The Toposphere: An Interactive Three-Dimensional Concordance in Maya
The Toposphere: In this project, I am designing and re-designing a three dimensional interactive concordance of Dylan Thomas' Collected Poems. I argue that three-dimensional interactive Cave (virtual reality) concordances, that spatialize both textual and aural components, encourage a nonlinear, liberatory reading experience. The final prototype, the toposphere, serves both creative and critical purposes. It is a creative model for a new experiential and constructivist way of reading in a digital setting, and it is a critical tool for making visual arguments concerning texts whose overdetermined metaphorical systems make them resistant to traditional interpretation (i.e texts that contain images so repetitious that their meanings are difficult to determine). In other words, I have found that constructing a physical reality out of Thomas' poems raises fascinating questions about the possibilities for experiencing and reading poetry in new ways. And, as Jerome McGann has pointed out, the process of building the thing, becomes itself an exercise and practicum in theory.
While this project began with visualizations of Virginia Woolf's The Waves, I found that short-lined poetry offered a much more friendly unit of construction than paragraphs or even sentences. (With Woolf we had been working with dialogue, tokenizing each character's speech, which meant that some of our units of text went on for pages.) Above is the very first model I built using the high-power animation tool Maya. While issues of readability did not yet become central (as "twilight" appears only three times in the Thomas corpus), when I began to work on "lock*" (see below), I had to deal directly with this issue. The central point in the cluster became unreadable with six lines of text or more.
In this cluster, I have taken every line containing the term "lock*" (lock in all its forms: locks, locked, etc.) and investigated how these lines behave when put into concordance (at the center is "lock*"). I experimented with ways in which this design could become more readable, and what techniques led to increased readability. One thing that became quickly apparent was just how much such a structure forces the reader to physically (or with the aid of computer simulation) to move through the structure to read the text. The process of turning each line to face the user and pulling it to a position of visibility becomes itself a constructivist approach to reading and re-reading the text in a critical framework (by critical, I mean that we are forced to decide which lines we value--and what parts of those lines we value--as complete visualization of the system is impossible from a single vantage point). This process of determining and assigning value is precisely a critical activity.
Originally, I imagined this project as a series of increasingly complex constructions based on first the line, then the stanza, and finally the entire poem. Here I added the stanzas implied in figure one. From each "twilight," we now have the rest of that stanza so that the basic unit of construction is a square rather than a line. There is a reason that so many visualizations use lines. While I discarded this method for its inflexibility, it did lead to the key discovery in this project. (See next figure.)
The key discover in this project is displayed here. As I moved from lines to full stanzas, I began experimenting with a system of double-concordance. In other words, if two stanzas share two words, we can lock them at these shared points. If we find a third concordance between them, we have a system for building a fixed form from stanzas. The above is just such an experiment. While I ended up discarding stanzas as the basic unit of construction (returning to lines), this method of multiple concordance became the basis for the alternative paths I am constructing through the text.
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