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

“…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.


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Coetzee’s Foe, Ballard’s Concrete Island, Hakluyt’s Voyages and Discoveries, and lesser-known sources including an out-of-date guidebook to the Scottish Isles and an amalgam of accounts of the classical and possibly fictional island of Thule.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.


“…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.

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