Electronic Literature Lo-fi Style: Where is it? What is it? How does it work?

Categories:  electronic literature, residency, workshop
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This informal information session and hands-on workshop led by current Struts Open Studio artist in residence J. R. Carpenter will offer an introduction to the hybrid genre of electronic literature. Using examples from her recent work, J.R. will show how to remix and recycle found code to create new stories, poems and animations. Participants will create a short fiction generator together. A list of links to venues, journals and galleries publishing and exhibiting electronic literature will be offered, for your future reading pleasure. No programming skills required! No special equipment necessary. Bring a laptop if you have one. Bring a pen. Bring a friend.

Electronic Literature Lo-fi Style

Thursday , June 16, 2011, 7PM FREE
Struts Gallery, 7 Lorne Street, Sackville, NB
http://strutsgallery.ca

J. R. Carpenter has been using the internet as a medium for the creation and dissemination of non-linear narratives since 1993. She also makes zines, novels, maps, walks, photographs and performances of various kinds. More information about her projects can be found on her website: http://luckysoap.com

NON-LINEAR NARRATIVES & MULTI-MEDIA POETICS: AN INTRODUCTION TO ELECTRONIC LITERATURE

Categories:  electronic literature, workshop
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The Quebec Writers Federation has invited me back to teach another Introduction to Electronic Literature workshop, same title as last year, but this time we’ll have two days instead of one to explore and experiment with the reading, writing and performing of web-based electronic literature – very exciting as last year we had nowhere near enough time.

Two Saturdays, March 6 and March 13, 10:00am – 4:00pm
1200 Atwater Avenue., Room 2 (2nd-floor computer lab)
Registration information.

Electronic literature combines literary and new media practices, resulting in multi-media literary works that couldn’t exist in print form. Consideration of technology at the level of the creation of the text distinguishes electronic literature from e-books, digitized versions of print works, web publishing and other products of print authors ‘going digital,’ none of which will be discussed in this workshop. Unbound by pages and the printed book, electronic literature moves freely across the web, through galleries, performance spaces, and museums, yet does not reside in any single medium or institution. Electronic literature often intersects with conceptual art, web art, performance and sound art, but the reading, writing and performance of electronic literature is situated within the literary arts.

This workshop will begin with a brief historical background of the genre, including a discussion of some of the pre-web literary forms that digital writing evolved from. We will focus on looking at, reading and understanding a wide range of electronic literature produced in various media over the past 20 years. I will show how some of these works were built, give an introduction to HTML, provide a number of web resources and tool for further investigation, then propose a number of ways for beginners to approach the web medium for the creation and dissemination of texts. In particular, we will look at ways to use existing Web 2.0 structures to create distributive literary works. Writing exercises will include: collectively creating a hypertext narrative, remixing Python story generators, writing 140-character stories in Twitter and plotting postcard stories in Google Maps. There will be some technical discussion and experimentation, but prior knowledge of web programming is not required.

This workshop is ideal for experienced writers interested in expanding their existing practices to include web-based forms of non-linear, interactive, intertextual and/or networked literature and media artists exploring textual practices in digital work. If participants have electronic literature projects in mind, we can discuss strategies for creating these works. Visual and new media artists who use are using text in their work and wish to learn more about the literary aspects of digital writing will also find this workshop useful, as will avid readers of experimental literature from Calvino to Borges, and anyone interested in audio/video mashup, performance, remix culture, etc., who wishes to learn about this exciting new hybrid, hypermedia genre.

A list of links to online resources, further technical resources and venues for reading and submitting electronic literature will be provided.

