Dylan Niehaus – Multimedia Fiction

The first work I decided to explore was FilmText by Mark Amerika. I found this work to be interesting and intriguing, I found myself stuck and unable to advance. I also feel that the work lacks any real narrative, although it does have quite a bit of intricate interactivity to it. The sound work in this piece of literature is also quite interesting, its very dissonant and I found myself a bit mesmerized by it. One thing that I have learned from exploring different pieces of electronic literature is that I greatly appreciate atmospheric music that sounds a bit “off” if you will. I also find this works use of symbols to be quite interesting, although I am not sure if the symbols are unique and created by the author just for this work or if they are simply letters of a different language. Despite the interesting elements of FilmText, I would have to say that I do not entirely enjoy it because it lacks meaning to me and I just feel lost while exploring it.


Next, I decided to explore How to Rob a Bank by Alan Bigelow. When compared to FilmText, I found How to Rob a Bank to be much more immersive and enjoyable. This is mainly because How to rob a bank is a much more straightforward story told in a rather unique way, rather than an abstract piece of art that is interactive. How to Rob a Bank tells a linear story through a person’s actions on a cellphone, which I found to be captivating and immersive. I found myself looking forward to the next actions performed on the cellphone to reveal new information in the story. I also enjoyed the background noises of cars passing by on the street and birds chirping – very relaxing, in stark contrast to the story being told. 

Does Net Art Equal Net Difference From Hypertext?

Farinsky Blog 4: Net Art

Related image
A page from “My Boyfriend Came Back from the War” by Olia Lialina

“My Boyfriend Came Back from the War” by Olia Lialina is work classified as net art, but looks incredibly similar to hypertext fiction. To read this work you click on links which subdivide the screen as each story path propagates new text and images. One significant difference seems to be that all the narrative paths seem to stay on screen, and accessible to the reader, unlike most hypertext which rarely gives map, or an overview of where the reader is.

Like hypertext “My Boyfriend Came Back from the War” carries many linear narrative paths that exist at the same time. Each segment of the screen represents one path, and divides to show complexity quickly as one box becomes 2, 4, or 8 as represented by the image above. It is overwhelming to track each piece but still intriguing as the narrative plays out in the reader’s imagination and on screen through snippets of dialogue. The pace of this story is quick- often boxes contain less than 15 words so reading and clicking the next link is significantly less spaced than typical hypertext works. It reads like a conversation by mirroring the speed of a in-person dialogue.

Perhaps net art and hypertext are the same thing, but only separated because they did not exist within platforms such as Story Space like many other famous works of hypertext fiction. If what truly separates net art from hypertext is self publishing through java script perhaps a better name should be “independent hypertext” rather than “net art”. Calling this type of work net art leans credibility away from connotations of the word “literature” because they resemble art with literary features just as much as hypertext resemble any traditional example of literature. Self-publication of a book or a website is significantly different than going through a traditional publisher or using a program with prescribed layouts to create stories however it is not necessarily different enough to call the product a separate entity if publication method is the only significant difference as it appears here.

Grammatron and Structure

Line 2 c of the definition of net.art created by Natalie Bookchin & Alexei Shulgin describes net.art as:

By realizing ways out of entrenched values arising from structured system of theories and ideologies

This single line in the definition of net.art could be extended to include many different types of electronic literature.

The non-linear nature and aspects of variability enabled by electronic literature allow for the deconstruction of structures that are used to signal meaning in other types of media. A typical movie will follow a paradigm, a structure that signals to the viewer when certain aspects of the story are important and why. The viewer knows they will first be met by an exposition, and they expect a resolution at the end, with interest and conflict in between. Many movie critiques center around whether a movie met this structure, and if it signaled what aspects of the story the viewer should take notice of by using structure. Electronic literature often makes no attempts at helping the viewer make sense of the content. The unsatisfying nature of many pieces of E-lit is what spurns the reader forwards in the story, making the consumer work for the meaning the author has embedded in the work, rather than presenting the meaning in a structure the viewer is familiar with.

Grammatron is an example of net.art that makes no effort for the reader to make sense of or even be comfortable with the piece. Grammatron refers to itself as a writing machine, introduces a creature, an image of a nosferatu-esque face covered in text, mentions the concept of gender, and displays text that creates the illusion of self-awareness. An eery audio files appears in a popup upon beginning the traversal, and the aspects of the piece, the writing machine, the creature, and self-awareness, are gradually revealed in the beginning, but in different orders from traversal to traversal. Grammatron does not prepare the viewer with what the content will be about. The piece and the authors description of it in the Mark Amerika article are deliberately vague. Net.art, like much of electronic literature, makes no effort to be palatable or sense-making to the reader. Net.art demands that the viewer be invested and investigate the E-lit to reveal the meaning of the piece and create the viewers own unique understanding of the experience.

