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BAWRT 2004

Week 12 — Attack of the Authorpreneur

Indie his window, he’s staring at the lighted box and sweating profusely. He keeps rubbing his hair, and must have been doing tha for a while because ost of it has come off. He keeps mutterng about digital stories, and automediality, and how it used to be about the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd. He stops he asks us why he is thinking about circuses when the subject is Digital Writing Genres. He asks himself why he is asking us that, then rubs his hair again and water starts to com eout of his eyes. ‘Chew fences, make paper’, we buzz at him, but it seems he has lost all hope.

This week’s tremulous toe-test of the waters of the digital writing genre talked about the author as entrepreneur, and the notion that said author, as part of their entrepreneurship, needs to have an online platform for their persona.

Yes, the electric Internet has given us an ideal combination for presenting ourselves and our works: the speed of electrons down the wires, and via radio waves and laser light where available, and the best advertising of all: word of mouth.  Social media has now allowed people on it to broadcast word of mouth to people vaguely interested in what those words might be, and modern advertising has jumped on that bandwagon in the social media fostered belief that an ad on social media is indistinguishable from the word of mouth of the person on whose wall it appears.

Midway between traditional, oral word of mouth and the literal noise of social media we have the blog post, like this one.  If you’re reading this and you know me, you can trust what I say, right?  It’s word of mouth, particularly if it’s written in a conversational style with lots of contractions, like this is.

But do you know me?  Assuming that you’re reading this because, like me, you’re learning about digital writing genres in BAWRT2004, then only one of you has actually met me in real life, and that only for a couple of hours. Some more of you may have seen me in our online classes, a couple of you have had emails from me unrelated to the course content, some of you may have googled me (God, I hope you have a more vivid life than that suggests).  But do you know me?

Or only the online persona I present?

Moi

To be heard above the pink noise of writing on the Internet, and even to stand out on a bookshop’s shelves, it’s important to develop the author as a brand.  Kirstie Taylor makes this point:

As a writer, it’s important to create the same personal branding for yourself. Whether your goal is to land clients or build an audience, having a personal brand is essential to the process. It doesn’t matter if the content you write is posted under your name or a company’s, a personal brand extends far beyond the words you put into the world.

KirstieTaylor, Why It’s Important To Build A Personal Brand As A Writer, https://writingcooperative.com/why-its-important-to-build-a-personal-brand-as-a-writer-170c9daa762c

Her article offers good reasons for getting your ‘personal brand’ out there.  They are largely to do with a professional writer, or rather a writing machine that puts words out there just because you like to type.  It seems, from my reading of her article, that it isn’t about fiction writing, but simply supplying the written word for people too busy to do it themselves.  It isn’t about telling stories, it’s about appearing on various websites and, it seems, getting paid for it.

That’s not enough, apparently.  The modern author can’t let their work stand for itself but has to become an ‘authorpreneur’.  In case you thought for a nanosecond that I;m responsible for that hybridised Franco-Latin neologism, I can tell you that it was coined by Paul@Lulu, the online persona of the chief copywriter for print-on-demand publisher Lulu.

This company is partly what we used to call a ‘vanity press’ or ‘ego press’ and I know them only for their printing of two legendarily unpublishable works: Atlanta Nights and My Immortal.  I say ‘partly’ because it looks like they’re trying to remodel themselves as an author platform, as Amazon has done with its author pages and Goodreads does, too (but it’s an Amazon subsidiary nowadays).

According to Paul@Lulu, the modern author has not to act like an entrepreneur but be one.  Remember when it used to be about the writing?  Remember when Stephen King and J K Rowling, acting separably, published under pseudonyms to see if they could still do it?  Authors on the Internet can still use pseudonyms, but they’d better be well-marketed and constantly visible.

Are you any closer to knowing me yet?

If I put up a blog, or a personalised webpage (such as captlychee.com or this thing) I can put anything I like on it.  The authorial persona might not be the real me.  A string of lies won’t stand up to grained interrogation for long, but where’s that trained interrogation coming from?

Part of it comes from autobiography studies.  Emma Maguire has this to say

For example, although we might have trouble trying to read a Facebook wall or a Second Life avatar as “an autobiography” in the traditional sense, these performances of self-identity demonstrate ways in which users are taking up technology in order to engage in the business of autobiographical representation. And they are interesting for what they might be able to tell us about cultural understandings of selfhood and what it means to “live” a “life.”

Emma Maguire, Home, About, Shop, Contact: Constructing an Authorial Persona via the Author Website
http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/821

As autobiography moves away from the printed book, the personas that can be created by a Facebook wall or a Second Life avatar become examples of automediality.  You can study my autobiography by referring to the persona I create online – by referring to my brand.  Maguire goes on to cite a case study of Erika Moen’s authorial persona – i.e., her brand.  Ms Moen draws comics about her life as a Lesbian, and so we enter back into the world of gay rights, depression, anxiety, racism, vegans…the cause celebres the intelligentsia want you to empathise with.

“Blogging is selling” somebody once said.  You’d think Google would know, but if it does, it ain’t sayin’.  But, as a white, cisgendered male in real life what have I got to sell?  Not much.  I don’t fall into any of the empathy categories mentioned above, so in theory nobody would be interested in my brand if I presented as myself.  But I don’t need to, do I?

Carla Hoogeveen, 1975 – Inn of the Damned

So, here is my Facebook profile pic.  It doesn’t resemble a cisgendered male, although it is white.  I’m not very photogenic, but the lovely Carla Hoogeveen certainly is.  An autobiography student might read all manner of things into that, but for the moment we can limit ourselves to seeing it – her – as my brand.  By branding myself as a woman, whole new fields of commentary and fiction are open to me, because I can now legitimately comment or write about them.  The new viewpoint I can lend to the lives of paper wasps adds value to whatever writing I happen to do on the topic.

With the picture up there, I can now add, or presume the reader will add, detail to the persona. I am now a 23-year-old woman.  If physiognomy is your thing, I’m of Dutch origin.  Do my photogenic looks add something to the persona, and does that then affect how people will see the writing?  There may be all sorts of fashionable issues that can be generated from these factoids.

So, the online persona, the brand, or the automedial expression – whichever term you use – has a kind of life of its own.  This is important, because the brand can outlive me, much as the brands of V C Andrews and Edgar Rice Burroughs have done, and the authorpreneurial brand could also do so.  If (and it’s a big if) we get to be posthuman, it will be my brand that you other posthuman entities will be interacting with.  Who would you rather interact with, that svelte ultravixen of the 1970’s, or this guy?

Drinking a Manhattan – in New Jersey. Ironic photo by Alvin de Leon

Holden Sheppard

Holden Sheppard is a Western Australian authorial persona who may bear some resemblance to a real person, so it’s reasonable to attempt some discussion of their website in the terms Emma Maguire used in reference to Erika Moen’s website.

The website is set up to sow that the author is a no-nonsense bloke who writes it like it. There are numerous photographs of him (ot a persona) in short-sleeved shirts with bare arms. In bogan there is strength, and with that strength comes the power to speak the truth. This is emphasised by the stencil-like, mechanical nature of the site’s title’s font, and the links below in stark sans-serif font. There’s no nonsense in Holden Sheppard;s writing, because what Holden fan would ever write bullshit? (It’s a pity they never actually bought the cars.) His Instagram name is @V8Sheppard. The site titles and links are set up to show that He Speaks The Truth.

Having established credibility, or at least sorted readers by credulity, we are shown athe cover of his book, Invisible Boys. We’re told that when he learned that boys weren’t supposed to talk about feelings he wrote his down instead. (Presumably he also learnt about Microsoft grammar checker as well.) He didn’t make up these feelings – they were real and, since the site titles have established that he speaks the truth, thw hole truth and nothing but the truth, the feelings outlined or possibly dramatized in the book must be real. And it’s important that he’s from a country town (Geraldton) because they’re keeping it real out there in the bush.

