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Reading: Stuart Moulthrop

41st Annual UND Writers Conference: "Mind the Gap: Print, New Media, Art"
March 26, 2010

© 2010 Stuart Moulthrop and the University of North Dakota

Crystal Alberts: ...two hour set played by Kanser with More Than Lights at the Loading Dock beginning at 10. And we're sort of shifting into sort of a performance and music, and I hope that you stick around for Saturday night. We actually have a free concert by new music group Zeitgeist, which will be at 8pm in the Josephine Campbell Recital Hall over in Hughes. And their performance of "Shape Shifting" sort of ties together all of the things that we've been talking about, so I hope that you will check that out. Again, I would like to make a couple of thank yous. In particular, the Office of the President and the North Dakota Humanities Council for their continued support. And now without further ado, Tyler Stolt.

Tyler Stolt: I‘ll try to keep this short. I was thinking about how to introduce Stuart Moulthrop. I thought maybe I could describe the work that he does; however, that poses a very difficult task. Especially in an introduction as short as this is, trying to describe the labyrinth of his hypertexts with all of its images, texts, twists, and turns, frankly scares me. So I won't even try; I'll let him do that. So I'll just tell you a little bit, something about him, as a kind of an actual person. Stuart Moulthrop is one of the founding members of the ELO, which is the Electronic Literature Organization. He has produced numerous hypertext fictions including the seminal Victory Garden, which Robert Coover calls a "benchmark in electronic fiction," and a little personal fun thing that I saw was a companion piece to the graphic novel Watchmen, where readers can contribute their own work. His essay "You Say You Want a Revolution" was included in the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, which for a student like me is exceedingly cool. He has written numerous articles ranging from media and video to literature and theory. He has received numerous awards, too many to list here. I know because he conveniently put his CV online, thank you. Stuart Moulthrop is a distinguished chair of the liberal arts and advisory council, is currently professor of Information Arts and Technologies at the University of Baltimore, where he teaches Science in Simulation and Digital Entertainment. Ladies and gentlemen, let us please welcome Stuart Moulthrop.

Stuart Moulthrop: Good afternoon. Thanks for being here, and scary, yeah. As, and thanks for that generous introduction, but as the theme of fear came up, what went through my head is one of my favorite Thomas Dolby songs, "I Scare Myself," which I've been listening to, actually, recently, because some of what I'm going to show is new stuff. And it will scare me, because we'll see whether it runs and what it looks like. But always fun to do scary new things. How's the level? Can you hear? OK. Alright, so, I'm actually going to start elliptically, as I often do. Let's see. We don't need that. So, actually, I'm going to start with a little, a little brain exercise. This requires some study. You probably see that that's in a big font. What I'm asking here is if you can watch this and tell me if you can detect a pattern in what you are seeing. And if so, what you think the pattern is. And we'll scale that up to see if you can see any pattern at all in what will follow, but… There's some hands. This is heavily inspired by the "sloppy salon" or whatever it is Nick calls that part of Ad Verbum that we saw yesterday. Anybody figure it out yet? It's all N words. And they're all N words that are all five letters. And they are interspersed with another text, so there's a constrained in an unconstrained text. And oddly enough, the constrained text moves, but the unconstrained text doesn't. Well, you know, you may be be saying to yourself, "ok, what good was that?" I'm not sure, but we may come back to that.

I want to veer off from my own foolish experiments here to an altogether not foolish thing that's been done. This is totally not my work, ok? This is totally student work, but these aren't my students. Boy, I wish they were. And I hope one day some of them are. Some of you may have seen this. This is an internet video, a Youtube video, from a high school in the Seattle area called Shorewood. This is the famous Shorewood lip dub. And if you've seen it, and people next to you haven't, don't spoil it. But I'm going to run a bit of it and then we'll talk about what's going on. It's a music video.

[Plays video. Music is "You Make My Dreams" by Hall and Oates.]

I always get impatient at the break. So that's online and relatively easy to find if you go looking for it. Just look under "Shorewood," S-H-O-R-E-W-O-O-D, "Lip dub." And you will find it.

