“Enigma n” and “Seattle Drift” by Jim Andrews: The Cauldron & Net Editions

Screen capture from “Enigma n” and “Seattle Drift” by Jim Andrews: The Cauldron & Net Editions. Title screen displaying 3 geometrical figures, each circled by text, against a black background. Text: "Enigma n, Language and image as objects in a field, Seattle."
Open “Enigma n” and “Seattle Drift” by Jim Andrews: The Cauldron & Net Editions

When Jim Andrews published these poems in Cauldron& Net, Volume 1 in 1999, their original DHTML and JavaScript codes were compatible with the two main Web browsers of their time: Netscape Navigator 4 and Internet Explorer 4 (IE). This was during the peak of what is known as the “first browser war” in which IE became the dominant browser in the market. At the time, each browser was implementing code differently, creating code incompatibilities that led to the practice of detecting browsers to redirect readers to different versions of the document, or determining what part of the code was executed in a specific session. Some writers opted to pick a browser and directed readers to view the work on that one, while others sought cross-browser compatibility.

Over a decade later, incompatibility issues still abound, but there is significant improvement with the development of open HTML, DHTML, and JavaScript standards, community developed libraries like jQuery, and a diversified browser ecosystem that actually seeks compliance with Web standards.

My original readings of “Seattle Drift” and “Enigma n” in this blog focused on “screen readings” of the versions currently published in Vispo.com, both of which are generated from re-coding by Marko Niemi in 2004.

Revised in 2004, based on Marko Niemi’s upgrade of the code so that it now runs on most PC and Mac browsers. The original version was such that meaning.html did some browser sniffing and branched either to enigman.htm, which was for Netscape 4, or branched to enigmanie.htm, which was for IE 4. Marko’s code does not require two different versions, however, and runs on most Mac and PC browsers. Thanks very much, Marko! (from the Enigma n source code)

People interested in reading the 1999 versions of these works will run into serious compatibility issues with current browsers because they have been attuned to contemporary DHTML and JavaScript, unless they use Internet Explorer, which still retains enough backwards compatibility to run these versions. The real joy of these versions, however is the source code, which contains gems of insight on the conceptualization of the piece and Andrews’ creative process.

For example, while Niemi preserved Andrews’ original documentation, including mini-essays in what he called “the ‘neath text,” some of the original information and context is gone. One thing to look in the source code for both works is the description and keyword meta tags, which Andrews used to describe the works in ways that connect with poetic and artistic traditions:

  • “Seattle Drift” keywords: “Seattle Drift, Web art, visual poetry, vispo, Andrews, concrete, animation, hyper real, alphabet, lettristic, poetics, innovative, innovation, poet, typography, Apollinaire, cabalistic”
  • “Enigma n” keywords: “Enigma n, visual poetry, Web art, vispo, Andrews, concrete, animation, typography, cabalistic, DHTML, meaning”

More than allowing search engines to locate the works and increase the number of visitors, these keywords provide artistic and literary contexts that allow us to conceptualize the works in terms of those traditions. They gesture towards Andrews’ intentions in creating these e-poems.

Exploring the source code for these documents, even for those who don’t understand the markup and scripting languages, provides abundant insight on the poems. Jim Andrews’ voice rings throughout the text, as he writes lines intended for humans and for browsers. In this code we see his conversation with the code as he engages its capabilities and limitations. We discover texts that aren’t being displayed because of changes in how browsers read the code.

And in reading multiple versions of the same code, we discover functionality that was added and discontinued as he re-conceptualized the piece. And as pleasurable as these poems are on the surface of the screen, there is a richness to be discovered in paying critical attention to the code that you shouldn’t miss out on.

Note: to access the source code, just open the works and use the right button of your mouse to reveal a menu with the option to “view source” or “view page source.”

For Enigma n
ELMCIP logo with text: "Read more about this work at ELMCIP."
For Seattle Drift