As Raymond Carver and the dirty realist ilk have demonstrated, nothing succeeds like squalor and thus he has won an award of some type, proudly blazoned on the top left corner. The people who award these things are such tender flowers that mention of a dirty singlet will send them into paroxysms of admiration that have done irreparable damage to Australian literature for all time to come. But if you’re the sort of person whose credulity has been developed to such perfection that giving awards on the basis of the author’s persona is more influential than the book, then Holden Shepppard is your author.

That last part is important. Remember when ‘Helen Demidenko’ won the Miles Franklin award? The automediality of Holden Sheppard’s site present the sort of author award committees want to reward. The book might have literary merit. It might even be truthful or interesting to read. But the website is clearly intended to present an authorial persona that a certain class of reader would want to read. Or else, why would you buy his book? If you’re a writer, you can model yourself on Holden Sheppard because Holden has acquired Haylee Nash as an agent. Every author wants an agent, because publishers won’t listen to you without one. The Nash Agency hasn’t got any pictures of its staff up, and is all business, with a friendly font that doesn’t look like a book font at all.

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BAWRT 2004

Week 9 – I Feel For You

Outside my window – and it’s a different window this time, because I’ve moved the laptop down to the back room because it’s smaller, warmer and has a window I can look out of without turning my head – I can see the wasps gambolling about, flying up to the ash tree branch their nest is attached to, zipping off to the rhododendron bush, generally getting a lot more enjoyment out of this cold, sunny day than I am.

Are they?  I don’t really know how they’re feeling.  I don’t have any empathy for, or with, the little devils.  Could I have?  Empathy can be achieved through the medium of empathy games.

See if you can see how I felt about these things when I first stumbled onto the term about a fortnight ago.  ‘Empathy games’, I said to the wasps, ‘sounds like one of those self-help titles Amazon keeps pushing at me, or maybe a mid-70’s attempt to cash in on Fear of Flying with a bit of soft porn wrapped around an undergraduate psychology essay.’

They buzzed around, completely ignoring how famous Lee Martin and I have made them over the years.  Gratitude may be the shortest-lived human emotions, but I doubt these bloody things waste a single chemoreceptive neuron on it.

Purpose Shifting

Games that are written for entertainment can be used for education.   (Gee), referred to in the article on classifying serious games, has numerous examples of teachers re-purposing ‘entertainment games’ for serious purposes, such as education.  From my own experience, the entertainment game Lord of the Rings Online had a small repurposing.  I wanted character names that would fit in with Tolkien’s nomenclature scheme, so it was necessary to learn a bit of Sindarin to make the names make sense.  I didn’t learn enough of it to fit the name seamlessly into Sindarin, but I was closer than if I’d known no Sindarin at all.  This wasn’t changing the use of the game so much as taking part of the game, naming your characters, wanting to do that ‘properly’ and having to do extraneous learning to do it.

The world in which the game is set is detailed enough that with a bit of tweaking the game itself could be used as a teaching tool.  For example, you have to make bronze items in the course of the game to improve your ability to craft your own weapons and gear, if you want to, and if you then had to find out, within game context, what bronze is made of, you’d be learning something.  This can be arbitrarily complex, and it would be fun to have to scour Middle Earth for deposits of chromium, molybdenum and whatever else in order to suit of stainless-steel armour.

Serious Games

Serious games are ‘any piece of software that merges a non-entertaining purpose (serious) with a video game structure (game) (Djaouti, Alvarez and Jessel 2). the type of game it is lies within the control of the game developer.

The games deal with serious topics.  But the serious topics are all those topics which modern pundits think are significant, the cause celebres of the 21st century: climate change, depression, anxiety, bullying, depression, suicide, gender politics, and so on.  At first, these games are depressing, and then boring as people playing them can get fatigued being asked to empathise with everything blatted at them during the game.

Nonetheless, these games taken in small doses might be therapeutic.  I resolved to put this to the to the test by playing a game called Get Bad News.  The title implied – well, no, I inferred that the game might help me overcome one of my little neuroses – I can’t handle bad news.  I never look at my grades in case they’re bad; I leave Powerball tickets around without checking them because I don’t want to find out I didn’t win.  The one time I opened my tax assessment notice the day it arrived I got a $3000 debit.  (It was a delight to write a letter back to the Commissioner, then my employer, absolving him personally of any blame for hiring a knuckle-dragging, strategically shaved primate to transfer numbers from my group certificate to the National Tax System.)

This game taught me how fake news was made and the ways to spot it, by introducing tow game elements, a graph to indicate my credibility, and a number count of how many Twitter followers I had.  At a point in the game it showed me some news headlines and asked me to pick the fake ones, and showed me the same headlines at the end of the game to see if I was any better at picking fake news.  I have no idea how I did at that, because the game didn’t tell me, but at least it was a fun thing.

Empathy Games

A game might be used to create empathy.  Some experiments have sown that people get desensitised to rape and murder if it’s shown in a dramatized context (like a movie or even a game) but then resensitised to it if it’s shown in a documentary format.  A game might be used to resensitise people if it could present rape and murder, or any of the serious mental states I used above, in a documentary format.  (Improved virtual reality technology leads to a scary proposition: making a rapist feel what it’s like to be raped.  But why bother after they’ve done it?  Teach them what rape feels like before they rape.  That’ll learn ‘em.)

Turning your sadness and pain into a game might be seen as cashing in on these bad things.  Such is the nature of drama – from the observation that nobody has a happy day in a soap opera, through the sensationalising of bad things to lend drama to news bulletins because real news is expensive to get, to poor Desdemona getting smothered due to well-placed embroidery.  Gert Bad News provides an understanding of how fake news works, and thus might make you more aware of it, but it doesn’t allow you to feel the way readers of fake news feel.  It’s not creating empathy.

At best, it’s creating cognitive empathy, where you can intellectually process what the other person, or the character in the game is feeling.  Ideally, you want emotional empathy, where your emotions are the same as the other person or character.  A game like DOOM can do that for fear, let’s say, as you creep about the game levels feeling the same fear as the character in the game presumably would with all these evil things about the place.

Posthuman Empathy

If empathy is the desired outcome, a posthuman future would allow for it by simply injecting the code for empathy into the computer process that ‘you’ are.  But even if we can’t get that far, direct interchange of emotion would be possible by sending a burst of code mimicking your emotional state to all and sundry.

Before we get there, which we might never do, games are one way of processing and expressing the emotional content of life experience (Meads).  They are, fortunately, not the only method.

These days, I express and process said emotional content through a simple Facebook post.  ‘Darren J Rout is feeling enraged’ covers my response to sob stories about the plight of whichever focus group has taken the fancy of a news editor strapped for news and the cash to get it.  Happy, wistful, drunk – they’re all valid chunks of emotional content in my life.  Cognitively, I can get why people are depressed and what makes them that way, but I’ve never had to struggle with depression so I can’t emotionally feel it.  This is probably why my TWINE game looks comparatively shallow and superficial.  Well, fortunately, I can respond emotionally to that observation – meh.

What, then, are the connections I make with other people (or even their avatars) like in real life?  The overriding behaviour is courtesy.  I try to be courteous.  I can empathise cognitively with much of what people are feeling, but the sheer weight of life experience that comes with nearly six decades on the planet might account for that.  I can emotionally empathise with people who are feeing what I’ve also felt in the past – or I think I can, but how would I know?

