Tag Archives: lexia to perplexia

I @ Other in Lexia to Perplexia

I have been playing around with Lexia to Perplexia for awhile – I am not sure I reached the end, but I have hit a point where I can’t click open any more new windows. I found it confusing and disorienting to remember which words and phrases I saw before in the project because there are many paragraphs and phrases that repeat themselves throughout the narrative.

Narcissus, a character from Greek mythology, appears repeatedly throughout the project. In the Greek myth, Narcissus is subject to divine punishment when he falls in love with his own reflection in a pool. While reading Hayles interpretation of Lexia to Perplexia, she thinks that Memmott tries to rewrite this myth:

“’I-terminal,’ a neologism signifying the merging of human and machine, looks at the screen and desires to interact with the image, caught like Narcissus in a reflexive loop that cycles across the screen boundary between self/other” (Electronic Literature 122).

We, as subjects interacting with the text, try to interact and control the images on screen; but the technology actually controls us and throws the user into a recursive loop of text and images. If the technology takes control in this circumstance, maybe as a user we are not supposed to fully understand this project…?

Hayles also talks about the signature of “Sign.mud Fraud” that Memmott uses throughout the piece. This signature shows how older forms of analysis and psychology cannot directly inform our understanding of these new technologies. Our interactions with new media create relationships that need to be evaluated on completely new terms. This theme is reminiscent of our discussions on Electronic Literature – You cannot analyze electronic literature pieces with older literary theory or technology theory; the pieces need to be approached with new, interdisciplinary analyses.

In a broad interpretation of this project, Memmott shows through text and images the exchange between the individual and computer interface. When we click around on a computer screen, we are blind to the multiple processes occurring behind the images and in the hardware of the computer. Memmott illustrates the process of coding that occurs remotely. This quote within the “Process of Attachment Section”: “Any| Every hum.and attachment is a col.lation of local and remote em.Urgencies,” exemplifies this phenomenon. Attachments are created by things we see – local, and underlying attributes we don’t – remote. ‘Urgencies’ can signify the relationship that users create with computer in which they urgently request the machine to process their every wish. The way that Memmott uses new uses of punctuation illustrates the ways that computer code changes the flowing structure of narrative, turning long sentences into short segments of code.

In Manifesto 3, the text says,

“The machine is build in expectation, more than as an object – the tangible machine…is dead already…tomorrow you will reject me – this is my destiny I know.”

I understood this manifesto to explain the way users of machines expect them to act perfectly, to understand any command. Users are usually ignorant of the real human that created the computer code in the first place. (A phenomenon we know understand through the reading of Ullman’s, The Bug.) As soon as the machine does not hold up to our expectations, we reject them – we depend on machines, yet we also love to hate the machine. In Manifesto 2, the text says, “I @ other; the re:peat ‘face to face; other to other’; the trans|missive miltiples; other @ I.” This sentence resonated for me as an interpretation of the “I” we use with the machine. We think that as an individual we have complete control over the machine, yet we forget that we are actually always interacting with the ‘other,” with the machine.

In the author’s note on the Electronic Literature site introduction, Memmott tells us that “text is the gap between theory and fiction.” The text of Lexia to Perplexia tries to evoke this gap between the literary, the mythical, the technological, and the human. While this project was created in 2000, many of these themes are still pertinent today, ten years later, in explaining and deciphering our relationship with the machine. If anything, themes of “interimacy,” “metastrophe,” and the repetition of echo and narcissus are intensified in today’s networked world of the machine.


Based on the title alone, I can’t say I wasn’t warned, but man. ‘Lexia to Perplexia’ is hard to read. Really hard. Maybe even to the point of doing a major disservice to the ideas Memmott attempts to illustrate.

Granted, most academic writing is ‘hard to read,’ in the sense of being intellectually challenging: the ideas are complex, the language highly specialized, the author apparently having spent the past ten years of his/her life locked away in a tiny windowless office with no one to talk to but other academics. (jk, KF! jk!) Now imagine you take that challenging academic writing, swap in a bunch of code-related symbols/character strings/neologisms, scatter the paragraphs around, and then display the text in borderline-illegible color combination with a gridded background or two (up yours, Cartesian dualism!). Extra zest: layer effects symbolizing ‘the collision of incompatible transmissions’ that will definitely give you a headache. Bonus: distracting ‘find the link to the next bit of the essay’ minigames! Bonus bonus: no back button! You have to read it in one sitting! Whee!


That’s basically how my ‘Lexia to Perplexia’ reading experience went. I can respect, in theory, the notion of enacting thru code the chaos/disruptive nature of kommunikation in cybersphere, but in practice it’s…really unpleasant to look at, and even less pleasant to unpack critically. The ‘encoding’ process is clever, but ‘decoding’ is unnecessarily painful. I don’t feel like I’m allowed enough breathing room to properly digest and consider Memmott’s arguments. ‘Lexia to Perplexia’ deals with some really interesting material, but it’s heady stuff that takes time to process, and I really, really do not want to spend any more time than necessary staring at 8-pt. magenta text on a gray background deciphering Memmott’s quirky nEo|(log).isms to figure out what the cyber.hell he’s cyber.talking about.

With all due respect to conceptual complexity and aesthetic experimentation, it’s just…too much. Unless I’m totally missing the point and it’s supposed to be a parody of bad postmodern academic writing, because really? That’ll do, Talan Memmott. That’ll do. He has a point and he makes it, but I’m not convinced it’s a point that couldn’t be made in a more reader-friendly format.

At what point does ‘the aesthetics of failure’ become a failure of meaningful communication?