This short article written by the staff writers of the satirical newspaper The Onion, was published in response to a mass shooting in Roseburg, Oregon on October 1, 2015. Published on the same day of the event, the brief article appears in the News in Brief portion of the online newspaper, by itself an ironic counterpoint to what made headlines and got live coverage in other news media sites. The article’s placement and brevity are only the beginning of the irony, which deepens as it offers some basic factual details about the shooting, a vox populi quote in which someone expresses sadness and powerlessness to make any change, and some statistical data on how regularly this happens in the United States of America. All by itself, the article satirizes those who cannot conceive of gun control as an option while using irony to encourage Americans to take action.
But that is only a portion of a larger rhetorical strategy based on computational logic.
Gabriella infinita (1999–) is a hypermedia narrative by Colombian author Jaime Alejandro Rodríguez. The narrative is presented via a rich array of lexia, images, and audio files, and we are not provided with established markers such a contents list or page numbers which would normally guide the reader through the conventional print novel. Instead, links to the various lexia and sound files are hidden in the visuals, and it is only through exploring the interface and testing out possible entry routes that the reader/user pieces together the narrative.
A Lecturer at the Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Rodríguez is well-known for his theorisations on digital narrative and hypertext (see his bibliography). He is also arguably the leading hypertext author in Colombia and his Gabriella infinita, as well as his later Golpe de gracia (2006), have won him a series of awards and nominations, and put him at the forefront of e-lit in Colombia.
The plot of Gabriella infinita is clearly set in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, with references to immediately identifiable places within the city in several of the lexia. Similarly, the opening image which the reader sees before entering the narrative displays the landmarks of the Monserrate hill, and the Cerro de Guadalupe with its famous statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe appear behind the sky-scrapers of the Centro Internacional. Yet this is a futuristic and dystopian Bogotá, in which the cityscape is in a state of devastation and destruction.
Set in this identifiably Bogotano backdrop is the story of Gabriella, who searches for the missing Federico, and we follow her through the various lexia, images, and audio files as she attempts to piece together clues as to his disappearance.
Yet, more than just her story, what Rodríguez weaves for us is the story of our own encounter with hypermedia narrative. Gabriella’s sensations and experience, as she searches for Federico and tries to make sense of the scraps of evidence that she finds, stand for the experience of the reader of hypertext narratives. For instance, Gabriella’s perusal of Federico’s bookshelves as she attempts to make an order out of the apparent disorder in which the books are arranged is a clear metaphor for the work of the reader of hypertext narrative, constructing an order from the dispersed lexia. Or her examining of the loose sheets of newspaper strewn on the floor of Federico’s apartment, and finding that “al ordenarlas, le han revelado relaciones insospechadas” [‘when she put them together, they revealed unexpected connections to her’] is, again, an image of the reader of hypertext fiction creating his/her own order from the dispersed links, with the primacy on the reader, not the writer, to establish these ‘unexpected connections’.
But does Gabriella ever succeed in her quest? And do we, as reader-users of hypertext fiction, ever gain full control of the narrative we are navigating?
Radikal Karaoke, by Argentine author Belén Gache, is an online piece combining text, still and moving images, sound files and user-activated effects. In this work, the reader-user is invited to read out loud poems composed of fragments of political discourses, at the same time as activating a series of videos and special effects. Gache describes Radikal Karaoke as a ‘conjunto de poesías que se apropian de la retórica de la propaganda política’ [‘collection of poems that appropriate the rhetoric of political propaganda’], but the notion here of ‘poetry collection’ is not in the conventional sense of a printed text that brings together several individual poems under into one volume. Instead, the ‘conjunto’ refers to the very creative process of the poetry itself, since the poems are composed of the re-mixing and re-combinations of found texts.
Belén Gache is one of the leading authors of experimental fiction in the Hispanic world, and has published to date a variety of literary works, both print and electronic, that engage in experimental practice. Her oeuvre is frequently characterized by an intertextual play with pre-existing literary genres, authors and texts, set in a creative dynamic with digital technologies, and Radikal Karaoke is no exception.
Radikal Karaoke opens on an interactive interface that displays, in the main part of the screen, a video in black and white which shows rows of spectators, applauding, set on a continuous loop and speeded up. Beneath the video lies the control panel of the work, consisting of firstly a row of buttons each identified with letters, and, beneath these, the lines of text we are invited to read.
In this work the user has to take on an active role in the execution of the poetry, both through our reading of the text out loud (as in karaoke), and through the activation of the visual poetry of this work. The visual poetry is created by the reader-user as s/he presses the various keys of the control panel, some of which produce modifications in the video in the main screen, changing its colour or speed, and others change the video file completely, and replace it with a new moving image.
