The Electronic Manuscript
In a parallel era of changing approaches to reading and writing, the analogy of computer-mediated literature as electronic manuscript emphasizes the written word in a visual context. Contingently, there are works of electronic literature that incorporate elements of medieval manuscripts -- innovatively bringing an earlier age's emphasis on the visual presentation of words into the present.
Detail from Rob Kendall's The Soothcircuit, an electronic forecasting manuscript, created anew by each user. When s/he selects from the components of Battery, Lamp, Sky, Antenna, Resistor, Transistor, Speaker, Capacitor, and Ground, in response, The Soothcircuit builds intricate structures of visual text in an interactive generative structure. In Kendall's words:
"As the text moves down the screen, it emerges from darkness and grows more prominent, paralleling the dynamics of its content. The text in the North (top) position represents something hidden, vague, or obscure -- perhaps a distant source or goal. The text in the East (right) position represents something emergent. The text in the South position represents the element that dominates the reading. The text in the West represents something waning or receding." 
W ith their visual impact and their surprisingly beautiful emphasis on words, medieval manuscripts, are a cogent field of study and inspiration for the creation of electronic text. Additionally, the phrase "electronic manuscript" is increasingly apt in describing works -- such as Matt Huynh's vertical scrolling The Boat, (adapted from Nam Le's The Boat) in which a harrowing narrative of Vietnamese "boat people" refugees unfolds amidst animated falling rain, storm-rocking graphics, voiced laments, light and dark, moving text, and floating images. Rather than clearly fitting an established category (generative literature, hypertext literature, or interactive fiction, for instance) electronic manuscripts explore innovative ways of combining words and images on the computer screen.
"...until the new age and science of composition had been in existence some little time we could hardly expect to find that the contemporary writers possessed a vocabulary of agreed technical terms by which they could explain exactly what they were discussing," Dom Anselm Hughes writes in Early Medieval Music up to 1300.  Today, we are in a similar era of developing vocabularies to describe works of electronic literary art. Hughes' suggestion (in Early Medieval Music) to look at the works themselves is a useful approach.
A comparison of electronic literature with manuscript creation in a medieval past that was surprisingly technical in its practice is of contingent interest. For instance, in the opening sections to Introduction to Manuscript Studies  the documented progressions from papyrus making technologies, to paper making technologies, to the preparation of parchment -- the evolving copying technologies, the changes in instructions for the creation of initials -- are potent ancient echoes of the progression of HTML standards, the emergence of CSS, and evolving image display affordances.
Focusing on manuscript-like uses of dense and/or visual text and/or text and images, and/or horizontal or vertical scrolling, among other manuscript attributes, an exploration of different approaches to the electronic manuscript will continue to be presented in this content | code | process exhibition, which was begun in 2011 and has since been updated every few years.
Medieval manuscripts are not a source or inspiration for all of the works presented here. Nevertheless, in a similar era of changing ways of reading and writing, each work in this exhibition is of interest as regards creative practice in electronic literature. It should, however, be noted that this exploratory content | code | process website does not at this point intend to definitively categorize contemporary creative practice; rather it presents a diverse selection of examples for continuing study.
First presented at the 2002 Electronic Literature Organization Conference at UCLA, Talking Cure is a collaborative work by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, with Camille Utterback, Clilly Castiglia, and Nathan Wardrip-Fruin. Central to this interactive installation are intense portraits of the seated-in-a-chair viewer, created with three color-coded layers of text from sources such as Joseph Breuer's case study of Anna O. As the viewer participates/is immersed in a history of the "talking cure" in psychoanalysis, the hand written texts created during the Middle Ages to be read orally to the laity,  are echoed in the interaction of psychiatrist and patient and viewer -- in a contemporary three-dimensional text/image/audio dominated environment.
Detailed on Noah Wardrip-Fruin's website at http://www.hyperfiction.org/talkingcure/index.html, Talking Cure is a starting place for a look at contemporary electronic manuscripts. Information about how it was created is available in Roberto Simanowski's interview with Noah Wardrip-Fruin on artificial.dk at http://www.artificial.dk/articles/wardripfruin.htm
"The story is set just before the French Revolution in an alternate, magical universe."
In Emily Short's First Draft of the Revolution, (prototyped and produced by Liza Daly; final development and visual design: inkle) the narrative unfolds on letters which appear magically to hundreds-of-miles away recipients -- as if they were electronic mail. But immersed in the illusion of the ancient substrate of paper, our perception of the process is altered.
