elo Friday

Friday continued in the afternoon with the ReVisioning Electronic Literature: Origins and Influences break out session. I was bummed that I had missed an earlier talk, “Infinite Interfaces and Intimate Expressions: Hand-held Mobile Devices and New Reflective Writing Spaces” by Lissa Holloway-Attaway due to a conflict with the previous talks.

Luckily, this following panel was very strong. It began with Jessica Pressman’s “Digital Modernism“, taking digital modernism as an adaptation of literary modernism and a subset of electronic literature. DM pursues innovation, adapts, appropriates, remediates, and demands close reading. One of the most interesting parts of this talk was Jessica’s story about Bob Brown’s ‘The Readies’, an electronic reading machine conceived in the 1930s. She compared this to a recent work, Dakota (perhaps not work safe…).

Jessica was followed by Mark Marino talking about chatbots, the Turing Test, identify friend or foe (IFF) systems, authentication, and some other things where I didn’t know how they fit into the overall scheme, but like a lot of these talks I think Mark was presenting highlights of a much longer paper. He returned to the question of what would make a more complex chatbot (or, conversational agent (CA) in his words), proposing one that is contextualized, constrained, and interpreting rather than parsing. The first two characteristics describes some IF design practice quite well.

The third — well, what is an interpretive CA exactly? Does it need a knowledge model? Would we need one for IF?

I don’t really think it’s necessary — I guess you could consider a knowledge model for the fiction of the work itself, though since that often includes real-world assumptions you’re kind of back to square one. Interpretive in some sense implies a processing of data (talks at the conference sometimes touched on this process/content concept), and for a good knowledge model capable of interpretation you would need a good chunk of data, but what I wondered over the weekend but haven’t really followed up on is how ‘dumb’ data really is. Is there a philosophical or technical concept of intelligent data where the data implies process? It seems to be the case that many people assume data is dumb and process ‘uses’ data. Do most people assume that (and of course is it generally true?).

After Mark came Jeremy Douglass, a talk I looked forward to having read Jeremy’s dissertation. His “Implied Code” followed the dissertation fairly closely.

One thing I noticed at the conference is that the successful talks seemed to reach out and talk about ‘big issues’ or present a really cool specific technology or idea. Explaining a specific medium or work can be interesting but it’s not as grabby (for me anyway). There’s just too much translation you have to do (to get from the specific concepts of specialized content and communicate them to a general audience), and when you do that you’re not really telling a story to the audience and keeping them into it.

Q & A:

Jimmy Maher asked Jeremy: there is a debate over the role of the parser in IF, it seems attractive because of the illusion of possibility, what do you think?

Jeremy: what is good art, and bad design? I am an advocate of a limit aesthetics (see his aesthetics of frustration in his dissertation Command Lines)…high failure is the picture plane, e.g., the canvas where the interesting work happens for me.

Jimmy: I think the strength of IF is not in infinite possibility — would some things be satisfying even if they did happen? The strength is in (scripting the interactor. — massive paraphrase ftw).

Here Jessica responded but I lost that response. Audience mentioned Yeats, implied memory, and mnemotechnics.

Jeremy: using the term ‘geography’ with IF can be misleading — you are dealing with the imaginary world of someone else. How does one relate to a memory palace that is not one’s own?

Mark Marino: scripting the interactor, cueing the interactor, conversational affordances and cues all important.

Q for Jessica: you make a provocative definition of modernism — to play devil’s advocate here, what does Dakota bring to the table — what is the new formalism here?

Jessica: you need to ask what is exciting, what is new — this (Dakota) is in the context of the common medium of Flash.

response: it’s an aesthetic of restraint

Jessica: yes.

response: that’s weird. (laughter)

Jessica: yes, you are retelling an old narrative in a new version.

Q for Jessica: considering the totalitarianism of someone like Pound, is the cultural capital of modernism a double-edged sword (referencing Dakota which references Pound’s Cantos I think)?

Jessica: yes, this is actually remediated in Dakota, there is an allusion to the critic and issues of translation.

Q for Jessica:
regarding Bob Brown and The Readies, PARC built a readies machine, you could increase your reading speed dramatically, is there similar software out now?

Jessica: yes, you can read faster, but do you absorb literary content faster? This juxtaposition is what interests me — you ask if close reading is possible here.

Jimmy asks Jessica: Bob Brown was displeased about reading not advancing into the modern era along with visual art, film — couldn’t he say the same about ‘viewing’?

Jessica: true, I’m not sure of Brown’s logic here — you come to ask how critical reading becomes/became an art form.

audience response: we tie reading and writing together, but most attention is paid to reading, not writing (writer-response theory anyone…?)

Mark: it comes down to our reading tools that are available (not sure if I have this right).

Jeremy: there is an advantage here to an open source environment, with the text and its ‘text’, as well as natural language interfaces — the visual presentation, the natural language layer, and the machine code below that.

audience: unfortunately there is a separation of critical reading and writing (?), and similarly with code — if it is black boxed, that is limiting pedagogy. There is a big difference if the reader understands the code. This can be something distinctive about e-lit and it hasn’t been emphasized.

Mark responds: if you’re interested in reading code…

audience response: what we do is ‘writing the reading’ — making a thing that generates the reading, but this doesn’t equalize the practice necessarily (I think this was John Cayley — an interesting voice).

Jeremy: we are writing a reader, by creating affordances.

and also people create tools for the reading.

Jeremy: it doesn’t just have to be ‘authoritative’.

I’ll have to leave it there and finish off Friday in another post. As you can see there was a lot of content Friday — when I finally left I was pretty much totally full up.


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