It's a fascinating exercise in viral video and amateur video production, or sort of pro-am, I guess. These are kids in a video class. And, you know, the trick here is probably apparent. You probably notice the water balloon that starts as a cloud of water and then becomes a water balloon, and all the cards that flip backwards, and the money that stuffs itself back in the guys pocket. There are all these backwards effects in the video. And in Hollywood or in New York, this would be done, these days, with a computer, right, with digital compositing. This was done with a computer, but the only thing they did with the computer was reverse the order of the frames. They just ran the film backwards. So all of the backward effects were shot forward, right? So when the banknotes come flipping out of the guys pocket, he just did this: Just grabs them and throws them out. But, of course, if the song is running forwards, while everything forwards is backwards, that meant they had to sing the whole song backwards. And there are, I haven't really counted, there are about ten main performers in this who are on camera lip synching. The whole school is in it. Everybody got it really, really almost right, you know. Critically, the one with the curly hair in the green top, oh she's really terrific. I've watched this video many times.

But the reason I keep watching this video over and over again is that it just, it's drilled into my brain a message about the difference in the generations, you know, between mine and the students I teach. I teach a lot of people about this age. I teach freshman and sophomores and up. But since I teach game development, I've been detecting something that this video confirms to me. Several things I glean from the Shorewood Lip Dub. Number one, this does not smell like teen spirit, as I remember it, right? High school for me, and for, you know, it was certainly many years before Cobain, but high school for me was angst-ridden and pretty much isolated and, you know, no one wanted much to hang out. It was the 70s. This is different, you know. The whole school collaborating spontaneously on a social enterprise. And that says to me, "hmm… you know, once again, there's been a mutation in the gene pool." As my parents liked to say to me when I was growing up, "are you the same form of life as the rest of us?" No, I don't think so. But here the change may be a happier one.

The other thing of course that is striking about the Shorewood lip dub and the reason that I deeply cherish it, is that it is a beautiful example of reverse engineering. Literally. And you know, I'm a sucker for a literal pun. But it is literal. They have literally engineered how to do things backwards. And I am hugely impressed with this. You may be a little uneasy with the term reverse engineering. It is a term of art, and it's a term that I insist my students learn and learn a lot of about. In industry, it refers to the practice of figuring out how someone else did something, and then doing it in your own original and thus legally defensible way. Right? So you take someone else's program. You do not look at the source code, but you sort of figure out everything it does, and you write your own. The classic example of reverse engineering, and it is hugely important, is Unix, right. Unix, sorry, good, is G-N-U, GNUs not Unix, right, it's, or Linux, and all the derivitives from the hack of Unix that Richard Stallman did when I was in high school, so famous case of an operating system that has been appropriated.

We were very concerned, yesterday, about the dominance of Google. And I was telling various people later that it takes me back to the day when we were concerned about other fearsome hegimons, Microsoft, Apple, even. And of course, this has all changed, but one of the things that stands us in good stead is the ability to reverse engineer. And if you don't want to think about engineering, because after all this is a writers conference. Think of it as reverse poesis. What would it mean to be able to do reverse poesis? It's like reverse osmosis, I don't know. So interesting notion, and I just, you know, I keep running this video because I keep wanting to think of reverse poesis, which is basically: I have an effect in mind, how can I do this? Or I've just seen that effect you did--and that was my point of putting out the constrained and unconstrained woven text--you just did something, how did you do, what did you do? How did you do it? What did you do, I think comes first. Increasingly, this interactive multi-mediated, hypermediated art that we're dealing with poses those questions. What are you doing? And how did you do it? And perhaps, "why?"

When we get to the "why?", we have, I think, recovered a term that gets abused and misunderstood these days. Not reverse poesis, though I think it's related to it, but my old friend "deconstruction." That is a word you will hear over and over and over again, especially in commercial contexts. "Oh we're just gonna deconstruct that website." To which I want to say, "Paging Mr. Derrida." In the words you are about to speak after you say this, would Derrida recognize anything? No. What people most often mean by deconstruction these days is what I just meant by reverse poesis, taking things apart. And for a while, it's bothered me. Because, you know, having gone to high school in the 70s, I then went on to graduate school in the 80s, you know, later 80s, no, it wasn't actually, and was exposed to post-structuralism and things like that. And so this is a term that it's sort of bothered me for a while that people were not understanding that deconstruction's really a philosophical move. It's an interpretive move. It's not about looking at structures per se. Then, it began to occur to me that the structures might permeate back into the philosophy.

