iPoe: Effecting the Text

iPoe by Play Creatividad
iPoe by Play Creatividad

The Play Creatividad Editions are more than illustrated editions of Edgar Allan Poe’s texts. The reader can interact with the illustrations to discover what lies beneath (and, Poe being Poe, what lies beneath is generally a nasty surprise). The tales have been supplied with sound and music. But not with the kind of music that one would expect of a repetitive video game: each text has its own piece with a mood and rhythm that complements it perfectly. It is a labor that requires ideas, but also talent and love.

If we take “The Oval Portrait,” for example, the music is sweet and haunting, ultimately sad. The opening of the story, which describes the “chateau” in which the narrator will discover the oval portrait, is set over a grey scene on the background of which is the mansion, illuminated by the moon and surrounded by grey pine trees. In many of the illustrations, the movement of the device causes them to shift their angle. When we least expect it, the howl of the wolf merges with the melody.

The opening of "The Oval Portrait" in iPoe
The opening of “The Oval Portrait” in iPoe

As we advance in the tale, we discover that some of the phrases of the story are emphasized by using a darker and larger font. Eventually, the candlelight, allows us to illuminate the oval portrait, just after the narrator has discovered it.

The degree to which “The Oval Portrait” achieves the merging of the interactive features and multimedia elements with the original text  goes beyond what the reader would expect. In a print edition, for example, we read:

And then the brush was given, and then the tint was placed; and, for one moment, the painter stood entranced before the work which he had wrought; but in the next, while he yet gazed, he grew tremulous and very pallid, and aghast, and crying with a loud voice: ‘This is indeed Life itself!’ turned suddenly to regard his beloved:- She was dead!

This could be modified with clever design, but in iPoe, we have a story presented with skilled subtlety.  In one screen we have:

And then the brush was given, and then the tint was placed; and, for one moment, the painter stood entranced before the work which he had wrought; but in the next, while he yet gazed, he grew tremulous and very pallid, and aghast, and crying with a loud voice:

"The Oval Portrait" in iPad
“The Oval Portrait” in iPad

The typography of the last phrases bold and increasing in size (in the iPhone version, the iPad has the same size through that paragraph, as it can be seen in the image above) perhaps referring to the state of excitement exhibited by the character.  In the next page we have the portrait, covering blurry letters.

The portrait in "The Oval Portrait," photographed in an iPad.
The portrait in “The Oval Portrait,” photographed in an iPad.

The reader is forced to move the portrait out of place to discover the dead woman and the text above the corpse: “‘This is indeed Life itself!’ turned suddenly to regard his beloved:- She was dead!”

The end of "The Oval Portrait" in iPoe, photographed in an iPad.
The end of “The Oval Portrait” in iPoe, photographed in an iPad.

The wonder is of iPoe’s “The Oval Portrait” is that it can enhance the reader’s experience. This is not just Poe’s text in a new edition, it is Poe for the 21st century reader. I, for one, will never teach Poe from print again.

Born-Again Digital: iPoe

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iPoe on iOS and Android

In the next few weeks, a series of entries will appear here that will concern themselves with the notion of a digital rebirth, a sort of digital reincarnation of printed texts. These entries will not refer to merely digitized versions of classic texts. Instead, they will highlight digital publications that present printed texts in a completely new light and that share with born-digital literature the need to be read in specialized devices.

In March last year, my attention was caught by iPoe, an edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories specifically designed for mobile devices.  In turn, this sparked my interest in other similar publications and my involvement in the CantApp, an edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales conceived for reading in mobile phones and tablets which will be published this year.  This reimagining of classical texts for modern multimedia devices is what I refer to as born-again digital literature.

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“10:01” by Lance Olsen and Tim Guthrie

Screen capture from"10:01" by Lance Olsen and Tim Guthrie. Black background with a picture frame that has the image of a theather with the audience getting to their seats and others sitting down. The audience are silhouttes in complete black colors.
Open “10:01” by Lance Olsen and Tim Guthrie

10:01 is a hypertext novel set in a movie theater during the ten minutes running up to the screening of the film. The text was published in 2005 in The Iowa Review Web. It consists of the image of a darkened cinema where black silhouettes sit in various rows. This image serves as one of the possible ways to navigate the text. By clicking on a figure, we read from one to five texts, each of them advancing the narrative. The text can also be navigated by using the time bar, but the reader does not feel constrained to read it chronologically. Each of the characters has its own story, which is told by an omniscient narrator that has access to their innermost feelings, hopes, fears and desires.

Even though critics like Alice Bell, Astrid Ensslin and Hans Rustad describe it as a “Web-based version of Olsen’s print Novel” (Analyzing Digital Fiction, Routledge 2014), the authors state in the credits that: “A print version of 10:01 that complements rather than reiterates this hypermedial version is available from Chiasmus Press.”

The novel is built using a combination of HTML and Flash, which allows video and sound when required by the story. The sounds represent a particularly significant contribution to this work, by setting both tone and pace. The text also presents hyperlinks (although some of them are broken) which alternatively illuminate or complicate it. The brilliancy of this work resides in the shifting tone, from harsh and critical to satirical and funny. If you would like to know how a real shrunken head ends up in a cinema in the Mall of the Americas, you should read it. You might also discover that “America… is a land of excellent pies.”

"'America' she said into the microphone, 'is a land of excellent pies."
“‘America’ she said into the microphone, ‘is a land of excellent pies.”

Featured in The Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1.

ELMCIP logo with text: "Read more about this work at ELMCIP."

