Monday, February 1, 2010

Hayles Electronic Literature reread

Notes on Katherine Hayles Electronic Literature


Electronic Literature: What Is It?

(3) Electronic literature, generally considered to exclude print literature that has been digitized, is by contrast “digital born,” a first-generation digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer. .. The [Electronic Literature Organization] committee's formulation reads: “work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer.”

What about digitizations of print literature mediated by programs whose source code fall within Hayles's conception of EL, for she implies that source code can be considered and interpreted as a part of EL: create source code containing 'verbatim' digitizations of print literature such as ancient Greek and Latin texts beyond the grasp of any copyright, patent, trademark or other type of law taken in the form of the kind that put Socrates to death, not the biochemical law of the poison he presumably drank, but the state, government, body politic, collective consciousness, what about custom code consuming print literature? The ELO's formulation does not entail the universal law based on the specific example of the most basic digitization of print texts that we would all agree with Hayles does not rise to the occasion of being sufficiently literary, a term she will soon introduce (and there could be a useful hyperlink here). So despite the harsh use of conjoining exclusion and generally Hayles has really opened the door to electronic texts that are powered, in part, by exact digitizations of commonly conceived as the authoritative and canonical originals, all of which if in the public domain can be cited. In fact she says as much on page 84. The next thing to consider is the question of style, whether early versions of programs should be preserved, for we do not have a fixed number to consider like we do ancient texts. Can you imagine an index of combinations of key phrases such as “electronic literature” and “code work”, a sort of phasor (a degree beyond vector in physics, and another word I used to use often in my old notes, which I referred to a few sentences ago as “a useful hyperlink” do distinguish it from all the possible combinations most of which are nonsense)?

(4) Hybrid by nature, it comprises a “trading zone” (as Peter Galison calls it in a different context) in which different vocabularies, expertises, and expectations come together to see what might emerge from their intercourse. .. I propose “the literary” for this purpose, defining it as creative artworks that interrogate the histories, contexts, and productions of literature, including as well the verbal art of literature proper.


(5) The immediacy of code to the text's performance is fundamental to understanding electronic literature, especially to appreciating its specificity as a literary and technical production.

(6) Readers with only a slight familiarity with the field, however, will probably identify it first with hypertext fiction characterized by linking structures, such as Michael Joyce's afternoon: a story, Stuart Moulthrop's Victory Garden, and Shelly Jackson's Patchwork Girl. .. Although Storyspace continues to be used to produce interesting new works, it has been eclisped as the primary Web authoring tool for electronic literature.

(6-7) Whereas early works tended to be blocks of text (traditionally called “lexia”) with limited graphics, animation, colors, and sound, later works make much fuller use of the multimodal capabilities of the Web; while the hypertext link is considered the distinguishing feature of the earlier works, later works use a wide variety of navigation schemes and interface metaphors that tend to deemphasize the links as such.

(7) hypertext fictions also mutated into a range of hybrid forms, including narratives that emerge from a collection of data repositories such as M.D. Coverley's Califia.

(8) Paraphrasing Markku Eskelinen's elegant formulation, we may say that with games the user interprets in order to configure, wheres in works whose primary interest is narrative, the user configures in order to interpret. .. In his pioneering study [Twisty Little Passages], [Nick] Montfort characterizes the essential elements of the form as consisting of a parser (the computer program that understands and replies to the interactor's inputs) and a simulated world within which the action takes place.

(10) While works like [Donna Leishman's] Deviant use perspective to create the impression of a three-dimensional space, the image itself does not incorporate the possibility of mobile interactivity along the Z-axis.

(10) One kind of strategy, evident in Ted Warnell's intricately programmed Javascript work TLT vs. LL, is to move from the word as the unit of signification to the letter.

(11) David Knoebel's exquisitely choreographed “Heart Pole,” from his collection “Click Poetry,” features a circular globe of words, with two rings spinning at 90 degrees from one another, “moment to moment” and “mind absorbing.”

(11) The next move is from imaging three dimensions interactively on the screen to immersion in actual three-dimensional spaces. As computers have moved off the desktop and into the environment, other varieties of electronic literature have emerged.

(12) The complements to site-specific mobile works, which foreground the user's ability to integrate real-world locations with virtual narratives, are site-specific installations in which the locale is stationary, such as a CAVE virtual reality projection room or gallery site.

(12) Pioneering the CAVE as a site for interactive literature is the creative writing program at Brown University spearheaded by Robert Coover, himself an internationally known writer of experimental literature.

(13) the work has redefined what it means to read, so that reading becomes, as Rita Raley has pointed out, a kinesthetic, haptic, and proprioceptively vivid experience, involving not just the cerebral activity of decoding but bodily interactions with the words as perceived objects moving in space.

(13) the “page” is transformed into a complex topology that rapidly transforms from a stable surface into a “playable” space in which she is an active participant.

(14) CAVE equipment, costing upward of a million dollars and depending on an array of powerful networked computers and other equipment, is typically found only in Research 1 universities and other elite research sites. .. Of the few institutions that have this high-tech resource, even fewer are willing to allocate precious time and computational resources to creative writers.

(15) Like the CAVE productions, interactive dramas are often site specific, performed for live audiences in gallery spaces in combination with present and/or remote actors.

(16) Interactive drama can also be performed online.

(16) How to maintain such conventional narrative devices as rising tension, conflict, and denouement in interactive forms where the user determines sequence continues to pose formidable problems for writers of electronic literature, especially narrative fiction.

(17) the constraints and possibilities of the medium have encouraged many writers to turn to nonnarrative forms or to experiment with forms in which narratives are combined with randomizing algorithms.

(18) The combination of English and Spanish vocabularies and the gorgeous images from Latin American locations [in Glazier's White-Faced Bromeliads on 20 Hectares] further suggest compelling connections between the spread of networked and programmable media and the transnational politics in which other languages contest and cooperate with English's hegemonic position in programming languages and, arguably, in digital art as well.

(18) Philippe Bootz has powerfully theorized generative texts, along with other varieties of electronic literature, in his functional model that makes clear distinctions between the writer's field, the text's field, and the reader's field, pointing out several important implications inherent in the separation between these fields, including the fact that electronic literature introduces temporal and logical divisions between the writer and reader different from those enforced by print.

(19) Naming such works [Noah Wardrip-Fruin's Regime Change and News Reader] “instruments” implies that one can learn to play them, gaining expertise as experience yields an intuitive understanding of how the algorithm works.

(20) As Andrews, Kearns, and Wardrip-Fruin acknowledge, these works are indebted to William Burroughs's notion of the “cut-up” and “fold-in.” They cite as theoretical precedent Burroughs's idea that randomization is a way to break the hold of the viral word and liberate resistances latent in language by freeing it from linear syntax and coherent narrative.

(20-21) “Code work,” a phrase associated with such writers and Alan Sondheim, MEZ (Mary Ann Breeze), and Talan Memmott and with critics such as Florian Cramer, Rita Raley, and Matthew Fuller, names a linguistic practice in which English (or some other natural language) is hybridized with programming expressions to create a creole evocative for human readers, especially those familiar with the denotations of programming languages. “Code work” in its purest form is machine readable and executable, such as Perl poems that literally have two addressees, human and intelligent machines. More typical are creoles using “broken code,” code that cannot actually be executed but that uses programming punctuations and expressions to evoke connotations appropriate to the linguistic signifiers.

(21) The conjunction of language with code has stimulated experiments in the formation and collaboration of different kinds of languages.