So, long preamble for engagement with some things that you might want to reverse engineer. One more thing I'll say before I start actually reading… And that's that the third important message from the Shorewood lip Dub is about content and data. Content, and we use both these terms all the time, right? Content is something wrapped up, something in shrink wrap. Something with a stock-keeping unit attached to it, you know, a mark. Data is that which flows, right? Data permeates. Data circulates. It's processed. When you think about those two words, content, to withhold, right, contenera. Data, past participle of dare, to give, right. What would it mean to have a world where data is possible, you know, it's always transformable into content, but it's the primary form. I think that's what we're seeing in Shorewood. Those kids look at media and they see data. They see stuff that they can maniupulate. They see stuff they can play backwards. And wasn't until I saw this video just over the holidays that I began to understand what I was trying to do a little more sharply. So I'll show you a few things with that as preamble. What I'm going to frame this around is what would art be like if it were built for a world of data, primarily and not content? Okay? So this is a piece called Radio Salience that I did, oh gosh, probably about three years ago. And it has some sound.

[plays Radio Salience]

If you see any of these two panels, ah oops, I just missed one.

[continues playing Radio Salience]

When you see a pattern match, it is possible to click, and … and that takes you all the way [inaudible] I'll do a couple more [inaudible] a little bit more and then we'll move on.

[continues playing Radio Salience]

Oops. And then sometimes, it ends. That was an ending. I'd forgotten those happened. Alright, well I'll try it one more time.

[Plays Radio Salience again]

[inaudible] When you get it wrong, when you claim there's a match and there isn't, it actually kicks you out.

So, a couple of things from Radio Salience, a couple of claims I might make for it as being a precursor perhaps of data art, instead of content art. And one is that it is a congeries of images and words and sounds. It has a logic; it behaves. It has a very minimal interactivity. All you do is click. And I have to say that I'm devolving increasingly toward very simple interactions. Maybe it's because I've been around gamers so long, but it's starting to get more and more appealing to me. The most, I think, salient factor of this though, is that it represents an aesthetic reversal. Or, it did in the static reversal to me, put it that way. When I put this piece together, I was concentrating on the poems. To me, it was all about finding the match and arriving at the delivery of text. And I remember having long wrangles with Nick about whether I should use the canned sort of, comical computer voices or not. I insisted. But I didn't really see that the most important part of the work is the flip side. I'm going to start it up just briefly.

[Plays Radio Salience again]

The more I play with this, the more I don't want to play. The more I just want to let it run, because it does sound collages. And I everything that's in the collages, but I'm always surprised at the way that they put themselves together. It's an aleatory, random sound collage. It's really much simpler than it seems.

[Radio Salience plays over his voice]

So, it's about playing. It's about relaxing, not acting, letting things happen, seeing what happens. Play of course leads to game, which is less about relaxing and letting things happen and trying to determine, instead, trying to determine how things can be made to work. Work, play. This is a thing that I did in the same year, a few months later. It's called Under Language. And it is, I call it an instrument. An instrument, according to John Cayley, is one of the things we can play that isn't a game. Though, this actually probably is a game. I probably should look at the instructions here because this one's, oh, you won't be able to read any of this, it says:

"The underlying structure of this instrument is a simple ten-line poetry mixer. By clicking on one of the dotted lines that occupy the left half of the screen, you can elicit possible line readings. You might thus expect that play would amount to nothing more than choosing certain lines in hope of assembling an interesting poem." That's part of it. "What fun would that be? When you call up a line, you should encounter an accompanying audible text read to you by an unreal person, supplying the voice of the poem…" Okay. "These audible readings do not echo the visible lines, rather they express a second or esoteric meaning an under-language, hence the title. Or an over-language. A language from some other dimension entirely. However you think of them, you need to understand that these audible lines represent executable statements in action script."

This is a Flash piece, and action script was the scripting language in Flash. And there's a visual convention, which I'll show you in a minute, for interacting with the audible lines which are also lines of executable code. Turns out that you actually have to get your choices right initially, or things will happen that you might not exactly intend. And I could read this all at greater detail, but I think I'll just sort of indicate that it's there, and then we'll go in and play.

