Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 and Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory at York University, Canada

Atsuhiro Ito

Michael’s presentation about Carsten Nicolai (a.k.a. Alva Noto) reminded me of another artist, who has collaborated with Nicolai in the past: Atsuhiro Ito. He’s a Japanese visual artist, based in Tokyo, who moved into music/noise and live performance using the tools of his visual art practice—fluorescent lights. In this way, Ito is very much of the same lineage of transmedia artists as Laurie Anderson: by its very form and presentation, their work refuses any clean definition or taxonomy.

Here’s a great interview with Ito, wherein he explains his process, and here’s a great example of him at work on stage.

Thu, November 9 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: sRoberts

Question of the day

What is the relationship between (the conceptual techno model of interacting with text) “cybertext” and future “hypermedia”? How does one constructed the other?


Wed, November 8 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: yolanda

Question (perhaps meanderingly so)

To put it bluntly, Vannevar Bush’s ‘memex’ is our phone, our computer, the internet, our hyperlinks and hashtags and chains. Again bluntly, it is our current lives. That’s not difficult to interpret. What is difficult to interpret is the idea that such devices and tools are placeholders for knowledge, and not simply information. Bush writes of how, “Presumably man’s spirit should be elevated if he can better review his shady past and analyze more completely and objectively his present problems.” And yet, our personal (and I stress here personal) devices have been, for the most part, selfishly appropriated, not for knowledge, not even for information, but, it seems, for memory. And not even collective memory, but individual memory. These are MY songs, MY notes, MY photographs, MY ideas. They may be shared and deposited and transmitted, sent through the web or through text or through email, ‘cited’ on Facebook or forwarded, but they are, in my mind, always assumed to be mine.

In thinking through this rather pessimistic formulation, my question is, have we developed our current commercial technology as tools with which to better ourselves and our world? If VR will never be an empathy machine, is it simply entertainment? If the internet isn’t globally democratized and cannot be used or accessed by everyone, has it’s mission as a global information and knowledge exchange tool failed? And if there are 263 selfies on my phone but not a single article about the experience of another suffering or achieving or persevering, if I never use it to learn, what is the point of this machine, more powerful than anything possible in Bush’s time, and why is it in my pocket? Have these devices simply fallen into obsolescence when it comes to knowledge? Where, in all our technology, is ‘knowledge’ that can be applied not simply as experience, or for experience, but as applicable and implementable towards understanding, empathy, and change?

Finally, how do we reconcile our various technological forms into one ‘knowledge stream’? Or, can we?

Wed, November 8 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: Marko Djurdjic

Questions about ergodic texts and technogenesis…

A few queries raised by this week’s readings…

  • Aarseth seems to fetishize interactivity and participation above the potential for meaning-making in any given text, thus privileging form ahead of content. Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus and Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return may be non-ergodic, while the Call of Duty video game series is ergodic; yet it would be ridiculous to argue that Call of Duty offers its “readers” more power as authors of meaning in the text than AO or TP’s “readers.” (Witness the online profusion of fan theories and speculation about TP in all its facets.) How can the value of cybertexts be understood in a way that is not simply a formal fetish?
  • Further, Aarseth does not adequately address the fact that ergodic narratives, however seemingly extemporaneous, are nevertheless limited by the calculations, algorithms, and logic internal to the (cyber)text. This is in addition to the inaccessibility that is formally integral to ergodic literature and cybertexts. Despite their superficial interactivity, does the closure of possibility and ambiguity in ergodic literature and cybertexts make them more ideologically coercive than other textual forms?
  • Hayles’ How We Think (2012) could be considered a lengthy rumination on McLuhan’s axiom that “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us,” foregrounding the epigenetic influence of technology on cognition, perception, and knowledge production. This raises a question (similar to the ones posed below by Kate) about a potential danger of predictive algorithms in global information systems: they tend towards closed feedback loops, gradually shearing off aberrations, outliers, deviation, and, consequently, possibility. This points towards a narrowing, as opposed to a flowering or proliferation, of human understanding (Cf. Nicholas Carr, Eli Pariser). If our technology and media are indeed, per McLuhan, protheses and extensions of the human, ought we not treat technology with the same degree of mistrust, inquisition, and even persecution with which humans have treated each other each other throughout history? Should we not more aggressively interrogate and intervene in our technology before its ill effects reach critical mass?

