“Working Memory” by Ian Hatcher

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Open: “Working Memory” by Ian Hatcher

This minimalist scheduled poem engages our ability to hold language in memory in order to act upon it. The text is displayed on two spaces simultaneously, though the header stream begins first before the second one in the box begins to compete for our attention. Each text is displayed one word at a time at a rapid rate, faster than we have grown used to with works by Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries or William Poundstone’s “Project for Tachitoscope.” In those cases the texts are synchronized to music, and potentially accompanied by other graphical elements, but Hatcher’s poem strips away all distractions from the text, which allows attentive readers to focus most of their consciousness on one of two textual streams, since it is virtually impossible to actually read both and make sense of them. You have to choose a track or risk having your train of thought derailed, so to speak, because of the speed at which they are displayed— 170 miliseconds per word (over 5 words per second).

The text written for this extreme kind of presentation has to be powerfully expressive with minimalist materials. Because the words are center justified, their length variations create visual rhythms that could be understood as a kind of meter. A slightly longer pause garners great attention for the words immediately preceding and following it, since it can be read as a line break after a very long line. Repetitions of words and phrases, even with minor variations, amplify their message dramatically under these conditions. And easily apprehensible juxtapositions between the two streaming lines can resonate powerfully for a reader attuned to them.

A peek at the source code reveals that this is not just a sped-up text. The text array is presented in lines 6-8 of the code— I recommend reading them at a rapid horizontal scroll for a parallel experience of the executed text. Even if you don’t know HTML, JavaScript, or Ruby on Rails, you may intuit that the text you read on the source code isn’t quite the same as that displayed when executed. Certain word or phrase repetitions vary, as do pauses in the display, and this happens as designed by Hatcher. The result is an endlessly variable text, with small variations that draw attention to different portions of the text in order to create different impressions in a reader’s memory.

As you read this text (multiple times, preferably) consider the impact of the variations detailed above in the context of the work’s title as you appreciate Hatcher’s powerful meditation on language and memory.