@Like Pokémon GO? Try ‘Between Page and Screen’

With all the zeal and compelling analyses surrounding Pokémon GO, I want to revisit a very different but equally thrilling augmented reality experience, poet Amaranth Borsuk and developer Brad Bouse’s 2012 digital poetry pop-up book, Between Page and Screen.

Between Page and Screen enacts a marvelous detour from the traditional reading experience. I open the book, and suddenly black and white shapes on a page morph into words that orbit around my face. And all I have to do to unleash this sorcery is wave the book before a webcam.

The book unfolds as a series of letters between the lovers “P” (Page) and “S” (Screen). While playing a very cutting edge game, the book also treads on the age-old territory of epistolary literature, or stories told in a series of letters, diary entries, or other documents as well as visual poetry and of course romance literature — and not just the contemporary bodice-ripper but the medieval chivalric romance — a fact strengthened by the fact that the book’s creators, Borsuk and Bouse, also happen to be married.

Page’s question to Screen in one of the letters — “What are boundaries anyway?” — situates Between Page and Screen perfectly within the realm of this column’s monthly look at works that blend different disciplines and genres. In particular, this digital pop-up book is not only a fun romp through computer land but also a piece of one of the most complex debates of our time — the fraught interplay between old and new media.

Along these lines, Page’s letter to screen that declares, “There’s a neat gap between these covers, a gate agape, through which you’ve slipped your tang. Paper cuts too, Swordsmith. Let’s name this pagan pageant, these rows of lines or vines that link us together,” beautifully encompasses this tension between old and new ways of ‘writing.’”

In this letter, Screen has slid into the “neat gap” between page’s covers, in a move at once sexual and signaling a move from old (text) to new (digital) media, which both connects and claws them apart. Even Page’s clever portmanteau “Swordsmith” illustrates this push-and-pull pose, as the Swordsmith is ostensibly the wordsmith who can create with language but also cut apart with the sword.

Screen’s later plea, “Page, don’t cage me,” then, plays into a short but fascinating history of contention concerning what digital scholar N. Katherine Hayles refers to as “intermediation,” or the interaction between human and computer intelligence, the oldest and the newest of media, so to speak. Hayles questions surrounding this topic open up yet another love tiff, the one between body and machine that Between Page and Screen raises in both its form and content — a drama still playing out on my webcam as I simultaneously type about it in this word document.

Hayles asks, “should the body be subjected to the machine, or the machine to the body?” and her solution is to refrain from separating them. She claims this position “allows continuities to be thought between the print tradition and digital texts…Most importantly, it empowers electronic literature so that it not only reflects but reflects upon the media from which it springs. This…is central to electronic literature’s potential to transform literary practices.”

So, Screen’s “Page, don’t cage me” can be read as both the simple demand of the one in the relationship who doesn’t want to be tied down, and as the Screen’s more complex entreaty to the Page not to limit its creative-intellectual sphere.

In the end, Between Page and Screen succeeds in Hayles’ terms in that it “not only reflects but reflects upon the media from which it springs.” As opposed to virtual reality’s simulated lands, Between Page and Screen’s augmented reality renders the familiar strange by superimposing the fantastical onto a world that already is, our own, thereby forcing us to consider it anew.

My son just came over and now he’s initiated into this world, too; he becomes part of the page, the screen, the love letter between these two virtual interlocutors. He loves it. I tell him, “Look, you’re part of the poem.” He’s hypnotized, watching our faces with this brave new linguistic world grafted upon them, words that show up only to explode away if I position the page incorrectly, self-destructing as so many real-life romances tend to do.

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