Response to English 214’s Questions on The Cape

Here are my responses to the questions posed by the English 214 Question Collective after their class discussion of my guest blogger post, THE CAPE: THE BACK STORY, on CultureNet @ CapilanoU on Friday, October 10, 2008:

English 214 Question Collective: As you stated in your “Back Story” guest blog, physical photographs possess a certain authority. As the transformative process of selecting a medium for publication moves “The Cape” from print-text to hypertext, does the message/meaning of your story change?

J.R. Carpenter: Yes. In every retelling, every story changes slightly. In oral story telling, it is the storyteller who wilfully alters and hones her details and delivery based on the immediacy of audience response. I came to writing through spoken word and performance. I still struggle with the finality of print publication. Once something is published in print it is fixed in time, and, like a physical photograph, cannot easily be altered. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – I’m saying I struggle with it. The web is infinitely more fluid, flexible, updateable, and alterable. I’m not saying that’s a good thing – I’m saying that I’m more comfortable with publishing when I know I have the possibility of adjusting any part of the text, images or code in response to audience reaction. These slight editorial changes do not always change the message or meaning of they story, but they can influence the reader response in subtle ways.

The real question is: Is the print iteration of “The Cape” different from the hypertext iteration, and how? As I wrote in “The Cape: The Back-Story,” I spent a long time trying to expand “The Cape” into a “real” short story. It was hard for me to believe that a story could be so short. In print, the story passes by very quickly. An attentive reader will realize this, slow down, and take the time to fill in the blanks.

In the web iteration of “The Cape” there are only ever one, two, or three sentences on a page. The white space around the sentences, the entrespace created between the text and the images, the meta information to be read in the images (including additional text, in some of the diagrammatic images), the pause created by duration of the moving images, and the time lapse between clicking from one page to the next – all these hypertext elements serve to expand the terrain of story. On the other hand, given the visual-centric tendencies of the general web-viewing audience, the visual elements could potentially overshadow the text. Some may read the sentences as merely captions.

My favourite iteration of the “The Cape” is the mini-book version. In this small (approx 2 x 2.75inches), inexpensively reproduced, intimate format, the images and the text carry equal weight, being so close in size. The act of turning the page after every sentence adds time and reflective space to the story. And the miniature scale of the book refers subtly to childhood and the children’s book. It is my dream to publish a children’s book iteration of “The Cape” one day.

English 214 Question Collective: You mentioned that the Geological Guide photographs interest you more than your own family history. Do you find using fact with fiction allowed you to create a more authentic story?

J.R. Carpenter: Yes. True and false are binaries, opposites. Fiction both contains and confounds the either/or of truth and falsehood. This, to me, is more representational of real life than any idealized notion of either historical accuracy or pure fantasy. “The Cape” addresses certain presuppositions – that we all have fond childhood memories of our grandmothers, that little girls want certain things and behave in certain ways, and that Cape Cod is a lovely place to visit – by conflating observations to the contrary of those statements with other irrefutable facts: I never learned to Whistle. I wish I’d asked my uncle to teach me how to spit instead. The Cape, as Cape Cod is often called, is, as you may know, a narrow spit of land.

Writing a first-person child narrator is always tricky. No one takes a serious kid seriously. Arming the child narrator of “The Cape” with facts and charts and maps was the least I could do for her. Not that it does her much good. That no one is listening to her is what makes it an authentic story. The older we get, the more we convince ourselves that our memories are true. Why do we trust our own memories of childhood, yet doubt the perceptions of children? These are questions best left to fiction.

“Life as described in fiction … is never just life as it was lived by those who imagined, wrote, read, or experienced it but rather the fictional equivalent, what they were obliged to fabricate because they weren’t able to live it in reality and, as a result, resigned themselves to live only in the indirect and subjective way it could be lived: in dreams and in fiction. Fiction is a lie covering up a deep truth: it is life as it wasn’t, life as the men and women of a certain age wanted to live it and didn’t and thus had to invent.”

