Coover Interview on KCRW

December 8th, 2005

There is a superb interview of Robert Coover available in RealAudio from KCRW’s Bookworm program. The first part of a two part interview was broadcast December 8th, and the other half will be broadcast on the 15th. The first part of the wide-ranging interview provides an overview of Coover’s career and some insights into his process, themes, methods and interest in formal innovation. There are some gems in the interview, such as the fact that Coover finished writing The Public Burning, his novel about the Rosenberg execuations and Nixon, in the British Library while sitting on the same hard wooden benches where Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto.

DAC 2005: Notes on Mateas and Montfort’s “A Box, Darkly: Obfuscation, Weird Languages, and Code Aesthetics”

December 5th, 2005

They approach the podium. The screen goes dark, then blue. There is some struggling with cords and configurations. Fingers and bodies struggle with the oppressive apparatus, and conquer it. Their title and names appear on the screen. Then we begin.

Montfort, looking dapper in a trademark wrinkle-free button down blue shirt, black pants, black shoes and wearing a multiplicity of university-issued rings, began the presentation by invoking Donald Knuth’s discussion of reading the program SOAP as like “hearing a symphony.” Montfort then discussed the idea of code as having an aesthetic for human readers. He cited the observation from Maurice Black’s dissertation that while terms like “elegant” and “beautiful” flow freely in discussions of code in computer science, they have been exiled from the vocabulary of literary and cultural theory. This idea of an established notion of coding aesthetic provides a context for the discussion of the “dark side to coding,” obfuscated code, which is “contrived to foil human legibility rather than enhance it.”
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DAC 2005 ELINOR reading

December 4th, 2005

I really enjoyed the ELINOR reading Friday night at the Copenhagen LiteraturHaus. I get so used to seeing the same crowd of folks presenting work in electronic literature, that it’s always a wonderful and pleasant shock to see people from other parts of the world than the one I’m accustomed to exploring ways of working with literary texts in digital environments in their own ways, in their own language. Performing artists included poet Christian Yde Frostholm from Denmark, Johannes Helden from Sweden, Marko Niemi from Finland & Noah Wardrip-Fruin from Norther California and elsewhere. Helden read his poem to an accompanying digital animation and soundtrack. Frosthelm’s work was a fascinating version of what from the perspective of a non-Swedish-speaker seemed to be a Beckettian story adapted in Flash making use of patterns and repetitions, words clumping and clustering and rearranging themselves on the screen. Of the Scandanavian authors I was most impressed with Marko Niemi’s work, a variety of simple but distinctive and thoughtfully language experiments in flash and html. Niemi writes both in Finnish and English, and presented English language work at the reading. Jill Walker was the emcee, and the host of the Litteraturhaus kept the bar open late, as the DAC attendees clustered round tables with old friends and new. Noah’s reading of Talking Cure and video demo of Screen were also highlights of the evening. Torill posted a great photo of Noah’s reading from the portable Talking Cure intallation on Flirckr. Jill also posted several photos of the reading.

In Copenhagen for DAC 2005

December 1st, 2005

I’m in Copenhagen at the 2005 Digital Arts and Culture Conference. The Americans, having been up since 2AM ET, are looking a bit bleary-eyed. The team (mostly Nick) is blogging the conference over at Grand Text Auto. I’ll be presenting my paper, “All Together Now: Collective Knowledge, Collective Narratives, and Architectures of Participation” tomorrow at 5AM, err, that’s 11AM here. It’s been published in the handsome printed proceedings, although somewhat disappointingly attributed in the table of contents to another author by the name of Scott “Rhettberg.”

Trib Article on Control and E-Lit

November 28th, 2005

I was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic, Julia Keller, for an article published in the Trib this Sunday, “Plugged-in Proust: Has e-lit come of age?” (archive). William J. Mitchell, head of the Media Arts and Sciences program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was also interviewed for the piece, which examines the relationship between control and reading technologies.

Winter Break Reading Update: Oulipo Compendium, Hayles, and Castronova

November 28th, 2005

I’ve gotten some sweet packages in the mail from Amazon over the past couple of weeks. My longest-anticipated purchase finally arrived from England. For the past year, I’ve had the Oulipo Compendium on order from Amazon UK. It seemed impossible to find a copy of the 1998 Compendium, edited by Harry Mathews and Alistair Brotchie, online, or in any used bookstore. I was beginning to think that the Oulipo Compendium would turn into my Holy Grail book. I searched depsondently at my favorite used bookstores. The Strand in New York didn’t have it, nor Myopic Books in Chicago. Lo and behold, two weeks ago it arrived, laden with pounds and pounds of shipping charges and great expectations. To my delighted surprise, the Compendium is not in fact the 1998 edition but a revised and updated 2005 edition. I had seen the 1998 edition and often coveted it, but I’ve recently had the pleasure of spending some fruitful hours with the new edition. The book is organized in a pleasingly cross-referenced hypertextual encyclopedia, and provides an immersive introduction to the Oulipo, both as a historical introduction to the group, its writers, and their work, and as a kind of workbook. Hundreds of Oulipan writing techniques ranging from the lipogram to the avalanche are explained and exemplified. It’s the type of book that makes you want to spend the afternoon playing with language at your keyboard. I’ll be teaching the book next semester in a new course titled “Art, Games, and Narrative.”

