Category Archives: writing + research

articles, discussion and research

Creative Writing & New Media Archive

Great news: the archive has been recognised as one of the best websites in its field for study and research!

Transliteracy Research Group

For a good proportion of this year I’ve been working with Kate Pullinger and Sue Thomas on building a new resource, an archive of all the Guest Lectures given during the four years of the online MA in Creative Writing and New Media at De Montfort University:  And now the archive has been selected for inclusion by Intute, the primary UK web resource for academic researchers. See the entry here.

The archive contains lectures from theorists and practitioners as varied as Christy Dena, Rita Raley, Alan Sondheim, Caitlin Fisher, and John Cayley… oh, and me too.  This resource, which is under the aegis of the Transliteracy Research Group, will be of value to practitioners, students and academics with an interest in transliteracy, digital fiction, digital art, e-poetry, and cross-media.  Please feel free to use this archive and discuss it at our Transliteracy Notes Ning community.

Online lecture about Fitting The Pattern

Dress_PatternEarlier this year I gave a lecture for the Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media at De Montfort University (DMU) about:

Being Creatively Autobiographical in New Media

My lecture takes the form of a micro-site that explores the creative process of writing, designing and building my interactive memoir, Fitting the Pattern: or being a dressmaker’s daughter, in Flash.

I offer the lecture here as a kind of sneak preview of the forthcoming Creative Writing and New Media Archive of Online Guest Lectures, which is a project of the new Transliteracy Research Group based at DMU. But more on that later.

This movie requires Flash Player 8

In the meantime, I was thrilled to learn recently that Rita Raley, Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of California Santa Barbara, is teaching Fitting the Pattern in her course on Electronic Literature in the section on Cybertext: interactivity & playable texts. It’s quite an honour to be included amongst “some of the most technically and intellectually compelling works on the web”, to quote the Course Overview. I’d love to hear what the students make of it.

Indeed, I’d love to hear any feedback about my creative work so please feel free to email me (crissxross at crissxross dot net) or leave a comment.

Underbelly and Writing Bodies

Conference of the Postgraduate Contemporary Women's Writing Network, 11-12 Sept 2009, at University of Oxford
Conference of the Postgraduate Contemporary Women's Writing Network, 11-12 Sept 2009, at University of Oxford

A couple of days ago I presented, Underbelly, my most recent work of digital fiction (an almost finished work-in-progress) at the Writing Bodies/Reading Bodies conference in Oxford. Underbelly is about a woman sculptor carving a figure on the site of a former Yorkshire colliery now landscaped into a country park, but it also includes stories of the women miners who used to work underground in the 19th Century. As I said in my introduction, there’s a long association of the female body with the land, e.g. Mother Earth, but it’s perhaps little known that women used to work underground, hauling coal like beasts of burden. This history is largely forgotten, almost erased apart from a few websites (see below), and now the colliery sites themselves have been erased from the landscape too.

National Coal Board Collection: Portrait of a Miner 2 disc set from BFI
National Coal Board Collection: Portrait of a Miner 2 disc set from BFI

So it’s with great interest that, on my return from the Writing Bodies conference, I read in the Guardian that the British Film Institute is launching a ‘major restrospective of its extraordinary archive of mining films.’ In his article, Pitmen at the pictures, playwright Lee Hall makes a similar point about the effacement of our working class history:

As soon as the pits started closing all evidence of their existence was erased. I remember driving around the Durham coalfield trying to find locations for the movie of Billy Elliot, desperate to get a glimpse of an archetypal winding gear, and shocked to find they’d all been knocked down. Similarly the industry seems to have been Photoshopped out of the national imagination as if the working classes didn’t exist any more – as if all that labour history was an embarrassment to the consensus of all the major parties, who now see us as consumers rather than producers.

Thankfully Photoshop is just as good for montage as it is for airbrushing out and I have used it for Underbelly to put women miners back into the picture in an interactive collage of imagery and voices from my imagination and historical sources. I’ll be publishing the piece, created in Flash, on fairly soon.

For more about the history of pitwomen see A Web of English History: The Peel Web or A Modern History Sourcebook: Women Miners in the English Coal Pits or Women in World History Curriculum: The Coal Mines, Industrial Revolution

remixing at ePoetry Barcelona 2009

ePoetry 09 remix set

Above are thumbnails of the R3/\/\1X\/\/0RX set I presented at ePoetry 2009 in Barcelona. A combination of still images and animations accompanied by a playlist (see below) of music, ambient sound and spoken word pieces from the remix, plus a live reading of two poems from reVamp to end reUser.

