Mariah Gwin

Final Project: A Twist on Nick Montfort’s “Taroko Gorge”

Taroko Gorge was one of the first works we addressed and looked over in class at the beginning of the semester. It is different than many other works considered Electronic Literature in that it is completely randomized poetry specifically. Each line is created through the use of JavaScript arrays that have specified words in which to pull from. While it does not always create coherent sentences, since it is poetry, each line could be interpreted in a number of different ways and meanings. It is up to the reader to decide what is being said.

There was also this massive community of artists forming around Nick Montfort’s creation, taking the code and transforming it in different ways to create something new.

Not identifying as a poet myself, I found this work to be particularly interesting in how it used the code behind the scenes and specified words set in a particular order to generate poetry. Even when taking into account that it did not always create sentences that made sense, it did create a ripple, allowing the reader to comprehend the results in independent and unique ways.

I decided to take that idea and expand upon it to create a sort of tool for myself (and others, should they feel inclined or drawn to use it). While I do not identify myself as a poet, I do write creatively and collaboratively with an inclination toward fiction. However, as many writers discover, they reach certain points where ideas are difficult to come by, whether they are new ideas for a story overall or ideas for specific events that may take place.

“Writers block” can be incredibly difficult to overcome. For that reason, I felt inspired by Nick Montfort’s Taroko Gorge and saw a potential to adapt it into a tool to generate such ideas. By incorporating the combinatory, generative poetry that Taroko Gorge allows and adding in a kinetic aspect, I have done what numerous other artists in the community have done by creating my own variation of Taroko Gorge but for the purpose of using it as a tool or device to generate ideas for fictional creative writing.

The words that are set in the arrays of the code also reflect that emphasis on fiction. Additionally, the kinetic feature of this project is reflected in the typing animation that takes place as the line is written out across the screen. Both the monotype font and the animation itself assist in emphasizing the generating of ideas as though someone were typing out the ideas themselves on their computer.

This choice of a project was both interesting and beneficial in that it gave me a chance to work with JavaScript to better understand the structure and functionality. I had to research syntax in order to figure out the best way to form the most coherent sentences based on what was generated. Originally, I was also going to add in a level of interactivity that I have since decided to do without. Since the poetry is already generated at random, there was not any added benefit to having another layer of randomization.

From start to finish, this was a learning experience in every sense. Though the project did not turn out the way it was originally envisioned, this work of kinetic and generative/combinatory poetics still accomplishes and meets the purpose and goal it was intended for. For that, I’d like to share Fantasy, a poetic tool to help inspire fictional creative writing.

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Concluding Pry

It is still difficult to discern which memories are true and which memories are in James’ head. He imagined Luke being there when he really was not.

He says one thing where he saw Jessie before they went to play poker, but the story also seems to imply that James and Jessie got into a fight in the janitorial closet at which point he may have accidentally killed her?

In chapter 5, he explains the process of how he ended up on the bridge. His conversation with Luke, the shooting of the airsoft rifle at the statue and braille bible, his vision almost gone, and their fight. He keeps repeating that he needs to prove himself. That he’s getting replaced and he’s dead weight. Up to the point where he falls off the bridge into the water. Chapter 6 begins with the folding and unfolding of text until the reader unfolds it enough to split the screen open and see the video beneath. That video however, after reaching a certain climax forcefully shuts. Continuing to try and pry it open, it will force itself shut a number of times. In this sense, it is almost as though James is trying to block out that memory, shutting it away, while the reader is trying instead to pry it open and uncover it.

Then in chapter 7, there is almost a seemingly unending loop and wormhole of video clips, until the reader reaches an ‘inner’ clip where James and Luke are building a fire together and talking. At this point, it will shift perspectives by featuring either Luke, James, or the two of them together when the screen is pinched or expanded, before continuing further on. In a way, this chapter and chapter 6 both clarify a lot and also add to much of the confusion in what is going on, or at least, what actually happened to Jessie.

Everything is relatively unclear and it is incredibly difficult to know for sure which is the truth between the images that are shown and the text that appears. All that is truly clear in the end is that Jessie died and James, one way or the other, blames himself for her death. Whether it truly was his fault, or he killed her, or it was simply an accident, he blames himself for what happened to her.