[Plays Under Language.]

Now this too has ambient sound. [inaudible] And it also has ambient graphics that kind of sketch over what you're doing. But the idea is…

[Under Language continues playing]

So when I click on the open box, I lock in the instruction, and I both select the line of reading for the poem and execute a statement. So the system actually has changed in doing it.

[Under Language continues playing]

Now, you can see that the background sound actually went away when I did that. So it is an executable instruction. I am paying no attention to the poem. I will now shift over and read the poem. So we have, "Because these words are shadows, we will play all the angles, taking all the time it needs while flying along tangents. Then the babble falls away."

[Declare a primary metaphor. Based upon junk DNA]

So we make our next selections. Kind of like that line.

[Done. Make the main graphic totally opaque.]

Then let us proceed to showing. Okay, well we will do that.

[Done. Limit the main graphic to a single image]

But do not bury or depart.

[The main graphic will display an unspecified number of images]

And show what you can of the story.

[Done. Pick a volume setting for the ambient sound and make it a surprise. Comment. I can has satisfaction times zero. Done. Comment. It may help at this point to imagine time as a large balloon of the palest blue. Poem complete. [Male Voice:] "And now a word from your content." The poem would like to thank you for a completely adequate job.]

It's a poem that reads itself. It applies its own criticism. And that was a perfectly adequate job, thank you. So it is actually adequate because there's an unseen scoring mechanism, and it does evaluate, and there are a whole bunch of different outcomes the poem can respond on all kinds of different ways, depending on how you write it. And this is an adequate one, meaning that it got all the lines in. It's really easy to get trapped in the first two lines. It's deliberately set up that way. But we did pretty well with that one. There are better. And you can go look at this piece off my website. It's called Under Language.

And as you can see, lots of things happening here convergence of text and game, obviously. Convergence of what we might call lyrical, I guess, with the executable. And that's the point I was hinting at yesterday about a major mutation having happened in the language under us, or the language all around us, which is that you know, now words can be linked to executable structures. They, every time you put a website on the web, you are reprogramming Google. This is another way to think about, you know, our hegemon Google. Is that yes, it knows more than we can ever know. But we can, in our own small ways, effect--well that's what the "Google Will Eat Itself" project is all about, right, for those who were here yesterday.

Okay, so that was the old stuff. Here's the new. This is the "I scare myself" moment, because I never know what it's going to do. This one at least came up, which is nice. It wasn't earlier. Speaking of Google, some of you will recognize Google maps. This is my first mashup. It's the first project I've tried to do with the Google Maps application programmer interface, known as an API, Google Maps API. It is huge fun, and Nick and I have been going around and around about this. He is of course, you know, a staunch opponent of the hegemonic. And I keep pointing out, but it's so much darn fun. And I am trying to have some malicious fun here, so…

I don't know if any of you have been to Baltimore. This is what it looks like from space. There's this interesting silhouette. That's the train station. But let's pretend it's not Baltimore. You are currently viewing a city from space. The red marker indicates your position. You have three secrets. If you land outside a building, your secrets go away. If you keep landing outside a building, your secrets go away forever. You have no secrets. We'll try again.

The trick is to land in a building. We're in a place called "Patco Station." A man approaches you. His face is drawn into a strangely mixed expression that seems to include concern, frustration, and good will. He seems odd, but generally harmless. He speaks to you, repeating the same phrase over and over hampered by stuttering or some subtle speech impediment. After a while, you understand as best you can, that he has mistaken you for someone in the military. The man is trying to thank you for your service, but his tongue keeps getting tangled in the final syllable. You smile and edge away.

And whenever you see something in a building like this, you can remember or you can forget. Very simple. Two choices. I am going to choose to remember this one. And I'm told that it was worth remembering and if I check my status line, I see that I now have four secrets. I have acquired a secret that was worth remembering.

Well why do you need secrets? If you inspect the map, you can move around the map, to certain limits, without moving your location. And you can roll over areas to see which ones are mapped as interior spaces or hot spots. These buildings all are. And then there's this interesting space here. It's pixilated. We remember another pixilated space from the previous administration probably. The title of this work is Undisclosed, a reference to the insistence of our vice president that his official residence be pixilated on Google Maps, for reasons I don't understand.

