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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 Jessica Pressman

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ELR: Jessica Pressman since 2012 (?) you are member of the Board of Directions of the Electronic Literature Organization. How did you get started with electronic literature and what fascinates you most about this literature genre?

Jessica Pressman: I actually worked from the ELO far before 2012. I served as the Programs Director for the ELO back in 2001-2 and then took on more responsibilities as Associate Director (2002-4). I did this while I was a graduate student at UCLA. ELO was then housed at UCLA, and N. Katherine Hayles was the Faculty Director. I was the sole staff member, and I got a first-hand education in the ELO and in non-profit organization.

But this is not how I started with electronic literature.

I applied to graduate school to study Victorian Literature. I wanted to study the Pre-Raphaelites; image and text are inseparable in such work (think Dante and Christina Rosetti). I was also interested in what I now understand to be the social networks that configured and propelled that artistic movement. Multimedia, multimodal, social networks: it was all there.

But, I was unhappy at UCLA, so I took a leave of absence. I went to Boston and worked for a company (Cognitive Arts, founded by AI pioneer Roger Schank) that then (in 2000, the height of the dot-com wave) was making interactive training simulations for companies and schools. We basically were making narrative teaching games (again, using language from today to describe the past). I liked the work but wanted to understand it from a more critical perspective. So, I read George Landow’s Hypertext. And, bam: that book hit me. It gave me a critical vocabulary and framework to approach that stuff that I was making, to understand what I was doing and what I wanted to do. I wanted to study hypertext.

Well, it just so happened that the foremost scholar of hypertext and this new thing called “electronic literature” was back at UCLA: Katherine Hayles. So, I returned to UCLA, shifted my focus from the first industrial revolution to the second, and then worked with Kate Hayles in all things e-literature and ELO. Kate is really how and why I started, learned, and loved the field of literary criticism focused on electronic literature. She is a role model and a mentor.

ELR: In your article “Electronic Literature as Comparative Literature” (2014) you state that electronic literature is comparative because it combines text, image, sound, movement, interactivity and design. As a researcher and teacher of experimental American literature would you say that electronic literature is experimental literature, too?

Jessica Pressman: I think electronic can be experimental. More often than not, it is, but this is because right now we are still accustomed to thinking about “literature” with terms and conceptions derived from print. But, “experimental” does not describe a platform or media; it describes use of that platform and media. Some books, films, sculptures, play, etc. are “experimental;” some works of electronic literature are too.

ELR: In your latest book “Reading Project” (2015) you explain how to analyse e-literature. Could you explain why it is necessary to use different methods?

Jessica Pressman: Reading Project does not aim to explain how to analyze e-literature—I would never presume or desire for there to be any one way to analyze anything—but, rather, to offer a model of how digital humanities (DH) practices can produce literary criticism. Jeremy, Mark, and I were tired of hearing critiques of DH that its creation and use of tools doesn’t lead to interpretative payoffs; most of these critiques are valid, by the way. We also wanted to experiment with pursuing literary criticism that employs the actual affordances of computational media to address a digital work; thus, we read the programming code (Mark’s Critical Code Studies approach) and created big data visualizations (Jeremy’s Cultural Analytics work), and we built a Scalar tool (Scalar Workbench) to assist others in practices similar types of collaboration. Finally, we had a professional goal and critique as well: we wanted to show what is gained by collaborating in literary criticism, by eschewing the scholarly model of a solitary researcher pursuing hermeneutics by instead having three scholars work collaboratively and dialogically towards building a single interpretation.

The reason why electronic literature elicits different critical methods is because such work often defies a single genre or disciplinary category. Is Tender Claws’s Pry (2015) a work of film, game, novella? The answer is not interesting but the question compels different approaches, which leads to (or should) interesting opportunities.

Just by designating a work (Pry, for example) as “literature” already implies how one will approach and value it: through a focus on its text. But many of the works that I spend my life reading and teaching could (and often are) identified and understood as other types of cultural objects: visual art, film, games, performances, etc. One of the reasons I love electronic literature is precisely this: because it invites and rewards multiple critical perspectives and practices. In so doing, it pushes literary critics towards reflexive consideration of our normative practices and towards experimentation with new ones. That is exciting to me.

