don’t anthropomorphize the computer — they hate it when you do that

I didn’t know what to expect from ELO 2008, my first foray into the world of academic conferences since 1997, and first sally ever into anything with the label of literary attached — but it was a good sign that at almost any point of this conference I had to give up hearing something to hear something else, and in the end I didn’t get to half of the other stuff that was going on in Vancouver proper and at Clark College (notwithstanding Portland, friends, and free pizza at the Mac store ten minutes away). While the ELO may call itself a literature organization, either they’re defining that term incredibly broadly or the term doesn’t really fit (a point addressed at length in John Cayley’s “Weapons of the Deconstructive Masses” on Sunday, with thoughtful replies, by Scott Rettberg in particular. See also Rettberg’s paper at GTxA). However that doesn’t really matter to me. It was good to see such a breadth of theory and practice.

So, I took extensive notes, but I was really planning to have everything on audio as well…let’s just say a small technological ‘glitch’ has axed the audio. Also did I mention my computer completely crashed in Portland, and was fine when I got back to Seattle (for no apparent reason)? Altitude? Homesickness?

Friday morning:

I made it down in time for David Benin’s “Hors-Categorie: An Embodied, Affective Approach to Interactive Fiction”. The work itself (a .z5 story file) is available at David’s page at UCSD. At this talk I had a realization. If every presenter name-dropped as many artists and philosophers as David Benin, I was in for serious trouble when it came time to make any sense of my notes.

To be fair, name-dropping is the wrong term, but it’s unfortunately sufficient for the condition I’m talking about here (my cluelessness). Despite this conference setting up my reading list then for approximately the next 50 years, I did enjoy David’s talk. At the core of it was his goal to bring ‘actualization’ rather than just ‘realization’ to the interactor’s experience of IF. The basis of this is to promote ‘thought’. I think I have that basically right though I’m hazy on the details (i.e., making sense of my notes is rather difficult — I said extensive notes, I didn’t say clear and unambiguous).

(if you’re interested: Masumi, DeLoos (sp?), Spinoza — OK, I guess that’s not too many, but the list expands exponentially further into the weekend).

Next in the same session (Form and Materiality) was Fox Harrell with Kenny Chow on “Generative Visual Renku: Linked Poetry Generation with the GRIOT System”. I had been intrigued by the article on GRIOT in Second Person so I was curious what this was going to be about (here we had Lakoff & Johnson, Hiragu, Peirce, Ward, Calvino, LeWitt, and Queneau — I hereby absolve myself of all responsibility for spelling any of these names correctly from here on out). At first I wasn’t too interested in the result, as it is non-interactive in the conventional sense. However the purpose of GVR is to focus on the generative text, not the interactive text, so I can’t fault a system for not doing something it isn’t trying to do. The goal is to give the author a means to write a generative text that can offer varied but semantically coherent experiences for the reader. On that count you might be able to say GVR expresses a different form of interactivity, one where the reader is not pushing buttons but reorienting the text in their own mind. Perhaps if you embed the possibility of many reorientations within one text you could say that the text approaches the interactivity of something more conventionally interactive.

The final talk in this track was Damon Loren Baker’s “Cavewriting: Spatial Hypertext Authoring Systems“, and I found it to be quite engaging. Damon’s goal is to make the CAVE system accessible to authors who are not necessarily programmers, and is working on a new engine, SHE (Spatial Hypertext Engine). He also has had a hand in Cavewriting (and is responsible for the title of this post).

After Damon’s talk the room went to Q&A (brutal paraphrasing follows):

Q for David Benin: have you tried to capture the response to your piece?

David: no, it’s brand new.

Q for Fox: is your system inspired by the layout of comics?

Fox: yes, but not just comics, also cinematics and graphic design. Kenny: the icons are annotated on the edges (which help form the relationships to other icons). We also drew from the figure/ground concept of visual art.

Q for Damian (I think this was Jimmy Maher): You mentioned making tools for writers who weren’t programmers, what about training the writers to be programmers?

Damian: yes, but we want to provide multiple ways into the system (not just programming). But this is important.

Q for Damian: Are you talking about the new writer/director relationship? (I think he means where the author dictates what happens but doesn’t necessarily know how it happens)

Damian: Yes, but we want to get away from the implementation split where the writer waits for the programmer to code what they want. Collaboration is good but…we can still make room for the auteur at least.

Q for Fox:
how much do the graphics (of the icons in the generative renku system) constrain the input possibilities? (I think they misunderstood the system here…GVR isn’t really interactive in this way as I understand it).

Fox: the author creates the system (it is generative). At the core are annotation rules for the graphics. The icons aren’t the only possibility, they are just the presentation.

Kenny: perhaps coherence is a lesser concern when so many combinations/generations are possible (cf. Queneau).

OK, I’ll have to pick this up in the next installment. Meta Discourse and Grand Theft Auto on deck.


1 comment so far

  1. Thanks for sharing the Rettberg’s paper.

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