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Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications

Alyssa Arbuckle, Alison Hedley, Shaun Macpherson, Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, Daniel Powell, Jentery Sayers, Emily Smith, Michael Stevens, Authors

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Reading and Genre in Separation

Although the program insists on one type of separation via forensic unattainability, Separation troubles other conventions demarcating human-computer interaction. We are accustomed to quickly scannable text that presents a surface of obvious meaning dictated by computational binaries; this dynamic limits discursive possibilities. In Separation, thematic and formal elements of the text highlight that the relationship between human and computer need not be entirely defined by the objective discourse that is so evident here, as it constrains the pace and sequence of reading text.

Separation invites other forms of reading, of experiential knowing, that are far from objective and separate. The text is a kind of trauma narrative, centering on the emotional and physical damage of a relationship between human and computer and inviting the reader to share in these experiences. It's not clear whether the speaker is a computer or human, and this ambiguity further broadens the horizons of the user's interpretive process. Even the titles of the exercises suggest such work: rather than offering objective (that is, technical/mechanical) descriptions, they evoke spiritually and emotionally significant encounters—for example, the chest and shoulder stretch is titled, "Take courage" and the front relaxation is titled “Pray the sky.” In this way, the user can engage with the program to articulate emotional and physical modes of epistemology.

I initially hesitated to call Separation a poem: in the ELO anthology, it isn't tagged as such, and some characteristics (like the exercise interludes) make it seem more like an art piece performed by the user. This invokes the questions of genre that e-lit so often foregrounds; the program renders the words to look and read like a poem—but a poem interrupted by calisthenics. Through the imposing animations, the program subverts the literary tendency to privilege text over image; moreover, the words are actually themselves images in a flash file. This ties to some of the topics that Hayles discusses in her essay. By its nature, the work refuses the type of reading in which a user could take the screen for granted as akin to the page of a book. Additionally, Separation offers a digital manifestation of a broader theoretical shift in literary studies that turns toward different types of literacy, particularly visual literacy. Given all this, I would call Separation simply a digital-born poem. Like any dynamic work of poetry, it pushes reader interpretation into physical and emotional realms—it just pushes in a distinctly digital way.

Author: Alison Hedley
Word Count: 402
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