Can I Ask You a Question???

Thousands of Other Questions, created by Winnie Soon and Helen Pritchard, is a work that is manifested by incorporating many different elements of electronic literature. It is a work that involves using headphones to ask listeners thousands of different questions drawn from Twitter. This is representative of one of Murray’s properties of digital environments, which is that they are procedural. This work is exemplary of a procedural environment as produces its questions by searching for tweets incorporating the “?” character. One headphone extracts live tweets via Bluetooth, while the other headphones speak archived questions from the Twitter database. Using social media, such as Twitter, is incredibly effective as it is essentially just one massive database containing an incomprehensible number of questions. Databases are non-hierarchal, and the sequence does not matter, so it works incredibly well with this work, as it attempts to bombard the listener with random questions.

This screenshot is from a promotional video for the work. It shows two women experiencing the work first hand. They appear to be overwhelmed and obviously confused.

Another interesting aspect of the work is its uncanniness. With this work we can easily relate back to the “Uncanny Valley,” which is a phenomena that states that the more human-like something is, the more like-able it is. However, at a certain point it can become revolting. In the case of this work, the voice that poses the questions is quite humanoid, but it is almost to the point where it is unsettling.

This work forces the listener to listen at a pre-determined speed, and to listen at a pace that is most likely outside of their comfort zone. This relates to Dakota, a project created by Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries. Dakota is similar to Thousands of Other Questions, because it also force feeds its story to the reader at an uncomfortable speed.

Overall Thousands of Other Questions is compelling, as it brings to light certain questions that may otherwise get swept under the rug, and it is definitely worth checking out!


Extending Authorship: Dakota vs Abra

In their respective posts,  Adam and Claire offer competing views of the YouTube video for Dakota, with Adam arguing that it defeats the purpose, and Claire countering that it doesn’t.I would like to respond to their posts by comparing YHCHI’s Dakota to Abra.

After spending some time playing around with this “magical poetry generator,” I was struck by the difference in the roles I assumed as reader in both of these works. In Dakota, the reader is a passive figure. As Pressman points out, Dakota does not allow the reader to control the work’s pace, nor does it give the reader any creative power to decipher or add meaning to the text. While perhaps the act of reading and deciphering the work gives participatory power to the reader—and that without this active participation the text is void—Dakota leaves little to no room for interaction in the narrative space.. On the other hand, Abra places the reader in a position of power, giving the reader the ability to take authorship of the generated work. By choosing the placement of words and deciding when they appear on the screen, “mutating,” “grafting,” or “pruning” them, the reader assumes complete control of the poems generated in Abra. The controversial YouTube video for YHCHI’s Dakota introduces the possibility of empowering the reader with the tools to control and decipher the text.

I support Claire’s take- the video extends creative ability to the reader to decipher the text and give it meaning. Using the video to read the text- pausing and reading and re-reading-does not diminish but enhances the work. Are there any other ways of reading it? I am imagining a work that would allow for the interactivity that Adam claims is missing in Dakota, and integrate that with the authorship that Abra extends to its readers. In some ways Abra mimics the cut-up method of Brion Gysin (Burroughs, 2003), by allowing readers to move the words around on the screen to generate new poems. The app brings “a collage” to the reader/writer, extending the potential of such a work by introducing spontaneity and unpredictability (Burroughs, 2003). I wonder how applying “the cut-up method” and controlled text generation (as in the case of Abra) could transform a work like Dakota. If we look at Dakota’s YouTube video as a collage of words/events, and use the inherent features of a video to rewind, skip forward or pause, to “cut-up” this work, what would it look like? How many new forms of Dakota could be generated? Would each one look significantly different (and as confusing) as the other?

Abra, the “magical poetry spellbook” applies the “cut-up method” for poetry generation

Authorship and the Work of YHCHI: How do we Read it?