I may connect with entertaining, (and therefore superficial?) Facebook posts and pictures of what I’m drinking, or in these garbled blog posts, but there are some connections made more meaningful simply because of how long they’ve lasted, and the memories and shared experiences built up over that time.  Friends who’ve attempted suicide, friends ‘coming out’ to you of a wet Christmas Eve, arguments over apartheid and footy (remember when we had those?), these connections have run the gamut of emotion.  I held my niece’s second child in my hands after she died.  Jesus, why did I bring that up?

I can’t help feeling that the youner people in this course are feeling things more strongly than I am. Maybe I’m just jaded. Maybe I’ve been cooped up for too long. More maybes than a game could handle, I suspect.

The perceived wisdom is that I’ll never understand how a woman feels, or a black man, or someone in a refugee camp.  The perceived wisdom that I can’t empathise with anyone doesn’t match my demographic precisely.  I’d say evolution equipped me with the ability to empathise.  Understanding is not agreement, though.  I can empathise with a refugee, but I know how they became a refugee, and I don’t have to agree with their thoughts about being one.

I will sign off now, because I have forgotten the link I was going to try to draw between serious games and the MDS principle for classifying games that I talked about somewhere that I can’t find now.  I should start tagging these things.  Now I’m worried I haven’t addressed the questions asked in this week’s lecture.  Can you feel for me?

References

Djaouti, Damien, Julian Alvarez and Jean-Pierre Jessel. “Classifying Serious Games: the G/P/S model.” n.d. Ludoscience. PDF. 15 May 2020.

Gee, J P. What Video Games have to teach us about Learning and Literacy. Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Meads, Threasa. “Moodle.” 1 May 2020. Federatuon University. Powerpoint. 16 May 2020.

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BAWRT 2004

Week 7 — My Life As Them

Okay, I’m not a paper wasp. I don’t even play one on TV or in a video game, but if I did, that wasp would be my avatar. An avatar represents myself in another medium. The idea of the self in various media is automediality.

Thus, I can present myself, my concept of myself, my ego if you like, in a variety of media if I do so in a story or one of my attempts at novels over the years, I do so by the creation of a character that will resemble me in some ways. The reader can, if they like, attempt to describe my personality with reference to these characters. They may get some things right. They may find aspects of my personality that I wasn’t aware of. It was pointed out to me that, in a story called ‘Brown Town’ I had used myself as the hero that comes out of nowhere and saves the day. These personae of the author are known in fanfiction as ‘Mary Sue’. This observation was so disturbing that I checked other stories for it, and Mary Sues were in there, too. It isn’t always true, though. Sometimes I intentionally put myself in these stories, and you can see one that is intentionally me, but renamed to make it fictional, in in this clod of quasi-autobiography which I’m surprised to find turned up at number 2 on a Bing search when I typed in the phrase ‘life and mates’!

In the written form, of course, the characters can do and say anything I can think up and spell, so the possibilities for a more talented or competent writer are much greater than they are in a medium with more constraints. In a video game, say, where the rules for character look and behaviour are controlled by what the game makers can paint and program. Aspects of my personality, which is to say, knowledge of me, can be inferred from my avatars.

To jazz up this post, and to offer some insights into how this might go, I present four avatars from the game Lord of the Rings Online

FORGTHRYTH FILTHRYF

Forgthryth Filthryf, Man of Rohan

Forgthryth represents an idealised view of myself. A Man (as opposed to Elf, Dwarf or Hobbit) tall, blond, blue-eyed and of course he’s wearing a hat and standing near the bar of the Prancing Pony. In his fabricated backstory, his last name describes his occupation – ‘filth reeve’ – my attempt at a Rohan word for the occupation of cleaning up all the horse shit that would be in Rohan.

LYCHEE IAFVAER

Lychee Iafvaer, Man of Dale

Lychee is a Captain, one of the ways of life you can take up in the game. His backstory is that his father was from Dale but travelled to the east, where he met a population of albino people who were, unlike many in the east, against Sauron. He married there, brought back his wife, who named her son after a beautiful fruit from her homeland. ‘Iafvaer’ is my crap Sindarin for ‘beautiful fruit’. Anyway, he’s there to emulate my nickname ‘Captain Lychee’ from where this website gets its name, but he’s based on Freddie Mercury, hence the moustache.

RUSSETT BURRBANK

Russett Burrbank, Fallohide Hobbit

You could interpret this cute little hobbit as my feminine side, but she is based on a friend of mine who is short and red-headed. Her name is from the breed of potato, and the second ‘T’ is because someone had already secured the name ‘Russet’.

GWAUNMITH

Gwaunmith, Elf of Lorien

She’s based on a kind of joke. ‘Gwaun’ is Sindarin for ‘goose’ and ‘might’ for ‘grey’. ‘Grey goose’ from the vodka of the same name. In actual Sindarin, it would be ‘Gwaunvith’ because of Sindarin’s lenition rules, but I didn’t know that then. She has no last name because I haven’t thought of one.

In the sense that these characters are created by me, within the choices provided by the folks at Standing Stones Games, these characters are me. Their actions are too limited to express the full range of my activities, though other people might argue that the few emotions they can display – burp, cheer, clap, beg, bother, for example – pretty much cover mine, and standing by a bar pretty much sums up my life. Oh, yeah? I write quasi-academic blog posts, you know!

Second Life is a virtual world with a much greater range of activities than LOTRO, and so can come closer to mirroring real life. There, you can create your avatar and do ordinary or extraordinary things. One of the people on the Larry Niven IRC group was working on a manned mission to Mars. Over at Full Sail University in Orlando, staff were ‘encouraged’ to get on to Second Life because all the fee-paying students were living great virtual lives there. I joined, too, as I have a ‘spousal’ connection to FSU, but I found the interface too complicated to design an avatar that resembled me in any way, shape or form. I did manage to get a pale, bespectacled person with a kind of corn-coloured topknot but then I couldn’t get him out of the lobby or wherever it is that you create the avatar.

This virtual world, and I use that term politely because they might object to it being called a game, was actually more dull than the life of a retired public servant eking out an existence in Ballarat with the nearest pub nearly a mile away.

In Bernhard Drax’s Our Digital Selves we see how Second Life has freed some disabled (or ‘ability diverse’ because every euphemism develops a euphemism of its own) people from the drudgery of their lives. They have altered the concept of ‘self’ by making equally valid characters in Second Life and, because that world allows actions much closer to real life than, say, LOTRO, these characters can do things the real people can’t. In one example, a very ‘diverse’ man who couldn’t talk well enough to be understood could get on to Second Life and interact with people by typing stuff to them. His life hadn’t changed, but his virtual life acted to improve communication in real life. Other people were using it to overcome various mental problems like PTSD and, like the Internet has in other ways, it has helped people to meet people they wouldn’t otherwise have even known of. (I met my current, er, Significant Other on LOTRO.)

While Second Life added to the closeness of disabled people, it also provided a social distancing from otherwise toxic people. In the movie there was an Englishwoman (if that’s not a racist term) with epilepsy who was one of the most unpleasant people I’ve run into in any medium in five real-life decades. Relentlessly hostile and complaining. With Second Life I could walk away from her, and she might even be nice and polite in the virtual world, or at least react differently to my avatar than she does to the poor harassed Herr Drax.

Second Life’s problem is that you need to connect from the real world to it, and thus limitations on the interface come into play. I pointed out in our class on it that none of the ‘differently abled’ (euphemism frenzy) people in it was blind. If they had been, interaction with Second Life would’ve been damn near impossible. As noted above, I had trouble making my avatar on the thing, and my sight back then was five times better than it is now. Later in that class, the Internet froze on me and I had to restart Adobe Connect and re-join. I mentioned that virtual worlds have a fragile ecology.

