Sunday, February 3, 2013

Week 5: Temporality & "Cruising"

Image of Cruising, Electronic Literature Organization.

What is narrative and how is it affected by new media developments. The focus will be on time-based narratives with a close reading of Cruising by Ingrid Ankerson and Megan Sapnar.

Basing our discussion on the week’s readings we’ll critique these main ideas:
  • feminism
  • nonlinearity
  • temporality
  • transiency
  • rhizomatic
  • time-based narrative
  • multimodality

Discussion Questions:

Q1. How can we define nonsequentiality/multi-linearity, interactivity, narrative?
Q2. To what extent are these aspects determined by the text, the reader, the digital format?
Q3. What kinds of narratives are especially suited for a multi-linear/interactive format? Are there stories that can only be told in an online format?
Q4. Read Cruising. Analyse the structure of the narrative (is it non-linear, multi-linear?). How does it engage the reader? What are the textual mechanisms by which the text achieves engagement?

Required Readings:

Update:  After e-mailing the Currents' staff, they've given me a new URL leading to Marsh's essay:

Espen Aarseth, “Nonlinearity and Literary Theory,” Bill Marsh, "Reading Time: For a Poetics of Hypermedia Writing," Ingrid Ankerson and Megan Sapnar, CruisingJessica Laccetti, "Where to Begin? Multiple Narrative Paths in Web Fiction."

Recommended Readings:

Update: While I track down a cached copy of the following text, have a read of Megan Sapnar & Ingrid Ankerson's responses to students' interview questions about Cruising

Ingrid Ankerson and Megan Sapnar, “Author Description, Cruising.”


  1. The narratives we were introduced to this week have been very interesting and engaging. I was not familiar with new media works like "Cruising" and "Inanimate Alice". I began looking online for other types of narratives in this medium and found it very difficult to find. It looks as if a multi-linear/interactive formats for poetry and story telling is still in it's infancy, or lacking mainstream impact in literary environments. It was necessary for me to "engage" in these works in trying to define nonsequentiality/multi-linearity, interactivity. These works share similar components such as multi-linearity which could be summed up by Megan Sapnar Ankerson in her response to the interview questions to students at Capilano U as, "mixing nonlinear interactivity (the text/images) with linear/time based components ( the voice recording)". They are also two examples of interactive new media narratives, allowing the reader to "experience" the work via human to computer interaction. "Cruising" clearly involves the reader as a participant of the narrative by allowing the reader to navigate through the piece, changing the experience each time it is read/viewed. The reader can manipulate how the text is viewed, how the text matches the audio, and how long they are involved in "reading" the piece. When looking at the "Inanimate Alice" series the reader engages in a mixture of reading text, listening to audio, as well as interactive games/puzzles to move through the narrative. Identifying them both as narratives seems more fitting than trying to pigeon hole these works as simply poems, stories, books. In her interview Sapnar Ankerson herself cannot cleanly identify "Cruising" singularly as a poem. She describes it as "reactive/nonlinear/time-based/spoken word/interactive/ new media poem". I found that "Cruising" followed a non-sequential format, with the only true start being the audio. As stated by Leccetti on page 181, "Hyperfictions...signal a different way of creating relationships among narrative threads, images, and sounds that enables numerous possibilities for beginnings and, therefore, sequentialities". The "Inanimate Alice" narratives in comparison to "Cruising" seemed to have a more linear sequence. It seemed to follow a more traditional format seen in books or novels. Using the mouse to advance or "turn" the pages, with a story that appeared to have a clear starting and ending.

  2. In "Reading Time: For a Poetics of Hypermedia Writing", Marsh talks about the "Fundamental ...task of defining (and "reading"...) Web-based hypermedia the challenge of assigning priority to any one of their compositional elements [as] poems, stories...pieces of art or works of literature?". Both "Cruising" and the "Inanimate Alice" series are good examples of multi-linear interactive formats best suited in an online format. I cannot image another medium that these works could effectively present themselves in.