Among those languages are programming languages and natural languages, breaking their exclusion in Ong in Orality and Literacy on the grounds that they could never be natural languages. The door opened by the ready supply of ideological constants, a term I used many years ago when I was groping at the vision now much clearer, leads to the idea of “code work” usable by both “human and intelligent machines.”

(22-23) The multimodality of digital art works challenges writers, users, and critics to bring together diverse expertise and interpretive traditions so that the aesthetic strategies and possibilities of electronic literature may be fully understood. .. when a work is reconceived to take advantage of the behavioral, visual, and/or sonic capabilities of the Web, the result is not just a Web “version” but an entirely different artistic production that should be evaluated in its own terms with a critical approach fully attentive to the specificity of the medium.

(23) the computational media intrinsic to electronic textuality have necessitated new kinds of critical practice, a shift from literacy to what Gregory L. Ulmer calls “electracy.”

(24-25) Exemplifying this kind of critical practice is Matthew Kirschenbaum's Mechanisms: New Media and Forensic Textuality. .. He parses the materiality of digital media as consisting of two interrelated and interacting aspects: forensic materiality and formal materiality. Whereas forensic materiality is grounding in the physical properties of the hardware - how the computer writes and reads bit patterns, which in turn correlated to voltage differences - formal materiality consists of the “procedural friction or perceived difference . . . as the user shifts from one set of software logics to another” (ms. 27). Using the important distinction that Espen J. Aarseth drew in Cyberspace: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature between scriptons (“strings as they appear to readers”) and textons (“strings as they exist in the text”) (62), Kirschenbaum pioneers in Mechanisms a methodology that connects the deep print reading strategies already in effect with scriptons (letters on the page, in this instance) to the textons (here the code generating the screenic surface). He thus opens the way for a mode of criticism that recognizes the specificity of networked and programmable media without sacrificing the interpretive strategies evolved with and through print.

Come in via this guy by suggesting that subdivisions of forensic and formal materiality cross in the articulation of technological .

(25) In “Writing the Virtual: Eleven Dimensions of E-Poetry,” she focuses on the ways in which E-poetry achieves dynamism, leading her to coin the neologism “poietics” (from “poetry” and “poiisis,” the Greek (sic) work for “making”).

Here is a slip by Hayles and her proofreaders, friends, and editors.

(26) Any work that uses algorithmic randomizers to generate text relies to a great or lesser extent on the surprising and occasionally witty juxtapositions created by these techniques. It should be noted that algorithmic procedures are not unique to networked and programmable media.

(27) The Demon, Stefans notes, is involved in a two-way collaboration: between the programmer who works with the limitations and possibilities of a computer language to create the program, and between the user and the computer when the computer poem is read and interpreted.

(27) The collaboration between the creative imagination of the (human) writer and the constraints and possibilities of software is the topic of Ian Bogost's Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism, in which he develops an extended analogy between the unit operations of object-oriented programming and a literary approach that explores the open, flexible, and reconfigurable systems that emerge from the relations between units.

(28) As Bogost's approach suggests, taking programming languages and practices into account can open productive approaches to electronic literature, as well as other digital and nondigital forms. The influence of software is especially obvious in the genre of the Flash poem, characterized by sequential screens that typically progress with minimal or no user intervention.

(30) Hypertext fiction, network fiction, interactive fiction, locative narratives, installation pieces, “codework,” generative art, and the Flash poem are by no means an exhaustive inventory of the forms of electronic literature, but they are sufficient


(31) Early hypertext theorists, notably George Landow and Jay David Bolter, stressed the importance of the hyperlink as electronic literature's distinguishing feature, extrapolating from the reader's ability to chose which link to follow to make extravagant claims about hypertext as a liberatory mode that would dramatically transform reading and writing and, by implication, settings where these activities are important, such as the literature classroom.

(31-32) Compared to the flexibility offered by the codex, which allows the reader complete freedom to skip around, go backward as well as forward, and open the book wherever she pleases, the looping structures of electronic hypertexts and the resulting repetition forced on the reader/user make these works by comparison more rather than less coercive.

The limitation of current technologies reflected in state of the art designs sees electronic literature as much more restricting than the codex (book) form of literature, overshadowing the unique capability of electronic literature to reform itself dynamically in response to the reader. Whereas following hyperlinks may have its print correlate, this property is unique.

(32) In conflating hypertext with the difficult and productive aporias of deconstructive analysis, these theorists failed to do justice to the nuanced operations of works performed in electronic media or to the complexities of deconstructive philosophy.

They are two different things, being dynamically reconfigurable and being deconstructive.

(33) Rather than circumscribe electronic literature within print assumptions, Aarseth swept the board clean by positing a new category of “ergodic literature,” texts in which “non-trivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text” (1).

(33) Markku Eskelinen's work, particularly “Six Problems in Search of a Solution: The Challenge of Cybertext Theory and Ludology to Literary Theory,” further challenges traditional narratology as an adequate model for understanding ergodic textuality, making clear the need to develop frameworks that can adequately take into account the expanded opportunities for textual innovations in digital media.

(34) Similar ground clearing was undertaken by Lev Manovich in his influential The Language of New Media. .. Although it is too simplistic to posit these “layers” as distinct phenomena (because they are in constant interaction and recursive feedback with one another), the idea of transcoding nevertheless makes the crucial point that computation has become a powerful means by which preconscious assumptions move from such traditional cultural transmission vehicles as political rhetoric, religious and other rituals, gestures and postures, literary narratives, historical accounts, and other purveyors of ideology into the material operations of computational devices.

(35) Alexander Galloway in Protocol puts the case succinctly: “Code is the only language that is executable” (emphasis in original). Unlike a print book, electronic text literally cannot be accessed without running the code. Critics and scholars of digital art and literature should therefore properly consider the source code to be part of the work, a position underscored by authors who embed in the code information or interpretive comments crucial to understanding the work.

This means any study of electronic literature may, or ought, to include some analysis of the source code and enframing technologies. The implications of availability of the source code are obvious here. Additionally, where is the boundary between “the” source code of the work and the surrounding operating environment? What is the status of database records and ephemera of the running of the code?

(35) [Jerome McGann] turns this perspective on its head in Radiant Technology: Literature after the World Wide Web by arguing that print texts also use markup language, for example, paragraphing, italics, indentation, line breaks, and so forth.

(36-37) Complementing studies focusing on the materiality of digital media are analyses that consider the embodied cultural, social, and ideological contexts in which computation takes place. .. Much as the novel both gave voice to and helped to create the liberal humanist subject in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, so contemporary electronic literature is both reflecting and enacting a new kind of subjectivity characterized by distributed cognition, networked agency that includes human and non-human actors, and fluid boundaries dispersed over actual and virtual locations.

(37-39) How and in what ways it should engage with these commercial interests is discussed in Alan Liu's magisterial work The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information. .. Realizing this broader possibility requires that we understand electronic literature not only as an artistic practice (although it is that, or course), but also as a site for negotiations between diverse constituencies and different kinds of expertise.

Among these constituencies are theorists and researchers interested in the larger effects of network culture. .. Adrian Mackenzie's Cutting Code: Software as Sociality studies software as collaborative social practice and cultural process. .. electronic literature is evolving within complex social and economic networks that include the development of commercial software, the competing philosophies of open source freeware and shareware, the economics and geopolitical terrain of the internet and World Wide Web, and a host of other factors that directly influence how electronic literature is created and stored, sold or given away, preserved or allowed to decline into obsolescence.

This choice of wording suggests that a more sensitive study of free, open source cultural movements can expand the perspective taken by Mackenzie and/or Hayles.