Wed, November 8 2017 » Aarseth, McLuhan, books, hypermedia » No Comments » Author: sRoberts


In Ergodic texts, Espen Aarseth talks about how trying to understand ergodic texts by traditional standards is not possible, because they are doing different things (aphoria vs ambiguity, for example). How do we keep from falling into that same tendency with future cinema, by comparing it too rigidly to traditional or familiar film practices?

Wed, November 8 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: onella

How We Think – a digital companion.

reading about the co-evolution of humanity and technology in a print, paperbound book?

I found this digital companion Hayles created to give readers access to the same data used to craft the print-based book. Some links are not working though :(


Wed, November 8 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: Daniel

Questions for today – or another week? Hypermedia/narrative/digital storytelling/twine fictions

Not quite sure how I got so mixed up, but for today I read As We May Think by Bush and Database as a Symbolic Form by Manovich, a variant of his Database/Narrative text.

Reading these texts, a few questions or points of discussion that resonated for me were:

  • The importance of the database interface in pulling in audiences. (For example, Netflix is doing this really well and is seeing a lot of success compared to other streaming services like CraveTV.)
  • Despite many technological innovations which enable both a database structure and a selecting mechanism, I would argue the sheer volume that has been accumulated and a lack of regulation over what goes on the internet (which is the primary tool we use to access data) dilutes and clouds the meaningful data that’s out there. In this regard, I would say that critical thought is more necessary now than ever. (For example, identifying fake news, biases, etc.) So, how much does the plethora of data or choice paralyze us as opposed to propel us?
  • Discussion around algorithms and their role in helping to select from the vast array of data made me consider Google searching and the fact that there are a number of parameters that can enable more refined, meaningful searches. I would argue that, despite the proliferation of Google search use, these remain relatively unused and unknown. Are these an example of how we might use advanced algorithms to sift through the muck?

Wed, November 8 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: kate.womby.browne

Google spatial sound SDKs


Wed, November 8 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: mtrommer

Presentation and Questions: Espen Aarseth on Cybertext and Ergodic Literature

The impact of digital technology on textuality and the question of what should be considered a literary text are at the heart of the introduction to Espen Aarseth’s Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. The cybertext is any text-based work possessing an information feedback loop that functions, in Aarseth’s words, as “a machine for the production of variety of expression” (3). He identifies two characteristics of these texts that he returns to repeatedly in this opening chapter: the “intricacies of the medium as an integral part of the literary exchange” and the reader/user as deeply integrated in the meaning-making process (1).

To read ergodic literature is to be acutely aware of the reading process, as “nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text” (1). Cybertexts are capable of branching in different directions that will cut off other parts of the text based on choices made by the reader. “When you read from a cybertext,” he writes, “you are constantly reminded of inaccessible strategies and paths not taken, voices not heard” (3). Ergodic literature is not ambiguous in the manner of traditional literature: “Inaccessibility is not ambiguity—it is absence of possibility, an aporia” (3).

Notably, those characteristics—the constructive role of both the medium and the reader in the reading experience—are not limited to electronic or digital platforms, although this technology has greatly expanded the range of possible written expression. Aarseth views cybertexts not as a literary genre but rather “a broad textual media category” (5). As the examples provided by Aarseth demonstrate, a cybertext can be paper- or computer-based, codex or software: from the ancient oracular text the I Ching and Guillaume Apollinaire’s poetic “calligrammes” to experimental novels (B. S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates, Milorad Pavic’s Landscape Painted with Tea) and Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) like Adventure. The genres he covers in the book further speak to the category’s breadth: hypertext, text-based adventure games, computer-generated narrative and participatory world-simulation systems, and online social-textual MUDs.

As a result, the pleasure of the ergodic literature reader is different than the “[s]afe, but impotent” pleasure that awaits the reader of a traditional narrative (4). Rather than a voyeur, the reader who engages with the cybertext is a player, a gambler; the cybertext is a “game-world or world-game,” theirs to explore in ways that traditional narratives—despite the rhetoric of literary theorists and critics—cannot offer. Ergodic literature embodies a tension that represents “a struggle not merely for interpretative insight but also for narrative control” (4).

The resistance of traditional literary scholars to the inclusion of cybertexts in their field of study typically takes three (conflicting) forms: all literature, to some extent, is “indeterminate, nonlinear, and different for every reading”; the reader of any text can only make sense of it by making choices; and a text cannot really be nonlinear since “the reader can read it only one sequence at a time” (2). The medium’s contributions to the form and function of the text is discounted.

