Getting Lost in Exploration

This week we read Letter to Linus by William Gillespie and Reconstructing Mayakovsky by Illya Szilak. Both of these e-lits are similar in their design and approaches, utilizing hyperlinks to navigate between ‘pages’ to understand what is being said.

If I’m going to be honest (and it pains me a lot to even think this), but Letter to Linus has to be my least favorite pieces we have read so far. It is not because of the intention (using a cube to create different panels of poetry) and it is not because of the words themselves (a lot of the lines were very well-written.) I think it is because I feel I have seen almost all of what it has to offer in about half an hour.

The idea to give control to the reader and construct their own poems from several tabs is a unique experience. I enjoyed my time when I wasn’t aware of what was going to happen next, and each final line flows organically into whatever gets click next, but once the options are exhausted I was caught in an endless loop of sorts.

It could be argued that this is the intent, making a never ending poem in this way by circling the cube. But I feel the idea could be fleshed out a bit more, or it could just be me overanalyzing what isn’t there. The idea is present and I wrote down some of my favorite lines in a journal so I can remember them later (I even saved my first construction) but it didn’t catch my attention too much so I did not stick around long. Again I could be missing something, but that’s alright because I don’t expect to understand or like every piece I come across.

When it comes to something with artistic merit, I like to give it the benefit of the doubt and see in what aspects warrant further dissection. I’m sorry to say that I’ve met my match on this one.

Reconstructing Mayakovsky on the other hand, had me navigate in an endless loop as well, but I argue I was more captivated with was I was presented with. Reading the abstract before clicking, I was told the piece was inspired by “The absurdist spirit of Russian Futurism”, and I can believe it. I’m not sure what it is, but my experience with Russian art has always left me dazed as to what I am to interpret. I spent a good amount of years at the Zimmerli Museum in New Brunswick exploring their Russian & Soviet Nonconformist art, and I enjoyed letting myself get lost in such evocative imagery and skilled craft.

It’s something about the atmosphere when I visit this gallery that makes me feel like I’ve stepped into a time-capsule of sorts, feeling like I don’t belong there because I cannot fully grasp what I am seeing. I bring this up because this was my exact feeling with Reconstructing Mayakovsky and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Like Letter to Linus, it uses links to navigate around, but there was a lot more to dissect. I was immediately reminded of High Muck a Muck in the way the piece is explored, but in some way I was also thinking about Digital: A Love Story in which I fell into an absurdist reality that continued pulling me into its rabbit hole. I clicked on link after link trying to see what I would find. I felt like I was in a lost library.

That feeling of being in a library was heightened when I first clicked on ‘archive’, which presented me with a gallery of several icons, each of them coming with their own text excerpts, image link and outside link. I felt several times that what I was exploring was almost too surreal to be real, helped also by the abstract I read at the beginning. But then I questioned how many parts were real and what weren’t. I was tempted to look up some parts on the internet, but I did not want to shatter my immersion (and I won’t for a good while). I wouldn’t leave a library to understand material I didn’t understand, so I did the same here. After all, the information of truth could be deeply buried in any of these tabs.

Another part I enjoyed was the ability to download PDF files and save them onto my computer (which I did for a few).

Again, I pondered as to what I could consider real or not. Was there a ‘revolution nostalgia disco theater?’ Did malaria make someone delirious (not helped by blacked out lines of text). What even is going on?

Material aside, the presentation and interface was easy to grasp. I wasn’t ‘physically’ lost because I learned how each tab flowed into the next, and in that way I was beginning to understand Reconstructing Mayakovsky a little bit more.

Russian Futurism, at least the visual art form, is pretty absurd in appearance when I think about it. The idea of the movement is to reject past conventions and emphasize speed, machinery and urbanism. It is often depicted as almost violent and sporadic, its energy all over the place and represents the unbridged feelings to let itself loose onto the canvas.

Bull’s Head by Mikhail Larionov
The Cyclist by Natalia Goncharova

When thinking about the images above, I’m wondering how these characteristics apply themselves to this piece? Reconstructing Mayakovsky is relatively slow-paced, its presentation is tame, and while contextually absurd, I can’t help to wonder how it labels itself as Russian Futurism. The spirit is there, so perhaps the unorthodox categorizing is where it lies? I want to keep thinking about it.

I would argue this piece is a very compelling form of electronic literature. It utilizes interface in a meaningful way, I was navigating through information and making my own meaning of what I saw. For me, a definition for e-lit is the same as what literature is for me – the presentation of written text that invites further discussion and ideas. While I cannot say I agree that Letter to Linus belongs in this category, Reconstructing Mayakovsky certainly does.

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