Entanglements: an exploration of the digital literary work FISHNETSTOCKINGS

Immersion in E-Lit


Far out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower, and as clear as crystal, it is very, very deep; so deep, indeed, that no cable could fathom it: many church steeples, piled one upon another, would not reach from the ground beneath to the surface of the water above.  -- Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid

Hans Christian Anderson gives us an underwater that is both enticing and yet literally unfathomable. It cannot be measured by fathoms, a length that is derived from the extent of human arms.  It cannot be measured by the measures of human arms, reminiscent of another bottomless pit that Jessica and I have written about with Jeremy Douglass [See Reading Project: A Collaborative Analysis of William Poundstone's Project for Tachistoscope {Bottomless Pit}]. The unmeasurable aspect is important because the mermaid is a symbol of the unknown; her figure was literally placed on early modern maps to demarcate the uncharted and thus dangerous areas.

As a piece of immersive, water-based electronic literature Fishnet Stockings enters the realms of other works of e-lit: Char Davies’ Osmose (1995) and Ephémère (1998) to immersion in a downpour of letters in Romy Achituv and Camille Utterback’s “Text Rain” (2000) to immersion in a sea of text in Stephanie Strickland and Nick Montfort’s “Sea and Spar Between” (2010). And there are others, of course, including the early hypertexts Twelve Blue (1996) by Michael Joyce and Water Always Writes in Plural (1998) by Linda Carroli and Josephine Wilson. (see our path on Fellow Fish)

Davies’ work, pieces of early VR that create experiences even beyond the current offerings, take the participant into digital worlds as if through scuba, navigated through breath. Immersion is primarily a visual experience of cardinal directions.  

“Text Rain” immerses the participant interactor in words themselves, inviting them to actively or passively catch in their hands the precipitation of text, the way we might catch large rain drops, hail, or snow.  As the motion sensors create volumes out of our images, they incorporate us into the space, making us part of the medium, part of the topography on which this rain falls.

"Sea Spar Between" sends us out into the ocean of generated text to navigate it with mouse as if traversing a great sea. To create a sense of spaciousness, the piece gives us coordinates. 

Each of these works creates immersion by capturing input (breath, body, mouse) to encourage us to navigate but also gives us a deluge of data for us to process, too much to be processed in one glance, literally raining down on us, flooding our screens, overwhelming our visual fields.

FISHNETSTOCKINGS, projected on massive, wall-sized screens is likewise too much for us to take in at one glance, with a code driven by randomness to create infinite variation, in a system that responds to our presence. Our body has volume in FISHNETSTOCKINGS, our movements create waves. 

The participant cannot also be immersed or drawn into the tide through Twitter hashtags and through the Microsoft Kinect.

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