Warning that "It is dangerous to deceive a husband of magic-using rank..." the narrative opens with a letter to her husband from the primary correspondent, Juliette, who in Short's words "has been banished for the summer to a village above Grenoble: a few Alpine houses, a deep lake, blue sky, and no society." As the reader joins Juliette and her correspondents in the letter writing process, the necessity to work with the composition of the letters (they cannot be sent without interactive editing) involves the reader in an increasingly potent exchange of letters, one that parallels the power of ubicomp surveillance in our own world, while with the illusion of "linking paper" at the same time it conveys the past.
I n the late middle ages, there are indications that monks carried manuscripts around and read from them in local communities, whose inhabitants could not read.  As if they were PowerPoints, manuscripts were held on the laps of prelates or mounted on lecterns. The goal was to convey moral messages, for example bestiaries featured images of animals, whose illustrated lives promoted virtues. 
Contingently, the introduction of the written word into a spoken word culture where literature was heard may have influenced an approach to the manuscript as "something revealed visually to the understanding through the written word". Today, the sharing of the output of developing technologies by the carrying of manuscripts from community to community, is echoed in Nick Montfort's carrying his laptop from poetry space to poetry space to poetry space -- projecting code, reading the results aloud, and instructing audiences in coder craft. 
In a series of works reminiscent of traveling with manuscripts to be read aloud to communities in the Middle Ages, using vast databases of related words and phrases, new media poet Chris Funkhouser composes sound and projection "songs" in different ways and performs them Internationally. At the Electronic Literature Organization conference at Brown, he performed a MIDIPoetry song -- created using as software Mexican/Spanish poet Eugenio Tisselli's MIDIPoet, which enables real-time composition and performance of interactive visual poetry.
"I learned about Tisselli's program in 2008, when he and I participated in a literary arts festival at Brown University," Funkhouser writes on content | code | process. "Tisselli used MIDIPoet to propel a digital poetry performance (featuring graphics, text, and gesture) with a mobile phone -- an approach to presentation he also used at E-Poetry 2009 in Barcelona. Having known about MIDI-based art since the mid-90s, when friends of mine studying with George Lewis at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's iEar program were coordinating sound and video through MIDI, I was intrigued that a digital poet had engineered such a tool. I used MIDI once before, when an audio engineer who produced some recordings of mine at Multimedia University programmed a keyboard to collect samples of my voice reading lines, and I made a sound poem with them (see http://web.njit.edu/~funkhous/selections_2.0/content/mmu.html). Tisselli's arrangement at Interrupt, which allowed for the integration of textual components, planted a seed in my mind, a potential direction to explore at a future date."
for more information.
Maurice Benayoun: Labylogue
Labylogue, a tribute to Jorge Luis Borges' The Library of Babel, was a simulated three-dimensional large-scale visual poetry performance. In art spaces and museums in three different French speaking cities -- Brussels, Lyon, and Dakar -- Labylogue developed eight main themes that invited visitors to meet in the labyrinth and, as they conversed, immerse themselves in the accompanying text on the walls.
A textual labyrinth that converts sound to text image in a conversational environment, the seminal computer-mediated installation Labylogue is a simulated three-dimensional electronic manuscript that uses conversation between participants in different locations to create a literature of community discourse.
The project describes itself in this way:
"A mi-chemin entre le livre et la Bibliothèque de Babel de Borgès, les murs se tapissent de phrases générées en temps réel, qui sont autant d'interprétations du dialogue en cours. A son tour le texte fait l'objet d'une interprétation orale qui anime l'espace du labyrinthe tel un choeur de synthèse qui vagabonde sur les rives de la langue en action."
which can be roughly translated as:
"Halfway between the book and the Borges' Library of Babel, the walls are lined with phrases generated in real time, which are many performances of a continuing dialogue. The text then becomes the subject of an oral performance that -- like a synthesized chorus, vagabonding on the banks of the language in action -- animates the labyrinth space."
More information, an image, and credits are available at
Cynthia-Beth Rubin and Bob Gluck: Layered Histories: The Wandering Bible of Marseilles
Created in Toledo in about 1260, an illuminated Hebrew Bible was taken out of Spain in 1492 during the Expulsion of Jews from Spain. On their website describing the installation, The Jewish Museum in Prague notes that "It traveled to the Ottoman town of Safed in Northern Galilee, where it was amongst religious mystics seeking the means to repair the ills of the world (Tikkun ha-Olam). It subsequently disappeared until around 1894, when, mysteriously, three volumes of the Bible were discovered in the collection of the Bibliotheque Municipale of Marseilles."
