When I first encountered “Brainstrips, it was in the context of the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 2, and because it was not identified as poetry in the collection, I chose not to cover it at the time. Now, having explored Bigelow’s work in the context of the ELO 2012 Media Arts Show, I return to this work because it challenges terms such as genre, form, and medium, resisting simple categorization.
This “three part knowledge series” dedicates each of its parts to a genre and area of knowledge. The first part uses comic strips to address philosophical questions, such as “What is art?” and “Does God Exist?” The second part, titled “Science for Idiots” has sequences of animated images and text on topics such as “global warming” and “Nuclear Fission.” The third is on “Higher Math” and it grounds mathematical principles such as “addition” and “subtraction” on stories of people going through situations that reflect ironically on the principle being illustrated.
Bigelow is clearly aware of the genre and medium he is working with in this work. For example, in the strip titled “Is color real?” not only are the characters aware of the frame for each panel, we can see the “reader’s” eyes reading the comic strip beyond the page. The quizzes and ads throughout are absolutely absurd, the results of which are designed to challenge the readers’ expectations. The narrative sequences or questions and answers designed to explain scientific topics provide ironic reflections on the topic.
How do we categorize the oblique approaches, subverted genre expectations, fourth wall demolitions, moments of absurd humanity, and precise language choices used in “Brainstrips?” In the light of Bigelow’s other poems discussed in this blog, I cannot think of this as anything other than poetry.
Featured in ELO 2012 Media Art Show,Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 2.