Close Reading Digital Poetry

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The slideshow for my presentation at E-Poetry 2011 on Thursday, May 18, 2011.

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  • We should therefore develop a role of leadership in the discipline.
  • The first alternate line of the first stanza sets the tone for the entire poem "'Three simple words: crack dot com.' Ambience or confrontation." It establishes the decision the speaker needs to make in this trip: whether to surrender to the pleasures of the ambience of Costa Rica and its natural beauty, or remain engaged in the mental confrontation with his everyday world. These two things battle for the speaker’s attention. On the one hand, he is thinking of work (programming, HTML coding), while the trip and the natural beauty of Costa Rica is slowly taking over. The first four stanzas contain abundant references to websites, HTML, languages, resumes, and other elements of a hectic professional life, which combined the types of comments made by the speaker point at an initially stressed state of mind. Some phrases along this vein stand out: “HTML as the world’s dominant language”, “delay stealing beauty”, and “Can’t recall one thing I ate in quetzal.” He is certainly not enjoying himself yet: his mind is on his work, even as he travels deeper into Costa Rica.
  • Close Reading Digital Poetry

    1. 1. Close Reading Digital Poetry<br />E-Poetry 2011<br />Dr. Leonardo Flores<br />
    2. 2. The Premise<br />Digital media is transforming the way we read, write, and study literature.<br />The discipline of literary studies need to embrace that which is native to digital media in order to stay relevant in an increasingly post-literate world. <br />Writers and scholars in the field of electronic literature are doing important work that helps us understand the impact of digital media.<br />
    3. 3. The Field<br />The study of electronic literature thrives mainly in the margins of the discipline:<br />conferences and festivals for our field<br />in specialized journals<br />and in highly technical areas<br />digital preservation<br />text encoding<br />digital humanities<br />
    4. 4. The Problem<br />Mainstream literary scholars and students don’t enter the conversation because:<br />they lack specialized vocabulary or training<br />they are not aware of our existence<br />our field is perceived as daunting<br />Creative and scholarly work in electronic literature isn’t reaching mainstream audiences. <br />We don’t have enough of an impact in the general discipline of literary studies. <br />
    5. 5. Some Solutions<br />Publications that showcase electronic literature:<br />Electronic Literature Collection, Vols. 1 & 2<br />Creation of online resources:<br />Electronic Poetry Center<br />Electronic Literature Directory<br />ELMCIP Knowledge Base<br />Scholarship in electronic literature aimed towards general audiences.<br />
    6. 6. The Proposal<br />Our field should embrace some basic critical practices, such as:<br />close reading<br />biographical study<br />bibliographic scholarship<br />We should update these practices with our expertise in:<br />media-specific analysis<br />critical code studies<br />We should publish and present our work in mainstream literary venues.<br />
    7. 7. Examples(Shameless Self-Promotion)<br />Typing the Dancing Signifier: Jim Andrews’ (Vis)Poetics<br />My dissertation (available for download here)<br />First book-length single author study in the field.<br />It models the kinds of close-readings I propose.<br />“A Shifting Electronic Text: Close Reading White-Faced Bromeliads on 20 Hectares”<br />Article submitted to The Explicator<br />It was presented at a College English Association: Caribbean Chapter conference<br />Close reading of Loss Pequeño Glazier’s digital poem.<br />
    8. 8. White-Faced Bromeliads on 20 Hectares: Basic Information<br />Written by Loss Pequeño Glazier in 1999.<br />Included in Electronic Literature Collection, Vol. 1<br />Written in Javascript and HTML<br />8 poem sequence<br />Each line has an alternate.<br />Every 10 seconds, the poem becomes regenerated.<br />
    9. 9. White-Faced Bromeliads on 20 Hectares and Permutation<br />Possible variants:<br />8 line poems: 256 (3)<br />9 line poems: 512 (3)<br />10 line poems: 1024 (2)<br />If we consider each poem as a distinct unit then all the permutations add to 4,342.<br />If we consider all the poems in combination as part of a whole sequence, then we’re talking about 71 lines (271) which make 2.36 x 1021 (sextillion) possible variations.<br />
    10. 10. Challenges to Close Reading<br />Like Queneau’s “Cent mille milliards de poèmes” this work was designed to subvert syntax and line-by-line explication de texte by virtue of their combinatorial design.<br />To attempt a close reading of all the versions is absurdand impossible, given that<br />Glazier’s poem doesn’t even allow control over the permutations or enough time to study them precludes such efforts.<br />
    11. 11. Reading Strategies<br />Close attention to the text yields results, if one focuses on the patterns that emerge from the variations. <br />It is important to interpret the scheduled mutability of White-Faced Bromeliads on 20 Hectares as an important signifying strategy for the poem. <br />Finally, accessing the source code allows one to access:<br />the textual variant dataset<br />HTML and Javascriptcodes<br />I use all three approaches to perform an initial close reading of this electronic poem, opening the door for further analysis.<br />
