“Separation:” A Message of Connection


Before this class, my experience with electronic literature was incredibly limited, barely ranging beyond internet blogs and fiction produced for e-readers. Needless to say, my mind has been opened to an entire world of literature that I had never even considered before, particularly when it comes to works that require one to interact directly in order to consume it.

The first work of this medium that truly captured my attention was “Separation” by Annie Abrahams, from the Electronic Literature Collection (Volume 2). Still adjusting to the concept of a work that invites one to interact to such a degree that they become as integral to the work’s meaning as the words and images themselves, I was incredibly impacted by the content of “Separation.”

The title page of Abrahams’s work explains that the text’s primary purpose is to inspire physical responses in sufferers of Repetitive Strain Injury (often people that work with computers), which will in turn alleviate pain and help with physical recuperation. Its overall intention, though, is not only to rehabilitate people physically, but emotionally, as well.

Unlike some of the works that we’ve studied in this class, this text’s presentation is entirely linear. Using a yellow, featureless background (which remains blank until one impatiently clicks at it, thinking it to be frozen) and Lucida typeface, the work resembles the error screen of a Windows computer and sets the bleak, lonely tone. User beware, however: if one clicks too rapidly, the screen will freeze and an alert will appear, slowly explaining that one doesn’t “have the right attitude in front of [his or her] computer” (Abrahams).

The text itself appears one word at a time, testing one’s patience as one tries to refrain from clicking too rapidly so as to avoid the alert window. While this in itself does not sound terribly difficult, it can prove to be quite a challenge, primarily due to the fact that many of us are from a society where we are constantly bombarded by information via the media and cyberspace, and thus must learn how to consume said information as quickly as possible. This single work attempts to revert this habit and, in some ways, succeeds, at least momentarily.

The work’s text itself tells the story of the complex and troubling state of being emotionally detached from other people, particularly people that one has been intimate, even in love with. It expresses how people, despite their longing to get close to others, can unwillingly hold others at a distance due to emotional trauma and/or other psychological issues. The slow, deliberate pacing of the text, in this way, seems almost representative of how people with emotional issues have to take slow, cautious steps when entering relationships.

Finally, another striking feature of the work is its interactive aspect, in which the entire window freezes and an alert pops up with an animated diagram and instructions on how to do things like “show pain” or “show courage” (Abrahams). It encourages sufferers of Repetitive Strain Injury and casual readers alike to do the unthinkable: stand up, move about, and feel true emotion while using the computer! While the instructions seem to be almost condescending in their dissection of how to relax and move, they are, at the same time, almost comforting, like a mother guiding a child through aspects of daily life that he or she is wont to forget. And don’t we forget?

I believe that that may be the overall message of this text: a reminder that computers and the media can cause one to become so absorbed in receiving information that he or she loses connection with his or her self. Likewise, emotional issues can mirror this, forcing people to unintentionally distance themselves from others regardless of how they truly feel. “Separation,” then, is not just a work, but a practice in remembering to move, to live, and to remain connected with oneself, others, and the world, despite the distractions of this life.

Its interactive nature in turn reminds us to interact.

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