Serge Bouchardon and Vincent Volckaert’s “Loss of Grasp” explores the terrain of certitude as a tension between the “grasp” and its “loss.” As the title suggests, the piece opens up the space of the grasp after its hold on things has slipped away, focusing the reader’s attention on the anxious desire experienced in loss (as opposed to the more optimistic grasp of the one who aspires towards something). The piece, created in Flash, is divided into six distinct segments, held together by a common protagonist and unified by the recurrence of slippery texts that reconfigure themselves when “touched” by reader’s mouse strokes. Following the poem’s title, readers might be reminded of an earlier literary work, Robert Browning’s “Andrea del Sarto” (1855), in which a first-person narrator, the artist Andrea del Sarto, explains, “Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,/ Or what's a heaven for?” Like Browning’s work, Bouchardon and Volckaert’s “Loss of Grasp” tells of a man whose pursuit of control is ultimately frustrated in spite of his ambition.
The first segment is initiated when the reader is instructed to press the hash key on the keyboard. From here, text appears on screen telling the protagonist’s story from the first person perspective: “My entire life, I believed I had infinite prospects before me.” After touching the text with the cursor, it scrambles briefly, and is followed by the next line: “’The whole universe belongs to me’, I thought.” And continues, describing the narrator’s perception of control, always in past tense. As this first section, or stanza, proceeds, color and sound are added and the protagonist shifts into present tense, “How can I have grasp on what happens to me?/ Everything escapes me./ Slips through my fingers.” This passage establishes the general mood of the piece: The perception of control unsettled by the experience of doubt.
The second segment begins with a meeting that the narrator characterizes as deceptive. Against the sonic backdrop of restaurant, the reader is presented with a series of statements and questions, small talk, that slips into distorted absurd homonymous phrases. For instance, when readers move their mouse over the question, “Have you lived around here for a long time?” a voice recites the question as the text is replaced by the absurd: “Have you used the wrong ear for a long time?” The effect is to suggest a difficulty with language, a nervousness, as the speaker attempts to make conversation with a beautiful woman. As the an image of the woman emerges, pieced together by the narrator’s many questions, reader’s discover that the woman in question is, in fact, the narrator’s wife. Eventually, the text reveals, “Without my being aware of it, this stranger became my wife.”
The third segment begins twenty years after the initial meeting, with the narrator reading an ambiguous note from his wife. A scrolling effect of the text, allows readers to read the note as either a “love poem or break up note,” depending on which order one reads the lines of the text. The fourth segment, following the narrator’s troubled grasp of language, presents an essay from his own son, who reveals, “I don’t have a hero,” the text of which can be broken up and reassembled into phrases that express a desire for autonomy and, even, outright resentment. The fifth segment presents readers with their own distorted image, warped by the movements of the mouse, and punctuated by frenetic music and the narrator’s own profession of outrage. The sixth segment begins with the declaration that it is “Time to take control again,” and concludes with a provocative and amusing interactive component.
“Loss of Grasp” is consistent with other works by Bouchardon in that it explores the relationship between the human and the computer by way of interface, making broad use of mouse, keyboard, screen, speakers, and camera. On its most basic level, it is a piece about control and loss of control that resonates with the common experience of media users in times of transition. Bouchardon and Volckaert mesh this practical question of grasp with a narrative that resonates with the broader human experience, by providing a story about a man who struggles to maintain control of his words, his relationships, and even his self-concept. But, perhaps, most significantly, attentive readers will note that the piece is also about the question of control that exists between artists and their audience. The net effect is to engage with our anxieties about loss of control across the physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and cultural, and to put new media into a rather comprehensive human perspective.