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#ELRFEAT: Interview with Stuart Moulthrop (2011)

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In 2011 Judy Malloy made this long and extensive interview with Stuart Moulthrop in which they discuss different topics related to electronic literature from IT, to language, programming language and the relation between narrative and games. With the permission of the author the ELR adds this interview, that was first published on her website narrabase.net to the series of #ELRFEAT.

 

About Stuart Moulthrop: One of the first creators of new media literature and a distinguished new media writer, digital artist, and scholar, Baltimore, Maryland native Stuart Moulthrop is the author of the seminal hyperfiction Victory Garden, (Eastgate, 1991) a work that Robert Coover included in the “golden age” of electronic literature.

His works — that include Hegirascope, (1995) Reagan Library, (1999) Pax, (2003) Under Language, (2007) and Deep Surface (2007) — have been exhibited and or published by Eastgate, The Iowa Web Review, the ELO Electronic Literature Collection; New River; Media Ecology; The New Media Reader; Washington State University Vancouver; and the Digital Arts and Culture Conference. Two of his works have won prizes in the Ciutat de Vinaros international competition.

Stuart Moulthrop has served as a Professor in the School of Information Arts and Technologies at the University of Baltimore where he was the Director of the undergraduate Simulation and Digital Entertainment program. He is currently a Professor in the Department of English University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

He has also served as co-editor for Postmodern Culture, was co-founder of the TINAC electronic arts collective, and was a founding director of the Electronic Literature Organization. He is co-author (with Dene Grigar) of the forthcoming MIT Press book, Traversals – The Use of Preservation for Early Electronic Writing.

In this literate and cyber-literate interview, where, as in the reading of poetry, the reader must occasionally interpret the allusions to other works — from contemporary literature to philosophy to computer manuals — Moulthrop recounts the founding of TINAC, the writing of Victory Garden, the founding (with Nancy Kaplan) of a department of Information Arts and Technologies at the University of Baltimore, and the creation with Flash ActionScript of his textual instrument Under Language. And he looks to the future of electronic literature.

More information about Stuart Moulthrop is available on his home page at
https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/moulthro/index.htm

 

Judy Malloy: Writer and critic Robert Coover has called your Victory Garden one of the early hyperfiction classics. What were the influences, ideas, paths that led you to create hyperfiction?

Stuart Moulthrop: I take very seriously the idea of life-stories “broken down, and scattered,” as one book of revelation has it; or self-assembled into “small pieces loosely joined,” to quote another.

“Life’s too short because we die,” Weinberger and Levine memorably say in the opening verse of the Cluetrain; and while I can’t dispute this raw truth, it has always made more sense the other way round. The life we have (or at least, our life in language) tends to expand, or had better do, because we have so far managed to keep breathing. Breath released is utterance, and out of uttering (through confusion, and false consciousness, and metaphysics) come words, and writing, and code, and media, and all the other outerings that mark our distributive humanity.

Cyberspace may be literally everywhere and nowhere, but my connection to hypertext is curiously placebound. My understanding comes in large measure from having weathered the 1970s inside the 200 Megaton High Score Zone of the Chesapeake Basin. To survive the Cold War within tolerable aiming error of the Puzzle Palace (with its semi-mythical Memex) was to receive, however haltingly, a certain insight; McLuhan riffing on Vico says any technology pressed to its limit reverses. Bring the heat of the sun down to earth, (or threaten) and you end up cooling it on the anything-but-final frontier, which is not outer space after all, but an even stranger dimension called the infosphere. Where extinction had been, I realized, we would need to install information, or networks. Having come to “cogito ergo boom,” in Susan Sontag’s memorable formula, there was nothing left but to invent the Internet, and see what that might gain us.

I did not invent the Internet anymore than Al Gore did. As the non-appointed President might better have said, we have all invented the Internet, loosely joining up what small and scattered peace we can salvage from the globalized military edutainment terror multimart. To be sure, some of us have simply discovered a shortcut to the convenience store (or obscurity) while others have revealed new vistas and horizons, passages that lead where no mind has gone before. I have known more than my share of major navigators: Michael Joyce and Jay Bolter, Gail Hawisher and Cindy Selfe, Mark Bernstein, Cathy Marshall, Robert Coover and George Landow, John Cayley, Janet Murray and Kate Hayles, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Nick Montfort, Ian Bogost, Eric Zimmerman, Espen Aarseth, and even the father of Civilization Sid Meier, and the great name-giver Nelson himself. (This list is merely suggestive; the names one drops are never equal to those one carries.)

Anything I’ve done, or may go on to do, belongs to the context of their accomplishments, and to the big job we all have, which after hearing me go on for a while about hypertext, a very wise person once defined to me thus:

“You will have to create a new language.”

Her name was Dorothee Metlizki, Professor of Linguistics at Yale, and she said this to me about a year before I started Victory Garden.

Judy Malloy: Ah -, you send forth a cyber-literary collection of allusions in answer to my question — techno-poetically telling where you are coming from and setting the stage for the beginnings of cyberspace narrative, reminding me of a story that there was a young woman who read your Hegirascope and simply got on a train and went down to see you. (Do I remember this correctly?)

The incredible way that the Internet — with hypertext at its core thanks to the web — has pervaded our lives in only a few decades was perhaps predicted by such individual journeys of discovery; I am also reminded of what a University of California plant pathologist once said to me about science being a river that was fed by many streams of research and documentation, which brings us to the next question:

TINAC has always been a seminal yet mysterious entity to me who arrived on separate paths: library data systems, West Coast cyberculture and in particular Art Com Electronic Network on The Well because art space curator Carl Loeffler — who had hosted Kathy Acker, Taylor Meade, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Willoughby Sharp, and Lew Thomas, among many others who used text in their work — was one day visited in his office by Canadian telecomputing artist Bill Bartlett and immediately deciding that the online environment was the place for text artists, enlisted Fred Truck and then, knowing we were on parallel paths, convinced John Cage and then me and Jim Rosenberg and many others of his vision.

Meanwhile, parallel things were happening in other places in the world, and one of them was the group you were associated with: TINAC — Textuality, Intertextuality, Narrative, and Consciousness. For many years, I have wanted to know more about TINAC. Can you tell me about its founding. Who was involved? How did it evolve?

Stuart Moulthrop: On the drop-ins: Donna Leishman got off the train once, around the turn of the century, and I remember how impressed I was with her work; much the way I’ve felt about yours, especially on first seeing. Ingrid Ankerson and Megan Sapnar, who founded Poems That Go while they were in Baltimore, also stopped by my classes once or twice, though I never had the chance to work with them closely.

I recall feeling in the early years that there wasn’t much of a “there” to electronic literature. People seemed thinly scattered across the invisible landscape, and I often felt I was writing for a small circle of friends. (Maybe still the case, and see below.)

The ACM Hypertext conference once described the literary crowd at their conferences as “small but fascinating,” a phrase Michael Joyce particularly cherished, if that is the word. But things changed with the Millennium, and I began to meet people like Espen Aarseth, Markku Eskelinen, Adrian Miles, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Nick Montfort, Jill Walker, and Scott Rettberg, who seemed to think electronic writing had some coherence, and a more substantial connection to history. Efforts like Sue Thomas’ work on the trAce collective, and Deena Larsen’s tireless teaching and workshopping, also helped me to a broader understanding. Many streams, as you put it. (Many muddy streams, my Michael Joyce Emulation Module wants to say.)

