A Writer’s Perspective On Twitter

Journalist and author Kathryn Schulz recently wrote in New York Magazine about her experiences using Twitter. Although she recognizes that Twitter has had some negative impacts on her own writing habits, she takes issue with novelist Jonathan Franzen’s anti-Twitter jeremiad:

“One other thing to which Franzen is interestingly blind: Whatever else Twitter is, it’s a literary form, which goes some way toward explaining why I find it so seductive. A tweet is basically a genre in which you try to say an informative thing in an interesting way while abiding by its constraint (those famous 140 characters) and making use of its curious argot (@, RT, MT, HT). For people who love that kind of challenge — and it’s easy to see why writers might be overrepresented among them — Twitter has the same allure as gaming. It is, essentially, Sentences With Friends.” (Source)

Can you think of other instances in which constraints on the form of a text (e.g., the limitation of only using 140 characters) are tied to a genre’s use of a specific medium or platform?

(Thanks to Anna for suggesting this link)

An Inkless Book

Designer Irma Boom has produced a 300-page book without any ink. The book — commissioned in honor of Chanel No. 5 perfume — communicates the sensuous qualities of the perfume without using either the perfume itself or the smell of ink:

And despite the temptation to infuse the pages with the smell itself, Boom says the idea was too literal, too obvious. “The concentration is on the images, text and tactility.” she says. “If you leaf through the book, you can almost smell the perfume—and I think that’s, in this case, much more interesting and thought-provoking.” (Source)

How might you compare this experiment in book-making with the use of ink and blank spaces in House of Leaves? How does House of Leaves thematize and characterize ink within its narratives? (Consider tattoo ink, or the ink that Johnny spills; consider the menacing inky darkness of the House.) You can compare all of the references to ink in House of Leaves here.

Secret Codes

Hidden throughout House of Leaves are a number of secret codes. Many of these have been discussed on Mark Z. Danielewski’s discussion fora.

If you didn’t know that codes were hidden in the book, what clues in the novel might encourage or prepare you to hunt for them?

In class, we noted that codes are often used in military operations, and we noted that they are used more generally when two communicating parties need to hide information from another party. Where does the reader of House of Leaves fit into this communication model? Are we being secretly contacted? Or is the novel trying to hide information from us? (Remember that the novel’s “dedication” says “This is not for you.”)

House of Leaves and Poe

Poe is the stage name of Anne Danielewski, the sister of Mark Z. Danielewski. Her album Haunted (released in 2000) is often described as a “companion piece” to House of Leaves (also released in 2000).

In addition to referencing House of LeavesHaunted addresses the strangeness Poe felt when, after her father had died, she discovered audio tapes of his voice:

“. . . [My father] was in my dream and he was telling me he wasnt dead. . . . He told me I had to find his voice. I woke up and was just creeped out of my mind. I couldnt shake this dream. It just crossed my mind and I wondered if there were little cassettes of him. . . . I went into this storage place where we had his stuff, and in a little cardboard box was a beautifully organized container of tapes. . . . I put one on while my brother was there because I couldnt deal with it myself, and there he was. He was talking into a tape recorder to my brother. He was like, Hey, its me talking into this tape recorder. Its fun talking to you like this. He was just rambling his thoughts. . . . It returned parts of my history to me that I had almost written wrong. Like one of the tapes on it had my dad and my mom singing this little French song, it is actually hidden in the record on ‘House Of Leaves’. (Poe begins to sing it.) And what blew my mind is that they were happy. . . .” (Source) 

A few questions to consider: How do recording technologies mediate loss, grief, and memory in House of Leaves and in Haunted? How do you read the intertextual allusions between Haunted and House of Leaves in the context of the already densely allusive framework of House of Leaves (referencing myth, literature, film, academic criticism, etc.)? How might you compare the porous boundary between fiction and fact in House of Leaves with the way that Haunted merges autobiography with a fictional world?

Haunted Track Listing:

1. Exploration B
2. Haunted
3. Control
4. Terrible Thought
5. Walk The Walk
6. Terrified Heart
7. Wild
8. 5&1/2 Minute Hallway
9. Not A Virgin
10. Hey Pretty
11. Dear Johnny
12. Could Have Gone
13. Lemon Meringue
14. Spanish Doll
15. House Of Leaves
16. Amazed
17. If You Were Here
18. Hey Pretty (Drive By 2001 Mix)

“Twitterature” and Authorship

In our discussion of combinatoric and generative literature this week, the class was divided over a central issue: how much does authorial agency matter in the ways that we interpret meaning in a text? Can we apply the same sorts of analysis to the code used to generate a poem as we apply to the poem the program produces? Is either comparable to, say, an interpretation of the poetry of Wordsworth?

One student wrote about how radically her understanding of the poem “Taroko Gorge” changed when she realized that it was being generated by a computer program. This article describes the reverse situation: an audience disappointed to learn that what they thought was nonsensical text generated by a Twitter spambot was in fact a literary experiment produced by two human writers.

What are the stakes of Twitter as a literary platform, given that it allows auto-generated spam, advertising, news, personal microblogging, and literature to share the same communication channel?

From the article:

“The point is, even if Twitter was intentionally designed for advertising purposes and even if many literary novelists who would prefer not to are now strongly urged by their publishing companies to use the network as a platform for self-marketing, that still does not sum up or circumscribe the ways that ordinary inhabitants of this city of language are choosing to express themselves.”

“Literary Parkour: @Horse_ebooks, Jonathan Franzen, and the Rise of Twitter Fiction” by Alena Smith

(Thanks to Rachel for suggesting this link)

Altered Books: The Edinburgh “Library Phantom”

“Between March and November 2011, a mysterious artist delighted Edinburgh’s literary scene by leaving a series of intricate book sculptures on the doorsteps of various local institutes and art groups that support literature. Left in quiet areas, patiently awaiting the attention of unsuspecting staff, the sculptures each bore a unique message that included the line, ‘in support of libraries, books, words, ideas…'” (Full Story)

Photo by Julia Panko

Photo by Julia Panko