I would like to respond to Adam’s post referring to Jessica Pressman’s analysis of YHCHI’s removal of user interactivity in their work. Adam mentions that recording the work on Youtube “defeats the purpose of the work by reintroducing interactivity.” It is true that Youtube allows for stopping and starting, pause and play, in order for the user to take his or her time in comprehending the words, and this particular manipulation of the original material invites once more the question of authorship. Pressman notes that YHCHI “refuse to say much about their work” (80). She goes on to analyze Dakota based on the sparse information that the authors themselves have provided. I find this interesting because Pressman is so bent on reading Dakota authorially, deciphering the artist’s intention in creating the work, yet YHCHI do not support this reading. They “can’t and won’t help readers ‘locate’ [them]” (80). The alternative, then, would be that YHCHI support Barthes’s perspective – that they would rather their audience decide the meaning of the work.

Jessica Pressman, in her authorial reading of Dakota, ignores the clearly explicated intention of the author that is to not perform an authorial reading. It is a Catch-22. However, I argue that at least one reader of the text made meaning of it in creating the Youtube video. So, is using the Youtube video to read the text incorrect, or defeating “the purpose of the work”? I don’t think so. In fact, because YHCHI explicitly denied their opportunity and ability to provide meaning for the text, I think that any way a reader decides to decipher the text is meaningful, including choosing to stop and start it. So I ask my classmates, is there a such thing as a “better” way to read this text?

If you’re interested, check out this extended interview with YHCHI.

YOO: How would you define the work of YHCHI? Digital poetry or more, digital art? Or something completely new?

YHC HI: Actually, we wouldn’t pin it down. No use making it easy on guys like you.

Quote from one of YHCHI’s projects that hints at the question of authorship.


The Art of Comprehensive Speed Reading

In an ever growing age of technology, information spreads faster, texts are more concise, and attention spans are shortened. People no longer have time to get bogged down in lengthy news articles to keep up with what is going on in the world, and with sms messaging becoming more prevalent, people are reading faster and finding creative ways to shorten text. Some have taken that concept to an extreme, as in the case of Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries’ “Dakota.”

an example of one of messages that is very quickly and intensely flashed onto the computer screen in the work, Dakota.

This work tests the limits of electronic literature as it utilizes java to present a trivial story in a fantastic way. The dialogue is incredibly fast-paced and the music that plays along with it makes the experience feel so much more interesting. This work forces the reader to experience the text at a force-fed rate, while at the same time trying to develop some deeper meaning from it. The actual data of the sound effects is important here as well. The sound helps the reader to understand the significance of each word flashed upon the screen. The countdown at the beginning is also key as it gives you a sense of the storm that is to come, and the constantly increasing tempo of the music helps the reader understand the urgency of the reading.

This skill of speed reading also pertains the work, “Star Wars One Letter at a Time”, created by Brian Kim Stefans. This work takes a popular franchise and makes it almost grueling to experience by relaying the script just one letter at a time. This further shows that electronic literature is of its own nature, and it can completely change the way we look at past works as well as mold our future creations.


“Dakota”: Digital Literature That Breaks Its Own Rules

When I first opened the link to Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ Dakota, my immediate reaction was confusion. Was the page broken? Why was it blank? Then, the thrumming drum beat began in sync with the page color lightening gradually to white, and the first words of introductory text, a countdown from ten to one, flashed onto the screen, disappearing as quickly as they’d materialized. No less confused, I focused all of my attention onto the words appearing in front of me and braced myself for a reading experience different from anything I’d read before. And in this aspect, Dakota definitely did not disappoint.

As I got further along into the story, I grew increasingly frustrated. Some of the text flashed by in less than a second, much too quickly for me, or any reader, to be able to comprehend. What’s the point of having this part of the text if you can’t read it? I wondered. But, as I learned from Jessica Pressman’s “Speed Reading,” removing interactivity from the equation was exactly the authors’ intention.