I’ve also recently received Katherine Hayles My Mother Was a Computer and Edward Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds, both recently published by the University of Chicago. Alan Liu writes of Hayles’ book, “Reading My Mother Was a Computer is like exploring a new planet. There are other scholars who have recently published books in areas that concern Hayles, but there is no one else who brings the history of science, cybernetics, hypertext theory, and new media into such multifaceted focus.” Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games promises to offer “the first comprehensive look at the online game industry, exploring its implications for business and culture alike.” Castronova is an associate professor at the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University and one of the bloggers at Terra Nova. I’ll post more on these two books after I’ve read them on an aircraft over Christmas break.


November 20th, 2005

(White Phosphorus)

O manufacturing
we transcendent
let illusionary
burn phosphorus
white hazardous
damage chemical
effects effects
chemical damage
hazardous white
phosphorus burn
illusionary let
transcendent we
manufacturing O

Back in Mac

November 16th, 2005

My iBook died rather tragically of a logic board failure a week ago Sunday, while I was in the midst of grading papers and right before I was leaving for the SLSA. After recasting my presentation more or less from scratch and paying (unnecessarily as it turns out) to have my data backed up, tonight I drove through the ink black night to Fedex in what appears to be fully functional condition, with a new logic board. Nice to have the axe back.

First Person, Games, and the Place of Electronic Literature

November 16th, 2005

After a hiatus for redesign, the electronic book review is back online. A review/essay I wrote in response to Harrigan and Wardrip-Fruin’s First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, titled “First Person, Games, and the Place of Electronic Literature” is among the crop of new offerings. Brian Kim Stefan’s Priveleging Language: The Text in Electronic Writing, which makes a compelling argument for a return in digital poetry to a focus on language as having “some notion of address,” as attempting to communicate intentioned meaning rather than serving as just another form of material. In “Bass Resonace,” John Cayley provides an interesting reading of the graphic and film title work of Saul Bass, digging into a genre that offers some lessons for creators of kintetic poetry.

SLSA 2005

November 10th, 2005

I’ll be giving a talk this evening on Implementation in the contexts of Situationism, Fluxus, and sticker art campaigns this evening at the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts Conference in Chicago. For the first time this year, the conference includes a stream of presentations on electronic literature. The conference will also include a stream for ecocriticism; a stream for the conference theme of cognitive science and emergence; and a stream for work in the visual arts. The plenary speaker is Gerald Edelman, winner of the Nobel Prize. Invited Artists inclue Eduardo Kac, Warren Neidich, Allison Hunter, Eve Andree Laramee, Daniel Wenk, Zane Berzina. Keynote panels will match invited artists and prominent critics, among them Cary Wolfe, Barbara Stafford, and N. Katherine Hayles.

The Electronic Literature Collection — Call for Works

November 2nd, 2005

The Electronic Literature Organization seeks submissions for the first Electronic Literature Collection. We invite the submission of literary works that take advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the computer. Works will be accepted until January 31, 2006. Up to three works per author will be considered.

The Electronic Literature Collection will be an annual publication of current and older electronic literature in a form suitable for individual, public library, and classroom use. The publication will be made available both online, where it will be available for download for free, and as a packaged, cross-platform CD-ROM, in a case appropriate for library processing, marking, and distribution. The contents of the Collection will be offered under a Creative Commons license so that libraries and educational institutions will be allowed to duplicate and install works and individuals will be free to share the disc with others. Read the rest of this entry »

35 Scooter, 20 C * 3

October 29th, 2005

35 Scooter

You oxen, whet, spark hole
of magic, jived. Boo! Quiz:
You see politician who care?
Vex me: joke, quag, zip!
Feed bag of lies to
Our media; quick jab hope.
Ax view of yon zoo.

