Tailspin, by Christine Wilks, uses sounds to give us the story of a grandfather, stricken with tinnitus which cuts across communication with his children and grandchildren. As we move around the opening page we hear the children’s noise overlaid with the buzzing of his condition, and sense his frustration as he blocks all contact by refusing to use a hearing aid. On deeper levels of the program we learn that he was an aircraft fitter in the War, and that his chronic deafness prevented him being a fighter pilot during the Battle of Britain, and thus probably saved his life.
The narrative is a non-linear, poetic memoir, and as it unfolds, the algorithms that underride the graphic-novel-like visuals and carefully crafted soundscapes are as integral in the development of the story as is the text itself. Although this text is certainly more linearly told than many of the others we’ve examined this semester, it still calls to mind Katherine Hayles’ discussion of the ambiguous “stickiness” and “fractally complex” temporality that electronic literature formulates (Hayles 79). Indeed, Tailspin is less of a coherent stream of consciousness than it is a multilayered shifting of visual/auditory stimuli and text. As with the “V” in Stricklands “Vniverse”, the program and all of its various elements become something more than literature or code alone, as they relay deeper layers of meaning at the intersection of the digital and art.
Deeper levels of the program translate to deeper levels of character development. This electronic text is the first that has so acutely captured for me the way code and protocological sequences bring forth a potential for literature to be immersive in new ways, to capture the senses more fully, to open up literature to more aspects of the world. When you think of writing as a craft, the algorithms that inform digital texts are simply another tool for writers to manipulate according to their creative outline. But this tool is precisely executable and highly transformative. As a medium, the digital contains all other forms of technology, and thus opens up literature as mode of capturing human sentiment in ways that print texts can’t.
Tailspin forces the reader into the type of time and space constraints that we’ve observed with other texts. As your cursor moves across each of the winding swirls on the interface, the programs brings forth a piece of the narrative, including sounds, graphics and text. You must scroll across each of the swirls in order to have a blue “portal swirl” evolve in the middle of the interface, which you must scroll across in order to enact a new set of swirls.
Reading the text that forms while scrolling over each of the swirls is optional in advancing the story, because you could presumable cycle through all of them without any close attention. While the text-bubbles are ephemeral, the sounds and graphics will play through their coded cycle no matter what. The faster you cycle through the swirls, which are similar to the not-hyperlinks found in Reagen library and other texts we’re discovered this semester, the more sounds you are bombarded with. The sounds beautifully capture the way the grandfathers tinnitus mediates the world around him, and the visuals form another interactive layer of meaning to the text that helps to personify the characters and actions. These elements combine to form a succinct short story about the tribulations of an aging man as he tries to cope with the regrets of his past and the self-hatred that has destroyed his family relationships.