River Liffey (2018)
How would the River Liffey flow through the text of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake? The Liffey exists as a leitmotif for the Wake and that is brought to the forefront in this digital work. The animation shows an algorithmically generated river flow through the 628 pages of the book, flowing continuously from the last page back to the first, as does the text. The sample video below shows the flow through page 41 of the book.
The river is calculated through a multistage process based on page images of the original text. A topographic map of the page is created using the black pixels as high ground with hills running down gradually to the white lower ground. The rate of decline is determined experimentally to allow somewhat more natural flow around corners with the river mostly flowing around words rather than through them while still letting the river cross the small saddles between letters where necessary. That is required in a book like the Wake, which has 100-letter “thunderwords” that extend beyond a full line of text and have no word breaks to flow through.
With the topographic map in place, a modification of the A* search algorithm is used to calculate the river path through the map, starting at the top of the page and flowing to the bottom, ensuring that the river flows consistently from one page to the next and wraps around to the beginning again.
The river is then drawn onto the page images based on the results of the search algorithm, with river width and colour variations generated along the way. For the sample video, the algorithm results were used to generate individual frames, compiled for video, but the process can run live.