Assuming, though, that we overcome those limitations, we could spend our entire lives in a virtual world, overcoming the vicissitudes of real life and the vagaries of genes, gestation and happenstance that plague us. Our life in the real world, hampered by those things and our mortality, gets replaced by us existing completely in a virtual world. Such a thing is called posthumanism. If we live in a virtual world with perfect communication with other people in the world because the neural processes that make us ‘us’ are being executed by a computer, do we maintain a sense of ‘self’?

The promise of posthumanism is not that we would live in a virtual world freed of the physical problems we have and where this world is just a refined version of the real world, with nice trees, no traffic and free of any stinging insects chowing down on our fences – that’s a refined version of Second Life, and is a virtual world resembling the one we evolved in. Posthumanism means we become something other than human. If we’re part of a community of people in a computerised environment, where do we end, and the other people begin? And where does the environment begin, and we end? If we’re so enmeshed in the environment, do we even have consciousness of ourselves? If we have a soul, what happens to it, and do we get a new one from the computer?

The posthuman environment might be better thought of, like Second Life, as a medium. If the medium is the message, then whatever message my self is, it’s changed from what it is now. It’s an idea. It might be a goal for some people. I don’t think I’d care for it, or have I been programmed to think that?

Or am I writing this as part of a post-vespal environment where I’ve given up the humdrum of chewing wood and stinging the passers-by, and have retreated to a world much closer to the one I think I deserve?

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BAWRT 2004

Week 6 — TWINEing for the Fjords

The autumn is closing in. Virus panic and coronaphobia have meant that I’m more or less sealed in the house, with occasional outings to the supermarket for the necessities of life. What social life I did have before COVID-19 swept up out of Asia and plunged us all into an economic and social future resembling a cross between Nineteen Eighty-Four and some Steinbeck-y sort of thing about how life was real during the Depression, is largely online now. It was largely online then. It’s a smidge colder, but the news isn’t crammed full of rugby crap, so it balances out. Except for the pubs being closed, life has hardly altered at all.

Not so for the paper wasps. Self-isolation has cut them off even from other paper wasps next door. Across the road might as well be another country for them. Not only can’t they get there, but the airline they booked to get there on has somehow crumpled like an abandoned nest which has been run over by a pre-abandoned shopping trolley.

So much for topical references. I might not—I definitely don’t—understand why Virgin has gone under. I’ve flown them a couple of times and, having discovered they’re not much different to Qantas domestically, wouldn’t fly them again. Less service for the same price? fFights scheduled to leave at 2:30 which never leave at all? And two or three hundred regional airports they don’t even bother to serve once a week? I have the flying kangaroo for that! They could’ve offered an alternative, but they chose not to.

Will TWINE do any better at competing with older, more normal forms of literature? Can we even legitimately stretch an airline analogy to cover the activity of two modes of narrative? Damn right we can!

Because, if we can’t, this isn’t creative non-fiction.

After all, TWINE and conventional narrative are attempting the same job, just as Virgin and the other airlines are doing. The ultimate goal of narrative is to tell stories, the ultimate goal of airlines is to inconvenience the peripatetic and make them pay for the privilege.

Posted TWINE

This week, a lot of the people in BAWRT 2004/3004 posted their first TWINE games. Most of them were much more literary than mine, but then so were the narratives that each person had written and bzsed their game on. My original story was more or less a travelogue (around Ballarat, too) with a cute logical ending, and the game became that, too. Even though we were supposed to keep them simple, we had a two-week break over Easter, and these things are so easy to write, and so easy to make narrative branches of, that restraining myself to keeping it simple, by keeping the word count of the game close to the word count of the original story, meant I couldn’t restrain myself. I put branches in the narrative that seemed fun at the time. I wasted an inordinate amount of verbiage, even for me, taking out my spleen on various types of movie that you might see in a cinema nowadays—or would’ve seen before what I’m hoping future people will call, in a science-fictiony way, the Covidity.

Some people have remarked on how humorous mine was. Well, that was the idea. The original narrative was meant to be light-hearted, so the TWINE story should match that, and it seems it has. But others have been literary, or quite moving, or both. Some have had much better hooks than mine did, and some have left me wanting more, so I hope they do their final project as a TWINE game. I sure will be.

Writing the game has shown a few problems with TWINE, though. I was wondering how you’d cite a TWINE game. You could put page numbers on each screen or ‘passage’ in a game, but they wouldn’t have a sequence unless you, by some happy chance or just being railroaded into one narrative line, be in any sequence. But if you’re citing the game, you could refer to the page number and hope someone found it eventually when they wanted to verify your source.

Also, saving a game has proven problematic for a few people, including me. But then, a couple of people were able to read my first saved and submitted game with no problems, whereas I wasn’t able to. It seemed to save the game as a text document, not a HTML file. You’d think WordPress would’ve gotten me used to bizarre shit happening with HTML in the name of convenience, but I had trouble actually getting a HTML file out of TWINE. Other people seemed to have none. (Parenthetically, I’ll say that the problem is solved by renaming the file with a .html extension.)

What does it mean, literature-wise?

The most important thing about electronic literature, especially where it’s interactive and requires some action from the reader, is that the reader has an effect on the from of the narrative. Where choices exist, the reader shapes the narrative by making those choices. In TWINE, you can even shape the reader’s choices by adding in additional consequences from each choice, and thus motivations for the reader to make a given choice. For example, you can add measureing tools to affect the character’s happiness, boredom, dedperation etc and the reader can, through their choices, affect how the character is feeling and what they can do.

This addresses a complaint about ‘choose your own adventure’ narratives. In these, the protagonist’s character doesn’t grow because the reader is the protagonist and their character is outside the author’s control and, since the adventure can go all over the place based on choices and page flipping, the protagonist can get to certain character-growing incidents more or less randomly, or through different chains of scenes. Ideally, any chain of scenes will read like a normal narrative, but jumping around various scenes to get to the ‘growth moment’ for the character strains credibility for the reader.

At this point I’d like you to imagine a play like that. Actors come on, do their thing, but in each performance scenes are ordered randomly. Does it strain coherency to the breaking oint? Does that even matter? In the sense that art is supposed to generate an emotional response, no. But there ought to be more to more to narrative than just feeling bamboozled, enlightened, quizzical or $110.95 more broke.

But, if certain choices cause reduced happiness, or increased hunger, or radically changed dandruff in the protagonist, and the reader can choose to make that happen, then the author surrenders some control of the narrative to the reader. At least, the author can provide the illusion that he’s surrendering control. After all the author has written down all the choices that the reader can make in the TWINE game, so where does the control really come from?

Well, the control of the reader comes from the author, who can limit the choices the reader has. The control of the character comes from the reader who makes those choices. Both have agency. The reader’s is immediate because their choices affect which screens they go to and what happens to the character in each reading. The author’s control is more remote, but they provide the framework from which the reader’s control comes, and they can control the reader, or at least motivate them, by what consequences for the character they can contrive within the narrative.

Modality

The author’s control extends by designing consequences for the reader to embrace, avoid or ignore. By including other modes within their electronic narrative, something beyond the power of a printed work, they can influence the reader’s emotional responses to each screen within the text. Music is the most important tool here, as it is in other meida like films, but colour can also work, as can sound effects. In my own TWINE game, for example, bells are an important part of the story, so I could put the sound of a bell each time you transition to a new screen in the game. The bell sound could be pitched higher or lower depending on the situation into which the reader has clicked. A hight pitch bell is a happy bell, a low-pitched bell is a sad bell. The pointhere is that I, or any author, creates these effects by the scenes they create.

And that’s only sound. There’s colour, font and background pictures to use, too. One day, there might be smell. Another aspect possible with some really adroit coding is to deduct money from the reader’s bank account so that they literally pay if they make the wrong choice. Questions of the legality of that last one aren’t germane to the study of electronic literature, but we can discuss them in greater detail as soon as I can find a nice island without an extradition treaty.

