Amoebic Language and “Between Page and Screen”

Monday, February 10th, 2014 by lasu9006

One doesn’t so much as read Between Page and Screen—one uses it. It is a device that allows for interplay between two mediums, a “gate agape” through which one can see the tenuous connections between language, medium, and interpretation.

The first time I used Between Page and Screen, everything worked perfectly. The images sprang upon the screen, and they became almost tangible, existing in a sphere at once digital and non-digital. I gave the book a cursory and reaction-based reading—the most convenient and natural way to read the book, I think. The second time I used Between Page and Screen, I had a whole hell of a lot of technical difficulties. I sat there like a goon in front of my webcam, holding the book in front of it with no results. I tried different rooms. I tried different lamps, behind me, in front of me, curtains open, curtains closed, book upside down, book right side up, far away, close up: nothing. The image would appear for a second, then dissolve into an explosion of letters. I began using a flashlight, so I had to hold the flashlight in one hand and the book in the other, and that worked for a second. Finally, after turning on every lamp and after facing every which way, I found the perfect spot, the perfect lighting, and the book came to life again.

My second reading of the book was much more thorough than the first. After every page, I would put the book down and start looking up the words I didn’t know. Wow, how delightful that process was! The words in this book are delicious, and the best part is that they can mean different things when held under different light [!].  A word like “scaramouche,”—which Freddie Mercury, in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” instructs to “do the fandango,”—can mean a clown or a skirmish. “Pentimento” can refer to a painter’s visible revision within a painting, but is also the Italian word for “repentance.” And it kind of sounds like “pimento,” which brings along its own cast of associations. Lastly, “poco” can mean “a little,” but is also a Southern rock band. Each word in the book is loaded with different associations, definitions, and connotations, which makes for a more direct evocation of reader interpretation and response. While all texts involve reader interpretation, this book calls attention to its reliance upon reader response. It directly shows how words are interrelated and how words contain other words within themselves. The text even asks us directly to do away a language like Esperanto, a language with few words and with a universal application. Instead, language should be dynamic and in flux, amoebic, and simultaneously constructing and deconstructing its own boundaries.

I love what is [[contained]] within “Between Page and Screen.” I love how it makes me question each word that I am writing right now. I also was impressed by the format of the book, for the power of the book would be much more limited if it were restrained to either a wholly digital or wholly non-digital format.  Of course, the book’s format does have its limitations. Since the experience of using it is so based upon kinesthetic movements and awareness, it is harder (or even impossible) to write notes or underline text while you are reading it. Furthermore, you’ve got to put the book down entirely to look up the words that the book presents—and I found that the book is most useful with Wikipedia as its companion. Basically, the book makes it hard for the reader to experience it in the way that it should be, with a dictionary in hand. Indeed, the book doesn’t even always work, and is dependent upon environmental factors like lighting.

 But I think the book is awkward and cumbersome on purpose. You’ve got to hold the text upside down in order to see it represented right-side up. You’ve got to tilt the book in order to see the image as “flat.” The text is physically manipulatable and amorphous. Nothing is as it seems, and everything should be read upside down or from a slant. Most importantly, I think that the text lives differently according to what set of eyes lights upon it.  



2 comments on “Amoebic Language and “Between Page and Screen”

  1. asobol says:

    It’s an experience, this book. You’re totally right when you say you “use” the book. It makes us aware of how alive language is, but as a text it doesn’t resonate with me. After setting a poem down, I can’t really tell you what the poem was saying (if anything) or the words it used. I can tell you the way it looked and acted. My favorite was the stock quote one — but even there, I can only tell you what it looked like.

    I don’t think these poems (if we can call them that) are meant to sustain us as readers. They want us to think and reimagine spaces and meanings. The second they disappear from the screen, they disappear, at least for me, from my mind.

    When I use a hammer I’m aware of what it’s doing as I’m using it, but when I set it down, I don’t think about the hammer anymore. That’s sort of how I feel about the book — it performs a service and then sinks into the background.

  2. Lori Emerson says:

    Lauren, this is quite a beautiful post – I appreciate very much the work you put into acknowledging what the text is trying to achieve, even the discomfort and awkwardness it’s intentionally courting. At first glance I think it can indeed seem gimmicky but then it starts to reveal itself as an elegantly simple exploration of exactly the space between media and between us as readers and each of those media. Your post reminds me of how I still tend to see it as conceptual art/writing!

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