One of the most amazing things about literature is the way it connects the writer and the reader. There are all kinds of variables and potential levels of complexity in this connection, to be sure, most of which are the stuff of literary theory, but the general mechanism is pretty simple: the writer sends something outward and the reader takes it in. The tremendous power of this connection is evidenced by the rich literary history of humanity and its enduring impact on our lives.
For thousands of years this model was essentially the same. Writer writes/sends and the reader reads/receives/constructs meaning. But not so long ago, all that began to change. Literature became “interactive.” At first this interactivity was suggested by changes in our own perception, things such as reader response theory—the idea that although the writer may have had a specific intent, it’s the person on the receiving end who constructs her own meaning, one which may or may not match that of the author, who is therefore no longer the “center” of the text.
A number of writers took this idea and ran with it. A novel like Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch, for example, encourages the reader to construct her own plot from the events provided. Likewise William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, with their cut-ups and photo-remixes, showed us that our source material for literary experiences can come from just about anywhere. And once gathered, such material can be merged into combinations of sound, visual image, and language that crack open the idea of a static text by implying that it’s context and juxtaposition — just as much as content — that creates meaning.
These ideas and many other experimental approaches to the writer/reader relationship were kicking around in full force when digital technologies forever changed the landscape in the late 20th century. As a result of this change, writers and creators of digital literature/mixed media are now exploring the sender/receiver relationship in ways that blur the lines of authorial intent like never before.
Today’s creators of digital literature have an ever-expanding ability to take language and the things it can do “off the page” and put it under the reader’s control. Similarly, they also have a more multifaceted palate from which to choose in terms of functionality, structure and content when sending their message. Such pieces of digital literature belong to their creators, certainly, but the best of these also encourage, perhaps even require, that the reader take control and become a type of author in her own right. To me, this seems the ultimate extension of one of the things literature has sought to do all along: pull the reader into the experience of the message as completely as possible while giving her room to create a world of her own.
Lit-Digital.com represents my most recent attempt at using digital technologies and mixed media to invert the sender/receiver relationships of literature. The site currently houses three new experiments in this vein: Highway Coda, I Am Not [ ] Enough, and I Will Make an Exquisite Corpse.
Because each of the interfaces has its roots in the written word (Highway Coda originated as a piece of flash fiction, the other two take their origins from poems), each piece contains the seed of an authorial intention I was trying to send. However, as these written pieces morphed into digital literature, my goal with all three became to state that intent then cede control of the content to the “User” who could then manipulate the raw materials of my flash fiction/poetry to create meanings of their own.
In that sense what you’ll find at lit-digital.com is a triptych of sorts that combines my interests in words (written and spoken) with images (still and moving) and sound (compositional and remix) in ways that seek to take literature “off the page” by giving the reader/user greater control of a literary experience offering a kind of interactivity that goes beyond what can be done with written language alone.
Matt Mullins (concepts, words, art direction, audio) is a writer, experimental filmmaker and mixed media artist. He has published fiction and poetry in numerous literary magazines. His experimental films have been screened at film festivals and conferences nationally and internationally. His debut collection of short stories, Three Ways of the Saw, was published in February of 2012 by Atticus Books. He is currently the mixed media editor of Atticus Review, and he is extremely grateful for the tremendous skills of Darik Hall, without whom the interfaces at lit-digital.com would not be possible.
Darik Hall (design and programming) has a passion for all things interactive and a devotion to technical development for communication and entertainment. As a designer and entrepreneur, he has worked to develop businesses such as Distract Chicago and products that include Gradebook and Content Management Systems for schools, corporations, and an array of smaller ventures. More of his work can be found at dgastudios.com.