Transliteracy: A New Link

Recently, while researching other online new media courses and developing the syllabus for the Jan. 2011 online MA in New Media Narratives course, I was introduced to the Creative Research Centre (CRC) at Montclair State University. The director, Neil Baldwin shared some background on the centre with me and it's great to *meet* other academics interested in transdisciplinary/transliterate creative practise. Today, the Transliteracy Research Group has been added to the CRC's ever-evolving bibliography of links and connections.

Have a look at the CRC's Danceaturgy and Nell Painter's Artist Statement (she's the virtual artist in residence) that highlights issues of transdisciplinarity and digital literacy.

If you have any links  on transdisciplinary, transliteracy, new media and/or creative practise you'd like to share with me, please e-mail me: jess AT

Note: Image is by Nell Painter and is from the CRC's homepage.

Literacies of Handclapping

I heard this fascinating programme on BBC Radio 4 this week. It's on Listen Again for just a few days so I'm pasting all the info here for future reference. Definitely worth catching whilst it's available if you can because it outlines a whole set of of very ancient literacies which are part of the transliterate universe.

Put Your Hands Together

B00sq1vv_303_170 In a self-consciously clap-happy exploration of one of the most delightful and satisfying forms of human action and expression, Nick Baker investigates the meanings and motivations, the sounds and symbolism, the elation and frustration of ritually striking one hand with another.
The clapping rhythms of football, flamenco, the nursery and the Pentecostal church are all biologically linked yet subtly different. In this anatomy of a basic human ritual, Nick has collected claps as far apart as Fiji – where a clapping ritual accompanies a narcotic-taking ceremony – and China, where young women on busy high streets clap to attract attention to what's on offer in the stores. Choreographer Luke Creswell, an expert clapper, collects clap-routines in bars all over the world.
What's linked in all cases, according to Professor Colwyn Trevarthen, is humanity's attunement to one of its many internal biological clocks – the one that gives us walking, chewing and nodding our head. He invites listeners to join in with a simple experiment to demonstrate the rhythm of life.
Babies clap early & show awareness of hands in the womb. The clap is not the basis of language development, it is language development. It is display, performance, shared meaning & shared time. Gospel singer Ruby Turner provides musical commentary on how the hand clap moves from babies, through Sunday School, the playground and the church towards soul and R and B.
Do our biological predecessors clap? Perhaps we've been exposed to too many tea commercials. Or maybe chimpanzees have been too exposed to us, primatologist Alison Fletcher explains.

Producer: Tamsin Hughes
A Testbed production for BBC Radio 4.
Thu 17 Jun 2010
BBC Radio 4

Lunch at the Internet Archive

Internet Archive, 300 Funston, San FranciscoIf you find yourself in San Francisco on a Friday, you might want to consider making the trip to 300 Funston Avenue to have lunch with some quite remarkable people.  The Internet Archive was founded by Brewster Kahle in 1996 and has been crawling the web ever since.

I can search for the trAce Online Writing Centre, founded in 1995, and find copies of the site archived several times a year for ten years. I'd never really imagInternet Archive Friday lunchined, though, that the Internet Archive had a physical existence, so it was quite surreal to find myself inside a large re-purposed church on a residential street near the Golden Gate Park having lunch with 30 or so of the 300-strong IA team. Brewster Kahle himself was there along with special guest Ted Nelson, who is donating his personal archive. As I understand it, anyone is welcome to the lunch. The price you pay is to stand up and introduce yourself as everyone goes around the table and updates the group on that week's archive work. 

The archive is not just webpages. After lunch a few of us went around the corner to see a dozen or so people diligently scanning, page by page, hundreds of books donated to the archive. I filmed one of the workers, Rebecca, for a while as she described the process – the image is rather unclear at the start but gets better towards the end.

What does all this mean for transliteracy? I guess it's about the literacy of memory. The question of how we archive digital work and preserve it for future generations to access is fraught with problems as technology evolves and, ironically, digitising books won't be the answer unless the digitised work itself can still be read – but I'm sure Brewster Kahle is onto that.

I strongly recommend regular visits to the archive online, and in San Francisco too if you can make it. The whole venture is inspiring in its ambition and reach.

A few more pics here.

Electronic Literature Directory launches


The Electronic Literature Directory is a resource for readers and writers of born-digital literature. Created by the Electronic Literature Organization, it provides an extensive database listing electronic works, their authors, and their publishers. The descriptive entries are drafted by a community of e-lit authors who also tag each work and identify the techniques used in its creation. Discussions of entries are ongoing and offer a networked, peer-to-peer model for literary review.

The new version of the Directory promises to be a great resource of e-literature, and already contains a substantial amount of work, but it's just the beginning, there is much more to add! Creating, reading and critiquing electronic literature is a transliterate practice – let's contribute! Anyone with an account can submit entries to the Directory (but authors may not write about their own works) and entries must be about e-literature (defined below) although e-lit antecedents, such as Raymond Queneau's 100,000,000,000,000 Poems, are included.

