About the Work

"Under Language" is the latest in my series of textual instruments, a term I borrowed from John Cayley many years ago to describe things that might look like literature, but also like structures for play, though not necessarily what we would call games.

In fact, this one lies pretty close to game space, having rules, a scoring system (albeit invisible), and even a simple agon in which you compete against the perversity of the puzzle-maker, and constraints of the clock.

The phrase "under-language" was invented by the comics artist, Alan Moore, in an interview he gave in the early 1980s. He used it to describe the essence of comics art, which is neither verbal nor visual, but something that underlies and infuses both modes. The term gets at the essence behind Moore's great genius for irony and verbal-visual puns. It also provides a convenient reminder that everything, these days, tends to mean more than it seems.

Steeped in double senses, and devoted to play, the "Under Language" offered here nonetheless attempts to express something serious about words: namely, that in the era that succeeds the old Age of Print, we need to notice how writing intersects code.

In more subtle moods, one might think of this convergence in terms of negotiation, or seduction: as courtship, dance, or embrace.

In no mood for subtlety, I enact it here as collision, or slapstick. Poetry, in motion, meets code, coming the other way at speed. You find yourself under language, so look out below.


All text and graphics (spoken and written) are the work of the author, as is the code. The work was programmed in ActionScript 2.0, using Macromedia Flash 8. Synthetic voices used in audible passages are ScanSoft's Samantha and (briefly) Daniel. Ambient sound collages were assembled primarily from samples at the Freesound archive. Graphics were produced with Poser 7, using figures from Digital Art Zone and various assets from Renderosity. All such assets are used non-commercially in compliance with relevant licenses.

This work is copyrighted 2007 by Stuart Moulthrop.


The author thanks Scott Rettberg, Jill Walker, and the Program in Humanistic Informatics at the University of Bergen, Norway, for hospitality, fellowship, and a fine first read.


suggestions for play