(39) whereas books printed on good quality paper can endure for centuries, electronic literature routinely becomes unplayable (and hence unreadable) after a decade or even less. The problem exists for both software and hardware.

(40) The Electronic Literature Organization has taken a proactive approach to this crucial problem with the Preservation, Archiving and Dissemination Initiative (PAD). Part of that initiative is realized in the Electronic Literature Collection, volume 1, co-edited by Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg, Stephanie Strickland, and me, featuring sixty works of recent electronic literature and other scholarly resources.

(41) [Montfort and Wardrip-Fruin's] “Acid-Free Bits” offers advice to authors to help them “find ways to create long-lasting elit, ways that fit their practice and goals” (3). The recommendations include preferring open systems to closed systems, choosing community-directed systems over corporate driven systems, adhering to good programming practices by supplying comments and consolidating code, and preferring plain-text to binary formats and cross-platform options to single-system options.

(41) More encompassing, and even more visionary, is the proposal in “Born-Again Bits” for the “X-Literature Initiative.” The basic premise is the XML (Extensible Markup Language) will continue to be the most robust and widespread form of Web markup language into the foreseeable future.

(42) The X-Literature Initiative makes startlingly clear that the formation we know as “literature” is a complex web of activities that includes much more than conventional images of writing and reading. Also involved are technologies, cultural and economic mechanisms, habits and predispositions, networks of producers and consumers, professional societies and their funding possibilities, canons and anthologies designed to promote and facilitate teaching and learning activities, and a host of other factors.


Intermediation: From Page to Screen


(44) I focus here on two central conceptual clusters to develop the idea of intermediation: dynamic heterarchies and fluid analogies as embodied in multiagent computer programs, and the interpretive processes that give meaning to information.

(45) One proposal is “intermediation,” a term I have adopted from Nicholas Gessler, whereby a first-level emergent pattern is captured in another medium and re-represented with the primitives of the new medium, which leads to an emergent result captured in turn by yet another medium, and so forth. The result is what researchers in artificial life call a “dynamic hierarchy,” a multi-tiered system in which feedback and feedforward loops tie the system together through continuing interactions circulating throughout the hierarchy.

(45) The potential of this idea to explain multilevel complexity is the subject of Harold Morowitz's The Emergence of Everything: How the World Became Complex.

(46) digital and analog processes together perform in more complex ways than the digital alone. .. They [analog processes] excel in transferring information from one medium to another through morphological resemblance, and the complexity of continuous variation allows them to encode information in more diverse ways than digital encodings.

(47) Now let us make a speculative leap and consider the human and the digital computer as partners in a dynamic heterarchy bound together by intermediating dynamics.

(47) citizens in technologically developed societies, and young people in particular, are literally being reengineered through their interactions with computational devices.

(48-49) In Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought, Hofstadter details this research. His mantra, “Cognition is recognition,” nicely summarizes his conclusion that cognition is built on the ability to recognize patterns and extrapolate from them to analogies (pattern A is like pattern B).

(51) Because literature is not limited to factual recreation but rather works through metaphor, evocation, and analogy, it specializes in the qualities that programs like Jumbo and Copycat are designed to perform.

(51-52) the programs function as components in an adaptive system bound together with humans through intermediating dynamics, the results of which are emergent realizations. .. the literal/metaphoric binary becomes a spectrum along which a variety of programs can be placed, depending on their cognitive capacities and the ways in which the patterns they generate and/or recognize are structurally coupled with humans.

The idea of considering meaning making as a spectrum of possibilities with recursive loops entangling different positions along the spectrum has been catalyzed by Edward Fredkin's recent proposal that “the meaning of information is given by the process that interprets it” (my emphasis), for example, an MP3 player that interprets a digital file to produce audible sound. The elegance of the concept is that it applies equally well to human and nonhuman cognizers.

(53) For the MP3 player, “aboutness” has to do with the relation it constructs between the digital file and the production of sound waves. For the music sophisticate, “aboutness” may include a detailed knowledge of Beethoven's work, the context in which it was written and performed, historical changes in orchestral instrumentation, and so on.

(53) [Dennett's thought experiments demonstrate] that in a certain sense human intentionality too is an artifact that must ultimately have emerged from the subcognitive processes responsible for the evolution of humans as a species.

(54-55) Fredkin's concept also can potentially heal the breach between meaning and information that was inscribed into information theory when Claude Shannon defined information as a probability function. .. The divorce between information and meaning was necessary, in Shannon's view, because he saw no way to reliably quantify information as long as it remained context dependent, because its quantification would change every time it was introduced into a new context, a situation calculated to drive electrical engineers mad. Nevertheless, the probability functions in Shannon's formulations necessarily implied processes that were context dependent in a certain sense - specifically, the context of assessing them in relation to all possible messages that could be sent by those message elements. The difficulty was that there seemed to be no way to connect this relatively humble sense of context to the multilayered, multifaceted contexts ordinarily associated with high-level meanings (for example, interpretations of Beethoven's Fifth). Fredkin's formulation overcomes this difficulty by defining meaning through the processes that interpret information, all the way from binary code to high-level thinking.

(55) Putting Shannon's mechanistic model together with MacKay's embodied model make sense when we see higher-order meanings emerging from recursive lower level subcognitive processes, as MacKay emphasizes when he highlights “visceral responses and hormonal secretions and what have you.” Like humans, intelligent machines also have multiple layers of processes, from ones and zeros to sophisticated acts of reasoning and inference.

(56-57) In electronic literature, this dynamic is evoked when the text performs actions that bind together author and program, player and computer, into a complex system characterized by intermediating dynamics. The computer's performance builds high-level responses out of low-level processes that interpret binary code. These performances elicit emergent complexity in the player, whose cognitions likewise build up from low-level thoughts that possess much more powerful input to high-level thoughts than the computer does, but that nevertheless are bound together with the computer's subcognitive processes through intermediating dynamics. The cycle operates as well in the writing phase of electronic literature. When a programmer/writer creates an executable file, the process reengineers the writer's perceptual and cognitive systems as she works with the medium's possibilities. .. The result is a meta-analogy: as human cognition is to the creation and consumption of the work, so computer cognition is to its execution and performance.

(57-58) The book is like a computer program in that it is a technology designed to change the perceptual and cognitive states of a reader. .. “Recombinant flux,” as the aesthetic of such works [that is, electronic texts] is called, gives a much stronger impression of agency than does a book.

(58) this knowledge is carried forward into the new medium typically by trying to replicate the earlier medium's effects within the new medium's specificities.

(59) In My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts, I explored intermediation by taking three different analytical cuts, focusing on the dynamics between print and electronic textuality, code and language, and analog and digital processes.


(60) That evolution is richly evident in the contrast between Michael Joyce's seminal first-generation hypertext afternoon: a story and his later Web work Twelve Blue.

(62-63) The technique of conflicting plot lines is of course not original with Michael Joyce. .. Comparing the two works reveals how printcentric afternoon is, notwithstanding its implementation in an electronic medium. .. Although the reader can choose what lexias to follow, this interaction is so circumscribed that most readers will not have the sense of being able to play the work - hence my repeated use here of the term “reader” rather than “player.”

In Twelve Blue, by contrast, playing is one of the central metaphors. .. Compared with afternoon, Twelve Blue is a much more processual work. Its central inspiration is not the page but rather the flow of surfing the Web.

