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This work adapts Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno in two significant ways: by making it a work of science fiction and by publishing it serially through Twitter. By mapping the structure of Melville’s novella of a slave rebellion on a ship at sea onto a spaceship with robots allows Bushman to explore similar issues with a different metaphor. Using Twitter as a writing constraint (with a 140-character limit per tweet) shapes the telling of the story and makes its prose closer to poetry.
Its publication on Twitter— originally from November 3, 2007 to February 29, 2008 and rebroadcasted in 2012— makes for a 4-month reading experience which magnifies its multiple voices, perspectives, and reconstruction of uncertain events.
Reading the tweets and Bushman’s description of the work makes it clear that this was written with the 140-character constraint in mind, and its serial publication (echoing the novella’s original printing history). The compiled tweets, published in book and Kindle format aptly preserve the line breaks, further emphasizing how its language has become poetic. As prosy as the tweets may seem, to reorganize these units into the structures of prose on the page, paragraphs, would be a disservice to their craft.
This is further evidence of Philippe Bootz’s claim in Regards Croisés that
Any production centred on problems related to language is poetic, regardless of whether the production was intended for nonpoetic ends, as in the support of a narrative or ludic framework. […]
Accordingly, the digital literature of fictional narrative is a particular case of digital poetry. A digital fiction is a digital poem, which, moreover, uses language as a narrative vector” (18).
As you read this work— whether in reverse order on Twitter (as it stands), as a scheduled performance, as a printed book, or Kindle edition— keep in mind Bootz’s provocative statement and you’ll sense its truth in each tweet-length sentence.