We can visit the undisclosed location as we couldn't in actuality. And we're told, oh, we're given a question: "What is the true name of virtue in America?" Actually, we also now have a series of options. These are possible answers to the question. And we have them because we possess more than three secrets. If you enter the undisclosed location with three secrets or less, all you see is the question. You don't get any possible answers. And you are told you aren't authorized to answer this question. So anybody want to guess?... Oh, I'm sorry, you can't read them? I'm sorry. This is really designed for screen presentation and not for projection.

The options are: Was the true name of virtue in America, no harm should come to small animals. The first of the third shall be more than a fifth. We know what you do when you think no one sees. Expect confusion from a well-worn coat. The planets are not correctly aligned. There is water at the bottom of the ocean, says David Byrne. The men in the tower wear the heaviest hats.

Which could be the answer to that? Well, if you're not ready to answer yet, you can look around. You'll remember that one of those things I saw inside a building was important. And if you'll remember, it was somebody saying, "Thank you for your ser- ser- ser," and he couldn't say the last syllable. So let's see. We got, we're in the [Hague] Center and it says that you pass through this arcade of shops and stalls, you somehow find yourself looking into people's faces as they pass. Something you have done many times before, but never with this result. Every face you see is somehow distorted. The nose a bit too broad, brows too pinched, or misproportioned or missing. Mouth gaping fishlike or scrambled into some strange geometry. Every face is different and they are all wrong. This is a hallucination I actually had as a child. You could remember it or you could forget it. I'd like to forget it. Okay, it's gone.

There's a TV on over the bar rerunning an episode of some show about car customizers. The hyperkinetic crew turned a Japanese sub-compact into some weird parody of an urban personnel management vehicle from fender flares, three inches of velour upholstery, gold style plating on the grill. When we got finished, the host observes, our Versa was ready to roll under a totally different name.

And that's one I'll just tell you that you want to remember. So we have "ser-, ser-, ser-," can't say the last syllable, and we have "Versa into…" Anybody want to guess? … Let's see… We know what you do when you think no one sees. The answer to the riddle is vice, which is you know, of course, the whole vice vice president, vice, Mr. Cheney and everything he's been doing the last year. Can't get it out of my head. This one is really at the moment a test project. And no one should I think, blame me, for not getting the puzzle. It's intended to be very hard. It's intended to need a fair amount of study and some swapping of notes back and forth, because, yes again, this one's based on a game.

Nick was talking yesterday and showing some examples of interactive fictions. That's a form that both he and I have a history with. His is a lot more extensive than mine. But it's a one to which I find myself coming back. This is in some ways a very rude approximation of an adventure game. But it's a text adventure with an emphasis on the first word, because I really am trying to design something here that insists upon its textuality. That requires repeated study of the words. Lo and behold, I am trying to get back to reading. It's reading in a different key, you know. It's reading with data not with content. But boy, there are certain things about reading that don't go away. And one of the things about reading is that it tends to be hard, right? When we were trying to do something serious, and we're trying to play a serious game, we tend to have to set up a puzzle. The adventure games are all about puzzles. Nick, in fact, has said in his book that they're about riddles. This is a riddle.

So that's Undisclosed, and then finally, a piece called Slow Food, which is really going to drive me crazy because it's very hard to read. This is literally the most recent thing I have done, meaning several hours ago. I think it works. It too is about reading. It's about interpretation, but it's really about time. So, there are no intros or rules yet for either of the new things, so, I'll just jump in and we'll make our way along. You prob-- I'm sure you can't read this in the back, so I'll read what's coming on screen.