  3. Thanks Gail - I could very much relate to your post. We experienced non-sequentiality, multi-linearity, and interactivity within many of the poems and stories highlighted this week. I enjoyed our online chat about Cruising which demonstrated many of these terms. I too especially enjoyed “Inanimate Alice for its multimedia, interactive experience. So many aspects of it added to the overall experience – the music, the pictures, and level of reader interactivity all changing over the course of Alice’s story as she grows up. There was appropriate drama and intrigue and so many different strategies to reflect Alice’s age appropriate reflections and insights in the narrative. It was also interesting that the last couple of episodes provided a choice to the reader of having a choice of an interactive experience or a narrative only experience. Of course, I had to try both and I noticed a different experience with the conclusion of the story as well (At the end of the Russia story in the narrative version where the guards wave on the car from the check stop after Alice’s clever strategy to share her doll collection with the guard versus the interactive version where you need to find and collect the dolls). The use of Brad as a symbol within the story caused me to reflect on my own children and the comfort they took from a special artifact that they slowly grow out of but which will always remain a part of them. The way Brad graphically morphs over time as Alice grows and becomes more experienced with her skills and even the obvious upgrades of the gaming device itself also enriched the story. I found myself going back and forth in the story to compare the executional details, the clarity of the pictures, the choice of music, etc. . . . Really brilliant. This reading experience had me feeling nostalgic for some of the CD-Rom Brøderbund books that my children and I shared together in the 90's. This of course the ramped up, new tech version.

    1. Q2. I found the reading Where to Begin? Narrative Paths in Web Fiction helped to appreciate this question with examples to demonstrate unique aspects of this medium in timing, and the combined roles of reader and author in creating narratives. I certainly related to the early comment that web fiction stories cannot easily be experienced in a single reading session -- especially after digesting some of the less sequential narrative samples this week – or in wanting to experience the different choices offered because of pure human curiosity.

      The digital format is an important consideration. In our Thursday chat Jess directed us to Inanimate Alice – I attempted to view Episode 1 using my Mac laptop and its Safari Browser. But I couldn't access it as my browser was blocking the latest Java plugin. I had to download a new browser – it took some time for me to even determine what the heck was going on (thanks to Google search engine again!). But reflecting on this experience and this question made me consider that many people in the world will not have access to this lovely story because it is so based in technology – they may lack the computer, the internet, the right version of software, the speakers, perhaps even the language etc. Even within the Bill Marsh reading I experienced several links that were no longer active or pointing to the correct material.

      Considering reader involvement is also interesting. In sampling and experiencing many of the online narratives this week I noticed a range in the readers ability to control the experience. I remember reading the paperback “Lord of the Rings” and constantly having to flip back and forth in the text – frequently confused and needing to remind myself about some aspect of the story or a character. I can control that easily. Within the digital environment, that variable is not always within my control. As Bill Marsh points out in his reading “. . . we can now look more closely at how the sub-languages of computer coding provide opportunities for visual-textual pacing (real-time rhythms) that writers until now have not been able to control”. Within the Marsh reading there is a link to Jim Andrews poem “Engigma n”. In reading the review of it by Bill Marsh, I was alerted to another consideration that is unique to online narrative – Marsh’s discovery that within the HTML coding of this poem ( the narrative continues and the author actually engages the reader in the source code for the work! This really highlights the multiple layering abilities of web based narrative. Marsh points out that at the end of a long block of HTML source code for the poem the author says;
      "If you're reading this, I don't know really why. You could be reading it to see how the piece was done so you can do dhtml yourself or you are looking for the true meaning of the piece or you're a habitual source viewer or... I'm not sure whether to talk about the mechanics of the piece here or not. Naw, that's technique, and technique is hard won but anybody can do it.”
      Bill Marsh notes that the poem is a great example of what Michael Joyce refers to as surfaces "giving ways" to other surfaces an example he calls “text processing” which makes text variations “available to readers along a presentational path predetermined by the writer and selected or influenced by the reader.”

