Revisiting Manovich and “The Database” in “We Feel Fine.”

Originally, I was scrambling to try and find something new to research for this final paper but then I realized there were many rich pieces of work and topics of discussion which we were really only able to “gloss over” in the short we’ve had in this course. The one topic, in particular which I would like to revisit and make the topic of my paper research is the function of the database in the “post-print” world. I’ll be focusing my paper on We Feel Fine. and use class readings and other research on databases to help support my claims. After a closer re-reading of Manovich’s “The Database” a few statements of his really jumped out at me which I’d like to use to frame my discussion.

The first is what Manovich describes as the “anti-narrative logic of the web.” (“The Database” 4) When we think of the use of functionality of the web, particularly how people navigate it, I think we can see where Manovich is coming from. If writers, artist’s and creates are going to be increasingly turning to the internet to create, it shouldn’t be a surprise that many e-lit works are going to be forced to, in some ways, embrace the database genre.

Another statement I’d like to use to frame my paper is the comparison Manovich makes between databases and narratives. How narratives seek to link “seemingly unordered” items, while a database is interested in “representing the world as a list of items.” I’d like to isolate the intentions of both genres and then look to see how/where they meet.

What’s different in Braid.

Let me start by saying it took me an unfortunate, maybe slightly embarrassing length of time to realize the extent to which the “reverse”, time-manipulation function could be utilized in this game. At first, I thought the use of the “Shift” key was meant to perpetuate the gameplay and, in a sense, the narration. It brought me back to my experiences playing Nelson’s games. many (if not all) of which also removed the “death” obstacle from the game. I was almost bothered by the fact I couldn’t die in some games. It seemed to take away some of the incentive and, admittedly, it removed an easy exit from the game (we’ve all committed virtual suicide out of frustration or boredom).

We’ve spent some time in this course talking about conventions, specifically those of a novel. In these examples of narrative games we have looked at, a popular gaming convention–that being the obstacle of death (a limited number of lives, etc.)–has routinely been explored and “toyed” with. Instead of just allowing the character to continuously regenerate and start the level anew, however, Blow has given the player in Braid the ability to retrace his actions to the point of error and correct his or her mistake. It was clear early on that Blow wasn’t merely taking death out of the game in order to force us to keep playing. The character’s ability to travel back in time mirrors the narrative text which tells us there is a complicated history between the princess and the main character, which has had a profound impact on their relationship and presumably, the circumstances that exist in the game. We are led to believe there are events in the history of the characters which Tim wishes he could change, something he can do if only he can travel back in time.

The narrative element of this game is what sets it apart from the popular games other members of the class have alluded to: Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, etc. We get something that is missing in those games, a real back-story or reason for the actions we take during the game. Sure, we know that Mario also wants to rescue a princess, Princess Peach, but we are spared intimate details of their relationship which is likely deemed inconsequential to the frenzied gamer. Blow gives us a game, a medium which we participate in, in an interactive way, but he doesn’t neglect the storytelling element and instead of merely attaching a storyline to the gameplay, he offers us narrative text we read almost as we would a book, in sentences and paragraphs on the screen. It reminded me somewhat of reading a player’s guide or even a comic book alongside a game we are familiar with such as Zelda or Mario. I liked that, unlike in some of Nelson’s works, the text was not a part of active gameplay. You didn’t have to read text while battling noxious creatures. In a safe environment, you could read and re-read text and weigh its importance.

Anyone who makes a narrative game must confront the dilemma of an interrupted gamer. Do I want to read or do I want to play the game? I think for narration to work in a game, you need to give the player time to do both, separately. This is why I would limit my own criticism, which has been raised by some, that there isn’t enough text in Braid. That may be true, but if there was to be more, I would want there to be similar pauses in the game or safe environments available in order to take my time with the text.

One of the most frustrating elements of the game, for me, was when I did finally realize how to use the time manipulation effectively–how you can magically reverse in time without losing a key you had just picked up. It took me awhile to recognize the distinction between “reversing action” and “traveling back in time.” When you travel in time you can take objects with you. If you’re merely reversing what you did, this isn’t possible. I like how Blow favored time travel, a richer experience.

To end, I would politely disagree with anyone who asserts Braid is a database and not a narrative. It could be argued (effectively) that the game is both since the ability to travel backwards and forwards and “break up” the narration with puzzles is given to the gameplayer, but there is still a narrative being told and, in effect, being driven by the player. It is a story which, at times, functions as a database.