It says, "The car returns to earth. Tires biting, slight declivity under the inboard rear, causing the tail to wag left. But Audrey shaun- shunts the wheel and tucks them back in line. They will want the next control point in 98.3 or better which is possible if little piggies get wings or they don't crash, whichever comes first. Long right to five two hundred opens to turn left in twenty. Steven recites from the other seat. It is shatteringly loud in here, but this time, the helmet mikes are working, he hopes. Let's try this flat, Audrey says, in his good ear. He takes this as a joke though, as the next three seconds demonstrate, it almost isn't. Like all her kind, she has a perverse attraction to the future. We should live so long, Steven mutters. What would be the point in that, Audrey wants to know…"

I'm just going to click for a while, and we'll talk about what it's doing… Next text… "A few meters past the turn, they fly into some seriously degraded white, not according to map, going the best part of 90. [unclear] says, 'Hey!' The trick suspension cleverly reroutes G-load away from the major mechanicals or so they can hope, depositing same in cabin. Steven and Audrey are made to demonstrate rag doll physics, using their heads. 'Sotto [unclear] mio,' he complains. 'As a certain friend of ours might say,' Audrey adds scrubbing for a better line while snatching 5th. 'Short left, 3 and 50, don't cut,' her codriver tells her. Can she hear anything in that well-worn voice, aside from operational terror? Perhaps she does. Things are complicated."

One of the complications here is that if I don't wait for the next click, we will regret it. I actually have to check my cheat sheet here, it's that new. I think I need to wait until it says two up there. Let's just see… Be there in about 6 seconds… Alright let's try that.

"'The taste of [unclear] are, wheel-hop here, not immediately fatal. Don't cut, I'll thank you. Hm.' Audrey catches six for the long straight, mind back in her work. ‘Accidents will happen.' Steven wonders if there will be time in their dubious onrushing future to hash out the whims of a wandering star or will it come as usual to another expérience of the three-body problem. He decides not to care. They have been friends, lovers, friends again, now this. 'Four right, 50 over crest, jumped,' he tells the driver."

So, there's something going on here. It's an action sequence--I have a certain fondness for those--but there are other things happening. And it's also a textual machine or game. These readouts mean something. This readout means something. There's animated text. Lots of time, lots of clocks running, lots of measurement of things. And, perhaps, the overall semiotic is speed. Perhaps, it's all about trying to get there faster. Let me actually start from the top again and show you what happens if you assume that the guiding principle here is speed. So if the guiding principle is speed, I'm just going to read as much as I can, I kind of get the idea that, alright fine.

"Something has happened. One instant they're flying into the turn, mostly okay with gravity. Wheels mainly in contract with the dirt. Next, they are here in this tree, gawping like a pair of baby birds, while the engine screams and dust settles gently around them."

And we've gone to zero with black. And when we click again, we did not finish. And we can repeat again. This text penalizes you for asking for the next bit too quickly. In fact, I have this elaborate reading planned out which I've now fouled up. I'll just tell you. Let's see if I can maybe get to one of these. There are on some of the later moments, we may have to wait and get to the next screen, there are alternative readings of the diagetic narrative text that I've been reading to you that are designed as inverse rewards or punishments for hasty action. So, there are versions of this text that pop up in answer to a hasty response. And the overall logic of Slow Food is slow down. You know? Why don't you wait? Why don't you wait to see what comes later? Why don't you just look at the screen for a while? And there's this little parody of highlighting going on.

I'm vamping until we get to zero. Zero yeah, zero, one is where we want to go. Obviously you don't know my own score yet, because I'm still in the process of writing this. And what I'm going to try to do is take not the zero option here, but the one option, which will come up in about 15 seconds. The timer here, by the way, is actually based on a model reading speed. It's a very fast speed for the demo. I'm not showing you what you'd actually see. Here we go.

Yup, okay, so, at two zero, we get "Audrey makes a small mistake. Steven corrects her, acknowledges coincidence in recent partner selection. Audrey concentrates on driving. Steven mulls discussing relationship, decides crowded bed no threat to basic friendship given history. Road bends to right, rising to a jump. Time zooms."

This is the "okay, you want to go fast? We'll give you fast" version. This is the condensed book version. And you can get to that at various points as the, it's basically, a short story as it progresses. Hasty clicks will reliably bring you back here. Not always at the same interval, right, so at times you're going to have to wait for two or three to avoid getting the sort of brush off from the text to get to the good stuff. Here's the interesting thing about, I hope, about this piece. And I haven't yet built enough of it to be able to invite you to look at it. Ultimately, I want to set this piece up so that the reward points are indefinite. That is to say, you could simply sit there, let the thing run for an hour, come back to it, and then do your click, and see what happens. And after an hour, it might have something different to say to you than it has after three minutes or you know, on the fourth succession. That's really sort of the conceptual point of this piece is to create an open-ended time of reading inside a reading machine, because our reading machines and our playing machines are all about, you know, anxious, angst-ridden twitches. I know I work with gamers. And this is really an attempt to slow things down.

