The Digital Ream

On April 5th, 2006, Nick Montfort sat down to write Ream, a 500 page (and word) long poem, with each page consisting of a single, one-syllable word in 14 point font. Later, this poem was translated into French by Anick Bergeron. But, before that, Montfort turned the poem into a literary hypertext for our digital pleasure. The result is (very basically) a webpage with a black background upon which a single word is written. Clicking on that word leads us to the next word, and clicking on that word leads to the next, and so on and so forth until you reach page 500 where clicking on the final word “zoom” brings you back to the the “title page.”

For all its simplicity, Ream gives us a lot to work with in terms of seeing adaptations from print to digital. Last week in class we seemed to get bogged down by the idea of adaptations of works intended to be printed, represented in the digital sphere, as opposed to works instantiated in the digital to begin with.Reampresents an interesting case, as part of me feels like Montfort may have envisioned this print work also as a digital work to begin with (doesn’t seem that far off an assumption since Montfort is quite the name in electronic literature circles). One thing the digital version of the poem inspires is the idea that each word in a work (whether print or digital) is basically a gateway to the next. In this case, each word is very literally a gateway, a piece of hypertext taking you to the next word once you’ve pressed on it. This emphasizes the importance of all words in the poem, and helps us feel as if there is purpose and connection to each word despite the apparent lack of coherence between them. In fact, the poem seems to speak more to the idea of how we read, and that we should take care to connect each word to the next, rather than actually presenting a story that demands this reading. For one, you must obscure the word in order to click on it, and secondly (as stated previously) there is not an immediately obvious contextual connect between these words. Furthermore, each word is embedded with a particular link to the next word. You cannot press word 230 (grim) and get anything except word 231 (groves). This emphasizes an order and an intention that we seems to sometimes miss with a lot of electronic literature that offers numerous links and seemingly infinite pathways. This is not to say that you cannot edit the URL inside the search bar to skip to a word “further down the ream,” which you can, and I most certainly did. While the print version may inspire some of these feelings, I think the use of digital hypertext is really a superior way of understanding how important word order and connection is.