My 35th birthday conincided with “Fitzmas,” the indictment of Scooter Libby and the confirmation of a deeply troubling culture of corruption in the White House. This 35 word response is based on the 20 consonant poem structure as follows:


Books That Changed My Life

October 26th, 2005

A former student, Tracy Lisk, is doing a project for Tom Kinsella’s “Readers, Writers, and Books” class and has asked each of the Lit faculty to tell her about three books that changed their lives. Here is my response:

First, a general disclaimer: Every book I have ever read has changed my life. Cognitive scientists tell us that all experiences, particularly those of reflexive autopoietic activities such as reading, actually affect the way that our brains function on a physiological, molecular level. So the short answer is “all of them.” I should also moan a bit, just as my students moan when I ask them similar questions. It’s easier for me to tell you some of the books that I found enlightening over the course of the past year than it is to look across the span of my life and pick a few particular reading moments. Different books are important to me for different reasons, and there are many of them. Some books, for instance, are important to me not because of their content, but because they were written by friends or mentors or given to me by a person I care about. Other books are important because they shape my understanding of my field. Other books are simply fun to look at, to handle, and to place on my coffee table for the enjoyment of others. Other books have one or two great lines, or I admire their structure, or one of their central conceits. The Great Gatsby, for instance, has a magnificent structure and a great last line: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. ” Perfect. In spite of that, I’m not sure that it would be on my top 100.

Anyway, enough throat clearing.

1) Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I came across this novel in the science fiction section of the Mead Junior High School library, where I would often spend half of my lunch period reading. At the time I was a voracious reader of science fiction and fantasy novels, but thought of “literature” as some separate category of book, those taught by teachers, filled with Christ figures and unlikely to be enjoyable. Vonnegut’s novel, which is both science fiction and concerned with the shape of modern history as lived by its neo-allegorical protagonist Billy Pilgrim, a survivor of the bombing of Dresden. This book opened up doors for me. After I read this novel, I had to read everything Vonnegut had written, and soon after I had to read everything written by writers like him. The novel is funny, and serious, and sad, and hopeful. It freely mixes a variety of genres. This book ultimately led to my interest in postmodern fiction, and may well ultimately be the reason why I ended up getting a Ph.D. in Literature.

2) The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (any edition)

I’m not a Shakespearean, but Shakespeare is one of the most important authors in my life. I cheated and said his complete works because I don’t want to choose one play. Shakespeare is an author you come back to if for no other reason than that he is unavoidable. Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and the Henry plays are retold over and over again in contemporary films. Shakespeare is the most-recycled author. He is worth stealing from. He invented the clichés. Shakespeare has also become a part of my life in the sense that I try to see a Shakespeare play performed at least every other year. If you haven’t been to a Shakespeare festival, and sat on the lawn, and perhaps enjoyed a picnic or a glass of wine while watching the play, you’re missing something. I hope that I will continue to come back to the plays, not only the texts, and not only films, but actual performances, many summer days hence.

3) Ulysses by James Joyce

I read Ulysses three times. The first time I read it on my own, the summer after I graduated from college. I found the experience to be humiliating and the novel incomprehensible. I didn’t read it again until I was in graduate school, when I took a summer course titled “Ulysses.” We read the book twice together, once quickly, and once again in a slower, painstaking fashion. It is the monumental novel of the twentieth century, and it rewards rereading in a way that few other books can. Ulysses is a magnificent technical and artistic achievement. It’s also ultimately a quite hilarious and moving novel about ordinary human life. I hope to reread it again soon.

Google Self Haiku

October 25th, 2005

a man with my name
has been winning at poker
in reno: google

ARHU Rocks

October 25th, 2005

I recently got word from Rob Gregg, the Dean of Arts and Humanities, that ARHU will support two projects I proposed earlier this term. For the first time this year, Stockton earmarked research funds for projects by junior faculty, to be supported at the divisional level. Stockton is funding my travel to Copenhagen to present my paper “Collective Knowledge, Collective Narratives, and Architectures of Participation” at the 2005 Digital Arts and Culture Conference. Stockton is also supporting the Electronic Literature Collection, a major publishing project by the ELO which will also be supported by the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing (CPCW) at the University of Pennsylvania, ELINOR: Electronic Literature in the Nordic Countries, the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland, and The School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. I have been working with my ELO colleagues on developing the ELO program for the past six months, and I’m very pleased to that Stockton is one of the institutions supporting it. The Electronic Literature Collection will be an annual publication of current and older electronic literature in a form suitable for individual, public library, and classroom use. The publication will be made available both on the Web and as a packaged, cross-platform disc, in a case appropriate for library processing, marking, and distribution. The contents of the Collection will be offered under a Creative Commons license so that libraries and educational institutions will be allowed to duplicate and install works and individuals will be free to share the disc with others. We’ll be announcing the call for works next week, and the first Collection will be published next fall.

I’m grateful to be part of a department that recognizes not only the value of presenting scholarly work at an international conference, but also supporting the development of a publishing project that will have a significant impact on the curriculum of new media studies in literature both here and at other institutions.