Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘Instant Messaging’

‘Circuits of the Wind (A Legend of the Net Age) Volume #1’ by Michael Stutz

In Novel on April 13, 2012 at 8:52 pm

-Reviewed by Richard T. Watson

Circuits of the Wind Volume #1 is the first in this trilogy by Michael Stutz, which will cover computer communication’s rise from an obscure by-product of telephonic connections to the now-ubiquitous high-speed internet. Stutz’s blurb claims that he ‘coined the term ‘net generation”, which makes it sound like he knows what he’s talking about, and even raises the hint of this trilogy being a tad autobiographical. These books attempt to provide a personal narrative for the information age, trying to impose on it an overall meaning and poeticism missing from more usual computing histories.

Circuits of the Wind (A Legend of the Net Age) Volume 1 - Michael Stutz

Starting from an almost pre-consciousness age, Circuits of the Wind narrates the life of Raymond Valentine, an American whose life seems – through coincidence of birth, if nothing else – to be intrinsically linked with the growth of home computer technology and, ultimately, the internet. In Second Grade, he discovers arcade and home computer games in their infancy. His babyhood fascination with the home telephone flowers into a desire to become a hacker, with a home computer and modem, which will enable him to ‘call out and connect, [to] know the ways and [to] walk the winds like ghosts’.

It’s rather like a gradual biography of internet communication (Volume #1 being set in the 60s, 70s and 80s, before the internet as we know it today). Ray grows up as the reach of computers and phone lines extends, expanding with his adolescent body in ways he doesn’t fully understand but that he can see opening up a future world of adult promise. If you think that makes it sound like a geeky, teenage boy coming-of-age story, then you’re not far wrong. Circuits of the Wind is deeply embedded in external modems and old-school computer hard disks, recalling a time when teenage boys dreamed of ‘accidentally’ gaining access to the Pentagon’s mainframes (cf. Wargames) and hacking consisted of a few bits of metal across the house’s phone line. There’s a certain geeky appeal to Ray’s existence, and just enough computing/internet jargon to reel in geeks without losing the less technically-minded reader.

Ray’s is a life slightly disconnected from immediate reality, existing instead in a world spreading outwards and away from Ray’s physical location. His world (and, increasingly, these days, our world) is one of telephone lines and faraway places, of connections and information flying through the air. It’s a world with a vast amount of information readily available, where a person (like Ray) can know about many things, people and places without actually experiencing them tangibly. Stutz captures the thrill of first receiving a computer screen message from hundreds of miles away, and the desolation when that access is revoked and our horizons are suddenly reduced back to the merely physical.

His life’s disconnection includes relationships, which Ray struggles with as he gets older. Or at least, he struggles with relationships with more than a couple of friends in ‘real life’ – his online social life thrives. It’s a situation any modern Facebook/MySpace/Twitter addict will recognise, perhaps with a guilty half-shrug or sheepish smile; Ray chats with people across America, but feels isolated and ostracised when offline.

At times, Stutz tries to do a little more than tie together the parallel biographies of Ray and the internet. The narrator of Circuits of the Wind starts taking lengthy paragraphs to inject some poetic meaning into the story, and to condense longer periods of time into the book – as though the reader must have a constant stream of narrative about Ray and no part of his life can be left untold. It’s as if Stutz doesn’t want to leave a break in the plot, so rather than go from event to event he gives us everything without pausing except for new chapters. At times this technique is reminiscent of the modern internet’s unremitting stream of data and information, which needs sifting and sorting.

The next two instalments of the Circuits of the Wind series pursues Ray’s life into the internet-enabled 1990s, with increasingly advanced graphics and quicker connection times. Whether he’ll manage to make anything of himself, or while away more hours in front of a computer screen, remains to be seen – and bears a resemblance (and a warning?) to procrastinators everywhere.

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‘Verisimilitude’ by Suzanne Allen

In Pamphlets on August 14, 2011 at 11:47 am

-Reviewed by Claire Trevien

Verisimilitude is the debut pamphlet of Suzanne Allen, a regular on the Anglophone Parisian scene. Published by the equally Paris-based Corrupt Press, it is a modest-looking yet beautiful collection, with an evocative cover of a rundown interior.

I first encountered Allen’s poetry when she gave a performance of her long poem ‘Wail’ (anthologized in Not a Muse: the inner lives of women) a feminist retelling of Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ at Culture Rapide. While the poem does not feature in this pamphlet, the short opening poem ‘(un)loaded’ feels very much in the same vein, a call for inclusion:

‘There’s a (w)hole in my can(n)on

where a (wo)man should be.’

This poem perhaps best summarizes the pamphlet: a questioning of language and of status quo, through humour and heart. Verisimilitude is a collection of love, of loneliness, and the pursuit to palliate the latter through an exploration of language. In her quest, Allen is often a hunter of echoing sounds, take for instance this extract from the poem ‘Smokes and Mirrors’:

‘The way a foreign language pulls at lips and cheeks

the weigh a foreign language pulls at lips and cheeks

now awake, heads to foot of bed–saying knot words

now. Awake–heads to foot of bed–saying not words.

The bed saying awake–weigh of words and lips now a knot,

heads to foreign cheeks–pulls at foot language.’

The poem encapsulates Allen’s experiences as an expat: the distortion and frustration of living in a foreign tongue/town. As the title suggests, this is more than mirroring lines: smoke gets in your eyes and language ties itself in knots. At the same time, these quasi-refrains are reassuring, like a language-embrace: it is not just a similitude it is almost véritable.

Allen’s use of assonances elsewhere reflects this same interest in a language of verisimilitude, such as in ‘Candle’ (‘clean cell–/ a lead ladle, a / needle, ale–and’), ‘Elementary’ (‘tam tam / llama / mare / yarn me / a tame tale– / ale-tay’), ‘Sediment’ (‘demented i / tie time in / tinted mist’) and in the title poem itself: ‘Lie still.  Time / is mute lust.  Trust me.’ Though many of these experimental pieces might at time be in danger of being oblique, there is a warmth and urgency to these reverberations as if the semblance of truth can be found by following the ricochet of a word.

There is humour too, though infused with pathos, as is the case with ‘Instant Message’, the transcription of an IM conversation between the protagonist and a stranger:

‘Likes2parT says                s slash he             likes my

picture,                                sends

me         a colon                  and a lowercase x.           Hearts

flutter around

the yellow smiley face.

I spell out            thanks,                 followed by ellipses,

and a blushing smiley–colon/quotation marks/

greater than sign.’

The spelling out of punctuation marks and smileys is a particularly effective way of making strange this bodiless flirtation. The smileys are like masks held up when expected, yet it is the very predictability of the conversation and the ‘acting’ of the people involved that makes it poignant.