Mario Vargas Llosa, Letters to a Young Novelist, trans. Natasha Wimmer, NY: Picador, 2002, page 8.

English 214 Question Collective: As the work is entitled “The Cape”, the importance of place and memory – as you imply – are highlighted by the imagery in the erosion of the Maritime shorelines and how memories dissipate. This seems to create a strong sense of sublimity within your work. Is this something you have reflected on?

J.R. Carpenter: Yes. Notions of place have long pervaded my fiction writing and electronic literature works. In my web-based work the images of place are literally images. Maps figure prominently – operating, often simultaneously as images, interface, metaphors for place, and stand-ins for non-existent family photographs. My parents were immigrants. I grew up in a different country than everyone I was related to. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. I think my early adoption of the internet was due in part to my attraction to it as a placeless place. Many of my works may be read as web “sites” of longing for belonging, for home.

The sense of sublimity you mention emerges most strongly when I am writing about long-ago places, and pasts that could never be mine. I barely knew my grandmother Carpenter and can lay no ancestral claim to being “from” Cape Cod. I don’t even know if she was from there. Maybe she just retired to there. Somehow, historical aerial photographs of the coastal erosion of the Cape Cod National Seashore seemed to be the perfect, most sublime representation of this elusive, tenuous, quasi-fictional relationship.

For another example, take a look at one of my earliest works of electronic literature: Mythologies of Landforms and Little Girls [1996]. Mythologies is a non-linear narrative about a first crush as experienced by two children left to their own devices while the grown-ups are presumably busy elsewhere. A map of Nova Scotia operates as the interface and central image of the piece. I used geological images and terminology to further distance myself from rural Nova Scotia, and childhood in general. In this case, plate tectonic theory seemed to best represent the cataclysmic, renting split between the end of childhood obliviousness and the beginning of adult knowing.

At fault, as it were, seemed to be the sea,
always the sea, putting another meter between
Africa and the Americas every hundred years,
pushing Europe further and further away from
the Canadian Maritimes, in dutiful geology.

I will also suggest, for a print example of the evocation of the sublime through intertwined images of memory and place in my fiction, the very short story Precipice [2003]:

A habitual stomach-sleeper, she dreams of falling. Face down, the falling is more like flying; she never hits the ground. Often in her dreams of falling there is a precipice: a clearly defined line before which, perhaps for acres on end, grow grassy, sloping fields of thistle, pock-marked by dry caked dung. And after? Arriving at the precipice all fields and fences end abruptly and fall away. Forty feet below, there lies a beach of stones; a vague sense of bottom. And beyond: an inordinate amount of ocean.

In closing, let me thank you once again for your close reading of “The Cape” and you’re your thoughtful questions. It has been a pleasure. Very best, from Montreal,

J.R. Carpenter || Luckysoap & Co.
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The Cape: The Back-Story

I was thrilled when Aurelea Mahood wrote to me back in September to say she’d be teaching my piece, The Cape, in her E-literature class at Capilano University, on Friday, October 10th, 2008. I would have come into the class to speak about the work in person, but Capilano University is in North Vancouver, British Columbia and I am in Montreal, Quebec. To bridge this vast distance, Aurelea came up with a creative solution: she invited me to be a guest blogger in her class.

In this blog post to CultureNet @ CapilanoU, I will present some background information about the creation of the work that wouldn’t necessarily be apparent from viewing/reading it. The students will then discuss and pose questions via blog comments, which I will attempt to answer in a timely manner. Here, then, is (one version of) the back-story of The Cape.

I built the web iteration of The Cape over the course of 10 days in August 2005, but some of the sentences in The Cape have been kicking around in my brain since the early 1990s. When I started writing the text of The Cape I was studying Studio Art, with a concentration in Fibres & Sculpture, at Concordia University in Montreal. At the time, I had no idea what to do with such seemingly simplistic yet somehow ponderous sentences as: My grandmother Carpenter lived on Cape Cod in a Cape Cod House. My uncle also lived on Cape Cod, but not in a Cape Cod House.

