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Creative Practice and Experimental Method in Electronic Literature and Human Experimental Psychology

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Abstract (in English): 

This article discusses issues arising from the relationship between practitioners in Electronic Literature and researchers in the field of Human Experimental Psychology, including the possible emergence of new communities that cross over this boundary. The introduction (1) considers the possible drivers of this process, including technology, interdisciplinarity and research funding policy, after first explaining the source of the article in an interdisciplinary project, Poetry Beyond Text: Vision, Text and Cognition (2009-11). This project involved literary critics, psychologists and creative artists and studied works that combine (poetic) text with images, including digital poetry, concrete poetry, artists’ books, visual poetry and poetry-photographic works. In section 2 we discuss the concept of the “experimental” in aesthetic and scientific contexts, identifying the relatively universal model of the subject constructed through experimental procedure in Psychology and contrasting it with the radical idea of the subject implied by avant-garde aesthetic practice. We then discuss several examples of parallels between the methods of Electronic Literature and Experimental Psychology. Section 3 compares the flash works of Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries and the psychological experimental technique of Rapid Serial Visual Presentation. Section 4 compares the visual poetics of digital poetry in the tradition of concrete / visual poetry (including John Cayley’s Translation and Jim Andrews’s Stir Fry Texts) with the manipulations of font and layout in psycholinguistic method. Section 5 compares John Cayley’s Lens, created in the virtual reality CAVE at Brown University, with the Mental Rotation test used in Experimental Psychology, referring to Cayley’s concept of the “phenomenology of the object”. Section 6 discusses in more detail a digital literary-visual artwork created for a single-screen 3D simulator, and commissioned as part of Poetry Beyond Text. Tower, by Simon Biggs and Mark Shovman, explores perceptual and cognitive processes in reading and is described as an “immersive 3D textual environment combining visualisation, speech recognition and predictive text algorithms”. It is here used as a case study for the interaction of digital poets / artists with psychologists and psychological findings, drawing on material from interviews and discussions with the artist and programmer involved, in particular Biggs’s interest in third-order cybernetics. The discussion deals with the construction of value around the concept of “interactivity” and the construction of the reader / viewer / subject. The conclusion (7) considers possible models for the relationship between creative practice in digital media and Human Experimental Psychology, addressing the conflict or convergence of ideological and epistemological values and assumptions. 

(Source: Authors' abstract)

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Scott Rettberg