First of all, TINAC is almost entirely mythical. I made up “This Is Not A Conference” in the fall of 1988 to describe what Nancy Kaplan might have been thinking by inviting John McDaid, Michael Joyce, and me to spend several days in her house, and maybe teach a class or two. At that point we were neither small nor fascinating, but had already grown tired of academic conferences — to be fair to the Association for Computing Machinery, mainly with Apple’s Macademia events, where we felt increasingly subject to Marketing. I think Michael came up with “This Is Not A Cabal.” The reading you cited (Textuality, Intertextuality, Narrative, and Consciousness) is pure McDaid. I suppose there may have been something Oulipian going on — some conspiracy of art-inventors — thoough with the exception of Michael, I wouldn’t compare us either to those Parisians, or your friends from the WELL. We were an odd and autotelic assembly, not so much Kids in the Hall (undiscovered talent) as Folks from Downstairs — a term I borrow from the late, wonderful Diane Balestri who wrote a book called Ivory Towers, Silicon Basements, about introducing computers to college writing instruction.

Back in those days, computer labs were almost always in sub-surface, windowless rooms. Maybe it was something to do with bomb shelters. Our day jobs at that point, had we been able to see daylight, all involved some form of College Composition and Communication, another Conference whose badge we sometimes wore; which meant that, again with the exception of Michael, we did not identify primarily as writers or artists, but as teachers. Nancy was and remains a developer of scholastic software for collaborative reading and writing. Michael helped reinvent reading, writing, and the Library at Vassar, and other things besides. John has spent a lot of time defining new communication practices in a high-level business consultancy, and publishing science fiction stories that take on very interesting overtones if you know where he works. After a couple of decades in stranger waters, I have come to rest once again in a Department of English.

Maybe an analogy or two will help. The legend that is TINAC seems less like some intensely obscure indie band whose members are all now shepherds, and more like a college-town FM station that flourished for a year or two before the supremacy of News-And-Talk. By which I mean, there was really not much “there” to TINAC, except as a point of circulation and convergence through which some interesting projects happened to pass — Michael’s afternoon, Nancy’s annotation software P.R.O.S.E., John’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse, Jay Bolter’s Writing Space, Jane Yellowlees Douglas’ End of Books, or Books without End, and my own early tinkerings. TINAC left the air long ago. The call letters are remembered only dimly, the DJs are all forgotten, but somewhere out there, doubtless on the Net, we’ll always have the music.

Judy Malloy:

>The call letters are remembered only dimly, the DJs are all forgotten,
>but somewhere out there, doubtless on the Net, we’ll always have the music.

Yes, and I would also note that such groups of artists and/or writers who got together and created a school — I’m thinking of the Impressionists, the Macchiaioli, the Society of Six, the Bloomsbury Group, Oulipo, Group f/64 and many others — have had a lasting impact on art, literature and culture, although their importance is not always immediately apparent to the wider world.

Now, there are virtual gathering of artists and writers in this Internet world: Cathy Marshall and I sharing meals virtually as we included the details of our daily lives in our correspondence for Forward Anywhere; or the information about the creation and exhibition of new electronic literature in Canada and in California which Fortner Anderson and I exchanged, after we “met” on Art Com Electronic Network. (Actually we have never met in person).

Yet there is nostalgia for a world where the Society of Six went painting together in the hills of California and returned to Selden Gile’s cabin, spreading their work around the room and drinking red wine while Selden cooked dinner. It is nice to hear that TINAC began with an actual gathering at Nancy Kaplan’s home.

So, in this global village of our pasts, you were born in Baltimore, went to George Washington University, got a PhD at Yale. And then?

Stuart Moulthrop: And then fell predictably and more or less happily off the Yale tenure track, where I’d unaccountably landed after my doctoral work, then pitched up in Austin, where Victory Garden was born and largely written. I came down with a severe allergy to Texas politics, and for some reason decided the air would be nicer in Atlanta, so left UT for Georgia Tech, where I stayed three years and did a lot of thinking about hypertext, though relatively little creative work. After that it’s yet more academic CV, I’m afraid. Two generous job offers at the University of Baltimore sucked me, along with Nancy, back down the gravity well of my Old Neighborhood — I ended up working about three miles from my place of birth. During a decade and a half in Baltimore, we founded a department of Information Arts and Technologies, which has a graduate program in Interaction Design and Information Architecture, as well as an undergraduate degree in game and simulation design, which I built from scratch with my good friend Kathleen Austin, who had the original idea.

Being in a major center of the game industry, we’ve been able to place graduates with Firaxis, Big Huge, Bethesda Softworks, and other world-class studios. One of our finest alumnae now works for Sid Meier, who brought the world Civilization. I’m immoderately proud of her.

Building the game degree had other rewards, too: it gave me a practical stake in certain arguments about narrative and ludology, and Espen Aarseth’s notion of “ergodic” culture; it also led me to teach a bunch of things I’d never have dared otherwise, including 3-D graphics and game coding. These engagements promoted my tendency to arrested development, so that more than one recent ex-teenager has told me, “you don’t really seem that old.” More points of pride. Happy as the game program has made me, it was also clearly turning me into an academic administrator; and while I’ve gotten fairly technical late in life, spending six days a week in meetings meant I had no time to design or code anything. So when University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee went looking for a research professor with an interest in digital media, game culture, and electronic literature, I jumped, and ended up in a very happy place. Even if the state does tend to vote Vogon.

Judy Malloy: “The routes through Stuart Moulthrop’s new hyperfiction “Victory Garden” are almost literally countless,” Coover wrote about the work in The New York Times. Can you talk about the creation of Victory Garden? What was the role of the Gulf War in the work? How did you begin using Storycpace. How did you structure and interface the work? Or whatever you want to say about Victory Garden.

Stuart Moulthrop:

>Can you talk about the creation of Victory Garden? What was the role of the Gulf War in the work?

The first Gulf War grabbed my attention about as strongly as September 11 did a later generation’s. While my Texas boots were never on the ground — Victory Garden is largely about war As Seen On TV — there was one arguably related fight too which I was party: George H.W. Bush’s decision to launch a “culture war” (his words) against American progressives. After the horrors and excesses of his son’s regime, people tend to forget that rightward lurch by the old man — a somewhat feeble attempt to spin up the Nixon-Reagan Southern Strategy. I choose not to forget, just as I somehow can never overlook Mr. Reagan’s decision to curtail my teenage brother’s survivor benefits the year after our father died. True, as some of the Gulf War vets I’ve worked with have reminded me, you only really understand how stupid it is to call anything political a “war” when the first actual bullet goes past your ear. But words do not just go past, they enter the ears, and other orifices, and there we are.

>How did you begin using Storyspace. How did you structure and Interface the work?

I started playing with Storyspace in the late 1980s, when Jay and Michael handed me early beta versions. At the time I was more interested in HyperCard, largely because of its multimedia features. There are painters and visual artists in my family tree, I’ve always been powerfully attracted to comics, and HyperCard seemed a better solution for images, animation, and sound. I might have been stumbling toward something like the Miller brothers’ Myst, though clearly I was never going to get there, or anywhere very interesting, on my own. So when the intense desire to write something out of the events of 1990-91 presented itself, I turned back to Storyspace, which was and remains a marvelous tool for a certain kind of writing.

Moving to Storyspace initially took interface issues off the table. There were three sorts of reader module, and I chose the one that was closest to what we would now call an e-book, because Victory Garden was meant to be mainly a literary hypertext. Graphics sneaked back in, of course, in places like the cracked screen, and the graphical map; but these moments came later. The map, which was the very last thing I added to the project, represents the Return of the Repressed Interface. Somewhere along the line I had decided that Victory Garden would have about three dozen default reading paths, all of which could be accessed by repeatedly pressing the Return key after a certain point. (Michael had introduced this idea in afternoon.) Attempting to represent those paths in visual form led to the map, which bears only a highly metaphorical relationship to the actual arrangement of the text.