Two Saturdays, March 6 and March 13, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
1200 Atwater Avenue., Room 2 (2nd-floor computer lab)
Workshop leader: J.R. Carpenter
Visit the Quebec Writers Federation Website for Registration information: http://www.qwf.org/workshops/spring2010/carpenter.html
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Darting Stories Remix

Categories:  electronic literature
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As E-Writer-in-Residence at Dartington College, in Devon, England, this fall, I led a workshop on electronic literature with a concentration on literary mapping with first year Performance Writing Students. Over the course of the workshop students generated short texts for zines, postcards, epitaphs, blog posts and web maps. Though written separately, these texts explored common themes of place, mapping, the River Dart, Dartington and the past occupants (fictional or otherwise) of Dartington Hall. The workshop exercises and the texts they produced are archived on a group blog: Darting Blog. These texts are presented collectively as a final project on a Google Map: DARTING: A Collective Story Map

The last session of the workshop focused on remixing. I created a Darting Stories Remix by taking sentences from the various (and varied) texts archived on the Darting Blog and fed them into one of Nick Montfort’s Python story generators. I had used this same method earlier in the year to create Excerpts from the Chronicles of Pookie and JR.

For the purposes of this Darting Stories Remix, I shortened some of the sentences or selected excerpts from longer sentences to fit into the Python story generator format, and changed them all into the present tense and first person. Otherwise, these remain sentences written separately by separate authors remixed by a Python script to make collectively authored stories.

To read the Darting Stories Remix, download this file to your desktop and unzip: Darting.py On a Mac or Linux system, you can run the story generator by opening a Terminal Window, typing “cd Desktop”, and typing “python Darting.py”. Hint: look for Terminal in your Utilities folder. This Python story generator runs on Windows, too, but you will probably need to install Python first: version 2.6. Once Python is installed you can double click on the file and it will automatically launch and run in the terminal window. Every time you press Return a new version of the story will appear. For example:

Here are a few more examples of stories generated by this script:

Darting Stories:
How do I write an epitaph about myself in the first person?.
Through the depths of the water I reflect far and wide.
Hadrian’s Wall might have mostly come down, but it’s there in spirit.
Mad, that’s what they call me.
I crave little more than my freedom, my air, and my land.
I will walk directionless, till the unknown end.
Striving to connect with something natural.
To be continued…

Darting Stories:
At the start, I look for the lights.
What do names matter when worlds whirl together?.
I don’t live in a house, where they could watch me.
I live along the Dart but not around the towns where they patrol.
I pass out in the dirt-floored cellar most nights.
Sunlight barely reaches the stone floor.
I am a fervent keeper of horses, ponies and barns.
Websta’s brother died in the Dart. Had his throat slit.
The sea is a place I understand is rather nice.
Introvert, extravert, ingreen.
This the most achingly beautiful place to come across a little death.
To be continued…

Darting Stories:
Stories run off the Moor with it’s river waters.
I stride up hill holding hands with a friend named for the greatest flower.
William, sweet or otherwise, has never been my name.
I scare their dogs by trying to speak with them in their own language.
Graceless truths of tears clutch at the mirage in my room.
The ponies look more listless and less majestic.
It gets so muddy here; no wonder all the cows around here are brown.
The wind gives the landscape something of a facial peel.
Splash water into mud, trip me.
Smouldering timber and melancholy permeate my lungs. I stick to the path.
This the most achingly beautiful place to come across a little death.
To be continued…

Darting Stories:
On this hill the world as we know it collided.
Intoxicating tongues speak of Giants, Merlins, Padfoots and Beasts.
Geoffrey of Monmouth’s accounts are unfounded, possibly fabricated.
The clay on the wheel beneath my fingers, whirling a world on its axis.
William, sweet or otherwise, has never been my name.
I crave little more than my freedom, my air, and my land.
I don’t live in a house, where they could watch me.
I live along the Dart but not around the towns where they patrol.
I will walk directionless, till the unknown end.
I am a fervent keeper of horses, ponies and barns.
To be continued…

Darting Stories:
Stories run off the Moor with it’s river waters.
I will walk directionless, till the unknown end.
Fear and bliss live with me and the room contains me.
Websta’s brother died in the Dart. Had his throat slit.
Black looms in the distance, the air thick with distaste.
The Waters of the Dart run across stones fallen from foreign clouds.
Map the most important places around the River Dart.
Exmoor, outmore, out the door, more doors.
More floor, less flaws, less cause, pour, pore, sweat, regret.
Skip over Kandinsky pavement, follow the water.
Flotsam on a tidal river is a strange mixture of oak leaves and seaweed.
To be continued…
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E-Writer in Residence, Dartington Campus, UCF