I was on a great panel with Brian Kim Stefans, Serge Bouchardon and Jody Zellen, who all gave impressive presentations – very enjoyable too! Chris Funkhouser chaired the session, which was particularly fitting as far as I was concerned because later he presented a stimulating paper about ‘Creative Cannibalism’ – the way many electronic poems, remixes and mash-ups eat other texts and/or digital data. This kind of cultural anthropophagy (cannibalism) was first practiced by Brazilian artists nearly a century ago and for 50 years has been a feature of much computer-generated poetry. Funkhouser maintains that:

in recent years the potential content and media of such cannibalistic approaches to creativity has expanded wildly with the growth and capabilities of the Web.

Since R3/\/\1X\/\/0RX is a particularly cannibalistic beast, I hunted down his paper from the previous ePoetry 2007 symposium, where he first put forward these ideas, Le(s) Mange Texte(s): Creative Cannibalism and Digital Poetry (download). Here’s a brief section from it:

Transformative expression appropriates given data then warps or reconfigures it to new ends. Such a method certainly corresponds, or perhaps responds, to Dadaist techniques of appropriation, and also corresponds to the type of cannibalism seen in examples of digital poetry. An anthropophagic text, in which the author or authors engage with multiple languages or idioms, devours other texts, icons, and is free to remix discrepant methods and philosophical approaches. Discovery and re-discovery of meaning is reached through the cannibalization of texts, which may then establish alternative perspectives on cultural or personal subjects taken up by authors in textual composition, re-composition, and composting. Through anthropophagy, artists are free to reshape external influences. This open acknowledgment of plurality is what makes the concept still relevant today, as an active principle for the creation of “difference.”

That certainly gives me a lot of food for remixing thought! As I said a year ago in my article about the R3/\/\1X\/\/0RX experience:

the remix machine, of which we are all part, devours whatever is given and regurgitates it in wonderfully unexpected ways.

ePoetry remix audio playlist:
codecs mash
Look Inside
outpost msg

absurd future of the book?

Recently I’ve been working with the if:book team on The Museum of the Future of the History of the Book, an innovative digital literacy project for schools. So what form the book may take in the future has been much on my mind lately.

Here’s an interesting, if somewhat absurd, possibility by artist and book cover designer, Stefanie Posavec. Writing Without Words ‘is a project that explores methods of visually representing text and visualises the differences in writing styles of various authors.’

Literary Organism - the structure of Part One of 'On the Road' by Jack Kerouac
Literary Organism - the structure of Part One of 'On the Road' by Jack Kerouac

It’s absurd – and I don’t use the term pejoratively – because it’s a visualization that obscures meaning, therefore it’s paradoxical printed matter (you can buy prints), a visual oxymoron or an oxymoronic visualization, since the usual aim of information visualization is ‘to help people understand and analyze data.’ According to Wikipedia:

Visual representations and interaction techniques take advantage of the human eye’s broad bandwidth pathway into the mind to allow users to see, explore, and understand large amounts of information at once.

Which is the exact opposite of what a novel is about. Of course,  Writing Without Words is art so it shouldn’t have to make literal sense. But could this be a future way of navigating a digital book? Or, since information visualization is designed to ‘provide some means to see what lies within’, could this be a future way of judging a book, not by its cover, but by its data visualization? Intriguing questions.

Reminds me of a recent discussion stimulated by Kate Pullinger’s article, My Digital Evolution in Fiction for Internet Evolution. Kate said:

But I can imagine a time when books become more like art objects for people who like books, as opposed to people who like to read – the idea of being a big reader might not go hand in hand with being a lover of books, as it still does currently.

I agreed:

I look forward to doing most of my reading in future on a lovely e-reader… I also think the digital reading future may be liberating for the paper fabric book, turning book objects into wonderful works of art – interactive sculptural objects with stories to tell! Most objects will probably be RFID tagged anyway, so everything will be linked up to the web in one or another. All manner of things will be possible. Convergence will go many ways.

Sentence Drawings in the book version explain an approach to analysing 'On the Road'
Sentence Drawings in the book version explain an approach to analysing 'On the Road'

Writing Without Words is a fascinating fetishization of the book as both object and container of information, which speaks to me about the absurdity of venerating the printed book as the only true and worthy carrier of literature and ideas.