On Dec. 1, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course and reading series presented writer Caitlin Fisher. York teaching assistant Chris Cornish sent the following report to YFile.
We will need to learn to read shapes and texts that none of us here has even begun to imagine.
from Light Onwords/Light Onwards
by Caitlin Fisher
The Canadian Writers in Person series recently welcomed Caitlin Fisher (right) to read from her 2001hypermedia novella, These Waves of Girls. As Canada Research Chair in Digital Culture in Film & Video in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University, Fisher presented her material electronically and provided a unique experience for those students who were accustomed to authors reading from a paper book. As she read her work, Fisher navigated her Web site with the audience viewing onscreen.
Navigation through These Waves of Girls takes on multiple meanings because Fisher’s work is both an exploration of experimental narrative structures and the equally complex representation of girlhood. Her novella is constructed as a “digital constellation” in which readers choose their own path through interconnected story fragments. (Some readers might have childhood memories of “Choose-your-own-adventure” books.) The result is a narrative that is non-linear and has multiple perspectives and possibilities.
Each click of hypertext brings the reader to a new page of text that is layered with evocative imagery which is sometimes also subject to manipulation. As she read from each piece, Fisher would play with the tools that would distort her images or produce sounds. She provided a sense of an electronic playground where both author and reader might meet. Fisher admitted that though her doctoral work in this area resisted traditional narratives, she made concessions to appeal to current desires for readability, to create “text of pleasure” as well as academic inquiry.
In her work, Fisher interweaves the thoughts and perspectives of a four-year-old, 10-year-old, and 20-year-old girl. In her essay, “Electronic Literacies” from Light Onwords/Light Onwards (2002), she states that she “wanted the stories and memories to crash like waves because I wanted possibly contradictory tales to emerge, for readers to encounter the complex nature of diverse girlhoods themselves – girls at once strong, as victims, as scheming, as vain, as kind, as wanting…all of this within one girl.”
During her presentation, Fisher shared a digital story about her relationship with her grandmother, recalling memories of her childhood. That gave the audience the sense of generations of women traversing boundaries of technology and time. Afterwards as the audience left the lecture hall, Fisher’s partner brought their newborn daughter over from where they had been waiting in the wings, further confirming a picture of complex diversity within and between women, through old and new connections.
More on Caitlin Fisher
Caitlin Fisher is the curator of the “2004 Images Festival in New Media Works”, and the founding editor of j-spot: Journal of Social and Political Thought (an electronic journal of political and cultural theory and criticism). These Waves of Girls won the Electronic Literature Organization’s 2001 Award for Fiction and can be viewed at http://www.yorku.ca/caitlin/waves.
The Canadian Writers in Person series of public readings at York, which is free and open to the public, is also part of an introductory course on Canadian literature. On Jan. 12, Canadian author Gil Courtemanche read from his novel A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali. On Jan. 26, Dionne Brand will read from What We All Long For. The Canadian Writers in Person reading series is generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Writers’ Union of Canada.