“Alphabet of Stars” by Whitney Anne Trettien

Screen capture from "Alphabet of Stars" by Whitney Anne Trettien. Gray background with a bunch of mashed up letters in white and black and two words at the bottom. Text: Write. Read.
Open “Alphabet of Stars” by Whitney Anne Trettien

This responsive visual poem is a study of writing technologies and the word, whether it’s “ink sunk into fibrous paper” or “light through liquid crystals.” Inspired by Stephane Mallarmé’s poetic and theoretical writing as studied by Kittler, Trettien’s JavaScript (& JQuery) work explores the range of shades between the white page and the black sky as backgrounds against which writing can occur with light or ink.

Designed not only for unresponsive screens or pages, this poem is written in code to display and behave in environments that allow for readers to provide input that the words react to. As the reader interacts with the language on the screen through the two interfaces she provides, the text hovers between readability and an illegible typographical overload. And the source code offers no shortcuts, since each letter is separated by extensive code that positions it on the screen. You have to get inside the page and navigate it with the tools offered by your platform.

As far as platform is concerned, there is a noteworthy difference in how one interacts with the “write” portion of this piece. In a mouse or trackpad powered computer one must move a pointer around, which means that if one doesn’t want to accidentally mouse over the spiraling letters, one has to dodge them. This makes for a completely different reading strategy with a touchscreen device where one can simply touch a letter to activate it. The reader’s symbolic presence in the text is less evident in touchscreen devices, though the tactile interaction enhances a sense of presence at the same time.

As you interact with and attempt to read this piece, consider how effectively it engages and exceeds, not only Mallarmé and Kittler, but also Eugen Gomringer’s notion of the “constellation.”

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