komninos zervos on Fri, 14 Dec 2001 08:08:29 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> reading cyber


In an interesting discussion on the e-mail list WebArtery(09/12/2001)
Jeffrey Jullich said he couldn't remember anything he'd ever read in 
new.art pieces.

Maybe he was trying to read it like print published poetry. I 
suggested he try thinking of it as performance poetry. Maybe the 
experience is different.
Maybe when you experience a cyberpoem it is an of-the-moment 
experience, "you get what you get when you are getting it", not 
something that stays around.

He goes on to refer to a piece by jason nelson( 
http://www.heliozoa.com/resume/opener.html ) 'first thing I see, 
words spinning 'round and 'round in a sort of waterwheel or barrel 
formation (horizontal cylinder, spinning) that I hadn't seen yet as 
an effect.  Wow!'

But he was explaining what he "saw", but not what was felt whilst 
experiencing it.

'Immediately, I don't know what it said.  The impression I'm left 
with is ~soley~ visual/kinetic.  (The typography may have been 
multicolored, too.)'

Maybe he was concentrating on the purely textual elements or signs of 
meaning, to use a term introduced by Kristeva, the phenotext, the 
text you can see on paper as object, rather than the genotext, the 
words and all else that layers into it to create the poetic 
experience ie just looking at the words in a cyberpoem without 
reading the visual and aural semiotic elements that make up the whole 

Jeffrey identified 'that people have said on WebArtery that they read 
"differently" on-line than off . . . but I begin to wonder if one 
~can~ read on-line, "read," at least, in that perhaps more 
contemplative, intake mode of reading "poetry" and "literature" 

Marcel Just at Carnegie Melon recently published a paper showing 
differences in the way read text and heard text are processed by the 
brain. Areas of the brain that process information immediately were 
activated when words were heard. When text was read from a page the 
areas of the brain that store information for later processing were 
stimulated. Two seemingly different ways of processing. In 
experiencing cyberpoetry(insert/net.art/new.art/web.art) where it is 
experienced visually and aurally simultaneously, The experience must 
be different to sitting alone with a book of poems, the act is more 
performative, more participatory, appealing to a range of 
stimuli(signs) and code systems(ways of interpreting signs).

So perhaps you can't "read" poetry (and I assume this means deep read 
poetry, analyse, interpret, re-read, re-interpret) the way you read 
printed poetry, but perhaps it is designed for those of us who like a 
"hit" out of poetry, and perhaps we scan more cyberpoetry to find 
"hits" and then we move on.

Before the printing press, to be "well-read" meant a person could 
read the  bible, almost to the point of reciting it. At the beginning 
of last century to be "well-read" was to know a few texts really 
well. To own books you had to be rich, to be well read meant you knew 
a  handful of books, a canon of books really well, and books were 
available in libraries for most who couldn't afford them. The 
paperback changed again the meaning of "well read", which changed to 
mean you were up-to-date with the current releases in your genre of 
interest and it would be impossible to have read all the poetry 

I propose that to be "well-read" in this cyberage is to surf 
extensively, find poetic "hits", not necessarily remember the content 
that gave you the "hit", but remembering the pathway to finding it 
again if you ever need to re-visit.

Motion is an important new device available to poets on the web, but 
it seems people distrust all this movement in cyberpoetry. As Jeffrey 
Jullich posted, "Put somebody in a large parking lot, wherever, and 
let them sit or walk around and look at all the cars there, and they 
could probably tell you something abt. what they saw: fenders, 
chrome, a fox tail hanging from a radio antenna, . . .  But >put the 
same person the same amount of time at the curb of a highway and have 
the same number of cars race and drive past,--- and I don't think we 
have the same retention, definitely not the same perception, where 
there's motion."

A nice analogy but put the same person in the seat of a car that is 
rushing past and they will see the world, perhaps the details of the 
vehicle they are  travelling in become less important to the breadth 
of experiences they are being exposed to in the car.

There is the perception that wherever visual is combined with verbal, 
the visual tends to gain the upper hand. But who said that reading 
printed poetry is not a visual experience? The first thing you see is 
a visual arrangement of words on a page, a  pattern, a sign which 
lets you read it as a poem, before you start  reading and 
interpreting. Instead of making a contest of visual and aural it can 
be seen alternatively as "the visual and the aural combining to give 
a  richer experience. Language in the new medium is not at a 
disadvantage, it has always been a code for communication of the 
experience of the senses and remains so in cyberspace.

=46or the writer, if a piece comes into their imagination which 
requires movement or interactivity they will use software to express 
it, if a poem comes into  their imagination that can be actualised 
with pencil and paper, then let it  be. Trying to fit what was 
constructed for one medium into a form suitable to another medium is 
not what creating in cyberspace is all about. Although i have found 
several of my previous text printed poems have benefited from the new 
ways of accessing a poem afforded  by the web and computer technology.

Critics point out that cyberpoetry and much net.art gets like a X-Mas 
tree. This is true, and cliches stick out, like sore thumbs, in any 
medium. There's a ~heaping~ of novelty upon novelty it would seem, 
but let us remember the first commercial use of motion pictures was 
an arcade viewer people  paid 10 cents to see a man sneezing. We are 
at the edge of a very large ocean and only dipping our toes into the 
shallows. Sure some is i(eye)-candy. and sure there's a lot of "let's 
try this cos we can", but that is how we learn, by experimentation. 
Web artists are not saying this is what it should be, and you should 
do it the same.

