Brainstrips, by Alan Bigelow, is a “3-part knowledge series” incorporating elements of comics, hypertext, and kinetic poetry (although in this work it would be more accurately described as kinetic prose.) Bigelow mixes different forms of electronic literature to create unique artworks, his multi-form/multi-genre work “American Ghosts” has already been covered on our blog. The first link above sends you to the entire series, the individual parts can be accessed from Bigelow’s website. The three parts: “Deep Philosophical Questions,” “Science for Idiots,” and “Higher Math” take a humorous and irreverent look at philosophy, science, math, and consumer culture.
When accessed from Bigelow’s website the first section, “Deep Philosophical Questions,” a quote from Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary appears above a loading bar. It reads, “Philosophy, n. A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.” This quote sets the stage for the first section, in a Derridean move Bigelow shows how philosophy is ultimately pointless because it is just a bunch of words that may make logical sense within the context of philosophy itself, but have little effect on changing reality in a meaningful way. Once “Deep Philosophical Questions” is loaded a screen with comic art and a menu with links to six philosophical inquiries appears. Each of these links lead a different comic strip, which explore the concept at hand, once they are exited they can only be accessed if a new game is started. Sometimes an answer is given, such as in the “What is Art?” lexia, which defines art as “a mathematical equation applied to different experiential contexts” thus making artists (including Bigelow) obsolete. Others end ambiguously and/or absurdly and leave the reader just as puzzled as before, the “Do trees have rights lexia?” focuses on two explorers who want to but mahogany trees from the natives who then attack the explorers. This strip ends with a woman waking up and revealing the whole situation was just a dream. Like dreams, studies in philosophy can yield some interesting thoughts, but if used to strictly interpret the real world can lead to misguided or ridiculous interpretations. “Is color real?” breaks the fourth wall with two characters commenting on their existence within a comic strip.
Once all the links have been clicked through, a link to a “Special Advertising Section” replaces the questions. This leads to a lexia spoofing advertisements, with the heading “Invent Your Own Philosophy!” Using language and imagery associated with advertising, this page mocks the ideology of consumerism. The abundant choice in consumer goods creates an illusion of choice, where every selection does nothing to change the underlying choice made in every consumer purchase – the choice to perpetuate consumerist structures by purchasing consumer goods. Once the magic button is pressed the words “Thank You!” appear on the screen and then fades to black, mirroring the emptiness of choice within a consumerist context.
“Deep Philosophical Questions” is the most overtly comic part of “Brainstrips.” All the lexia, excluding the main menu and the final advertising section, feature sequential art where time elapses in one space via the separation of that space int different panels. The other two sections “Science for Idiots” and “Higher Math” also start with hypertext menus featuring different links that can only be accessed once per playthrough. Inside these links the reader clicks through different screens by using arrows at the bottom, an act which is a form of animation. In all three parts images and text move on the screen, which I why I would define Bigelow’s work as kinetic prose. The final two sections also contain quizzes featuring absurd questions and equally absurd answers, which the reader can obviously not answer correctly no matter what choice is made. Showing that in the end the search for ultimate knowledge and “Truth” is hopeless as humanity is within a context where concrete answers to many questions just do not exist.
*In this post I have offered a rather bleak view of humanity and symbolic systems, suggesting that humans’ symbolic forms of communication are all ultimately flawed and pointless. This is partially due to Bigelow’s subject matter and my own interests in deconstruction and being hypercritical. However, it should be noted that the very fact that we as humans can think and feel so many things the way we do in unique ways is beautiful and downright awesome even if they ultimately have no point. I’d even say the lack of ultimate truth and meaning is an enormous drive behind human creativity and makes everything humans do all the more beautiful.