What do others think about the narrative-database question? I ask because, while I still feel its both, I recognize myself typing in circles and struggling to support the argument since the line is so blurred in these works.


Weather Visualizer as a “game”

When we were first given this assignment, to spend hours of our time playing online computer games, I was a bit giddy. Not to say the assignment, and these games, weren’t one of the more enjoyable assignments I’ve had, there was definitely an element of frustration that came with the fun times to be had playing these games.

Echoing some of my classmates comments, the distractions were abounding in these games and at times they seemed almost impossible to see around. In the past few weeks, in reading HoL and People of Paper the topic of visual barriers in literature was something I focused in on and something that became easy to notice in these games as well. It became clear to me early on that I think Jason Nelson was almost more concerned with stuffing these games with every bit of audio and visual art he felt inclined to than he was about the way the game actually played (jam-packed with artistic devices sounds a bit like MZD, doesn’t it?). The fact that these games served the artist as much as the gamer became even more clear to me when I realized that in all of the games it was impossible to die. If you ran into a noxious object or fell off of a cliff, you simply started at the beginning of that level. This was a substantial divergence from my previous gaming experience which is usually “play for hours, get stuck, get frustrated and give up.” Usually, games are meant to be challenging. We heard in the “Get Lamp” documentary that early Interactive Fiction gamers spent weeks or months trying to solve the challenging puzzles in those games. There weren’t really any puzzles in these games that inhibited the players ability to complete the game. The only puzzle or real challenge was trying to make sense of it.

One of the few “games” we played where I felt relatively comfortable offering an explanation for was the Weather Visualizer. I wrote “games” because for me, it was difficult to label the Weather Visualizer a game, at least in the popular sense of the word. Certainly it is interactive, but it reminded me a lot of “We Feel Fine.,” which I never really saw as a game. I think Weather Visualizer was a database just like it. I think there’s a reason it was the last in our list of “games” to explore this week and was separate from the rest of the group. Unlike the rest of the games, with the arguable exception of Sydney’s Siberia, this game didn’t involve navigating levels, jumping over objects and traversing a course. Rather, it took data and allowed you to make decisions on how to visualize it, offering an opportunity to blend visual artistry with raw data. I think the data element set it apart from the rest of the games we played.

Would anyone pose an argument that Weather Visualizer was a game, much like the rest we played? I’d be interested to hear it.

Bringing it all together?

I ask the question in the title to this post because one of the things which stuck out to me while reading The People of the Paper is how it was, for me, a novel which brought together several of the experimental fiction forms we have explored in the other novels up to this point.

Certainly it’s exploration into magical realism, and gender relations are two ways the novel is a creative work of its own, but two ways, in particular where I felt the other novels we’ve read at work in this one are narration (changes/multiplicity in narration, voice, style) and variation of the textual layout of the novel (House of Leaves was a 10, People of Paper is probably a 6 but its examples are there.

Admittedly, I was sort of on the lookout for recurring elements of the fiction we have already read in this novel. I just had an idea since I believe Prof. Sample has said previously that the calender and chronological organization of this course is no accident.It quickly became clear to me there were these examples in People of Paper and I tried to hone in on these two.

The narration, I think, mirrors some of what we saw in Calvino’s novel and House of Leaves in the frequent switches between narrative voice and style (1st person and 3rd person, none of Calvino’s preeminent 2nd person) and the sheer number of different voices and perspectives that are presented: Little Merced, Saturn, Rita, etc. As the novel progresses and we start to see the relationship between Sal (Salvador Plascencia) and Saturn, we observe an interplay between the fictionalized characters and the narrator or author himself. This reminded of the comparisons we frequently made between Johnny, Zampano and the characters in the Navidson record.

As far as the variation of textual layout in the novel, we see it pretty frequently. Like in House of Leaves, the purpose of the layout and designs featured on different pages isn’t always instantly clear and I get a sense I missed some connection between these images and the text. Nonetheless, these visual codes are presented and seem to necessitate some sort of interpretation.

Some are easier to interpret such as the illustrations of the playing cards on pages 21 and 22 and the crossed out EMF tag on 112. Others, however, seemed to require more thought (when I saw the first black box in the novel my first thought was “Nooo, it’s back!”). We are sometimes confronted with the same “barriers” in the text such as on page 189. This reminded me of some of Danielewski’s devices such as turning the text backwards and crossing text out, here, a paragraph of text is covered by a black box.

I’m going to take a wild guess that Plascencia was familiar with Danielewski’s cult-classic novel.


