The Database, the Interface, and the Hypertext: A Reading of Strickland's V
The Database, the Interface, and the Hypertext: A Reading of Strickland's V
Reading Stephanie Strickland’s V: Losing L’una/WaveSon.nets/Vniverse, Jaishree Odin explores the implications of the paradigm shift from modernity to postmodernity for our understanding of reading, writing and living.
The uniqueness of a new-media work is the mobility of its elements, present as binary code in computer, yet capable of being mobilized into action through user interaction or through programming. Many new media works make full use of multiple functionalities of current software applications, bringing to light in unique ways the effect a well-designed interface can have on the meaning-making process. How do we read these digital texts that mutate with the touch of a key? What is the role of the medium in the meaning-making process? Though I explore these questions, I also attempt to go beyond them to see if new media works can serve as a lens to reflect on the postmodern condition. Strickland’s V: Losing L’una/WaveSon.nets/Vniverse (2003), with a dual existence in print and the electronic medium, is especially useful for this exploration. It is self-reflexive as it comments on both reading and writing practices. It also lies at the intersection of multiple discourses of science, technology, philosophy, literature and art. V is thus ideal for exploring not only how media specificity contributes to the reading experience, but also what the paradigm shift from modernity to postmodernity implies about reading, writing and living.
Lev Manovich (2001) in a perceptive analysis of new media works makes a distinction between database and narrative. Historically speaking, narrative has been associated with the novel and the film. With the advent of the new media, a new category of narrative has come into existence that is intricately linked to the database - a collection of items that constitutes the content of the work and exists as binary code in computer. Unlike the print medium where content is the same as the interface, the database produced by the writer for the digital medium needs an interface to make it accessible to the user. For the first time we have a distinction between the content of the work and the interface to access it. In fact the same content now can be accessed in multiple ways.
In this respect hypermedia literature can be compared to collage or montage (Landow 1999). Unlike the flat surface of traditional collage, however, the digital representational space is dynamic in nature. A traditional collage, including assemblage and montage, is created through combining materials from different sources which exist in fixed relation to one another whether spatially or temporally. Earlier scholars regarded collage as the best representation of modernist aspirations to achieve aesthetic immediacy, Cubist collage has been seen in terms of experimentation with the frame. Broken frames, no frames, or frames absorbed partially or completely in the field of representation, Karsten Harries writes, represent a prelude to a turn away from the mimetic function of art as it brings the viewer’s attention to the work’s autonomy. Harries links the use of broken frame to the broader state of postmodern culture where people have lost faith in metanarratives and sees the broken frame symbolizing the condition characterized by the absence of any metaphysical ordering of the world. A postmodern interpretation, however, shift the focus from any search for ground to exploring the process of coming into being of the world or artwork. but in recent postmodern reinterpretations by art historians have described cubist collage as a reaction to the modernist desire for aesthetic immediacy in that such works, in fact, create multiple fields of reality that exist in dynamic interrelations with one another in a unified representational space. Brockelman comments on the two antithetical views of collage; collage aspiring to ‘presence’ or ‘aesthetic immediacy’ and collage as antirepresentational nature. It is precisely this ambiguous nature of collage, this oscillation between two opposite meaning contexts that makes it ideal for studying the postmodern condition. In a collage, “sense is something to be made rather than secured…[it] both insists that we learn to live without guarantees of meaning (the reality of ‘knowing our place’) and opens the possibility for a kind of meaningfulness that we ourselves produce though a process of judgment.” (Brockelman 2000: 37).
Reading digital collage is vastly different from that of reading/viewing traditional collage. It is capable of functionalities and user interactivity, which have dramatic implications for both the writer and the reader. Software applications make it possible to create a work with text, sound, animation, or image, each of which can be programmed to appear onscreen in a variety of ways. The user interaction is thus only one of the ways shaping the screen display. Not only are the reader’s eyes and hands engaged in a playful interaction with the text, but also the work itself can acquire a certain degree of intentionality. The individual textual units can materialize on screen and in turn become the surface to access other textual units in a hypertextual collage, which can be entered from any point.
