I am gearing up to present a paper on my most recent work of electronic literature – CityFish – at the OLE Officinia di Letteratura Electtronica Festival / Conference taking place in Naples 20-21 January 2011. The very full program boasts an impressive roster of speakers. I am looking forward to seeing old friends and new work. I especially love how, in a sea of big names and long conference paper titles written in Italian, Spanish, French and English, shot through with colons, semi-colons, dashes and all manner of accentuation, my title is written just like this – “CityFish” – one word, written in its own made-up language, buoyed by quotation marks, impossible to translate, and anyway, there is no reason to. The rest of the paper will be translated, however. All of the papers presented at OLE Officinia di Letteratura Electtronica will appear in Italian translation in a book published by Feltrinelli in Italy. I have the greatest of sympathy for the translators of this odd-ball essay about this quirky work about this talking dead fish.
CityFish is a hybrid word, title of a hybrid work, tale of a hybrid creature. A big fish story swallowing a small tale’s tail. A rhizome, a fable, an urban legend. Like an old wives’ tale, it’s long been told but is never quite finished. In its latest incarnation, CityFish is a web-based hypermedia panoramic narrative. Completed in November 2010, with the support of a new media creation grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, CityFish was presented in Beta at Archive & Innovate, The 4th International Conference & Festival of the Electronic Literature Organization, at Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, USA, June 3-6, 2010. CityFish was also presented as a work-in-progress at Interventions: Literary Practice at the Edge: A Gathering, at The Banff Centre, in Banff, Alberta, Canada, February 18, 2010. The Coney Island videos were shot on location in 2005 and edited during the Babel Babble Rabble: On Language and Art thematic residency at The Banff Centre in 2006. A very, very, very early web-based iteration of CityFish was presented in an exhibition called IßWAS, at the Bavarian American Hotel in Nuremberg, Germany, July 1998. That iteration incorporated a series of photographs shot on 35mm film in Chinatown, Toronto, circa 1996; a line drawing of a fish with a tall building for a tail, drawn at around the same time; and a very short story of the same name written in 1995 from the first-person point of view of a fish.
CityFish is a simple story told by a simple fish, most unhappy about being caught, killed and offered up for sale, piled unceremoniously in a heap on a sidewalk fishmonger’s stall on a hot summer day, on a narrow, crowded street in Chinatown, New York City. “What a fish, once was I,” the fish reminisces. “A fish’s fish, with fish’s thoughts inside my head.” Fish are far from us. Their stories breathe with gills, swim in deep cold water and are never still. They cannot help but seem strange to us. As Henry David Thoreau noted in Cape Cod, a book named after a piece of land named after a fish:
All that is told of the sea has a fabulous sound to an inhabitant of the land, and all its products have a certain fabulous quality, as if they belonged to another planet, from sea-weed to a sailor’s yarn, or a fish-story. In this element the animal and vegetable kingdoms meet and are strangely mingled.
PAN Palazzo Arti Napoli
via dei mille 60, napoli
An article about OLE Officinia di Letteratura Electtronica appeared in the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera 8 January 2011: Arriva la letteratura elettronica