New Art, New Critique

Electronic literature, of which TWINE games are a subset, is a new form of literature. Well, it is using a new medium, with possibilities that traditional media didn’t give literature. Some people have taken this to mean that it is a new type of literature since, they argue, it isn’t bound by the constraints of storytelling, narrative, characterisation etc but can still be good. But if it can neglect those things, how can it be good? The quality of literature, certainly if it’s not ‘genre fiction’ is storytelling, mirative, characterisation, so how does changing the medium change what makes it good?

This new art demands, or perhaps generates, new criticism. A much better discussion of that is over here. I’m not buying the parts of this new critique I can even understand. Sure, there’s a new medium, but to repeat myself, the criteria of quality don’t change. What criteria can you add to e-lit to show its differences from conventional, printed literature?

Of course, you can be arbitrary about it. People did make commentaries on what constituted a good website as soon as browsers were invented that could make a webpage resemble a magazine page. But the criteria were the same as those applied to a magazine page. Ultimately, what changes between conbentinal prined literatutre and hypertext, e-lit or the combinaton of HTML and other effects that is summed up as ‘hypermedia’ is that flipping pages went from a lengthy process that required some surveying of page numbers and, at least in magazines, the possibility that an ad would grab your attention and you’d read the copy, to a simple click. That’s the difference the electric Internet and ‘computers’ (where we define a phone as a computer) that access it provides.

Esoteric criticism, database replacing narrative, naïve amazement with the miracle of communication that is the World Wide Web that always reminds me of the fascination film critics have with the moving image, even if the moving image isn’t doing anything of consequence – these all count for nothing against the traditions of narrative that have gone through the natural selection of the literary ecology and won out because they best match what we’ve evolved to like. Or rather, those characteristics of literature that are the least worst solution to whatever need or gap stories satisfy or fill. Will e-lit develop to the point where it has conventions that satisfy us, but which we – well, I – can’t even guess at?

It’s all at the whim of this damn virus.

And, need I say, the wasps.

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BAWRT 2004

Week 5 — PANOSE, TWAIN and TWINE — An Eternal Golden Braid

Tu allan i fy ffenest, he says in his far from native Welsh, the cacynennau papuri have many choices in life. Breed, chew wood, hibernate, sting something, die with the hope of reincarnation as Susan Cabot, or write another creative non-fiction piece about how humans undertaking their mammalian activities resemble, or at least analogise, waspish activities.

This week’s lurch into the realm of digital literature is about choices. Hypertext literature, as we saw last week, offered the reader choices in a given narrative about where the story could go, but to make the reader more involved in the story, another digital literature has evolved—the game.

The CY(O)A book and electronic texts are types of interactive fiction. But the interaction with the books is pretty minimal, consisting of one or two decison followed by some page-flipping. Interactions with Hypetext can be just as detailed, but there’s no page-flipping, and you can have visual and aural modes in the text.

My introduction to the Choose Your (Own) Adventure genre came from my first game of Dungeons & Dragons back in 1978. My friend wrote the first module we played, because I couldn’t get my head around a game where there was no board or playing pieces. How could I play a game where I couldn’t be the battleship and secure those vital orange properties? Once Michael wrote the first module, and I got a handle on it from that, I wrote the second one we played. We could’ve played The Village of Hommlet which came with the books, but the damn thing was huge and not a great deal of fun. Plus, I like writing.

D&D was different to the CY(O)A book I discoered later, when I bought my first one, because it was a game. The players were different to readers not only because they could make a much wider range of decisions at a given point of choice, but that those decisions had consequences beyond the night’s playing. Hypertext literature could, but doesn’t seem to, have consequences for the reader that exist beyond the narrative. In a D&D game, if it’s properly run, anyway, choices about who you kill, what money you spend, whether you’re faithful to the gods, whether picking a fight in the local tavern with the apparently old but actually immensely peeved and ill-tempered hermit was as good an idea as it seemed before your sword just bounced off his forearm and two seconds later your codpiece was wedged into the chandelier with you still in it have consequences when you next assemble to play, or when you use your same characters to play in another module. The most common example of this is gaining experience, measured in experience points (XP) and gaining new powers and abilities, or osing them, as the XP increase or decrease..

Processing and accommodating those choices is best handled by a person which would leave it out of the realm of electronics. However, simpler decisions can be handled by computers programmed by people or, perhaps at some future date, other computers. They can be programmed into a game that has literary conventions, or an electronic text with game-like characteristics.

Enter TWINE. This is software that uses webpages to present your inteactive ficiton. The code is essentially just writng like you would a story, but with a few extra ‘punctuaiton marks’ such as brackets ‘[ ]’ to set up the linsk to move to the next webpage and continue the story. But the interaction can be more detailed, as you can set up conditional statements, such as IF $haskey=FALSE "The door is locked" which might prevent you as the reader/player from entering a room or exting a room or bedding the princess or whatever it might be.

So, we have been set the task of remediating our narratives into a TWINE game. I am loving the hell out of this. I’m no coder, and I can handle HTML up to the point where it stops looking like a printed page and CSS unless it’s on a WordPress site where I can’t even find it, but I’m handling the mechanics of this pretty well. It’s doing what I expect it to do and there aren’t any surprises, which is a comfort to me as I try to think back to ‘winging it’ around the dining room table on those warm D&D nights when someone would ask “What’s behind this door?” and I’d have to scramble to say something like “There’s a thin crack at the bottom of the door through which you can see a cold, eldritch glow like moonlight. There’s the sound of snuffling and grunting coming from behind it, and you can hear the clank of chains against a stone wall.” Then they’d say “I kick the door in!” And I’d say “Give me a roll” and they’d make the roll and the door would cave in and the sixth level werewolf would rend them four ways from Sunday and I’d ask “What the hell made you think you could beat a fucking werewolf?”

Why didn’t girls like us?

In fact, questions like that can be asked and given several answers in a TWINE game. The game writer can put as many possible responses as they can think up, or actually ask the player for input. The story can move on ased on player choices orinut.

Story is what does does move on in a game. Interactive fiction can be very literary, but if you are designing a game the story has to move along. But you can still make each individual scene, or ‘passage’ as they are called in TWINE, as literary as your talent can make it.

Fundamental to this framework is the idea that games are more like artifacts than media. By this we mean that the content of a game is its behavior not the media that streams out of it towards th

MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research
Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, Robert Zubek,
https://users.cs.northwestern.edu/~hunicke/MDA.pdf

The authors seek to design a taxonomic system such that games can be described into how they manage three aspects of the game itself. These aspects are Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics. The mechancis are the nuts and bolts of the game, the dynamics are how the game is played, and the aesthetics are what the player gets out of the game.

For example, in Monopoly, the mechanics of the game are the rolling dice and the numbers that generates and the design of the board; the dynamics of the game are the movement of players, the exchange of money in rent and fines and the actions imposed by the Chance and Community Chest cards; and the aesthetics are what the player derives from the game.

Much better minds than mine have covered the idea here and here.

In electronics games, there’s the possibility of an artificial intelligence being used to provide the dynamics of the game. The better the AI, the more realistic a game can get, as the choices and consequences can mirror those in ‘real life’. I’m putting apostrophes around that because the ultimate simulation of real life would be if real life were itself a simulation that we’re all living in.

Turning a narrative into a TWINE game, or any kind of game, is a form of remediation. The MDA mechanism for classifying games could also work as classification for narrative text, especially poetry. When remediating a narrative into a TWINE game, though, one question is ‘How faithful to the narrative do you have to be?’. My narrative, or the one I supplied for this class, was more or less a simple travelogue with a (hopefully) logical end to it. It isn’t very deep, and short sentences to describe a particular ‘passage’ are sufficient to cover everything I was going to say in the original narrative e. Somebody else would, or had better, have a more deep, complex and sensitive narrative than mine. If that complexity, depth and sensitivity can be expressed in text, then it can be expressed in TWINE. The choices you can make are how the game expresses its particular group of aesthetics, and if it’s faithful to the original narrative, it will express the narrative’s aesthetics, too. You can even work backwards from the game to determine what the aesthetics of the narrative are, and then decide whether the author has got them across.

