This blog post promises to not be very coherent, but I’m going to attempt to throw some ideas out there about Jason Nelson’s work. First, everyone should know that Nelson, in spite of the initial “No, really, I think he’s on drugs” reaction we probably all had, is very prolific. His works go back for at least a decade (and are organized fairly chronologically on his website), and they all seem to display a similar aesthetic. However, I realized earlier today as I tried to explain to a friend why she should check out the games we looked at for class that Nelson’s aesthetic is sort of hard to define. Pkeily has started the discussion about how Nelson uses the glitch aesthetic combined with smoother images in order to criticize institutions and to subvert the video game genre. I think part of the reason he combines the glitch aesthetic with smoothness is to destabilize his readers/players and to create the exact issue I’m struggling with: what is his aesthetic?
I see postmodernism everywhere, so I’d like to assert that Nelson’s difficult to define aesthetic comes from his use of the postmodern technique of intertextuality, or the weaving of different types of texts. Nelson takes intertextuality to an extreme by merging many different types of media, forms of writing, and topics. He’s working within the digital medium overall, but he also includes videos, photography, drawings, songs, graphs (see videograph fictions), globes (see With love, from a failed planet), charts, and games. He writes both short fiction and digital poetry, and he covers history, pop culture, industry, business, classic literature, and politics (see, again, videograph fictions).
Perhaps most importantly, Nelson presents himself as an artist working with several different art forms. This all-encompassing artistic consciousness has allowed him to create an extremely distinct style, voice, and visual aesthetic. The glitchy-smoothness and intentional messiness of his work ensures that it is all characteristically his. In additional to this visual signature, Nelson’s voice in writing is also very recognizable in its strange combination of humor and cynicism (see, again, With love, from a failed planet).
As is common with postmodern works of literature, the form of Nelson’s work mirrors its content. In the games we played for class today, we can easily make the assumption that the visual elements of the game are meaningless and ignore them in favor of focusing on “winning.” Likewise, we see nonsensical text in the first level of the first game and then assume that the rest of the text will be pointless to read as well. These are both incorrect assumptions, as we later learn that the images and videos throughout the game provide insight (which pkeily explains in more depth than I do) and sections of the text make sense as well. This is just one other of several more ways that Nelson further destabilizes the reader/player’s experience.
TL;DR: Jason Nelson uses the classic postmodern technique of intertextuality to create his difficult-to-define personal aesthetic.
Also, this is one of the coolest things I’ve seen on the internet: sydney’s siberia. It’s “an infinitely zoomable digital poem created from 130 image/poetry tiles which generate an interactive mosaic” (by Jason Nelson, of course).