Heavy responsibility for the gamer

After watching “Get Lamp” I immediately thought it would have been better to watch it first and then spend the frustrated hours playing the IF games with at least some background knowledge and preparation. I guess I’ll just have to go back to the games again and bring what I’ve learned.

I found the documentary fascinating and full of great quotes which I think really beautifully explain the genre, what it’s all about, it’s strengths and it’s shortcomings.

Let me call a couple of those to attention. Maybe they will spark some thought in other posts.

  • “Only pictures are in your mind, which are the best ones”
  • “No matter how far graphics go they will always take you back to text”
  • “Art forms are never replaced, they are only added to.”

One thing I noticed about IF which may come as a surprise or it may not, is that perhaps the biggest drawback to the genre, or at least what will likely keep it from any future commercial success (in my opinion) is also what I’d consider the genre’s greatest strength, that being the great amount of responsibility it places on the gamer.

Obviously the reading is one thing — anyone who doesn’t enjoy reading is going to gravitate towards the graphics, but the problem solving and mapping involved in the games, particularly the longer originals, seemed to be quite extensive. I don’t think the majority of popular graphics-based games force the player to be nearly as methodical. In a weird way, it reminded me a bit of our annotation of House of Leaves. Really the process and motivation is the same: Leaving ourselves hints and clues and networks to try and make sense of what’s in front of us. Annotation is not something I was used to or fully comfortable with and I sense I would experience the same struggle with IF, at least initially.

This will probably sound as an excuse in some way, maybe it is, but I think there is a generational aspect to why this is the case for me. I know by the time I was old enough to do any kind of serious gaming, it was at the cusp of 3D graphics gaming. I liked and still like to play games that are visually stimulating, fast-moving and don’t necessarily call for a lot of puzzle-solving. Then again, I’ve never been huge on crossword puzzles either. In my reading and gaming, I have been mostly used to linear, fast-paced, minimal effort storytelling. I think this sets me back when trying to jump on board with IF. I can’t come to IF the same way I come to a book or a video game. It’s more the mindset of approaching a puzzle or math equation.

There also seems to be a noticeable intellectual privilege to anyone within the genre, gamers and creators alike. We hear more about this late in the film when it talks about modern IF authors and a sense that many are writing games for themselves and not the audience. This is, in part, I suppose a result of the genre becoming more artistic and less mass-produced but was also true at the beginning of IF when people began hearing about the games in magazines and in computer tech professional circles. While the genre spread and occupied a large demographic for a period of time, it started and exists today as a sort of fringe intellectual community. I had a hard time relating to the genre’s inventors and enthusiasts who seem to be mostly MIT grads and people prone to spending days, weeks and months solving the games.

Open letter to Mrs. Judy Sample

Dear Mrs. Judy Sample,


Thank you for picking up House of Leaves and seeking to make sense of this unusual novel with us. We, in Mr. Sample’s course, agree your question is one of the first a reader should ask about House of Leaves.

I would say I think The Navidson Record is not a real documentary not just to create an unusual novel but to call into question many things we assume to know about any novel.

Things like authorship and truth, revision and narration all seem to be devices the author Mark Z. Danielewski manipulates to show us that we ultimately can not trust them and must at some point let go of our search for “sacred truth” in this novel.

In some ways, The Navidson Record is an anchor to the novel. It ties together the narration of Johnny Truant and Zampano. Being fictitious we must look for other ways to “ground” our understanding.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your reading.





Brita Nilsson as an intermediary

Keeping in mind Rabinowitz’s rules and making special note of how Delillo chose to finish his novel, I agree with cmckenz7’s assessment that Delillo is purposefully trying to foster an ultimate solidarity with Brita Nilsson’s character.

This makes perfect sense when we consider that throughout the novel, we are introduced and witness the development of characters which serve as some kind of archetype for the various influences of human consciousness, for reclusive and group behavior, as well as the oft-mentioned relationship between art and terror.

Ultimately, Brita’s character is the one that takes the time to take a step back from the activity and notice the “picture” set before her. There is a period of reflection and seemingly, a resolution of sorts in her observations “The city is quiet for the first time since she arrived. She examines the silence.” (240)

Brita’s character throughout the novel was a sympathetic one. And she serves as an intermediary in the dialogue in several ways. Her trade, as a photographer is significant in this way when we consider the photograph can be art (novel) as well as news (terror).

