CAP "3 Proposals for Bottle Imps"

3 Proposals for Bottle Imps
William Poundstone

The writer first open the article by saying that most Web-based poetry is not strongly narrative. Then he explained that the “3 Proposals for Bottle Imps” is structured around Raymond Roussel’s novel Locus Solus: Roussel’s story concerns a gentleman scientist, Canterel, who has created a group of absurd machines on his estate outside Paris. These are machines that act out stories with little figurines.
The Web proposals are actually digital (Flash) animations; as he was amazed with the similarity of today’s new media literature to Roussel’s bottle imps. Roussel imagines his bottle imps to be multimedia devices incorporating motion, sound, and text.

Poundstone traces his idea of multimedia narrative back to Roussel who is said to be influenced by the German opera composer Richard Wagner. Wagner’s aesthetics aims at unifying all works of art through theater. According to Wagner, multimedia was a form of thought control. That is, unified arts work together to generate the same aesthetic response in the viewers. Everyone of the spectators would feel the same thing.

In contrast, in Roussel’s novel Locus Souls, the artist Canterel has created a group of absurd machines. Among these machines are the bottle imps. The bottle imps are a futuristic version of what is called Cartesian devils which are gas-filled figurines which ascend and descend in a bottle of water depending on the pressure within it.

These machines are used to act out stories incorporating motion, sound, and text. Poundstone realized that new media literature is similar to the bottle imps. He adds that Roussel’s concept of multimedia is different from that of Wagner. While Wagner was concerned with the idea that multimedia would provide the exact sensory experience for everyone, Roussel’s bottle imps were agents of mystification rather than clarity. In the novel, the viewers of these bottles were fascinated by the stories, but they required exploitations of these stories.

What Poundstone did in his 3 Proposals is creating a media narrative, dealing with the capacity of the viewers’ eyes, the moving text, and sound. He created an “autonomous movie of text.” So the text in his multimedia narrative is of two kinds: some of the text stays on screen for a long time, while other text zooms fast to read. The viewer can just have a glimpse of it. He is concerned with two questions: how much moving text can the reader have without it becoming boring? How can the composer deal with the fact that not everyone reads at the same pace?

At the end of the chapter, Poundstone notes that he had performed writing, designing, and coding of the piece. He adds that he “got most of the site’s sound off the Web,” where “talented people post sounds and loops they’ve made as linkware or freeware”. His goal is to create a collage of “preexisting elements to get an effect that is different from those elements in isolation”. Poundstone highlights the fact that he has much freedom , in adding sound, as this field is still relatively new and there are no fixed rules to be followed. He ends his piece wondering, "is it OK to 'punctuate' a word or phrase with a sound?"

Discussion Questions:
1- To what extent do you think that adding sound to the narrative affect the interpretation of digital works.

2- How do you read Poundstone’s argument in relation to aesthetic value of the moving text?

3-In which way today’s new media literature is similar to Roussel’s Bottle Imps?