(63-64) Twelve Blue's epigraph, taken from William H. Gass's On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry, signals that the strategy will be to follow trails of associations, as Gass says, “the way lint collects. The mind does that” (7). .. The second, less explicit, intertext is Vannevar Bush's seminal essay “As We May Think,” in which he argues that the mind thinks not in linear sequences but in associational links, a cognitive mode he sought to instantiate in his mechanical Memex, often regarded as a precursor to electronic hypertext. .. [Twelve Blue] instantiates associational thinking and evokes it for the player, who must in a certain sense yield to this cognitive mode to understand the work (to say nothing of enjoying it). .. Like sensual lovemaking, the richness of Twelve Blue takes time to develop and cannot be rushed.

(69) As Anthony Enns points out in his reading of Twelve Blue, this work challenges Frank Kermode's criterion for “the sense of an ending” that helps us make sense of the world by establishing a correlation between the finitude of human life and the progression through a beginning, middle, and end characteristic of many print narratives. .. I would argue rather that Twelve Blue makes a different kind of sense, one in which life and death exist on a continuum with flowing and indeterminate boundaries.

(70) Gregory Ulmer relates it to the shift from a novel-based aesthetic to a poetics akin to the lyric poem. He also relates it to a change from literacy to “electracy,” arguing that its logic has more in common with the ways in which image and text come together on the Web than to the linearity of alphabetic language bound in a print book. .. The leap from afternoon to Twelve Blue demonstrates the ways in which the experience of the Web, joining with the subcognitive ground of intelligent machines, provides the inspiration for the intermediating dynamics through which the literary work creates emergent complexity.


(71) In “Methodology,” Mencia comments that she is particularly interested in the “exploration of visuality, orality and the semantic/'non semantic' meaning of language.” On the strength of her graduate work in English philology, she is well positioned to explore what happens when the phone and phoneme are detached from their customary locations within morphemes and begin to circulate through digital media into other configurations, other ways of mobilizing conjunctions of marks and sounds. .. With traditional print literature, long habituation causes visuality (perception of the mark) to flow automatically into subvocalization (cognitive decoding) that in turn is converted by the “mind's eye” into the reader's impression that the words on the page give way to a scene she can watch as the characters speak, act, and interact.

An excellent articulation of the hegemonic computation process of reading to produce virtual realities.

(73) [In Birds Singing Other Birds' Songs] the human is in-mixed with nonhuman life forms to create hybrid entities that represent the conjunction of human and nonhuman ways of knowing.

(74) The analogy-between-analogies suggests that media transformations are like the dynamic interchanges between different kinds of cognizers, thus revealing a deep structure of intermediation that encompasses the history of media forms as well as the emergent complexities of interactions between humans, animals, and networked and programmable machines.


(74-76) The entire work exists as a single screen of text. .. When the player mouses over the blue letters, some part of the text, moving faster than the eye can catch, is replaced. Reading thus necessarily proceeds as rereading and remembering, for to locate the new portion of the page the reader must recall the screen's previous instantiation while scanning to identify the new portion, the injection of which creates a new context for the remaining text.

(78-79) The “stickiness” of phrases that can ambiguously attach to different sentences and phrases also enacts a difference between modernist stream of consciousness and the kind of awareness represented in The Jew's Daughter. .. narration is both belated and premature, early and late.

(79) Taken as a representation of consciousness, the kind of awareness performed here is not a continuous coherent stream but rather multilayered shifting strata dynamically in motion relative to one another.

This kind of interaction is very similar to the “Multiple Drafts Model” that Daniel C. Dennett, in Consciousness Explained, argues best explains the nature of consciousness. Dennett proposes that consciousness is not the manifestation of a single coherent self synthesizing different inputs (characterized as the “Cartesian Theater,” the stage on which representations are played out and viewed by a central self); rather, interacting brain processes, operating with varying temporal dynamics and different neural/perceptional inputs, are consciousness. .. To explain the subjective impression of possessing a central self, Dennett argues that the self is not synonymous with consciousness as such. Rather, the illusion of self is created through an internal monologue that does not so much issue from a central self as give the impression a central self exists.

This is a very rich but complicated reinterpretation of consciousness as an epiphenomenon in which there is no self, only an illusion of one.

(80) Seen in this perspective, The Jew's Daughter recapitulates the temporal and spatial discontinuities constitutive of consciousness through the (inter)mediation of computer software and hardware.

(81) Without knowing anything about The Jew's Daughter, Dennett sets up the comparison between human and machine cognition by likening the subcognitive agents from which consciousness emerges, and the even simpler processes that underlie them, to mechanical programs that could theoretically be duplicated in a computer.

(82-83) The Error Engine, a collaborative work co-authored by Judd Morrissey, Lori Talley, and computer scientist Lutz Hamel, carries the implications of The Jew's Daughter to another level by functioning as an adaptive narrative engine that initiates a coevolutionary dynamic between writer, machine, and player. .. In the next instantiation of the program, no yet implemented, the authors envision an algorithm whose selection criteria can itself evolve in relation to the player's choices. Such a program would deserve to be called a “genetic algorithm,” a complex adaptive system in which the user's choices and the algorithm responding to those choices coevolve together. .. In this sense intermediating dynamics, whereby recursive feedback loops operate through the differently embodied entities of the computer and human, become an explicit part of the work's design, performance, and interpretation. Adaptive coevolution implies that real biological changes take place in the player's neuronal structure that result in emergent complexity, expressed as a growing understanding of the work's dynamics, thematics, and functional capabilities; these in turn change and evolve in interaction with the player's choices.

(83) Certainly print literature changes a reader's perceptions, but the loop is not closed because the words on the page do not literally change in response to the user's perceptions. .. To fully take this reflexivity into account requires understanding the computer's cascading interpretive processes and procedures, its possibilities, limitations, and functionalities as a subcognitive agent, as well as its operations within networked and programmable media considered as distributed cognitive systems. .. Whatever limitations intermediation as a theory may have, its virtue as a critical framework is that it introduces computation into the picture at a fundamental level, making it not an optional add-on but a foundational premise from which to launch further interrogation.

Gratuitous reference to Phaedrus with the close loop feedback difference between electronic and print literature. More important is the undeniable influence of computation for the critical framework.

(84) No less than print literature, literary criticism is affected because digital media are increasingly essential to it, limited not just to word processing but also to how critics now access legacy works through digital archives, electronic editions, hypermedia reinstantiations, and so forth.

(85) Contemporary literature, and even more so the literary that extends and enfolds it, is computational.


Contexts for Electronic Literature: The Body and the Machine

(87) The context of networked and programmable media from which electronic literature springs is part of a rapidly developing mediascape transforming how citizens of developed countries do business, conduct their social lives, communicate with each other, and perhaps most significantly, how they construct themselves as contemporary subjects. . . . The stakes are nothing less than whether the embodied human becomes the center for humanistic inquiry within which digital media can be understood, or whether media provide the context and ground for configuring and disciplining the body.

(88) I argue that both the body and machinic orientations work through strategic erasures. A fuller understanding of our contemporary situation requires the articulation of a third position focusing on the dynamics entwining body and machine together. .. Most importantly, it empowers electronic literature so that it not only reflects but reflects upon the media from which it springs.


(88-89) No theorist has done more to advance the idea of technical media as an autonomous force determining subjectivity than Friedrich A. Kittler. .. Influenced by Foucault rhetorically as well as methodologically, Kittler departs from him in focusing not on discourse networks understood as written documents, but rather on the modes of technology essential to their production, storage, and transmission.

(89) Literature acts on the body but only within the horizon of the medium's technical capabilities. Especially important in this regard, Kittler argues, was the development of the phonetic method of reading, introduced in Germany by Heinrich Stephanie around 1800. The phonetic method transformed the mark into sound, erasing the materiality of the grapheme and substituting instead a subvocalized voice.

