English Fest speaker discusses digital age

Lyssa Beyer

The digital age and its relation to literature was the focus of English Fest and its keynote speaker Rita Raley’s discussion Tuesday.

Raley, an English professor from the University of California-Santa Barbara, discussed how electronic literature is becoming more present in today’s world.

“There’s interactivity through physical engagement, like listening, moving,” she said. “There’s a sense of performance given by a visual picture. The letters and words are responsive to the users in a 3D text projection of text.”

Junior Stephanie Schiefelbein works at the festival as chair of the advertising committee. She said this year, the committee tried to get more involvement from the community by advertising both off- and on-campus.

“It’s about digital humanities,” Schiefelbein said. “It’s how literature has become globalized. (English Fest) is a great week for all art, literature and writing . people don’t need to be English majors to enjoy.”

In Raley’s presentation, she talked about a 2001 project by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin called “listening pods,” located at the San Jose Museum of Art. Raley said that this electronic piece of art was a collage of words from chat rooms, and what people see is unplanned and unexpected in appearance. She said on this technological art, words are given sounds or they are shown as the exact words, making an orchestra of global media. Raley said there isn’t immediacy in the projection of the messages since there is a one- to two- hour delay in receiving and posting the words.

“You can see them and hear them, but because of its delay the information sent is not complete.” Raley said.

She also said that there is a “listening pod” in The New York Times’ installations and people watch the words that the users search or some archives too.

“Rain on the Sea” is another digital projection that shows words at a fast speed with background music. Gloria Hochstein, faculty advisor to the English Festival, said when she saw it she mostly paid attention to the sound because it was so powerful.

Raley said Hochstein was being “poly-attentive” not only using her sight, but also her ears and other senses.

Hochstein said it was interesting to see how much she could push the speed of her eye.

Senior Jules Miller said for him, those projections made text less meaningful.

“This rapid intake of information, I see it as a problem, I don’t like it,” Miller said. “I don’t see it as productive. Young people now-a-days, they take it in, but they don’t take anything from it.”

Raley said there could also be close reading in this kind of text.

“There are other symbiotic aspects one can focus on, like movement of the text or sound,” she said. “You can also slow it down or read it as a code. Reading a score is not the same as watching the outcome, text isn’t going to go away.”

Books can be one interface and digital readings won’t substitute books, Raley said.

“Pop-up books was an attempt to have a two-dimensional reading,” Raley said.

Hochstein said she really enjoyed the presentation and she thinks this year’s English Fest appeals to people outside of the English department due to the focus on digital and electromagnetic features and concepts.

She said that the possible focus for next year’s English Fest will be graphic novels.

“Some people call it comic books,” Hochstein said. “But it’s just more than that.”