Only right at the end of the final chapter does the user not have to pry his eyes open. His vision is clear, and the sun is shining as he pulled himself from the water and back onto the bridge.

Pry by Tender Claws LLC

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Introducing Pry

Pry creates and tells a story in a way hardly seen in other forms of storytelling. It uses the touch-screen environment to its fullest, having the reader both pinch and expand in order to experience the work in a variety of ways.

While the content itself may not appear linearly, it seems that there is only one path through in which the reader can experience. The story is separated into clearly defined chapters as though to emphasize that point, while also mimicking the format of a book despite being composed of both text and video.

The story itself does carry through at a relatively quick pace. When it begins, it brings forth questions of what’s going on, quickly followed by questions of time–what is past or present in these sequence of events? The reader is given the task of unraveling that, while also determining what is true and what is not. There seem to be these sort of ‘false memories’ incorporated where he imagines his own murder by both a female character by the name of Jessie, as well as the protagonist’s brother.

The protagonist whom the reader seems to peer through the eyes of, and often times Pry open, is introduced as James. He appears to be suffering from PTSD due to his time in the military, as is indicated both by flashbacks to when he was in uniform, as well as his difficult focusing. There will be times when his vision will blur and his ears will ring, or when he sees the face of a girl even when his eyes are closed. If the reader pinches the screen together, words or images will flash by, expressing the hurriedness and chaos of his inner thoughts, perhaps.

He has moments, increasingly frequent the further into the story the reader travels, where he overlaps memories. His past and present collide as though he’s struggling to tell the difference. He also takes some time to delve into his past which is when we learn of his brother.

The screen itself forces the reader into a landscape reading mode for chapter 3, horizontal instead of vertical. Braille begins to populate the screen, and as the reader runs their finger over it, the protagonist speaks and images appear like old home videos. Depending on the speed the reader goes over the braille, they may see one quick clip or a different clip of video for each word or key term in the sentence. The braille is an interesting feature, and certainly the most notable in my opinion, that again takes full advantage of touch screen’s built-in features.

Pry by Tender Claws LLC

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Multimedia Fiction: Film Text and 88 Constellations

“Film Text” by Mark Amerika immediately grabbed my attention as it popped on the screen. Between the sound and the words floating by, not to mention what the words were actually saying–“We are the ghosts in the literary machine”–as well as the visual elements he incorporates, it is a more immersive work i’d argue. Though some characteristics do happen to pull the reader from the experience of the piece. It isn’t entirely clear what to do to continue on so rather than reading a work and moving from one section to the next with smooth transitions, whether linear or not, with this work the reader has to stop and think about what they need to do next or what they may not have yet tried until the notice appears in the corner stating “Authorized for next level.”

The work itself does appear to be rather ominous in nature as well. I certainly would not describe it as a happy work as he questions what is real, makes mention of his body being a host of biological events, as well as media terrorists and that of the collective consciousness and his succumbing to that ideal, ‘his’ being the speaker of the piece rather than that of the author himself.

He uses the phrase,

I have no choice but to give in. Rip me, mix me, burn me. Burn me into plastic and fuck me in your TV computer mind.

which can easily be related to when someone takes a blank disc and burns their music or their own mix track onto it. But in this context, with terms like “burn” and “vaporize” as he uses a short while later, makes the whole process sound so violent in comparison. As though we’re facing a digital-age apocalypse.

Another work that was keen to grab attention was that of David Clark’s “88 Constellations.” Whether or not there are characters per se would be a matter of opinion. There is a narrator, in a sense. A voice proclaiming “Join the dots!” to create the constellations. I particular enjoyed the animation style right at the start to be frank, and then how it continues through with each constellation you pick as the narrator goes on a little story both related and unrelated to what was selected. It has a bit of an older and yet still elegant appeal to its design that appears almost timeless.

The content itself is certainly informative jumping across history to name events and people, such as 9/11 and the Twin Towers, or Chaplin and his aggravation with Hitler ‘stealing’ his signature mustache. When it comes to immersiveness, this work is certainly easier to navigate and has a relatively clear purpose in comparison to Mark Amerika’s “Film Text.” But also similarly to “Film Text,” the content itself is rather dark.

