sketching ivanhoe

The publication of Johanna Drucker’s new book, SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing, has sent me back to my notebook of drawings from our SpecLab and ARP days, the period from roughly 2000 – 2006 when, first as a grad student and then as a post-doc, I worked closely with Johanna and Jerry McGann on the lunatic fringe of digital humanities. (Jerry and I had gone down the rabbit hole some years earlier with the Rossetti Archive as well.)

These are a few of my sketches for the last iteration of the Ivanhoe Game, the one that’s still available for play. I must confess — as much as I loved the design process in all its stages — that I haven’t played a really good game of Ivanhoe since we moved away from the more prosy and simple interfaces of the Turn of the Screw game (undertaken when Geoffrey Rockwell was a visiting scholar at UVA and I wrote moves like this) and the Haruki Murakami / D. G. Rossetti games I played in the wee hours of the night with my first baby sleeping in my arms. (The Rossetti one, on Jenny, in which I imagined a company specializing in flesh-bot reproductions of Victoriana, was re-printed by Laura Mandell at Romantic Circles and in Jerome McGann’s Like Leaving the Nile.)

These images were done mostly after the process Johanna describes in her Ivanhoe chapter — although you can see, in JD’s book and in the Java application online, the on-screen rendering of some of the icons and navigation elements sketched below. A couple of the wackier ones — stemma trees that reach up to a starry sky of Ivanhoe moves — were never entirely realized. I’ll leave them without annotation.

The SpecLab years — our over-hummused, thoroughly pita’d luncheon-club heady think-tank days — were the most amazing moment in my working life as a digital humanist.  Steve Ramsay, Worthy Martin, Andrea Laue, Nathan Piazza, Shane Liesegang, Ben Cummings, David Patch, Jim Allman, Geoff Rockwell, my old friends, will we see their like again?

I’m touched that Johanna has dedicated her book to Jerry and me.