(90) [from Gramophone, Film, Typewriter] So-called Man is split up into physiology and information technology. (intro, 16)

(90) With the formation of a new kind of subject, the voice of Mother/Nature ceases to spring forth from the page in a kind of hallucination.

(91) In his excellent forward to Discourse Networks 1800/1900, David E. Wellbery calls this the “presupposition of exteriority” (DN, xii). . . the crucial move of making social formations interior to media conditions is deeply flawed. . . . Although Kittler's presupposition is fruitful as a theoretical provocation, leading to the innovative analyses that make his work exciting, it cannot triumph as a theoretical imperative because it depends on a partial and incomplete account of how media technologies interact with social and cultural dynamics.

(91-92) One indication of this partiality is the inability of Kittlerian media theory to explain how media change comes about (as has often been noted, this is also a weakness of Foucault's theory of epistemes). In a perceptive article, Geoffrey Winthrop-Young argues that in Kittler's analyses, war performs as the driving force for media transformation.

(93) clearly the real problem is that media alone cannot possibly account for all the complex factors that go into creating national military conflicts. What is true for war is true for any dynamic evolution of complex social systems; media transformations alone are not sufficient.

(93) To be fair to the Kittlerian viewpoint, I have chosen a site where media conditions are unusually strong in determining the interactions that take place within it - namely, the elite world of global finance. The media conditions that prevail here are characteristic of the contemporary period, in that the differentiation between data streams marking early twentieth century media transformations have undergone integration. . . . Contemporary de-differentiation crucially depends on digital media's ability to represent all kinds of data – text, images, sound, video – with the binary symbolization of “one” and “zero.”


(94) Among important recent work on global finance are the ethnographic studies of international currency traders by Karin Knorr Cetina and Urs Bruegger. . . . In brief, this is money at its most virtual, moving around the globe in nearly instantaneous electronic exchanges and reflecting rate fluctuations sensitively dependent on a wide variety of fast-changing economic, social, and political factors.

(94-95) Knorr Cetina and Bruegger propose the theoretical concept of global microsociality. . . . Global microsociality represents a new kind of phenomenon possible only with advanced communication technologies allowing for nearly instantaneous exchanges between geographically distant locations; compared to the telephone and teletype, the quantitative differences are so great as to amount to qualitative change. . . . Inflecting by the dynamics of global economics, the traders nevertheless operate within microsocial dynamics – hence the necessity for global microsociality.

(95) Recapitulating within their sensoria the media differentiation into separate data flows, the traders develop a form of parallel processing through a division of sensory inputs, using phones to take orders from brokers through the audio channel and the screens to take in visual data and conduct trades electronically. The environment, however, is dominated by the screens.

(95-96) the effect that dominates is watching time unfold. .. As new events appear over the ever-transforming horizon, the traders use their knowledge of past configurations, present statistics, and anticipated tendencies to weave a fabric of temporality, which like the fabled magic carpet is perceived at once as a space one can occupy and as an event as ephemeral and ever-changing as the air currents on which the magic carpet rides.

(96-97) Temporality partakes of these characteristics because the screens function as temporalized “places” traders occupy; time in these circumstances becomes the spatialized parameter in which communities are built and carry out their business. . . . Time thus ceases to be constructed as a universal “now” conceived as a point source moving unambiguously forward along a line at a uniform pace. Driven by globalized business pressures, time leaves the line and smears into a plane.

(97) Greenwich time thus operates as the conventional one-way time that always moves in one direction, whereas local time becomes incorporated into a spatialized fabric that can be traversed in different directions as circumstances dictate.

(97-98) In this spatialized temporality, the traders occupy an ambiguous position. On the one hand, they are participants in the place of temporality they create by watching the screens, helping in significant ways to shape the market and related events as they continuously unfold and affect one another. . . . On the other hand, they are also observers outside the screens, watching the action as it unfolds. . . . The net result of these interactions is perceived by the traders as “the market.” . . . Note that although location enters into the trader's sense of the market, it is the temporal dimension - everything all the time - that constitutes the place of habitation the market creates and the traders occupy.

(98) This sense of the market as “everything” is reinforced by the traders' experience in being so intimately and tightly connected with the screens that they can sense the “mind” of the market. . . . This intuition is highly sensitive to temporal fluctuations and, when lost, can be regained only through months of immersion in current conditions. Attributing a “mind” to the market of course implies it is an entity possessing consciousness, desires, and intentions; more precisely, it is a megaentity whose existence is inherently emergent. Containing the traders' actions with everything else, it comes into existence as the dynamic realization of innumerable local interactions.

Instead of calling the market a mind, call it a megaentity. Does this then exclude interpreting it with respect to Gallagher's body image / body schema distinction?

(99) This is the context in which the screens become objects of intense attachment for the traders.

(99) So far the case study has functioned as an object lesson demonstrating Kittler's dictum, “Media determine our situation.” At this point, however, let us turn to consider how cultural dynamics interact with the media conditions to codetermine their specificities. . . . This gender predominance, far from accidental, is deeply imbricated into the ways in which the media dynamics play out.

(100-101) In this setting, gendered cultural practices proliferate more uniformly and extensively than normally would be the case. . . . Traders see themselves as engaged in combat, if not outright ware, with rival banks and other traders. . . . Warfare here does not function to bring about media transformations, as it often does in Kittler's analyses; rather, warfare is encapsulated within the horizon codetermined by media conditions and cultural formations. It is appropriated in part because it expresses - indeed, explains and justifies - the intensified desires and fears aroused by the traders' situation.

(101) The media conditions alone, then, are underdetermining with respect to the culture that actually emerges. Other factors, particularly cultural models linked with masculine dominance, are necessary to explain how the media function to “determine the situation.”

(102) Media provide the simultaneity that spatializes time, creates global microsociality, catalyzes attachment to screens, and gives rise to emergent objects “that are not identical with themselves,” but the emotional tone, dominant metaphors, hypermasculinized dynamics, and capitalist economics codetermine how trading practices actually operate.


(102-103) No one has more forcefully argued for the importance of embodiment in relation to new media art than Mark B. N. Hansen. . . . Updating Bergson's idea in Matter and Memory that the body selects from the environment images on which to focus, Hansen contests Deleuze's reading of Bergson in Cinema 1 in order to reinstall affectivity at the center of the body-brain achievement of making sense of digital images.

(103) This is a major intervention that serves as an important counterweight to Kittler's perspective. Hansen posits that “only meaning can enframe information” (82), and in his view it is humans, not machines, who provide, transmit, and interpret meanings.

(103-104) Yet despite my overall sympathy, I cannot help noticing places where the argument, in its zeal to establish that embodiment trumps every possible machine capacity, circumscribes the very potential of the body to be transformed by its interaction with digital technologies for which Hansen otherwise argues.

(105) Vision, then, cannot in Hansen's account be allowed to be the dominant perceptual sense, on even on par with privileged faculties that (not coincidentally) are much more difficult to automate, particularly what he calls “affectivity,” the capacity of the sensorimotor body to “experience itself as 'more than itself' and thus to deploy its sensorimotor power to create the unpredictable, the experimental, the new” (7). To substantiate that the sensorimotor body has this capacity, he draws on the writing of Raymond Ruyer, a French theorist who during the 1950s proposed to combat the mechanist tendency of post-World War II cybernetics by positing bodily faculties that, he argued, are nonempirical and nonobservable. Chief among these is a “transpatial domain of human themes and values” (80) . . . If we were to call the “transpatial domain” by the more traditional name “soul,” its problematic nature would quickly become evident.

Clearly a tie into Gallagher's work since she mentions Francisco Valera. Can't find the reference to Demasio I remember reading.

