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Expanding the Pathfinders Methodology: Capturing Live Stream Traversals & Social Media Conversations
A discussion about the methodology underlying Rebooting Electronic Literature
How can we make an interactive, multimedia work of born digital media created on outmoded hardware and software accessible to today's readers in a way that preserves the experience of that work?
That was the question driving Dene Grigar and Stuart Moulthrop's research with their Pathfinders project. They answered this question by developing a methodology that included detailed documentation of the work along with video recording author-reader performances of a single path into the work using time-appropriate hardware and software. They called their methodology, Pathfinders, and the videotaped performance, a Traversal. They used this method for documenting four early works of electronic literature: Judy Malloy's Uncle Roger, Version 3.3, John McDaid's Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse (1992), Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl (1995) and Bill Bly's We Descend (1997). They compiled all of their data into an open-source, multimedia book, entitled Pathfinders: Documenting the Experience of Early Digital Literature, and published it on June 1, 2015. To date, the book has had over 25,000 views from readers from 58 countries representing 275 universities, centers, libraries, and schools. They followed this project with Traversals: The Use of Preservation for Early Digital Writing (The MIT Press, 2017), a book of critical essays about the four works.
Rebooting Electronic Literature expands upon the Traversal methodology by streaming it live and engaging the audience in real-time social media channels, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube Chat. We did so in order to experiment with reaching a larger audience and provide an opportunity for that audience to participate in real-time in the Traversal experience.
Capturing a live Traversal introduces a few new challenges. First, because there is a audience viewing the Traversal both onsite at the lab and online via YouTube, role of the reader, the one who is navigating the work, is performing for two distinctly different audiences. Second, since the live broadcasts removes the option of splicing together multiple takes in post-production, the reader’s role requires more preparation and rehearsal. Additionally, the video and audio mixing process requires more camera angles and microphone positions, as the live performance does not allow for the set to be taken down and re-arranged between reading, author interview, and audience Q & A portions of the Traversal.
Capturing live social interaction enables us to capture audience participation during the Traversal process. Undergraduate researchers working in the lab cultivated audiences and captured conversations taking place on Twitter using the #elitpathfinders hashtag, on Facebook using the eLit Pathfinders page, and YouTube's live chat mode￼. These social media networks allowed us to add live conversation to the Traversal that involved scholars, interested viewers, and the authors themselves. After the event, the content of these three social media feeds, plus photographs taken during the live event, are gathered and saved using the Storify service.
Performing Traversals of e-lit live, online, and using social media channels adds a participatory aspect to the existing Pathfinders Traversal model. We are able to keep these seminal works alive by sharing their existence with a wider audience, capturing more of the depth and richness of the scholarly conversation surrounding these works, and recording the ensuing conversation for posterity.￼
Like with the Pathfinders project, we have collected background on the works, author information; photographs of all of the material components of the work; critical essays; and resources. Along with these, however, we have videos of all live Traversals and screen captures of the Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, and YouTube chat that took place during the live performance. Taken together they document the work as well as the readers' and audience's experience with the works.￼￼
Critical Essay on David Kolb's "Socrates in the Labyrinth"
A critical essay on David Kolb's "Socrates in the Labyrinth"
Untangling the Threads of the Labyrinth in David Kolb's "Socrates in the Labyrinth"
“He fought with the beast in the darkness,
till the Minotaur fell down dead,
and then Theseus retraced each step he had made,
following the line of the thread.” — Rachael M. Nicholas, “The Minotaur”As David Kolb pointed out to the audiences who sat rapt during his Traversal of Socrates in the Labyrinth, his work asks the question, “Does a philosophical argument need to be in a linear order?” “No,” he answers––but this seemingly benign line of thought suggests larger, more challenging questions relating to hegemony and the dominance of practices that limit modes of discourse, methodologies, perspectives, and ultimately thought. In this sense, the Minotaur is not the philosophical problem to solve by following threads of an argument through a maze of potential intellectual possibilities, but rather the representation of the singular idea that one must seek to slay––that is, if one’s heroism is up to it. Because the might of the Minotaur overwhelms the weak and foolish, only a Theseus (with the help of an Ariadne) can prevail.
Perhaps after experiencing even just the handful of lexias from the work read to us yesterday one could argue that Kolb was that warrior and hypertext, that muse. Kolb did arrive at the center of the maze––the truth where the monster resides––with the dual discovery that 1) “philosophy is more than argument,’ and 2) “hypertext opens up the possibility of new ways to do philosophy.” And while he is one hero whose labor went unsung by his colleagues in philosophy, Kolb was not ignored by media theorists. Reviews of his work by Nick Carbone, Susana Pajeres Tosca, and others lauded Kolb’s achievement as “well-crafted” and “exciting.”
