Tuesday, February 12, 2008

it's here now, and it will come

John Cayley can be called a a digital poet or an artist-programmatologist. He sometimes calls himself "a literal artist." I like that. His remarkable site is titled "P=R=O=G=R=A=M=M=A=T=O=L=O=G=Y." He was born in Ottawa and spent years in London before moving to Brown University. He published a book of poems (and translations), Ink Bamboo (1996), and he's published translations of a Chinese fantasy novel (he's a sinologist in addition to everything else). But mostly in recent years his work is all done online - indeed it's not really printable. His most exciting work, to me, is ambient time-based poetics. In such works, there's a stable text underlying a continuously changing display (seen on the computer screen, I should add) and this text occasionally rises to the surface of normal legibility in its entirety. Sometimes the rising text is randomly managed by you - by move of the cursor. For the work called Overboard we have this description further: "It does this by running a program of simple but carefully designed algorithms which allow letters to be replaced by other letters that are in some way similar to the those of the original text. Word shapes, for example, are largely preserved. In fact, except when 'drowning,' the text is always legible to a reader who is prepared to take time and recover its principles. A willing reader is able to preserve or 'save' the text's legibility."

If you go to Cayley's site and scroll down on the left frame until you see "recent works," you'll come upon one I really like - Circulars. The image above is a screenshot I caught while I was "reading"/playing Circulars.

Cayley has said: “What will or will not emerge as a widely recognized genre of writing from all the ephemeral new forms and experiments that proliferate across the Net and on the screens of our electronic familiars? How will all this change our notion of what writing is and how writing is made? Writing in and for a 3-D virtual world? It’s here now, and it will come.”