The possibilities for creating drama and deeper narrative in a game are themselves drmastised in Four Tanks and a Healer (Longstreth 2011).

Finally—oops, penultimately, it’s fun to write these games. The game has simpler phrasing and sentences than my original narrative, but the desirability of giving the reader/player multiple choices at each point, or in TWINE terms, multiple links from each passage to give choice, has meant the game can move off into strange new directions. Good ones, I hope. Not ‘Revolution No. 9‘ So, I have had a whale of a time venting my spleen on crap movies, Gippsland, pseudo-intellectual cab drivers etc which weren’t in the original narrative.

Finally, a note on the title. PANOSE, TWAIN and TWINE were acronyms that I didn’t and, in the case of TWINE, don’t understand. PANOSE doesn’t stand for anything – it’s the group of letters whose shapes, when defined, show up differences between fonts. TWAIN doesn’t stand for anything, either, and is apparently derived from the phrase ‘never the twain shall meet’, reflecting the difficulty of connecting computers anad scanners. I don’t know what TWINE stands for. Because there are three of these things, I connected them with Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. So there.

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BAWRT 2004

Week 4 – Writing in Code

Outside my window—

No, I’m sick of saying that.

Extrafenestrally, the sounds of buzzing are as muted as the traffic now. The wasps, yellow as wallpaper, black as a critic’s heart, are still doing something, but they’re doing it lackadaisically, as if they have no hope that whatever passes for a stimulus package in the insect world will ever appear, or help them keep their paper mill afloat if it did.

But they mightn’t need paper for much longer, since there’s a new form of literature in town—electronic literature, or (since we’re short on time and have a 280 character limit in our spoken language, too), ‘e-lit’.

E-lit isn’t just the reproduction of the printed word in graphic format for the web or a computer, like a text file or, God forbid, a PDF. Nor is it reproducing written material into a document that can be read by a screenreader or ebook reader. That would be something more like a webpage, or like this post, which, as you’ll disocer as we trundle on, has no literary merit or function at all.

E-lit uses the capacity of electronic devices and remediations to produce a form of literature that can use different types of narrative. In conventional printed literature, for the most part, the narrative is linear. As you read through the text, the plot or action follows one line; beginning, middle, end, with action rising, peaking, and falling off in the ol’ Freytag Pyramid. There have been exceptions to this, and the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ style of narrative shows one way to get around the linear model, by allowing the reader to choose where they will go next. But the mechanism is a little mechanical and can take the reader out of the story as they have to leave the created world of the text for a moment to take some action the author hasn’t in order to move the story along. But the reader then has to flip pages to get to the part of the text that corresponds to their choice, and are thus removed even more from the immersive experience.

Hypertext

So, some kinds of e-lit replace the page-flipping with a hyperlink. This genre of the mode is called ‘hypertext’ and is exemplified by ‘Hypertext Gardens: Delightful Vistas’ by Mark Bernstein. Hop over and click a while. I’ll be here when you get back.

While Hypertext Gardens has a multilinear narrative, you can eventually cover all the narrative’s lines and they go to a pre-determined outcome. The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot by Stephanie Strickland is linear, but the narrative runs in circles, with hyperlinks taking you back to previous screens, and showing you text that you have seen before, but can now interpret or react to differently because of what you’ve seen before. Each piece of text and screen (taken as a unit (which we’ll call a ‘page’) now act as a motif for the entire piece. It’s the hypertext equivalent of that scourge of modern life, infinite scrolling.

Non-linear narratives like the Ballad play merry Hell with the aforementioned Freytag Pyramid. You can write a plot within the text that goes through rising action, climasx, falling action, denouement etc, but if a link can go back to a page where the reader has already been, what happens to the rising action? In a nultilinear narrative, each line can follow the Pyramid, or even the Fichtean Curve, but if the narrative can circle back on itself every page has got to cover multiple points on either graph.

The hypertext form of narrative lends itself to extremely convoluted plots. A whodunnit, for example, in which the reader is hyperlinked around to various pages and never finds out whodunnit. replacing the aforementioned Pyramid and Curve with something that could be drawn by a Spirograph or the footprint trail of a tiny, stinging insect I’ve crapped on about ad nauseam.

One type of hypertext narrative I haven’t seen, but which would be possible, would be something similar to an old system operator’s gag from the 1980’s. Each time a user wanted to change directories to find a particular file, the system would move all the files to a newly-created, random directory. The user would then have to guess where the files were, move to that directory, when the system would move the files again, creating new directories until a DISK FULL error came up and you’d be up before the head of IT the next morning explaining what the fuck you’d done. But what about a hyperlink that sent you to a random part of the whole text? You could go round in circles, or more accurately random lines on a page, until you got bored, fell over, found the meaning of life or were up before the head of IT beng asked why you hadn’t done anything to fix the DISK FULL error.

Complexity for the Hell of It

The hypertext narrative lends itself to complexity. To take this blog, for example, it could be redone as a hypertext narrative but wouldn’t be very complex, since so far there are only six posts—the first of which was put in automatically by WordPress—leading to 720 (ie, 6 factorial) permutations of narrative, though God only knows what the poor unsuspecting victim of such a thing would make out of it. By the end of this class, with 15 posts up, there’d be 1,307,674,368,000 permutations—ie, possible narratives, without reading a post twice. Let’s see Stephen King top that!

Computed Complexity

But that’s merely convolution of story, and rather cheaply achieved at that. For convolution of actual text, you could do worse than Belinda Barnet’s In the Garden of Forking Paths: Contingency, Interactivity and Play in Hypertext. Wrap your thinking gear around this:

Working from across the territory we have covered, we might say that electronic interaction ‘liberates’ us from neither the Line nor the flesh: at its most experimental, it is nothing less than reading embodied.

Barnet, B. Journal of Media Culture, Vol 1 Isu=sue 5, December 1998, http://journal.media-culture.org.au/9812/garden.php
.

What?

Anyway, that got me thinking about another form of electronic literature, computer generated literature. Something like that quote above had a human agency behind it, perhaps an agency of evil. But a computer cannot be evil, yet it can produce text capable of analysis, particularly if the text masquerades as poetry and there’s someone there to level their entire critical arsenal at it. I began a search for these ‘travesty generators’ as they’re called.

After two hours, I had found Travesty Generators, a website owned and operated by someone who generates poetry by computer and then takes credit for it as if it’s creative, and who is then lauded by the high-falutin’ critics she’s quoted on the home page. Apparently these things are now called ‘parody generators’, which allowed me to change my serch parameters a bit. I found the Postmodernist Generator, but that doen’t allow for input from the user. But the AI based text generator does, so let’s throw the above quote at it.

Working from across the territory we have covered, we might say that electronic interaction ‘liberates’ us from neither the Line nor the flesh: at its most experimental, it is nothing less than reading embodied.  And such is the aim of the text below, which attempts to analyse a seemingly minimal ‘sentence’ (developed in conversation with John Wilson in 2009):

{Note of comment: in both titles I have borrowed heavily from Byron Hall’s ‘Athenian Love’, chapter 4, ‘Sentence

King, A. Text created by software at https://talktotransformer.com/ Formatted by WordPress

One is as obscure as the other. I’m not calling Barnet’s article obfusatory just because I can’t understand it. I’m calling a spade a spade.

Fun, Fun, Fun!

