Alan Wake is a survival horror video game released for the Xbox 360 and Windows platforms and developed by Remedy Entertainment, a Finnish company known mostly for their Max Payne video game series. In the plot of the game, a best-selling thriller writer named Alan Wake is trying to overcome his two year writer’s block and mending his marriage by going out on vacations with his wife to a place called Bright Falls. It is here where the storyline starts to develop itself as a thriller narrative, seeing as the game itself from its beginnings alludes to this aspect through a nightmare the main character has, by showing dark corners, mysterious characters and eerie ambiance in plain day during the prologue of the game. As the game progresses the player learns that there are pages scattered around the game environment which foretell events warning the player of dangerous circumstances ahead. These pages add more depth to the transformation of the game from a thriller to a horror game, immersing the player in its structure and pace while wrapping it up in cinematic genres that perform language like episodic storytelling similar to a television series.
Nanette Wylde’s Storyland (2002) is a digital work that produces recombinant narratives within a frame that seeks to evoke the ethos of a circus performance. Each story within Storyland opens with a black screen, the title of the work lighting up in a randomized configuration of multi-coloured letters to a shortened subsection of of Louis-Philippe Laurendeau’s ‘Thunder and Blazes’ (1910), a small-band reworking of Julius Fučík’s Opus 68 march, ‘The Entrance of the Gladiators’ (1897). The stories within Storyland follow a basic six paragraph template, and are refreshed each time the user presses the ‘new story’ button. Each time this button is pushed, the page refreshes by playing its music again and produces elements in a new combination in order to tell the user a different narrative, seemingly depicting a whole new performance, although elements of the previous tale are displaced and repeated within each new tale.
On Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 6:45 pm Jeremy Hight announced that he had begun a new series that would be “published” on his timeline and allowed to “float away down its river.” To think of the Facebook timeline as a river is a substantial change in the metaphor Facebook has implemented as an organizing principle for the mass of status updates, photos, and other material people share on this social network. A timeline can be explored with considerably less metaphorical effort than navigating upstream. There are no ancient philosophical pronouncements about never being able to step into the same timeline twice. To think of Facebook as a river is to highlight its endless flow and the irretrievable nature of a moment– correctly so– but that isn’t the only metaphor Hight is activating here. He refers to these posts as “publication,” a word that comes charged with centuries of print history and the circulation of the written word in ways that suggests a modicum of permanence, the slice of immortality beyond the ephemeral moment that Shakespeare wrote about.
The problem is that Facebook posts aren’t ephemeral. They are digital objects stored and backed up in Facebook servers with timestamps and a unique URL, which like Twitter posts, can be embedded into WordPress blogs (as of September 2013). So there is a way to circumvent Hight’s intention of having this narrative exist only on Facebook, and here it is, embedded into this post:
Hmm. Well played, Mr. Hight, well played.
Okay then, let this be a reminder that just because while the entry is published, it isn’t public. Upon closer inspection, I (who have the privilege to be his Facebook friend), noticed that the entries for this narrative are shared only with his friends, so even if you “follow” his entries, he needs to become “friends” with you to grant access to this narrative. Perhaps this is an oversight, since he does post public entries in his timeline (I tested this by following him with a different account). Or perhaps, like Emily Dickinson, who shared her poems with her friends and acquaintances by copying them by hand and mailing them in letters, Hight wishes to share this work with a select audience of people he knows and trusts enough to establish bilateral communication with in Facebook.
The preservationist in me wants to capture these entries and it would be easy to do so, by screen capturing the posts or by cutting and pasting their text into a new document, but as discussed in my series on William Gibson’s vanishing poem Agrippa, I would only be capturing an aspect of the work by creating different computational objects. Besides, it begs the question: do I have the right to copy his work? Would this act be a violence against Hight’s intentions? I don’t wish to betray our friendship. I could provide links to the entries so fellow Facebook friends can access them, but it would be better to direct people to February 16, 2014 on his Timeline, which would provide a fuller context. Perhaps when it’s over, I’ll ask Hight to download his Facebook Archive and share the data with me, or archive it somehow.