I also like to point out another component of the VG interface, which is the accreting sentence the reader may choose to construct, one word or phrase at a time, in following initial links into the work. For some reason — mainly, I think, the fact that the old Macintosh interface has been replaced by the more powerful scheme Mark Bernstein developed for Windows — not many readers notice the old forking-paths machine. This makes me a little wistful; though not really upset, since it means people are far more interested in following links than in flipping virtual pages: so much the better.

Judy Malloy: Thanks Stuart! As we move into the present, your words bring up the role of the writer and the role of the reader in new media literature. Having recently played with eliciting language in quite a different way — Andrew Plotkin’s Interactive Fiction Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home is currently featured on Authoring Software — I’m interested in the role of the writer/poet, the role of the software, and the role of reader in your contemporary works, such as Under Language. In Under Language, the idea of language and of a poet’s written words as gift is compelling. The reader participates in the creation of “the poem” (if he or she plays to win) while at the same time spoken “under language” challenges the reader to explore implicit meaning. There is a pleasure in the receipt of the poem, and the whole calls attention to the value of a poet/storyteller’s words.

What led you to work in this way?

Stuart Moulthrop: Simply put, an even-now-still-growing conviction that the idiom of code and the older idiom of human expression are both valid constituents of poetry. I won’t begin to claim originality for this idea — see the work of Jim Carpenter, or Daniel C. Howe, to cite two cases of prior art. I do feel, though, that this sense of convergence is important, especially as writers become increasingly familiar with procedural tools and methods.

Judy Malloy: “Actionscript spoken here” a voice informs me; clearly there is a relationship between the poem and the authoring system. Can you talk about the software tools you used to create Under Language?

Stuart Moulthrop: Under Language is a love-poem to ActionScript 2, written shortly before I eloped with her even more charming cousin A.S. 3, whom I have since dumped for an earlier paramour, JavaScript. The sordid lives of the software poets.

More seriously: I thought it was important to reverse the figure and ground of code and literary expression, because for me at least, the latter seems unimaginable sans the former. I should point out, though, that “ActionScript spoken here” is at least initially an option, not a prescriptive. That is, the player/reader/poem-operator may bypass this possibility and opt instead for “Plain English, please.” If thrown (or expressed) the plain-English switch (or gene) renders all audible/computable statements in pseudocode, which I tend to prefer.

Judy Malloy: And then in a work where reader response can be quite different, there is the question of how the creator of the work knows what the reader will do. In the work that I am now writing, (Part II of From Ireland with Letters) the reader sees four parallel columns where text appears polyphonically at the will of the author, but the reader can also chose to click on any column and advance the text, while surrounding the text that he or she is controlling, other texts will continue to appear. When my work was disk based, and I saw it running in installations, I could watch people interact with it and sometimes I even made changes as a result of this. But on the web, I don’t know if most readers watch while the narrative produces the words, or take control themselves. I suspect the later, but I don’t know. The work was designed to work either way.

The question is: Do you know how readers play Under Language? Is this important?

Stuart Moulthrop: First, I very much want to see/hear/play the work you just described. Which is a way of saying what you just said, namely, How Does Such A Thing Work? I have no idea what anyone does with Under Language. User testing was confined to an N of one, (Jill Walker Rettberg) who crucially advised that the poetry was not good at all. So I stayed up all night, wrote something marginally better, then shipped. Which either makes me a typical software engineer or the evil opposite of one, depending on how long since your operating system last crashed.

Again, though I play here for (probably imaginary) laughs, there’s a serious point lurking. As e-writers, *we don’t know enough about what readers do with our stuff*, especially on the Web. Like you, in the very early days I had the chance to work with captive reader/players, mainly my own and others’ students. But not in a long, long time since, and I think this is bad.

It could be exceptionally important to create a testing program for electronic literature. I am not kidding. I would give huge kudos to anyone willing to operate such a thing. We should write a grant. Or someone should. Anybody?

Judy Malloy: And the last questions are:

What are you working on now?

and

How do you see the future of Electronic Literature?

Stuart Moulthrop:

>What are you working on now?

Right now I’m trying to teach two new courses in Milwaukee while running away to Australia, but in one of those classes, my first ever creative-writing workshop in newly-mediated lit, we are producing “poems of internet of novel.” These are partly found, partly hand-crafted, poem-like objects that begin life as Google searches using phrases from Michael Joyce’s “novel of internet,” known as Was. Since Michael wrote in part under the inspiration of the Searching Muse, (“Googlemena” as he names her) this is a curious exercise in reverse engineering. It’s also (in my mind anyway) a kind of response to the recent “flarf” outbreak in contemporary poetry, which I love and deplore; and also perhaps an experiment in writing-as-reading, or literary reception as (re)production. Also, historians of minor writing take note, this is my very first significantly multi-authored literary exploit, soon perhaps to be some kind of hypertext, or maybe even, who knows, words on actual pages.

Beyond that, I have plans for something called Videogame, a novel, which will of course be neither.

>And how do you see the future of Electronic Literature?

On the one hand, glorious and boundless so long as our species endures (arguably afterward) — because the literary impulse is really nothing but the respiration of language, which I affirm to be cosmic and immortal. On the other hand, perhaps extremely brief — I wouldn’t go beyond the 2020s — because as Kate Hayles points out, “Electronic Literature” is the opposite of an oxymoron, (not oxygenius, but pleonasm) since these days there’s effectively no Literature absent Electrons. In 1990, the computer scientist John B. Smith predicted the term “computers and writing” would seem increasingly ridiculous by the end of the century. Smart man, Dr. Smith. I’m not sufficiently cynical to suggest the Death and Transfiguration of Electronic Literature will stop the experimentation you encouraged me to try. You and I belong to an early generation (probably not the first) of Interface Artists. There are and will be others; but I wonder if they will come to regard the fundamental plasticity of the medium inevitably as an unmarked term. Can we imagine a mate of Proteus, and what s/he must have thought of the marriage?

Anyway, they’ll be on to neutrinos any minute now.

Stuart

Melbourne, Australia

This interview was created via email and posted in October 2011

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#ELRFEAT: Interview with Mark Bernstein (2010)

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In 2010 Judy Malloy made an interview with Mark Bernstein, chief scientist at Eastgate Systems, the publisher and software company founded in the year 1982 and headquartered in Massachusetts. With permission of the author the ELR republishes this interesting and insightful interview that was first published on the webpage narrabase.net.

 

About Mark Bernstein: Mark Bernstein is chief scientist at Eastgate Systems in Watertown, Massachusetts, where he develops new hypertext tools including Tinderbox, Twig, and Storyspace. He is the author of The Tinderbox Way, which describes the design philosophy of Tinderbox as a personal content assistant for visualizing, analyzing, and sharing notes, and co-editor with Diane Greco of Reading Hypertext. For over twenty-five years, Eastgate has published original hypertext fiction and nonfiction and pioneered hypertext tools for writers. A graduate of Swarthmore College, Bernstein received his PhD (in Chemistry) from Harvard University.

In addition to his work as publisher and software developer, he is an internationally known lecturer for hypertext learning and literature. In 2010, he was a keynote speaker at the 1st International Conference on Web Studies at Toluca, Mexico, as well as a speaker at The Futures of Digital Studies 2010, the University of Florida and at Hypertext 2010 in Toronto.

