On this revision:
In the early posts of this blog I reviewed a piece of E-Lit called “Pangram” Now, after a few month I am to revise it and I think about it in a new light. While I stand with all my arguments, I did on the past I find it necessary to add a few paragraphs to denote some things that I find interesting.
For one I think “Pangram”, is a good prototype of mapping ideas. The way it is shown resonates with tools like StoryMap JS, having an overwolrd that can be navigated to find the vignettes with the information we seek.
Second, I believe it is an excellent educational too, not only to illustrate works of creative writing, but to illustrate ways of arranging thoughts and making the dynamic.
Poetry in hypertext: Narratives in motion.
“The Quick Brown Fox Jumps over the Lazy dog” Such phrase is pretty familiar amongst English speakers with the grasp of what a pangram is. In short; a pangram is a phrase that makes use of all the letters of the alphabet, a composed sentence used to exemplify the use of the written language. Pangrams exist in most written languages, used to illustrate fonts and typeset or merely as cognitive exercises.
But in the case of Alan Bigelow’s “Pangram” it is a means to express a sense of orientation, a remix of meanings and experiences. Produced in 2011, “Pangram” is a creative and novel way to put a traditional kind of product in a novel way to experience a piece of literature and to give the user multiple options to go through content that put on paper might seem like a drop of water in an ocean of literary products.
The idea behind “Pangram” is to present a poem in such a way that the reader has multiple possibilities to experience it. From the beginning, the name of the piece is an indication of what to expect of the literary work. Bigelow devices a clever way to deliver his poem, taking his writing and tossing it into a hypertext that not only conveys the work in a traditional matter, it also allows the reader to play with it and experience it at its own pace.
As for the means of how “Pangram” is presented it is formatted in Adobe Flash. Now, Flash nowadays might seem like a phasing medium, but it does allow for a dynamic environment to put sound and imagery together with a dash of animation to create the desired effect.
It is reminiscent to how we can use mapping presentations, having a general approach and then using that interface to navigate the content related. In this case the whole pangram is the overworld map, and each letter is a location. The way we can swop in and retreat freely makes for an interesting experience.
Sadly, unlike using Java or HTML it is impossible to peer into the source code to appreciate more technical detail without using specialty programs. As a side note, I make note of this because in some cases, especially in e-lit (electronic Literature) authors hide notes and comments in the code, as well as those with savvy knowledge about programming can appreciate some of the effort put into it.
Continuing with the delivery aspect of this work, “Pangram” is first presented with advice “Is your computer’s sounds on?”.
“Pangram” is a multimedia experience, combining text, animation, colors and yes, sound. The sound has a baseline that puts the user into a sense of attention, once this threshold is passed, the poem literally gets moving, starting with a teaser of the phrase “The Quick brown fox…” before affirming that this is a pangram. Afterwards the animation gives way to interactivity, the user will be presented with the baseline music and the whole pangram, there are no instructions to follow, but curiosity and a bit of intuitive navigation will lead the user to hover their pointer over the letters. Every time a letter is hover on top of, the screen changes to a line of the poem, each starting with one of the alphabet letters. Every selection is also accompanied by a tone, that might sound familiar to keen eared users, but that at the moment is jumbled, much like the poem itself.
However as the user explores the poem and lights up the pangram in colors, the narrative seems to be jumbled and at the same time somewhat understandable, and once the user light up everything and gets to that final period, animation once more takes over and rearranges the letters into alphabetical order and color coded.
By doing this the user unlocks the “traditional” structure of the poem and can read the piece in order, but keen eyes will notice that while the tones are now in a logical order, the alphabet loses its color and once they do, the alphabet scrambles and reforms the pangram. And a loop is created, and now equipped with self-efficacy the user can start exploring the poem in different ways, having a basic understanding, appreciating the animation and imagery provided.
The experience a user might undertake is that of initial hesitation followed by understanding and ultimately curiosity. The cues that the poem employs are multi-somatic, appealing to different senses at the same time. It is necessary to the user to dive into the piece with the intention to interact and discover as I believe that making the interactivity too explicit takes away from the whole experience.
It is also notable that the poem has that moment where it switches for the pangram to the orderly alphabet. This moment of rearranging gives the user a sense of what they are looking for, but since the full experience in each case is changed after every time it is fully highlighted or deprived of colors, it is interesting to see how different users interact with it and to know if they got the gist of the poem or if it is more about the interactivity and little audible cues.
By the end of “Pangram” hopefully the user would have experienced a poem in a different way, nowadays a perhaps dated work, primitive and rustic, but in my opinion, still relevant and innovative. “Pangram” I believe succeeds in peeking the user’s curiosity to see in how many ways can they interact with the narrative of the poem, to see if each color of the letters is related to their respective vignettes, if they can observe and rearrange in different ways to get different meaning out of the narratives.
The possibilities of presenting literature allow for those cases when the author would rather let users come to their own conclusions and interpretations rather than imposing their own. Yes, a base meaning might exist, but the ultimate understanding and experience is taken by a case by case basis.
Hypertext does represent a way to create these experiences, where little details can be included with the objective of alluring, provoking and mobilizing the user to want to see more and hopefully consider that poetry can be fluid and ever changing, that the order can change meaning while maintaining the elements there. A reshuffle of the elements giving a different narrative.
A piece like this can be used to illustrate many things, despite of its age and relatively dated format. For one it can be an example for teaching literary creativity in the new media. It helps visualize how breaking the mold of conventions and expectations. I believe by seeing and appreciating while experiencing this kind of content creators can get an idea of what you can do in an environment as dynamic as the internet. As part of a syllabus it can be right up there with works that illustrate the rise of Digital Humanities, as a pioneering piece of interactive media that makes use of gamification and cognitive exercising.
Potentially, it can also be used to incite new work., and that is not limited to creative work. The way the arrangement, reconstruction and deconstruction of the lines of the poems can be seen as away to arrange and reconstruct arguments, showing how the elements of a thesis can be put in one way to denote one meaning, but rearranged show a similar or totally different tone.
Alan Bigelow in the credits, accessible at the beginning of the work, denotes his role a “Spun by” not “written” or “coded” by, meaning that he knows this will be remixed and reconstructed, torn to pieces and then reassembled. All in a convenient format, online and ever dynamic environment.