In a print text like Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000) where a high level of collage effect is achieved through skillfully using footnotes, letters, stories, stories within stories, different fonts, blank pages, upside down pages, it is still possible to get an overview of the whole work, at least visually. In an electronic text, on the other hand, no such visual mastery is possible as the electronic narrative unfolds in time like film, even as it is different from film in that the database cannot be seen, but only accessed. In the digital work, Manovich writes, the database is permanent and real whereas narrative is virtual as readers can trace their own path through the narrative. In film, on the other hand, narrative is real and the database is virtual in that film is the final product of the film crew’s work with the database of possible shots and scenes. What was in the background in film is foregrounded in new media works and accordingly, the reader/user experience is transformed too as hypertext reading can be seen as multiple reading possibilities through the database of the work.
In electronic literature or art works, thus, a second layer on top of the content has to be created in the form of the interface. The linkages and their organization can determine what is visually presented on the screen when the user acts on the text. The database logic that governs new media works introduces a whole set of new possibilities of conceiving a work. The interface can be programmed in ways that the assembling/disassembling of the semantic and graphic elements can take place in a variety of ways. The database elements can be broken into smallest meaning-making components and programmed to assemble into larger or smaller semantic units through reader interactivity with the text. The graphic design of the interface can add further nuances of meaning to the unfolding text. In the hypertext environment, the visual dimension of seeing the text becomes as important as reading it.
In the early hypertexts, the verbal textual segments and the links joining them constituted a major aspect of the writer’s artistic strategy to create a hypertext. The early hypertext theorists (George Landow, Michael Joyce, Jay Bolter, and others) accordingly focused primarily on the linked structure of the electronic text. That could partially be attributed to the limitations of the electronic medium during that period which allowed easy access to the functionality more geared toward manipulation of verbal text through programs like Storyspace and Hypercard. In last decade or so, new commercial software applications and authoring programs have made it possible to include image, sound, and animation in the electronic text. As electronic literature has become more sophisticated, the exclusive attention to the written chunks of text and linking have been seen by some recent critics as very limiting since this leaves out the medium’s contribution to the reading experience. The transparency of print surface was maintained through the development of writing conventions that minimized its presence as a medium (Lanham (1993). Since print medium has promoted the convention of a transparent interface, the role of the medium in shaping reading experience has not been taken into account in literary criticism. The artists’ books of the nineteen sixties and seventies which draw the reader’s attention to the materiality of the book occupied the periphery of literary production and did not have any substantial impact on how theorists and critics perceived the role of the medium on the unfolding or exploring of a particular literary work (Hayles 2002). In new media works, no longer do the reader’s actions alone determine the course of the narrative. The interface design can contribute to the meaning-making process, too, as the medium itself acquires some sort of intentionality. Onscreen displays can be made reversible or irreversible through programming as the reader interacts with the text.
Various components of electronic narratives, for example, database of content, the material interface, and the mouse-overs or the keyboard clicks of the reader destabilize the earlier one-to-one relationship that the reader had with the print text while at the same time bringing to the forefront the materiality of the medium. To what the media makes possible with respect to accessing the text is added another dimension of the role media itself in the meaning-making process.
The complexity of the material medium which contains as well as ‘performs’ the text has a great impact on how the text unfolds as well as how the reader explores and experiences such a text. The strategic release of verbal, graphic or sometimes even audio content is an important part of the artistic strategy in a variety of new media works, including hypertexts with highly visual and multi-media interfaces. Some new media writers/artists focus on the verbal text as the centerpiece with the links constituting an important aspect of accessing the database, for example, M. D. Coverley’s (aka Marjorie Luesebrink) Califia (2001). Coverley makes an extensive use of multi-media content to create an interface that is as much a guide as a means to access the database of diverse elements. The multiple layering in Califia is achieved through the mixing of music, artwork, fiction, history, myths and legends as well as photographs and maps that add a rich texture to the text which the reader can explore in multiple ways. Similarly, Caitlin Fisher’s These Waves of Girls, an associative hypertext, is a web of memories created through linked chunks of text with images. Talan Memmott’s Lexia to Perplexia approaches the whole question of web-based writing from a totally different perspective as he meditates on the coming into being of words and sentences as codework that reflect a coalescence of theory and fiction. The unfolding of text engages the reader visually. Jackson commenting on this text writes: “Mmmott borrows as much from the conventions of html code as from the not much less difficult codes of Deleuzian theory, metamorphosing them into a jammed, fractured diction full of slashes, dots and brackets. There is a purpose to this besides play, since the piece is about the code-mediated relationship between the reader, the (electronic) text, and the author” (Jackson 2001).