Categories:  electronic literature, reading
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This fall I am the Performance Writing E-Writer in Residence at University College Falmouth’s Dartington Campus, located on the Dartington Hall Estate, a 1,200 acre mixture of arable and pastoral farmland, woodland, residential and commercial accommodation. Written records of this site do not begin until the thirteenth century, but there is evidence of considerable activity in the area during the Roman occupation and the manor of Dartington is mentioned in a Royal Charter of 833 AD. The buildings and structures situated on the estate range in age from Deer Park Wall and Earth Works at North Wood which date from the Bronze and Iron Ages, to the main Hall which was built in 1388, to those properties which were built by the Elmhirsts in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. The site has been continuously occupied for well over a thousand years, but this is the last year that Performance Writing will be located here, so I feel most fortunate to be here at this time.

My duties at E-Writer in Residence mostly involve sitting in my office, working on my work. The above photo is not a view from my office, thankfully, or I’d be too busy staring out the window to get any work done. One of my favourite things about the campus is how, to get from one side of it to the other, you have to walk across part of a cow pasture with actual cow pats in it (not pictured). I do this sometimes just to go to the library to visit the copy of my novel that they have there. I’m also leading an electronic literature workshop with the Performance Writing undergraduates, with a concentration on literary mapping. And I’ll do a public reading on the Dartington Campus Thursday 3 December, 7.30pm in Studio 3 (free). This will be the last in a series of three performances dedicated to readings featuring innovative and dynamic writers. For more information on this event, visit The Arts at Dartington.
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NON-LINEAR NARRATIVES & MULTI-MEDIA POETICS AT THE ATWATER LIBRARY

Categories:  electronic literature, workshop
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Early Saturday morning, March 28, 2009, I packed a suitcase full of books and headed down to the Atwater Library to lead a six-hour long workshop on electronic literature. For the record, although the Atwater Library is the oldest lending library in Canada, their computer lab is state of the art. Also worthy of note: even the smallest of suitcases, when full of books, is way too heavy to carry up and down the perverse number of stairs leading in and out of the Montreal Metro.

NON-LINEAR NARRATIVES & MULTI-MEDIA POETICS: AN INTRODUCTION TO ELECTRONIC LITERATURE was a one-day workshop presented by the Quebec Writers’ Federation. This being the QWF’s first venture into the realm of electronic literature, I had no idea who, if anyone, would sign up. The turnout was excellent, and students’ backgrounds extremely varied. Which was both exciting and terrifying. Picture it: A poet, a printmaker, a journalist, a video artist, an installation artist, an anthropologist, a professor of Intermedia and a Pearl programmer walk into a room. And I’m standing there with a suitcase full of books.

It’s amazing how quickly six hours can fly by. We covered some but not all of the course outline and discussed many more things besides. I referred excessively to my own work, and pillaged bits and pieces of talks and workshops taught by friends. A subjective chronology of electronic literature from Stuart Moulthrop here, a dash of film history from jake moore there. Victoria Welby’s notes on animation and remediation sure came in handy. A remixology writing exercise lifted from Mark Amerika crossed with an intro to HTML led to a re-mix of Nick Montfort’s The Purpling, a poem recently published on the Iowa Review Web.

The Purpling has ten pages, each with eight to nine sentences, each sentence linked to a different page. We were nine in the class, so we each re-mixed a page and left the index page the same. The only rules, that the first sentence of the re-mixed page start with the same first two words as the original (to correspond with Nick’s file naming system), and that the re-mixed page have the same number of sentences as the original. We took blueing as our theme: blueing of mood, of sky, as whitening agent. And here’s what we came up with: The Blueing.

