Research point: ‘Creative Writing and New Media’ by Hazel Smith

The reading of this essay has been a real surprise because it made me discover the realm of electronic literature of which I was totally unaware. To me electronic literature had meant so far simply e-books, that is real printed books digitally converted for ease and comfort of use, while I absolutely ignored the existence of a mixed media literature that uses software to be created and ‘read’ or explored. I shall now try lo learn more first of all by accessing the website http://collection.eliterature.org which collects in three Volumes several texts mentioned in this article by Hazel Smith.

From the essay I’m beginning to understand how the border between creative writing and the visual arts in general has become blurred, how the different media – words, images, photos, sounds, videos, interaction with the public – can forcefully be combined to produce new works of art that it is difficult to categorize according to traditional criteria.

Smith’s article includes a wealth of inspiring hints and information. I’m taking note of the parts of the text that I find most stimulating.

The screen replaces the page. In such environments we can make words kinetic, pursue new forms of interactivity and link disparate web pages. We can also interweave text, sound and image, and create environments in which readers/viewers transform texts through their bodily movements … New media writing … stretches from animated poetry and interactive fiction to computer-generated text and computer-interactive installations.

Howewer, new media writing … shows the influence of twentieth-century experimental writing from the modernists to the postmodernists. It incorporated techniques drawn from modernist collage, and visual and sound poetry … It can project alternative storylines like those we find in postmodern fiction.

Most fundamentally, new media writing is a development of approaches to writing which are algorithmic: that is they apply a set of rules to a particular writing task. … Historically, many genres of writing have been algorithmic – when pre-twentieth-century poets adopted a rhyme scheme, for example, they were writing in relation to certain rules or algorithms.

There are also many non-literary influences upon new media writing, and its links with sonic and visual art are particularly strong … and new media writing sometimes appears in the context of art galleries or musical performances. Another major influence is games: some interactive fictions are designed in game-playing terms so that a problem has to be solved to further a story or to progress to the next level of the text … New media writing also interfaces with popular activities such as social networking sites, blogs and texting … These … are making the concept of the author more fluid and ubiquitous.

Creative writing in new media means working with computer code as well as language, and creates a triumvirate between the writer, language and programming. … an important trend has been text generation, that is, the use of computer programs to compose text. … A complete refutation of the romantic idea of art as the expression of creative genius, it heightens ’emergence’, that is the autonomous evolution of the text. … In text generation a person undertakes the programming and can be selective about the output, but the process does considerably loosen authorial intention and control.

Will it be possible for people with very little literary education to create work? Will writing be identified with a range of writing environments (the screen, the gallery, the virtual reality cave) rather than just the page? Will multimedia artists supplant writers?

This scenario opens up really exciting explorations for artistic creation. It seems to me that new media writing could give new life to certain features of ancient oral storytelling with which paradoxically it has several elements in common: the idea of storytelling as a community performance combining different media, the direct participation of the public, the anti-literary character, the opening up of the reading experience to new groups of people who might not be interested in or have access to traditional literature, the loosening of the author control. In this respect the ancient village and the global village of Marshall McLuhan do seem to have a lot to share.

What I am more skeptical about is the use of computer programming for generating text. It looks like an interesting experiment but it could also become an end to itself. In any case my knowledge of the field is non-existent and this is certainly an area that I shall investigate further to mature an informed opinion.

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