These hypertext narratives would be fun to write. They would be fun to publish, but one place I won’t be publishing mine is on, or using, bloody WordPress. I haven’t got enough control even over this simple blog, and the complexities of linking with WordPress riding roughshod over whatever I want to do would soon see me up before the head of IT explaining why I went totally postal on WordPress’s arse and that it took forty-five paper wasps to bring me down.

(Unintentional but) Shameless Plug

Due to advancements in software, though, I could be spared that horror. Storyspace is software from Eastgate Systems Inc, which Maek Bernstein used in creating Hupertext Gardens. Unfortunately, it’s only available for the Mac, and I don’t have the wherewithal to get a Mac in order to use it, so I will have to wait for it to come out for the PC or hunt around for something similar that will run on a computer, or take a brute force approach and do a website with a hypertextual narrative. I’d say ‘Stay tuned’ but I fear it will take too long to ask that of you, so ‘Check back occasionally’ would be more polite. In the meantime, this pile of crap does have hypertext links to each chapter.

And so, we say a fond farewell to the world of hupertext narrative as kind of e-lit, and wait for the coronavirus to render all vertebrate life extinct, or something. What about that, my chitiny chums? One of a myriad possible narratives, you say? Perhaps. Evolution is nonlinear, but intelligent design isn’t. I’m quitting this post while I’m ahead.

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BAWRT 2004

Week 3 – Fluxus and Multimodality

Outside the window, there’s a hive of activity.  There are flashes of black and yellow, the sound of buzzing, the interweaving aerobatics of the paper wasps are complex as they maintain a personal airspace around the hive.  I’m not going to get close enough to observe this, but I’ll take it as read that each individual wasp has taken a rest from making paper out of the fence and is gesturing with legs, antennae and mandibles to tell other wasps about stuff – you know, whatever the vespal equivalent of office gossip is.

The hive, analysed or viewed as a work of art, uses the technique of multimodality.  In art, or at least that part of the art that communicates, there are five modes of communication: visual, aural, gestural, spatial and linguistic.  Visual refers to shapes and colours that you can actually see, aural refers to sounds and music that you can actually hear, gestural means gestures such as body language and interpretive dance, spatial refers to the placement of objects within the artwork itself and linguistic refers to language, either written or spoken.

There is some overlap between the modes.  For example, the spoken word is both linguistic and aural, since it uses language but you have to hear it to make use of it.  Writing uses language and is thus in the linguistic mode, but the format of the text is visual, because if I change the font I can change the effect of the words, and spatial because words are ordered in paragraphs, and you can have inserted quotes in separate text boxes.

Even if there is some overlap, art or writing in the digital age can be intentionally multimodal.  Have a look at this famous article by Lee Martin.    There are three modes in operation here: linguistic, because the article has to make some sense (even if its analogies and metaphors are just insane); visual, because there’s a picture of a wasp up there and the letters are in a nice serif font as determined by your browser settings first, then the webpage; and spatial, because of the way the story is laid out on the page.  You can add another mode to that, aural, if you’re using a screenreader of some type.

Not all modes are equal however.  Or, to put it another way, all modes are equal but some are more equal than others.  For example, up there I used the word ‘hive‘ to describe where the paper wasps were doing there art.  If I had put a picture up there of their ‘place of business’ you might have used the word ‘hive’, too, to describe it.  In fact, and more precisely, it’s not a hive, it’s a colony.  The linguistic mode is more precise and, since language functions to communicate ideas, it leaves less room for interpretation on the part of the viewer or reader, and thus less room for inaccuracies.  Of course, the linguistic mode is not as emotive as, say, the aural mode, where music and sound effects can convey an emotion.

Many of our activities can be multimodal, too.  Some friends and I visited the Mail Exchange on Friday the 13th and there constructed a group artistic project with all five modes in operation.  We talked, made gestures, seated ourselves around a table that was in a specific position in the pub.  The Fluxus movement in art suggested that we humans make art all the time, and this was our little coterie’s contribution to art.  You could see it as a reaction to the digitalisation and virtualisation of art, and since it was at a specific time (or date) and place, it also satisfies Walter Benjamin’s ideas on authenticity.  It has an aura that was not only irreproducible, but was as effective as ten schooners could make it.

As yet multimodality is limited to the five modes listed above, but there is a potential for even more modes to be create in the future.  The first one would touch on the other of the five traditional senses, which we could call the olfactory mode.  One example of this occurs in Gentleman Jol and th Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold.  The Cetagandans use very sophisticated forms of art and perfumes are a part of that.

Aral was getting more and more impatient with this ghem ass, and as I was trying to decode the most recent, he finally said, ‘Just give me the damned thing,’ twitched it out of my hands, and took it into the lav. Where he proceeded to amend it with, er, his own personal scent mark.”

I have no way to reproduce the olfactory mode of the wasp colony, so you’re spared the whiff of geraniums – for now.

 A more topical possible mode is viral, but I don’t know how it would be expressed. 

Improvements in virtual reality may add other modes of expression, such as forcing gestural responses by direct control peoples’ movements.

Fiscal, wherein the movement of money is not just in trade for the art, but is part of the art itself.

Meteorological; if I write ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ and it actually is.

Vespal.  But you’ll have to ask the wasps about that.

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BAWRT 2004

Week 2 – Databaase is the New Black

Outside my window today the ol’ Polistes humilis are moving around slowly, not doing much, not chewing wood into paper, not building nests, seemingly living a carefree but passing slow vespid life. But how can that be? Only a week ago I Morteined them back to the Stone Age—now they appear to be enjoying a mid-Roman period of refinement without industry. Also, without conflict. If they are progressing this fast, how long before they invent the printing press? They already have the paper.

They appear sluggish and lackadaisical, though. Really sluggish. Minutes go by with barely the wriggle of an antenna. They move, but are they alive? Have I, spurred on by one crazy article from last year and the easy availability of insect spray, unwittingly created a wasp zombie apocalypse?

Well, if I have, it’s small and local. That gives me (and you) time to focus on database as a symbol for changes in fiction during the inter-millennial transition we’ve all been going through during the last twenty-five years.

And so we come, by what might at first seem like a towering irrelevancy, to the work of Lev Manovich. In “Database as a Symbolic Form” (Manovich, 1998) he proposes that the method of representing the real world in fictional form is no longer narrative, but the database. He explaind ‘database’ thusly: from the point of view of user’s experience a large proportion of them are databases in a more basic sense. They appear as a collections of items on which the user can perform various operations: view, navigate, search. The user experience of such computerized collections is therefore quite distinct from reading a narrative or watching a film or navigating an architectural site (p 2). He goes on to point out that the Internet, or at least the World Wide Web (as opposed to email, chat, Skype and so on) is a collection of separate parts with no intrinsic narrative structure. The narrative, if there is one, is imposed on the page by the page’s user.

Manovich calls the method the users use to turn the database into a narrative the algorithm. In computer games, for example, an algorithm is coded into the game for the user to use, but it still takes motivation from the user, in the form of playing the game, to make the algorithm act on the database. But unlike a narrative, the writer or compiler of the database can’t control what the users’ experience will be once they use the algorithm, or it wouldn’t be a game.

While computer games do not follow database logic, they appear to be ruled by another logic — that of an algorithm. They demand that a player executes an algorithm in order to win (p 5)

The important thing, therefore, is thet the writer of the page, or of any database, doesn’t control how the database can form a narrative.

Therefore, I think, if the author of the database cannot control how the user, or reader, derives a narrative from it, they’re under no obligation to make a narrative themselves. They can’t be obliged to control something which is intrinsically out of their control.

…the general principle of new media: the projection of the ontology of a computer onto culture itself. …computer programming encapsulates the world according to its own logic (p 5).

Unfortunately, he doesn’t give any examples of this actually happening.