In his interesting, informative responses to the interview questions, Bernstein talks about the history of Storyspace and Eastgate. The interview concludes with his lively, educational, sometimes practical, sometimes provocative advice to new writers of hypertext narratives and with a look to the future of computer-mediated literature.

 

Judy Malloy: How did you get started working with hypertext literature?

Mark Bernstein: I met Ted Nelson in 1976. Ted was briefly flirting with an academic career. I was in college. Computer Lib had just been published, and Ted was working on what would become Literary Machines.

Years passed; I got my doctorate and went down to DuPont to help set up an AI research group. When that blew up — DuPont wanted all its AI work to be done in FORTRAN IV — I came back to Eastgate to work on electronic books. Even in 1987, it was clear that the future of serious reading lies on the screen. I wanted to be part of that, and this seemed to be a research area within the scope of a small, independent firm. We started to publish hypertexts after the second hypertext conference in 1989. In those days, everyone was desperate to know whether people would (or could) read hypertexts. Everyone in the field had built their own hypertext system; they wrote hypertexts themselves, assigned graduate students to perform evaluative studies,and recruited their own undergraduates to serve as test subjects. It was the very definition of a methodological problem, and it seemed a good solution might be to provide some well-known “standard” hypertexts.

And so we published afternoon, and Victory Garden, and then King Of Space and Quibbling and its name was Penelope.

These hypertexts helped focus discussion. For the first time, if you and I wanted to talk about the craft of hypertext writing, we could talk about a specific work we’d both read, a work with some ambition and scope, a work we could admire and with which we might disagree. That gets us beyond the broad generalities and simple-minded media essentialism that still dominates so much discussion of the Web.

Judy Malloy: You did a great service to the field by being one of the first to publish classic works in the field. In addition to scholarship and research in the field, from a writer’s point of view the enrichment of our practice through being able to read what others in the field were/are creating has been very influential in the development of hyperfiction. The continuing role of Eastgate, of your vision in bringing together the writers in this field, publishing their work in a publishing model that includes royalties for writers, is very core to the field. And it has also helped bring literary hypertext to a wider audience. Eastgate’s continuing role in developing and publishing authoring software is also important.

Can you talk about the creation of Storyspace? How do you see the role of Storyspace in the field — past, present, future?

Mark Bernstein: Michael Joyce, Jay David Bolter, and John B. Smith worked together to create the first Storyspace in late 1986-7. I saw a prototype at Hypertext ’87, the first hypertext conference. I wasn’t part of the original design, though I did make some contributions to the final user interface.

I think Storyspace was shaped by two overriding desires. First, a hypertext system that would truly embrace links. The TINAC Manifesto said, “Three links per node or it’s not a hypertext.” The other widely-available hypertext tools of that time – GUIDE, HyperCard, Intermedia – were all somewhat ambivalent about undisciplined linking, anxious that readers would be lost and confused. We only gradually learned that readers didn’t feel lost, and that at times a little confusion is exactly what we want.

A second desire called for concrete writing spaces that students could pick up, hold, and move around. This grew, in part, from the needs of composition instruction; as Michael Joyce once said, many students in community college composition classes find abstract editorial structures confounding. They have no difficulty dealing with writing made concrete; many have been battered all their lives by writing — report cards, probation reports, job applications — whose material weight and underlying structure was to them, altogether clear.

Storyspace’s guard fields, which let the writer change link behavior depending on what the reader has already seen, were tremendously important for the development of serious hypertext, especially hypertext narrative. That let people craft important large hypertexts with meaningful interaction – three links or it’s not a hypertext! – and with the scope we associate with the novel. The result was an outpouring of large, ambitious, and beautiful fiction. afternoon of course, and Moulthrop’s Victory Garden, and Jackson’s Patchwork Girl. But also the miniatures, like Mary-Kim Arnold’s “Lust” and Kathryn Cramer’s “In Small & Large Pieces“. Bill Bly’s We Descend, Carolyn Guyer’s Quibbling, and Ed Falco’s A Dream With Demons are every bit as good.

At the same time, Storyspace inherited the Intermedia legacy, most notably George P. Landow’s Victorian Web. There’s tremendous scope for writing hypertext in this vein. Bill Bly’s got a sequel under way; Susan Gibbs is doing fascinating small pieces; and Steve Ersinghaus’s Life of Geronimo Sandoval spring to mind. After a decade or so, the frothy fringe feared that hypertext wasn’t shiny enough, while some critics began to lambaste Storyspace as a symbol for postmodernism. They’ll all be back, because we’re all writing with links; we need to write with links; and we don’t understand links. Tools like Storyspace and Tinderbox — a tool for notes that adopts Storyspace’s mission for constructive hypertext — remain uniquely powerful for crafting, annd teaching, linked writing. Adrian Miles has a terrific new essay in Reading Hypertext on hypertext teaching.

Judy Malloy: Thanks Mark! Storyspace and the works that you mention were important in creating a new literature, in providing new media writers who wanted to create hypertext structures with a flexible creative tool and in making hypertextual writing accessible to a wider audience.

With experience as a database programmer and years of trying to create nonsequential artists books, I came to hypernarrative from a different background. But the advent of Storyspace was of great interest. My copy of Michael Joyce’s afternoon came when I was in New Hampshire, I think in the summer of 1992. A Mac, needed to run that copy, was not available at home, so I made a trip to a New Hampshire city library to read the Eastgate publication of afternoon. I still remember the experience of sitting in a library and reading this work. I also remember having lunch with you in Boston to talk about the Eastgate publication of its name was Penelope. Carolyn Guyer came to New Hampshire, and we talked about our work. Michael, Carolyn, Stuart Moulthrop, and I met in New York City at an MLA panel hosted by Terence Harpold. It was an exciting time to be a creating a new kind of literature. And Eastgate was core to this new field!

It is also good to see that new writers are working with Storyspace. Has Tinderbox been used to create fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction? Are there any other Eastgate tools and/or new editions of Storyspace that would be of interest to writers of electronic literature?

Mark Bernstein: Any hypertext system will, sooner or later, be used to make art. Tinderbox was designed as a tool for making and analyzing notes, but that hasn’t kept people from doing fascinating things with Tinderbox for crafting hypertexts. Susan Gibb has been writing a big sequence of small hypertexts in Tinderbox, working in a vein that sometimes recalls Deena Larsen’s pioneering Web work. Steve Ersinghaus, too, is building terrific work in Tinderbox. Bill Bly is using Tinderbox to construct a new artifactual hypertext, set in the world of his Storyspace classic We Descend. And there’s lots of interesting work behind the scenes. That’s the role for which Tinderbox was envisioned, after all: making notes, world building, analyzing connections and experimenting with textual structures. Sarah Smith (, Chasing Shakespeares) did a terrific talk at Tinderbox Weekend a while ago on world building in Tinderbox. Jeff Abbott has written some intriguing notes on planning a thriller. And I understand Michael Bywater is currently at work with Tinderbox on a musical!

Judy Malloy: Do you have any advice to new writers in the field as to how to begin?

Mark Bernstein: Know what you want to say. Have something to say.

Some topics seem to suggest themselves to people who want to try their hand at hypertext but don’t know what to say. Hypertexts about madness – attempts to use hypertextual fragmentation to suggest paranoia, psychosis, or intoxication – arrive in the slush pile with great regularity. They seem easy, but they’re hard to do well. Annotated maps are another refuge of beginners. Nonfiction writers who are losing confidence in work sometimes decide to claim the work is really intended for children. This seldom ends well. Young readers are a demanding audience with strong preferences and sophisticated taste.

