This text starts a series of writings on digital literature.
Space: imagine the internet as a three-dimensional space that we look into through our small computer terminals. A space that is reflected on the screen as surface: the tiny black imprints and the light oases. Imagine that there’s also something in-between, as there are atoms bonding with each other in-between molecules, as there are atomic nucleus and the electrons in-between. A hollow, crackly space. It is not strange, that you can move there. And it is not strange that green audio visual trees grow there and that the branches touch each other.
Internet resembles space: the internet pages function as dots, as celestial bodies pressed against the surface of the space. As in space, there is an imperceptible web, a balance between the gravities, which sways when something moves within it. As planets immerse in the surface of the space, so do texts and places immerse in the soft surface of internet. A digital poem has its own space, the molecular bonds formed by the code, its densities.
Next to me, at the browser window, is Kyle Booten’s To Pray Without Ceasing, an artwork created in the Nokturno residence. It is sort of a praying platform of internet, generating prayers as answers to “I need” formed tweets that seem to cry for help. The follower of the artwork can light candles on the virtual Twitter-altar, but one must move carefully as the artwork sends a note to the reader if the mouse (or in this case the prayer-emoji that functions as the mouse pointer) moves in the praying space too rapidly, thus if the reader seems too restless. A notification box pops up on the screen:
Here one must move slowly.
The mouse moves rapidly and again:
A text in a virtual space is precisely a text in a space. It has its walls and roof: its borders. It has name and location, and you can navigate there. Thus, virtual, digital literature is just as much spatial as literature printed on paper, confining a territory in the form of a book. Only that in the digital space the text continues further than the eye can see, to the underneath of the text and behind the imprints.
When reading kinetic poetry (text, that moves on the screen) or other types of visual text, the process of reading is often spatial, reminding more of looking at a picture than reading a linear text. The texts restless or harmonic movement on the screen can be just as rewarding to look at as the content. Often the content and the movement function in a relation to each other.
In the digital space a text has also its temporal dimension, that it sometimes acknowledges itself: in Booten’s To Pray without Ceasing the leisurely pace affects the experience; a strange, conscientious feeling awakes when one immerses in looking at the work for a long time without moving.
When reading Maria Matinmikko’s and Markku Eskelinen’s procedural work of digital fiction Lähes tunnistamaton mahdollisuus menettää, the time used for each text paragraph influences to what kind of paragraphs will appear next. Thus, the text reads its reader. One can browse the text paragraphs for an hour to a certain direction, after which the route resets to zero. I wonder, how many times one would need to go through the work, so that all the possible text structures (or decompositions, the new arrangements of the fragments) will show up? And yet: something in the logic of functioning of the texts reminds the algorithms offering always new, never-ending cat videos to the watcher (what would the cat videos of poetry be like?), though the experience feels distant, something fully other.
Also Booten’s To Pray without Ceasing functions in its way in resistance to the restless browsing of social media or email. The notifications popping up, when moving the mouse too rapidly, force the reader to move it on the screen as slowly as possible, only a little by little, as if tiptoeing. In his residence diary, Booten himself mentions waking up to the fact how quick the ordinary browsing is: “Debugging this part of the code has given me the opportunity to see just how quickly and blithely my cursor usually jitters and sprints around the screen.” At the same, the work dedicates its (surprisingly accurate) prayers generated from word masses to Twitter users with only very few followers.
Therefore, digital literature has its temporal and spatial surface, its materiality. Fascinating too, is for instance the movement in kinetic poetry, since in poetry and literature the illusion of movement has been created with rhythm also before: for example, in The Waves by Virginia Woolf (in which the rhythm is wavy) or in poetic metres.
In printed literature the movement of the text can be understood as a rhythmic or typographic pattern created through the verses, dots, sounds or other material components (or of course, when performed, as the feeling of rhythm in the vocal cords). What happens to this pattern when the movement is realized and comes true as a vibration or wandering within a certain limited space? (Imagine a book-formed work of poetry, in which singular words or letter imprints were to move from a position to another, would it then remind of a children’s flap book?)
Milka Luhtaniemis videoformed Yhden suhde yhteen is formed of two parallel text fields, on which the cursor cuts and pastes words to the fields in separate rhythms; when something is cut off from one field, something else appears on the other. In this way, as the poem goes on, one field gets emptied and the other filled. On the background there is a sound tape playing noise and fragments of words. The poem functions as if it were constantly repairing itself, or just as well, building itself again and again. The kinetic repairing or fixing reminds also of Marko Niemi’s and Dan Waber’s a niin kuin koira, in which the singular letters tilt, weave or bend to animal characters (of course the letter h is a giraffe!) There is something calming in following these formations taking shape.
How does the text then immerse the reader to its own space (as the planets are immersed to the soft surface?) The fragments in Lähes tunnistamaton mahdollisuus menettää follow each other and one starts to trace the procedure; what kinds of formations does the text create, if one moves from a paragraph to another rapidly, or slowly? Procedural reading, as a term, is fascinating. Then again, with Bootens work, you can leave the praying platform to the background to pray and occasionally come back to change the candles. The space remains floating beside.
And yet, there is also something else; more coincidental immersions, a certain spot somewhere, the imprints of language, the winter-sky dimming over the screen.
 Or in an unlimited space, in something that continues beyond the borders of the screen or creates an illusion of it. For instance in Jim Andews’ Seattle Drift.
The writer is the coordinator of The Digital Literature Project.
Booten, Kyle 2020, To Pray without Ceasing. Nokturnon digitaalinen residenssi. [https://nokturno.fi/en/digital-residence/kyle-booten/]
Luhtaniemi, Milka 2020, Yhden suhde yhteen. Nokturno 6/2020. [https://nokturno.fi/en/poem/yhden-suhde-yhteen/]
Niemi, Marko & Waber, Dan 2008, a niinkuin koira. Julkaistu Nokturnossa 2008. [https://nokturno.fi/en/poem/a-niinkuin-koira/]
Matinmikko, Maria & Eskelinen, Markku & Niemi, Marko 2018, Lähes tunnistamaton mahdollisuus menettää. Julkaistu Nokturnossa 2018. [https://nokturno.fi/en/poem/lahes-tunnistamaton-mahdollisuus-menettaa/]