• The Crab and the Butterfly: Semicolon Services in the 21st Century

    The Crab and the Butterfly: Semicolon Services in the 21st Century

    We are sentimental creatures. And by this I mean to say that we have the capacity to balance our emotions with our mental facility. From Wiktionary, we learn this about the word sentimental and its origins: “A vogue word mid-18c. with wide application, commonly a thought colored by or proceeding from emotion” (1762). The word sentimental suggests a balance: the human balance.

    The Crab and the Butterfly: Semicolon Services in the 21st Century

    Home sapiens sensualis

    We are sentimental creatures.  And by this I mean to say that we have the capacity to balance our emotions with our mental facility.  From Wiktionary, we learn this about the word sentimental and its origins: “A vogue word mid-18c. with wide application, commonly a thought colored by or proceeding from emotion” (1762).  The word sentimental suggests a balance: the human balance.

    At our worst, we are motivated by instant emotion and behave as instinctual lizardbots, reacting to life with mirror jihads and fast food.  Or, equally bad, we can be Vulcanesque in avoiding emotion, numbed by too large a dose of cautious logic.  At best, we temper our immediate emotions with experience, consideration, comprehension.  When emotions rise from and result in intelligent, cognitive reaction we achieve worldview, thoughtful action, true choices. This requires a porous barrier between emotions and thought.  Also, this fluidity requires one to stand back, take stock, and act in the world from an emotionally considered space.  This is no easy task.  It requires practice and exercise.

    Art—whether theater, object, literature, or interactive media— kindles our humanity.  Art is the perfect way to practice operating from emotion and intellect simultaneously.  So often, art provokes an immediate emotional response that makes us think.  Or it makes us think until we are suddenly laughing with joy.  And by art, I am inclined to a broad definition: any artifactual catalyst for sentimental experience.  It softens that barrier between emotion and thought, allows us to be truly sentimental.  It allows us the proper amount of self-consciousness to be real people.  I want to have at least one art experience a day.

    In Madness, Rack, and Honey, Mary Reuffle tells us, “Theatre requires you draw a circle around the action and observe from outside the circle.  In other words, self-consciousness is theatre.”  I propose we replace theatre with art: “[art] requires you draw a circle around the action and observe from outside the circle.  In other words, self-consciousness is [art].”  That done, let’s play with the metaphor: extending the boundary makes art more available; it makes more of our experience part of the production and increases the surface area of art in our lives, thereby increasing the opportunity to encounter an art experience.

    Semicolon Services

    The UX and paratext of digital experiences (i.e. film, TV, story, gaming) draws that circle.  In most instances, the boundary is akin to a hard stop, a period.  The action is on the page or screen, on the other side of a physical divide.  In punctuation terms, there is a hard stop, a period, between the media (paper, screen, console) and you.  I propose we experiment with making this barrier a semicolon instead.  Defined as “a mark that connects complete speech acts and ties them together,” the semicolon represents a more fluid experience.  The semicolon allows flow without full stops.  It shows relation between statements, not division.  And this is the promise of digital technology: digitized delivery may soften the boundary between art and our lives.

    Aldus in His Printing Establishment at VeniceThe modern mark and usage of the semicolon was invented by Aldo Manuzio (also known as Aldus Manutius), the 16th-century printer responsible for other such durable innovations as italics, modern comma usage, and inexpensive pocket-size books.  In contemporary terms, he was a senior User Experience entrepreneur working to improve the print platform.  In fact, the first “word processing” program I ever purchased was PageMaker, by a Seattle company named for Aldus.  Their logo has his image right there on the floppy disk, drawing a straight line from some dusty Italian atelier to my equally dusty but likely smokier dorm room.

    Aldus PageMaker DiscLogos can be instructive this way.  Aldus’ (the man) own logo was also significant.  His work was adorned with a dolphin and anchor emblem borrowed from an ancient Roman coin.  Here it is, beneath some of his revolutionary italic print.  The dolphin and anchor symbol was associated with some folksy ancient Roman wisdom, at once a motto and a koan: “Festina lente” (literally “make haste slowly”).  A lovely sentiment, this.  It urges a balance of intent and care, emotion and consideration.  This adage was commonly applied and portrayed in the Renaissance.

    Dolphin and anchorIn addition to the anchor and dolphin, one finds “Festina lente” represented as a crab and butterfly or as a hare within a snail shell.  And as the mighty semicolon!  It says HARD STOP and MOVE ALONG at once.  Festina lente: a true contradiction.  Koan as punctuation!  As such, it’s a spy amidst the other marks, a non-mark that only speaks to the essence of things.  It’s about meaning, not mechanics; it’s a fluid boundary—a low fence at most, a sign at the border at least.

     

     

     

    Festina and semicolon

    Semicolons can make some people uncomfortable, which is a good sign.  Kurt Vonnegut warned, “Here is a lesson in creative writing.  First rule: Do not use semicolons.  They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing.”  Good!  Good!  That’s the spirit.  This hints at the sort of shamanistic madness required to fuel real innovation.