Mark Amerika’s “Film Text”
David Clark’s “88 Constellations”

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Kinetic and Interactive Poetry: Shyboy and Rain on the Sea

“Shyboy”, unlike the works we have read thus far, is linear. In addition to being displayed in a linear format, it is very much visual poetry in that the lines and text itself will appear, disappear, and shift based on what is being said in the poem at any given point. All in all, it is a short piece. The way it was designed visually is simplistic and effective, in no way detracting from the poem itself and instead adding to it. One of the best examples of this, in my opinion, is right at the beginning when the text appears line by line going down the page and then when it gets to the bottom, it says,

he can’t help it. And he can’t help that

he’s easy to read, even from this end of the hall.


You know what he wants to do?



Then that word ‘vanish’ actually does, it slowly fades away.

“Rain on the Sea” is also a very visual piece but compared to “Shyboy” with its ease, fading and guiding the lines and text, “Rain on the Sea” is very flashy and in your face. Additionally, rather than being that of a flash work, “Rain on the Sea” is in fact a video which creates a linear path so that there is only one way to read through the work. Granted that is dependent on whether you can keep up with it. Sometimes the words flash by too quickly that I found myself clicking back or pausing the video just to read it.

It is interesting to note how there are multiple parts to the work. Additionally, the premise of the poem itself is rather unfortunate for you as the individual becoming the person in the piece. Within the first minute alone you are tossed into a situation where you are dying on the bathroom floor and yet suddenly ‘given another chance,’ in a sense, by an almighty power:

Too late for that, you said–your last mistake, for it turns out there is indeed a God, quite powerful, quite knowing, not amused. He pardoned the last stages of your tortured marriage. He granted you it was perversely entertaining, mere child’s play in your world of murderers.

The words themselves are quite intense when given a chance to read them, though the format they are displayed in with the quick flashes as they fly by on the screen do also provide that sense of severity.

The video itself feels almost as if one is trying to download the data off of the screen, processing it as it goes. It is stiff and mechanical and the only way to really read it is to pause and slow down and take the time to go through each and every word within the different parts.

“Shyboy” by Tom Swiss

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IF and Games: A Look into Twine Narratives

Both of Porpentine’s Twine narratives engulf the interactor into the work, immersing them in the fiction as their eyes trace the words along each line.

Porpentine’s earlier work, “Howling Dogs,” truly portrays a dark sense both with the language used–the way the first line alone reads the moment the user goes to read the work–and also by the colors on the page, immediately opening to an inverted color scheme as though the thin white letters on the page would be sucked in to the massive darkness surrounding them. Not too far into this work, the interactor is provided with a sort of map or at the very least a text description of the environmental layout.

Upon exploring the various areas, more times than not a dead-end will be reached, providing a sense of stuck-ness or being trapped. Visiting the lavatory then the shower within gave an even stronger sense that reinforced that very feeling of confinement.

The shower is a peaceful time for you, a way of demarcating space within extremely limited space, moisture and temperature standing in for spatiality. This is wet space, warm space, flowing space.

Porpentine is very purposeful about what type of language to use in certain situations. Even so, when it comes to goals or puzzles, the text itself is a giant mystery to be unraveled. The user must explore various areas and put the pieces of information together to simply figure out what is going on and then what they feel they are supposed to do. This is true of both “Howling Dogs” and “With Those We Love Alive,” both of which were created by Porpentine.

The difference between the two however, is how complexly they are laid out, the stories themselves, and that the later created IF (“With Those We Love Alive”) also uses sound and various other color schemes to immerse the interactor and communicate certain, very specific feelings and messages as they explore the work.

They are both a matter of solving the big unanswered question by finding and putting together the puzzle pieces hidden throughout the text. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t, and sometimes you just have to try again. Can’t that very same thing be said about everyday life?