So, um, okay… I'll just take this list, which will probably kill us… nope, it didn't, because we waited… "Through the next maneuvers, Audrey settles in driving with her bones, processing the relationship of car to countryside with minimal conscious involved. She hears Steven reading the [road book] with his usual confident hysteria. She flicks through a pair of difficult turns and with near-perfection, neatly plucking each apex, it occurs to her that her covering ground like nobody's business, which is of course when an errant bit of road [bit] tags, this thought, with a big shiny asterisk smacked in the middle of the windscreen."

I could read more, but I am really trying to get to this click, okay there we go.

"They sweep like fury into the turn, gravel and dust cascading and a peacock's fan of impetuous violence, the chassis settling down bumptiously around the apex, she toggles in third gear, puts her foot down for a fresh assault," oh wait a minute, it didn't kill us. Oh, yes it did. I forgot I wrote this. "She toggles in third gear, puts her foot down for a fresh assault, and what happens next is that something fails to happen. The revs run backward, the tack needle dropping, drooping like a man without his prescription. Their eyes scan the readouts eventually coming to rest on fuel, where they find zeros." And that's another end [unclear].

I just want to show you one more thing for this piece. And that is another species of writing that slips in later in the sequence, sorry I've actually pulled this one out in a separate page. This is a rough punishment. If the sort of condensed book is the sort of brush off, this is what you get if you've been really bad and gone for the immediate zero.

"Odd. Shut up and drive. Steep. Sweaty. But Okay. Good work next two turns. Going real fast. Chance to win?" Then, "WTF?! Windshield, AFU. KO Not dead yet. A: 'Can you see?' S: 'Yeah, can you?' K: 'Go!' STV 3 L 30 T S pants still dry, best online games, chat, Viagra, gold, [unclear]," I'm not sure what that means, "[refi], click now."

It's sort of a dissent into Tweets and the stuff that I find in the unfiltered e-mail. And you know, again, a message about what the world fills up with when you're not slowing down. So that's the old stuff, the new stuff, thank you for listening.


I would be happy to talk about any of it, if anyone has questions.

Perhap…. Yes?

[audience member asks question]

I have no collaborative process [laughs], I do it all alone. Yeah, but I would like to talk about collaborative process, because everyone I know collaborates, and I feel I should. I mean, that powerfully, that's the other message of Shorewood, right? High school is not where, you know, when I went to high school, you know, everybody was off on their own cloud. But these days, you know, "hey, let's make a movie! Let's make a video!" And let's make some net art? It's a thing I want to do. It's kind of hard to do it when you're heavily constrained by other circumstances. But it is something that my youngers, my juniors, all universally do and it is something I commend, so. Another reason you might suspect collaborative work here is that there is a lot of code behind this. Where is it? And, you know, that does take a certain amount of time. And it is, I admit, difficult to balance the writing and the code-writing. One tends to squeeze the other one out. And it's maybe easier if you do collaborate. And I have nothing against collaboration at all. I think it's an important thing. I think it's really important for people who see themselves mainly as writers to learn how to think about data structures, right. You don't have to know the code. But you might want to learn how to write in chunks. And, you know, is this different from how you would write for a graphic novel? Maybe not, you know. Partial answer…

[audience member continues with question.]

That's all me, yeah. Yes?

[another audience member asks a question.]

For content? The question was, talk about my concern for content.

[audience member talks]

I deeply distrust content. I have on occasion gotten up and said, "I do not believe in the word ‘content.'" And then I find myself using it over and over and people look at me like I'm crazy. It doesn't go away, but it turns into data, and data is different from content. Data is signification inactive. Data is circulation. Data is impulse. Content is often property, not always. Everything I do turns into content, doesn't it? But, and yeah, I mean, it's, you know, it's all a fairly heavily technical exercise and not, you know, real approachable. But you can always do this. Anything that's on the web. You can look at all the tricks. Or you can have someone who happens to know... This is just Javascript, there's nothing arcane about it, as scription languages go. And if you have a halfway decent web programmer look at it, when he finishes laughing, or she, finishes laughing, you know, at all the things I've got in here that don't do anything anymore, they can explain to you how it works, not particularly hard. It's just a bunch of stuff sort of bodged together. And that's all distributed with the work, right, it's all there all the time. Open source. Open source gives content a big fat bop on the nose, I think. It's really important. Content also is something that's open to transformation, you know, whenever you put something up out there with shrink wrap around it, someone is going to take it down, reverse poeticize it, and it becomes something else.


