A note from the editors
Just after Thanksgiving we were sitting in Andy’s den, listening to bluegrass while Andy excused himself every ten minutes to check on a batch of turkey stock which was bubbling and turning over on itself upstairs atop the stove. In trying to come up with an intellectual justification for making the selections we made for this issue of The New River, we wracked our tryptophan-addled brains for some sort of unifying theme or metaphor, some sort of umbrella under which each of the selections could fit comfortably. It was going poorly. William Gibson and the dawn of cyberspace were mentioned. We started cobbling together a math metaphor, getting as far as, “If traditional literature is linear, then digital literature represents the almost incomprehensible spectrum of geometry.” We actually hate math. Andy still sometimes counts on his fingers. The “spectrum of geometry?” What does that even mean?
What we determined: This issue of The New River contains the pieces it contains for no more lofty reason than we liked them right away. We went, “Ooh, look!” It was like a blast of good bluegrass: So many things harmoniously going on at once.
Digital literature, new media, however you prefer to categorize it, ought not become the province of academe. We are of the opinion that at this point on the technological continuum of human innovation--the advent of the tablet and the laptop warrior--readers should approach digital literature with the same raw, sometimes difficult-to-qualify enthusiasm with which they approach the machines that disseminate digital literature: their iPads, their netbooks, their MP3 players. So with a notion toward passing that rawness along to you, the reader, and thereby hopefully expanding new media’s prominence in the zeitgeist if only in a tiny way, we did not think about submissions so much as react to them.
Lest we seem like philistines, we should explain that each piece herein was accepted because of the initial visceral, sometimes superficial pleasure it imparted to us, combined with its lingering effects. Most of the submissions we read were lovely eye candy, but it was a combination of splendid visual appeal, what we can best define as “literary merit,” and some component of effective user interactivity that allowed the superior works to emerge as just that.
Each of these pieces unfolds in its own way. Some offer multiple access points. One or two tend to lead you by the hand, casually. But even a single verb for what all of these pieces “do” eludes us. One unfolds. Another braids. Still another loops and layers, and so forth. It’s safe to say that few readers will share even roughly similar reading experiences with one particular piece. So the heck with the all-covering umbrella. The most useful assertion we can make regarding this issue of The New River - a publication for which we were privileged to be named temporary custodians - is that we liked this stuff. A lot.
We hope you will too.
Alan Bigelow’s “Last Words” is a provocative series of brief, meaningful confluences of images and text. Each renders a flash of mortality and vulnerability which compels the reader to look a little bit closer at Bigelow’s chosen subjects and their sometimes spectacular yet sometimes relatively pedestrian final moments. Bigelow’s use of overlaying images creates rich inapparent harmonies as he both constructs and answers his manifestations. The reader finds himself speculating upon and developing assumptions about Bigelow’s subjects.
Serge Bouchardon’s “Opacity” creates a dream-space in which the reader must illuminate, reveal or unpack hidden layers to advance from scene to scene. This four-part interactive narrative explores our dogged, collective drive to discover “naked truth” and considers implications for personal relationships. Navigating “Opacity” requires a complicit desire for understanding, insight, or revelation--a shared desire for “transparency.” Thus, the interface gropes forward from a desire to reveal hidden selves, as the inner workings of a machine may be revealed. A desire that equates ‘light’ with ‘enlightenment’ and vision with understanding then strips the dreamer’s wife to her anatomy. But are intimacy and transparency synonymous? Is the dreamer seeking something which can be located and revealed? In answer, Bouchardon splits a soliloquy into overlapping elements of a conversation--before resolving this portrait of a relationship in process.
In Loss Pequeño Glazier’s “Four Guillemets,” four sections of spliced and braided text ‘strings’ bring the concept of elliptical literature to a new level of open form. The sections meditate on form and the interpretive process through wordplay and recombinations both within and between the strands of text--snippets of structuralist questions, poetic images, analyses of artistic representations, allusions to ceremony, allusions to allusions, and so on. Meanwhile, the regenerating, recycling elements constantly invoke gaps between them: ellipses like conversational silences full of the weight of what is unsaid, half-remembered, or anticipated. In some sense, “the syllable presently at hand is the only syllable that is,” but simultaneously, there’s “a dream way” between signs (like a ‘sigh’ between signs): “the victory of the echo over the voice, a nemesis, the valley of Oaxaca.” As Glazier’s guillemets comment on the process of meaning-making, they drop hints; like any good poem, “Four Guillemets” teaches us how to read as we read. Spend some time with this piece and you’re sure to hear new echoes each time. (For more, see the “About” section Glazier provides.)
For the 16th issue of McSweeney's, Robert Coover wrote a story collected in 15 pieces: a single suit of a deck of cards (hearts), plus a title card and a Joker. So long as the title card is read first and the Joker is read last, the 13 suit cards could be shuffled and read in any order, and the story would be complete. “I Will Make an Exquisite Corpse” and its slot machine-esque generator tantalizes the reader in ways not unlike Coover’s story: few readers will encounter the piece in exactly the same way, and recreating a single reading experience likely requires effort. There are so many inherent paths and possibilities to explore in Mullins’s piece - not to mention combinations of imagery, sight, and sound - that the reader returns and returns.
“Highway Coda” allows the reader to loop and layer its stanzas into refrains. The poem may thus be experienced in a number of ways: the stanzas may interrupt, disrupt, combine, or comment upon one another in songs of endlessly varied texture. This lyric highway--this permanent horizon--at once enfolds and evades closure, producing a caged, caging echo.