In their computer-mediated interactive installation, Layered Histories: The Wandering Bible of Marseilles Cynthia-Beth Rubin and Bob Gluck involve the viewer in the known narrative of the Bible and in its unknown travels as imagined by the artists. As active participants in the narrative, viewers explore an electronic illuminated manuscript. And in the process, not only the user/viewer but also other viewers in the gallery participate in the experience.
To create the work, Bob Gluck did the interactive programming in Max/MSP/Jitter, and he also composed the music.
Cynthia-Beth Rubin created the visuals and narrative. She describes the process in this way: "I made complicated layered images in Photoshop, and then animated them in "Morph" by Gryphon Software. (no longer available, but I am still animating stills using other morphing software) I also used After Effects -- both to plan the changes for the morphs, and then to colorize and crop." She adds that although the animations are six seconds long in real time, "every viewer experience is different every time."
Cynthia-Beth Rubin: visuals, narrative
"The early literature of Ireland is so bound up with the early history, and the history so bound up and associated with tribal names, memorial sites, patronymics, and topographical nomenclature, that it presents a kind of heterogeneous whole, that which is recognised history running into and resting upon suspected or often even evident myth, while tribal patronymics and national genealogies abut upon both, and the whole is propped and supported by legions of place-names still there to testify, as it were, to the truth of all" - Douglas Hyde 
I ntertwining Irish history and generations of Irish American family memories in a work of polyphonic literature based on the rhythms of ancient Irish Poetry, the imagined lost Irish Sonata, the madrigal, streams and fountains, and Irish song, As if the memory was a song: From Ireland with Letters is an epic electronic manuscript told in the public space of the Internet. It could also be considered playable text or generative hyperfiction.
The role of displacement and disrupted tradition in the work of contemporary Irish authors  is paralleled in this epic Irish American electronic manuscript, which interweaves the stories of Walter Power -- who came to America as an Irish slave on The Goodfellow in 1654, stolen from his family by Cromwell's soldiers and sold in the Massachusetts Bay Colony when he was 14 years old -- and his descendant, 19th century Irish American sculptor Hiram Powers, who grew up on a Vermont farm and moved to Florence, Italy, where his work played a symbolic role in the fight against African American slavery in America.
Weaving through the composition process of From Ireland with Letters is a quixotic search for the mythical lost Irish sonata called up by Grattan Flood, in A History of Irish Music.  And addition to scored polyphonic text, the work is composed with techno-manuscript devices, such as arrays of marginalia that the reader produces at random.
B ut the narrator has made a discovery. Technology that enables him to make his mark upon these pages," Mark Marino writes on content | code | process to introduce his Marginalia in the Library of Babel. "He has discovered social bookmarking and social annotation, which has allowed him to annotate this already written world, and then to share these annotations -- opening up the possibility of not just gaining some power over the infinite (assuming that's possible) and communicating his little missives to others. He is writing his stories by talking to himself while pacing the halls of the Internet."
There are two versions of this story that offer much of the same content but that are essentially different. To follow Mark Marino's adventures in annotating the World Wide Web, begin with Marginalia in the Library of Babel on WRT: Writer Response Theory. This version was created with the social annotation software Diigo.
and then visit
Marino notes that
"The reason for the second version is one of the constant tropes of New Media: archiving and preservation. While I don't know the future of Diigo or even the web pages I annotated (indeed some of them live in the Internet Archive already, a.k.a the Wayback Machine), I do know that these pages will run on most browsers for the foreseeable future. To publish this story in New River Journal and to assure that the notes would be visible, I had to get some help building a standalone annotation system, one that is, ironically, not social. The pages had to go from living, breathing Web pages to copies."
To find out more about the creation of Marginalia in the Library of Babel, read Mark Marino's complete statement on content | code | process.
T o produce the collaborative AlphaAlpha, Brazilian artist Regina Pinto used a variety of graphic art, animation, video, website design, and sound software applications, including Adobe Premiere Elements 7.0, Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0, Dreamweaver 8.0, Flash 8.0, Photoshop 7.0 and Sound Forge 9.0. AlphaAlpha includes 365 illuminations of the letter "A" -- plus one more for the leap year -- from artists & poets from all around the world, including Brazil, USA, Canada, Chile, France, UK, Argentina, Finland, Croatia, Serbia, Germany, Uruguay, Spain, and Mexico.