Whatever you do in electronic literature, it’s not likely to get you on Letterman. This is not a sign of the irrelevance of serious writing: People Magazine has never been rich in serious thinkers in Physics or Philology. Write with ambition, but be sure that your ambitions and your medium are not at war with each other. Read broadly. If you want to write hypertexts, you should know the work of people who have written good hypertexts. That your work might not resemble theirs does not matter; know what they sought to do and learn how they accomplished what they did.

Acquire whatever skills you need to create what you have in mind. Do not rely on vague ideas of collaboration or appropriation to supply what you currently lack. Be prepared to learn new things: computer programming, figure drawing, medieval Italian, narratology, or the intellectual life of Victorian parlor maids.

Master your computer, and know how to use your tools well. Look for new tools and techniques that can improve your work or open new creative opportunities. But don’t let the dazzle of fresh software displace your own work; use new tools to make new things, not merely for the sake of using new software. Don’t let the accident of having purchased a particular brand of computer limit your horizons; computers are not very expensive, and professionals frequently use two or three computers. Avoid the politics of Open Source or Web standards or DRM or Apple v. Google v. Microsoft. Capitalism is not your fault and these are not your battles. A writer who pledges to use only Open Source is the modern equivalent of the early 20th century writer who took the Temperance Pledge.

Ask questions. Almost no one in the field is so busy that they won’t read your email or take your phone call. Get to know the people who are doing the work. Ask for help, and offer it. Invitations are always good, and an audience is always welcome. Arrange a terrific session at a suitable conference or and event at a university or bookseller; this is a gift that almost any writer will welcome. (Some writers are busy, some shy, and everyone has too much to do; make generous offers, and don’t read the tea leaves should some people have a previous engagement).

Read criticism. A generation of thoughtful readers have studied electronic writing and have read earlier electronic works with care. But always remember that some critics don’t know the subject, and some may at times have been mistaken. Magazine editors know even less, and because referees are often shoddy, the fact that an essay appeared in a good journal (or even a book) does not always ensure that the critic knew their subject.

Even when sound, a critic’s taste may not apply to your own work. Balance each critic’s views with what you are trying to achieve; if a critic is interested in different things than you, they may not be a reliable guide. Do not concern yourself with demonstrating that your work is unprecedented. Claiming that your work is the first of some sub-genre may impress an occasional newspaper reporter, but that news story will soon wrap fish. The novice shouts that her work is like nothing ever written. I find it preferable to show how your work is influenced by work you admire, since this helps both your colleagues and your own audience to grasp what you are trying to do.

Write criticism. Participate in the discussion, bringing an open mind and generous understanding and, if possible, a sense of humor and humility. Studying other writers’ hypertexts gives you a chance to see how they accomplish what they do. Do not hesitate because you think yourself unqualified, but do your best and let the reader assess your judgment. Don’t worry about being able to publish your criticism: there are plenty of places to put it, and you could do worse than simply posting it on the Internet and emailing your twenty favorite writers and critics to let them know it’s there.

Today’s literary world is shadowed by an industry that exploits wannabes and careerists and those who covet the accoutrements of writing. Beware of those who want money from writers and avoid hollow and superficial “literary organizations”; their goals are not yours. Many contests are scams. Readings and signings are at best a marginal proposition for booksellers. Selling books is hard work; if a bookseller asks you to do a reading, try to oblige them as best you can and do your best to fill the store. Ask not what your bookseller can do for you; she has to scramble.

Promotion is part of the business of writing and it can be fun, but this is not where the work is done. Be wary of parties and readings and tours, and if you aspire to have drinks with famous writers, you can arrange this more easily in other ways. Do not be shy of explaining your work. Lead those you meet toward it, describe it frankly and candidly, and always accept that people are busy and not every acquaintance will find every work congenial. Seek out new people to know, introduce your work to them, and be open to fresh reactions.

Don’t worry excessively about the size of your audience. If you require an audience of millions, write for television. The serious writer – the writer with ideas – accepts that their audience, though it may be influential, will not be numerous. Let posterity take care of itself. Ignore the archivists; they’re thick on the ground right now because the government handed out a bunch of grants, but as soon as those grants expire the pack will be off again, chasing some shiny new thing.

Judy Malloy: From my point of view, there has been some good work by archivists in making sure that the work of hypertext writers is documented. This is important in the literary field. I’m thinking, among many others, of the Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library; the Dickinson Electronic Archives; and the Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas at the Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about the ways in which archivists can be important in the electronic literature field?

Mark Bernstein: Libraries have long been a great supporter of literary hypertext. Good hypertext collections are important. David Durand’s work with the 1960-vintage FRESS was terrific. Xerox PARC used to have a fine collection of hypertext for people to read. Jim Whitehead and the UCSD library have built a terrific reading room and lending library for early and contemporary computer games. But not all the work is good. There’s been far too much hand-wringing over access and preservation by people who don’t actually improve access or preserve very much. In their writing, one senses that they really like to discover that works are endangered or neglected or even lost. What we need is intelligent criticism, but that’s very different from book collecting.

Judy Malloy: But as computer platforms and software change, preservation can be continuing issue for creators of new media art and literature. Do you have any thoughts about how writers can ensure that their work survives?

Mark Bernstein: I think you’re mistaken. Preservation isn’t an issue for creators: it’s not their business. The business of the creator is making wonderful new things that inspire and move us. If you capture imaginations and inspire an audience, your work will be preserved. If not, it might not. The technical issues of preserving new media are not much greater than those that confront conventional media — and are trivial compared to the challenges of preserving dance and drama. Do your best. Gather your rosebuds, and let the archivists worry about pressing the flowers.Do good work and find the readers who need to hear what you have to say; if you do, people will take care of preserving it.

Judy Malloy: And looking to the future, do you have any thoughts about how electronic literature will develop?

Mark Bernstein: The future of serious writing lies on the screen. This is now settled beyond doubt, except of course for the doubt that serious writing (or we ourselves, for that matter) have a future. Tomorrow’s screens might not look precisely like today’s.

I think one great opportunity is historical fiction. Twentieth century critics weren’t especially eager to embrace historical fiction, but obviously there’s been a tremendous amount of great and important work — Mailer and Wouk and O’Brian and so much more. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which won the Booker, is obviously historical fiction, but so is McEwan’s On Chesil Beach. But historical fiction always fights constraints of size and sequence — look at Wouk. Hypertext in skillful hands should completely change the equation.

Creative hypertext nonfiction is another great opportunity for hypertext. And we know much less than we ought about managing plot-rich hypertext narrative.

Many people, most notably Robert Coover, have predicted that electronic literature will become more visual. I’m skeptical; artists have been trying to meld film and hypertext for twenty years now, and I don’t think we have seen an entirely convincing path.

Writers have indulged themselves for a generation with the illusion that they are somehow above the drudgery of programming and using computers, tasks some wish could be left to technicians and repairmen. This was never a very worthy fantasy, replicating as it did the old, obsolete separation of elite arts and menial crafts. But the fantasy in any case is now insupportable; there is work to be done, and no one will do it for us.

A great deal of energy has been spent on exploring the essence of the digital and the essence of mediated language. This has all been very interesting, but I’m not convinced it has gotten us very far. The chief successes of experiments in electronic language that transcends meaning have been inside the white box of the gallery and institutional exhibitions, and here we have an awkward mix of erudition and what Mamet calls the audience’s desire to elect itself superior to reason: “The stockbroker is not going to lie awake worrying about truths or questions raised by a framed canvas painted one shade of green (which is why he or she purchased it)”. (“Second Act Problems”, Three Uses Of the Knife).

