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Discussion questions week 3

Discussion Questions Week 3

1) On page 164 of “Reading Digital Literature,” Waldrip-Fruin writes, “When studying a work of digital literature, as with any cultural artifact, we must choose where to focus our attention. To put this another way, we must operate with some model (explicit or implicit) of the work’s elements and structures – one which foregrounds certain aspects while marginalizing others.“ Therefore, what are some aspects of digital literature that Aarseth’s traversal function model marginalizes and Waldrip-Fruin’s proposed model foregrounds? What reasons does Waldrip-Fruin give for brushing aside Aarseth’s terminology: scriptons and textons? What aspects of digital literature—previously marginalized by the implicit, audience-centered, surface models—do both of these explicit models foreground?

2) Are these explicit models only applicable to works of digital literature? For instance, how might the “Eliza effect” and the “Tail-Spin effect” have relevance to other cultural artifacts, principally the traditional book form?

3) In our previous class, we discussed the complaint Grusin and Bolter level on “Experts on computer graphics […] striving to achieve ‘photorealism’,” rather than putting forward a new aesthetic that more fully takes advantage of digital graphics (Remediation, 28). Waldrip-Fruin instances a similar complaint from Aarseth’s Cybertext: “machine narrators should not be ‘forced to simulate’ human narrators (181). How does this relate to earlier discussed notions of remediation, immediacy, and hypermediacy?

4) The mispun stories produced by the Tale-Spin program enabled human participants to take notice of the program’s inner workings (a shift from what is being read to what is being read from, to borrow Aarseth’s phrase). How might a properly performing work of computer-generated literature make the human agent aware of the opportunity cost in choosing one path over another? In Cybertext, Aarseth writes, “when you read a cybertext, you are constantly reminded of inaccessible strategies and paths not taken, voices not heard;” yet, when he discusses interactivity, he states, “A successful fiction must, therefore, in one sense be interactive, just as a lie needs a believer in order to work.” In order for a lie to achieve interactivity, it requires a listener, who believes the fabrication. Does constantly being reminded of paths not taken, voices not heard, belie this sort of interactivity that is founded upon the audiences’ suspension of disbelief?

5) Intent on showing the distinction between cybertext and narrative, Aarseth argues that only in cybertext can one “explore, get lost, and discover secret paths […] not metaphorically” (Cybertext, 4). But this assumes that getting lost and discovering secret paths does not constitute an alternative narrative. Also, getting lost seems to rely upon the individual departing from some intended course. In the case of cybertext, wouldn’t that departure recapitulate the existence of a master-narrative? Does this view of cybertext’s potential recapitulation of narrative altogether contradict Aarseth’s attempt to “challenge the recurrent practice of applying the theories of literary criticism to a new empirical field”(14)? Can we see the inability to draw a dichotomy between cybertext and traditional, conventional literature as a shortcoming on the part of cybertext authors? In other words, is the problem that cybertext authors are creating texts with conventional literature in mind or that we are reading older forms of textuality into their work?

6) Aarseth gestures to literary canonization when he claims that “[Cybertext] should not be seen as a call for a renegotiation of ‘literary’ value, since most of the texts drawn attention to here are not well suited for entry into the competition for literary canonization;” thus, is the redefinition of what is considered literary dependant upon the ability of new textual modalities to achieve canonical status (22)? And, how might this status be achieved if not by means of applying old values of literary mastering onto cybertext works?

On a similar note, Bogost writes the following in “Procedural Rhetoric”:
Taken together, we can think of game engines, frameworks, and other
common groupings of procedural tropes as commensurate with forms of literary or artistic expression, such as the sonnet, the short story, or the feature film. These collections of procedural tropes form the basis for a variety of sub-sequent expressive artifacts. On its own, the sonnet is no more useful than the physics engine, but both can be deployed in a range of expressive practices. (14)

Why does Bogost suggest that procedural tropes are commensurate with forms of literary and artistic expression, whereas Aarseth argues that cybertexts are not? Can cybertexts be analyzed with regard to procedural rhetoric, or is this category, with its emphasis on process rather than the term “interactivity”, not useful in discussing emergent cybertexts? How might one characterize the difference (or overlap) be between the critical terms “procedurality” and “interactivity”?

7) Near the end of his chapter on “Procedural Rhetoric,” Bogost presents Sherry Turkle’s critical approach to the programmers of Sims, who refuse to open up their software so that players might be able to “look at the code running beneath” (62). Bogost writes, “The problem with this objection is that the player can see how the simulation runs: this is, in no trivial way, what it means to play the game. Turkle’s real beef is not with Sim City, but with the players: they do not know how to play the game critically. Understanding the simulation at the level of code does not necessarily solve this problem” (63). Is this the case, or is Bogost’s argument too preoccupied with theories of reception (aesthetics) and not attentive enough to the art of writing programs (poetics)? When we view a work of digital rhetoric, how critical is it for us to be aware of the code running beneath?

8. In our critical discussion of the term “remediation” last week, we discussed problems with the term as well as the fact that it’s currently in circulation, used for describing how many older media are reinscribed in digital form. With this possibility, what might the future of hand craftsmanship be for arts like sculpting, painting, calligraphy, since all are now possible to perform directly on the computer, via haptic technology or drawing pads?

Just as an example: one of the most complicated Chinese characters is too dense to be typed or printed in modern dictionaries. 齉 ”nang” has 36 strokes and is the most complicated character in most modern dictionaries. “Biang” has 57.

9. In the riverIsland file, there’s an animation of the word “empty” that turns into the Chinese character (空), then TM with a wavy = sign, etc. “Kong” not only means “empty” but, depending on context and use with another character, can also mean “sky,” “air,” “free time,” or “in vain.” With all these other possible meanings, what is lost, emphasized, or realized in the transfiguration of the word “empty” into a Chinese character, one of whose several meanings is “empty”? What does the transfiguration of the letters k, o, n, g into a character suggest about communication between East and West, especially with regards to Xu Bing’s “Squared Calligraphy,” in which he writes poetry in English using Chinese-character like representations of each letter?

See if you can read “far west”

or, “art for the people”?

graphic design, word play, calligraffiti, a tobacco installation at Duke back in 2000…

And other resources on this amazing artist.


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