Expectations of Reader, Writer’s Responsibilities
Sit by the fire, pour a glass of cabernet, and open the cover—of the laptop? Computers are not always associated with the same mode of relaxation as a favorite paperback. People arrive at the computer with an expectation of immediacy (unless you are still on dial-up in which case, delayed immediacy). Most of us do not sit at the computer with the intention of reading 300 pages of traditional text. Information comes to us on the screen through several places at once, with ads in spectrums of color, in bits, thumbnails, files, illustrators, and an amalgam of other packages.
The immediacy of computer culture plays a part in the expectations people bring to the screen. Game interfaces of all kinds are at our fingertips online. Games, from the simple PC solitaire to elaborate online games, easily capture large audiences. So, the issue of entertainment also comes into new media writing as a way to keep the reader interested. In the previous issue of The New River, it is easy to see hints of this type of interaction in Stuart Moulthrop’s “Radio Salience,” and Alan Bigelow’s “Because You Asked.” The traditional challenges and interactions associated with games can bring the same kind of reader involvement in a new media composition.
To approach a hypertext, the reader must allow her- or himself to be immediately transported into the world of the piece, to accept that it most likely will not appear as simply text, but compilations of visual, audio, and textual elements. Most digital writing relies on one or more of these elements to function as hyperlinks—a method of movement from page to page. Mark Marino’s piece, “Marginalia in the Library of Babel,” integrates annotations to the traditional Borges work while allowing the reader to traverse what is akin to a self-contained internet. The reader moves through the links into pages where they are welcomed to create their own annotations to the texts at hand. This type of interaction allows for new associations to be made with each venture into the piece.
New Media Writing and Digital Art
In the new tradition of including the realm of digital art in the journal, there are several pieces in this issue that can be considered solely digital art, and those that bridge the line between art and hypertext. Karin Kuhlmann’s three-dimensional algorhythmic works create a similar satisfaction to viewing a traditional canvas, but are amazing in their digital method.
Digital writing rarely appears in such a way that demands the reader remain within a sequential order of screens. Hypertext relies on surprising associations and non-linear linking to keep the reader’s interest. There are several pieces in this issue that bridge the distinctions of new media writing and digital art. For instance, Jody Zellen’s “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” uses text from The New York Times to create a beautiful and effective piece of interactive art. Zellen’s work incorporates a type of found poetry consisting of juxtaposed headlines which the reader can keep clicking to create new lines. This is work that is both visually satisfying and pertinent. The reader is able to create her or his own meanings with each new page. In a similar way, Heather Raikes’ “The Wave,” uses choreography and visually stimulating links along with original text to create the world of the piece.
The work of A. Andreas also functions as digital art. Andreas’ pieces do not move from node to node, as the aforementioned works, but exist as artistic compositions that use movement and color to create the tone of each work. Words appear unexpectedly, in a less linear fashion, and contribute to the associations the viewers make for themselves.
The Ever-Changing Medium
As the world of new media writing expands, it is difficult to categorize or label what exactly it is or isn’t. The computer interface allows artists to visualize their work in a multi-dimensional setting. In many instances, digital writing is an opportunity for collaboration between artists and writers. It is also a place for writers to imagine their work in a new space.
Ed Falco’s New Media Creative Writing class is offered once every three years at Virginia Tech. Students from Virginia Tech’s MFA in creative writing program are asked to produce two hypermedia compositions as they engage in discussions on the nature of new media writing and how the field has evolved since early Eastgate works, such as Shelly Jackson’s “Patchwork Girl.”
Two pieces in this issue, Tim Lockridge’s “A Sky of Cinders,” and Carrie Meadows’ “(NON) sense, for to from Eva Hesse,” are products of graduate student writers in this class. Both pieces contain evocative writing. “A Sky of Cinders,” is poetic in nature, though a narrative emerges as the reader clicks through the piece. “(NON) sense,” is a series of poems based on the works of the artist Eva Hesse. Both offer non-linear ways to engage the reader.
The artists and writers in this issue of The New River represent a variety of approaches to new media writing. They appeal to a wide aesthetic and incorporate emerging technologies. They are part of the future of art and writing—brush to canvas, pen to paper, hand to keyboard.
Thanks to Ed Falco for his ongoing guidance and knowledge and to Brent Jesiek for his technical support. Also, I am indebted to Ben Kaja for his tutelage.
Lauren Goldstein, Managing Editor
18 December 2007