I believe publishers will continue to have a place in the literary ecology. They will not relieve the writer of the responsibility of promotion, but they never did: Sam Johnson worked tirelessly to promote his books and Shakespeare wrote for money. Publishers can praise your genius, which you cannot gracefully do yourself, and they can introduce your work to people you do not know. Publishers sometimes employ editors, and a fresh, experienced pair of eyes can sometimes transform a work. The natural size of the publishing enterprise is small — we call them publishing houses for good reason – and small, agile publishing houses will be increasingly prominent in the coming years.

What seems most important right now is actually to take the leap and do the work. This requires tremendous faith, since today’s writer is called upon to step into the void without knowing whether an audience will come to catch him in their embrace. But in the end, this is true for all art, especially all literature; you cannot be confident you’ll find an audience until you have found one.

New media writers are fortunate; they can work without obtaining permission from investors and patrons, where filmmakers (and novelists of a former age) cannot. But if you do not undertake the work, it is certain you will have neither the audience nor the work.

Judy Malloy: Thank you so much Mark! Eastgate has been at the forefront of publishing literary hypertexts, and it is of great interest to hear not only about the history but also your point of view on the future of the field. The following sources provide more information about Mark Bernstein, Eastgate, Hypertext Literature, Storyspace, and Tinderbox.

Note by Judy Malloy:  This interview was created via email and posted on August 2010. The page was retooled in March 2014, but the original interview remains the same.

Written by ELR

July 20, 2017 at 10:10 am

#ELRFEAT: Entrevista con Mark Bernstein (1999)

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Sigue la serie de #ELRFEAT con una entrevista de Susana Pajares Tosca con Mark Bernstein del 1999. Con el permiso de la autora republicamos esta entrevista que salió por primera vez en la revista online “Pendiente Migración” de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

 

ENTREVISTA CON MARK BERSTEIN, CIENTÍFICO JEFE DE EASTGATE

Entre el arte y la ciencia

 

Susana Pajares Tosca: ¿Dónde están los hipertextos? (Es una pregunta con trampa)

Mark Bernsterin: En primer lugar es importante recordar lo lejos que hemos llegado hasta ahora. Tenemos muchos buenos hipertextos. La red es maravillosa, florece y –aunque gran parte de la red es sólo superficialmente hipertextual- avanza a pasos agigantados. A pesar de todo, nuestras estanterías virtuales aún están bastante vacías.

¿Dónde están los hipertextos? Algunos se están escondiendo de la tontería, de los argumentos triviales que se pronuncian como juicios y edictos culturales. Preocupaciones como que la pantalla parpadea, que se parece demasiado a la TV, o el test de Bolter (si se puede leer en la bañera) no se pueden tomar en serio, pero los medios y los periodistas parecen tomarlas en serio.

Algunos de nuestros hipertextos se han perdido en el cisma entre las dos culturas. Pensamos que el arte y la ciencia deben colaborar, pero al mismo tiempo nos comportamos como si nos sorprendiera y molestara que se acerquen demasiado. Unir arte y tecnología parece extraño, antinatural y aberrante. A los poetas no les parece raro esperar que la gente aprenda italiano medieval para poder leer a Dante, pero aprender un poquito de programación les parece una imposición inaceptable. Tenemos que cambiar esto.

Algunos hipertextos tienen miedo de la teoría literaria, o se retrasan porque los escritores no entienden inmediatamente que la escritura no es lineal porque sí, ni siquiera en papel. La narrativa siempre gira y se enlaza, siempre escribimos en nudos y reflejos, montajes y fintas. El hipertexto nos da una nueva posibilidad para hacer esto, y a veces la libertad de hacer bien lo que siempre hemos hecho con dificultad nos aterroriza.

Susana Pajares Tosca: ¿Por qué la mayoría de hipertextos tratan los temas de la identidad fragmentada o de la escritura?

Mark Bernsterin: Sí, son dos temas comunes, pero probablemente sea una exageración decir que la mayoría de hipertextos tratan de ellos.

Aún así estos temas son bastante comunes, y también provocan extrañas coincidencias. Durante un tiempo hubo accidentes de coche por todas partes (afternoon, Victory Garden, I Have Said Nothing, Uncle Buddy´s Pahntom Funhouse, Ambulance). El desmembramiento es otra imagen típica (In Small & Large Pieces y Patchwork Girl – dos obras que por lo demás no se parecen en nada, y en Cyborg: Engineering the Body Electric).

Parte de esto es por supuesto coincidencia, otras veces es simplemente alusión. Algunos aspectos del hipertexto –su fragmentación, su tendencia a los lazos, su conexión con la máquina- sugieren estos temas también. Y escribir sobre escribir ha estado en el aire durante todo el siglo XX: igual que la pintura del siglo puede ser definida como pintura sobre pintar, gran parte de la literatura del siglo XX se concentra en entender su propio medio de expresión.

Susana Pajares Tosca: ¿Por qué los hipertextos que tenemos son tan vanguardistas literariamente hablando y no hay otros géneros?

Mark Bernsterin: En parte por definición: la literatura que no nos es familiar es automáticamente calificada de vanguardista, y tiende a ser recompensada según su novedad –lo que Michael Joyce llama su “proximidad inexorable”.

Todavía no tenemos géneros hipertextuales porque aún no tenemos suficientes hipertextos. Se pueden ver atisbos de formación de género aquí y allí –hay una relación interesante entre Lust de Arnold y Samplers de Larsen, por ejemplo- pero los géneros se forman por acumulación.

Si por “género” te refieres al sentido peyorativo –como en “ficción de género”- el problema es técnico. Muchos géneros populares actuales son una revisitación de una secuencia ritual, llevando al lector por lugares familiares hasta una resolución que podemos anticipar pero que, gracias a la habilidad del escritor, aún nos sorprende y deleita. El misterio, en particular, es un ritual: el mundo está dañado, y el protagonista ha de echarse a las malvadas calles para intentar volver a poner el mundo en un estado tolerable. Es muy difícil combinar esta secuencia ritual con el hipertexto. No digo que no se pudiera hacer, pero los que lo ha intentado se han concentrado en presentar los misterios como puzzles. Han estado trabajando desde el punto de vista equivocado.

Susana Pajares Tosca: ¿Qué echa de menos en la literatura hipertextual?

Mark Bernsterin: ¡Principalmente desearía que hubiera más! ¿Dónde están los hipertextos? Nuestras estanterías virtuales están mucho más llenas que en el 87, pero se podría hacer muchísimo más.

No tenemos hipertextos en las ciencias, en la ingeniería o las matemáticas, ni siquiera en la informática.

Nuestros hipertextos tienden a ser serios, y a menudo son tristes. Eso es lo que me parece peor. ¿Dónde está la alegría? ¿Dónde está el amor? ¿Dónde se esconden el schlemiel y el schlemazel?* No me malinterpretes: la seriedad es buena e importante. No es que me quiera ir a tomar unas cervezas precisamente con los muchachos de Esperando a Godot o a ligar con ninguno de los de Macbeth. Pero la amplitud es importante. (Me sentiría más a gusto si supiera que podemos hacerlo; a los pianistas no les debe resultar muy gratificante estéticamente hacer ejercicios y escalas, pero es bueno saber que puedes hacerlo si lo necesitas).

