“Marble Springs 3.0” by Deena Larsen (part 2 of 4)

Screen capture of "Marble Springs 3.0" by Deena Larsen (part 2 of 4). A black and white photograph of an abandoned mining town. Text: "Marble Springs 3.0 Home / Marble Springs is a complex study of characters using the odd bit of information picked up here and there. Come explore the lives of women in a small Colorado mining town from the mid 1800s when white men first swooped to the gold fields to the mid 1900s when wars took the final breath from the town."
Open “Marble Springs 3.0” by Deena Larsen (part 2 of 4)

This new version of Marble Springs, originally published in Hypercard in 1993 by Eastgate Systems (see yesterday’s entry for details), uses a contemporary authoring system that still can’t quite achieve Larsen’s vision for the work. Here’s Deena’s commentary in the “About Marble Springs” page, which also offers a detailed version history for the work:

Now the internet has come somewhat closer — but nowhere near — what I originally had in mind. And Leighton Christiansen wrote his thesis on digital archiving techniques using Marble Springs as his digital archiving guinea pig. So now, using his exhaustive lists of links and texts and images, I am porting Marble Springs to a wiki.

Leighton Christiansen’s thesis (downloadable for free at the IDEALS repository) is an exemplary work of documentation and archiving of a work of e-literature, and it focuses on the never-published Marble Springs 2.0. With this scholarship as a foundation, Larsen has been able to reimagine and republish her work in a way that captures some of the look and feel of that earlier version, as can be seen in the image below.

Screen capture of "Marble Springs 3.0" by Deena Larsen (part 2 of 4). A window in the Marble Springs website describes some of the town's past inhabitants. Text: "Lottie Horner / What we know / (too small to read) / Firelight / Pastor Horner forbade his daughter to attend dances in Jenson's barn. Or anywhere else for that matter. Lottie went anyway, he smile-filled eyes (rest of lines too small to read)"

What gets lost in translation? Leighton’s thesis offers a detailed listing of “Significant Properties of Marble Springs” which focus on information and textual behaviors lost when the work is documented as a series of printable screenshots. Some of that data is also lost in the wiki (run in the Wikidot service), because it is based on Leighton’s documentation, but Larsen also had to adjust her work to the new authoring system, as she explained to me in an e-mail message:

So I had to completely rewrite and rethink every link and every representation in MS 3.0.  For xample, if you look at the family connection cards, you’ll see the 2.0 screenshot uses positioning and little lines to show connections. Wikis won’t do a graphical interface (no matter how primitive) that you as reader/writer can move. So thus, I had to develop a new categorization schema for links (hatred, friendship, secrets growing in the soul, secrets destroying the soul). Then I had to reevaulate each connection and put it in the right place. I lost my hierarchy and centering that I had had when I could just put buttons wherever I wanted to.

This is the issue at the heart of electronic literature (of all art, really) best expressed by William Morris, the ultimate craftsman of the Victorian age, “You can’t have art without resistance in the materials.” Every authoring system in history— memory, pictographs, alphabets, the page, the pen, the printing press, the typewriter, the word processor, the computer, the program, the authoring system, or the Web publishing platform— places limits on our ability to capture our creative vision, but that, in turn, leads to creativity.

In all these instantiations, I have made many compromises. Nothing really reaches my vision—which is to tell a story that is 90% inferred from the links-and to showcase those links as a myriad of shades of meaning—from higher to lower, weaker to stronger, secret to open.

Sigh. Perhaps someday—maybe a quantum holographic simulation where you can touch the people and see the threads of connections flowing from them.

Perhaps. But in the meantime, Marble Springs is alive and well on the free Web. Perhaps not earning royalties for Larsen as a fully functional published version for sale through a small but prestigious publisher might… but it’s available.

And you can visit, explore this richly hypertextual epic, and even contribute to the mythology of this imaginary town with real gold in it.

My next entry will perform a close reading of one of the nodes in Marble Springs.

Read more about this work at ELMCIP.