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ELO 2015: The End(s) of Electronic Literature

The Digital Diasthima: Time-Lapse Reading as Critical and Creative Performance

Álvaro Seiça (University of Bergen)

Panel: Temporalities
Thursday, August 6 • 13:30 - 15:00 (Sydneshaugen skole: Auditorium A)

In moving texts, such as digital kinetic poetry, the reader-user might no longer control the duration of their reading, unlike in the case of traditional and static printed texts. The user deals with readable time versus executable time, the human timeline versus the machine timeline. By having an imposed and fixed number of milliseconds to perceive the text on the screen, the user might find themselves completing or imagining the unread text, following the dynamic forms with an imposed dynamic content. Yet, to understand the shifting reading patterns of digital poems, one has to consider other methods or tools that may complement traditional models. Therefore, performing a critical approach solely based on close reading methods might not accomplish a fully comprehensible reading of digital poetry. In this sense, following methods taken from other areas, e.g. time-lapse photography and R. Luke DuBois’s concept of “time-lapse phonography” (2011), I introduce the notion of time-lapse reading as a complementary layer to close reading.

I am taking into consideration a critical reading of kinetic text, namely kinetic digital poetry, which is performed with time-based media. Time-based parameters operate as functions in diverse programming languages, allowing for a text or poem to run human language and/or code onscreen with a temporal interval determined by a precise number of milliseconds. Therefore, coding these functions helps creating dynamic text which, in turn, might result in diverse nuclei of creative practice: generative text, fiction and poetry, Flash-based or animated/kinetic poetry using other software, distributed/hybrid piece/practice, installation, site-specific installation, performance, real-time sensor-actuator work, and so forth.

One of the complex issues of close reading poetic text in motion is precisely and, first of all, “just” reading. There are though two main modes underlying this issue: interactivity and non-interactivity. Interactive kinetic poetry often employs a degree of user participation or interaction, by means of mouse movement, keyboard input, joystick, haptic peripheral, touch-screen, sound or movement input captured by sensors (micro, camera, etc.), if one thinks of gallery-mounted pieces, database-pulling interference, etc. Nonetheless, interactive poetry might use several of these features and/or simply contain a speed controller, like e.g. Rui Torres’s Mar de Sophia (2005), Stephanie Strickland, Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo and Paul Ryan’s slippingglimpse (2006) or Johannes Heldén and Håkon Jonson’s Evolution (2013), which allows readers/users to change the speed at which the poem runs onscreen, in order to fully read the lines. Hence, one is able to accelerate, slow down and sometimes even pause the unfolding poem. Non-interactive kinetic poetry presents no controller and, therefore, the reader/user might not be able to fully read the lines or words on the surface/onscreen level, if the running time is programmed to be quicker than human reading perception/cognition’s skills – e.g. Philippe Castellin’s çacocophonie (2013), Scott Rettberg’s Frequency poems (2009) and Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ The Lovers of Beaubourg (2007). So, if the reader is not able to fully read, how can they close read?

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