Intermedia Writing Systems: A Literary Startup

1. Executive Summary
David Shields, in his book Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, boldy declares fiction and other forms of traditional literature to be moribund. Our nebulous and highly diffused modern culture is rendering these forms into something unrecognizable to the previous generation. Writers and artists are taking larger chunks of culture as raw material, blurring the line between truth and lie – fiction and non-fiction – book and everything else.

As an official UNESCO City of Literature, Iowa City is like the Silicon Valley of literature. Nicknamed “Pulitzer Town”, it is an engine of creation, with some of the smartest writers in the world travelling here to fund and develop their lit “startup”. The analogy extends further with the renown Writer’s Workshop serving as the Y Combinator or the Sequoia Capital of writerly ventures. Experience and critical mass make Iowa City the perfect place to begin a new literary startup.

However, if Shields is to be believed, Iowa City’s reputation is threatened. The town’s lit cred is based almost entirely off of the traditional model. The Great American Novel, the proud memoir, the meticulous poem, and the other forms one can only imagine are banged out on an old typewriter with cigarette dangling from artist’s mouth make up the town’s literary history. What happens to this venerable tradition when it is swallowed by the rolling mechanization of the future? How will the quiet and scholarly writer of literature respond to the insatiable appetite for reality as Shields predicts? Will Iowa City become to the City of Literature what Detroit became to the Motor City?

2. Studio History
Intermedia Writing Systems (IWS) was founded in 2008 by Matthew Butler as a studio focused on developing electronic art and literature. The first major project was working with with Aaron Sachs, doctoral student in Communications and Media Theory, on a digital translation of his creative research paper. They presented Box Full A of Angels at the National Communication Association’s annual conference in 2008. A Box Full of Angels was an interactive narrative space disguised as a computer operating system. Users could navigate the interface to discover and piece together the fictional research of other scholars piecing together fictional research. Each generation of scholar would compile their research into a box to be discovered by a new scholar, unraveling another layer of fiction/research. Ultimately the user could unlock the religious connotations of the overarching narrative to reveal a real-time chat session with media theorists Marshall McLuhan and Walter Benjamin, answering the user’s questions from beyond the grave. Version 2 of A Box Full of Angels was selected for inclusion in the 2009 FILE Electronic Language Festival in São Paulo, Brazil.

Further IWS projects have investigated the authenticity of authorship through specialized writing algorithms, namely the Open Wound application developed by Butler. Open Wound analyzes existing writing then outputs a stylized text using the words and parts-of-speech in the original. In 2010 IWS published the hardcover book Gravitation at the Jet Realm.

IWS has also produced mobile applications, particularly Anemoi in 2010. In Greek mythology, the Anemoi were wind gods who were each ascribed a cardinal direction, from which their respective winds came, and were each associated with various seasons and weather conditions. They were often personified as winged men and, according to the Greek poet Hesiod, were the children of Astraeus and the goddess of the dawn Eos. This web application attempted to bridge the gap between data and poetry. It queried NOAA for current wind directions based on an airport of the user’s choosing then returned the results as the appropriate wind god of Greek mythology.

3. Vision Statement
We will increase the value of our studio and our national portfolio of diversified projects by exceeding expectations and achieving artistic leadership and operating excellence in every segment of our studio.