Thanks to all the re-mixers and re-mixees, and to Lori, at the QWF, for bringing e.lit into the mix.
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NON-LINEAR NARRATIVES & MULTI-MEDIA POETICS: AN INTRODUCTION TO ELECTRONIC LITERATURE

Categories:  electronic literature, workshop
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I am teaching an electronic literature workshop through the Quebec Writers’ Federation on Saturday, March 28, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. 1200 Atwater Avenue, Suite 2 (2nd-floor computer lab). This workshop is ideal for experienced writers interested in expanding their existing practices to include web-based forms of non-linear, interactive, intertextual and/or networked literature

The one-day workshop will provide an introduction to reading and writing web-based electronic literature. Electronic literature combines literary and new media practices, resulting in multi-media literary works that couldn’t exist in print form. Consideration of technology at the level of the creation of the text distinguishes electronic literature from e-books, digitized versions of print works, web publishing and other products of print authors ‘going digital,’ none of which will be discussed in this workshop. Unbound by pages and the printed book, electronic literature moves freely across the web, through galleries, performance spaces, and museums, yet does not reside in any single medium or institution. Electronic literature often intersects with conceptual art, web art and sound art, but the reading and writing of electronic literature is situated within the literary arts.

This workshop will begin with a brief historical background of the genre, including a discussion of some of the pre-web literary forms that digital writing evolved from. We will focus on looking at, reading and understanding works of electronic literature. I will show some of my work and explain how it was built, then propose a number of ways for beginners to approach the web medium for the creation and dissemination of texts. In particular, we will look at ways to use existing Web 2.0 structures to create distributive literary works. Writing exercises will include: writing 140-character stories in Twitter and writing postcard stories in Google Maps. There will be some technical discussion of how these works function, but prior knowledge of web programming is not required.

If participants have electronic literature projects in mind, we can discuss strategies for creating these works. Visual and new media artists who use are using text in their work and wish to learn more about the literary aspects of digital writing will also find this workshop useful, as will avid readers of experimental literature from Calvino to Borges, and anyone interested in audio/video mashup, performance, remix culture, etc., who wishes to learn about this exciting new hybrid, hypermedia genre.

A list of links to online resources, further technical resources and venues for reading and submitting electronic literature will be provided. For registration information, please visit: http://www.qwf.org/workshops/spring2009/carpenter.html.

J. R. Carpenter is winner of the QWF’s 2008 Carte Blanche Quebec Prize and the 2003 & 2005 CBC Quebec Short Story Competition. Her electronic literature has been presented at Jyväskylä Art Museum (Finland), Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (Toronto), Electronic Literature Collection Volume One Web Biennial 2007 (Istanbul), Rhizome.org and Turbulence.org. Her short fiction has been anthologized and published widely. Her first novel, Words the Dog Knows, was published by Conundrum Press (Montreal, 2008). She serves as President of the Board of Directors of OBORO New Media Lab in Montreal.
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I’m in Karlsokrona, Sweden.

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It’s dark at the moment, and very far from Montreal. It took one taxi, two planes, two passport controls, two trains, eighteen hours and six time zones to get here. The taxi took the best route to the airport. The first plane was empty. It took me to Washington DC. The second plane was full. It took me to Copenhagen. It took eight hours. A long-haul red-eye spent in seat 46B – on the isle in the last row. Right next to the toilet. Which is right next to where the food comes out. I was enraged about this arrangement until I met my seatmate. 46A happened to be a Norwegian novelist named Astrid, a woman around my age who was on her way back from Mexico City. We instantly became Team Last Row and determined to make the best of it. We talked for hours about books and writing, socialism and publishing, travel and translation. I got the low down on the lay of the Scandinavian literary landscape. And an invitation to write an article for a Norwegian authors’ website that Astrid edits. Astrid got a copy of my novel. She is going to be the first person in Norway to read Words the Dog Knows. Sadly, none of her three novels have been translated into English yet. We wrote reading recommendations for each other in our matching black notebooks and got extra free wine because we were in such good spirits despite how hard our seats sucked. The flight crew knew enough to be grateful for our good humour.

