BCNM at ELO 2020

04 Aug, 2020

BCNM at ELO 2020

The Electronic Literature Organization's annual conference went online in 2020! Alex Saum-Pascual and alum Kyle Booten presented work at the program, titled appropriately, "Uncontinuity." Check out their art and papers below!

Alex Saum-Pascual

View her art here

The Offline Website Project (TOWP) is a domestic disruption of the distributed logic of the global web. It is comprised of a series of websites meant to run locally only on the computer where these sites are created and hosted. In order to experience the sites, TOWP users need to physically travel to the home of the artist and participate in a site-specific experiencing of these digital works. TOWP sites are thus unique material objects: non-replicable, non-sharable, non-transferrable; they are ingrained in a place and a concrete home computer. In a way, these digital objects are auratic, in the sense that they evoke pre-mechanical reproduction possibilities (in Walter Benjamin’s terms). Yet their existence is virtual and layered like the digital machine. Domestic constraints imply that TOWP sites will rarely be experienced in their true interactive form and, like with any other performative discipline, access to them is limited to video documentation. For this exhibit, we are sharing one of those videos documenting the experiencing of one of TOWP's sites: “beauty routine (a burning desire)”.

“beauty routine” is a poetic commentary on the possibility of thinking beauty only in local terms, seeing beauty as always pertaining to a physical body. As most of Saum's work, this involves thinking about her own displacement and beauty (as a foreign female body in the USA) and how this relates to the larger spaces she occupies, and the environmental impact of her occupation. Through this exploration, “beauty”, and its sustainability, become active terms, capable of exerting violence to the Earth and its inhabitants. Violence and environmental exploitation are seen in tandem, pondering about the many ways we carry out supposedly harmless actions (online, at home, to our bodies) that have a devastating impact on the physical world (outside, in the natural world). The web, thus, just like a black hole, the Solar System, or the sum total of all the (now burnt) trees in California or the Amazon, is massively distributed in time and space relative to humans, being close to Timothy Morton’s definition of a hyperobject. Hyperobjects, although very different in nature, function and style, have numerous properties in common (they are viscous, molten, phased, interobjective...), but their main characteristic is that they are nonlocal. They are objects so distributed that their totality cannot be realized in any particular local manifestation. A primary example of this is climate change. “beauty routine (a burning desire)” explores local and nonlocal actions in relation to climate change and proposes the idea that hyperobjects could never be beautiful. What does this mean for online art and literature? What does this say about our own possibilities of being beautiful as we participate in today’s digital networks?

With The Online Website Project, a site’s webiness is stripped from the global network to be rooted, deeply, at home.

Alex Saum-Pascual is Associate Professor of Spanish and New Media at the University of California, Berkeley, where she teaches Contemporary Spanish Literature and Culture (20th and 21st Centuries) and Electronic Literature (Digital Humanities). She is also part of the Executive Committee of the Berkeley Center for New Media. Her academic work on digital media and literature in the Spanish-speaking world has been published in Spain, Mexico and the United States, in The Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, The Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies, Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, and Digital Humanities Quarterly, among others. Her monograph, #Postweb! Crear con la máquina y en la red (Iberoamericana-Vervuert, 2018) explores the influence of electronic writing technologies on both printed and born-digital books. As an artist, she is interested in the intersection of female representation in digital media and online spaces as these relate to offline environments in the Anthropocene. Her digital artwork and poetry has been exhibited in galleries and art festivals in the United States and abroad.

Kyle Booten

Making Writing Harder: Computer-Mediated Authorship and the Problem of Care

From simple spell-check to sophisticated autocomplete, algorithms increasingly intervene in the process of writing. This paper considers three recent examples of writing interfaces produced by practitioners of electronic literature, each with a distinct model of what kind of feedback or interference writers need – in other words, with a conception of how to care for writers’ minds. One of the main logics that shapes contemporary digital media, including corporate writing-assistance tools, is that software should make some task easier. The three algorithmic co-writers examined here carry out a different logic. Instead of trying to make writing easier, they make writing more difficult, posing sudden problems that the writer must solve by writing in a manner that they would otherwise not. The primary goal of the paper is to understand and distinguish these three systems’ pedagogical assumptions about what kind of difficulty writers need. The discussion concludes by arguing that electronic literature, seeking continuity with both Human-Computer Interaction and Cognitive Poetics, should do more to research the cognitive affordances of digital literary objects.

Kyle Booten is a postdoctoral fellow in the Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth College. His computer-mediated writing has appeared in venues such as Fence, Lana Turner, Tentacular, and Boston Review. A scholar of Digital Humanities and New Media, his recent research has appeared in venues such as the proceedings of the International Conference on Computational Creativity, and #Identity: Hashtagging Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Nation (University of Michigan Press, 2019).

Electronic Literature in the Age of Autocomplete (Roundtable)

Sarah Ciston, University of Southern CaliforniaFollow
Katy Ilonka Gero, Columbia UniversityFollow
Annette Vee, University of PittsburghFollow
Kyle Booten, Dartmouth CollegeFollow
Brian Kim Stefans

From the “predictive text” keyboards of our mobile devices to the phrases and sentences proffered by Google’s “autocomplete,” algorithmic media are insinuating themselves as “co-authors” into the flow of human writing in ever more ambitious ways. That such technologies may seem commonplace, even mundane, should not distract from their dramatic political stakes; if writing is a particularly powerful technology of the mind (Ong, Orality and Literacy), we should be wary of the ways that subtly invasive corporate algorithms could either encourage and foreclose certain forms of thought. Practitioners of electronic literature–from Charles O. Hartman’s experiments in Virtual Muse to James Meehan’s 1976 Tale-Spin to Janelle Shane’s hilarious AI-generated Halloween costumes and pickup lines–have long imagined ways of integrating human- and algorithmically-generated text that go far beyond the logics of text prediction and correction. The goal of this panel is to imagine what role electronic literature can play in the context of the widespread human/algorithm co-writing.