Gache’s insistence on the ‘retórica de la propaganda política’ clearly indicates that her poetic endeavour has an ideological stance, and she encourages us to deconstruct the empty discourses of political rhetoric by means of parody, and through the shock contrast of sound, image and text. The videos function as a sort of meta-poetic commentary that makes us question the text that we read out, and interrogate political rhetoric, the powers of large corporations, and the indiscriminate consumption of social media.
But it is, perhaps, the very last button of Gache’s control panel –button V7 – which turns out to be the most shocking and disturbing for the reader-user. For, after having passed through a series of videos showing slaves, aliens, and cybernetic entities in thrall to the neoliberal system, the final button shows us… well, try it out for yourself, and see how you are implicated in this video.
Eveline, fragmentos de una respuesta[Eveline, Fragments of a Reply] (2004) is a hypertext narrative by Argentine author Marina Zerbarini. It takes its inspiration from two short stories by James Joyce – ‘Eveline’, and ‘A Painful Case’ (1914) – which Zerbarini uses as a springboard for creating a multimedia narrative that brings together photographic images, videos, animations and sound files. Marina Zerbarini, is a leading digital artist from Argentina who has worked across several media, including photography, painting, objects and installation art for some decades, and whose electronic works include some that fall into the e-lit category, whilst others are more properly net art. She created this work in Macromedia Flash, using the ActionScript programming language. Each time we open Eveline, fragmentos de una respuesta different interfaces are loaded, these ranging from bleached-out images of sheets, to extreme close-up photographs of part of a human face or hand, with the image pixelated such that the individual pixels are visible. The cursor takes the form of a butterfly, and, by clicking on buttons that appear across the various interfaces, we activate different content files, including images, excerpts of text, and sound files (these latter containing excerpts mostly of electronic or orchestral music).
The chronological order of the files is not pre-set, and instead, the reader has to piece together the story from multiple stimuli, as s/he reads disparate blocks of lexia, views images, watches videos, and listens to sounds. The two source texts which are the inspiration for this work provide clues as to its possible interpretation. In Joyce’s original short stories, endings are unexpected, and questions left unanswered; in Zerbarini’s narrative, this sense of uncertainty, and of searching for meaning, is re-enacted procedurally, as the reader has to undertake a journey through these multiple sources to piece together the narrative. But more than just a re-telling of Joyce, Zerbarini’s narrative invites us to explore the nature of hypertext narrative and our embodied relationship to it as reader. The foregrounding of the human body through the extreme close-ups means that we have to think through our own affective relationship to the work as we navigate it. And yet… through the overt pixelation, Zerbarini makes us question our own status as human. Is it perhaps our possible transformation into cyborgs as we engage with electronic literature that Zerbarini is encouraging us to reflect upon here?
I am thrilled to welcome our new contributor, Claire Taylor, who brings great expertise to enhance our coverage of Latin American electronic literature.
Claire Taylor is Professor of Hispanic Studies in the Department of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies at the University of Liverpool, UK. Her research specialisms include Latin American hypermedia narrative, net art, and literary blogs, with a particular interest in the works of Belén Gache, Guillermo Gómez Peña, Brian Mackern, Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga, Eduardo Navas, Marta Patricia Niño, Jaime Alejandro Rodríguez and Marina Zerbarini. Recent publications include Place and Politics in Latin America Digital Culture: Location and Latin American Net Art (New York: Routledge, 2014) and, joint-authored with Thea Pitman, Latin American Identity in Online Cultural Production (New York: Routledge, 2012).
Werner Twertzog (@WernerTwertzog) is a persona that performs a parodic homage of German filmmaker Werner Herzog on Twitter. This humorous account does an admirable job of capturing Herzog’s voice in (necessarily) brief, aphoristic tweets that express his existentialist perspective and wry humor.
In Tierra de Extracción (1996-2007) (ELC2), Doménico Chiappe’s first hypermedial novel, the extraction of meaning is generated via interaction and manipulation. Poetry is hidden in the fissures of the earth that slip in order to create motion in the different multimedia layers of the work. The novel is composed of 63 hypermedial chapters, each of them represented by an interactive [key] word. Similar to Hotel Minotauro (2013-2014), Tierra de Extracción is an example of interactive narrative. For instance, in one of the chapters (Mangal/Mango Tree), the reader is invited to learn how to roll a dice interactively in order to unfold the stories that lie behind each of its faces. The interaction with the dice produces an empty mise-en- scène to be fulfilled by aesthetic chance. Rolling the dice becomes the space where chance meets creation.
The first step towards a response is to delimit what is meant by “American.” For the purposes of this categorization, I will define it as e-literature created or co-created by authors born and/or raised in the United States of America. The focus on birth and/or national identity helps find common ground for American writers who live around the world. In a globalized world, full of digital media that encourage collaboration, national boundaries become blurred and the focus shifts towards convergent characteristics, practices, themes, and poetics.