Strickland’s V: Losing L’una/WaveSon.nets/Vniverse
In Writing Machine (2002), Katherine Hayles proposes ‘Media Specific Analysis’ as an aid to read new media works. Kaye, Hayles’ fictional persona in this work, calls all texts ‘technotexts’ that interact with their own materiality and possess three characteristics: chunked text, links, and multiple reading paths. The materiality of technotexts cannot be specified in advance as it is an emergent property and comes into existence through the interactions between the physical properties of a work and its artistic strategies. Such texts give physical form to both content and artistic strategies which the user sets into motion through her interaction with the interface. In other words, “materiality depends on how the work mobilizes its resources as a physical artifact as well as on the user’s interactions with the work and the interpretive strategies she develops - strategies that include physical manipulations as well as conceptual frameworks” (Hayles 2002: 33). In the electronic text the medium thus becomes an important part of the reading experience, as it can be used by the writer/artist in creative ways to reflect on the meaning-making process or contribute to the meaning(s).
Hayles’ Media-Specific Analysis can be used as a heuristic tool to see how a rhetorical form, for example print text, is transformed when it is instantiated in the electronic media. If a print text is transported from the print medium to the electronic medium, the changed environment, in which the verbal text materializes, impacts the meaning making process. A text that lends itself to such an analysis is Stephanie Strickland’s V (2002) a collection of poems with dual existence, in print as well as electronic medium. In the print medium, V is an invertible print book with two beginnings: Losing L’una and WaveSon.nets, both pointing to the middle of the book that refers the reader to the web-based section called Vniverse. It is as if the print book is cleaved into two halves and out of it emerges the electronic version of V.
In that V has dual existence, it allows the reader to become aware of how medium specific possibilities and constraints shape a text. Strickland has not simply transported the contents of WaveSon.nets into the electronic medium, but she, in collaboration with Cynthia Lawson, has totally reconceived the material of the print text in creating the electronic Vniverse. The WaveSon.nets of V can be seen as the external database of Vniverse, but the latter is a work in its own right which means that database cannot be equated with a new media work - Vniverse is WaveSon.nets and much more. The artistic strategies as reflected in the design of the interface have added interpretive layers to the work that do not exist in the print WaveSon.nets. It shows that the visualization of the navigational space of a new media work is as important as the creation of the database of verbal and graphic materials.
V: The Print Text
Each side of print V could actually serve as the front of the book, though the publisher has arbitrarily chosen WaveSon.nets as the back by using it to provide the publishing information. In a private communication, Strickland notes that the publishing material was meant to be printed on a shrink wrapper, but Penguin doesn’t use shrinkwrapping of its books. After the reader goes through one part, s/he must invert the book physically to start the second part. By making the reader handle the book in specific ways to proceed with the reading, Strickland brings the materiality of the print book to the forefront. Another strategy used to bring the reader’s attention to the medium is by breaking the continuous print text into smaller textual units. In Losing L’una, the poems are divided into triplets by creating number headings and subheadings, which serve the purpose of breaking the linear flow of the individually titled poems, while at the same time, by differential numbering, connecting many of those poems while isolating others. In WaveSon.nets, one long continuous poem is broken into forty-seven numbered parts, even though the text of most of the sonnets runs into the one following.