    12. 12. Reading White-Faced Bromeliads on 20 Hectares<br />The poem recreates the speaker’s mindset during a trip to Costa Rica, tracking his shifting attitudes, thoughts, and experiences. <br />The poem creates stream of consciousness through rapid scheduling of changing lines, which affect syntactical and grammatical structure.<br />Each line is a snapshot of the mind of the speaker, who stanza by stanza progresses from academic, technological, and political concerns to becoming immersed in the experience of traveling in Costa Rica: its food, drink, people, natural beauty, flora, and fauna.<br />An examination of word choices and imagery from each stanza should provide ample evidence of the speaker’s shifting mindset.<br />Uno: Aztec flowers. Can't recall one thing I ate in quetzal.<br />
    13. 13. Data Layer for “Uno: Aztec flowers. Can't recall one thing I ate in quetzal.”<br />a1[0] = "'Three simple words: crack dot com.' Ambience or confrontation. "<br />a1[1] = "I'm sure there is a white house hand in there somewhere. 'Colonia' "<br />a2[0] = "as in that sense of 'colonial'. Path of obstruction. Call now to start "<br />a2[1] = "your personal relation with God. Do you mind if I slip into "<br />a3[0] = "something more comfortable? Like what? Another URL. The "<br />a3[1] = "original dream boat, the Big Mac. Keeping one eye on the clock and "<br />a4[0] = "another on the constitution. A little eye wash for your public "<br />a4[1] = "underscore html. A guidebook called How to Write Whining "<br />a5[0] = "Resumes. HTML as the world's dominant language. As in, write "<br />a5[1] = "me at glazier at ak-soo. Well, I bet it has something to do with "<br />a6[0] = "Nahuatl. Po cenotes. Act of Tejanísimo. 'You speak so many "<br />a6[1] = "bloody languages and yet you never want to talk.' Even after a "<br />a7[0] = "metal models of now-healed body parts offered at the shrine "<br />a7[1] = "delay stealing beauty. No 'sacrament of the word' in Media "<br />a8[0] = "Cartago. A statue of the Virgin wistfully reappeared on August 2, 1635. "<br />a8[1] = "room mansion. Aztec flowers. Can't recall one thing I ate in quetzal."<br />
    14. 14. Food and Confrontation<br />Each stanza increases the number of references to Costa Rica, its food and nature and fewer references to technology that appear in the first four stanzas. <br />For instance, descriptions of food abound throughout the poem, but there seems to be more pleasure (and food) in the second half of the poem. <br />Food and old habits seem to be a source of confrontation in the first half of the poem, as can be seen in the third line of the third stanza (one of a few unchanging lines in the poem), “We’re the Glazier family, we eat what we want, anytime we want.” <br />This line is in ironic contrast with line 5 of the fourth stanza, “Neglected to calculate the whole day bus trip in there. I have yet to eat in Costa Rica” and the last line of the same stanza, “Spontaneously adjust to the fact of a five hour tortuous trip into the many storied jungle all foliage cloud verdure.” <br />The second half of the poem is full of pleasurable food and drink descriptions and experiences, such as “Banana chips on the bus. Unacasada, comida tipica./ Egg, potato salad, plantain, white rice, black beans, garlic toast, / cheese, meat.” (stanza 5, lines 6[1], 7[0] and 7[1]). Some local drinks are mentioned in stanzas 7 “aguasapo” and 8 “Huiscojol sap liquor called C.R. wine for its reoccurring effect.” <br />
    15. 15. Immersion and Peace<br />There is no confrontation left in the speaker in the last part of the poem: he is thoroughly enjoying himself in the ambience of tropical Costa Rica, as evidenced by the last line of stanza 5, “bathe in the river heated by the lava’s flow. Puravida, compita.” (Pure life, compita). <br />The technological terms have been replaced by bird and plant names, as is underscored in another of the few unchanging lines in the poem, “robin. MirloPardo. Yiguirre. Bosque Lluvioso. Sloth glazier.” (stanza 8, line 9). <br />The confrontational attitude is also gone, “Mucho gusto” (stanza 8, line 7[0]) is a greeting given when one meets someone, which means “Great pleasure [to meet you].” By the end of the poem, the speaker’s mindset has changed completely: his lexicon, attitudes and outlook.<br />
    16. 16. Scheduled Changes<br />The speaker’s mental transformation is emphasized by the scheduling and mutability of this e-poem.<br />The rapid scheduling of changes has the effect of mimicking the speaker’s mental hyperactivity, attention to detail, and the relentless shifting of his stream of consciousness—while evoking a similarly agitated mental state in the reader. <br />The times when there are no line changes—or subtle changes—serve to highlight important moments during the trip that cause a notable impression on the speaker’s ever-shifting mind. <br />Also, readers slowly become accustomed to the poem’s textual behaviors, stanza by stanza, until they can enjoy the poem without being as aware of computers and programming as the speaker seems to be in the beginning of the poem.<br />
    17. 17. Concluding Remarks<br />There is much more to be said about White-Faced Bromeliads, but even this initial reading provides some insight on how to approach this kind of digital poem. <br />We need to make e-literature accessible to the uninitiated by employing well established critical practices.<br />We should present and publish in mainstream literary venues.<br />
    18. 18. ¡Gracias!<br />Leonardo Flores, PhD<br />Leonardo.flores@upr.edu<br />http://blogs.uprm.edu/flores<br />

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