In The Dreamlife of Letters, Brian Kim Stefans creates an animated film that examines the function of language within the context of a text written by Rachel Blau DuPlessis. This film takes individual letters of the alphabet and injects life to them. The letters move freely about the screen liberated from the pages of a book. When I first viewed the film, I wasn’t sure how to react. It certainly was interesting, but I battled with the concept of whether this could be defined as literature. Stefan alphabetizes individual words within Blau’s text constructing short poems as a result. The film itself lasts for 11 minutes, and does not require any active participation from the audience. Unlike a normal text, readers are not able to truly engage with this medium of literature. Instead, they merely observe and absorb what Stefans has allowed the viewer to see.
The Dreamlife of Letters has much in common with Stefans' previous work Star Wars; both showcase one letter at a time, which produces an interesting new way to approach a text. The words or letters are not stringed together in a sentence but rather glide about exploring every corner of the screen. Furthermore, it changes how the audience can read the work. The Dreamlife of Letters challenges viewers to question how to read a text. It is no longer the normal left to right, but instead the words flow from every direction. Stefans also alphabetizes the words’ of text creating several shorter poems. Though these terms were alphabetized, the viewer is able to discern, based on the context, the theme embedded in the poem. Even if Stefan did not provide any background information about the text, readers would still be able to discern the meaning. Terms such as feminist or Cixous provide clues about the original intent of the novel. On the other hand, Stars Wars, one letter at a time asks readers to read as the title states one letter at a time. Each letter appears against a white background with the sounds of a type writer accompanying the end of each word.
Through his use of language, Stefans creates works that force viewers to interact with a text in a different manner. His manipulation of language creates these reoccurring patterns. This approach to understanding the underlying patterns in language is known as Structuralism. Structuralism asserts that language exists in patterns and that is these patterns reveal some important commonality within the realm of all human experiences. In this manger, literature allows readers to then examine subtle meanings the author has laced within the work. For instance, within this theory viewers often analyze the particular word choice of an author, the re-occurrence of a term, etc. It allows the reader to see beyond the words on the page and forces them to ask why. By looking for patterns within The Dreamlife of Letters, one sees the power words have in understanding a text. Isolating terms can change meaning of a work and also the reader’s perception of it.
As with most electronic literature, it is difficult to classify The Dreamlife of Letters as literature in the historical sense, but it does contain important literary aspects in it that provide readers with a visual representation of a text in a different artistic way. How one person initially understood DuPlessis’ work or Star Wars could be changed upon watching Stefan’s videos. Each video is beautifully made employing sound, movement, and color to bring this “moving book” to life.
Sabryna Raymond was a student of Dr. Lisa Swanstrom for a course in Literary Theory taught at Florida Atlantic University in the Spring term of 2014.