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Questions for this week

“The Breathing Wall” (Kate Pullinger)
1) It might be beneficial to think through the title a bit. What is “The Breathing Wall?” Why must Michael breath against a wall to relax and hear Lana’s voice? For that matter, at what wall are you, the user, breathing? It seems that breathing against a wall is a suffocating/limiting experience. Accordingly, holding a microphone against your nose/mouth mimics the effect of breathing against a wall and may be meant to mimic the effect of having a hand placed over your mouth (just as a hand was placed over Lana’s mouth). But are there other ways that the relationship between breathing, sound, and space enhance the narrative?

2) If we assume that one goal of the night dreams is to induce a hypnotic or meditative state in the reader, allowing the reader to enter the dream, then did this project achieve that goal? Did your bodily interaction with the text transport you into a state of meditative sleep-breathing? Were you experiencing the story like Michael–did you feel like you were not only seeing from his point of view but also acting out his point of view?

3) In a 2004 interview with Kate Pullinger published in Computers and Writing, the interviewer, Dene Grigar, says, “thrillers, or any kind of real exciting fiction requires immersion to work. You are reading and just can’t wait to turn the page. But if there is no page, what is the thing that helps you do the same thing in the electronic environment?…do we have the same experience when we are scrolling? Or when we break up the reading experience when we have to click on links? If hypertext is fragmented text, how does one build thrill into it?” Kate responds to Dene’s question by saying, “And for me that is a big problem with hypertext. I mean, for me that is what stops me from enjoying it. As a person who writes print fiction, the best thing anyone can say to me about anything I’ve written is that ‘they couldn’t put it down.’ What more can you ask for? In a way that is why I was drawn to Stefan’s software, because I was thinking, maybe, this is a way of using the vast possibilities of multimedia in a way that can create page turning and that feeling of not wanting it to stop.” My question: Did Kate succeed here?

4) Another way of asking question #3 is by thinking about Bolter and Grusin’s discussion of immediacy versus hypermediacy. We could ask ourselves: doesn’t “The Breathing Wall” explicitly strive after immediacy (an erasure of the medium, an invisibility, a full immersion in the experience of the story) by asking its user to relax and enter a meditative state while breathing into the microphone? But was a sense of immediacy achieved as the story interacted with your body’s breathing, or did the whole enterprise only further hypermediate the storytelling?

5) Does “The Breathing Wall” effectively argue that one of the futures for electronic literature should be in closing the gap, so to speak, between human biological response and the reading/watching of literature? Can this relation be pushed further? Why not connect a story to our heartbeat or to our brain waves or to the chemical signature of our blood? Is this a viable future?

6) Does interaction with a text through breathing require trivial or non-trivial effort? Would Aarseth categorize “The Breathing Wall” as an ergodic work?

7) What is the significance of the frequent (and sudden) movements between loud sounds (such as in the prison at night) and total silence (such as when we read the story in silence)? Why are the Day Dream sounds so jarring? What’s the point?

7a) As a related question, I was wondering how the idea of listening or paying attention to our own breathing connects to Lana’s advice (in Night Dream 2) to “listen to the wind” and to Michael’s epiphany (in Night Dream 3) that Lana’s scream sounds, if you listen closely, like she is in a bathroom. Is listening closely a way to enact the clarity of hindsight? How does the idea of listening in this work relate to our understanding of history?

8. What did we think of this work’s interface? Personally, I felt that moving from one Dream to another by pushing a big 1990s-era button was a disappointment. Would there have been a better way to structure the interface for this particular story? If so, how?

Bit.Fall (Julius Popp)
1) Julius Popp says that he builds machines that work as sculptures, and these machines produce pictures that describe their own processes. For example, in Bit.Fall, Popp brings “two cycles” together that call attention to each other—there’s the information cycle (collecting fluid information from the web) and the water cycle (collecting water in a tank and pumping it out to produce the words that fall away and disappear into a pool). Does the whole idea of creating a sculpture that has as its function a self-conscious awareness about its own functioning indicate a crisis of sight—In other words, is there an underlying worry in our culture about the inability to see and understand what a machine is doing and how it does it? Or what is, in your view, the motivating logic behind the making of machines that describe their own processes or the processes from which they draw? Why is this sort of circular, self-conscious work popular today?

2) According to Popp, the falling liquid words are pulled from “information” on the web. What does information as materialized through water say about the nature of information? Are we to believe that the machine is re-creating the information through the water—or is the machine transferring the info—or is the information coming into existence in a relation between the viewer and the water and not actually anything at all until that point of connection? I am thinking here of when Marie-Pier said, “I am interested in finding ways to talk about the interface that would not insist on its use value, but rather on its event value.” Does this artwork, in prioritizing the moment of appearance over the usefulness of the information, help to articulate Marie-Pier’s interests?

3) In Bit.Fall, the water being made into words, and not the words themselves, seem to give the work its most compelling aspect. But why are we fascinated with seeing words inscribed in/with water? Popp claims that writing words in water highlights the immediate impermanence or, perhaps, uselessness of the collective information of the web. In Popps words, “whatever is running on the machine has currently value in a culture and is meaningful somehow…these meanings or values can change very fast.” But are there other implications/meanings surrounding the use of water as well?

4) What is the significance of being able to touch the water and feel that it is cold?

Reler (Raquel Kogan)

1) In this work, there is a database of information (a set of recordings of voices that are reading from books) that can be recombined in thousands of possible ways to create a cacophony of voices; yet, there is also the possibility of hearing only one voice if there is only one actor engaging the installation. What is the political significance of this way of reading or of hearing? What are the implications of a recombinatory installation that reacts to its users through the visual medium of a book, which is itself belied by the sound file?

2) How is the act of reading and/or interpreting a work of writing questioned/re-formulated here? Another way of asking this question might be to say: what was your goal when listening to these voices, and how does this work cause you to think about the reading process? Did you listen to hear the other people, to put yourself in a story, to get lost in the mixing of voices, to discover what you could hear amid the many competing voices?

3) Why overwhelm the reader with all of these loud voices, especially when the act of reading is, traditionally, a solitary and quiet one?

4) Why do you think Kogan stayed dedicated to the materiality of books (as opposed to pushing buttons to hear the voices)? Why stay dedicated to the experience of holding and reading a book if the user if not reading but listening and the text is not there to be read? What does such a dedication add/offer to the installation?

Jeff Hahn on TED Talks
1) In his presentation, Jeff Hahn repeatedly says, “The interface just disappears here.” Is this really true? Is this ever possible? How is this not (or how is this) an “invisible” interface?

2) Moving objects around on a screen with your fingers requires more arm movement and more bodily movement in general. Why is this type of interface presupposed to be better than using a point and click method? What are the implications of both/either? Are we simply tired of the point and click method?

3) Hahn says, “there’s no reason in this day and age that we should be conforming to a physical device.” How does this comment miss the materiality of the computer? How are we not conforming to a physical device here, much less anywhere? Does not this interface only provide the illusion of bodily conformity to a physical device?

4) What seems to be important here is the flexibility of the way in which a user conforms to a physical device or the way in which an old standard (the keyboard) is re-made. Two questions: 1) How does this interface remediate old media? 2) Is there any easy/convenient way to get away from the keyboard all together if we want to create digital text?

5) One point of highlight for this interface was its ability to save time (the user does not have to choose a zoom tool, for instance), but will it really achieve this end? Does this interface encourage dis-attention and a focus on multi-tasking, and is that truly economical?

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