Through the strategic use of numbering, the poet seems to suggest to the reader not to take the linear presentation of the print medium for granted. The broken poetic units can be read in a different order or a different sequence. In a poem called “Errand Upon which we Came,” the poet gently coaxes the reader to begin anywhere and skip anything because the text is designed for that purpose. A linear way to read the book is not a better reading than the one that involves taking detours. The poet compares the reader who follows a meandering path to a leaping frog who does not know which elements he belongs to as he follows the arc of his flight. The reader is thus advised to not get stuck into linear progression of the poem, but take chances and hop from one to another. The edifice on which the work stands includes not only the artistic strategies used to create the work but also the imaginative universe to which the configuration of textual elements allude. So in the poem, the roots or the language or words on which the work stands are not the object of recovery, but the indefinable and ungraspable seen in terms of relationships as the reader is asked to dig up the roots to see what lies beyond.
The overall structure of the work is guided by the metaphor of coding both at the structural and thematic level. A literary work can be seen as a code pointing towards a predetermined reality where there is a one to one relationship between the words and what they signify, or the coded words can be regarded as generative in nature in that simple words or expressions can appear in complex variations leading to different hierarchies of meaning. If Losing L’una is regarded as 0 of the binary pair 01, then WaveSon.nets is 1. Losing L’una is losing the one, or in other words, it could mean return to nothingness or to the zero state - dissolution or disappearance. Thematically, Losing L’una refers to various strategies of reading and seeing, whereas WaveSon.nets, as one large wave of sonnets spread over 47 pages of the print book, focuses on multiple discourses that shape experience. Whereas Losing L’una mourns the loss of Simone Weil, metaphorically represented by the disappearance of the moon as the dawn approaches, WaveSon.nets celebrates the rebirth of the poet who now has become one with her muse.
Vniverse: The Electronic Text
The title page on both the front/back or back/front of the print book includes its mirror image in the dark “wedge of the sky”, suggesting that the contents of each part are reflected structurally or thematically in the electronic Vniverse of dark sky and bright stars. It seems Losing L’una is structurally isomorphic with the electronic Vniverse to the extent the print medium would allow it, whereas WaveSon.nets is thematically isomorphic with it in that the print Son.nets of this section appear in different mutations in the electronic Vniverse.
Whether it is a reflection or not, or whether it is isomorphic or not, the web-based Vniverse can be regarded as a work in its own right, though a richer reading could result if the print components are read alongside the electronic component. If the print version is seen as an external database for the electronic version, it is an excellent way to see how the text mutates with the change of the medium. In the electronic medium the WaveSon.nets are transformed, both in how they unfold and how the navigational process impacts the meaning-making process. The unfolding of sonnets in Vniverse is dynamic as it depends on variety of factors, including how the reader interacts with the electronic database of sonnets and how the computer responds to that interaction. This is not a one-way interaction since there are some facets of the unfolding sonnets that are not under the reader’s control.
Vniverse can be seen as a meditation on the relation between computer processes, user interaction and the sonnets. The reader is invited to enter the universe of Vniverse and her interaction with the stars and star diagrams of the interface releases complete sonnets or sonnet fragments. The release of the sonnets is intricately linked to the diagrams of star constellations that appear and disappear by the user interaction. Navigational space in Vniverse is not just a transparent window to access the work but becomes an integral part of its signifying practices. In the exploratory navigational space of the interface, the machine processes, reader actions, verbal content and artistic strategies used in the work construct reader’s subjectivity. Since hypertext involves reader’s active encounter with the text, the reader becomes an integral part of the topological space created by the interaction s/he has with the electronic text. In fact, hypertext reading experience can be regarded as a sort of body writing - the path the reader traces marks the materialization of the text as well as the reader’s nomadic subjectivity.