Or perhaps I should enjoy it as it happens, share the experience with fellow friends, and appreciate it more for its “lability.”
You’ll note that I haven’t mentioned what the story is about. That will be the focus of the next entry in this series.
Rob Wittig’s 1999 digital text The Fall of the Site of Marsha chronicles the changes to the website of the narrative’s protagonist, Marsha, through the spring, summer and fall of 1998. The narrative opens with three narrative threads, each of which corresponds to the state of the website during the season indicated. The reader can click on each thread in order to view the website during that phase, and navigate it as one would have conventionally navigated any website’s homepage. Marsha’s website focuses on Throne Angels, a subclass of Angels that are conventionally associated with the Throne of God and therefore linked to divine justice and authority. Marsha’s original intent in creating the website is to produce these angels as beautiful and protective, asking people to share angel stories and linking these angels to her own performance of spiritual renewal. She intends to use the website to cheer herself after having been depressed due to the loss of her job and the death of her father. However, as time passes, Marsha’s website is vandalized repeatedly in order to reveal the unsaid buried beneath Marsha’s statements, and this vandalism is ascribed to the Throne Angels and their thirst for justice and divine retribution. Marsha’s invitation to the Angels to play on her website results in its vandalism and in Marsha’s own descent into depression and madness upon having to confront the events they reference or reveal.
As is characteristic of the gothic genre, Wittig’s tale plays upon the pervasive fears of one’s current society; that is, The Fall of the Site of Marsha reveals the societal horrors associated with current aging middle-class women – that of alienation, depression, affairs, and family secrets revealed. Wittig’s modern gothic tale allows for the reader to read the events chronologically and note the changes made to the website’s homepage and its various links as these reveal the larger narrative in play; i.e. Marsha’s complicated relationship with her father, her husband’s affair with her best friend, Elizabeth or “Bits”, and Marsha’s own depression and issues with self-perception. Playing with conventions of terror, unheimlich or the uncanny, death and the supernatural to advance its narrative, Marsha’s presumption of Angels being protective and nurturing is revealed to be false. Instead, they are shown to be vengeful and unrelenting in their pursuit of what they feel to be the “truth”. Yet despite the fact that these acts of vandalism are ascribed to vengeful Angels seeking justice, this claim cannot be verified and the reader remains aware that this vandalism could very easily be the work of Marsha’s husband, Mike, or an unknown hacker. However, given that the vandal is aware of events that are otherwise unknown by anyone other than Marsha, the events continue to seem uncanny and inexplicable, and linked to the supernatural.
The website moves from a relatively clear, ornate interface to one that is darker, largely unreadable, and has numerous additions that are then marked as strike-throughs, misspellings, and cut up or manipulated pictures. This movement of the website from seeming innocence to decay and ruin creates the gloomy and frightening scenery that is conventionally associated with the gothic genre. The image of the changed website thus not only recalls its origin as clean and thriving, but displays its downfall as the result of the hidden secrets that lay under its façade.
Featured in: Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1
The Jew’s Daughter patterns itself upon a journey, moving between cityscapes of ports and trains, to internal monologues that outline mythical landscapes more closely aligned with nature. Positioning itself as a postmodern text that draws strongly on modernist roots, the novel plays not only with its self-reflexive embodiment – wherein the changing elements often attribute the same saying to multiple characters, shifting between first and second person, destabilizing the narrative and leading the reader to repeat the narrator’s question of “Whose horrible voices are these?” – but also evokes its own historicity and contemporaneity through multiple literary allusions.