Quoting Frederic W. Goudy's The Alphabet and Elements of Lettering, Pinto explains that "The concept of this netbook is the proper "history of writing, which is, in a way, the history of the human race, since in it are bound up, severally and together, the development of thought, of expression, of art, of intercommunication, and of mechanical invention." 
For more information, visit her statement about AlphaAlpha on content | code | process.
G ottfried Haider's Hidden in Plain Sight is a continually changing, elegant game that creates a code-based literary environment.
"I made the work by modifying the Quake III source code to allow for replacing all the game's textures in real time. Apart from this, there is also a script running outside the game environment which continuously compiles first the compiler and then the Quake III source code. The (textual) output of this process is immediately turned into a texture and displayed in-game," Hader notes to describe the creation of this work. When the compilation of the game is finished, that iteration of the game is ended, and a newly created iteration begins."
User input screen from The Qi Project
W ith quiet elegance, The Qi Project brings the question of humanity and what means to be human into the realm of electronic manuscripts. And -- eliciting answers from its readers, displaying the responses -- this interactive installation/webwork is a cogent reminder of who we are in an increasingly complex and computer-mediated world.
On content | code | process, Nanette Wylde describes The Qi Project, created with Flash, Final Cut, Perl, and CGI, as "an inquiry into the nature of humanity and what it means to be human at this moment in time."
"Qi is a Chinese word which literally means 'air' or 'breath,'" the artist explains. "It is considered to be the circulating life force."
More information is available on content | code | process, at
M edieval manuscripts documented in online resources and databases are useful not only to medieval scholars but also to writers and artists who are interested in how text was used visually in the Middle Ages. For instance, the comprehensive British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts can be searched by keyword. Searches return images of the manuscript pages as well as bibliographic information.
A search for "glossing" reveals, among other things, H orace's Odes (French) with decorated initials and handwritten glosses.
A search for "music" reveals, among other things, an example of Medieval multimedia: D avid with his harp and prayer from the beginning of a Dutch Gradual.
And a search for "calendars" produces, among many others
Other manuscript resources on the World Wide Web include:
Q uranic manuscripts - collected by Prof. B. Wheeler
I luminated Islamic Manuscript - Yale University Library
T he John Plummer Database of Medieval Manuscripts, a part of The Index of Christian Art, Princeton University
C ommissioned by ELMCIP for the 2012 Remediating the Social exhibition in Edinburgh, The Broadside of a Yarn is an innovative, richly detailed 21st century locative broadside, for which J.R. Carpenter created a series of computer-generated narrative dialogues that are accessed via QR codes.
One generator "is composed entirely of dialogue from Joseph Conrad's The Secret Sharer. Another contains lines of dialogue from Shakespeare's The Tempest," she explains in her content | code | process statement. "Details from many a high sea story have been netted by this net-worked work. The combinatorial powers of computer-generated narrative conflate and confabulate characters, facts, and forms of narrative accounts of fantastical islands, impossible pilots, and voyages into the unknown undertaken over the past 2340 years."
Existing not only as a series of gallery mounted "map squares" of dense images found and/or created, in Edinburgh but also as a live many-voiced performance, The Broadside of a Yarn was/is in her words "a pervasive performative wander through a sea of sailors' yarns".
Details about the creation of this work are also available in J.R. Carpenter, "The Broadside of a Yarn. A Situationist Strategy for Spinning Sea Stories Ashore", Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts 18:5, 2013. pages 88-95.
Brian Thomas: The World of an Idea in the Life of Henry David Thoreau
The first new media artist to create a comprehensive work based on the idea of a Monastery library is Brian Thomas whose seminal If Monks Had Macs, first created with Philip A. Mohr, in 1988 -- before the advent of the World Wide Web -- has been reissued by rivertext. "Monks was originally written in HyperCard. The current version, which works on the Windows as well as the Macintosh platform was written with Runrev Revolution," Thomas explains. (Note that the "HyperCard descended" Runrev Revolution is now called LiveCode.)
The new If Monks had Macs CD-ROM includes an ebook with interactive notebook features that use literary analysis tools to look at the work of Henry David Thoreau. Like much of Thomas' work,
this edition of Thoreau is interesting, complex, detailed, and it provides a gateway to new ways of exploring literary texts. To find out more, visit
"The World of an Idea in the Life of Henry David Thoreau"
To find out more about the ebooks in If Monks Had Macs, visit http://www.rivertext.com/monks3.html
For information on the new version of If Monks Had Macs,
Samantha Gorman: The Book of Kells
Samantha Gorman's Deconstruction of The Book of Kells (detail above) is, in the words of her introduction, "a weaving of historical study, literary theory, travel narrative, meditative prose, mystical contemplation, and academic inquiry." Informed by onsite study of the circa 800 AD manuscript (housed at Trinity College, Dublin) and by her work with hypertext theory and practice, her deconstruction immerses the reader in an exploration of recurring patterns, hypertextual paths, linking, and intuitive linking.
