Academic journal article Afterimage

The Word Image/virtual Body: On the Techno-Aesthetics of Digital Literary Objects. (Feature)

Academic journal article Afterimage

The Word Image/virtual Body: On the Techno-Aesthetics of Digital Literary Objects. (Feature)

Article excerpt

The digital literary object is an emerging genre of its own. It is set at the intersections of the literary avant-garde, visual and concrete poetry, text-based electronic installation art, net art and software art. It includes web-based, visual, kinetic and animated poetry, (1) as well as literary digital textscapes, (2) and even poetry generators. It applies to an expanded concept of language that is based on the interactions of netspeak and various computer and programming languages: the languages of zeros and ones, ASCII and HTML characters are, in addition to the experimental language of code, also involved in forming new poetic structures with striking visual, animated and tactile features. The digital literary object is an evolving medium that enables the user to interact with language in radical new ways. It serves as a soft interface and even as a semantic instrument that demands very active and sophisticated perception procedures, How, then, may one approach the specificity of this medium? How can on e find a proper way to decode such digital literary pieces that are influenced also by the software art by Jodi, Olia Lialina and Alan Sondheim? First of all, one needs to take into account the very nature of the digital word itself by analyzing its appearance within new media, from computer games to Web sites.

In the computer game Trigger Happy (1998), (3) users are encountering highly unusual situations that are challenging for the most common forms of cultural communication in the western world. This game, which is based on the format of the classical, shoot-em-up computer game Space Invaders, does not use as its targets hostile newcomers from outer space or other armed zombies. The role of the moving target is assumed by the text. And not just any kind of text, but a fragment from Michel Foucault's essay "What is an Author," in which Foucault has comprehensively deconstructed the institution of the author in a modern sense. To succeed in this game, which brings a successful player into the World Wide Web environment of a known search engine, one must break up text and destroy words, putting the practice of authorship in an awkward position. Trigger Happy, however, is by no means the only computer game in which the text of a well-known author is used as the theoretical backdrop and object of interaction at the sa me time. Natalie Bookchin's project The Intruder (1999), (4) which is based on the text of the same title by Jorge Louis Borges, also interacts with writing in a similar way. When playing this game, which poses, in a subtle way, questions of gender and aggression in the world today, the user is also interfering with the text, catching words and stopping them. A moving Borges's text is running in the background while individual words are "raining" across the screen. After they have successfully been captured in a "pot" by a user/player, they trigger the sound part of this object where individual words are read aloud.

THE SOFT(WARE) WORD

The role of the moving target can be assumed by a digital word; it is an object, an independent entity with as many perceptual and quantifiable features as possible. It is not only defined by its semantic and signifying qualities, nor is a sentence, word combination, or a message necessarily its immediate superior syntactic unit. It is an entity with visual, tactile, energetic and kinetic qualities--an independent and complex signifier. However, the digital word as a new media object of numerical code is also a soft and malleable signifier that can be modified by software. Such a word-object can be used as raw material for new procedures of creating textscapes as well as for various manipulations within computer games and Web sites. A word-object can easily be interactively monitored and modified. And by means of feedback, even the modifications themselves can be modified. It can be set into motion, and its intervals of coming and going, of its appearance, can be programmed. …

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