Research

Lost in a Book

I’m a digital reader. So are you. But even though I’ve been reading texts on — off? — screens since the distant days of Ceefax and the ZX81, until this past summer I’d never actually read a book on a Kindle.   I should clarify. I have had books downloaded on a Kindle app on my iPad for a few years now — mostly digital copies of texts I teach as that makes it easier to search and to copy-and-paste — and I did once use my iPad Kindle app to read most of a book about business finance. (It is, and was, a long story.) But that wasn’t really reading. What I mean is the kind of reading you reserve for stories: the reading you do curled up on the sofa on a wet Saturday afternoon or sprawled on a foreign beach; the reading that draws you in, that takes you away, that let’s…

The Reality of Multitudes

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.         In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!         What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!—and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons? Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California” One of the biggest questions for the Ambient Literature project has been how these novel works of ubiquitous and technologically-driven literature function as they encounter the really existing conditions of readers’ everyday lives. As literary works that only really exist as they are activated by a reader’s engagement with the text as it functions in concert with the context within which they are experienced, it’s…

The Spaces Between

This summer, many of the ambient literature team travelled to conferences and seminars to share our initial findings and to find out what researchers, writers and artists in similar fields to us have been working on. In July, I travelled to Porto for the Electronic Literature Organization conference and among the panels, keynotes, performances and exhibitions I was able to develop my own thinking around ambient literature. In particular, I learned about two interesting, and very different, projects that both explore the relationship between people and place and bring a reader’s attention to the spaces in between. I learned about the work of Xiaosu Guan from State University New York Buffalo, USA, and her project, Not There There. Using augmented reality video layers, this installation examines the relationship between people and place through storytelling. Upon entering a bedroom, in an ordinary apartment, participants are given one of three iPads and are…

7 Types of Digital Ambiguity

I want to pick up on a discussion I started in February of this year that explored my attachment to the idea of ambiguity in the context of ambient literature. It’s clear that the category of the ambient has lack of definition, a certain fuzziness as a key quality: flat fields where figure and ground merge and distinctions are dissolved. I want to make a move here from this lack of definition – understood as either aesthetic advantage or critical problem – from fuzziness to ambiguity, where ambiguity is understood as an aesthetic tactic in interaction: a central quality of the appeal of what we propose as the new field of ambient literature experiences. The ambient is here is far from a retreat from discursive production, it’s a deliberate creative strategy of ambiguity drawing readers/ listeners users into an interaction and awareness of the systems that they inhabit and co constitute…

Porous Does Not Mean Leaky

As we approach (more or less) the half way point in our research project, something other than the passage of time and available funding has been on our minds. Something more fundamental to the project itself. Duncan Speakman’s It Must Have Been Dark by Now launched last week (and, all things being equal, will be coming to a library near you sometime in the next six months — details to follow) and we held our mid-point Symposium. What was on our mind was stating, or trying to state, what it was we meant by Ambient Literature. We’ve been necessarily vague about this in the last year, partly because of the nature of a project that knows it draws on an existing canon of work (which means we’ve been careful about the borders of our study) and the uncertainty about what we mean by this. Is it a genre? A narrow…

The Event of Ambience

In a chapter called “Against Allegory,” in his book J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading (2004), Derek Attridge argues that we should, more often, stop asking what a text “really means.” He’s writing about the South African novelist J.M. Coetzee, a writer who critiqued the structures and policies of apartheid and whose writing was yet allowed through the censors of the regime that enforced this bureaucratic racism because sympathetic academics on the censorship board could persuasively say that he was writing about something else entirely. Because of the conditions under which his work was published, Coetzee, Attridge argues, tends to be read as someone hiding his true meaning: even as his work rarely deals with the specificities of South African politics, set in different (and often ambiguous) times and places, it still tends to be read as “standing in” for apartheid, as being an allegory for the politics of…

Chilled Ambient

I left Greece without knowing his name. Our encounter was fleeting, troubling. Not a summer romance. You can’t romance a dead person. Besides, my heart is already tied up in knots over someone else, and that person — oh, why bother being coy? Arjun. He doesn’t feel the same way about me. Why would he? from Liquid Continent I’ve been absent from this blog for a while as I begin the process of writing the first draft of my ambient literature story. “Liquid Continent” resides within a storyworld I’ve been creating over the past two years; my main character, Flo Evans, is a young woman who can communicate with the dead through her phone. “Liquid Continent” is about Flo but it’s also about student debt, the workplace, families, friends, and the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. It’s about grief, and longing. Plus jokes. Ideally, you will read my story at…

A Communicable Pathogen

August. 2016. Sitting opposite me on the train to London, an old woman pulls out a copy of Silvina Ocampo’s Thus Were Their Faces and begins to read. I wait for a while, a palpable itching in my palms. Then I speak. I reach out to her, indicate that I’m also an adherent of that obscure faith. That we share something. I ask her about Borges, and Bioy Casares. About Tlön, and fiction, and creation. About feminism before it had a name. About Angela Carter and Leonora Carrington, about Kirsty Logan. If it were a year later, we’d talk about Camilla Grudova too. Books are a secret society with a handshake and a badge. They extend out of the immediate experience, and slip into our view of the world. We share books with friends, we recommend and extoll writers who move us, who make us think. The first thing I…

Making Ambient Literature in the Digital Humanities

While most of our posts here on this blog have focused on defining and discussing critical issues surrounding the development of the idea of ambient literature, I want to take a step back and consider more broadly how the mode of research we’re engaged with fits in with adjacent topical and methodological trends. In particular, I want to look at our project’s relationship with the growing cluster of practices falling under the term “digital humanities,” specifically the way in which the ambient literature project might offer a model for a different or expanded understanding of digital humanities research. As it has developed out of humanities computing, the field of digital humanities has been committed to establishing computationally-based methods for the modeling and analysis of data generated from research in the humanities, which could include areas such as anthropology, history, literature, and art history, among others. In this, the aim is…

Is There a Function for Nested Media in Ambient Literature?

I’ve been thinking about the ways in which ambient literature could mediate the participant’s relations with their surroundings, in particular, how narrative devices familiar to theatre and radio drama may function within ambient literature. Here, I wish to briefly compare the use of nested recordings, such as phone calls, instant messaging, recorded interviews, voice messages, memos, and vlogging, etc. within situated and “non-context specific” narratives. Emblematic of this device is Samuel Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape (1958) in which the protagonist plays sound recordings made thirty years earlier, recalling memories of his younger self. Radio has repeatedly utilised nested media; in the sci-fi drama Orbit One Zero (Peter Elliott Hayes, BBC Home Service: 1961) each episode is bookended by the scientist’s recorded audio notes revealing an attempted alien invasion. In Clara Glynn’s tightly scripted tale, A World Elsewhere (director David Ian Neville, BBC Radio 4: 2015), the life of Rida,…

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