World of Awe

When I was reading each of these pieces I had so many different reactions and emotional responses. When I first read Grammatron, I was mostly just confused but with both World of Awe, and my boyfriend came back from war I was enthralled. The ability to have your reader interact with the piece allows them to feel more engaged. When I was going through World of Awe I really did feel that sensation on loneliness and wandering as well as the need to find the treasure. The ability to click around the desktop and look at the love letters then move back to the “journal” allows us as the readers to set our own pace. The use of multilinearity in all of these pieces in interesting, when looking at world of awe it is multi linear due to the different places you start from like with the love letters or with the actual notes or even with a different chapter. When you look at My boyfriend came back from the war it is much more open by each ‘window/cell’ that you can click on is a contained thought. While in conjunction working with the cells around it this kind of path I overall linear but you will most likely find yourself going through this piece slightly differently every time. The way that each piece has addressed hypermedia, and net art covers vastly different but they all share on thing in common, the digital space.

Net Art: Coming Back From War

Olia Lialina’s, My Boyfriend Came Back from The War is the net art fiction I chose to read. Lialina’s net art fiction differs from the hypermedia styles, such as multilinearity, variability, combinatory poetics etc. She uses elements of HTML to convey a cinematic story. Her work of hypertext fiction tells the story of a young woman reuniting with her boyfriend after he returns from war. She uses browser frames, hypertext, and images. Lialina wrote her fiction is in a style she calls net language. Lialina states, “If something is in the net, it should speak in NET.LANGUAGE” The net. language style is emphasized in this work which stray amid cinema and the web as creative and mass mediums.

I like the interaction between the still and animated images. I feel that the interplay between the text and the images helps create a cinematic feel. It’s almost like watching a silent movie. I think it is interesting that the reader advances the story by clicking on hyperlinked, disconnected expressions and pictures. With each click on the picture or text, the browser viewport splits into several smaller frames. I did get a macabre haunting feeling from the still and animated images. This style of hypertext fiction works to really create a ghoulish mood. I actually thought story was going to go into a dark territory. Lialina’s work keeps the reader involved by using images to create tension. I kept clicking on the text and pictures, because I thought the boyfriend was going to return to his love damaged from the war.

Net Art & Hypermedia

I chose to explore Grammatron, which featured several similarities to hypertext. The combinatory poetics of gradation reminded me of several works of hypertext that we looked at, especially since it did not seem to have a strict guideline set upon itself when it comes to formatting. Many of the sentences that lashed on screen changed their formatting and switched between common sentence structure to haiku structure and other simple poetic structures. This piece differs from hypertxt fiction however, in the sense that it is achieving a more immersive feeling for the audience with the combination of simultaneous audio, video, and text. I found this very interesting, and it made me think that the style of this media would make a compelling horror story (especially since this piece played out very similar to a horror story itself). I think combining the idea of a machine taking over the viewer with flashing imagery, and a frankly disturbing audio track in the background would be much more cohesive in a video format (and would have the potential to be quite the frightening film).

Dylan Niehaus Blog 4 – Net Art


My Boyfriend Came Back from the War is a piece of net art that I found to be quite interesting. Like many other pieces of electronic literature we have looked at in class, I had a difficult time pulling a straightforward story or narrative from this piece. Despite this, My Boyfriend Came Back from the War captured my attention with the interesting way in which it is laid out. It begins with a piece of hyperlinked white text on a black background. Once you click on this text, it creates white graphic images that are displayed against the black background. Some of the images are clickable. When you click on those specific images, the page creates more images and pieces of text that are separated by white borders. Eventually, the web page will contain many different grids, each containing their own little narrative path of clickable pieces of text and images.

This piece of art has an incredibly visual style of multilinearity. There are many different pieces of linear narratives happening, but they are visually separated by the grid squares in which they are held. This leads to a multilinear experience that is easier for the reader to visualize.