I was quite preoccupied with the conjoined notions of memory and place at the time. In the mid 1990s made a number of installations, interventions and artist’s books containing some of the same sentences that now appear in The Cape. This body of work, collectively entitled, “The Influence of a Maritime Climate,” was based on a passage from Michel Foucault’s Madness & Civilization:

“In the classical period the melancholy of the English was easily explained by the influence of a maritime climate, cold, humidity, the instability of the weather; all those fine droplets of water that penetrated the channels and fibers of the human body and made it lose its firmness, predisposed it to madness.”

Michel Foucault, Madness & Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, trans. Richard Howard, NY: Vintage, 1988, pages 12-13.

I grew up in a maritime climate, in rural Nova Scotia. My father ran a Cape Islander (fishing boat) in the Bay of Fundy. He was English. He left when I was eight and I never saw him or his mother, my grandmother Carpenter, again. I don’t have a photograph of my grandmother Carpenter. If I did, I would insert it here. It’s true that I don’t have a photograph of my grandmother Carpenter, but I do have a photograph of her house, which is indeed a Cape Cod house. In the days before digital photography, a physical photograph had a certain authority – especially if it happened to be the only extant souvenir of a relative disappeared. I realized, when I wrote the above quoted sentence, that I had come to think of the photograph of my grandmother’s house as a photograph of her.

I hadn’t given my paternal grandmother’s English-ness, and thus my own English-ness, much thought. I was much more preoccupied with my maternal grandmother, a Jewish, Hungarian, Yiddish-speaking, first-generation American immigrant to the Lower East Side of New York City, with whom I had spent every summer, when I was growing up. Since moving to Montreal I had been attempting to put my rural, maritime origins behind me. Foucault’s phrase “the influence of a maritime climate” and the preposterous notion that “all those fine droplets of water that penetrated the channels and fibers of the human body” would predispose me – a half-English former Maritimer – to madness, opened the door, for me, to the possibility of writing fiction.

This was excellent timing as I had just discovered the Internet. I got my first Unix account in 1993, and promptly began posting fictional accounts of myself and my alternate pasts to various alt.arts USENET groups. For more about the many hours I spent in the Concordia University Unix lab, surrounded by computer science students, making stuff up off the top of my head, and how that led to a three-year stint managing a web development team for a multi-national software company, see: A Brief History of the Internet as I Know it So Far [2003]:

The Internet was totally textual back then. It had no interface. The joke of the day was, On the Internet no one knows you’re a dog. Everyone was talking about gender politics and how, on the Internet, you could role-play and construct your own identity. At the same time that everyone was obsessed with sexuality they were all claiming disembodiment, which seemed like a contradiction, even then.

“A brief history of the Internet as I know it so far,” J. R. Carpenter, Fish Piss, Vol. 2, No. 4, Montreal, QC, Fall/Winter 2003/2004.

Around the same time as I was reading too much Foucault for my own good, turning my paternal grandmother into a fictional entity and logging into MUDs and MOOs to tell nonsensical stories to total strangers, I came across a used copy of: Stephen P. Leatherman, Editor, Environmental Geologic Guide to Cape Cod National Seashore; Field Trip Guide Book for the Eastern Section of the Society of Economic Paleontologists & Mineralogists, National Park Service Cooperative Research Unit, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass., 1979.

My Family Album

The Geologic Guide contained many photographs of Cape Cod. I had only had the one photo of my grandmother’s house. The Guide was published in 1979, around the time of my one and only brief visit to Cape Cod. The only time we went to visit it was winter but we walked on the beach anyway. It occurred to me immediately to use the Geologic Guide photographs, charts, graphs and maps as stand-ins for non-existent family photos, and the Guide itself as a surrogate family album. This was much more interesting to me than the truth of what ever my family history had been. If only there was some way to put pictures on the Internet!

