November 1, 2006

Questions about E-Lit from Jena Osman

by Nick Montfort · , 4:15 pm

In opening the discussion that started Autostart, Jena Osman, poet and director of the creative writing program at Temple University, asked several good questions of the attendees. We could have easily filled the remaining time in the discussion with trying to answer these, but we moved along to hear other poets’ perspectives and didn’t get to really discuss Jena’s questions, although I know that some of us were turning them over in our minds. Fortunately, Jena was kind enough to provide her questions and to allow us to post them here. I’ll starting by doing this, and perhaps will offer some answers in comments (rather than as some sort of top-level annotation) in a bit.

I’m interested in the differences in terms of the reading process between texts that are pre-digital and then put up online and texts that are made with the screen in mind. it seems like they’re calling for two different kinds of attention. At least two. With the former I always feel a strain, that I’d much rather print it out and read (but maybe that’s generational). Unless they somehow acknowledge this transfer from hard text to screen – like Brian Kim Stefans’ rendition of Creeley’s “I Know A Man” or his other “One Letter at a Time Pieces.” (And I’m curious to learn about other examples of digital transcription.) But with etexts, I often feel like I’m reading much more for process and activity than for content – I’m reading the action of reading. What does it mean to separate out the act of reading from the text itself so distinctively?

The first question when reading digital work is always one of process – how will it move, what will it do, how do you make it go – rather than a question of a stabilized end- result, a finalized content. Form has totally taken over content, rather than being an extension of it. After reading (or moving through it) I often can describe to someone what I did but not what I’ve read.

I’m curious to hear people articulate the kind of attention that digital media motivates. If the attention is fleeting or always in motion, how does that change our relation to meaning. In other words, what kind of world do these works model?

Problem of interfaces; often feel like I need a guide or demonstration. I need to teach myself how to use these things, teach myself how to read, and I often don’t have the patience to sit and figure it out.

Ephemerality and access – it seems to me that digital literature has more in common with theater/live performance than books. Although its lifespan is longer than other performance arts.

I’m also interested in what the digital is doing for the voice – aside from simply recording it, is there a new orality appearing through digital culture? What are some examples?

Definitions of interactivity. Is having control on how a predetermined text moves around the screen, or having some control of how that text is distributed/read really interactive? What’s at stake in the concept of interactivity? I think this question connects back to my question about reading.