(106) Although it is undoubtedly true, as Hansen argues citing Brian Massumi (109), that proprioception, kinesthetic, and haptic capacities are involved with vision, this does not mean that they replace vision or even that they become dominant over vision in the VR interface. Indeed, it is precisely because vision plays such an important role in VR that VR sickness arises.

(108) Falling back on such mystified terms as “transpatial domain” and “absolute survey” fails to do justice to the extensive research now available on how synesthesia actually works.

(108) there is an unavoidable tension between Hansen's insight that technology and the body coevolve together and his ideological commitment to the priority of embodiment over technology.

(109) As Hansen uses the term, however, reality becomes “mixed” when the perceptual input for humans comes not from their unaided bodies operating alone in the environment, but rather from their embodied interactions with technologies.

(109) In this account, then, the coevolution of the body and technology is given a teleological trajectory, a mission as it were: its purpose is to show the “constituting or ontological dimension of embodiment.” Largely erased are material specificities and capacities of technical objects as artifacts. It is as though the feedback loop between technical object and embodied human enactor has been cut off halfway through: potentiality flows from the object into the deep inner senses of the embodied human, but its flow back into the object has been short-circuited, leading to an impoverished account of the object's agential capacities to act outside the human's mobilization of its stimuli.

(110) This encapsulation is problematic for several reasons. It ignores the increasing use of technical devices that do not end in human interfaces but are coupled with other technical devices that register input, interpret results, and take action without human intervention.

Thus the machine dimension on my timeline.

(111) Such an account is helpless to explain how technology evolves within the horizon of its own limitations and possibilities.

(111-112) As if assuming a mirror position to Kittlerian media theory, which cannot explain why media change except by referring to war, Hansen cannot explain why media develop except by referring to embodied capacities. . . technologies are embodied because they have their own material specificities as central to understanding how they work as human physiology, psychology, and cognition are to understanding how (human) bodies work.

(112-113) Had early tools developed along different technological lineages, early hominid evolution also might have developed along quite different biological lines. . . . Instead of subordinating the body to technology or technology to the body, however, surely the better course is to focus on their interactions and coevolutionary dynamics.

(113) Central to these dynamics, especially in the context of media theory and electronic literature, are neural plasticity and language ability. . . . Evidence indicates that compound tools were contemporaneous with the accelerated development of Broca's area in the frontal cortex, a part of the brain involved in language use.

(114) Although synaptogenesis is greatest in infancy, plasticity continues throughout childhood and adolescence, with some degree continuing even into adulthood. In contemporary developed societies, this plasticity implies that the brain's synaptic connections are coevolving with environments in which media consumption is a dominant factor. .. Children growing up in media-rich environments literally have brains wired differently than humans who did not come to maturity in such conditions.

(115) [James Mark] Baldwin argued for what he called “organic selection.” In the same way that the brain overproduces neuronal connections that are then pruned in relation to environmental input, so Baldwin thought that “organic selection” proceeded through an overproduction of exploratory behaviors, which are then pruned through experience to those most conducive to the organism's survival. This results in a collaboration between phylogenetic selection (that is, selection that occurs through genetic transmission) and ontogenic mechanisms of adaptation (which occur in individuals through learning).

(115) what begins as ontogenetic adaptation through learning feeds back into selective pressures to affect physical biology.

What does Gallagher think about synaptogenesis and this explanatory combination of phylogenetic selection (genetics) and ontogenic mechanisms of adaptation (learning)?

(116) Ambrose's scenario linking compound tools with the emergence of language illustrates how technology enters into the psychophysical feedback cycle by changing the ways in which learning occurs and the kinds of learning that are most adaptive. . . . If data differentiation at the beginning of the twentieth century broke the ancient monopoly of writing, the computer at the beginning of the twenty-first century breaks the monopoly of vision associated with reading. Interactive text, reminiscent in some ways of the digital art discussed by Hansen, stimulates sensorimotor functions not mobilized in conventional print reading, including fine movements involved in controlling the mouse, keyboard, and/or joystick, haptic feedback through the hands and fingers, and complex eye-hand coordination in real-time dynamic environments. Moreover, this multisensory stimulation occurs simultaneously with reading, a configuration unknown in the Age of Print. Brain imaging studies show that everyday tool use entails complex feedback loops between cognitive and sensorimotor systems. For humans who habitually interact with computers, especially at young ages, such experiences can potentially affect the neurological structure of the brain.

(117) Steven Johnson, in Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, cites the studies of James R. Flynn indicating that Iqs rose significantly from 1932-78, the so-called Flynn effect that Johnson correlates with increased media consumption. Anecdotal evidence as well as brain imaging studies indicate that “Generation M” (as the Kaiser Family Foundation dubbed the 8- to 18-year-old cohort) is undergoing a significant cognitive shift, characterized by a craving for continuously varying stimuli, a low threshold for boredom, the ability to process multiple information streams simultaneously, and a quick intuitive grasp of algorithmic procedures that underlie and generate surface complexity. The cognitive mode, which I have elsewhere called “hyper attention,” is distinctively different from that traditionally associated with the humanities, which by contrast can be called “deep attention.” Deep attention is characterized by a willingness to spend long hours with a single artifact (for instance, a seven-hundred-page Victorian novel), intense concentration that tends to shut out external stimuli, a preference for a single data stream rather than multiple inputs, and the subvocalization that typically activates and enlivens the reading of print literature.

Deep attention versus hyper attention as examples of ontogenic mechanisms of adaptation. Ironically, hyper attention is what makes me turn away from The Jew's Daughter. Heim discusses this shfit, too.

(118) The effects of hyper attention are already being reflected in literary works, for example in John Caylety's Translation and Imposition, discussed in Chapter 5, where text is accompanied by glyphs visually indicating the algorithm's operation.

(118) As media change, so do bodies and brains; new media conditions foster new kinds of ontogenic adaptations and with them, new possibilities for literary engagements. This is the context in which we should evaluate and analyze the possibilities opened by electronic literature.

(119) It is precisely when these multilayered, multiply sited processes within humans and machines interact through intermediating dynamics that the rich effects of electronic literature are created, performed, and experienced.


(120) The notorious “nervousness” of this work [Lexia to Perplexia], whereby a tiny twitch of the cursor can cause events to happen that the user did not intend and cannot completely control, conveys through its opaque functionality intuitions about dispersed subjectivities and screens with agential powers similar to those we saw with international currency traders.

(122) Memmott's rewriting of the myth in the context of information technologies, the “I-terminal,” a neologism signifying the merging of human and machine, looks at the screen and desires to interact with the image, caught like Narcissus in a reflexive loop that cycles across the screen boundary between self/other.

(122) The feedback cycle suggested here between self and other, body and machine, serves as a metaphor for the coconstruction of embodiment and media technologies.

(123) The passage cited above continues with “broken” code, that is, code that is a creolization of English with computer code, evocative of natural language connotations but not actually executable. . . . In particular, the play between human language and code points to the role of the intelligent machine in contemporary constructions of subjectivity, gesturing toward what Scott Bukatman has called “terminal identity,” or in Memmott's lexicon, the “I-terminal.”

A good place to distinguish broken code and pseudo code.

(123-124) Engaging the hyper-attentive characteristics of multiple information streams and rapid transformations (images, words, graphics, lightning-quick morphing of screens, mouseovers, and so on), the work reflects upon its own hyper-attentive aesthetics in the final section, where the prefix “hyper” replicates itself with every imaginable stem. At the same time, the work obviously requires deep-attention skills to grasp the complex interactions between verbal play, layered screen design, twitchy navigation, and JavaScript coding. . . . In terms of the complex dynamics between body and machine, we might say that the gamer and textual critical have had their neural plasticities shaped in different but overlapping ways.