I was attracted to the black and white aesthetic of the Environmental Geologic Guide to the Cape Cod National Seashore. Before computers were readily available, I worked extensively with photocopiers. For more about how I almost got fired from my job in the Concordia University Fine Arts Slide Library for abusing their photocopy machine for artistic purposes, see this (only slightly) tongue-in-cheek essay: A Little Talk About Reproduction [2004]:

I can’t say that I woke up one morning and found myself in bed with the computer. My love affair with art was a youthful thing, impractical and highly idyllic. But my tryst with the photocopier was fully sordid and adult. We met at the office. The photocopier made itself invaluable to me by enlarging, reducing and reproducing endlessly. I would tell my friends that I had to work late. I would stay for hours after closing, making collages seemingly out of nothing, liberated in no uncertain terms, or so I thought, from physicality and from preciousness. Guilty of white lies, laziness and copyright infringement, I would scrub my toner stained hands before leaving the office.

“A Little Talk About Reproduction,” Fish Piss, Vol. 3, No. 1, Montreal, QC, Fall 2004.

It was winter but we walked on the beach anyway.

I graduated from art school in 1995, and made my first web project later that year at a residency at The Banff Centre for the Arts (as The Banff Centre was called back then). Many of my early web projects were in black and white because that’s what colour photocopies come in. The images in Fishes & Flying Things [1995], Notions of the Archival in Memory and Deportment [1996] and Mythologies of Landforms and Little Girls [1996] were all scanned from my massive collection of photocopies of diagrams and maps.

Although I have since made many works in colour, The Cape [2005] returns to the black and white aesthetic of those early works. This is in part because the Geologic Guide is entirely black and white, and in part because I had actually begun the project at the same time as those works. The Cape visually resembles those earlier works, but uses code elements that did not exist in 1995, such as IFRAMEs and DHTML timelines. The small, moving images you see on some pages of The Cape – on the Sound carries, especially in winter, page, for example – are actually large, still images being pushed behind a small IFRAME window by a long DHTML script. This means, in effect, that the text is moving the image. The use of DHTML timelines produces a silent, jumpy, staggering effect reminiscent of a super-8 film, which is how home movies would have been made in 1979.

The main reason it took me so long to create the web iteration of The Cape was not a technical one at all. It was, rather, a literary conundrum. I didn’t know how to make sense of those deceptively simple sentences. What a boring story this is. I revisited The Cape as a short story many times over the years. For a long time I thought the story had to be longer. Then I finally realized it had to be shorter. The shorter a story is, sometimes, the longer it takes to write. In the spring of 2005 an editor invited me to submit a very short story to a very small magazine. I sent The Cape, along with some diagrams from the Geologic Guide.

Print Copy of The Cape

After a decade of editing, the story finally seemed finished when I saw it in print. I immediately set to work on the electronic version. Months after the launch of The Cape, I created a mini-book version – a small, photocopied zine containing the text of The Cape and images from the Geologic Guide. The mini-book iteration of The Cape is exactly the sort of thing I would have made in art school. Finally, the work had come full circle.

3 Mini-Book Iterations of Electronic Literature Works

The Cape has been included in the Electronic Literature Collection Volume One, the Rhizome ArtBase, BathHouse, function:feminism and, most recently, an exhibition in Tasmania called Hunter/Gatherer. I’ve had a wide range of responses to the work. Some people are convinced it’s a true story, because it’s in the first person. Some are convinced I am an American, because Cape Cod is such an iconic American landmark. One reviewer recently wrote with great conviction that I had lived on Cape Cod, and I was a nostalgic for writing about it. I am nostalgic for lots of places, but not for Cape Cod. Cape Cod may well be a real place, but as far as I am concerned, The Cape is fictional.

I thank you for this opportunity to think back to these sentences of The Cape first entered my head and how they have shifted over time. And I thank your for your interest in and close reading of the piece. I will leave you now with this write-up of The Cape from Scot Cotterell, curator of Hunter/Gatherer:

Hunter/Gatherer: curatorial essay by Scot Cotterell
Hunter/Gatherer: Search Theory or Data Bodies in X.s.

