Displaced Earth: An Engagement with Sand and Soot

Adrienne Dodt, Series Contributor

Adrienne’s series “Digital Landscapes” is about navigating hypertext.

Stephanie Strickland’s The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot¹ is a poetic hypertext about a love story between the characters Sand and Harry Soot. The text is made of linked nodes that one can traverse through different methods. Each node contains two verses, one for each character (titled “1” for Soot and usually “0” for Sand, though she occasionally has other binary code titles), and an image that is in some way science-based. One can read the text in any order through links attached to words, links attached to images, and links attached to a series of 0s at the bottom of each page.

The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot is displaced through its content and its form.

Sand: Soot:
Sand is earth. Soot is earth.
Sand is the substance silica, Soot is the substance carbon,
which makes glass and silicon chips.² which makes life.²
Sand is inert. Soot is active.
Sand represents the raw material Soot represents the processed (burned)
out of which we construct our virtual reality. remnants of the once living.
Sand is that which is natural, untouched. Carbon is the material
Sand encompasses both the natural and the unnatural. out of which we construct living reality.
Sand is that which will be interpreted by humans. Soot is that which was interpreted by humans.

      0                                                                                        1
Biocompatible glass?
                                                      Harry Soot,
Sand looks askance.                                                       unclear, of course, about fire.
Sand an infinite receiver— 
                                            How original, originating,
infinitely flexible. Beyond
                                                it really was—
flex in fact, an infinite                                                       Forests aflame.¹
deceiver: Proteus at home.¹

and

01000011
Sand is sand.
¹

New York City: The ubiquitous (American) city, it becomes indistinctive in the process of fictionalization: the Everycity. NYC is the projection of human’s ideal “metropolis”— fears, desires, artistic impulses— a filtered view of an actual New York City made of concrete, steel, people, neighborhoods. New York City is a physical, human-made geography. NYC is an abstract, human-made geography.

1
Harry Soot believes he is watching.
Harry thinks he is in Times Square.
He is. She is not.
¹

It is telling that only Harry Soot is associated with New York City. Soot symbolizes man (in both the general and gendered interpretation), who must navigate human-made geographies. This arena is closed off to Sand, who represents non-living nature turned into technology.

1
Soot ground his keys
in his pocket,
defacing his Metrocard.
¹

This verse is located next to an image of a Metrocard— a pass for New York’s subway system. The card is a means of travel through the city. By scraping his keys against the card, Soot renders it unusable. He sabotages his “key” to the trains, the portal to moving from one place to the next, with his actual keys, the portal to (presumably) his home. He cannot (doesn’t want to) navigate the actual city. He is intentionally dis-placed as a character, a persona on the internet, a fictionalized person who cannot traverse reality.

The image of the card itself links to another node of the text; thus the card becomes a literal portal from one site to another even as it is rendered as an image and is thus inutile as passage through an actual place.

Nature: Amorphous, uncontrollable Nature is the symbol of that which is not constructed. Nature is the Everywhere; it is incomprehensible as it encroaches on our constructed geographies. Nature is that which we classify and name— an interpretation of the unknown/other— into flora, fauna, geological features. Nature is a fictionalized ideal of nature: an overlaid transparency onto the living and non-living earth.

0
Sand seeks the scent
of lemon viburnum,
murmuring purple
of the ringneck doves’ soft
gurgle as they walk on the wall
and their syllables spill over and

fall
down
a
column

of slowness. Midnight blue
of Krishna’s
¹

In this verse, Sand is in her untouched state. Nature overtakes the language (of doves, but still a language), rendering it almost unintelligible, and language “spills over” and “falls” down the human-made construction of a column. The column represents one of the earliest breakthroughs in architecture, a milestone of human ingenuity.

0

Sand’s similarity to scarabs? Or a
rosa dolorosa
, every petal
thorned? Or swallows up close.
“The tail is forked and as
elegant
as a trout’s, but more attenuated,
just short of baroque,” says the
naturist. I quote.
¹

In this verse, Sand represents controlled nature, nature that has been quantified, measured, and classified. Sand is that which is taken from nature and processed for human knowledge (which is in itself a use.)

0
Sand resounds as long as a whale song
passed along and around the waters of the
world. Like a
motherchild pod, she/they
both
threatened and succored by the
coasts. Alone in the bay, rolling over and
back beneath the moon, as

1
Harry and his cohort heave
into view, traveling in a pack,
driving them aground.
¹

This is the conflict between human and (the rest of) nature: humans attempt to conquer animals, land, and geology for their own use while nature resists and fights back. In this verse, Sand has been conquered by Soot; nature has been conquered by human for use.

The Internet: The internet is a no-place and therefore, so goes the sophism, an every-place. The internet is both constructed— through code and content— and unconstructed— through its immateriality, the lack of physicality. The internet is a medium through which humans navigate from site to site to site in our conception of the internet as a series of places, both connected (linked) and unconnected (discrete).

The hypertext is a dis-placement: there is no spatial determination (or order) to the text. One can travel through any chosen path to interpret the text. In this way, the text is doubly dis-placed: through the non-place of the internet and through the de-construction/interpreted re-construction of its narrative.

0

Sand insinuated herself. ZaumZoom in,
she has gone ahead. ZoomTzim out,
she is not behind.
¹

Sand “has gone ahead,” or, in another word, progressed. “Progress” and “advance” (to go ahead) are the words we use to describe technology. To take the natural and turn it into the abstract is progress because it furthers human purposes. Sand is located on the internet, which is conducted through silicon/sand. She can progress because she is of the internet, or the internet is of her.

1
Harry Soot
tried to find a center. Beneath or beyond.
A point to yield or resist.
¹

Soot, on the other hand, is a constructed and self-constructed entity. His subjectivity tries to relate to an objectivity beyond himself, and that objective reality is, paradoxically, virtual. It is that which he cannot touch. Soot cannot locate himself because he is incompatible as a physical substrate. He is caught up in his own abstraction.

We, as readers, construct a narrative through our choices acted upon the text. The dis-placement of the text is, ultimately, what frees us to perform other operations of interpretation.

Footnotes:

¹ Stephanie Strickland, The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot. http://www.wordcircuits.com/gallery/sandsoot/frame.html
² I riffed off of some of Strickland’s ideas here.
Stephanie Strickland, “Seven Reasons Why Sandsoot is the Way It Is.” http://www.wordcircuits.com/htww/strickland.htm#top

Adrienne Dodt

Adrienne Dodt is a poet and essayist. Adrienne’s work can be found in The Body Electric anthology and Fact-Simile, Apothecary, Con/Crescent, and Monkey Puzzle magazines. Ze is a member of The Next Objectivists poetry collective in Chicago. Ze was the Poetry Editor for Bombay Gin magazine in 2008-2009, and ze edited the Next Objectivists’ chapbook Collective Unconsciousnesses in 2011. Adrienne currently teaches English at City Colleges of Chicago.

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