Electronic Literature refers to works with important literary aspects that take advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer.

See also the lively debate here: Electronic Literature Directory Gets a Redesign, in response to the question posed, "What do you think about electronic literature? Has it lived up to the hype?"

Transliteracy and Animals

BlueWhale I recently came across a mention of naturalist Lyall Watson's story of an encounter between a lone elephant and a blue whale swimming just off-shore from where the elephant was standing and facing out to sea. Apparently the elephant was heard to be expressing all kinds of sounds, as if in conversation with the whale. I don't know any more about this and have ordered Watson's book Elephantoms to find out. But whether true or not, the mental image is astounding and inspiring, isn't it?AfricanElephant111

It reminded me of how, as a child, I used to wonder about the voice of my pet dog Sarah. What would it sound like if she spoke to me in English? I imagined her voice as soft, friendly and female. It always felt as if this was a potential communication, just out of reach but hindered by our two very different lifeworlds and physiologies. What would it take, I used to wonder, to bridge that gap beween us?

And then there is eco-philosopher David Abrams'  description of an encounter on a steep mountainside in the Himalayas. Resting on a rock, he was idly rolling a silver coin across his knuckles when he realised that the glinting metal had attracted the attention of a condor which now flew towards him:

“As the great size of the bird became apparent, I felt my skin begin to crawl and come alive, like a swarm of bees all in motion, and a humming grew loud in my ears. The coin continued rolling along my fingers. The creature loomed larger, and larger still, until, suddenly, it was there – an immense silhouette hovering just above my head, huge wing-feathers rustling ever so slightly as they mastered the breeze. My fingers were frozen, unable to move; the coin dropped out of my hand. And then I felt myself stripped naked by an alien gaze infinitely more lucid and precise than my own. I do not know for how long I was transfixed, only that I felt the air streaming past naked knees and heard the wind whispering in my feathers long after the Visitor had departed."(1)

To date, our deliberations about transliteracy have focussed on the human, but what about the literacies needed (those already used and those with future potential) for communication with the non-human world, and between its members themselves? Such a discussion would take us a long way from technology and towards a very different set of faculties. Are we ready to encompass it?

(1) Abram, D. 1997, The Spell of the Sensuous, Vintage, New York, p.24

Transliteracy: some thoughts on themes and common ground

Transliteracy_conference wordle  At the recent transliteracy conference, one conversation touched upon the question of whether it was appropriate to have a definition for transliteracy. Although the presentations covered a rich mix of story-telling, digital and transdisciplinary art, anthropology and critical literacies, each presenter was, nonetheless, able to describe what they consider the relevance of the concept of transliteracy to their own research and discipline. This would seem to indicate that the working definition is fit-for-purpose, at least in initiating debate, engagement, if not always common ground. continue reading

Continue reading

you’re a blockhead, @charliebrown

In 2007, I gave a presentation at The Aesthetics of Trash: Reassessing Animation and the Comic at MMU about the internet and comics.

was less concerned with 'webcomics', which are essentially the
reproduction of print comics or panels on the web, but with the idea of
comics populating the web, using the unique qualities of both forms to
create new stories and engage the reader in new ways. I was interested
in the use of comics graphical style and character design as a way to
link a number of media together to create an expanded 'universe'
through using a mix of blogs, flickr sets, websites, tweets, video and
print to tell their stories, develop characters and create worlds.

In Understanding Comics,
Scott McCloud uses the term 'closure' to describe the way a reader is
guided from panel to panel on a comics page, hopping the gaps or
gutters between images
. Like a film editor or writer, McCloud suggests that the spaces
between the panels are as important as the panels themselves, the
spaces being where we as readers take the conceptual leap from one
moment to the next, fill in gaps and reach a better understanding of
the story and characters we are encountering.

I decided to look at McCloud's six types of closure and to expand
on them to attempt to create a possible framework for telling stories

Continue reading

What is Transliteracy? Yes, I’m asking again!

The detailed “Working Definition” that I see to the right of
the latest post every time I visit only goes some way towards
answering this question for me, but raises many more questions along that way.
Of course, I’m not the first to ask these and some transliterate
gurus have provided some pretty good answers to some of them… but the
discussion isn’t over yet, so raising them again may elicit some useful

Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact
across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through
handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.

 The context of and need for this emerging definition are
documented by seven highly qualified writers in the article Transliteracy:
Crossing divides
suggested as Background Reading for this blog. I’ve read it, a few times. So
why my need to grapple? With all the work that’s already gone into it and
especially if, as the article states, transliteracy is not a new behaviour, why
is it still a “working” definition?