Aarseth traces this misconception of ergodic literature to a rhetorical model of reading adopted by many critics, theorists, and readers: the idea of a narrative text as a labyrinth, game, or imaginary world where “the reader can explore at will, get lost, discover secret paths, play around, follow the rules, and so on” (3). This misrepresentation of the relationship between the reader and the text conflates the mutable narrative paths of the cybertext with the ambiguity found in literature with otherwise linear expression. In essence, he claims, “the narrative is not perceived as a presentation of a world, but rather as that world itself” (3-4).

The image of the labyrinth is a potent one for Aarseth and helps to illustrate the conflation of these different textualities. Citing Penelope Reed Doob’s characterization of the labyrinth’s “complex artistry, inextricability, and difficult process” as a central metaphor and motif of classical and medieval culture (6), he stresses the distinction between the two varieties of labyrinth: unicursal and multicursal. The former consists of a single winding and turning path that leads to a hidden centre while the latter is more maze-like and confronts the wanderer with choices, puzzles, and dead ends.

Traditionally, representations of the labyrinth in classical and medieval art were unicursal while the literary maze was multicursal (Aarseth acknowledges this paradox). The two models co-existed until the Renaissance, functioning as a rich signifier of “complex design, artistic order and chaos (depending on point of view), inextricability or impenetrability, and the difficult progress from confusion to perception” (6). The Renaissance saw the multicursal conception of the labyrinth replace the unicursal as the dominant model; labyrinthine and linear came to be regarded as incompatible terms; and the labyrinth’s suitability as a metaphor for the reading of literature was degraded. Aarseth simply wants to reunite the two forms in order to study them using the same theoretical framework.

There are two challenges in the process of expanding traditional literary studies to make room for cybertexts and ergodic literature:

First, exemplified by the misuse of the “labyrinth” as analogous to the reading of literature, is the application of theories of literary criticism to this new field without reassessing their terms and concepts.

Secondly, the framing of any new textual media as radically different from old forms and an objective, autonomous catalyst for social change and political or intellectual liberation. In the context of literature, Aarseth identifies the belief that digital technology allows the reader to become the author: “the reader is allowed to create his or her own ‘story’ by ‘interacting’ with ‘the computer’” (14).

Ultimately, the concept of the cybertext reveals how difficult it is to separate the “text” from the “reading” of that text. It highlights the ways in which the perceived divide between the intentional object of the text and the mental event of the reading is unavoidably impacted by contextual events such as editing, translation, marketing, and criticism—this is just as true for traditional, non-ergodic texts. The cybertext represents a shift in focus from the “traditional threesome of author/sender, text/message, and reader/receiver to the cybernetic intercourse” (22) illustrated in figure 1.1.

Aarseth wants to construct “a model of textual communication that will accommodate any type of text” (18). By expanding “the scope of literary studies to include phenomena that today are perceived as outside of, or marginalized by, the field of literature” (18), he is not advocating a square peg/round hole approach of looking for “traditional literary values in texts that are neither intended nor structured as literature” (22). Rather, it is a desire to redefine what can be considered literary in the first place.

(1) The old standby: What application does the idea of cybertext and ergodic literature have to future cinema? What would (or does) ergodic cinema look like?
(2) Norman Klein writes in The Vatican to Vegas: A History of Special Effects that labyrinths encourage “a mood of passivity” in the user: “It’s the ergonomic pleasure of feeling trapped” (Klein 106). Is the reading of cybertexts (be they regarded as labyrinth, game, world) as active as Aarseth seems to believe?
(3) The pleasures of literature are not purely narrative-based. With a few exceptions, the examples given by Aarseth in this introduction are forms of fictional writing. Are the pleasures of cybertexts primarily about narrative? How does ergodic literature potentially change those other literary pleasures?
(4) Aarseth writes that the difference between traditional and ergodic literature is not “a difference between games and literature but rather between games and narratives” (5). The sense of play and gaming has been a recurring theme in the course. Is future cinema inextricably linked with gaming?

Wed, November 8 2017 » Aarseth, Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: David

Some questions for class…

All the required texts for this week (Hayles/Bush/Aarseth) were written ‘conventionally’. Why didn’t they attempt to articulate any of the methodologies they were advocating?

Why can’t narrative be conceived as a database, perhaps one that is more suited to the functioning of the human brain? Perhaps we need ambiguity (This is discussed to some extent @ around page 287 in the Hayles, but could be taken further IMO)?

Wed, November 8 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: mtrommer