In Absentia

In Absentia by J. R. Carpenter can be found here.  I found this piece of Electronic Literature from the Electronic Literature Collection Volume 2 which can be found here.  Now, what drew me in to In Absentia was really more of the description than anything.  The problem with all of these pieces of Electronic Literature is that they are very unique from their thumbnail pictures on the Volume 2 website.  You really have to click on each one and find something that strikes you from the description.  The fact that this one uses Google Maps struck me of interest right away.  From the moment I read that, I knew that I would be able to connect with it in some way.  I’m always using Google Maps for looking up directions or just browsing where things are.  I think it’s very important to find a piece of Electronic Literature, especially in this instance, that you can connect with in some way.  For me, it was the fact that I just enjoy using Google Maps.

Now, the description says “Using the Google Maps application programming interface, in absentia addresses issues of gentrification, community, and property in its commentary on the neoliberal reorganization of the city of Montreal and specifically the Mile End neighborhood. Part fiction, part memoir, the multi-lingual, multi-author texts “haunt” the neighborhood with stories of real and fictional tenants who have been affected by its structural transformation. The geocoding of these stories serves as a powerful reminder of the imbrications between lived and physical space.”  That sounds like an awesome description to me.  There seems to be so much at stake here and I’m really excited to dive into the piece.  Let’s begin!

In Absentia opens up with a literal interaction with Google Maps.  If you are unfamiliar with it, you can view an area via satellite and move around the area as close or as far away as you would like.  There are some pieces that you are able to click on and the opening looks like this:

The car, blue and black signs, and the tractor are all able to be clicked on and provide different descriptions of each.  So far, there is no music which is kind of odd.  In all of the other pieces, I have discovered some sort of sound.  It feels weird — almost like something isn’t right!  Each of the pieces that you click on provides a bit of information regarding the area that it is located.  One of them, for instance, talks about a musician who is renting out a room and what they are looking for in a roommate.  It seems that most of the interactive pieces are some sort of description of the person that either lives there or who they want to live with them.  After doing a little digging, I noticed that there were more places that I could visit which were accessible via the tabs in the top right hand corner of the page.

So far, I have visited home, a louer, and a vendre.  Some of the clickable icons are even in a different language which suggests the diversity that the description hinted at.  The mix of language and personalities in the writing suggest that there are definitely completely different sets of people that live so close together.  My guess is that this would suggest and promote diversity and the thought that even though you are in one specific area, you can definitely get some people close to you that are the exact opposite of you.  The world is filled with many different types of people who speak different languages and believe different ideas and this interaction proves just that.  Perdu seemed to be the only one that did not have some sort of map element to it.  I’m not entirely sure why this is…  It threw me off a little bit.

The most amazing thing about this piece is definitely the different writing styles of the people and how close they are to someone else that, only a few miles away, is looking for something ENTIRELY different.  There is much meaning in this and I think that J. R. Carpenter did an amazing job of creating something that sparked so much difference in the piece itself.  In the “bios” section, it says that “Many other past and present residents of the Mile End neighbourhood of Montreal (fictional or otherwise) have also contributed their stories (intentionally or otherwise) to this conversation.” It seems, by this account, that multiple people are creating a story.  If that is the case, I believe that this is why Electronic Literature is so interesting and important.  In pieces like this, not only is the user interacting with the piece, but there are multiple people that are interacting with each other.  By creating something so diverse to be in a single place such as In Absentia, the people that created it are also able to come together, despite their differences in thought and language.  Something that brings everyone together is definitely worth checking out and In Absentia does exactly that.

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