Perhaps it’s because this comprehensive statement uses so
many words that signify more than one thing; suggesting so many required skills
that I wonder if anyone can ever be truly transliterate. It seems to start off

Read? Yes. Write? Yes. Interact? Yes. Across a range of
platforms? Er… ye-es…. Wait,… how many platforms? All of them? All the time?
Some of them? Some of the time? Which ones? Simultaneously? Consecutively?
Transformatively? All of the above? And what exactly are these platforms, tools and media?
Signing? As in hieroglyphics, or signing for the deaf, or iconography, or traffic
signs…? Come to think of it… Read? Write? Technically? With or without
spellchecker? With what levels of comprehension and intent?

Full of these thoughts, I tweeted on Mon 26 Oct 2009 … “Is
multiliteracy different from transliteracy?” Toby Moores aka sleepydog replied that
“transliteracy is transient – it helps to be multiliterate to see transliterate
opportunities which then become new literacies”.

Is transliteracy partly an attitude then, rather than an
accumulation of a minimum number of skills? Is it the willingness and desire to
transition between media, learning what one needs to know as one goes, to
create or interpret content that is as close as possible in form to the
original content in the original medium, while accepting that it must
inevitably be different and differently apprehended in its new form?

I say “form” deliberately. The article notes that “the word
‘transliteracy’ is derived from the verb ‘to transliterate’, meaning to write
or print a letter or word using the closest corresponding letters of a
different alphabet or language.” This does not mean to “translate”. For
example, one might transliterate the Hebrew word “רוח” as “ruwach”. This would enable those who use Latin rather than
Hebrew script to say the word, but not to understand it.

Continue reading

TRG launches today!!!

Since transliteracy research began at DMU in 2005 under the umbrella of PART (Production & Research in Transliteracy), group members have produced a significant range of projects, events, presentations and publications, stimulating an informal research network around the theory and practice of transliteracy.

Sue Thomas and Kate Pullinger have now established The Transliteracy Research Group with the aim of focusing PART's work yet more closely. TRG will continue to draw in a broad coalition of theorists and practitioners, both from DMU and other international institutions and organizations, whilst continuing  to develop our already strong links with business, local community, and the broader cultural sector. A major strength of transliteracy events at DMU is that participants have come from academia, the arts, information sciences, pedagogical researchers, and the creative industries, and this has impacted in many different areas.

The Transliteracy Research Group (TRG), is a research-focussed think-tank and creative laboratory.  The public face of the group resides here, on this new blog. It will be run by Thomas and Pullinger, with regular contributions from the following De Montfort staff, Phd students, and graduates of the online MA in Creative Writing and New Media:  Tia Azulay, Heather Conboy, Gareth Howell, Anietie Isong, Jess Laccetti, Kirsty McGill, and Christine Wilks.

Please join us as we develop this new field of academic research. You can contribute via comments to the blog or join the community 'Transliteracy Notes', designed by Gareth Howell.

As well as the new research group, we would like to bring to your attention a new resource, the Creative Writing and New Media Archive, an archive of all the Guest Lectures given during the four years of the online MA in Creative Writing and New Media. This archive contains lectures from theorists and practitioners as varied as Christy Dena, Rita Raley, Alan Sondheim, Caitlin Fisher, and John Cayley.  Created by CWNM graduate and digital artist Christine Wilks, this resource will be of value to practitioners, students and academics with an interest in transliteracy, digital fiction, digital art, e-poetry, and cross-media.  Please feel free to use this archive and discuss it in 'Transliteracy Notes'.

We will be hosting a day-long Transliteracy Conference on Tuesday 9 Feb, 2010, at the brand-new Phoenix Square Digital Media Centre, Leicester, UK.  Please watch for our Call for Presentations which we will be sending out next week.

Dipping my toes in the water

Thank you, Sue, for welcoming us to the blog.

I'm looking forward to contributing some thoughts on my journey towards transliteracy, although not without some trepidation in the august presence of the other contributors. I've been online for the majority of most days in the past twelve years or so, but I'm a relative newbie when it comes to the in-depth exploration of the undulating and tangential web.

The MA in Creative Writing and New Media that I've just completed under the expert guidance of Sue Thomas and Kate Pullinger opened my eyes to art and content possibilities that I had not encountered before. Because I hadn't even known that they existed, I had never looked for them, despite my love affair with online search.

I suppose this is one of the most valuable things I took from the course: that the journey in the networked world is inevitably a communal one to at least some degree … to expand our knowledge and insight and to grow as 21st century people, we need not only our lovely machines and ever-cleverer software, but also other fellow travellers as companions and as guides. Otherwise, we are likely to follow only our own well-worn paths. These offer, of course, many joys and discoveries as sophisticated search tools enable us to mine the deepest seams in our areas of interest, but they may not challenge us to our full potential. 

For this reason, finishing my MA saddened me a little as it ended a time of sharing with the majority of the other students who have elected to do the course over two years and can look forward to another year of intense exchanges. So it was a relief to attend if:book's Fictional Stimulus launch event in London last Tuesday eve and realise that participation in the ongoing discovery and discussion of digital literature is still only a click away.

Splash! Splash! I'm in!