It could be a matter of personal choice also, this is not the way you 
like to access your words. Not everyone is the same. I can't stand 
reading fiction novels, too much detail, too much control of the 
environment of characters, of plot.

Jennifer Ley ( http://www.heelstone.com/meridian ) said in the same 
e-mail discussion that "kinetic text, harks closely to concrete and 
LANGUAGE poetry -- both of which challenged the traditional way that 
readers read and relate to text."

And I would add; sound poetry; modernist and post modernist printed 
poetry; performance poetry; slam poetry; videopoetry, etc. In fact we 
have seen in most major avant garde movements a challenge to the way 
we read text as poetry, as language, we are just experiencing another 

I am proposing that parataxis is a major device in poetry, that the 
way in which parataxis has been used at various periods of literary 
history has changed from parataxis of stanza (in traditional rhyming. 
rhythmic poetry), to parataxis of lines (eg walt whitman). to 
parataxis of subject/context, foreground/background  in surrealism,to 
parataxis between lines of a poem as in modernist non-rhyming poetry 
(lines broken to give alternate readings), to parataxis of differing 
'emotional' units of text in projective verse and beat poetry, to 
parataxis of statements within the same line (l=3Da=3Dn=3Dg=3Du=3Da=3Dg=3De 
poetry), to parataxis of words and syllables in 3d spaces with 
cyberpoetry/kinetic text. I see the movements in poetry as a 
challenge to the syntax of prose, these changes happen in avant garde 
poetries first and then get incorporated into the  mainstream poetry 
and the novelists even appropriate the techniques into prose. When 
the 'innovations' introduced by the avant gardes become the norm, 
there is a challenge and movement in a new direction as the new 
device or style gets practiced.

I don't see anything wrong with linear poetry, some texts require it. 
We probably all read more books now than we ever did, well I know I 
do. And in this medium, (and i don't disassociate list discussions 
like  this as being separate to the art) I am constantly working with 
all  sorts of texts that don't appear (but sometimes can) in the 
final  product. Not all writing needs multiple interpretations. A 
land mine is a land mine after all.

The interpreted self-constructed mental image derived from a textual 
code is still a very powerful tool. The Harry Potter example we have 
around us at the moment is pretty good testimony to that. Single mum 
working away at her kitchen table with pen and paper imagines and 
produces the text for the multi media phenomenon we are experiencing 

'Can animated text convey non-trivial meaning more economically than 
is possible with static text?" -- Why would we wish to create an a. 
is better than b. comparison.  Wouldn't it be better to look at both 
animated text and static text as separate modes offering unique 
opportunities?  It seems to me that one thing that has hurt the 
electronic lit community horribly has been its claims to be *better* 
than static, linear text.  It is other than static text -- OTHER 
being the operative word for me.' Jennifer Ley

Certainly I see three distinct poetry industries, print published, 
which is diminishing in audience, spoken word performance, which 
still has healthy audiences, and cyber-poetry, which is experiencing 
asymptotic growth. what concerns me is that as those who have worked 
in the  area of print-published text (static text) begin to 
familiarize  themselves with the discourses of cyber-literature and 
begin  participating in lists like this, and setting up their 
refereed  online journals, that they don't bring with them the 
prejudices that  exist within the print published industry. That they 
don't expect  cybert-texts to behave like printed texts. that they 
don't make  cyber-poetry other to print-based poetry. We have to 
compare and we have to say that print-based poetry is better at some 
things, and spoken word poetry is better at some things and 
cyber-poetry is better at some things. Why not accept them all as 
being valuable as poetry.

My first 'animated text', my prototype cyberpoem was made in 
Microsoft Works 3.0 with the draw tools. I made the word fall at the 
top of the page.saved it as fall1. Then made a second file moving the 
word fall down the page, named it  fall2, then another with the word 
fall further down the page, and another, till I had five files. I 
then watched them in slide-show mode and watched the word 'fall' fall 
down the page. In 1993 in Microsoft Works on a Mac Powerbook100. In 
1994 when I got specular logomotion i made animations of spin 
spinning, and jump jumping and all sorts of cliche interpretations of 
animated words. 

I even started to develop simple narrative 
(http://www.experimedia.vic.gov.au/~komninos/iwb/intro.html) and 
textscapes using four or five words, see beach poem at 

Anyway until i started thinking of words in a space and motion as a 
literary device, it was difficult to gauge the potential of this 
medium for poetry. But i have been able to use the medium to convey 
political perspective as well, see the kosova poem on the same page.

Jim Andrews added to this discussion with this quote from david 
rockeby which seemed to nicely round it off.

>"The Construction of Experience :
>Interface as Content " by David Rokeby
>"It seems that we stop seeing, hearing, smelling as soon as we have 
>>positively identified something. At that point, we may as well 
>>replace the word for the object. Since identification usually 
>>happens quickly, we spent most of our time not really sensing our 
>>environment, living in a world of pre-digested and abstracted 
>      This explains our attraction to optical illusions and 
>>mind-altering experiences (chemically-induced or not). Those 
>moments  >of confusion, where identification and resolution aren=EDt 
>immediate,  >give us a flash of the raw experience of being. These 
>moments of  >confusion are also the fulcra of paradigm shifts. It=EDs 
>only when our  >conventional way of dealing with things breaks down 
>that we can  >adopt another model, another way of imagining and 
>experiencing a  >scenario."

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