Here I thought I knew how to write literature. My ignorance never fails to surprise me: I may know a couple of things about writing traditional literature, but even the most basic things about writing digital literature, such as explorations of connotation, escaped me entirely until I worked my way through writing this piece. So this blog entry will be an attempt to explain part of the journey into the understanding I have gained from writing and reading, and critiquing, digital literature in this project—some understanding of its conventions, and the successes and failures that I have had, and that I can see in the work of digital artists, in meeting or failing to meet those conventions.
All writing of creative literature, at least in my experience, begins with discomfort, and the beginning of this piece began with discomfort as well—particularly over the narrow definition of modernism that Jessica Pressman used in her book, Digital Modernism: Making it New in New Media. This discomfort was, perhaps, the only part of my thinking about digital literature, and especially its relationship to modernism that did not change throughout the process of writing “Old Man on the Beach,” perhaps because I have given it a lot of thought even before this class began—if digital literature is going to expand beyond a narrow readership, it will need to take a broader view both of modernism and of the practice of modernism in a digital medium.
So, on to the actual writing of the piece. I began with what I hoped to accomplish. I should say that the theoretical underpinnings of what I was trying to do were only vaguely established before I began the actual writing. I did this intentionally, taking the approach that Sergei Eisenstein used in developing his theory of film, in which the work is done first and the exploration of the theory behind how it was done comes afterwards—a form of reverse engineering. One of those vague underpinnings perhaps is not quite so vague, since it has underlain every piece of literature that I’ve ever written—if art is the aesthetic expression of the human experience, which I think it is, than the human—that is character—underlies all good literature and so must be the first thing to be considered. I did that here, here, here, and here. Much of this I didn’t use in the actual piece, but the exploration was still needed in order to have a full-enough understanding of the character on which the piece would be based.
With the character established, I needed to consider technique, which was all very new to me, given my inexperience with digital literature. This led to an exploration of how the text needed to move, and how it would form a visual metaphor for the piece. That led, eventually, with quite a few stops and starts, to the writing of the text for the first draft, and this led, with more stops and starts, to the initial draft of the piece.
Anny close reading must begin with a detailed description of the piece actually contains. Following Eisenstein, the next thing I did was try to analyze what worked and what didn’t, and the aesthetic foundations of what lay beneath those things, such as text flow and structure, and the interplay of the text with its visual and auditory background. This led to an attempt to classify the genre of the piece as digital literature, and I was able to identify many of the things that didn’t work, and that gave me new understanding into digital literature as a whole. With all of that in mind, I rewrote the piece, in light of my new understanding.
Where this has all led me is into a fascination with the potential of digital literature, which I would like to explore in writing more digital work, and hopefully into a deeper understanding of its techniques and conventions. For example, I would like to apply my new understand to digital literature based on Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, as well as his Olive Trees. Degas waits after Van Gogh. The possibilities are endless.