ELR: In the description of the ELO’s role you can read that the organization aims to create “a network of people who produce works of electronic literature and people who read, discuss, and teach e-literature”. How successful has the ELO been in this attempt so far and how do Universities collaborate with the ELO?

Jessica Pressman: I think the ELO has been invaluable. The very fact that we have an annual conference, an archived volume of works (the Electronic Literature Collection), and a website for interpersonal connection means that we have a field. We have a community.

ELR: What do you foresee for the future of e-literature?

Jessica Pressman: I am a literary historian more than a prophet or visionary. But, from this perspective, I believe I can proffer that whatever comes along that seems completely new and futuristic will offer us new ways for understanding our past and for appreciating our seemingly “old” media.

 

 

 

Interview with Judy Malloy

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ELR: Judy Malloy, you have engaged in three decades of creative work in the field of electronic literature, beginning with the publication of “Uncle Roger” in 1986. What in your opinion are the most significant moments in the history of electronic literature thus far?

Judy Malloy: This is a welcome question. The long and rich history of electronic literature in toto is what is most significant. But there are so many significant moments that I can only mention a few — and even then, it is perhaps a longer answer than expected. Another day the list might be somewhat different. Today this is what I am recollecting:

To begin with: significant computational processes in word structures can be traced from Wibold, Archdeacon of Noyon’s 10th century dice-mediated Ludus Regularis, to the circa 15th century dice-generated collaborative narrative of vice and virtue, Chaunce of the Dyse, to formative computer-mediated work in the 1950’s –- including the generative love letters that Lytton Strachey’s nephew, Bloomsbury-bred computer programmer Christopher Strachey, created using Alan Turing’s hardwired random number generator, as well as the work of Stuttgart computer scientist student, Theo Lutz, who entered words from The Castle into a program that generated politically-charged remixes of Kafka’s vocabulary.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a map of significant moments, in France would probably pinpoint the founding of Oulipo, Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes, and George Perec’s Die Maschine, among many others. Pierre Boulez’ Troisième sonate pour piano Formant 3: “Constellation — Miroir” would surely appear on this map, as would – experiments with the cutup method in the work of Bryan Gysin, Williams Burroughs and Burroughs’ partner, computer programmer Ian Sommerville.

Meanwhile in New York City, after composer James Tenney gave a workshop on FORTRAN to Fluxus artists in 1967, Alison Knowles wrote the brilliant generative poem A House of Dust (realized by Tenney), and Dick Higgins created and programmed the edgy Hank and Mary, a Love Story, a Chorale.  Additionally, the lists of words that Fluxus poet Emmett Williams chose for IBM, first created without a computer in 1956, were computerized in this time.

And in Massachusetts BBN (ARPANET contractor Bolt, Beranek and Newman) computer programmer Will Crowther wrote the pioneering Interactive Fiction, Adventure, and then at MIT Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling created Zork and went on to found Infocom, the primary source of classic Interactive Fiction — while in Connecticut, at Yale, Joseph Meehan created Tale-Spin.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, based in Canada with strong roots also in Austria, IPSA (I. P. Sharp Associates) and IPSA’s ARTEX made node-to-node communication possible — we called it “telematics” in those days — hosting collaborative works such as Bill Bartlett’s Interplay and Roy Ascott’s La Plissure du Texte.

Beginning in 1986 in Berkeley, CA my own Uncle Roger, the first realized hyperfiction, was significant in that rather than a game-centered or communications approach, I wrote and programmed it as a work of computer-mediated literature, and it was the first realized work of electronic fiction that was both written and programmed by a woman.

There followed — beginning with Michael Joyce’s classic afternoon, a story and the work of the StorySpace team — a flowering of hypertext. The writers came from many different places; the center was the Massachusetts-based Eastgate Systems, headed by Mark Bernstein. Hypertext literature was central in what Robert Coover called the “golden age”. The four works Coover singled out are Joyce’s afternoon, my its name was Penelope, Stuart Moulthrop’s Victory Garden, and Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl.  It should also be noted that in the field of digital poetry, Jim Rosenberg’s spatial hypertext was primary in the pre-web era.