Perhaps, here again we can refer back to what the poet has to say about navigation in electronic environments. In Losing L’una, a quoted passage comments on how shift to computerized navigational techniques has changed the aviator’s relationship to the skies. In this shift, the direct relationship to the universe has been lost. The same is true in the case of electronic sonnets of V where the reader’s direct experience of the database of semiotic signifiers is mediated by the interface that displays the text after it goes through a series of translations from machine code to digital code to natural language displayed on screen. The appearance and disappearance of diagrams of star constellations, an integral part of accessing the electronic text, add other interpretive layers. One wonders if the dual existence of sonnets in print as well as electronic space reflects the poet’s need to retain the direct experience of the text for the reader, even as she uses the electronic media and its varied navigational functionalities as well as design possibilities to re-imagine these sonnets.
In an essay on the creation of Vniverse, Strickland compares the reader to the nomadic travelers of the ice ages whose movements on the ground were guided by the patterns of stars in the sky they invented. (Strickland and Lawson “Making the Vniverse”). In creating the interface of dark sky with stars and accompanying diagrams of star constellations, the work evokes the ancient practice of using star patterns in the night skies to help people navigate the oceans or serve as guide to plant and harvest crops. The patterns or shapes that people saw when they grouped stars in the night skies varied from culture to culture as did the stories or myths that accompanied these constellations. The constellations and stories were thus symbolic in nature and reflected the world of which they were a part. For today’s sedentary reader glued to the computer screen, Strickland produces an electronic sky with constellations or diagrams as the guide to the meaning making process. Various invented star constellations that appear in Vniverse are: Swimmer, Kokopelli, Broom, Twins, Bull, Fetus, Dragon Fly, Infinity, Goose, and Dipper. The star constellations appear and disappear as the reader moves the cursor across the screen. The diagrams can be stabilized by double clicking on any of the stars along the path of the constellation. A set of keywords is associated with each constellation, which serves as clue to the thematic content of a particular constellation. The diagrams give some sort of fixity to the release of sonnets grouped under each constellation. However, in spite of this fixity, there is a movement involved in the released fragmented or complete sonnets through reader’s mouse-overs or keyboard clicks. The readers are challenged to create their own sonnets out of the sonnet materials that appear and disappear as they interact with the text.
The star diagrams serve as a navigational aid and serve as the electronic version of the table of contents for WaveSon.nets that is missing in the print version. Here we see the electronic form in dialogue with the print form.
The Vniverse sonnets are the sonnets included under WaveSon.nets of the print book, but divided into 232 triplets in the electronic space and programmed to be released through reader interaction either as triplets or as complete sonnets. The number of times the stars are clicked determines the version of sonnet that is released - individual triplets along the constellation path, complete print-version sonnet, or complete triplet-version sonnet. The triplets can also be released by typing the sonnet number in the dial on the right hand top corner of the screen. Interestingly, the numbering of the triplets is different from the numbering of the print sonnets, with the result, if the reader types 45 in the dial, the triplet that is displayed onscreen is not the triplet from Sonnet 45, but rather from Sonnet 9 in the print version. This is because the electronic sonnets are divided into 232 triplet units whereas the fifteen-line print sonnets are only 47 in number.
Even the way the complete sonnet is released is interesting, in that one of the triplets associated with it appears in color as other parts of the same sonnet are slowly released. The title of the sonnet, an important semantic indicator in the print version, appears toward the end in this display. In the electronic space of Vniverse, therefore, the triplet in color serves the function of the title of the completely released sonnet and becomes semantically important. The electronic version thus undermines both the sequentiality as well as the top to down reading practices of the print sonnet.
If Losing L’una (print text) triplets are compared to Vniverse triplets, once again there is a great difference in how they can be accessed or experienced in either medium. In Vniverse, the reading is time-based in that each reading is unique and dependent on a variety of interlinked factors as the reader interacts with the text. Even though the release of triplets associated with each constellation is fixed, how the reader interacts with each star diagram determines the sequence of the release of either triplets or sonnets, so many new versions of sonnets can be formed. Vniverse thus foregrounds the materiality of the medium as it adds to the meaning making process. In the print version, even though the linearity of the print sonnets is broken through numbering, the reader tends to read across the numbered division to maintain the linear flow of the sonnet. The difference in how triplets appear in print and electronic version shows that electronic space is infinitely flexible and mutable both from the writer’s and the reader’s perspective. The electronic media has its own specificity which is very different from the print media.