In her stated intentions of photographing writers, particularly reclusive ones, Brita is presented as a character with a desire to bring things out into the open, to reveal what seeks to be hidden. “If someone’s not well-known, so much the better. Given a choice, I prefer to search out writers who remain obscure.” (25)

On the same page, Brita states her independence when discussing her love for traveling and photographing writers. The independence of her own character and her desire to expose in some way reclusive writers, serve to position her, once again, as an intermediary between, in this case, reclusive and group, behavior.

In terms of the relationship between the novelist and terrorist, Karen states her inability to fully assimilate with either.

A professed and avid reader, Brita does state that she feels “like an outsider” when compared to writers, as cmckenzy7 pointed out. In the novel’s last chapter, Brita states she is no longer interested in photographing writers only. Instead she says she photographs on assignment, which also comes to become laborious for her. “She has come here already tired of these stories…” (228).

Ultimately, Brita’s character represents in my estimation, the independent soul who broadly read and observant, is hesitant to invest too much of herself in the conventions of the novelist or terrorist.



Novelists and Terrorists

In my early reading of Mao II, I was intrigued to see Delillo make the connection between terrorists and novelists. It’s obviously a bold (intentionally so) statement to make, but I think the authors point of both the terrorist and novelist being voices in the formation of culture carries some truth.

In Delillo’s own words, “There’s a curious knot that binds novelists and terrorists.” (41)

Continuing on in the passage, Delillo makes the point that in the West, writers who once had profound influence on the consciousness of their readers, are now becoming revered symbols and nothing more. He seeks to make the point that rampant and amorphic violence seem to do more these days in shaping human thought and understanding.

“News of disaster is the only narrative people need. The darker the news, the grander the narrative.” (42)

As Delillo continues his point, he seems to suggest its not just violence itself, but news of violence which is increasingly hijacking the minds of individuals “addicted” to violence in news.

This sparked a tangent of thought within me, centered on the question, “Is it better to be well-read, or well-informed?”

I gravitated toward this line of questioning I think because I am a journalism enthusiast, with a certain level of appreciation for newswriting nonfiction writing forms. Part of the reason IĀ  am interested in working in the journalism field is because the work of journalists, the words they write, are perhaps more instantly useful or effective to a large group of people.

I think it goes without saying that it pays to be “in the know” on at least certain news items. In certain cases, being informed of news topics can save your life and your livelihood.

Still, the work of journalists is influence in the short-term. They can tell you where and when the bad guy got caught, which highway route to take home from work and might help you decide which stock options you want to hold onto.

The work of a novelist or, affectionately, a writer, is of long term influence. “Classic” novelists have an eternal quality about them. They trigger discourse on topics to be debated for centuries, perhaps forever. This realization brought my attention back to the Foucault reading about certain authors being “founders of discursivity.”

Delillo’s lamentation in this passage seems to be that readers are being near-sighted with the kind of writing they are taking in. They seem to care less about the long-term formation of their consciousness and instead are neglecting it for the arguably more accessible, short-term influence of news and disaster. An interesting thought.

For and Delillo and presumably, the rest of us, the trick would be strike a balance in our lives of an equal intake of short-term and long-term thought building.

Barthes’ justified condemnation of the critic

After reading Barthes’ Death of the Author piece, a few things stuck out to me…

Much of what I say is in response to cpetrus2’s opinion on the piece.

I completely agree with the assessment my colleague makes of “We Feel Fine” and “Whale Hunt.” I think Barthes would agree that these narrative works function to liberate the reader and exhaust all possibilities existing within it. I think this is very much because neither of these new media narrative forms is presented with any strong attachments to their authorship.

In my understanding of Barthes’ text, his qualms seem to be with the authorial power existing in conventional literary narration. I wold guess he’d be pleased with the way authorship is regarded (or the degree to which it is disregarded) in some of these new media narrations.

While I tend to agree also that some of what Barthes writes borders on melodrama, I couldn’t agree more with Barthes’ assessment that “once the author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile.” (147).Particularly in how Barthes believes authorship holds the key to criticism, I think his thoughts are spot on.

As we all have experienced in one form or another — likely in many forms — the human ego is strong. I think the ego and a feeling of self-importance or fulfillment plays a huge role in the writing we create, but also in our roles as readers and critics in particular. It’s apparent in our manic pursuit of meaning and explanation in the things we read. If we can’t create the writing we admire, it becomes our obsession to figure it out. At least this has been an experience I can relate to.

I think “paying homage” to the author is more often a means for reverencing ourselves as critics than the actual writer.