(124) While Lexia to Perplexia is primarily concerned with the transformative effect of information technologies on contemporary subjectivity, Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries engages the global microsociality and spatialization of temporality characteristic of information-intensive settings such as international currency trading discussed above. . . . Programmed in Flash, their works use timed animation to display sequential blocks of text, with the movement from one screen of text to the next synchronized with an accompanying sound track, typically jazz.

(125) The impression is not that the eye moves but rather that the text moves while the eye remains (more or less) stationary. Agency is thus distributed differently than with the print page where the reader controls the pace of reading and rate at which pages turn.

(125) [Bill] Brown devised a machine that he called the “Readie,” [in the 1920s] which was intended to display text much as it appears in YHCHI's compositions.

(126-127) In Nippon, global microsociality is emphasized by an intimate address that appears on a screen split between Japanese ideograms above and English words beneath. .. The subvocalization that activates the connection between sound and mark in literary reading here is complicated by the text's movement and its interpenetration by sound, becoming a more complex and multimodal production in which embodied response, machine pacing, and transnational semiotics, along with the associated spatialization of temporality, all contribute to construct the relation between text, body, and machine.

(128) The resulting tension mandates that the user intent on comprehending the work will necessarily be fored to play it many times, unable to escape hyper attention by stopping the text-in-motion or deep attention by lapsing into interactive game play.

(130) Hence the rhetoric of imperatives employed by Kittler (“must not think,” “forbids the leap,” and so on) finds its mirror opposite in Hansen's rhetoric of encapsulation (“subordination of technics,” “from within the operational perspective of the organism,” and the like). In contrast, the model herein proposed entagles body and machine in open-ended recursivity with one another. This framework mobilizes the effect recursivity always has of unsettling foundations while simultaneously catalyzing transformations as each partner in the loop initiates and reacts to changes in the other. In this model neither technological innovation nor embodied plasticity is foreclosed. The future, unpredictable as ever, remains open.


Revealing and Transforming: How Electronic Literature Revalues Computational Practice

(131) The chapter elucidates further a framework in which digital literature can be understood as creating recursive feedback loops among embodied practice, tacit knowledge and explicit articulation.
(132) in developed societies, almost all communication, except face-to-face talk, is mediated through some kind of digital code.

(132) As the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has shown, robust and durable knowledge can be transmitted through social practices and enactments without being consciously articulated.

(134) In this context, literature can be understood as a semiotic technology designed to create - or more precisely, activate - feedback loops that dynamically and recursively unite feelings with ratiocination, body with mind.

But how do these feedback loops operate in nonhuman systems? Hayles does not spend much time at all discussing the source code of any of the examples of EL in this book. Her musings on what feelings/body and ratiocination/mind may be in nonhuman systems trace the same boundaries of fantasy as do those surrounding her postulate that nonhuman intelligences exist in Memmott's many representations of it.

(135) while the technological nonconscious has been a factor in constituting humans for millennia, the new cognitive capabilities and agencies of intelligent machines give it greater impact and intensity than ever before.

(136) The first proposition asserts that verbal narratives are simultaneously conveyed and disrupted by code, and the second argues that distributed cognition implies distributed agency.

(136) Stuart Moulthrop, writing on “404” errors, notes that such episodes are not simply irritations but rather flashes of revelation, potentially illuminating something crucial about our contemporary situation.

Deleuze and G make the same point about break-downs in Anti-Oedipus; the torn sock..

(137) In Natural Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence, Andy Clark argues that we are “human-technology symbionts,” constantly inventing ways to offload cognition into environmental affordances so that “the mind is just less and less in the head.” Edwin Hutchins makes similar points in Cognition in the Wild.

(138-139) Electronic literature can tap into highly charged differentials that are unusually hetergeneous, due in part to uneven developments of computational media and in part to unevenly distributed experiences among users. .. These differences in background correlated with different kinds of intuitions, different habits, and different cognitive styles and conscious thoughts. .. Only because we do not know what we already know, and do not yet feel what we know, are there such potent possibilites for intermediations in the contemporary moment.

This may be an antidote to the suggestion that all narrative themes have been exhausted except science fiction by escaping print into electronic media forms.


(139) William Poundstone's Project for Tachistoscope is modeled after a technology developed for experimental psychology exploring the effects of subliminal images.

(140) In historical context, then, the tachistoscope was associated with the nefarious uses to which subliminal perception could be put by Communists who hated capitalists and capitalists who egged on the persecution of “Reds” and “Commies.”

(140-141) As the kinds and amounts of sensory inputs proliferate, the effect for verbally oriented users is to induce anxiety about being able to follow the narrative while also straining to put together all the other discordant signifiers.

(142-143) Programmed by a human in the high-level languages used in Flash (C++/Java), the multi-modalities are possible because all the files are ultimately represented in the same binary code. The work thus enacts the borderland in which machine and human cognition cooperate to evoke the meanings that the user imparts to the narrative, but these meanings themselves demonstrate that human consciousness is not the only actor in the process. Also involved are the actions of intelligent machines. In this sense the abyss may be taken to signify not only those modes of human cognition below consciousness, but also the machinic operations that take place below the levels accessible to the user and even to the programmer.

Incomprehensible temporal orders.

(143) Without subvocalization, which connects the activity of the throat and vocal cords with the auditory center in the brain, literary language fails to achieve the richness it otherwise would have. [Garrett] Stewart's argument implies that embodied responses operating below the level of conscious thought are essential to the full comprehension of literary language, a proposition enthusiastically endorsed by many poets.

(145) Automating the homophonic variants that are the stock in trade of literary language, [Millie Niss's] Sundays in the Park brings to conscious attention the link between vocalization and linguistic richness.

(145-146) Cayley has been exploring what he calls “transliteral morphing,” a computational procedure that algorithmically morphs, letter by letter, from a source text to a target text. .. Cayley conjectures that underlying these “higher-level” relationships are lower-level similarities that work not on the level of words, phrases, and sentences but individual phonemes and morphemes. .. Just as Mencia invokes the philological history of language as it moves from orality to writing to digital representation, so Cayley's transliteral morphs are underlain by an algorithm that reflects their phonemic and morpemic relations to one another.

(146-147) The complexity of these relationships as they evolve in time and as they are mediated by the computer code, Cayley conjectures, are the microstructures that underlie, support, and illuminate the high-level conceptual and linguistic similarities between related texts.

(147) Cayley suggests that if a user watches these long enough while also taking in the transliteral morphs, she will gain an intuitive understanding of the algorithm, much as a computer game player intuitively learns to recognize how the game algorithm is structured. The music helps in this process by providing another sensory input through which the algorithm can be grasped.

While all this is happening, through embodied and tacit knowledge, the conscious mind grapples with the significance of the transliterating text [Walter Benjamin “On Language as Such an on the Language of Man”].

(149) For Benjamin the transcendent language associated with God ensures translatability of texts, while for Cayley the atomistic structures of computer and human languages are the correlated microlevels that ensure translatability.

(149-150) The “objectivity” of this translation is guaranteed not by God but by the entwining of human and computer cognitions in our contemporary mediascapes.

(151) At the performance, laptops throughout the space began playing versions while Cayley projected the full implementation on the front screen. .. The stunning effect was to create a multimodal collaborative narrative distributed on laptops, throughout the performance space, in which different sensory modalities and different ways of knowing entwined together with machine cognition and agency.

