The Ethos of "Life": digital writing and the temporal animation of space

When we strip the lexical band-aid ‘embodiment’ off the more than 350 year-old wound inflicted by the Cartesian split of mind and body, we find animation, the foundational dimension of the living. Everything living is animated. Flowers turn toward the sun; pill bugs curl into spheres; lambs rise on untried legs, finding their way into patterned coordinations. The phenomenon of movement testifies to animation as the foundational dimension of the living.

We propose that the importance of movement in the distribution of space and time is one of the things digital media works make palpable. While western aesthetics – consonant with its spatialised images of subjects and objects – has traditionally paid more attention to spatial form, this is being challenged by new forms of mobility made possible by digital media. These provide both the opportunity for immersion in mediated and programmed/programmable environments, but also the opportunity to move through existing and technologically augmented environments in different ways, using different surfaces and forms of literary inscription.

In these contexts, for example, the silent and stable forms of letters and words on a page that we associate with books take on an animatory force. Letters move and make sounds, as in the programmable works of writers such as John Cayley, Stephanie Strickland , Maria Mencia,, or else they are reclocated off the page so that one can touch and play with them (exemplary here is Camille Utterback’s ‘Text Rain’, or more recently, work being done in the CAVE environment at Brown University) , or else they are transported and translocated in processes that bear witness to movement and mobility through landscapes.

The programmable and interactive works that we analyse in this paper re-designate and redeploy of sensory ecologies in terms of movement through space. By introducing movement as an aesthetic dimension these new forms of writing and aesthetic practice implicitly acknowledge the importance of time or duration in the constitution of being, that is, in the constitution of objects, subjects and things which echo and mimic processes of ‘Life’.