Writing Synaptically: Using SCALAR as a Creative Platform

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

I attended the ELO’s 2012 conference at WVU as a novice in electronic literature—primarily as a fiction person with an interest in the creative possibilities of new media, particularly given the ways in which the nature of the cinematic experience is becoming more personal. (Though I am a writer rather than a scholar, I have written critically on this topic in “The Lost Origins of Personal-Screen Cinema,“ a chapter in the anthology Small Cinemas Discovered Anew, forthcoming in 2014 from Lexington Books/Rowman-Littlefield.)

At ELO 2012 I saw a presentation on the SCALAR authoring system (by Eric Loyer of the University of Southern California’s Alliance for Networking Visual Culture), and immediately knew that I had to use the system to tell the story of my relationship with my late father, which has been vexing me for decades. (Please see the companion to this submission, a Media Arts show proposal called “daddylabyrinth: a new media memoir,” for a description of the project.) I would like to discuss, in the sprit of several talks I saw at the 2012, my experiences working with SCALAR and the possibilities it offers as a creative medium for writers who are not also programmers—a community for whom I believe it can be a groundbreaking tool.

This would include a contextual look at two forces driving electronic literature—polylinear narrative and navigational readership—and how writing with SCALAR enables what I call “synaptic writing”: creating meaning in the writing process based on a relationship between units (to borrow Ian Bogost’s formulation from Unit Operations) that is not linear but associational. Writing in this mode is not a process of exploring a narrative line but of exploring a narrative environment, and the author’s role is to create a balance between the reader’s twin needs of navigational freedom and a sense of coherence provided by the author.

On the navigational reader’s part, the construction of narrative also occurs associationally. (Wolfgang Iser’s Reader-Response Theory is perfectly tailored for the reader of electronic literature, who is called to be highly active in bringing discrete units into coherence.) Understanding the reader’s function in this way has necessitated, as I work with SCALAR, many adjustments to my writing and revision practice from traditional linear habits to polylinear ones—from following a linear model to following a synaptical one, which gathers meaning as it moves from one unit to the next.

This presentation would follow up on the one I made in September 2013 at the inaugural conference of Oxford University’s Centre for Life-Writing, which was entitled “Electronic Lives of Physical Objects: Weaving daddylabyrinth.” I would take a more personal approach than I did at Oxford, focusing on how I work with SCALAR and questions on the nature of digital authorship.

A portion of the work is currently up to view on demo at http://scalar.usc.edu/anvc/daddylabyrinth/index, and I would include portions of it in the presentation for demonstration purposes.

(Source: Author's Abstract)

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Alvaro Seica