In other recent work, Cayley has focused on the ways in which our inuitive knowledge of letter forms can define space and inflect time.

(152) The temporal interactions, as well as the virtual/actual spatiality of the textual surfaces, create an enriched sense of embodied play that complicates and extends the phenomenology of reading.

(153) Cayley further explores the phenomenology of reading in Lens, designed first as a CAVE installation and then transferred to a QuickTime maquette.

(154-155) For text, the ability to function simultaneously as a window into the computer's performance and as a writing surface to be decoded puts into dynamic interplay two very different models of cognition. .. Mediatint between the brute logic of these machinic operations and human intentions is the program that, when run, creates a performance partaking both of the programmer's intentions and the computer's underlying architecture as symbolic processor. In electronic literature, authorial design, the actions of an intelligent machine, and the user's receptivity are joined in a recursive cycle that enacts in microcosm our contemporary situation of living and acting within intelligent environments.


(156) [Brian Kim] Stefans sees in this confrontation the possibility that the boundaries of the conscious self might be breached long enough to allow other kinds of cognitions, human and nonhuman, to communicate and interact. “The space between tehse poles - noise and convention - is what I call the 'attractor,' the space of dissimulation, where the ambiguity of the cyborg is mistaken as the vagary of an imprecise, but poetic, subjectivity” (151).

(157) Joining technical practice with artistic creation, computation is revalued into a performance that addresses us with the full complexity our human natures require, including the rationality of the conscious mind, the embodied response that joins cognition and emotions, and the technological nonconscious that operates through sedimented routines of habitual actions, gestures, and postures. Thus understood, computation ceases to be a technical practice best left to software engineers and computer scientists and instead becomes a partner in the coevolving dynamics through which artists and programmers, users and plays, continue to explore and experience the intermediating dynamics that let us understand who we have been, who we are, and who we might become.


The Future of Literature: Print Novels and the Mark of the Digital

(159) So essential is digitality to contemporary processes of composition, storage, and production that print should properly be considered a particular form of output for digital files rather than a medium separate from digital instantiation.

(160) This engagement is enacted in multiple senses: technologically in the production of textual surfaces, phenomenologically in new kinds of reading experiences possible in digital environments, conceptually in the strategies employed by print and electronic literature as they interact with each other's affordances and traditions, and thematically in the represented worlds that experimental literature in print and digital media perform.

(161) How does the mark of the digital relate to the subjectivities performed and evoked by today's experimental print novels? .. Rather than asking if there is evidence that the “literary” novel may in fact be losing audience share to other entertainment forms, however, [Kathleen] Fitzpatrick asks what cultural and social functions are served by pronouncements about the death of the print novel.

(162) imitating electronic textuality through comparable devices in print, many of which depend on digitality to be cost effective or even possible; and intensifying the specific traditions of print, in effect declaring allegiance to print regardless of the availability of other media.

(163-164) Computer-mediated text is layered. .. the layered nature of code also inevitably introduces issues of access and expertise.

(164) Computer-mediated text tends to be multimodal.

(164) In computer-mediated text, storage is separate from performance. .. code can never be seen or accessed by a user while it is running.

(164) Computer-mediated text manifests fractured temporality.

Excellent example is the 'futz time' required to adequately 'see' ('run') Lexia to Perplexia.


(166) Why write it [numerical code in Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close] in code? Many reviewers have complained (not without reason) about the gimmicky nature of this text, but in this instance the gimmick can be justified. It implies that language has broken down under the weight of trauma and become inaccessible not only to Thomas but the reader as well.

(169) The text, moving from imitation of a noisy machine to an intensification of ink marks durably impressed on paper, uses this print-specific characteristic as a visible indication of the trauma associated with the scene, as if the marks as well as the language were breaking down under the weight of the characters' emotions. At the same time, the overlapping lines are an effect difficult to achieve with letter press printing or a typewriter but a snap with Photoshop, so digital technology leaves its mark on these pages as well.

(170) The novel remediates the backward-running video in fifteen pages that function as a flipbook, showing the fantasized progression Oskar has imagined (327-41).

(172) Further complicating the ontology implicit in the book's materiality is the partitioning of some chapters into parallel columns, typically with three characters' stories running in parallel on a page spread, as if imitating the computer's ability to run several programs simultaneously.

(173) Within the narrative world, however, this apparent imitation of computer code's hierarchical structure is interpreted as the baby's ability to hide his thoughts from the reader as well as from Saturn, an interpretation that locates the maneuver within the print novel's tradition of metafiction by playing with the ontological levels of author, character, and reader.

What ontological levels are available for metafictional play in the genres of electronic literature Hayles has introduced? Relate to Foucault's meditation upon what is an author.

(175) In a now-familiar pattern, a technique that at first appears to be imitating electronic text is transformed into a print-specific characteristic, for it would, of course, be impossible to eradicate a word from an electronic text by cutting a hole in the screen.

(175) In House of Leaves, the recursive dynamic between strategies that imitate electronic text and those that intensify the specificities of print reaches an apotheosis, producting complexities so entangled with digital technologies that it is difficult to say which medium is more important in producing the novel's effects.

(177) As if positioning itself as a rival to the computer's ability to represent within itself other media, this print novel remediates an astonishing variety of media, including film, video, photography, telegraphy, painting, collage, and graphics, among others.

(178) Digital technology functions here like the Derridean supplement; alleged to be outside and extraneous to the text proper, it is somehow also necessary.

(180) Although it is true that digital technologies can create objects for which there is no original (think of Shrek, for instance), the technology itself is perfectly representable, from the alternating voltages that form the basis for the binary digits up to high-level languages such as C++. The ways in which the technology actually performs plays no part in Hansen's analysis. For him the point is that the house renders experience singular and unrepeatable, thus demolishing the promise of orthographic recording to repeat the past exactly. Because in his analogy the house equals the digital, this same property is then transferred to digital technology.

Enter the concept of epistemological transparency.

(180-181) More important, in my view, is an aspect of digital technology that Hansen's elision of its materiality ignores: its ability to exercise agency. .. the layered architectures of computer technologies enable active interventions that perform actions beyond what their human programmers envisioned.

(182) Increasingly human attention occupies only the tiny top of a huge pyramid of machine-to-machine communication. .. We would perhaps like to think that actions require humans to initate them, but human agency is increasingly dependent on intelligent machines to carry out intentions and, more alarmingly, to provide the data which the human decisions are made in the first place.

Old thoughts bad bots; participation in process of preference formation.

(183) Although humans originally created the computer code, the complexity of many contemporary programs is such that no single person understands them in their entirety. In this sense our understanding of how computers can get from simple binary code to sophisticated acts of cognition is approaching the yawning gap between our understanding of the mechanics of human consciousness. .. As Brian Cantwell Smith observes, the emergence of complexity within computers may provide crucial clues to “how a structured lump of clay can sit up and think.”

Really we have long been in the position that no single person can comprehend not just many but most programs and communications systems. The tie back to Socrates question is another old thought (von Neumman).

(185) Like the nothingness infecting the text's signifiers, a similar nothingness would confront us if we could take an impossible journey and zoom into a computer's interior while it is running code. We would find that there is no there there, only alternating voltages that nevertheless produce meaning through a layered architecture correlating ones and zeros with human language.

This statement may be rich or slip. Ties back to Dennett's theory of consciousness.

(186) Overwhelmed by the cacophony of competing and cooperating voices, the authority of voice is deconstructed and the interiority it authorized is subverted into echoes testifying to the absences at the center.

Hayles, N. Katherine. (2008). Electronic Literature. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Hayles, N. Katherine. Electronic Literature. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008. Print.