hearing litoral voices / bearing literal traces
Subliteral Narratives

multimedia, custom software, 2019

A new collaboration between Joanna Howard and John Cayley.

For this collaboration Joanna Howard’s subliteral narratives will address questions of reading in digitally implicated situations, building on what she has achieved in the two sample fragments that are presented as a proof of concept web app.

Miniature narrative configurations will invite readers to reconfigure their relationship with reading practices in digitalized culture. These pieces and those in preparation are and will be concerned, historically, with deep, intimate practices of composition and inscription, where, for example, ink discovered in Lascaux is already a coded violence, related to the technological violence of our era’s literal coding and the regime of computation that demands it.

Formally, this work hinges on typographic differences at the horizon of linguistic analysis – derived from Cayley's Orthographics series – where literary practice encounters its medium on the crumbling edge of what might be articulated. These differences are material but they only mean something or make narrative here as a function of both the reader’s and the writer’s willingness to respond to radically different words balancing on an almost nothing that counts for everything that the narrative offers. In an era where big linguistic data threatens to resolve all ambiguity as banality in terms of probabilistic models built from literal tokens, subliteral narratives provide human readers with images and forms in which intimate, highly improbable, highly anti-entropic gestures generate spectacularly expanded horizons of significance and affect from differences that computational, distant reading would simply ignore.

Our narratives are realized as carefully designed and coded web apps. A proof of concept is available online HERE.

Two dynamic narrative fragments can be accessed from this URL. For each of these, the title and then initial state of one of Howard’s compositions is displayed. Over time those of its words, bearing their tiny potentials within them, all but imperceptibly effect their subliteral differences and demand new reading, while the reader struggles with a thoroughly uncanny similarity of form before their reading eyes. Has the text changed or has it not?

Visiting the above URL will demonstrate the essential time-based aspect of the work and suggest how the subliteral narratives will be reconfigured and redesigned to be displayed in the context of a gallery exhibition.

For gallery installation the authors will supply half a dozen free-standing tablets (roughly iPad-sized although actual hardware is still to be decided) intended to be wall mounted. The tablets will each run “chrome-less” web apps that will simply, intimately, readably, but all-but-imperceptibly alternate back and forth between their respective narrative states. The pieces will present themselves as a suite of related texts, a collection of phase-shifting fragments.

The authors hope to exhibit the first iteration of an installation at the ELO Conference and Media Arts Festival, 2019, University College Cork, Ireland.