      Ultimately, the reader will decide how much interest and hence effort they are prepared to make in understanding the narrative. In some cases, I just gave myself up to the fact that a central aspect of the piece was its non-sequentiality, and that how it is navigated influences my comprehension of it (Twelve Blue an LOved one referenced in Bill Marsh’s piece). This requires conscious thought on my part to be open-minded and “think differently” as I read uniquely structured online narrative.

  4. Q3. We touched on this question during our chat on Thursday night – what kinds of narratives are especially suited for a multi-linear/interactive format? We talked about online gaming which continues to become increasingly sophisticated and engaging to its players who can become embedded in the story and depending on the game can influence the story individually or collectively with close friends or complete strangers. I’m not a gamer but it is fascinating to consider the potential of these engaging and entertaining mediums. As Henry Jenkins says in Eight Traits of the New Media Landscape – we don’t simply consume games, we make them happen. When Jenkins refers to how our current education system needs to change and focus on educating youth for a participatory culture I think the future will rest in gaming and interactive online narrative.

    A dear friend of mine is the President of locally based Rocketfuel games. What this organization is doing is phenomenal in terms of innovation in education and moving the industry in the right direction. If you have a spare moment take a look at their website and some of their award winning games or even their marketing programs for local based business (

    I have always been a fan of Star Trek (all versions but especially the original) – when I see where technology is taking us – I can see our future students and their instructors in something that resembles Star Trek’s Holodeck ( A virtual reality chamber to recreate special places but also perhaps for educational experiences as well.

  5. Apologies for missing the class chat this week. I’ve had a chance to read the additional links Jess posted and more examples definitely gives this segment more context. This week’s readings have been engaging indeed. These dynamic pieces of literature are not so much “read” as they are watched, interacted with, and experienced.

    In regards to question #2, I think the text, design, and digital format define the ecosystem of the narrative, and the reader is free to play within it. Each reader’s experience will be vastly different from the next - some may stumble through the story while others may move through it intuitively; some will pick one sequential path from beginning to end, while others will toggle back and forth to see where other paths lead. Hypermedia writing engages multiple senses as stories unfold on the screen. Marsh articulated it best by saying that “the reader cannot describe the boundaries of line, stanza, paragraph, or chapter, let alone the boundaries of text, image, page and book”. Like Teresa, I was engaged and curious in alternate endings.

    Question #3 brought me back to a reference I made a couple weeks ago about Choose Your Own Adventures (CYOA), which I was obsessed with as a child. That is my earliest memory of a non-linear, reader-directed piece of literature, but it was told in traditional format of paperback books. This type of execution lends well to these narratives as it considers the reader as the driver.

    I’ve never come across this execution of storytelling online prior to this. As I read them, I was thinking about the skills of the mixed media artist - they act as writers, designers, coders, editors, and producers, much like a film. There is an artistic experience being created with each narrative, and it draws on a multiplicity of talent!

    This may have come up during the chat on Thursday: Do these narratives call under a specific category/genre/word? Would it be “hypermedia writing”? I’m interested in looking at recent examples of these where storytellers may have used a more modern design aesthetic.

  6. Hi Sylvia, I could relate to your comment about each reader moving through the text differently. In experiencing some of the examples on the Dreaming Methods site -- a couple of times I experienced a digital strategies from the artist that I couldn't control (ie: length of time on a "page" -- but I would be clicking all over the page thinking I must be missing some special area of the page in order to move on. It required adapting to the work differently.

    I wonder if the answer to your question on narrative category is expressed on the Dreaming Methods site ( They describe their collection as "Electronic Literature -- Writing and New Media" In their "About" section "A fusion of wirting with film, photography, music, interactivity and game-like 3D worlds".

    Also, found this quote right off their website with harkens back to Question 2 on the digital format aspect of the question. It's almost apologetic:

    "Spec Up
    There's no beating about the bush: Dreaming Methods works are media-rich experiences, many of which still rely on Adobe's Flash player to view. We're working on some exciting new HTML5-based works and native apps for Android and iOS, but the majority of our projects are best checked out on a desktop machine with the curtains closed and the sound turned up."