Andrew Smith

CAP Presentation: Stephanie Strickland and Cynthia Lawson, "Vniverse"

In this essay, Strickland and Lawson engage the reader on the questions of creating digital poetry, but also the intricacies of transposing "print poetry" style into digital forms, particularly the new possibilities allowed by digital media in terms of poetic expression. There is a great deal of focus in the article about the reader's "interaction" with the text, particularly in how it is read, and how different choices of reading style can change the effect of the poems: "A critical question is how one's memory of text is affected when various timescales operate simultaneously." (167). Strickland and Lawson are also deeply invested in the aspects of "interactive reading," with the ways in which the reader can establish a mental connection, to become linked, to a digital piece by not simply reading the text, but by understanding how to read the text--instead of simply knowing that they must read left to right, for example, Strickland and Lawson wish to ensure that readers of digital pieces understand how they must interact with the piece fully, to master how to control the piece, or what the piece wants from the reader, in order to engage the piece at a true level.

In that regard, Lawson and Strickland use their poetic work, "Vniverse," as an example. "Vniverse" is introduced to the reader's as something created that does not state its intentions, but instead invites the "reader/user" to explore, interact with, and uncover the workings of the piece: "Our interest was not so much in the immediacy of the relationships the reader establishes as in the invitation to explore and prolong the initial relating." (167). The essay focuses a great deal on explaining the creative process behind "Vniverse," but also what those implications imply for the reader, and also for the creator, of digital texts. For example, they later state: "The actions we ask of the user are not generally asked of a digital reader. We reward sweeping the cursor randomly" (171). The focus of "Vniverse" is less about an exact, aesthetic applicaiton of poetry/art, and more about the efforts to transform "texts" to "digital texts."

As a medium, digital literature is expected to be something that engages the reader in new ways, and one of the most integral, according to Strickland and Lawson, is the ability for digital mediums to allow social reading, instead of solitary reading. By allowing for multiple "users" to read the text at the same time, Lawson and Strickland hope that digital media will allow for users/readers to engage in texts in ways they have not before, creating a social, communal atmosphere in which the traditional form of readership, of one reader to one text, falls away to a more communal mode that rewards exploration as much as it does strict reading.

This particular essay works only half as well in print as it does while simultaneously examining the piece "Vniverse" itself. In particular, the two pieces together allows us to examine how Lawson and Strickland transformed their design ethics; in some ways this article feels a bit more like an artist's statement than it does a critical piece. However, with that in mind, it allows for a deeper understanding of the somewhat confusing "Vniverse," which I actually found immensely helpful.

In terms of content, I found the ideas that Strickland and Lawson pose quite interesting--the idea of "social reading," as well as the idea of "interactivity," of bridging the gap between user and text in order to deepen meaning, seem very crucial to the digital literature we have examined in this class over the semester. In terms of the social reading aspect, I would question us to remember how some of the pieces we seemed to dislike at home, in private, seemed to come much more alive when examined in the classroom as a group. I'm curious to know if this is the social reading that they're hoping for, as I believe it is very important to recognize those moments in which a text transforms from "I didn't like it" to "wow that's really cool," because there is something at play there that doesn't work in solitude.

When discussing interactivity, I myself find this particularly interesting, because it seems as if "Vniverse" is built more to display intent than it does "artistic ideas," in the form of "what does it mean?" The work itself, and the essay, seems to be very interested in getting a reader more interested in how they can interact with a text, what interaction can reward one with, and how it is almost the responsibility of the reader over the text to interact, to explore, and to invest, instead of the work explaining how that investment should occur.

For Discussion
Building off of the above statements, how do you feel that the previous works we've examined have worked in terms of "expecting" of the reader to interact? Are there any pieces we've examined that you feel were perhaps under-appreciated because you/we did not invest in it enough?

If digital media is a medium that promotes, or should promote, social reading, then how would that change the interpretations of the works we've examined before? Consider last week, when we discussed the issue of volume in terms of sound effects--if the piece were displayed to a large audience, the volume is controlled by the "speaker," not the "reader." In that regard, does social reading pose problems to agency? Or, does it perhaps tern "digital literature" into stationary objects, like viewing a movie in a theater, or seeing a piece of art in a gallery?

Strickland, Stephanie and Cynthia Lawson. "Vniverse." New Media Poetics: Contexts, Technotexts, and Theories. Ed. Thomas Adalaide Swiss. Cambridge: MIT, 2006. 165-78. Print.