Notes on reading "...and by islands I mean paragraphs" by J. R. Carpenter


The Preliminary Survey

I ran into trouble right away. When I clicked the link, and the page opened up, I felt tricked. I started with this piece rather than DAKOTA because I thought this one was going to be the more traditional reading piece. Once I saw the layout, I knew I was in for a ride.

I read the brief directions at the top, but I didn't pay too close attention - just enough to know how to get back home. Then I embarked on the journey. It did not take me long at all to get lost at sea. I clicked on the Sources link, and it opened up a new page that looked just like the previous one, so much so, that I didn't realize I was on a new page. The islands still signaled that they were links to other places (the cursor changed to a hand); however, on this bibliography page, the links were not active. I spent a few seconds sailing across the page trying to click on different islands to no avail. So, I decided to use my navigational tool, Google, to save me. I googled the name of the essay?? and was able to open it in a new window. Here the links on the islands worked, and I soon realized what I had done wrong on the previous one.

Once I realized I could click on each island, I did. I clicked, and the words changed. I clicked and the words changed again! I was starting to get excited, thinking the different paragraphs would go on forever, but I soon started recognizing a paragraph I had seen before, telling me there was a short list of repeated or randomized texts that appear.

The piece made me think initially. How does this work? Should I choose a path and follow it? Should I try to visit every island? Should I read everything available on each island while I'm there, or is there a story line I'm supposed to be following?

I kind of lost interest quickly once I saw what the paragraphs contained. I was hoping for more of a story, a pirate mystery to solve - to find the hidden treasure. Maybe it still is that, and I just haven't uncovered that clue yet. I realized it's a different type of reading, and one that I will need to readjust my mindset for before returning. The piece is mostly written in first person, making me feel like someone who's found this piece of writing washed up in a bottle on the shoreline. I don't really feel like I'm supposed to be reading this, but yet because the links take me to new information, I want to keep exploring.

The Long Voyage

I'm a passenger on this ship called English 4169. I trust the captain to get me to my final destination, and I've enjoyed the trip so far. I've learned a lot, and now I see I've just been thrown overboard with the old, "Sink or Swim" advice. I'm not panicked. I'm pretty sure there's a lifeboat out here someplace if/when I start to drown, but I'm going to do my best to swim. I'm back here in these waters, determined to explore these islands...and by islands I mean paragraphs.

Paragraphs

I started my journey at what I would call the main island. The larger clump of islands nearest the title of the piece. I read, clicked, re-read, etc... At first I thought I was reading completely different paragraphs, then I realized these were like a paragraph that had been revised - different versions of the same thing. The author attempting to get the description of the island a certain way. The one version ends with a more compelling last sentence - a "hook" if you will. "Just when I thought I couldn't stand it a minute longer, Friday came." This hints toward a more traditional plot... something is going to happen. Plus, it makes us wonder, What's so bad about being on the island? What happened that Friday?

I traveled south and stopped at a small island #34. It seems the narrator had difficulty deciding what to name this island and what type of island it should be as each paragraph was a new description.

I traveled back north and a bit west to the little blue island. Here I was the most engaged. The text kept shifting, each new revision seemed to reveal a little more of the story. My mind raced to keep up with the changing text and to piece it together into a coherent narrative. I was collecting clues like shells - World War II, an accident, feverish mind, coming to clarity, hiding in the grass... the traffic?? Is he on a real island? Is the island a metaphor for being the only survivor? Is he on a real island or is he in a city? I kept clicking and reading, and I finally felt exhausted and frustrated because I wasn't getting anywhere. Is this what the author wanted to create? That feeling of being lost and helpless?

I continue north, stopping at the westerly island to read about the impending doom that awaits in the month of February if they proceed on their route. I go north to see that the discussion is about real places/people. Rome and Britain are mentioned. I thought this was all fantasy - now perhaps it's more of a blend of history, fantasy and other...

The narrator continues to give descriptions of each island - sometimes these islands seem to be inhabited, other times it's not clear.

"The castaway devours the seascape for the morsel of a sail." I felt like this described me. I did attempt to devour the seascape -- well, more like savor it, but yes, consume it all for fear of missing out on something important that could lead me to the "right" way to read this text.
Literature is quotes... - from the little brown island by the compass Very deep ideas about literature. This whole piece makes me feel like an imposter into the discipline of English and Literature.

The Mooring

I found it to be an interesting experience. The main take-away I had was one of empathy for my students who often feel lost when given a typical college assignment. This exercise made me feel vulnerable, and while, I felt I was getting something out of reading it, I always felt like I was missing something else. I have students who have only been exposed to written texts in their recent adult years and they often are unsure how to navigate a piece that most of us consider a traditional essay. This piece helped me as an exercise in empathy.
I appreciated how the changing islands made me focus on reading and re-reading, and noticing what can change when you re-read something. This also led me to think about what it was like to write these pieces - shifting material around and revising.
Question: are the changes hand-done or computer generated?

Some questions to consider in the (required) notes

*My role as a reader in this text, I feel is one of meaning maker. Each reader's experience with this text will be unique. I have a tremendous amount of control with this piece as apposed to reading Dakota. I make decisions about where I will start, go, not go, how long I will tarry on each island. I can choose to read each island in isolation or try to put them all together in some sort of meaningful context. I felt compelled to take detailed notes about howI was reading the piece because there would be no real re-reading in the same way. The experience cannot be duplicated.
*I say, good question! I don't know who would read this type of piece other than a small segment of the population interested in art and literature and technology. I see it as more of an exhibition piece or an experiment... I don't really see it as something the general public would consume. It's not consumer friendly in that it asks more of the reader. It uses some usability conventions like those Krug brings up (i.e. zoom in/out - point and click, scroll), but there is no validation or affirmation that you are doing it right. There's no direction as to where to go next, how to go back.
I stated it earlier, but this piece and DAKOTA (although this one more so) make me feel like an imposter. Like this is for a different sort of readership - more elitist - more sophisticated types than I. I feel this is true of lots of literature in general. To the general public (of which I belong), it can be intimidating, cold... not very friendly. As a reader, you get the impression that there is something to "get" with this piece, and if you don't immediately "get it" you can feel awkward. The typical response I hear from students experiencing this imposter syndrome is, "This is stupid." It's easier to act like you don't care than it is to feel stupid yourself.
* I kind of answered this in the audience question in relation to usability. This piece wouldn't exist without technology. It's inherent in its very existence. There can be no print duplication, although there are children's interactive books with a similar idea. There's a wheel on the backside of the page, containing several pictures and a window on the front side of the page. The child opens the flap/window and sees a picture, if the child pulls on a tab to rotate the wheel, the picture in the window changes. Similar idea with simpler technology.
*I mentioned earlier that these types of pieces always succeed in making me feel like an imposter in the English field. The nagging feeling that there's something to "get" that I'm just not getting. What I did from this piece was the significance of staying adrift, allowing the currents to take you places, and giving yourself time to linger. This piece felt contemplative - like it encouraged contemplative thought. It made me think about how the ocean looks like a large, shapeless body of blue and black from the surface, but underneath, it's full of forms, and life and colors. Nothing is like it appears. Nothing stays the same.

I was also interested in ReadingTheWhiteSpace in this piece and Dakota.
*It definitely made me think, but I always find it strange to think about how I might have approached a text differently if it wasn't assigned to me. This is the kind of reading I would like to have time to do - to play around with - to consider - to re-visit another day, and then another day after that - but in reality, I'm a task-driven person. I mostly read with purpose and mission. Also, I'm not sure where to find these kinds of texts. If anyone knows of a source, that would be great!
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