Reading Vniverse with its External Print Database
V in its entirety is a work not only about how to read but also how to see, in the literal sense of seeing the poem as it unfolds before the reader’s eyes in the electronic starlit sky and also reading it by spelling out the words as the triplets are released a letter at a time. The work is also about what lies beyond this act of reading/seeing as it points to the imaginative universe that is reflected in the navigational space of the work. In Losing L’una, the poet refers to any discourse as a ‘fabricated lens’ to see the world, but if this lens is imaginatively handled, the language constituting each discourse is itself seen as a lens which reflects a world of its own.
How does the poet conceive of the reader of Vniverse? The reader is not just to notice the existence of different discourses or images and record them diligently, but the reader needs to quiet the mind and look beyond the stars of Vniverse to grasp ‘the profound correlation’ between the concrete and the abstract or “become part of the conversation that physical truths enter into with numbers…musical numbers, scores, patterns, algorithms.” To see is not simply to grasp the material reality of a particular object or occurrence as it appears in isolation, but it is to grasp the whole context, the web of relations, in which it materializes, and to go beyond that to experience the primordial rhythm or force which permeates it.
a hand-mind that reaches for
its breast, a mouth not
by pattern upon pattern giving way to deeper
grasp giving in to rhythm or
vibration or milk. (Losing L’una 7)
In order to grasp the relationships, the reader needs to develop strategies of seeing which involve not encountering the object of study head on, but looking at it sideways, so that the fringes or the edges are the focus of attention - the edges where one discourse merges into another. Thus, the poet says:
from an astronomer: avert
your eyes, look away
to see better,
the blind spot hidden deep…
in order “to enhance/ your ability/ to see near threshold of what can”
be seen. For something right
on the edge, try the blink method: first look away
from, then, directly at. What
appears, when you turn aside, disappears
when you look back. (Losing L’una 3-4)
Thus, seeing is not mastering the object of one’s gaze in order to fit it in a pre-determined map - but rather to open oneself up to its multiplicity. The sonnets are not messages for the reader, or they are not written as a code for the reader to break, but they are meant to open a channel, a passageway for the readers to traverse in order to hear answers to the questions that they pose to the text. There is no final truth to be conveyed by the poet, because the poet has not seen it. Both hand and mind need to work together as the reader moves the cursor in Vniverse to experience the web of relations that connects human beings to nature and to natural cycles of life and death.
The print text of V serves as the external memory of Vniverse both for the reader and the writer and the combined work becomes more a journey to explore contemporary reading/writing practices. The interplay of the print WaveSon.nets, as external memory or database, and the electronic Vniverse sonnets bring to the forefront the materiality of the print text and how it differs from the electronic text. A reading session of Vniverse is definitely not the same as a reading session of the print V. The print text makes it possible to comprehend it in its entirely, as the reader can go back and forth to individual sonnets to see how they fit into the poet’s ecology of ideas which the reader has now made her own.
V as a Reflection on the Condition of Postmodernity
In The Politics of the Postmodern Linda Hutcheon (1989) argues that cultural postmodernism has been wrongly charged with a lack of critical awareness as instead of promoting one specific world or worldview, it promotes eclecticism regarding the worlds, worldviews, historical periods, representational media or strategies. The critical postmodern literature in fact “foregrounds and thus contests the conventionality and unacknowledged ideology of that assumption of seamlessness [of history/fiction or world/art] and asks its readers to question the processes by which we represent our selves and our world to ourselves and to become aware of the means by which we make sense of and construct order out of our experience in a particular culture” (1989: 53-54). Strickland engages in postmodern re-appropriation of historical materials in V through evoking the life of Simone Weil. The evocation of Weil is not to provide one more interpretation of the specific events or figures in the past, but rather to insert them in the present so the present can be re-seen and re-evaluated with and against the past which in some cases has been forgotten and in other cases suppressed. Weil is the guiding force behind the poems in Losing L’una and her life is used as a lens to view human life and the world.
