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Haptic Onto-Epistem-Ologies in Tender Claw's Pry

10:00 AM, Thursday 16 Aug 2018 (1 hour)

In this collaborative paper we will explore the haptic onto-epistem-ologies at work within Pry, the interactive novella designed for multi-touch interfaces created by Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizarro. In particular, we are interested in investigating the ways in which multitouch gesture serves as an iterative and dynamic material metaphor through which Pry both engages in the history of the book and explores issues of perception, memory, and trauma.

Pry invites readers to enter the unconscious of James, a Gulf War veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress and gradual optical degeneration. The multimedia work is game-like in both its use of interface and its narrative structure: readers must take an active, haptic role in uncovering the mysteries at the heart of the story. In chapter one, an extratextual didactic prompts us to use the spread and pinch gestures to access James’ waking present on the one hand and his interior thoughts, memories and unconscious on the other. Reading between the lines and beneath the surface, the text implies, will allow us to understand his situation more deeply and, perhaps, uncover the mysteries that drive James’ actions and haunt his dreams. But how we pry into James’ unconscious, and what, exactly, prying means, varies over the course of the work’s seven chapters and appendix. From unfolding an accordion of virtual text to running our fingers along biblical verses written in braille, each chapter iterates on the material metaphor of the multitouch gesture as a way into James’ story, constructing an elaborate, multivalent and richly layered work that brings together personal and geopolitical histories.

Each of these interfaces draws on both the affordances of the touchscreen and the history of the book to raise questions about memory and experience that are at the heart of the text. Much as James grapples with his loss of sight within the narrative’s “present” and the visions from his past that surface unbidden, as readers we must use our hands to navigate between the two. In doing so, we must consider our cultural definitions of reading, seeing, and knowing—particularly how those have been indelibly shaped by the object we think of as a book.

University of Washington Bothell

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