J.R.Carpenter’s The Cape seeks to convolute fact and fiction by taking us on a user-controlled journey of fragmented narrative. The combination of formal, informal and sometimes seemingly inconsequential information activates an in-between state, a suspension of sorts where information seems ordered in meaningful ways, but we are never quite sure. For example, ‘Cape Cod is a real place, but the events and characters of THE CAPE are fictional. The photographs have been retouched. The diagrams are not to scale’ appears alongside anecdotal familial histories, ‘My grandmother Carpenter lived on Cape Cod, in a Cape Cod House. My uncle also lived on Cape Cod, but not in a Cape Cod house’. Using field trip guide books and environmental guides, old maps, diagrams, and collected source code filtered through a low-tech aura The Cape gracefully addresses the tension between the knowing of and mapping of place and memory by bringing together the connotative powers of fact and fiction.

. . . . .

Tributaries: Behind the Scenes at the Vancouver Launch Event

Over the course of the six months that I was posting to Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams I had the occasion to explain the project many times to many people, often with little or no success. Some said: Wow, that sounds so cool… But I know they’d never read a word of it. Others smiled and nodded even as their eyes literally glazed over. Only a brave few admitted they had no idea what I was talking about. You few, you are true friends.

None of this bothered me of course. I knew that this exploration of the formal, functional and poetic properties of RSS would be best understood in its natural element (online) and would be most closely read by an online community already habituated to navigating the tributaries of text-fed streams.

So why, from day one, did I insist that the commissioning body, The Capilano Review, go to the trouble and expense to fly me from Montreal to Vancouver for a real-time one-time only launch event?

The more open-ended, circuitous and recursive a project sets out to be, the more necessary closure becomes. I posted the last fragment of text from the “original” source two days before the Vancouver launch. Had not had a plane to catch and a mic to get in front of I could have continued frigging around with the texts of TCR 2-50 indefinitely.

Tributaries curator Kate Armstrong supported the idea of a Vancouver launch event from day one. While she was researching potential launch event venues she sent me this email:

Do you by any wild chance know Billy Mavreas?

BILLY MAVREAS is a Greek-Canadian artist and cartoonist living in Montreal. His artwork has been shown internationally. He is the author of The Overlords of Glee (2001) and the upcoming Inside Out Overlap (Timeless Books, 2008), and also the proprietor of his enduring project, Monastiraki, a Mile-End magickal curiosity shoppe and art gallery.

I replied:

> Yeah, he’s my neighbour and dear friend and we were at Banff together
> and so on. Why do you ask? He’s having a show at Helen Pitt around
> the same time I’ll be in Vancouver.

The rest, as they say, took a few more weeks to plan. But in the end, yes, we had the launch event at the Helen Pitt Gallery, where my friend and Montreal neighbour Billy Mavreas was artist in residence and the director Lance Blomgren had just agreed to contribute texts to another electronic literature project I’m working on and all three of us are Conundrum Press authors. Thank you Lance and Billy for letting us take over the Helen Pitt for the evening. Special thanks Billy for physically remixing a print copy of TCR 2-50 and handing out the mini-zine results on the spot, and for making such Tributaries-looking wall art for us to all stand in front of. And extra special thanks Emilie for pouring wine all evening and without whom I might not have made it to the gallery at all that day, but that’s another story.

Many dear friends showed up for the event, including some long-lost ones and some never before met in person ones and some in the “I have no idea what this project’s about” category. The pressure was on!

The Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams project is nowhere near as complicated as it sounds. It’s about reading. I held up my copy of TCR 2-50 for the audience to see all the underlined passages, circled sections, arrows, stars and annotations scribbled in the margins. We all do this when we read, don’t we? We interpret, interrupt, form metal images, take notes, and make associations. As I parsed and posted fragments of the essays of TCR 2-50 I marked them up, into JRML, as Kate Armstrong once quipped.