As we mentioned in class this past week, one of the five elements of digital literature is interaction, or a lack of it. There are no buttons in Dakota to allow the reader to stop, pause, or slow down the rate at which the text appears (or even to pause the music), and this is precisely the point. As quoted in Jessica Pressman’s “Speed Reading,” Young-Hae Chang has said, “My Web art tries to express the essence of the Internet: information. Strip away the interactivity, the graphics, the design, the photos, the banners, the colors, the fonts and the rest, and what’s left? The text” (81-82).  This is a very bare-bones approach to digital literature as we know it.

The YouTube video above, though one could argue is convenient, blatantly defeats the purpose of the work by reintroducing interactivity into the work. This is because, due to the way YouTube as a platform functions, the audience is able to pause, rewind, and fast-forward through the text at will. To someone who hadn’t gone through the original text on Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ website and had simply watched the above video instead, the experience and its impact on the reader would be dramatically reduced. This only further serves to emphasize how radically different Dakota truly is from other forms of digital literature.

“Dakota” and Deliberate Inaccessibility

I found “Dakota” to be a really fascinating and engaging piece of literature, but the work itself, and our reading pertaining to it, left me with some questions about its deliberate inaccessibility.

I found our reading’s point about “Dakota’s” deliberate difficulty encouraging close reading to be well-argued, but I can’t say it had me entirely convinced.  I enjoy reading poetry, and I always do it with a pencil in hand, marking various literary devices and making constant notes to myself.  I read the poem a minimum of two, if not three times (and possibly many more, depending on its difficulty).  “Dakota” took everything I knew about reading poetry and flipped it on its head.  There was no slow, purposeful reading.  No marking up the text.  I found myself more focused on simply trying to keep up with the words flashing across the screen than making meaning.  “Dakota,” at least for me personally, did not encourage close reading.  However, I will be the first to admit that Pressman is clearly a lot more knowledgeable about poetry than I am, and that my failure at close reading may have been more of a function of my own shortcomings as a reader than of the text itself.

However, in my personal, subjective experience of “Dakota,” I think this inability to close read may have been the point.  “Dakota,” to me, called into question our entire practice of reading poetry.  “Dakota” suggested that the way we’ve been taught to read – slowly, deliberately, and carefully – is limiting.  Not all works are meant to be experienced that way.  For “Dakota,” the form is just as important as the content.  The stark contrast of the black flashing text and white background, the frenetic drum beat, the anxiety a reader feels when she can’t keep up with the text are all as integral to the experience of reading “Dakota” as the text itself.

To me, the inaccessibility of the text had a purpose.  Before I read the article and learned “Dakota” was a reworking of Ezra Pound’s “Cantos,” the poem to me seemed to be about youth.  Youth is characterized, in many ways, by speed and urgency.   Everything feels intense and immediate.  Much of the experience of being young is a sort of confusion, trying, and often failing, to cobble together meaning and understanding from limited experience.  Reading “Dakota” mirrored that experience.  As a reader, I wanted the text to slow down.  I wanted someone to tell me what was going on.  I was trying and failing to keep up with the progression of the poem, plagued by a nagging feeling that I was missing something extremely important, that if I didn’t catch every word and detail, the whole point of the piece would be lost.  None of that experience came from the text itself, but rather the delivery of it.  Had I read “Dakota” the way I would traditionally read poetry, I would have lost that layer of meaning entirely.

Pressman identified parallels between “Dakota” and cinema. I experience this difficulty “reading” a text frequently with films and television. I get really frustrated when the lighting is dark and I can’t really see what’s going on, until I slow down and realize that maybe the experience of straining to see and not getting a clear picture is, in fact, the point. Source.

I think digital literature in general has a way of questioning our traditional reading practices and playing with our balance between form and content.  While I do agree that there is a lot of close reading to be done in “Dakota,” plenty of allusions to tease out and the like, I think the work calls into question our entire conception of what it is to “read” a poem.  I believe “Dakota” encourages us to read our experience far more than the text itself.