Electronic Literature and Prehistoric Digital Poetry

January 28, 2010 at 3:50 am (Digital Lit)

One of the things that I was interested that was mentioned in the Hayles is the issue of what you call someone who is interacting with digital poetry. Hayles uses the word player in some cases and reader in some cases. This brings up the issue of how people interact with digital literature. Especially in today’s culture, where video games are pervasive in our culture, how does one define the difference between a game and a piece of literature? Hayles gives some of the characteristics of print novels that demonstrate digital characteristics, but this definition can be used in a pinch as a working definition for digitial literature. Hayles’ characteristics are: 1.Digital texts are layered 2. Digital text is multi-modal 3. Storage is separate from performance 4. These texts manifest fractured temporality

A closer look at these characteristics shows that this is also true for most video games, especially more contemporary games that have a complex story line, many of which have multiple options for game play and even variable endings. So when is a reader a reader and when is the reader a player? Most of the dictionary definitions of the word “player” imply some sort of skill or performance, so my thought about a digital text is that it is one that does not require any sort of skill to play, for example “twelve blue” is a text that Hayles refers to the reader as a “player,” but there doesn’t seem to be any particular skill in playing, beyond the ability to follow basic directions. However, many rpg type games also require this same basic skill set. However, many, even most games need the ability to read. Can a game have literary merit? How and where do we draw the line?

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The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer

January 26, 2010 at 8:00 pm (Young Adult Lit)

This book took the form of a dystopia, centered around a child-clone named Matt. Like “Big Splash”, “House of the Scorpion” dresses up adult problems in children’s bodies, and presents them through the eyes of child narrators. However, Matt Stevens in “Big Splash,” had a child’s, or at least  a young adult’s problems. He was looking for a lost parent, and wondering which one of two girls who liked him he should chose. Matteo from “HOuse of the Scorpion” flies by a child’s problems and fully engages with very adult problems of identity. He spends a large part of the narrative asking himself, “Who am I?” a problem made more acute by his status as a clone, and his dubious legal status. As a result of this he also spends a lot of time asking himself what it means to be human. With these child dystopias, (“Ender’s Game” came to mind pretty much constantly as I was reading this book) I have trouble believing that children can be picking up on all of the existential questions that are posed by the book. However, these questions don’t seem totally inappropriate either, given that children and particularly teenagers are struggling to figure out who they are and what they want their place in the world to be.

I also struggled with the end of the novel. As a reader, the wrap-up and tying up all of the loose ends was immensely satisfying, and also convient. However, there seemed to be several moments at the end that didn’t get the attention they deserved. What is the point of the Keepers, other than to establish a monolithic evil force outside the world of Opium? The Dia de los Muertos scene at the end seemed to be a missed oppportunity to create some kind of  real working symbolism, but ended up being mostly a gesture to Mexican culture. I think this novel is solid and thought-provoking but has a few problems of craft.

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Mestiz@ scripts, Digital Migrations, and the Territories of Writing, by Damian Baca

January 25, 2010 at 1:08 am (Multicultural Lit)

One of the most interesting things for me about Baca’s book is that it posits the visual image, and systems of visual communication as forms of rhetorical that are as vital and important as the European system of alphabet-based, linguistic oratory. As an art historian, I have always believed in the importance and primacy of the visual image, even in a strongly alphabet-biased culture, but the culture itself tends to denigrate the importance of the image. (Any art historian can tell you that this is true-because they’ve all been asked, “You’re getting your degree in what? And what are you going to do with THAT?”).

My main problem with Baca’s book is that he tries, in some ways like Cornel West and Homi Bhabha to reform the system of teaching writing and rhetoric in this country by participating in the mainstream discourse and ends up demonstrating the very biases that he is protesting against. On page 45, Baca describes four of the leaders of the Pueblo Revolt as “martyred” a word that carries the implication of thousands of years of Christianity, and particularly Catholicism and its large pantheon of saints. He also writes a whole book about the primacy of visual culture for mestiz@ people, without one single picture in the book itself.

I also wondered if I was missing part of the intentional alienation effects that Baca was trying to reproduce from Anzaldua’s text, because I am an art historian. While I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, I am familiar with the historical codices that Baca mentions because they form part of the curriculum that I teach in my world art class. I don’t know if I am already doing what Baca wants me to do, because I do try to draw my students attention to how unbalanced the course is between the history of western art and the history of the art of other cultures. I also make a point to discuss issues like repatriation of historical artifacts, the appropriation of history by western cultures (not just Greece, as Baca claims although it is by far the most prevalent), and the uses of artifacts in their culture of origin. Is there something more I can be doing? Is there a point that I am missing?

