Jim Andrews


Enigma n follows Seattle Drift as the second piece I've done using DHTML (dynamic html). I want to explore the 'meaning' not so much of either of these two pieces--that's up to the reader--but of DHTML to Web art.

But what's DHTML? It allows people to make web documents that change in appearance and function quickly. More generally, it turns documents into programs. When we look at documents on the Web, we see text and graphics and controls and so forth. But upon understanding the basics of DHTML, we begin to see the 'neath text, what's unseen but present in the source code and begin to reconceptualize the document as a collection of objects with properties that can change as the reader reads. The objects can also respond to changes in other objects or initiate changes in other objects. And changes can be caused either by the underlying logic of the neath text without the reader's intervention or be caused by the reader's responses to the visible manifestation of the document.


To some extent, this view of a Web document was already possible just with HTML. It seems commonly understood these days that whatever we see on the screen is a human representation of a stream of binary data broken up into bytes and so forth. Images and texts and controls are constituted as strings of zeroes and ones or, even more fundamentally, as a sequence of transistors that are on or off (one or zero is an interpretation of the physical state of the transistor). In this sense, everything onscreen can be reduced to physical objects, i.e., sequences of transistors in a certain state. Or as a configuration of pixels.

The Way Words Hang Out

But this view is sufficiently low or system-level that it obscures a much more useful view of the objectified document. For instance, we can conceive of an onscreen word as being an object with its own properties and behaviors. The great British poet W.H. Auden once said that he would give less chance of success to a young writer who said he had something to say than he would to a writer who said that he liked to watch the way words hang around together. DHTML allows writers to make documents in which words hang around together and interact with each other and with the reader and possibly with other documents and readers on the Web in ways that can be relevant to what Auden said but in radically different ways than he had in mind.



A document becomes a city of words and images etc that the reader reads as from a plane or, later, after touchdown, moving amid the city, as someone traveling it with b'nz to attend to. City of words, city of images, wired city wired to the air, city of people. City of people. The song remains, not quite the same. The guitar and then the electric guitar; the word, and then the electric word; the pen, and then the electric pen.

What's a writer, then? All she ever was but also in the visual and neath textual languages. It's the neath textual languages that permit the synthesis of arts on the Web which is occurring and will go beyond synthesis of the arts to a synthesis of arts and science and perhaps, full circle, to a situation where we could say, as have the indigenous people of some cultures, 'we have no art, just life here, see, it's all life.' Infoanimism.

How Practical Is This?

It's 'practical' insofar as it outlines future (and somewhat current) practice and perception of the document. It presents a notion of the document that challenges whomever is involved in documents (critic, author, reader, publisher...) to rethink the nature of the document.

See Also


I'm told that W.C. Williams said something like 'A poem is a machine made out of words.' It's odd to think it so, given the utterly human nature of many poems. Yet there is a sense in which it's true: language itself is surely a technology insofar as it is a tool made by people; our tools and technologies are not dumb and lifeless externalities that we pick up at need to do a job; instead, they often are truly extensions of ourselves: extensions of our minds and feelings and imaginations (language); extensions of our eyes (electron and radio telescopes); extensions of our memory (books); extensions of our voices (telephones); etc. Poets are familiar with the odd feeling of seeing their poems in type, particularly in something as apparently external as a book or magazine; it's as though a part of themselves had somehow been transferred by machines to the external and other. There they are, our silent running soul devices.

In a sense, I have just rewritten my little essay Infoanimism in a different context. Even the nature of the printed document needs re-examination. We freak out about machines and say they are no part of us but the truth of the matter is quite different. It is apparently ironic that we use machines to convey our humanity, but the irony is only apparent when we acknowledge the ghost in the machine and acknowledge also that we made the machine for the ghost to travel in. Subtle ghost in there with "the popular languages of commerce and company xmas parties" you mention, lovely graceful ghost.

Whether a poem is spoken or written or uses dhtml, as I am amused to do these days, it is, in the above way, a machine made out of words. Dhtml poems highlight this dramatically.

The neath text is to some forbiddingly technical and automated. Yet the ghostie may appreciate it, the ghostie neath and above and around the neath text.


Illustrated: the egg word of Ur exercising (and still).