Strickland ‘s V does not just point to the conceptual universe of which it is a part, but it is an enaction of what it is to live and to create in a postmodern world. The creative vision does not necessarily involve mastering all discourses or embracing all cultures, but rather in opening a channel for seeing the web of relations that connect the worlds and worlds within worlds that we inhabit. V reflects on its own origins in multiple discourses of science, mathematics, poetry, philosophy, and biography. For the adult poet, each word holds a world of its own even as it is linked to hundreds of others. What appeared as divided and separate as a child to the poet now appears to her as an interconnected web of relations. Thus, the word ‘circuit’ or the word ‘lens’ evoke images of the circuits etched on silicon chips by women who sit in sanitized rooms looking though lenses, marking the chips. But whose markings are these? The question here alludes to the story of the exploited women who etch the marks on silicon chips, but the marks are not their own. Multiple discourses are embedded in this simple question which brings together the political, the scientific and the technical in one single question. The reader is thus provoked to get into a dialogue with the text to ask questions or to find answers as s/he disassembles the discourses that are brought together in the work.
A characteristic feature of a postmodern work like Strickland’s V is the proliferation of ruptures and discontinuities which are easier to plan and integrate in the web-base Vniverse than in the print WaveSon.nets. The disjunctions and jumps from one element to another become the pathways of forging relationships that gives the work its coherence. This aspect of Strickland’s work can be understood better through the comments Deleuze and Guattari (1996) make on the role of breaks and ruptures in a literary work. The ruptures and breaks are “productive, and are reassemblies in and of themselves. Disjunctions by the very fact that they are disjunctions, are inclusive” (42). Through ruptures, breaks and discontinuities, many disparate perspectives and viewpoints come together in the unified representational space without getting subsumed into a totality. The fragments retain their identity even as they forge relationship with one another to constitute a whole, which is constantly changing. In the impossibility of arriving at a single unified ground or single meaning in a complex shifting world, Strickland’s work becomes an assemblage constituted of heterogeneous worlds, which touch, collide, or interpenetrate. The telescopic multiple perspectives of the one world in the universe are replaced by multiple perspectives of multiple worlds, which actualize as innumerable diverging and converging series. In a digital representational space different meaning worlds come together. Multiple framed spaces are multiple perspectives of not a single unified reality, but rather of multiple worlds where each world has an ontologically different status.McHale (1992) describes the shift from modernist to postmodernist writing in terms of a shift from the epistemological to the ontological dominant. Postmodern writers are concerned with ontological questions in how the multiple worlds come into existence, how they exist, collide and interpenetrate into one other.
Such complex digital works through privileging multiplicity and heterogeneity provide a more inclusive field of conveying the experience of living in a complex world. This requires a shift in perspective from a vertical depth-based reading that focuses on what the work means to a horizontal surface reading to see how various worlds in the work relate to one another. The meaning-making is thus processual in nature as it traces the movement from one form to another and from one world to another. The relationships so forged tell more about the work, the reader and the writer. What emerges out of this shift is not only how to read a new media work, but rather what it means to live in a world with competing and interpenetrating realities.
Each session of Vniverse appears as an oral performance. A performance is contingent upon a variety of factors, the performer, the audience, and the setting where it is performed. Similarly in reading Vniverse, all the above factors come into play as the reader, the machine interface and the database enter into an intricate dance. The onscreen display that materializes as a result of the interplay between the medium, the content, and reader has emergent qualities as it is time-bound and irreversible like an oral performance. The reader used to the stability of print text struggles to grasp the electronic sonnets in their totality by creating a memory theater in her mind, but is continually frustrated in that attempt. Perhaps that is exactly the point that the poet is making. Reading sonnets in the electronic medium is not about mastering the overall structure of the work and where individual sonnets fit, but it is rather to open oneself up to onscreen display and experience the relationships that it reveals. The electronic version thus is isomorphic with the world and the cosmos itself and the reader’s attitude toward it should be the same - to take one sonnet or sonnet fragment at a time and open oneself up to its reality.
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