“To give a text an author is to impose a limit on that text…” (147). We seek to trap writing in a box to make it easier to draw definitive conclusions from it. The text, including its potential to extend innumerable strands of thought and morph many times in the mind of the reader, is contained and held in captivity by the conventions of the author.

This explains, in part, why many readers tend to cling to the “classics.” While many of the works may have been first admired for their literary prowess, the incredible amount of criticism has risen that genre to an almost equal footing. Shakespeare can’t be taught and appreciated without some understanding of popular criticism of his works.

Does this work to educate, inspire, inflate, or perhaps inhibit a reader’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s works? A worthwhile question.

It is in following this line of thinking that Barthes’ final conclusion can be best understood. “The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.” (148).

It is only after the text is liberated from authorship that we as readers can be truly unshackled in our thinking of it.

–On a side note, I found it interesting that Barthes decided to capitalize every mention of “Author” in his text. He seems to sarcastically illustrate the undue respect we pay to the person.


Burroughs reading brings to mind “definitions of art”

While reading Burroughs’ piece about the “cut-up” method of creating poetry it triggered a few revelations in my head about what art and creativity is all about.

My first reaction upon hearing that the cut-up method is essentially the act of dissembling and reorganizing pre-existing text and poetry was a bit condemning. How could such work be called art or poetry? The end resultĀ  isn’t tireless reworking of sentences and stanzas, or a careful scrutinizing of any potential misplaced or misused word. In the end, the result is spontaneous — a spontaneous reproduction of another’s work.

But, after further consideration, I think my primal frustrations led me to a deeper understanding…

I first understood that my frustration was similar to gazing at art hanging in modern art exhibits. You know, the ones on the top floor of gallery’s holding magnificent portraits and landscapes by Renaissance masters. The ones where it looks as though someone tossed three buckets of paint on an empty canvas and called it a day. Ya, that same frustration.

Why is it this guys scribbles are hung on the wall of a museum and mine didn’t even make it on the refrigerator?

It was after connecting these two experiences that I realized maybe I’ve been concentrating too much on comparison and quantifying an end rest. Surely art and the creative process is more than just what gets to hang on the gallery wall.

I think in the case of “cut-outs” and I would guess with modern art as well, the process is really the key. After all, if I had to lump all “art” into one easy-to-define term, I would say that all art is really about seeing things differently. Whether that means painting a Picasso, a Monet, writing Canterbury Tales, or smearing some paint on a canvas.

The artist poet who creates “cut-out” poems may not be Pushkin, but then again, who am I to talk? I at least have an admiration for the creativity and resourcefulness of the individual who sees new poetry in a jumbling of old text. Just because I may not admire the artist for their prose, doesn’t mean I can’t respect and enjoy what they’ve created, even if what’s been created is really a re-creation.

Art isn’t just about creating something new, but using your own lens to creatively see something new in an object or creation.

Calvino both acknowledges and tests the limits of the reader

As Seferina points mentions in her post, I share a profound respect and admiration for the way Calvino is able to examine and experiment with the relationship between writer and reader.

I never assume I will addressed by the writer. Maybe because it is discomforting by nature or because I am just so ill-accustomed to its use, the second person narration really pushed me away. I wanted a fast, linearly moving story. I was getting a list of orders and an examination of my thoughts and behaviors as a reader.

Still, as I read more and started to understand Calvino’s devices a bit more, I also began to appreciate what he was doing. In the same way an artist creates something to be not merely seen, but experienced, a writer is after a similar experience with the reader. It really does feel as though the artist is next to us at the gallery, staring at the painting, or, in the narrative sense, next to us, on the couch as we read the book.

While it may sound creepy, or in the least — discomforting, I appreciate the consideration. By commenting on our reading behaviors, expectation and frustrations, naming them and expounding them, he acknowledges the essential role a reader plays. He even mentions in the novel, difficulties and errors in the printing process, as well as a debate on translation (Cimmerian Vs. Cimbrian). All of these elements, which can, in any novel, present barriers between a writer and the readers, are addressed by Calvino.

Calvino addresses reader assumptions in the following lines:

“I’m producing too many stories at once because what I want is for you to feel, around the story, a saturation of other stories that I could tell and maybe will tell or who know may have already told on some other occasion…” (109)

Calvino alludes to the fact that readers are inundated with stories read and experienced which inform their experiences as a reader.

Calling the novel, metafiction definitely characterizes the way the novel is very self-aware. Aware of itself and also aware of its relationship with the reader, both proving the existence of the important relationship the reader and writer share and simultaneously testing their limits.