Variability is also present in this piece, but not in the typical way that one may think. Variability is not present in the work itself. What I mean by this is that there are no algorithms or pieces of code that make the work different each time a reader opens it. The work always remains the same. In this case, the variability in this piece comes from the way in which the reader decides to approach it. Since there is no linear path when it comes to clicking on images and pieces of text in this work, the way it is approached by readers will always be different. Then again, this can apply to all pieces of electronic literature that always remain the same in structure but allow a reader to follow their own path.  

When compared to the earlier pieces of hypertext fiction viewed in class, My Boyfriend Came Back from the War does more when it comes to visual interaction between images and texts. Earlier pieces of hypertext fiction explored in class had a much heavier focus on different narrative paths explored through textual links, while My Boyfriend Came Back from the War combines both text and images to create a seamless multilinear experience. The reader’s eyes are constantly wandering around the page, seeing different pieces of a linear narrative. My Boyfriend Came Back from the War leaves it up to the reader to decide which panels grab their attention the most to advance each narrative path in the order that they choose. The reader may even decide to read different panels one after another in their own order, creating an entirely different narrative from what may have been intended. Overall, the visual grid-panel style of My Boyfriend Came Back from the War is an excellent addition and piece to explore in the world of electronic literature and net art. 

World of Awe: A Traveler’s Tale

Web-born works opened a lot of doors for those with the ambition to explore, experiment and create in a similar yet altered environment from being solely digital in origin but not accessible far and wide to the public.

World of Awe is particularly interesting because of how deep the immersion into this work goes. The sound encourages a feeling of solidarity almost to the point of being lost in some deserted area with how the wind howls in the background. The occasional buzz or tune of a computer, a voice singing and laughing, circus and electronic music, and typing all combined together. When the chapter opens, it appears as though you are actually on an older style computer interface.

Examining the content on the computer, you discover travel logs, love letters, maps (Eep [Digital] and Moo [Leather]), and all the while exploring this content, the background on the computer changes as if going through time and seeing the various backup files piled up on top of each other. There’s clearly something wrong within the work (all intentionally no doubt) with the computer or the person searching for the lost treasure. The work has a dark sense surrounding it from the start, a sort of twisted essence that lingers, carrying through at a constant. At one point in love letter 654/638, the traveler writes,

This bit is written, indented in such a way that it is almost as if they are writing a poem and yet the words themselves, repeating over and over sound like that of a madman. The traveler repeats themselves quite a lot throughout the note over all, calling it a joke but still marking at the end that they’re continuing to search for the lost treasure.

Looking at the work as a whole, it fully embraces not only the concept of multi-linearity as you explore the contents of the computer and put the pieces together in your mind or write down notes, but World of Awe also touches upon poetic formatting, moving image and various sounds. The interface takes advantage of the navigation system, or perhaps it is actually the navigation system taking advantage of the interface. Yael Kanarek clearly took the opportunity to explore the options available to her when creating this work. Compared to older works of hypertext, again it does feel more immersive while interacting, listening, and exploring the interface. However, with that in mind, it is by no means an “easy” work to traverse through.

“Introduction to Net.Art (1994-1999)” by Natalie Bookchin & Alexei Shulgin
World of Awe by Yael Kanarek
The Rhizome Anthology entry on Yael Kanarek’s World of Awe: The Traveler’s Journal (Chapter 1: Forever)

My Boyfriend Came Back from the War

After (at least partially) reading all three of the net.art fiction pieces, I decided to focus on My Boyfriend Came Back from the War by Olia Lialina. I was struck by the stark and emotive quality of this piece, as well as the literal and figurative fragmenting of the narrative. While it doesn’t have have the randomized quality of combinatory poetics per se (reloading the page or clicking in different orders did not change which piece of text came after which), it does achieve a state of multilinearity and variability by virtue of the aforementioned fragmentation. As the narrative and screens continue to break down, the reader can choose to follow one thread until its end before moving onto the next, to click each panel in an order (say, clockwise), randomly, or a combination thereof. I read through it a few times in different orders and while the overarching story is the same, different reading orders do lend different tones to the narrative.

I think that this piece is particularly different from the hypertext fiction we looked at last class in that it is all contained on one page, and it is impossible to step backwards (except by completely refreshing the page and starting over). In Joyce’s the afternoon, the reader moves from one concrete page to the next, albeit in nonlinear and sometimes indirect ways, and can return to previous pages. In contrast, readers of Lialina’s My Boyfriend Came Back from the War must continue forward on one fluid page. I think this technique places the reader deeper into the mindset of Lialina’s story, as it is close to how we experience real life (unable to go back, and while sometimes fragmented, still part of a solid whole).