For example, the novel’s fragmentary nature, its use of shifting narrators who are both male and female (who speak in both first and second person) while relying on a primarily male narrator, its constant moving landscape, the intercutting of a bar scene, as well as its play with popular tunes suggests a deliberate evocation of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Yet, at the same time, the primary male narrator appears rather Prufrockian, hesitant and unsure in his relationship with Eva and longing for more; the text’s abruptly centered lines on the page of prose describe a woman in a pearly white dress that might be Eva and her distance from the narrator. The Jew’s Daughter returns repeatedly to the image of the city and dogs, the singing that seems unrelated to the narrator himself and occurs mostly around him. In yet another parallel, the primary narrator’s return home, his alienated and crumbling relationship with his partner, Eva, his status as an Irish-Jew, all suggests an homage to James Joyce’s Ulysses. The possibility of this homage is further strengthened by Morrissey’s choice to name the novel ‘The Jew’s Daughter’, after an anti-Semitic folk song from the United Kingdom that is quoted in part in Joyce’s book. That is, Morrissey’s text opens itself to multiple possibilities and multiple interpretations – its play with stylistic and narrative conventions emphasizes the need for a plurality in terms of its reading encounter, as well as in any attempt at meaning making.
The novel states, “When the sacred builds itself, it dismantles us and then it is up to us to reassemble the things that linger in its wake, the brine and feathers that it scattered when it left… This is because its wholeness is our own. The broken sum of its parts is a great agonist. What are we without our histories? The work exhausts itself against us, and in our impotence we become great.” The Jew’s Daughter thus opens onto not simply discussion of the work as lived experience within our own shared histories, but also the work as a literary and philosophical construct. Given the text’s homage to Ulysses and Joyce’s as well as the text’s own suggestion of a link to Homer’s Odyssey – the questioning of the horrible voices, the repeated singing, the references to sea-journeys and ports, the decoration of the house with small black ram’s horns and oriental anchors, his return to Eva and the troubles that await him – it’s perhaps worth reading The Jew’s Daughter alongside Maurice Blanchot’s essay ‘Encountering the Imaginary’ which is itself based on Ulysses’ encounter with the Sirens.
In the essay, Blanchot suggests that the narrative is like a siren that beckons the reader towards meaning, that the entire event is a movement towards the distance of its conclusion. However, this promise is never revealed for the ‘truth’ of the siren’s song remains a secret never to be revealed – sailors are unable to survive the encounter, or else can only complete their course by blocking their ears to its song. The narrator’s choice to suggest that the work should exhaust itself against us without reaction would almost appear to repeat the Ulysses encounter with the siren – lashed to the mast and unable to give in, yet willing to encounter the experience – allowing the work to maintain its mystery and learning no truth but that of his singular journey. At the conclusion of The Jew’s Daughter, the text refuses simple meaning-making. For all that the reader is brought full circle in their journey alongside the narrator, the novel retains its complexity and plurality of voices – historical, literary, and fictional.
Note: Follow this link to read the first entry on this work.
Featured in The Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1.
The Jew’s Daughter (2000) suggests a postmodern interpretation of T. S. Eliot’s famous assertion in ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ – a melding of the timeless and the temporal in order for the poet, or, as in this case, the writer, to observe tradition and his own contemporaneity. Judd Morrissey’s take on the hypertext novel suggests this observation of a “historical sense [which] involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order” (Eliot, para 3). The novel echoes this in its own way, stating, “Past things emerge discretely to sanctify a new system. Like fragments once written, they seek the wholeness of a new arrangement. They are ours, they want to be realized by us and to make us real, to make their wholeness ours – to claim us and be claimed by us. Things seek realization in new configurations.” Morrissey’s work thus locates itself to an extent within Eliot’s modernist framework of tradition and the role of the writer, while using hypertext’s digital landscape to self-reflexively indicate the fragmentary nature of literature and lived experience.
Talan Memmott’s 2003 work Self Portrait(s) [as Other(s)] situates itself within an art historical context by presumably introducing the reader to self-portraits of artists from between 1756 to 1954, allowing the reader to simply click through what might conventionally pass for a mundane educational presentation.