On an unrelated note, I was also curious about Baca’s claim for Diego Rivera as heir to the mestiz@ tradition (75). To me this is a parallel that doesn’t seem quite warrented.  Many of the other contemporary artists that Baca cites are conciously engaged with this tradition, but Rivera’s work, and that of his wife Frieda Kahlo (who Baca fails to mention), seem to me to be driven by an engagement with Marxism and western culture (possibly even Regionalist art), than it is with a specifically mestiz@ context.

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Loess Glazier, Digital Poetics

January 21, 2010 at 1:30 am (Digital Lit)

One of the things that I found very interesting about Glazier’s book was his focus on and somewhat of a fascination with how we classify literature, and particularly poetry, even going so far as to list the three major systems that libraries use to classify their collections. However, I do have a problem with what Glazier says the purpose of classification is. He says, “The purpose of classification is to arrange information systematically.” (53) He then states that “one presumed reason” for classification is so that people can find things that are interesting to them, and he then continues with his point about the way in which search engines work (53). What I find troubling is that Glazier ignores the other reasons for classification, particularly the desire to classify objects so that they can be defined, and through definition, circumscribed. The last heyday of classification was in the Victorian era, as the British expanded their empire, they also took stock and classfied the flora and fauna that they found. This allowed the British to contain foreign-ness and otherness in systems that were developed by British people, and it allowed some of the strangeness and scariness of foreign places to be controlled through classification.  Especially on today’s internet where what content one has access too, and how fast that access is allowed to be and who decides and controls access is a rich and vital part of the debate, ignoring the containment aspects of classification seems to be being willfully ignorant. Glazier is writing in a time of, at least in some ways, greater net freedom, but it seems dangerous to let the consquences of that era carry into our own without critically examining them.

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Big Splash

January 20, 2010 at 6:09 pm (Young Adult Lit)

These novels, which are at first glance fairly dissimilar, have a number of overlapping  areas of interest. Both of these novels are about popularity, and the importance, or not of being the “popular kid,” especially in the middle school age range. However, one of the things that was most interesting to me is the importance of moms to these characters. The moms in these two stories present different versions of the stereotype about what it means to be “mom.” Greg, the main character from “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” has the quirky, involved mom. She is the character that is well meaning, probably reads parenting books, and consistently embarasses her children. Matt’s mom from “Big Splash,” on the other hand is the stereotypical overworked single parent. She is mostly an absence, rather than a presence in the story, and Matt seems to mother her as much as she mothers him, putting some of his own money in her emergency fund and staying awake until she comes home late at night. However, when he really needs someone to talk to, Matt’s mom forces, and almost tricks him into opening up and telling her about his problems, namely that he likes two girls and he doesn’s know which one to chose.

These characters both caught my attention because they were stereotypes. Why do young adult writers with otherwise complex characters use this easy out for adult characters? The other adult characters in these novels are filling somewhat stereotypical roles, but the moms are one of the most important adult characters. Does the use of stereotypes make the original characters, who are also children, stand out in higher relief because they are silhouetted against the stereotype? Or do these (adult) writers really think that this is how children relate to adults? Some combination of the two?

My suspicion is that these writers seem to really think that this is how children relate to adults. Matt Stevens’ mom is somewhat removed from the evocatively noir world of his middle school, but she does not seem to fit in with the use of the noir genre in the rest of the novel. Ultimately, as an adult reader, her problems were as interesting to me as Matt’s (and the most deeply unsatisfying part of the novel is that we don’t find out what happens to Matt’s dad or what is going on between his mom and her boss), however she is far less developed as a character. 

Greg’s stereotyped view of his mom is much more in keeping with the rest of the novel. Greg sees everything through a lens of finely tuned self-interest, so his vision of his mom as oblivious, dorky and ultimately highly embarassing is not as out of step with the rest of the novel as Matt’s mom is with the rest of his world. In some ways I think Jeff Kinney has committed the greater offense though, because while Matt’s mom has interesting problems of her own, even as a stereotype, Greg’s mom is just a stereotype, and Kinney uses that stereotype to get in several cheap shots about parenting and the type of parents that are so widespread in the media today.

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Hello world!

January 18, 2010 at 5:43 pm (Uncategorized)

I started this blog to respond for the reading I was doing for the grad level class in digital poetry. However, since every one of my teachers wants a response to everything we’re reading every week, I decided that this will be my place to compile it all. So if you’re looking for digital poetry readings to comment on, just keep scrolling, and they should be there. If anything else catches your attention, feel free to comment about that too. I’m always happy to get feedback about any of my thoughts about other books. Happy reading.

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