In the period of widening development (1995–2010), places on the map are clustered all over the world, as works of potential significance were created in generative poetry (the work of John-Pierre Balpe and Nick Montfort, Fox Harrell’s GRIOT System, Nanette Wylde’s Storyland, for instance); in Interactive Fiction: (Emily Short’s Bronze, Andrew Plotkins’ Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home);  in hypertext (my The Roar of Destiny, Mark Marino’s a show of hands, Sharif Ezzat’s Like Stars in a Clear Night Sky, Deena Larsen’s Marble Springs Wiki); in electronic manuscripts: (Noah Wardrip Fruin et al’s Screen; J. R. Carpenter’s Entre Ville); in concrete and digital poetry (William Harris’ Armistice, Maria Mencia’s Birds Singing Other Birds’ Songs); and in performative, filmic, and collaborative works. (Ingrid Ankerson and Megan Sapnar’s Cruising; Judd Morrissey’s The Last Performance). There were many others.

I am disinclined to mention works from 2011-  because the dust has not yet settled, but for my own work I like From Ireland with Letters and my generative “the whole room like a picture in a dream”: Dorothy Richardson and Virginia Woolf Writing“.

ELR: In another interview you name four authors of print literature as influences on your works of electronic literature: Italo Calvino, Marcel Proust, Dorothy Richardson, and Laurence Sterne. Can you comment on analogies and differences between electronic and print literature?

Judy Malloy: This is a difficult question, and the answer can be framed in many different ways. Primarily electronic literature is work that utilizes computer-mediation to create literature that is only possible to read on a computer. But the boundaries are becoming somewhat blurred. Many of the strategies developed by writers of electronic literature can influence print literature and even in some cases have been utilized in print, while at the same time we see writers of electronic literature incorporating print components in their work.

I have always believed that print literature is such a powerful interface that it will continue, but that electronic literature is equally powerful and will flourish and run side by side with print literature, so to speak. In the 21st century, the fact that electronic literature and print literature are each influencing each other is greatly enriching both fields!

ELR: In August 2016 you edited “Social Media Archeology and Poetics” a book featuring essays of 28 artists, scholars, and curators who describe computer networks and online platforms. What are your current opinions/thoughts about archiving works of electronic literature and digital art?

Judy Malloy: Social Media Archeology and Poetics is media archeology about how social media platforms with cultural components were developed and flourished in the days before the World Wide Web.

To create Social Media Archeology and Poetics, which was three years in the making, I primarily asked pioneers in the field to write about their work. This is different from archiving works of electronic literature and digital art. However, it does dovetail with my vision, which is that in addition to the work of critics and curators, it is important to make early works themselves accessible and also to encourage creators of electronic literature to document their own work. In this respect, we are in the tradition of conceptual art and performance art, and — in this field that lies between computer science and literature —  we also document electronic literature in the tradition of sci/tech researchers. It is vitally important to publish peer-reviewed first person documentation from the creators or researchers themselves. Thus, the primary source for Strachey’s love letters is Christopher Strachey, “The Thinking Machines,” Encounter, 3 (1954): 25-31. The primary source for Lutz’ work is Theo Lutz, “Stochastische Texte,” augenblick 4 (1959):3-9.  And the primary source for Uncle Roger is Judy Malloy, “Uncle Roger, an Online Narrabase”, in eds. Ascott, Roy and Carl Eugene Loeffler, Connectivity: Art and Interactive Telecommunications, Leonardo 24:2, (1991): 195-202. This does not mean that criticism and theory are not very important.

Contingently, as regards archiving works of electronic literature themselves, when the original platforms are not available, I prefer to translate my own works to contemporary platforms. But I also highly respect and appreciate the curators and archivists in our field, such as Dene Grigar, who have approached this in many creative ways.

ELR: In the year 2003 you edited the book “Women, Art & Technology” a compendium of the work of women artists who have played a central role in the development of new media practice. How do you consider the role of women in new media today?

Judy Malloy: As Jaishree Odin’s Hypertext and the Female Imaginary and Maria Mencia’s forthcoming #WomenTechLit clearly demonstrate, contemporary women artists and writers are equally as important and influential as male artists and writers.

ELR: Have you any thoughts about the future of Electronic Literature?

Judy Malloy: As the rich history of electronic literature begins to be acknowledged, and the field comes of age, it has been a pleasure to both work with students in the creation of electronic literature and to continue to develop my own work.

I look forward to new work from the field as a whole and to a more central place for electronic literature in the literary world.

 

Written by ELR

February 20, 2017 at 7:30 pm