    Also, consider the portrayal of the semicolon in this poem by Elizabeth Austen:

    On Punctuation

    not for me the dogma of the period
    preaching order and a sure conclusion
    and no not for me the prissy
    formality or tight-lipped fence
    of the colon and as for the semi-
    colon call it what it is
    a period slumming
    with the commas
    a poser at the bar
    feigning liberation with one hand
    tightening the leash with the other
    oh give me the headlong run-on
    fragment dangling its feet
    over the edge give me the sly
    comma with its come-hither
    wave teasing all the characters
    on either side give me ellipses
    not just a gang of periods
    a trail of possibilities
    or give me the sweet interrupting dash
    the running leaping joining dash all the voices
    gleeing out over one another
    oh if I must
    punctuate
    give me the YIPPEE
    of the exclamation point
    give me give me the curling
    cupping curve mounting the period
    with voluptuous uncertainty

    Austen, aside from eroticizing the question mark for me forever, summarizes evocatively what is so mysterious about the semicolon.  It’s a drunken madman at the gate.  A winking stranger that says “come here” and “run away” ;).

    That’s the sort of border I want to construct between digitally mediated experiences (film, TV, game, story) and physical life experiences.  The line around the theatre is porous.  The semicolon allows art to leak out of its containment field.  Let us all—artists, UX professionals, entrepreneurs—hasten slowly to innovate in this curious, relational, semicolon realm; we can improve our sentimental souls by so doing.

    I hereby offer semicolon services to all comers—let’s work together to soften the boundary and integrate digital experiences into the wider world.

  • ASU researchers explore cultural legacy of ‘Frankenstein’ on film

    ASU researchers explore cultural legacy of ‘Frankenstein’ on film

    A panel of researchers from Arizona State University’s Frankenstein Bicentennial Project will deliver public lectures as part of “It’s Alive!: Frankenstein on Film,” a weekend of screenings and conversations, Jan. 23-25, at the SIFF Film Center in Seattle.

    ASU researchers explore cultural legacy of ‘Frankenstein’ on film

    This story was originally published at ASU News.

    A panel of researchers from Arizona State University’s Frankenstein Bicentennial Project will deliver public lectures as part of “It’s Alive!: Frankenstein on Film,” a weekend of screenings and conversations, Jan. 23-25, at the SIFF Film Center in Seattle.

    The weekend is hosted by SIFF, the non-profit film organization that runs three year-round cinemas, as well as the Seattle International Film Festival, the largest, most highly-attended film festival in the United States. The panel will take place from 7-9:30 p.m., Jan. 24.

    The “It’s Alive: Frankenstein on Film” weekend explores the variety of worlds that have evolved from Mary Shelley’s classic monster tale through the panel of ASU researchers; a “Cinema Dissection” event with film critic Robert Horton on the classic film The Bride of Frankenstein (1935); encores of the live-filmed version of Danny Boyle’s stage production, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller; and screenings of the films Frankenstein (1931), Young Frankenstein (1974), Flesh for Frankenstein (1973), Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and Frankenweenie (2012).

    “Working with the Frankenstein Bicentennial Project on this weekend of programs is the perfect fit for SIFF. It not only fulfills our mission to explore the intersection of entertainment and education, but affords us the opportunity to curate a diverse selection of Frankenstein-inspired films, all of which are truly a joy to experience on the big screen,” says Clinton McClung, cinema programmer for SIFF.

    At the panel, researchers from ASU’s Frankenstein Bicentennial Project will delve into the cultural history of Mary Shelley’s novel, its ethical, scientific and artistic legacy, and the numerous film adaptations it has provoked. Clips and discussion topics covered in the panel include the origin of the Frankenstein story, the changing look of the monster over the years, the first film adaptation of the tale in 1910, comedic and family-friendly adaptations of the Frankenstein myth and questions of ethics, scientific creativity and social responsibility that still resonate today in settings ranging from laboratories and government oversight hearings to films such as 2010’s Splice.

    “There is no better cultural carrier than Frankenstein of the ways in which we grapple with questions of scientific creativity and responsibility,” says David H. Guston, one of the panelists and the director of the Center for Nanotechnology in Society. “These films provide different and often nuanced insights into such questions, which were first emerging in Mary Shelley’s time but which are central to our own.”

    Other speakers featured on the panel include Peter Lehman, director of the Center for Film, Media and Popular Culture, and Joey Eschrich, editor and program manager for the Center for Science and the Imagination.

    Lehman notes, “Frankenstein has held fascination for filmmakers beginning with the silent Edison adaptation in 1910 and continuing to this day, with I, Frankenstein, a 2013 film made in 3-D. Several more are currently in various stages of production.”

    The entire “It’s Alive!” weekend is open to the public. Tickets for the panel are $12 each, or $7 for SIFF members. For more information and ticket sales, visit siff.net/cinema/frankenstein-on-film.

  • An Illuminated Manuscript About Space Exploration, Science Fiction, and Physics

    You just don’t see many illuminated manuscripts these days. There’s a good reason why: They take a long time to make.

    I learned this recently when I set out to commission a thoroughly modern illuminated manuscript: not a religious text, but an interview with theoretical physicist and cosmologist Paul Davies, a professor at Arizona State University and the author of books like How to Build a Time Machine.

    An Illuminated Manuscript About Space Exploration, Science Fiction, and Physics

    By Joey Eschrich

    You just don’t see many illuminated manuscripts these days. There’s a good reason why: They take a long time to make.

    I learned this recently when I set out to commission a thoroughly modern illuminated manuscript: not a religious text, but an interview with theoretical physicist and cosmologist Paul Davies, a professor at Arizona State University and the author of books like How to Build a Time Machine. In the interview, Davies discusses the feedback loop between science-fiction storytelling and real-world innovation and discovery; lauds science fiction as an important vehicle for social and political commentary; ponders why our visions of the future are so often mired in gloomy dystopian thinking; and shares his insights on the art of communicating cutting-edge scientific concepts to the public.

    Read the full article at Future Tense…