“myBALL” by Shawn Rider

Screen capture of "myBALL" by Shawn Rider. Blue background with white text and a picture of a boy holding a red ball on the right side of the shot.
Open “myBALL” by Shawn Rider

myBALL is a Flash based mock product site that satirizes a kind of sales pitch commonly found in the web. By clicking the initial slogan “The future of robotic toys is now” we enter the wonderful world of corporate parody and get to know myBALL.

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“Frequently Asked Questions about ‘Hypertext'” by Richard Holeton

Frequently Asked Questions about "Hypertext" by by Richard Holeton
Open Frequently Asked Questions about “Hypertext” by by Richard Holeton

One should not allow the tone of “Frequently Asked Questions about ‘Hypertext'” mislead us into thinking that it is just a parody. The opening poem “Hypertext,” composed of seemingly random words arranged in three tercets, acquires meaning through the explanatory notes that are hidden in the different hyperlinks. And each of those hyperlinks might offer new insights, that become wilder and wilder as the reader picks up new meanings and explanations in the context provided by the hypertexts. The words, naturally, are not random. They are a series of permutations and anagrams of the word “hypertext.”

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“Twelve Blue” by Michael Joyce

Screen capture from"Twelve Blue" by Michael Joyce. Blue background with light blue text written on it. Text: Due to the color scheme, it is both too hard too read and too small to read.
Open “Twelve Blue” by Michael Joyce

Michael Joyce’s “Twelve Blue” is a hypertext narrative told from different perspectives. It is possible to start reading at many different points and, as the stories unfold the reader discovers new meanings in old sequences.

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“…and by islands I mean paragraphs” by J. R. Carpenter

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“…and by islands I mean paragraphs” by J. R. Carpenter

“…and by islands I mean paragraphs” is a delightful combination of computer generated poetry, mapping and the reworking of texts.  The text is displayed as an interactive map that allows the reader to explore each island and the texts that they generate and regenerate.  It alludes to an earlier piece, “Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl” (also reviewed in this site), which also employs a map to structure the text.

In “…and by islands I mean paragraphs” the space is larger than the computer window, vast like an unknown sea, goes beyond the horizon we can distinguish. The reader is forced to explore this vastness in which text recreates itself or is altered by the reader’s own interaction with the islands. It is impossible not to wonder whether it likely that one might find the same island twice. However, a reader that submerges herself in this world ends up too involved in the mutability and the textual permutations and the search for possible repetition becomes less pressing.

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In her introductory text to “…and by islands I mean paragraphs,” Carpenter states:

Their fluid compositions draw upon variable strings containing fragments of text harvested from a larger literary corpus – Deluze’s Desert Islands, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Bishop’s Crusoe in England, Coetzee’s Foe, Ballard’s Concrete Island, Hakluyt’s Voyages and Discoveries, and lesser-known sources including an out-of-date guidebook to the Scottish Isles and an amalgam of accounts of the classical and possibly fictional island of Thule. Individually, each of these textual islands is a topic – from the Greek topos, meaning place. Collectively they constitute a topographical map of a sustained practice of reading and re-reading and writing and re-writing islands.

Although Carpenter names many of her texts, others are left to be discovered by the reader: Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle or Joan Blaeu’s Nova Descriptio Shetlandiae Descriptio Insvlarum Circa Scotiam (this last one, not mentioned in the bibliography). Some of the islands have names or are named in their accompanying paragraphs. Others are mysterious and their texts reorganise themselves without apparent direction by the reader. Some of the islands rely on a javascript file that controls the behaviour of the text. The rest is HTML. All in all, the code is elegant in its simplicity.

The texts themselves, the islands, have different characters: they can be lyric, factual or a combination of both; but, independently of their own character they succeed in transporting the reader.

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“…and by islands I mean paragraphs” is a truly magical piece of electronic literature: evocative and ethereal, without completely giving up the concrete (for which it used the grounding aspect of the map). It allows the reader to explore a world and to discover its wonders and surprises. If you have never encountered eliterature before, this is a wonderful piece to discover a whole new world.

“Automatype” by Daniel C. Howe

Automatype
“Automatype” by Daniel Howe

Daniel Howe offers various possibilities for describing Automatype, as “either ambient text art, a weird game of solitaire for the computer, or an absorbing ongoing puzzle for a human viewer.” The installation has nine screens with one word each. The piece uses the RiTa Toolkit , which was specifically developed for the creation of language experiments and generative literature.
Each of the words “evolves” by changing one letter at the time, much like the Word Morph game, but they all work independently of one another.

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“Reagan Library” by Stuart Moulthrop

ReaganLibrary
Reagan Library by Stuart Moulthrop

Reagan Library might be best described as exploratory hypertext fiction. In this work, Stuart Montfort has created an eerie world, reminiscent of the game Myst and its sequels, which seems to require a particular state of mind, a suspension of disbelief, and a total immersion into a new and unexplored universe.

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“RedRidinghood” by Donna Leishman

RedRidinghood
Open “RedRidinghood” by Donna Leishman

In “RedRidinghood,” Donna Leishman retells the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Using Flash in a similar way to “Deviant” (previously reviewed here), Leishman offers a modern reading of the traditional tale, which acknowledges its indebtedness to Angela Carter (thanked in the credits as the person who initiated it all). In this interactive narrative, Red Riding Hood sets out on her way to her grandmother’s house. In the woods, she meets a boy-wolf who will eventually seduce her, but also experiences the forest itself before falling asleep and dreaming.

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