Human Knowledge in the Vniverse


[Text: and it tilts. The thought of such knowledge, hard to gain, how to keep, we have lost, except for the Rabbis who copy the Talmud, who know by G[ ]d no scintilla must change, not by unconscious slips, not “corrected by sages, not in 26,000 years–me, I take what I get from the Navy’s lunar Web Page. but I should go to Tarot: 52 weeks, 4 season suites of 13 (moon-months, 14 x 2 days [364]) are not enough: “a year and a day [365] will (nearly). fit that sun in, that’s the Joker, and in the Leap, fourth Year, a year-and-a-day and another]

The above image was taken via screenshot from Stephanie Strickland’s Vniverse, a computer-based medium that consists of a field of virtual stars that are linked to lines of poetry from Strickland’s paperback Waveson.nets. This post will address the mechanics of Vniverse and then relate the work’s structure to the content of the stanzas shown above.

There are two ways to find the words in Vniverse. The first is to type a number into the circle at the upper right hand corner of the interface and then press “return.” This reveals a constellation (as seen in the image), a word, three lines of Waveson.nets, and the star that connects to them. It is possible to read through the entirety of Waveson.nets using this method, however, it is time-consuming and not highly rewarding. The second way to reveal the words in Vniverse is to hover your cursor over any of the stars. The same things appear initially, but if you double click on the star, the entire page of Waveson.nets that the lines are from is displayed (as seen above). Sometimes there is a “next” button that takes the reader to the next page of Waveson.nets, but it is impossible to read through the entire poem using this method.

Like many hypertexts, Vniverse addresses the evolution of literature from a time before the invention of the book to the age of the computer. Vniverse’s interface is a field of stars because studying the cosmos was the closest thing the nomadic peoples of the Ice Ages had to reading, and the work is meant to draw parallels between that lifestyle and our methods of reading today (Strickland). Waveson.nets pages eighteen and nineteen further extrapolate this comparison into the age of the Internet. The title of the poem already invokes thoughts of the Internet, and the use of square brackets and mathematics in the text is more reminiscent of code than poetry. 19 addresses the codification of knowledge, referencing books and the Internet. The previous page is focused on nature and constellations, which represents the knowledge of a time when humans learned from stars instead of books. In 19, Strickland says that “The thought of such knowledge, hard to gain, hard to keep, we have lost, except for the Rabbis who copy the Talmud.” The reference to the Talmud shows Strickland’s opinion on how computers have changed humans’ interaction with knowledge. The Talmud is a document also known as the “oral Torah” that was passed down in Jewish tradition orally for a very long time before it was written down, and though it is as much an information system as other books, it is not treated like an average book. Any study of the Talmud is done with the understanding that parts of it have been lost and that it was meant to exist only orally.

Strickland pays respect to this viewpoint in the text by saying directly that the Rabbis who copy the Talmud have something that “we,” presumably the rest of humanity, has “lost,” but she also shows the opposite side by talking about the ease of getting information from the internet. The obvious advantages to today’s methods of gathering information are not ignored, but Vniverse is interested in acknowledging that while paying tribute to the way human knowledge has evolved from the sky to books to today.

This entry was posted in Electronic Literature, Interactive Literature, Required Posts and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Human Knowledge in the Vniverse

  1. Steph Roman says:

    I really like your reading here. I’ve found that missing characters and a prevalence of numbers (even if they’re easy to understand ones, e.g. “52 weeks, 4 season suites of 13”) really screw up my brain and the flow I’m supposed to be getting. I found this text particularly distracting, and your breakdown has helped elucidate it some for me. The astronomy connection seems especially important and useful for reading this text, but of course readers experience that connection via what else—the Internet. Some of my recent research has been focused on establishing a relationship with texts/ objects of the past. Knowing the history and practice of old technologies (like astronomy in this case) is actually a totally enlightening experience and something I totally overlooked in this section of Vniverse, so realizing that it’s alluding to the exact same sense of appreciating the evolution of human knowledge/ technology is really cool.


  2. mer95 says:

    Your reading also helped me to better understand exactly what I just read regarding Vniverse (like others, I mostly only focused on the lyricism of the words rather than delving deeply into the allusions and references). I think an additional interesting point to note in speaking to the evolution of literature focused on in Vniverse is how the text is evolving even now, 13 years after its initial publication. Vniverse now not only exists as a website but was released in 2014 as an interactive iPad app, which has been the main way I have been experiencing the text as opposed to the website. I find the touch screen really helps to add another level of interactivity beyond pointing and clicking with a mouse, which itself is just so far beyond reading words on a page. And I’m incredibly interested in the fact that Strickland has chosen to come back to the text and rework it for newer forms of technology, which is something that (so far) we haven’t really seen in class: digital authors choosing to update their electronic work to stay relevant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • epiratequeen says:

      I actually hadn’t considered that! There’s also the new edition, which I’m also interested in looking at. The content and evolution of this text is probably one of the most interesting engagements with time in the field of interactive literature.


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