There are hundreds of different ways to read Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams. One good place to start is with the post: What the Heck is RSS?

A good example of JRML is section of Sandra Seekins’ essay dealing with the metaphors and media of biotechnologies which led to me to quote a sequence of pre-genetic-technology references made in literature and philosophy to “metaphors” of bodies as “composites of replaceable parts” in this excerpt: Metaphors of Biotechnology

An intertextual dialogue between TCR 2-50 authors emerges in the matrix/chora section of Kevin Magee’s poem To Write as Speach.

After showing these ways of reading Tributaries I went behind the scenes to show how the piece actually works. I posted an image to Flickr, commented on it, tagged it and then it appeared on the Tributaries main page through the magic of a Flickr RSS feed. I saved a bookmark to and that too was pulled into the Tributaries interface. I posted a new post to Tributaries: Alternate Readings: The In This Issue Remix, then logged into Facebook as Babble Brook (a character created to aid and abet with the Tributaries project). RSS had already pulled the afore mentioned Flickr image, bookmark and Tributaries post into Babble Brook’s profile and pushed news of them out into the feeds of all her friends. Having fed all that info into the text-fed stream, Babble Brook and I got off the mic and let the experts take over.

In a stroke of pure genius Tributaries curator Kate Armstrong invited three experts on streams to perform at the launch event: Dr. Michael Boyce, expert in stream of consciousness; Dr. Maria Lantin, Director of the Intersections Digital Studios, a research space at Emily Carr and thus an expert in data flow; and Dr. Jeremy Venditti, an expert in river geomorphology, turbulence and sediment transport dynamics in gravel-bedded streams. Now Dr. Boyce I’ve known for fifteen years, but Dr. Lantin and Dr. Venditti I’d never met before. This triumvirate of stream experts gave a brilliantly intermingled reading that riffed on the theme of streams. For example, if anyone is still wondering why on earth one would feed the texts of a print journal into a RSS stream, consider the transformational effects of the stream as outlined in this passage quoted by Dr. Venditti:

The Stream – Along the bottom of every gorge is a stream channel. In it may flow a great river or a brook or only a temporary torrent. The stream is there because the slopes of the land guide the water that way, and the stream may thus be said to exist on account of the channel. But in an equally important way the gorge exists because of the stream, for the stream is in fact the maker of the gorge and is still at work on it, deepening and enlarging. Let us look at the stream…
Grove Karl Gilbert and Albert Perry Brigham, An Introduction to Pyhsical Geography, 1902.

For me – standing in the audience having only just emerged seconds before from six intense months of working on Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams – this intertextual interdisciplinary reading of the work was a gift, and a joy to witness. Thank-you Michael, Maria and Jeremy for your generosity and thank-you Kate from coming up with this idea.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the gallery, throughout the evening TCR 2-50 guest editor and contributor Andrew Klobucar had been feeding portions of the readings into the Global Telelanguage Resources Workbench, which is basically a definition-generating machine. Despite having marked up an essay about this tool in Tributaries, it wasn’t until Andrew read performed the definitions generated in response to the evening’s other performances that I understood how innately hilarious the Global Telelanguage Resources project is! Thank you Andrew!

The performances were followed by a set from DJ Leigh Christie, who had already rocked my world earlier in the day during the tech set up. Even when the internet connection conked out, even when the data projector insisted on projecting upside-down, DJ Leigh kept our spirits running high. Thank you Leigh!

The longer you work on a project the more likely a launch event is to feel anti-climatic, especially an entirely web-based project. In this case, this was not the case. I’m grateful to The Capilano Review for seeing the project through to this conclusion. I was blown away by the turn out for the event, by the emotions of reuniting with long lost friends, by the generosity of all of the contributors and performers and by the responses to the work that the event generated.

