88 Constellations for Wittgenstein: Interactivity in Creative Nonfiction

88 Constellations for Wittgenstein (to be played with the Left Hand) is described by N. Katherine Hayles as an interactive, non-linear, net.art piece. In the Electronic Literature Collection, it’s tagged as creative nonfiction, which intrigued me since the majority of the electronic literature we’ve explored thus far in this course has been fiction.  The piece can be accessed at 88constellations.net. The piece begins with an introduction that displays dots being connected, pictures of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and various objects moving across the screen. A narrator introduces us to Wittgenstein, an Austrian philosopher, and the structure of the piece. After the introduction, the display switches to a star map (Image 1) that contains 88 clickable constellations. Unlike Strickland’s made-up constellations in Vniverse, the constellations in 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein actually appear in the night sky. Clicking on a constellation plays a video that describes some aspect of Wittgenstein’s life or philosophy. The instructions (Image 2), show the reader how to navigate back to the map, make extra elements appear in the videos*, and find related material. The constellations can be clicked on randomly (each is titled with a word of phrase that relates to the video’s content) or found by clicking on the “related” nodes in a constellation. A noteworthy mechanical feature of this game is the numbering of the nodes. The numbers cannot be seen except from inside the node, thus it is difficult, if not impossible, to follow a linear path. Nearby numbers often occupy the same constellations, but that is not always the case. The piece resists the reader’s instinct to begin at Node #1 and finish at Node #88. One interesting moment in which the content of the text engages with the interface appears in Node #63. The narration of the node is transcribed below: “On the other hand, the left hand, the hand that is left, left behind in the digital age, left to play on the computer keyboard as the right hand does double duty, jumping from keyboard to mouse. They used to play together so nicely, on the piano, on the typewriter. They learned to dance together on the keys, on the alphabet, but now, on the computer screen, the right hand has joined the eye. It glides and weaves through the text, through images, through sounds. It learns to touch without nerves, touch and sight and sound together, conspiracy. The right hand is now part of the eye. Our mind is cloven between language and music, between the continuous and the discrete. Our body and our mind are ripped apart by language.” Ludwig Wittgenstein passed away in 1951, long before any of the philosophy in this node could have possibly been conceived. Wittgenstein is also not mentioned once in this node. The Electronic Literature Collection says that the reference to the Left Hand in the title is “in homage to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s brother Paul (a concert pianist who lost his right arm in WWI but continued his career performing piano works composed for the Left Hand),” but the contents of Node #63 tell a different story. The narration of the node shows that the definition of the left hand has been adapted to modern technology, and that technology has separated the left and right hands and joined the right hand with the eye. This reference to a technological development from long after Wittgenstein’s time serves to tie together the mechanics of the work and the content. The piece intimately ties Wittgenstein’s life and ideas to the modern day, which has been shaped by the available technology. The digital interface is the only way to “read” this piece about Wittgenstein, who could never have conceived of its existence. Image 1: 2 Image 2:  * This is a common feature of net.art

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2 Responses to 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein: Interactivity in Creative Nonfiction

  1. endorphinique says:

    It’s pretty awesome that someone decided to use digital forms to create a biography (as opposed to Jackson’s My Body, which is an autobiography). Learning about Wittgenstein through this non-linear text seems actually more intuitive than if I had been given a book that detailed his life. I wouldn’t really care about his early years or his death; I would want to go straight to the middle or the important parts of his life and then branch out from there.


    • epiratequeen says:

      Agreed. This work is doing a lot of interesting things with electronic literature’s possibilities, but it’s also extremely entertaining.


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