We parted ways in Copenhagen. I followed my Swedish host Talan’s Map and How to Catch a Train instructions to the letter. They were excellent instructions, which included such all important details as which ticket booth will take Canadian cash and the amazing (to someone from Quebec) fact that the conductors on Swedish trains are required by law to speak English. The instructions sort of fell apart when none of the automated ticket machines were working and long lines formed at the ticket booths. I eventually managed to procure a ticket to Karlskrona and soon I was on a train speeding through the Swedish countryside. Technically the train was going to Karlskrona, but not all the way. I wound up waiting for an hour in a freezing cold station somewhere half way between Copenhagen and Karlskrona for another train to take me the rest of the way. Once I figured out where the one hot water heater was hiding in the cavernous cold, and huddled up to it, I was free to be amused by the waiting room cast of small town characters culled from the casts of My Life as a Dog and Mon Uncle. An old man spent the entire hour meticulously washing the flagstone floor by pushing a rag mop along with his boot, for example.

On the second train, a man came by interviewing passengers about their use of the train system. The whole car listened with attention as the questions were translated into English for me. I’m sure I skewed the survey’s demographic considerably. Where did you board the train? Copenhagen. What was your point of origin? Montreal. What is your final destination? Karlskrona. What is the purpose of your travel to Karlskrona? To give a lecture. And how often do you use this train service? This is my first time. By this time the whole train car was listening. Soon a second interview ensued, this one from my Swedish seatmate, a gap-toothed affable chap, who found it incredible that I would travel all this way to give one lecture and then go home. Well, I’m giving a workshop too, I explained. He apologized for the cold, lifted my suitcase into the overhead rack for me, lowered the blind so the sun wouldn’t blind me, let me sleep for a while, then tapped my knee to say good bye when he got up to leave. Because we were old friends by then I guess.

Speaking of friends, my friend Talan met me at the Karlskrona train station and walked me too my hotel. I have Talan to thank for being here. When he first invited me, over a single malt scotch in a hotel bar in the small town of Vancouver, Washington, I never thought it would actually happen. And then there we were walking through the streets of cold Karlskrona. Once I was checked into my hotel, Talan left me alone to recuperate from my travels. He ran off to a meeting and then home to prepare a welcoming reception for me set to take place at his place later this evening. Which is almost now.

Now I’ve had a nap and my brain is clearer, though body has no idea what time it is. I’m starving. I’m sucking on a cough drop trying to stay alive the next 50 minutes until Lissa comes to pick me up to take me to the reception at Talan’s, being thrown in honour of my having come all this way. Rumor has it there will be smoked baltic salmon and caviar and cheese and crackers and single malt scotch! Come on cough drop, keep me in this thing!
. . . . .

It was a dark and stormy exquisite corpse

Categories:  electronic literature, lecture, writing
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The 10th annual Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival begins April 30 and runs until May 4, 2008. During the festival I will teach two workshops on electronic literature as part of the Blue Metropolis Student Literary Programme. The programme is designed for traditional authors to read from their work, discuss writing as an occupation, explore a literary genre with the students and then lead them in practical writing exercises in that genre. The students are then invited to read their creations and discuss them together. There will be between 30 and 50 students in each class. For most this will be their first introduction to electronic literature. For the past few weeks I’ve been wracking my brains trying to figure out how to lead 50 high school students at a time through a two-and-a-half hour hands-on writing workshop in electronic literature with only one computer in the room.

We will begin at the beginning, by looking at pre-internet pre-digital forms of writing that helped put the hyper into the hypertext markup language we know today. Among the printed texts most often cited as being hypertextual: Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch, at least half of Joyce, most of Calvino and Borges and just about all of Blake. I doubt any of those authors are covered in high school English – they certainly weren’t in my day.

The “Choose Your Own Adventure” children’s books inspired my early hypertext work: Mythologies of Landforms and Little Girls. But that genre came and went before most of the students in school now were born. And besides, non-linear narrative structures are complex to create individually, let alone in a group. The vision of 50 16 years trying to decide if our hero should take a trip to petition the territorial legislature for better laws and enforcement (turn to page 96) or decide to get other sheep ranchers together and enforce the law herself (turn to page 110) put me in mind of the game Broken Telephone. A re-enactment of the lossy-ness that occurs when data moves through networks would certainly underline a basic Internet principal, but it wouldn’t necessarily count as a writing exercise. Fortunately, thinking about Broken Telephone immediately reminded me of the game Exquisite Corpse.