The possibilities for self-expressionindulgence were staggering.

Somehow, for some reason he presumably considers to be adequately explored, Manovich contrives to introduce Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books as a film that eschews narrative in favour of a database:

Many of [Greenaway’s] films progress forward by recounting a list of items, a catalog which does not have any inherent order (for example, different books in Prospero’s Books) (p 20).

My ex and I sat through all 372 hours of this prurient dolly shot one night at a friend’s house, while they dropped in from time to time to address the phsycailtiy of the various nudes that ‘played’ each of the books of the enterprising magician (who, it must be noted, resembles the Professor from “Gilligan’s Island” in that he has great magical powers but can’t get himself and his daughter off the island) from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Greenaway may very well embody the databasic zeitgeist but the movie was boring even on two bottles of merlot. That second bottle is the ritical sieve. If the movie still has no story or narrative after I’ve fuelled the synapses and silenced the critic, then it never will have while I’m conscious.

it follows that if database is the new symbol for culture in the third millennium, no creator is under any obligation to do anything for the ‘user’. Never one to fulfil an obligation I can shy away from, I have still taken this whole concept on board, because I’ve found a twenty-first century instance of database trumping narrative: the listicle.

13 Things They Didn’t Tell You About COVID19

  • It’s strawberry-flavoured
  • It was first reported in 1347, but was knocked off the charts by the bubonic plague the following year
  • Corona beer is not made from coronavirus
  • Neither is Guinness
  • COVID19 can’t be vaccinated against — yet — because vaccines don’t work — yet
  • There is NO point six!
  • I’m not saying it, because of copyright
  • It is not some form of Gypsy curse. (We’renot allowed to say what kind of curse it is.)
  • COVID19 is made from Viagara
  • It can’t survice below whatever the temperature is where you are right now. Thus, it is helped out by Climate Change
  • It is not — well, might not be — a prehistoric virus released by the metling polar ice caps
  • It spreas toother countries alphabetically. Afghanistan is covering this up. Zimbabwe isn’t worried
  • The average life expectancy of an infected person is less than the time it takes to type this sen—

Now, even while I was making that up, I had some narratives going through my brain. In the simplest example the line about Guinness comes after the line about Corona. It follows on logically from one sentence to the other, because ‘neither’ supports the thought in the previous sentence. It’s not a particularly brilliant joke—items six and seven are probably better—but it relies on the order of those items.

This is a mistake on my part. I wasn’t going to provide any narrative, and I had at first thought to write the items then sort them alphabetically just in case two or more itemsmight follow on narratively, but then I couldn’t resist the Corona-Guinness comparison and then I inserted items six and seven because some of you might get the reference. The human mind craves narrative, and I kind of feel I ought to give you some if you’re human and you’ve read this far.


Manovich, L. (1998). Database as a Symbolic Form. Retrieved from Manovich.net: http://manovich.net/content/04-projects/022-database-as-a-symbolic-form/19_article_1998.pdf

Categories
BAWRT 2004

Week 1 – Everyone’s Blog is Better Than Mine

The paper wasps outside my window aren’t doing anything, because I Morteined them back to the Stone Age.¹ But is that art?

Well, it isn’t digital art, because it used Allethrin and Resmethrin instead of computer bits. In another sense, though, it is art, because it has occurred at a time and in a place. The school of art that appreciates this is called Fluxus. The notion is that everyone is creating art just by their actions. How far can we go with this?

It is my wont and habit to walk home from the supermarket along the north side of Sussex St. I do this for the reasonable reason that the footpath is more even on that side, and thus there is less chance of me tumbling painfully and expensively over some unexpected change in the path height. Suppose I decide to walk along the south side footpath one day? Is that art? The Fluxus school would say that it was.

So might Walter Benjamin. My australic stroll along Sussex St takes place at a time and in a place and is irreproducible, in that the exact time won’t come again. I can get arbitrarily close to the same walk, because Sussex St and south are both longeval constructs—they’ll outlive me, anyway—but can’t reproduce the walk. I might do this in the future as a form of art, but certainly the first time I did it, it was just for variety, with no intention of creating art.

If the Fluxus idea were true, every action would constitute art. How would we distinguish art from anything else? We’d be inundated with the stuff. I would separate art from the humdrum by the intent to create art. What about a pretty flower or a nice sunset? These can be delightful things, but there’s no intent behind them, so they wouldn’t be art in the sense that I mean it. I doubt even the Fluxus school would say they were.

Consider these two responses to Auschwitz (which may appear below. WordPress has a mind of its own, and we cross that mind at peril of our immortal souls):

Both are reproducible, or you wouldn’t be seeing them here, but are they art?

Production of Art

So much for the reproduction of art. What out the production of art? The advent and availability of tehnology to make artistic intentions into reality has seen an explosion in the production of artistic work, particularly if we consider writing and music as forms of art.² The ease of production has meant an increase in the amount of art out there, but there has also been an increase in population, so there are more people around to see the art, even if they have to visit it at its only place of exhibition.

Has the availability of the means of production increased the quality of art? Some would say yes, and others no. All discussion of quality should be made in the context of Sturgeon’s Law:

90% of everything is crap³

It doesn’t matter how much art is produced. It’s possible to say that, as soon as the first ten artworks were produced back in the prehistoric past, nine of them would’ve been crap. What has happened is that more people can make art, and thus the possibility of finding the ten percent that isn’t crap has increased. Further, the digital world at the moment, and maybe for the moment, allows more people to access these works of art. In particular, the advent of self-publishing has meant that successful books can be published without the imprimatur of a publisher. There may be no filter absolutely stopping any garbage from being produced and put out there for public consumption, but since the publishers are driven by what marketing ‘experts’ say they can sell, the publishers don’t even act as definers of quality. They are now gateways that stop stuff getting to the reading populace—and there are more of them around than ever before.

Remediation

Some new art forms are transformations of existing forms into new media, with consequent changes of form. For example, at the 1999 Primetime Emmy Awrards, David Hyde Pierce and Jenna Elfman listed some of the nominees in the medium of interpretive dance. (If we lived in a true information age, I’d have a link here.) But, if we limit ourselves to sight and sound, there are still numerous possibilities for telling a narrative in forms other than the written word, and narrow-casting it to interested people over the Internet.

Fascism

Benjamin wrote Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The ease of making art and remediating art could therefore be seen as an outgrowth of Fascism, and may in the future prove to be the precursor of it. Much could be made of the new political climate but, since I’ve almost bored you as much as I’ve vored myself so far, I won’t delve into that hoary old chunk of clickbait. Yet Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. as Benjamin further wrote.

So, maybe those wasps suffered for my art.


1. it is my avowed intent to shoehorn a referene to paper wasps into every one of these posts. if you think of it as a form of remediation, it should be less painful.

2. if you’ve read this far, you may be wondering about the former.

3. This is a paraphrase of the original quote from Venture Science Fiction no. 49, September 1957: I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.

A 10 year old girl from Hungary – AUSCHWITZ.ORG
Breanna Mitchell sparked outrage with this smiling selfie at Auschwitz – TWITTER

Categories
Uncategorized

A Warning to the Curious

I don’t know what I’m doing here.

That’s a general observation about life. But why bore you with that? Let us be more specific. I don’t know hat I’m doing settting up a WordPress site under my main site.

but that’s what the teaching team for the Bachelor of Arts degree at Fedration University wants me to do for the subject, so here we are. Over the next few months you’ll be seeing a weekly post from me – oh, and let’s not worry about why there’s a weird user name up there. WordPress made that up. I was just following ze orders – until I found out how to fix it.

so, yes, a weekly post responding to various issues raised about Digital Art. What is Digital Art? That’s what I’m going to try to learn and opine about. Come along for the ride!

You know you have to…

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Uncategorized

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start writing!