Reading My Body by Shelley Jackson last week was delicious. It’s such an artifact of the era in which – and the tool with which – it was authored. So much of the experience of reading the piece was familiar to me despite never having read it before.
Something similar happens when I stumble upon text with two spaces following the end of a sentence. I feel a strange affection for these strangers because I know they are old enough to have been typewriter users and carry with them a writing convention that’s tied to a particular piece of technology.
I image it must be like that for coders, too. Syntax and style. Greybeards and script kiddies.
Historically there’s been a tension between the old-school literary hyperptextualists and the interactive fiction crowd. It boils down to the question: ‘is it a game, or is it serious literature?’
GET LAMP, the documentary about text-based adventure games, doesn’t address hypertext literature per se but there’s a brief moment during an interview with Stuart Moulthrop, one of the early hypertext fiction authors (and a very kind man), in which he refers (albeit obliquely) to the tension I’m talking about.
The Moulthrop snippet is pulled from a 10 minute source in which he describes hypertext fiction and interactive fiction as “siblings” engaged in a “turf battle” and sweetly, offers a kind of mea culpa for any part he may have played in that dynamic.
This same tension showed itself in a contemporary context when Chris Klimas (creator of Twine, a widely used tool among the interactive fiction crowd) offered a civilized response to what is tantamount to a slight from Mark Bernstein (publisher of StorySpace, the first hypertext authoring tool for writers).
Below are two lexia from an introductory sequence in my college thesis. The writing is somewhat affected but nonetheless, it’s telling.
Hypertext lends itself to the gap I seek to represent as narrative. A form which is simultaneously visual and textual, Hypertext evokes allusions to space and motion. The perpetual comings and goings, places visited, re-visited, visited anew …
Equating this form with the ‘choose your own adventure’ books of our childhood, suggestions to the effect that it ‘mimics the mind,’ do the narrative application more harm than descriptive good. They are weak analogies, anxious rhetorical spoutings regarding a neophyte, as of yet un-articulated form. The suspect qualities of impetus and closure in narrative are sufficiently in question. ‘Non-linearity’ and ‘disruptive narrative’ are exhausted labels. My interest lies in a smaller (though equally immeasurable) unit of the electronic narrative: the in-between, the moving from one place to another… the narrative void. I seek to draw out the link, to incorporate and exploit it for the sake of the telling.
It’s never a bad thing to be confronted with one’s own bias.
- text as visual form
- motion and animation and …
- the challenges of depicting progress and pace
- explicit choices as disruptive to flow
- the tedium of point and click and …
- the need for tactile interfaces