Here’s how I know the event was a success: all the people who had told me beforehand that they didn’t get what this work was about came up to me after and said that now they get it. That’s about as climatic as you can get.
. . . . .

Tributaries & Text fed Streams: Launch Event

If you happen to be in Vancouver on Saturday May 24th at 7:30PM, come on down to the Helen Pitt Gallery for the launch of Tributaries & Text fed Streams. I’ve been working on this project for just over six months now and am thrilled to see it nearing completion. I’m also thrilled to be heading to Vancouver for this launch. I have so many dear friends in that fair city yet have spent next to no time there. Looking forward to seeing you all – you know who you are!

Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams is commissioned by The Capilano Review and curated by Kate Armstrong. The work explores the poetic, formal and functional properties of RSS using the text of an issue of literary quarterly The Capilano Review as raw material raw the creation of a new artwork. Since January I have reading and re-reading the essays, parsing them into fragments, annotating them, marking them up, tagging them and posting them. Once fed into an RSS stream, the fragments are re-read, reordered, and reblogged in an iterative process of distribution that opens up new readings of the essays and reveals new interrelationships between them.

At the launch event I will read from the piece and perform a guided tour of the various streams feeding into and flowing out of it. In addition, curator Kate Armstrong has put together a programme of experimental readings by practitioners in disparate fields such as quantum physics, geography, and poetics, arranged to explore ideas of streams, seriality, or flow. Participants in the launch event will include Maria Lantin, Michael Boyce, Jeremy Venditti, Global Telelanguage Resources, and me, J.R. Carpenter.

The work will be simultaneously launched on

Launch Event:
Saturday, May 24th, 2008 at 7:30pm
Helen Pitt Gallery, 102-148 Alexander Street, Vancouver, BC.

A reception will follow.

For those of you who can’t make it in person, here are some URLS:

Tributaries & Text- Fed Streams:
The Capilano Review:
TCR Issue 2-50 : “Artifice and Intelligence”:
J.R. Carpenter:
. . . . .

Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams: Curatorial Statement

What are the creative and poetic possibilities of RSS syndication and how might the introduction of omnipresent, iterative publishing processes affect our experience of digital literature? How can a book be transformed and reworked through an exploration of the formal and aesthetic structure of the stream?
TCR Issue 2-50 : Artifice and Intelligence
Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams is a project by J.R. Carpenter, commissioned by The Capilano Review and curated by Kate Armstrong. In this work Carpenter approaches the text of an issue of literary quarterly The Capilano Review (TCR) as a raw material in the creation of a new artwork.

Carpenter draws on a range of strategies and traditions including literary criticism, illustration, blogging, coding, writing, and digital intervention, using these to articulate an experimental space that equates and associates water with text.

The work is an eddy within the internet, a place where information – commentary, image, text, metadata – coalesce for a moment, before flowing back out into and through other channels. The written word mixes and dissolves, never static, not quite discrete. Related imagery circulates within and without the confines of the artwork, raising questions of boundary. We navigate within this work as we would through wild, quiet rivers. Reading is wayfinding. We pass through texts and text fragments, through citations, links, footnotes, self-author, other-author, patches of whimsy. Social media meets scholarly tracemaking. Categories become headwaters: comments, islands. It is a “text-fed stream”, moving with undercurrents and process.

The work extends our experience of the nature of the digital stream and invites new questions about material, temporality, repetition, and the archive in connection with the electronic word.

Kate Armstrong, 2008
Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams
. . . . .

Slip into the Text-Fed Stream

I’ve officially started posting to Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams: A Feed-Reading of The Capilano Review. What the heck is a Feed-Reading? What on earth is a Text-Fed Stream? I’m so glad you asked!

Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams: A Feed-Reading of The Capilano Review is a personal, experimental and playful re-reading of and response to thirteen essays published in a recent issue of The Capilano Review that was dedicated to new writing and new technologies. In this work I am exploring the formal and functional properties of RSS, using blogging, tagging and other Web 2.0 tools to mark-up and interlink these essays and to insert additional meta-layers of commentary in order to play with, expose, expand upon, and subvert formal structures of writing, literature, and literary criticism.