But I am getting ahead of myself: "What is 'Socrates in the Labyrinth?,'” you may ask.
It is one of a handful of hypertext essays published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. and the only one that focused on the topic of philosophy. It consists of five files: the titular one + four more: Habermas Pyramid, Earth Orbit, Cleavings, and Aristotle’s Argument. Kolb also produced a 6th file called Caged Text (named after the great experimental thinker, John Cage). This one, currently unpublished, was structured around random pages from randomly chosen books from his personal library and linked together by a mix of randomly selected and intentional paths to demonstrate that humans make meaning even under such circumstances.
Kolb, a classicist trained in both Greek and Latin who had taught philosophy at both the University of Chicago and Bates College, started "Socrates in the Labyrinth" in 1992 after reading Robert Coover’s article, “The End of Books,” for the New York Times while Kolb was visiting Eugene, OR (where he now resides). Having been introduced to Mark Bernstein, the owner of Eastgate Systems, Inc. by another hypertext essayist, George Landow, Kolb purchased a copy of Storyspace and set out to use hypertext for exploring new methods for making philosophical arguments. Ultimately, Kolb rethinks Landow’s view of deconstruction and hypertext presented in Landow’s book, Hypertext (1992), which arguably––along with Jay David Bolter’s Writing Space (1991)––figured as among the most important works about hypertext theory of this period. Kolb argues instead that hypertext doesn’t necessarily take away a “primary axis of organization” (12) or “de-center[s]” a text (13). “It can,” Kolb says, “but it doesn’t have to.” Those of us who know ancient Greek grammar automatically recognize the suggestion of the Greek preposition mev de (>on the one hand / on the other) that lends itself well to a broader notion of argumentation structuring Kolb’s findings.
Kolb's texts follow the multi-linear structure those of us familiar with The Storyspace School  come to expect of a hypertext built on this platform. Kolb’s hypertext presents us with a 195 nodes in the opening interface that open to other boxes nested within them. In total, "Socrates in the Labyrinth" is made of up 26,000 words, 307 nodes of text with 741 links.
The four hypertexts that accompany it are built on specific structures identifiable by their names. As Nick Carbone points out in his 1996 review of the work in Kairos:
Habermas Pyramid” is a linear essay accentuated with a “multi-level pyramidal hypertext outline” (8)"Socrates in the Labyrinth" is indeed a tour de force and an important work in The Storyspace School for its content and approach. Perhaps the work will receive renewed attention after this Traversal. Kolb has turned over his digital and physical archives to the Electronic Literature Lab. We will, with his permission, be making his papers available to scholars once we have inventoried and catalogued them.
“Earth Orbit,” presents “statements of linear argument . . . ordered in multiple cycles and epicycles” (9)
“Cleavings,” combines “four classic but diverse texts” (9) and makes a comparison of their hypertext form to their linear form
“Aristotle’s Argument” takes a “complex argument from Aristotle” (9) and puts it into the ‘mixed form’ explored in “Socrates in the Labyrinth”
In the meantime, I recommend you read his second major hypertext, Sprawling Places, a work that “discusses contemporary places, and suggests new ways to evaluate them, while questioning some of the common critiques leveled against them.” As Kolb points out, “The text is large, it contains over 100,000 words and nearly a thousand images, on over 600 pages. Some of the pages are quite short, others are longer.” It was created for the web using Eastgate Systems, Inc.’s Tinderbox and offers an accompanying book published by the University of Georgia Press.
 Because works published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. include by numerous different platforms including Storyspace, HyperCard, ToolBook, and Hypergate as well as programming languages like Visual Basic, I refer those using Storyspace as part of The Storyspace School since those produced on the other platforms can differ aesthetically.
 We want to thank David Kolb for taking the time to visit us at ELL and for his generous gift of his archives. For those of you not familiar with David, we recommend you read about him on Wikipedia and know that when you do, there are two David’s by that name. We are working in ELL to update this entry and to produce one for the Electronic Literature Directory, which currently does not exist.
Carbone, Nick. “Socrates in the Labyrinth: David Kolb Re-Thinks Argument and Philosophy.” Kairos 1.1. Spring 1996. http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/1.1/reviews/carbone/socstart.html.
Kolb, David. "Socrates in the Labyrinth." Watertown, MA: Eastgate Systems, Inc., 1994.
Landow, George. Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
Tosca, Susana Pajares. Hipertulia. “Review of David Kolb’s Socrates in the Labyrinth.” http://pendientedemigracion.ucm.es/info/especulo/hipertul/socrates2.html.