[audience member asks a question]

I don't want to evacuate it… It's not fun… yeah, yeah...Redefine, redefine… I would like to sneak some fun back into reading. But you know, I have, in terms of redefining the pleasure of the text, someone needs to talk to gamers, because they have redefined the erotics of play. And I don't mean erotics in a sexual sense, right, I mean desire. They've redefined that in ways that make me very dubious, frankly. I am an old guy, you know, I'm too old for video games, really, though I played some when I was middle-aged. And what I don't really relate to in my students' experience is the delight they have in being tortured, you know. I don't get that. "Yeah, Guantanamo! Sign me up now! It'll be fun!" I really don't get it, but I do profoundly respect the difference, right, I mean.

Okay I'll try to encapsulate this story. When I was a child, I was used as the test subject of a column my uncle the newspaper reporter was writing about how the younger generation couldn't understand baseball. And when you grow up in Baltimore and you become the poster child for not getting baseball… You might as well, just.. I ran away for twenty years. So, I don't ever want to look at younger people and say, "oh you're so weird, I just don't get the things I..." You know, we all get different things. But, I do think that the pleasures of reading, the pleasures of play, the pleasures of signification need to be rethought all the time, but maybe that's what art is for… Thank you, good question. Well it's yours, it's your answer, I never have an answer. Yeah?

[audience member asks question]

Well, yes, I do, but I am to blame. So, we were talking about this yesterday on the panel. We circulate, I think most of us on that panel, circulate our work noncommercially. You know, well yeah, some of you had to buy Victory Garden, didn't you? Victory Garden belongs to a friend of mine, my publisher, you know, that's what happens when you enter into a publishing agreement, you do not have rights. And I respect his, you know, he supported me in a time when no one would take what I did seriously. He deserves to do commercial work. But everything that has come since then has been noncommercial. I could stand up and say I believe in open source and I believe in free circulation. And I do, but I couldn't have done any of those things if not for the taxpayers of the state of Maryland, you know, who enable me to be in a job where I can say, "so I do this digital art stuff on the side, but it makes me really good at teaching games." And they nod and promote me, you know. That's tricky and it's wonderful and it's good, but we can't lose sight of the fact that, you know, there is a subvention, as I suppose there must always be since artists must eat. I will say this, I do not go far enough. And this is also to loop back to the question about collaboration. Better, better, better by all means to have art in circulation that doesn't hide its mysteries and makes them more accessible. I will freely admit that, you know, a lot of this showing off is fun because you can do it. But more important, I think, to build things that bring people in, as Nick was trying to do. Although you remember, he showed the code for the Sloppy Salon. And I think a lot of us, myself included, kind of went "ah, that's not.." as you probably did when I brought up the Javascript for this thing. Not like I can just glance at that and go, "ah." There are people doing more pedagogical and inviting and open work, and one of them is named Mark Marino, M-A-R-I-N-O, you should Google him. Mark Marino, oh gosh, now I'm blanking the name of his blog. Anyone know? … That's gone, yeah. Anyway. Mark Marino is one of my, you know, one of the young men I learn from, young men and women actually. There's this generation 10, 15, 20 years my junior who are doing things that I thought ought to be done when I was their age. I didn't manage to get them done for one reason or another, but they are. And one of the things that Mark is doing is bringing scripting and it's, particularly the kind of thing that was in the Google Maps project, into writing classes, expository writing classes, creative writing classes. I think this is a good thing. I am very much for that. And yes, you give it away. Didn't really remember what the question was. Others?

Okay then. Thank you very much.


[Transcription by Monica Stierman; Reviewed by Dr. Crystal Alberts, November 21, 2010]