For the next four-months I will be reading and re-reading the essays and parsing them into fragments, which I will then annotate, mark-up, tag and post. Fed into an RSS stream, the fragments will be re-read, reordered, and reblogged in an iterative process of distribution intended to open up new readings of the essays and reveal new interrelationships between them.

Streams are both literally and metaphorically the central image of the work. Streams of consciousness, data, and rivers flow through the interface and through the texts. Through this process of re-reading and responding, this textual tributary will feed a larger stream while paying tribute to the original source.

The result of this process-based approach will be a web site that is part blog and part archive – an online repository for the artifacts of re-reading as well as a stage for the performance of live archiving. The final version of Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams: A Feed-Reading of The Capilano Review will launch simultaneously on The Capilano Review website (Vancouver) and on (New York) in May 2008.

But why wait until then? You can slip into this text-fed stream at any time via the web site, where you can post comments: and/or you can subscribe to the RSS feed and have the posts come to you:

There’s also a facebook group: Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams. I’ve started a collection of literary quotations referring to rivers, streams, writing and the flow of information. If you have any to share, please send them along via a comment to this post, or to a post on, or on the facebook group’s wall. Hope to see you somewhere down river soon …

Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams

Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams is curated by Vancouver-based artist and writer Kate Armstrong and commissioned by The Capliano Review – a literary journal based in North Vancouver with a long history of publishing new and established Canadian and international writers and artists who are experimenting with or expanding the boundaries of conventional forms and contexts. Now in its 35th year, the magazine continues to favour the risky, the provocative, the innovative, and the dissident. TCR 2-50 “Artifice & Intelligence” was guest-edited by Andrew Klobucar and included essays by: Andrew Klobucar, Global Telelanguage Resources, Sandra Seekins, Kate Armstrong, David Jhave Johnston, Laura U. Marks, Sharla Sava, Kevin Magee, Jim Andrews, Gordon Winiemko, Nancy Patterson and Darren Wershler-Henry.

Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams:
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Tributaries and Text-fed Streams

a feed-reading of The Capliano Review
a new work of electronic literature by J. R. Carpenter
curated by Kate Armstrong

The Capilano Review, a literary journal based in North Vancouver, has commissioned me to create a new work of electronic literature based on a recent issue dedicated to new writing and new technologies. TCR 2-50 “Artifice & Intelligence,” guest-edited by Andrew Klobucar, included essays by: Andrew Klobucar, Global Telelanguage Resources, Sandra Seekins, Kate Armstrong, David Jhave Johnston, Laura U. Marks, Sharla Sava, Kevin Magee, Jim Andrews, Gordon Winiemko, Nancy Patterson and Darren Wershler-Henry.

Tributaries & Text-fed Streams will be a personal, experimental and playful rereading of and response to these essays. I will explore the formal and functional properties of RSS, using blogging, tagging and other Web 2.0 tools to mark-up and interlink essays and to insert additional meta-layers of commentary in order to play with, expose, expand upon, and subvert formal structures of writing, literature, and literary criticism.

Over a four-month period I will read and re-read the essays, parsing them into fragments, which I will then annotate, mark-up, tag and post. Fed into an RSS stream, the fragments will be re-read, reordered, and reblogged in an iterative process of distribution that will open up new readings of the essays and reveal new interrelationships between them. The result of this process-based approach will be a blogchive – part blog, part archive – at once an online repository for the artefacts of re-reading and a stage for the performance of live archiving.

Streams are both literally and metaphorically the central image of the work. Streams of consciousness, data, and rivers flow through the interface and through the texts. Through this process of re-reading and responding, this textual tributary will feed a larger stream while paying tribute to the original source.

Tributaries & Text-fed Streams: A Feed-Reading of The Capilano Review will launch simultaneously on (Vancouver) and (New York) in the spring of 2008.
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