DTC 338 | Will Luers | CMDC @ Washington State University
For my final project, I created a non-fiction hypertext story modeled largely after Shelley Jackson’s hypertext semi-fiction work “My Body.” My work is called “Wasabi’s Body” and tells the story about how my family ended up with a cat instead of a Christmas tree one year, and just how awesome a decision that was. Unfortunately, I’m not able to host my work and keep the media that I’d incorporated, so I’ve emailed it instead.
I had a lot of fun working on this story, and incorporating various images of my cat. He really is pretty cool. I was inspired to make my own hypertext version of “My Body” after reading Jackson’s work because it was so interesting. I’d never made a hypertext story before and it was challenging but enjoyable. Learning how to incorporate media took some trial and error, but I’ve found I learn pretty well that way (despite the extra time it takes).
My project is definitely entry-level because I didn’t use any advanced “if/then” type programming, but I wanted to keep it somewhat true to Jackson’s recipe with multiple links on one page linking back and forth to different body parts and sections of the same story. My work isn’t metafictional, like Scott Rettberg describes Jackson’s works, but it is reflexive in the ways that the images and gifs used play with the text and play off of the text. I also explored branching stories (van and cat person) that are tenuously related to the main story of how we came to adopt our cat. This felt very postmodern in its fragmentation, while still maintaining an overall theme.
The Twine platform is a new twist on a genre that’s been around a while. It embodies the E-Lit definition of “born digital” as Rettberg describes hypertext fiction: “fundamentally a text technology” (62). It also allows authors new to the genre, like myself, to explore hypertext literature in a non-threatening way that inspires creativity, and I’m glad I had a chance to try my hand at a genre that’s helped to shape such an interesting field.
Rettberg’s chapter on Kinetic and Interactive poetry covers many types of digital poetry. The sections I found myself most interested in were those on visual and sound poetry. I appreciate the kinetic aspects and found that digital poetry that combined sound and text as images held my interest best.
“Rain on the Sea” by Y0UNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES was incredible. It took me by surprise (as did most of the works we studied this week) because I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t explored their work before. After experiencing “Rain on the Sea” I found more of their work to see what else they’re doing, and found that they have a style. The use of Flash, and pacing their text to upbeat music so that words are presented almost too quickly to comprehend created a juxtaposition. I found myself enjoying the music but trying to follow the story, and feeling oddly conflicted trying to experience the story, visual art, and music all together. I grew a little frustrated with the edges of the text being cut off and flashing by so quickly, but liked the story and the music. At the end I was left feeling both wrung-out and exhilarated.
Tachistoscope was another piece I really enjoyed. The presentation of single words (mostly) atop images that at times enforced and other times contradicted the text was visually interesting, and I enjoyed the story that Poundstone was telling. The addition of sound drew me in more and kind of helped me keep pace with the story. I went through it a few times, trying to focus more on the words in white font and find out how they’re affecting my experience or interpretation. It was difficult but I think I got more of the story that way.
This class module is very interesting and I’m super enjoying exploring it!
As one who is coming late to the genre of electronic literature, and thus to the form of hypertext fiction, the genre and form are still exciting to me. I may have less than a dozen Twine stories under my belt and my stories are utterly simplistic compared to what others have done, but I still feel curious and inspired when it comes to hypertext fiction. I like to imagine that others feel the same. Truthfully, I don’t have to imagine. Electronic literature as a field of study is still fairly new, and Rettberg’s book is one of the first real academic works on the subject. It was highly anticipated, and that’s because people are still very much interested in it; its forms, function, origin, and future.
The form of hypertext, using the word “form” loosely here, is almost neurological in nature. Just as neurons in the brain form bridges between like items based on association, hypertext fictions jump around with the author’s thoughts. Shelley Jackson described her writing style as “related fragments with no overarching design” (1998) and likened her creative process to stitching a quilt “where each patch is itself a patchwork.” In this way, I feel very like Marshal McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” is validated. The form is part of the story, and it’s intentional. The fragmentation in hypertext very much echoes the way we think in the digital age, clicking links to move between thoughts and gain more information, while our brain struggles to categorize and sort the date into a big picture that makes sense. In this way, hypertext accomplishes what print cannot, and it forces us to grow as readers. If this cycle continues, with writers and readers growing and adapting to ever-changing forms of writing (and I don’t see how it couldn’t) I think the future of hypertext could be even more interesting than its history.
Robert Coover’s short story “The Babysitter” is a fragmented set of stories about the same set of characters that plays out in pieces where each story line and outcome, as there are several, are equally as likely to have happened. The story is meant to be read from page one to the end, and it follows a set timeline of a few hours over the course of one evening, but the text is broken up into chunks and separated with characters that signify a break in the story line. Perspectives shift, character focus shifts, but the timeline of 7:40 to 10:00 pm remains constant. The reader progresses through the evening, visiting each of the main characters in several different “alternate realities.” The reader does not know which narrative is the “actual” and which are “alternates,” or perhaps none are real and all are just possibilities.
“The Babysitter” was published in 1969, and while it wasn’t the first work intended to be read in a multi-linear manner, it had a heavy influence on writers who came later, especially those creating hypertext stories that explored the same story from multiple points of view. The structure of “The Babysitter” is like a branching tree, each possibility stemming from the same set of events. This type of branching text creates a very meta experience for the reader, who is aware of how the stories keep changing, and how this one piece of writing is really multiple pieces. Rettberg calls this type of text “reflexive” and ties it to works that came later that also explore fragmentation as a structure that helps to guide, or disrupt, the reader’s experience.
While examining a few different versions of the Taroko Gorge works, I noticed that many shared the same source code or framework. Nick Monfort’s original Python program was used for each of the works that I examined. Some versions, such as Camel Tail by Sonny Rae, modified the code enough that it looks like a completely different program. Sonny used blocks of text as opposed to individual words, as they were inspired by and using lyrics written by the band Metallica as opposed to individual words. The disclaimer that usually precedes the code about the original author is missing, and the names of the variables have been changed. The end result is similar enough as to be included in the list of versions of Taroko Gorge, and it looks similar when it runs, but it is different enough as to make one look closer at the code to find the common threads.
The meaning of each of the works would, I assume, vary from author to author. Each author uses similar framework but different content to generate combinatory poetry that speaks to them. Rettberg described Taroko Gorge as “ambient” (47) then went on to hack the source code, replacing Monfort’s verbs and adjectives with his own. He chose language he described as “frenetic” (48) which changed the entire feel of the work from one evoking peaceful Taiwanese scenery to an urban metropolis bristling with energy. To this end, the effect of combinatory processes on the reader are many-fold and widely variable. The uncertainty of what’s coming next can be exciting or unsettling depending on the reader. What is exciting, though, is how people and computers are working together and using one another (intentionally or not) to create these new, electronic forms of poetry that are contrived and organic at the same time.