Reading a novel delivered in installments to your e-mail inbox is different from flipping through a book as you curl up in bed.Animated
hypertext poems that dance across your computer screen do a kind of
storytelling different from poems that sit still on a page.
The reading experience is different for print versus digital, no doubt about that.
what about the writing experience? Is literary writing for digital
media different in a way that matters? This is a question I keep
returning to as I interview a variety of digital writers for this
column. Does good, old-fashioned storytelling really change just
because it is distributed in new forms of media?
I asked Sue
Thomas, professor of new media at De Montfort University in Leicester,
England, what she thought. In conjunction with Kate Pullinger, author
of the multimedia graphic novel Inanimate Alice, Thomas devised a master of arts program in creative writing and new media that is taught online.
old-fashioned storytelling was oral, and storytellers often changed
their stories according to context and circumstance,” Thomas said. “You
only have to look at how simple fairy tales and urban legends evolve
whilst still often keeping the core of the narrative intact to realize
that they need a fluid environment to stay alive and fresh. Multimedia
prevents the stagnation of fixed type and maintains a much longer
tradition, stretching way back beyond the last 500 years.”
director of the digital media project at the Department of English at
Ohio State University, Scott Lloyd DeWitt says he wants to “expand
notions of literacy” rather than abandon print for something new.
are giving students the opportunity to produce a variety of digital
media texts. Along the way, we ask them to think about the affordances
of these media and make choices about using them according to their
rhetorical goals: Who is your audience? What sense of ethos are you
trying to establish? Where do you imagine this text appearing?”
In other words, the same questions writers have always asked.
Coover, the T.B. Stowell Adjunct Professor of Literary Arts at Brown
University, is a prominent novelist who realized in the late ’80s that
“the digital revolution was real and immediate; I wanted my students to
be wholly aware of what was happening and comfortable with it.”
he leads the groundbreaking Cave Writing Workshop, a spatial hypertext
writing workshop in immersive virtual reality he dreamed up in 2002.
workshops are in many ways similar to traditional writing workshops,
Coover said: Students are given a project they present to the class for
critique. But Cave Writing is unique. Powered by a high-performance
parallel computer, the Cave is an eight-foot-square room with
high-resolution stereo graphics shown on three walls and the floor.
Students do not simply “write a story” – they create 360-degree
multimedia projects incorporating images, sound, art and text. Imagine
standing in the middle of this room as a multimedia narrative is
projected all around you, and you’ve got the “immersive” part of the
Coover, who wrote an essay titled “The End of Books”
for the New York Times Book Review in 1992, says new literary forms
don’t emerge simply because the artist wants them to.
are partly made by audiences,” he said, “and if the reading public was
in the process of moving from page to screen, then young writers had to
understand that and know how to live and write in the new world. . . .
E-writing is a very collaborative genre, often involving writers,
artists, composers, and computer programmers.”
That made me think
that the image of the writer suffering over her masterpiece in solitude
might soon become out of date – which wasn’t a bad thought at all.
To experience “Inanimate Alice,” go to http://www.inanimatealice.com/writing/workshop.htmlFor more on Robert Coover’s Cave Writing Workshops,go to http://www.cascv.brown.edu/cavewriting/workshop.html
Katie Haegele (katie [at] thelalatheory [dot] com)
is a writer who lives in Montgomery County. She just bought a pin from
the independent publishing resource Fall of Autumn that says “My zine
has a MySpace,” because hers does.
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