Exquisite corpse is a method of collective writing invented by Surrealists in 1925. It’s similar to an old parlour game called Consequences in which players write in turn on a sheet of paper, fold it to conceal part of the writing, and then pass it to the next player for a further contribution. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule (e.g. “The adjective noun adverb verb the adjective noun”) or by being allowed to see the end of what the previous person contributed. The resulting text is known as an exquisite corpse or cadavre exquis in French. The name comes from the phrase that resulted when Surrealists first played the game:

“Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau.”
The exquisite cadaver shall drink the new wine.

So we will attempt to write an exquisite corpse together, and then we will attempt to put it online together. A sudden rainstorm last night gave me a great opening line:

It was a dark and stormy night…

This, the quintessential opening line, is now so synonymous with a style of writing characterized by self-serious attempts at dramatic flair, the imitation of formulaic styles, an extravagantly florid style, redundancies, and run-on sentences that it becomes a neutral starting point for us.

One of the interesting things about the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night” in the context of a workshop on electronic literature is how many times it has been altered and adapted to new contexts and new literary forms – including electronic ones, as we shall see.

The phrase “It was a dark and stormy night” was originally written by Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton. It was the opening sentence of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Dark and stormy nights are a common cliché in horror and suspense films. Mad scientists always prefer to perform their experiments under cover of a storm. In Mary Shelly’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, chapter 5 begins:

It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

In a number of English translations of Alexandre Dumas’s 1844 novel The Three Musketeers, chapter 65 begins with the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night.” In the original French, the opening line of the chapter is C’etait une nuit orageuse et sombre.

Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel A Wrinkle in Time also opens with this line. A Wrinkle in Time remains one of my favourite novels of all time. The main character, Meg, is a teenage girl regarded by her peers and teachers as a bad-tempered underachiever. She and a misfit collection of characters travel through the galaxy by means of tesseract, a fifth dimensional concept similar to folding the fabric of space and time. They save the universe of course. It may also be inspiring for aspiring young writers to note that, this award-winning internationally best-selling sci-fi classic was rejected at least 26 times before it was finally accepted for publication.

Charles M. Schulz made the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night” famous in a 1965 comic strip in which Snoopy lugs a typewriter up to the roof of his dog house and writes this novel:

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night, by Snoopy

Part I

It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed.
Suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon!
While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.

Part II

A light snow was falling, and the little girl with the tattered shawl had not sold a violet all day.
At that very moment, a young intern at City Hospital was making an important discovery. The mysterious patient in Room 213 had finally awakened. She moaned softly.
Could it be that she was the sister of the boy in Kansas who loved the girl with the tattered shawl who was the daughter of the maid who had escaped from the pirates?

The intern frowned.
“Stampede!” the foreman shouted, and forty thousand head of cattle thundered down on the tiny camp. The two men rolled on the ground grappling beneath the murderous hooves. A left and a right. A left. Another left and right. An uppercut to the jaw. The fight was over. And so the ranch
was saved.
The young intern sat by himself in one corner of the coffee shop. he had learned about medicine, but more importantly, he had learned something about life.

THE END

The ever versatile “It was a dark and stormy night” was adapted once again by hip-hop artist Erykah Badu in the opening line of her 1997 song Apple Tree, from the album Baduizm.

It was a stormy night
you know the kind where the lightning strike
and I was hangin’ out wit some of my “artsy” friends
ooh wee ooh wee oooh
The night was long the night went on
people coolin’ out until the break of dawn
incense was burnin’ so I’m feelin right — ah’ight

See I picks my friends like I pick my fruit
& Ganny told me that when I was only a youth
I don’t go ’round trying to be what I’m not
I don’t waste my time trying ta get what you got
I work at pleasin’ me cause I can’t please you
and that’s why I do what I do
My soul flies free like a willow tree
doo wee doo wee do wee

And if you don’t want to be down with me
You don’t want to pick from my appletree

Erykah Badu – Baduizm – Appletree (Live at the Jazz Cafe)

“It was a dark and stormy night” is much maligned as the worst opening line ever and there is in fact a Edward Bulwer-Lytton competition for the worst story written from that beginning. But there’s something wonderfully liberating in the knowledge that culturally iconic characters as diverse as Snoopy and Erykah Badu can both start narratives with the same line and move off into completely different directions.

