The final project is a “port”—a kind of translation—of a work of electronic literature from one platform to another, not necessarily digital, platform. The process of porting forces one to define the “essence” of a work, and also reveals a great deal about the affordances of technology. The final project is due at the Digital Project Showcase, Wednesday December 6 in the Lilly Gallery.
Adapting a program from one hardware system to another is “porting,” a term derived from the Classical Latin portare—to carry or bear, not unlike the carrying across (trans + latus) of translation. A port is borne from one platform to another, and the bearer is the programmer or designer, who attempts to preserve the program’s essential properties from one platform to the next.
A translator faces the same challenges. Think about the questions that arise when translating a poem. Where does the poetry of the poem lie? Where is its poemness? In its rhythm? Its rhyme? Its diction? Its layout? Its constraints? Its meanings? Which of these must be carried over from one language to another in order to produce the most faithful translation?
In Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (1987), a study of the act and art of translation, Eliot Weinberger reads nineteen different translations of a four-line, 1,200-year-old poem by the Chinese master Wang Wei, attentive to the way translators have reinterpreted the poem over the centuries, even as they attempted to be faithful to the original. With a single word, a translator may create a perspective unseen in Wei’s original, radically shift the mood of the poem, or transform it into complete tripe. Many times these changes come about as the translator tries to improve the original in some way. Yet translation, Weinberger writes, ought to be “dependent on the dissolution of the translator’s ego: an absolute humility toward the text” (17).
We who port face similar challenges. What must be preserved when a work of electronic literature is carried across to a new platform: the work’s interface? Its narrative or themes? Its interactivity? Its aesthetic design? The underlying algorithms? The constraints of the original? And should the port try to improve upon the original? Or perhaps “break” the original, by exposing its insides? Where does our humility come into play? The ethos of adaptation will vary from port to port and writer to writer; what you choose to prioritize will help to determine the qualities of the final port and its relationship to the original program.
As you work on your port, think about your source material in terms of the elements of digital literature we’ve studied: data, process, surface, interaction, context. Any of these elements might be “portable”—the aspect of the work you focus on transforming into another platform. Also think about how the rules of notice and signification come into play with the source work, and how those rules might be transformed in the new medium.
Another way to approach the port is to focus on the seemingly most essential digital affordances of the work and turn them into something else, even their opposites. For example, if the source offers a relatively straightforward narrative, turn it into a wiki. Or if the work focuses heavily on images, render that textually. Or vice-versa.
Finally: be bold. Unlike Weinberger, I believe you can have “absolute humility toward the text” while at the same time producing something radically different from the original text.
Tools and Platforms
- The Ren’Py Visual Novel engine
- Mediawiki (installable on your domain through the cPanel)
- Google Maps
This list will continue to grow as I add add more possibilities!
- Monday, November 27: Project work plan due in class: name of source work, medium of the port, and 2-3 sketches of sample screens from the port.
- Wednesday, December 29: Minimally Viable Port (MVP) due in class
- Wednesday, December 6: Final version due at the the Digital Project showcase, with the statement and reflection due by midnight on the same day
Project Statement and Reflection
In an addition to the port itself, you must write a project statement and reflection of 1,500-2,000 words. In this document you’ll reflect on the choices you made, what your port reveals about the original, and what you learned about the process of porting. Use the statement and reflection to address the criteria below that aren’t self-evident in the port itself. The best demonstrations of your project’s engagement with the themes of this course will be explicit analyses of and connections to various readings, theories, and material from the class (e.g. affordances, five elements of digital literature, properties of digital media environments, etc.)
The port will be assessed according to the following criteria:
- Essence (the degree to which your port captures the source’s essence, however you define that)
- Insight (the extent to which you uncover and articulate surprises and insights about the source material through the porting process)
- Craft (the degree of mastery of the mode of composition or representation of the port)
- Intention (the sense of intentionality and deliberateness of the work)
- Theme (the level of engagement with ideas from this class and its online counterpart)
- Synthesis (the way you mobilize both your port and the original material to make some broader hypothesis or claim that matter)