Rencontre: An Experimental Tool for Digital Literature

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

For several years, the Paragraph Laboratory, University of Paris 8, has explored new avenues in the field of digital art and literature. In that context, a project is currently ongoing in this lab, in collaboration with the University of Technology of Compiegne and the University of Geneva, supported by the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme Paris Nord. The goal of this project is to design a computer tool for the writing of nonlinear fictions for interactive media and to investigate its impact on both the writing and reading processes.

This experimental tool is based on a dynamic link engine, managed by structural entities named hypersections. A hypersection is a recursive container: it can include not only framents, to be directly accessed by the reader, but also hypersections. Simple rules for sequencing/interweaving hierarchical hypersections allow for very variable potential reading trajectories, while limiting the complexity of writing that is observed in classical hypertextual approaches. The tool is developed in Java with Eclipse. It currently contains some writing and reading features such as the folding/unfolding of the structure, the zooming or the color coding. The tool is developed in collaboration with authors and readers. This design methodology aims at experimenting several alternative interfaces.

The tool is now composed of three modules: the writing module, the structure visualisation module and the reading module (itself composed of a fragment reading interface and an inter-fragment navigation interface). The structure visualisation module, initially designed for monitoring and feedback purpose for the author quickly appeared as a relevant module, on the reader’s side. Indeed, it stages the reading process in a unique and innovative manner. The reader is able to combine the reading of the text and the reading of the device. He or she can enjoy the discovery of sophisticated mechanics for reading management. The reader can also realise that some unread fragments are still to be discovered. More generally the reader realises that other trajectories are possible and can enjoy the re-reading of the piece.

Does this new approach present a risk of a displacement of the reader’s interest in favor of the device, at the expense of the litterature quality itself? We hypothesise that the reading of the device is fully part of the reading pleasure. The proposed tool opens new perspectives to computer-based litterary creation, since it opens a certain form of procedural writing to non computer expert authors. In particular, the visualisation of the structure for the reader provides the author with the opportunity to invent new discursive strategies.

(Source: Author-submitted abstract.)

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Eric Dean Rasmussen