Each page of the website includes images from The Book of Kells; lexias in which various narrators address the content, the design and the creation of the manuscript; and a node-carrying Celtic knot icon, based on the Celtic knots which occur and reoccur in The Book of Kells. Linking strategies emphasize relationships between design elements, creative process, and content -- guiding the reader in a nonsequential exploration of the creative practice that informs The Book of Kells.
I n The Decorated Letter, J.J.G. Alexander writes about the letters in The Book of Kells in this way:
"The letter shapes stand out from the confused mass of pattern by their purple or orange outline. The repeated circles which are like enameled escutcheons from hanging bowls, seem to revolve before our eyes. The L shaped panel at the bottom right corner also serves as a stabilizing frame, preventing the rioting patterns from exploding out of the page." 
C anadian-based digital poet Jim Andrews used Adobe Director to create The Pen. The work is difficult to convey in a still image because it relies on the constant motion of letters to make a restless, dense, brilliantly colored series of animated letters that suggest their meaning with a continually shifting visual impact. It can be seen in motion at http://vispo.com/nio/pens (shockwave plugin is required to view the interactive version)
With a constant of the letters T I M E, the work is a series of short digital poems with titles such as "Time", "Don't just sit there", "Meant to be", "an unfinished poem", "Pen is as pen would", "all the live long day", "poesy machine", "& what you make of it".
" I n this dazzling new culture, a book was not an isolated object on a dusty shelf: book truly spoke to book, and writer to scribe, and scribe to reader, from one generation to the next. These books were, as we would say in today's jargon, open, interfacing, and intertextual -- glorious literary smorgasbords in which the scribe often tried to include a bit of everything, from every era, language, and style known to him," Thomas Cahill observes. 
1. Kendall, Rob introductory page for The Soothcircuit.
2. Hughes, Dom Anselm "The Birth of Polyphony" in Early Medieval Music up to 1300, Volume II of the New Oxford History of Music. London: Oxford University Press, 1954. p. 270
3. Clemens, R and T.Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007.
4. the conjunction of oral literature and reading in the Middle Ages was set forth in a series of panels
Reading The Middle Ages, an International Graduate Student Conference
hosted by the UC Berkeley Program in Medieval Studies on March 25, 2011.
Several papers were of particular interest in the context of this content | code | process feature:
Amelia Garcia, (Simon Fraser University, Department of English) "United Through Time: The Oral Connection of Vernacular Texts in Arundel 292", in which she looked at how written bestiaries -- that used the lives of animals to teach the living of human lives -- were carried into communities and read aloud.
Other works of interest in the context of content | code | practice, were Deirdre Jackson's (British Library, Department of Manuscripts) work on the "Cantigas de Santa Maria", which include music as well as visuals and text and Matthew Sergi's (UC Berkeley, Department of English) talk on interactive readership in "The Chance of the Dice". In this work, created by a medieval poet, fictional/semi-fictional texts were written and numbered and then produced by a throw of the dice. As each player received a text, their character was defined, and in the whole process, a kind of story was generated.
7. Alexander, J.J.G., The Decorated Letter. New York: George Braziller, 1978. p. 7
8. Nick Montfort's website is available at http://nickm.com
9. Hyde, Douglas, A Literary History of Ireland From Earliest Times to the Present Day 1899. p. 56.
10 . Flood, G. A History of Irish Music. Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1906. pp. 19-20.
11. Frederic W. Goudy, The Alphabet and Elements of Lettering, Chapter 1: "The Beginnings of the Alphabet". The source was an online version that is no longer available.
12.Alexander, 1978. p. 42
13. Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization, the Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. NY: Nan A. Talese/Anchor Books, 1995. p. 163
14. Michael Joyce, Of Two Minds, Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics, Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1995. pp. 23-24
Index to The Electronic Manuscript
Of Two Minds,
Michael Joyce observes that:
Mock epic heroism
The decorated letter
T he works displayed here are only a beginning of looking at how contemporary electronic manuscripts refect concerns of a similar time. There are also many "portfolio" pages of by artists and arts organizations -- such as William Wiley's home page -- that utlize manuscript-like vibrant imagery in combination with text and/or the idea of repositories of information.
T he Chicano Movement- Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project