Susana Pajares Tosca: ¿Cuál es el papel de Eastgate en este mundo del Hipertexto?

Mark Bernsterin: Estamos entre la vela y las estrellas.

Por un lado, Eastgate es una compañía que hace tecnología. Creamos herramientas hipertextuales, software para que la gente escriba de formas que antes eran imposibles. Eso quiere decir que estamos muy unidos a la informática y a la ingeniería de software que hace posibles estos progresos.

Por otro lado, Eastgate es una editorial de hipertextos. Buscamos hipertextos de calidad que puedan cambiar a la gente y al medio. No nos detiene el trabajo duro.

Así que Eastgate está en un punto interesante, cambiando constantemente entre lo tangible y lo intangible, entre el arte y la ciencia, entre plazos inminentes y horizontes que se extienden durante décadas. No es extraño pasar de estudiar procesos sobre comercialización de embalajes a diseñar nuevos algoritmos de enlace en pocos minutos.

De hecho, una de nuestras herramientas hipertextuales, Storyspace, ha terminado teniendo un papel muy interesante en la investigación sobre hipertexto; para mucha gente se ha convertido en el sistema básico, la herramienta general de hipertexto que la gente conoce primero. Aquí en Darmstadt hay mapas de Storyspace por todas partes, en libros de texto de Sociología y en las notas que toman los asistentes a un taller de Hiperficción…

Susana Pajares Tosca: Eastgate parece el ejemplo perfecto de “tender puentes en el abismo” entre la ciencia y el arte. ¿Han alcanzado ustedes un equilibrio que el resto parece no entender?

Mark Bernsterin: ¡Mantener el equilibrio siempre es difícil!

Conectar la ciencia y el arte es lo que hacemos, es la idea principal detrás de Eastgate. Si hemos tenido éxito ha sido gracias a un grupo excepcional de gente con talento y un grupo excepcionalmente paciente de inversores y directores.

Susana Pajares Tosca: ¿Por qué es útil una Conferencia como ésta?

Mark Bernsterin: Las Conferencias para investigadores son todavía la mejor forma de compartir nuevas ideas y descubrimientos. Las publicaciones periódicas y libros son demasiado lentos.

Otra parte importante de las Hypertext Conferences (Conferencias sobre Hipertexto, de las que esta es la décima), es la oportunidad de discutir nuevas ideas con la gente más brillante del campo. El año pasado, por ejemplo, quería adaptar partes del sistema seminal MacWeb de representación del conocimiento de Marc y Jocelyn Nanard para utilizarlo en las nuevas herramientas de exportación a HTML para Storyspace. Arrinconé a Jocelyn Nanard en la recepción para pedirle consejo sobre el implemento de algunos detalles que no siempre se incluyen en los artículos pero que pueden ser muy importantes para construir sistemas que la gente usa día a día. Me dijo que estaba afrontando el problema por el lado equivocado, y acabamos teniendo una conferencia ad hoc junto con Daniel Schwabe. Planificamos el diseño de la nueva facilidad de exportación HTML en cosa de una hora, y ha resultado ser una de las mejores cosas del nuevo Storyspace.

Susana Pajares Tosca: ¿Ha encontrado alguna idea nueva interesante este año? (¿O es un secreto?)

Mark Bernsterin: Normalmente me lleva un mes o así extraer la idea (o ideas) clave. La idea de Peter Nürnberg sobre informática estructural es prometedora, y la demostración de un reimplemento colaborativo de VIKI sobre un servidor estructural fue espectacular. Esto me sugiere unas cuantas estrategias para nuestro nuevo proyecto de sistemas. El Taller de escritores originó una gran cantidad de “cosas que los escritores desean”; y pasaré sin duda muchas horas meditando sobre su lista.

También es interesante ver como mi ponencia de 1998: “Estructuras de Hipertexto” ha sido leída y entendida de forma muy diferente por gente diferente. En particular hubo un grupo muy interesante de ponencias críticas (se me ocurre pensar en Walker, Tosca, Calvi y Rau) y algunas ponencias en los talleres sobre lenguajes para estructuras (Schwabe, los Nanard, Bieber). Estos dos campos parten de actitudes y lenguajes muy diferentes; reconciliar ambas aproximaciones requerirá una meditación cuidadosa.

Susana Pajares Tosca: Usted tiene una gran experiencia de conferencias de hipertexto… ¿cómo ha evolucionado este campo en los últimos años?

Mark Bernsterin: En los primerísimos años, la gente estaba preocupada sobre todo por el problema de la navegación y por los expedientes (estándares y modelos) para afrontar el enorme coste de crear los primeros sistemas hipertextuales. Ambas cuestiones se revelaron después como parcialmente irrelevantes: el problema de la navegación era una ilusión. Los sistemas hipertextuales ya no son tan caros de hacer, así que no es vital codificarlo todo según una especie de denominador común general.

Lo que no entendimos en esos primeros años era que escribir hipertexto llegaría a ser un desafío que introduciría nuevas cuestiones muy interesantes sobre retórica y técnica. Durante un tiempo existió una gran tensión entre escritores e ingenieros. Esta tensión se ha disipado ahora, hasta llegar al maravilloso espíritu cooperativo de la conferencia de este año. Por ejemplo, el taller de escritores de Deena Larsen estaba lleno de escritores y diseñadores de sistemas. Este fenómeno es nuevo y muy positivo.

Susana Pajares Tosca: ¿Cómo ve el futuro de esta conferencia?

Mark Bernsterin: Es una conferencia excepcional, probablemente la más fuerte y consistente que conozco. La gente se preocupó durante un tiempo de que el hipertexto desaparecería porque sería demasiado fácil y obvio; eso aún no ha sucedido. Aún tenemos muchos desafíos interesantes.

Espero ver más trabajos sobre sistemas próximamente, investigaciones sobre nueva tecnología de software que exploren extrañas y nuevas ideas.

Susana Pajares Tosca: ¿Determina la importancia de la WWW nuevas actitudes frente al hipertexto o vivimos de espaldas al mundo real?

Mark Bernsterin: Las determina mucho. La red proporciona un maravilloso conjunto de documentos y un increíble campo de pruebas para nuestras ideas. Mozilla puede ser muy importante para la investigación en los próximos años; debería ser factible para un investigador crear un navegador muy sofisticado (u otro cliente de Web) para explorar ideas novedosas.

Tenemos que ser conscientes de lo que la red es y lo que no es. No es un interfaz de usuario; podemos (y debemos) ir más allá de los enlaces azules.

Susana Pajares Tosca: Muchas gracias por su tiempo y por responder todas nuestras preguntas.

* (N.del T.) Schlemiel y Schlemazel son dos palabras Yiddish que se refieren a personajes populares en la tradición cuentista judía, uno es el gafe que atrae las desgracias intentando hacer el bien, y el otro el “destinatario” al que le ocurren las desgracias.

 

© Susana Pajares Tosca, 1999 por el texto.

Written by ELR

June 25, 2017 at 8:00 am

Interview with Dene Grigar

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ELR: Dene Grigar, you have been working in the field of media art and electronic literature since the mid-1990s. Could you tell us something about your background and how you became involved with electronic literature?

Dene Grigar:  Actually, it goes further back than that.  In fall 1991 I took a graduate course from the new faculty member, Nancy Kaplan*, who specialized in something called hypertext.  We studied books by George Landow and Jay David Bolter, explored software called Storyspace, and read afternoon: a story by Michael Joyce.  Having owned a Macintosh computer since 1986 for designing, I took to using it quite easily for writing––and reading.  Because of that course and my exposure to electronic literature, I began collecting works from Eastgate Systems’ inventory.  A part of my collection comes from those early purchases.