Porpentine’s “Howling Dogs”
Porpentine’s “With Those We Love Alive”

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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)

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Bringing Changes with Hypertext

One of the many beauties behind hypertext and works of electronic literature is that sense of unending possibilities. The nodes and paths of a hypertext, or of the internet as a whole, somewhat mimic that of neurons and the human brain. Connections that may at times seem random, constantly changing and created different paths. There are potentially endless different possibilities to read a single work of hypertext and everything depends on the individual sitting in front of the computer at that given moment. It’s based on the choices they make at the time. Then, if they decided to go through the hypertext again, there is also no guarantee that they would read it the exact same way the second time around, or the third or fourth. As Robert Coover states,

And what of narrative flow? There is still movement, but in hyperspace’s dimensionless infinity, it is more like endless expansion.

Hypertext, though digital and somewhat erratic due to its multi-/non-linearity, is still literature or at the very least has the potential to be considered literature. It all has to do with the content included within the work rather than dependent on being in a print medium.

With the birth of hypertext came the chance to expand one’s thinking beyond the boundaries of linearity. Certainly storytelling did not and has not always been solely confined to a strict linear “beginning-middle-end,” but it provided more artistic opportunity to think even beyond the confinement of telling a story in a single way. It created the chance for the readers to choose where the story would go, and develop or discover their own ways through the work, individualizing the experience for each and every person in a way that a physical print book would be unable to achieve. It creates a new way to examine and think about works, literary or otherwise, and how various parts connect to one another. The opportunities are endless, only limited by the imagination of creator and reader.


Robert Coover’s “The End of Books”

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The Babysitter

The main quality with works of hypertext are their non-linearity. Though Robert Coover’s “The Babysitter” may appear at a glance to be linear given its written out, print-based format, it is anything but. If someone were to read it linearly, they would quickly within just the first few paragraphs find themselves deeply confused or simply catch on that there is a different way to read this particular work. Looks can be deceiving after all.

While this work cannot be considered a work of Electronic Literature, it is an early example of multi-linearity.

The story consists of over one hundred fragments – paragraphs set off from each other by space breaks, that take us through multiple and divergent sequences of what might have or what could have occurred during the course of one evening between a babysitter, a baby, her boyfriend, and the mother and father of the house.

By describing the events of the night from these multiple perspectives, and providing the reader the opportunity to experience multiple endings through the course of the work, Coover has clearly and quite deliberately developed the structure for housing various paths the reader could take within the single text.

Later works of hypertext are all born digital but follow a similar structure to that which Coover demonstrates with his multi-linearity, storylines, and paths. Instead of separating by space breaks, each section of text would be in its own node whether on Twine or StorySpace (pre-Twine), and would have a word or sentence linking to the next node of text following a path. The digital age could far better take advantage of this method of storytelling and providing interactivity for the reader, but Coover’s “The Babysitter” certainly cast a light on the potential in storytelling linearity/multi-linearity and its structure.

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Taroko Gorge

As with all works of Electronic Literature, these variations or versions of Nick Montfort’s “Taroko Gorge” are born digital. Through the use of javascript, each version including the original implement if/else conditionals, variables and arrays with a variety of words to alternate the contents of the poem as lines appear.

Given Montfort’s note within the code granting permission for the copying, modification and redistribution of the software, as well as the number of other known E-Lit authors including Talan Memmott, Scott Rettberg, and Judy Malloy, among others, brings one to draw the conclusion that perhaps this also played into a sort of collaboration among the Electronic Literature community or an experiment of sorts.

Each text provides a different meaning based on not only the subject or focus of the version, but also the words that appear as they appear, creating an almost individualized experience that changes each and every time it is read. It is poetry so the meaning is up to individual interpretation. For instance, J.R. Carpenter’s “Whisper Wire” follows a similar pattern to Montfort’s “Taroko Gorge” but instead focuses on electricity and sound and how noise travels.

Andrew Plotkin’s “Argot Ogre, OK!” takes one of the other remixed versions and shows simultaneously the work’s process along the right side of the browser while also showing the actions the background code is taking with the conditionals along the left side.

As Plotkin phrases it, the process he implements is,

Combining the word-lists of any two poems;

Mutating the stanza schema.

In this version of the work, he shows the effect of the conditionals in numerous ways but places more emphasis on what lays beneath. As if exposing the skeleton instead of looking at the surface of a person’s skin.



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