The theme of the over-blown literary cliché is taken up in this video exquisite corpse collaboration, Greatest Story Ever Told:

Each collaborator added to this story in sequence, only being allowed to see THE END of what the previous person contributed.

Our process will be similar. Will be in a hotel conference room with a borrowed computer with Internet access and a web browser but little or no other software. If all goes well we will post our exquisite corpse as a blog. And since blog posts always wind up being read in reverse chronological order – i.e. the first post written appears last on the page – we might attempt to write our narrative in reverse order. Whether we decide to open with it or close with it, with such a rote line as our starting point we know that we can improve upon it.
. . . . .

Electronic Literature Workshops Online

Categories:  electronic literature, workshop
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This winter I’ll be giving five electronic literature workshops through Blue Metropolis’s Teleliterature Program. This series of on-line writing workshops is aimed at helping to develop students’ literary interests and creativity, to enrich the educational and cultural life of students in remote regions and to promote Quebec literature. Many well-known Québec authors have participated over the past five years. This will be the program’s first foray into the realm of electronic literature. It’s an exciting twist to this already Internet-based program. What better way to introduce students to electronic literature than via the Internet?

Each workshop lasts an hour. The teachers are asked to introduce the author, the pedagogical guide and to try some exercises before the session, so this week I’ve been writing lesson plans. Here kids, try this at home:


Introduction to Electronic Literature: Putting Your Postcard Stories On the Map

This one-hour workshop will introduce students to electronic literature, a genre of web-based writing that combines literary and new media practices. The workshop objectives are two-fold: to engage students in reading new and experimental literature online, and to encourage them to experiment with creating and sharing their own stories online.

Using examples from my own work, I will introduce possibilities for using the web creatively to tell stories, and discuss ways to use the web to reach a broad audience. Many of my web-based works combine short fiction with photography and maps to tell stories about places that are important to me. In one recent project, Entre Ville, I use poetry, photography and Quicktime video to tell stories about my back alleyway. In my most recent work, Les huit quartiers du sommeil, I use Google Maps to tell stories about the eight different Montreal neighbourhoods I’ve lived in.

I will invite the students to participate in the workshop by asking them bring with them to class a very short, 250-words or less, “postcard” story about a place that’s important to them. I will demonstrate how to use Google Maps “My Maps” to literally put their stories on the map. The students may choose to continue to experiment with Google Maps once the workshop is done. For example, they might create one map containing all their stories, and/or they might like to add photos to their maps. I will also provide links to many other works of electronic literature for the students to read/view.

For those of you following along at home, here are a few of the recommended readings:

Electronic Literature Organization
The Electronic Literature Organization was established in 1999 to promote and facilitate the writing, publishing, and reading of electronic literature. The ELO works to assist writers and publishers in bringing their literary works to a wider, global readership and to provide them with the infrastructure necessary to reach one another.

Electronic Literature Collection Volume One
The Electronic Literature Collection Volume One, published on the web and on CD-ROM, is intended to provide for reading, classroom use, sharing, and reference on and off the network. Anyone can request a free CD-ROM from: Electronic Literature Organization / Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) / B0131 McKeldin Library / University of Maryland / College Park, MD 20742.

Electronic Literature: What is it? By N. Katherine Hayles
This essay surveys the development and current state of electronic literature, from the popularity of hypertext fiction in the 1980′s to the present, focusing primarily on hypertext fiction, network fiction, interactive fiction, locative narratives, installation pieces, “codework,” generative art and the Flash poem.

Drunken Boat – Online Journal
Issue 8 contains the Drunken Boat Panliterary Awards & links to other online journals.

Born Magazine
An experimental venue marrying literary arts and interactive media. Original projects brought to life through creative collaboration between writers and artists.
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