*Nancy was Stuart Moulthrop’s partner at the time; they have long since married.

ELR: You are a professor, a researcher and you also have successfully directed or curated a number of conferences and exhibits centred on Electronic literature. What can you tell us about your latest project?

Dene Grigar:  “Electronic Literature and Its Emerging Forms,” which was the exhibit hosted by the Library of Congress and part of the Electronic Literature Showcase, posed a large challenge for my co-curator, Kathi Inman Berens, and I.  What I mean by “challenge” is that the Library of Congress is probably one of the most venerable institutions in the U.S., and it had not yet been actively involved in collecting electronic literature.  Our exhibit was the first one of this nature the Library had ever done, so we wanted it to be memorable.  To that end, I rented large iMacs and brought in two of my own vintage Macs for showing older works, shipping all seven of them across the country to Washington D.C.  [Getting them through the Library’s security due to the necessary precautions took close to three hours.]  I hand-carried works of electronic literature from my own collection, from Vancouver, WA to D.C., to show along with the electronic literature works found online and the wonderful books and other media the Library contributed.  I also brought eight undergraduate students and one alumna with me to assist as docents at the exhibit. This was one of the smartest things I did because the students were immensely well-trained, passionate about electronic literature and the field, and exceptionally hard-working.  So, when the exhibit filled up with visitors, there were 11 of us who could answer questions and guide visitors through the electronic literature, instead of only Kathi and me.

Probably the most interesting challenge to surmount, however, was finding the best way to integrate electronic literature with the Library’s collection of books. Originally, when Kathi and I were first invited to curate the exhibit, the discussion centered around remounting the show we had done at the Modern Language Association 2012 convention .  That exhibit was very large, with 160 works and 10 computer stations.  Once she and I conducted a site visit at the Library of Congress and saw the Whittall Pavilion, the space where the show would be held, and gave some thought to the kind of collections the Library has at its disposal, we changed our minds.  I hit upon the “antecedent” idea and developed a set of parameters for the show that would make sense for the time and place with which we would be working (e.g. a three-day run in a gorgeous but small space). Drawing upon my research into the electronic literature and artists like Anna Maria Uribe and thinkers like Ted Nelson, it seemed to make sense to lay out the show so that we could make the argument that electronic literature is not some alien art form that dropped down to Earth some far-out planet but, rather, is part of a long tradition of experimentation with literature that has been going on for ages.  As someone who studied ancient Greek literature for my PhD, I always wondered what the Homeric poet’s contemporaries were saying (not writing, of course) when they saw that he (or she) was writing the story of the Odyssey.  That, in itself, constitutes a literary experiment as strange and exciting as Uribe animating Typoemas.  Dante wrote the Commedia in the vernacular––yet another grand experiment that we living over 700 years later do not even give a thought to.  So, the idea was to demonstrate that the drive to create something new and experiment with form in different ways are what visionary artists do.  With that idea in mind, I came up with five approaches––concrete to kinetic, cut up to broken up, pong to literary games, the Great American Novel to multimodal narratives, and artists’ books to electronic art.  This plan made it possible for Kathi to research the Library catalogs and identify works from the collections that fit well with this vision and, so, made our case.  She also developed the third aspect of our exhibit:  the creation stations.  This was a “maker” area where visitors could create literary art themselves.  For example, visitors could look at ee cummings’ concrete poem, walk across the aisle and see Dan Waber’s kinetic poem,“Strings,” and then walk across the aisle and make their own concrete poem on the typewriter that Susan Garfinkel, our collaborator from the Library, brought from her own collection.

To be honest, a lot was riding on the exhibit.  Obviously, we were promoting electronic literature to a new audience, moving it from academic conferences to a library, where Literature (with a capital L) is generally found.  It wasn’t just any library but the most important one in the country.  So, the show had to be good.

But more than good, the show had to make it clear that curating counts as scholarship.  This was a personal goal that I set for myself for “Electronic Literature and Its Emerging Forms.”  You see, I work in the intersection of media art, digital humanities, and media studies.  While my colleagues in media art are very comfortable with the notion that curating is a scholarly activity, the other two fields are still deliberating about it and trying to figure out how curating counts for tenure and promotion.  Books like Burdick et al’s Digital_Humanities go far in helping to make my case, but I thought that, perhaps, if scholars from these two fields see the intellectual processes, the conceptual thinking, and deep research that go into mounting an exhibit like this one, they would understand that curating is a scholarly activity.

I was very happy to learn that the exhibit was mentioned by scholars in blog posts and articles and was delighted that it was reviewed by Leonardo Flores at I ♥ E-Poetry and by Illya Szilak and Melinda White at The Huffington Post.

ELR: Could you tell us what you consider to be the main distinguishing features of new media literacy, with regard to the shift from traditional reading to multiliteracy or transliteracy?

Dene Grigar:  I used Vince Dziekan’s Virtuality and the Art of Exhibition for a course I taught on curating last fall and was taken by his notion of the multimedial museum.  By multimedial he means interactive, experiential, and participatory.

It seems to me that this idea can be mapped on to other aspects of our lives touches by digital media.  Anyone reading a Facebook post, for example, is reading participatorially, right?  Our posts can receive a “Like” from our Friends almost as quickly as we hit the “send” button.  The interactivity of this environment provides enough feedback to keep us online for hours, whether it is chatting with Friends or playing one of the many games Facebook makes available to its users.  Finally, we see the experiential aspect of Facebook in the way we design our “covers” or in the photo we choose of ourselves to represent us.  These three elements are going to be part and parcel of everything we read in this early age of digital media and perhaps even years beyond.  It is important for publishers to understand these three elements and make use of them in the media they publish.

ELR: On your website you write that “the computer is not a tool but rather the medium in which I work”? Can you please explain this “conceptual shift”?

Dene Grigar:  That is an easy one, thanks 🙂  I think a lot of people who work with computers see the computer as separate from what they do––that the computer is a tool that helps them do whatever it is they do.  This may make sense if someone is an accountant and uses computers to crunch numbers.  But it does not make sense if one is a media artist whose main medium of exploration is a computer and everything she creates takes place on a computer screen.  My own mother was a painter who worked in oils.  She would never say that the canvas and the paints she used were separate from the art of oil painting.  They were her medium.  I feel that the same way about my computer and HTML/CSS or PhotoShop, etc.  The computer does not “help” me––it is what I do.

ELR: In some works of digital literature we find a combination of text with audio-visual effects. What do you believe are the implications of new media technologies in relation to the aesthetics of a work of digital literature?

Dene Grigar:  Obviously, one of the biggest implications is finding a way to talk about it, of reviewing it, and critiquing it in a way that takes into consideration how all of the parts contribute to the whole.  N. Katherine Hayles suggests media specific analysis as a method.  Jessica Pressman, Jeremy Douglass, and Mark Marino suggest close reading.  These are both excellent ways to make sense of multimodal literature.  I also think an approach that brings in the various kinds of critique indigenous to the art form is also helpful.  This would mean that if a work of digital literature has sound, visuals, and words, then someone critiquing that work would need to address all three of these features with some level of expertise and, then, synthesize them into a larger discussion of how the work works.  This depth of knowledge, of course, is difficult since we generally develop strengths in particular art forms.  The bottom line, however, is that we need to find ways to talk about, review, and critique digital literature in order for it to be brought into the traditional academic realm as a scholarly topic of discussion and mainstreamed to the public for enjoyment and consumption.