“Speaking of Rivers” by Jonathan Peter Moore and Whitney Anne Trettien

Screen shot from “Speaking of Rivers” by Jonathan Peter Moore and Whitney. The background is in black and brown and the picture of a bridge over water is shown, a bridge leading to a city. There are two columns with a fading effect on the picture. The columns (pages), which are place one on the left corner and the other in the middle, are marked as “Arriving” and “Departing”. In the arriving column, which is the one on the left corner, shows different dates: 1941, 1973, 1968, 1921, along with a text beside each year. The departing corner, which is the one on the middle, has the cardinal directions along with the text “to the” before them. Example: “To the north, to the south, to the west, to the east”. Along side north and south there is a text. “To the north text”: Taught my berighted soul to understand”/ “To the South” text: “not yet conscious of the racism awaiting him:”. In west and east there are pictures in rectangle form. The one of the east is of a sky and the one of the west is of musical notes. Below it there are two other pictures one in shape of a rectangle and the other as a square. They both are filled with text and its barely viewable.
Open “Speaking of Rivers” by Jonathan Peter Moore and Whitney Anne Trettien

This work is a kind of hypertext edition of Langston Hughes’ poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” contextualizes the poem by placing it in conversation with historical and biographical events, culture, music, poetry, visual arts, and its publication history.

Its interface is simple (though unexplained): when you click on an image of a line from the poem on the  “Arriving” column the image changes to one from a different printing of the poem, displaying its date on the left, and loading a random set of lines and images on the “Departing” column. Each date brings up a scanned image of the print publication as a visceral lesson on the impact of the materiality and socialization of texts, as Jerome McGann demonstrated in The Textual Condition. The lines and images in the “Departing” column are excerpts from other materials— clicking on them brings up an image, text, or embedded video (note: currently works best in Chrome) beneath the column. The title links to an “About” page, which is a scholarly short article that goes into detail on the contexts, inspiration, and theory that informs the work.

This digital re-reading — operating as both a detourned archive and an artistic re-imagining — puts the many editions of Hughes’ poem in direct contact with a constellation of images, texts and voices that respond to its call.

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