_u07/aarseth1.html. [pdf]

Moretti, F. (2007). Graphs, Maps, Trees. London, New York: Verso.

Nelson (1974, 1981). Computer lib / Dream machines. In N. Wardrip-Fruin (Ed), The new media reader (pp. 303 – 338). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. [pdf]

Categories: elit, ergodic literature, information architecture | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Treaty of Greens: Generate this! (Reflections)

Treaty of Greens (generative poem)

Reflection 1

As a person who isn’t that into traditional poetry, I was less than enthused with an assignment that was labeled as “generative poetry.” In traditional poetry, I typically pick a specific subject or mood and run with that, so I did the same approach with this assignment. At the beginning of this assignment, I was in the process of writing a theorized letter to my CEO (at Walgreens), where I argued the lack of love for cashiers. I was feeling pretty passionate about my job, so that’s how I stumbled upon Walgreens as my subject matter. I planned on creating a poem that showed the virtues and triumphs of cashiers, until I had a terrible day at work. My goal evolved into showing the “dark side” of Walgreens.

The word choice part was pretty easy, at least in comparison to traditional poetry. I decided to have one group of words that portrayed more to my job title, and another category of words that portrayed to the customer. I decided to capitalize words that would show anger or aggression, or other words that could relate to such a subject. For example, I capitalized ASSHOLES because that’s typically something cashiers scream in their head at rude customers. In a different light, I capitalized PATIENCE because it’s something most customers seem to lack. I think by capitalizing certain words this emphasizes certain points in the poem, which seems to add a nice touch. Furthermore, this creates contrast. The verbs were a little bit more difficult to come up with, for some reason I cannot explain. I think part of it is because I was trying too hard to think of unique verbs. I felt that most of the verbs I managed to scrounge up were rather boring and didn’t paint a picture, but I wanted the verbs to relate to Walgreens. I did manage to get a few odd verbs in there as “engulf”, “defecates”, and “delegate”. These are still loosely tied to the job of a cashier, especially at my store, and I think it really puts a twist on the generative poem.

As mentioned previously, I wasn’t crazy about traditional poetry before this, so I wasn’t too excited for this assignment. While I didn’t love this assignment, I did enjoy that I could essentially have a computer create a poem for me, only each time it would magnificently different than the previous time. This poem definitely challenged me to rethink how poetry is composed in general. By creating poetry in this way, through code, it really changed what poetry can be. It helped me see that poetry, whether through code or traditional, follows some type of pattern with words. However, the generative poetry really expands poetry. Instead of having a traditional sentence, that most people would write, generative poetry can create these crazy, enlightening sentences that one would never think of creating. It’s this aspect that has challenged me to really rethink poetry; maybe I didn’t like traditional poetry because of all of the constraints and limitations. This generative poem has helped me see that anything can be poetry; I don’t need to conform to certain poetry idealism’s in order to create a great poem. Furthermore, this assignment has helped me to start to consider that code itself is poetry; it follows a certain pattern, adheres to certain rules, and creates meaning in something.

Reflection 2:

There are many people in society today who don’t believe that this very assignment on generative poetry is not a true form of literature; we could even argue that there is one of those nonbelievers among our graduate course (cough Jason cough). It’s understandable for most readers to first assume that generative poetry is unlike traditional poetry and literature in general, but after studying it and learning the essence behind codes, it can be argued that there really is no difference at all.

In Perspectives on Ergodic Literature Espen Aarseth (1997) argues that cyber text focuses on the “mechanical organization of the text, by posting the intricacies of the medium as an integral part of the literary exchange,” (p. 1). In simpler terms, the computer is not just the medium, it’s part of the text too.  Aarseth further argues that cyber text is no different from other texts because all literature is different for every reader, the reader has to make choices in order to make sense of the text, and a text can only be read in one sequence at a time (p. 2) All three of these standards apply to both the generative poem assignment, as well as traditional poetry or literature in general.

Generative poetry and electronic literature challenges traditional text, but that doesn’t mean that the newly invented literatures don’t qualify as literature. Aarseth writes that “text is something more than just marks upon a surface,” (p. 12), meaning that text is something that creates meaning and allows for the flow and exchange of ideas. In The Semantic Web Revisited, Nigel Shadbolt, Wendy Hall, and Tim Berners-Lee (2006) claim that the Web consists of “documents for humans to read to one that included data and information for computers to manipulate,” (p. 96).  Even if computers are manipulating the text, much like in the generative poem, meaning is still being made by the reader, or even, humans. And then, the same argument occurs: there is a difference between paper and computer texts. But what is the difference? Aarseth argues that “the real difference between paper texts and computer texts is not very clear,” (p. 10) and it is true; other than the medium, what is the difference?  There are obvious subtle differences, like computers run on electric and the words are coded to appear on a screen, but the argument is that this code is literature too. How? Code uses a certain language and follows a pattern in order to create something meaningful to the reader. Codes can change the color of a text or background, among millions of other things. In comparison, the human hand and mind can write poetry with a certain rhythm that displays different emotions. The medium is still literature.

Since we can consider generative poetry as a type of literature with the evidence presented, we must consider what this means for the composition and structure. Aarseth writes that cyber text “centers attention on the consumer, or the user, of the text,” (p. 1), which changes the way that we compose. Instead of composing a poem for a traditional reader, we must begin to consider other options. For example, readers can be users or even co-authors. We must write in such a way that can account for that; the text must be more interactive to allow for the co-authorship. However, this poses a bit of a threat for the “reader”. Aarseth argues that the cyber text reader “is not safe” which means we can argue that “they are not a reader,” (p. 3). Most books are predictable and allow for full control, but with these newly developed ways of writing, more risks are available for the reader. The reader can fail at understanding how to navigate through the text which leads to a lack of understanding.

Understanding then, is linked to interpretation. But not interpretation as we know it. In “What does it mean to ‘interpret’ code,” a blogger writes that interpretation is no longer what it used to be; it’s not that “search for what the author secretly meant,” but rather it is the exploration of “semiotic objects in order to explore culture and systems of meaning.” This definition changes how we view literature; it’s not about that problem or climax, it’s about the meaning behind the text, and the interaction the text has with the medium to create that meaning. Just as words work together on a page to create a narrative, or within a Haiku to show imagery and emotion, words work behind the screens of a screen with code and the computer to create meaning.

Resources:

Aarseth, E. (1997). Introduction: Ergodic literature. In Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic            Literature. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved from            http://cv.uoc.edu/~04_999_01_u07/aarseth1.html.

Berners-Lee, T., Hall, W., Shadbolt, N., (2006). The semantic web revisited.

What does it mean to ‘interpret’ code? (n.d.) Critical Cod Studies.

Categories: Alphabetic Text Analysis, class activities, elit, ergodic literature, evidence, generative poem, images, information architecture, mapping, semantic web, technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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