A couple of weeks ago, Sebastian Mary posted about experiments with sending out literature via Twitter. She found herself disappointed that DailyLit was neither “abridging the text savagely for hyper-truncated delivery, or else delivering the unabridged text 140 characters at a time”; instead, texts not built for Twitter were being shoehorned into the Twitter form. Twitter might be the electronic form du jour, but this is a problem as old as electronic writing: the presumption that texts are form-agnostic.
An interesting approach to the problem comes from an unexpected source: the New York Review of Books has begun serializing Félix Fénéon’s Novels in Three Lines via Twitter in Luc Sante’s translation. Fénéon was a fin-de-siècle French writer who’s best known as the art critic who coined the term “pointillism”. (Paul Signac’s portrait of him, Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones and Tints, Portrait of Felix Feneon in 1890, is below.) Fénéon was a man of many talents; while publicly known as an anarchist and the first French publisher of James Joyce, he was secretly a master of miniaturized text. His anonymous feuilletonage in Le Matin in 1906 condensed the news of the day to masterpieces of phrasing:
In a café on Rue Fontaine, Vautour, Lenoir, and Atanis exchanged a few bullets regarding their wives, who were not present.
Fénéon’s hypercompression lends itself to Twitter. In a book, these pieces don’t quite have space to breathe; they’re crowded by each other, and it’s more difficult for the reader to savor them individually. As Twitter posts, they’re perfectly self-contained, as they would have been when they appeared as feuilleton.
A quotation from Buckminster Fuller (from Synergetics 529.10) seems apropos for thinking about why Fénéon seems so suited to Twitter:
It is one of the strange facts of experience that when we try to think about the future, our thoughts jump backwards. It may well be that nature has some fundamental metaphysical law by which opening up what we call the future also opens up the past in equal degree.
Luther translated the Bible into German so that revelation could be received in the language of the common folk. A similar spirit seems to have moved the Bible Society of Australia, which just translated all 31,173 verses of the of the new and old testaments (Contemporary English Version) into SMS-style english — the abbreviated patois of mobile phone text messaging. The idea is to enable parents, parishioners and everyday people to send each other bite-sized inspirational verses by phone.
In da Bginnin God cre8d da heavens & da earth. Da earth waz barren, wit no 4m of life; it waz unda a roaring ocean cuvred wit dRkness. (Genesis, chapter 1, verses 1-2)
Wrk hard at wateva u do. U will soon go 2 da wrld of da dead, where no 1 wrks or thinks or reasons or knws NEting. (Ecclesiastes, chapter nine, verse 10)
NYC2123 is a graphic novel conceived for the 480 by 272-pixel screen of the Play Station Portable video game device. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale set in a future, tsunami-ravaged New York in which the city’s wealthy have walled off the island of Manhattan against a violent river society of junkies, thieves and outlaw barges.
There are several sequences that read like a flip book, taking advantage of the single-frame interface and the fact that the reader has literally got his finger on the button. Quickly flipping through the panels creates a filmic effect, as here:
Harper Collins Australia’s new MobileReader service beams information about new titles and authors, and even book excerpts, to a cellphone. They’re beginning with promotions of Dean Koontz, Paul Coelho and others.
Shanghai Daily reports on a Chinese “mini novel” contest where writers submit bite-sized narratives (350 words or less) by text message.
Commenting on the contest, well-known writer Yu Hua says: “To hold the competition is like bringing ‘karaoke’ to literature. Before the invention of karaoke, there were only few people who could or would sing in public. Thanks to karaoke, anyone and everyone can sing in public whenever they feel like it. Now, thanks to the mobile phone, the same is true with writing.
The karaoke analogy is apt, and a bit scary.
Another mobile lit item. Sony is increasing its mobile comics publishing service, offering around 300 popular “manga” titles to Japanese subscribers in the coming year.
From USA Today (via Smart Mobs):
Cell-phone comics use a technology called Comic Surfing, developed by Tokyo-based venture firm Celsys, which takes viewers through manga stories at a carefully calculated speed and sequence.
The manga frames are specially formatted to fit on tiny mobile phone screens. Pop-up frames and vibration during action scenes add to the drama. Cell-phone comics with preprogrammed sound effects are also coming soon…
This year, Germany celebrates the bicentennial of the death of Freidrich Schiller. As part of the commemoration, you can download a java application to your mobile phone containing 20 of his best known poems. (via textually)
An article in yesterday’s Christian Science Monitor looks at two research projects currently underway in Palo Alto, California – one at Xerox PARC, the other at Stanford. Both are building tools and devising methods to improve online reading, albeit by different approaches. The PARC project is developing ScentHighlights, an “enhanced skimming” function based on keywords and the associative processes of the human brain. On paper, we highlight important passages, or attach sticky notes, to make them more readily retrievable later on when we’re re-reading, studying, or compiling notes. The PARC researchers are taking this a few steps further, exploiting the unique properties (and addressing the unique challenges) of the online reading environment. With ScentHighlights, the computer observes what the reader is highlighting and selects other passages that it thinks might be relevant or useful:
We perform the conceptual highlighting by computing what conceptual keywords are related to each other via word co-occurrence and spreading activation. Spreading activation is a cognitive model developed in psychology to simulate how memory chunks and conceptual items are retrieved in our brain.
While the PARC team is focused on deepening the often fractured experience of reading online, where the amount of text is overwhelming, the Stanford project is experimenting with a method for sustained reading in an environment that can barely handle text at all: the tiny screens of cell phones and mobile devices. Using a technique called RSVP (Rapid Serial Visual Presentation), BuddyBuzz flashes words on the screen one at a time. It takes some getting used to, but apparently, readers can absorb up to 1,000 words per minute. Speed is adjustable, and the program is already set to make the tiny, natural pauses that come at commas and periods. The initial release of BuddyBuzz will syndicate stories from Reuters, CNET and a handful of popular blogs.
Missed this item from last month.. This fall, Harlequin, the leading publisher of “women’s fiction,” will release a series of titles for cell phones through distributor Vocel (who signed a deal with Random House earlier this year).
Harlequin will develop various applications, including daily-serialized novels by bestselling authors, romance-writing seminars and interactive pursuits such as helping to choose male cover models for upcoming novels or even using their camera phones to submit pictures of their own boyfriends as possible cover models.
Submit 1-minute low bandwidth narrative films to the 60 Second Story Competition, adminstered and judged by an interesting gathering of electronic writers, bloggers and publishers (including some of the folks at Grand Text Auto and Spineless Books). Stories must be submitted under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 License. It’s also worth mentioning that the contest is itself an entrant in another contest: the Contagious Media Showdown. The most contagious site (i.e. the one with the most hits in a three week period) wins. As of this writing, 60 Second Stories ranks 18th. “Many digital cameras and webcams allow you to take one minute of video and audio at resolutions suitable for the web. With all the mindless fluff, commercial hoohah, and charlatanism on the web, we deserve a few minutes of story, do we not? Why haven’t you done this already? Tell us a story.”
Could prove to be a pretty contagious little concept – stories small enough to sneeze. I hereby infect you with it..
Also, read how Mozilla is getting its fans to spread the word about Firefox through viral video.