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Position Paper #5

Position Paper #5
In Chapter 6 of Hypertext 2.0, George Landow quotes Jay David Bolter who writes that "In place of a closed and unitary structure, they [writers] must learn to conceive of their text as a structure of possible structures. The writer must practice a kind of second-order writing, creating coherent lines for the reader to discover without closing off the possibilities prematurely or arbitrarily." Using Patchwork Girl,
Victory Garden, and Afternoon as examples, discuss the kind of choices that writers can make in creating this type of "structure of possible structures." How does this notion of structure conflict with the Aristotelian idea of plot Landow describes earlier in the chapter. Is one kind of narrative structure superior to or "more natural" than the other?



“Structure of possible structures.” I am still hung up on that a bit. Not so much that there is a “structure of structures”, but a structure of possible structures. In my own linear, Aristotelian mind, I find it easier to think of, perhaps, a collection of blueprints to a complex of buildings, a college campus perhaps. The blueprints themselves are the “possible structures” – that which might or could eventually be. The structure is the collection of blueprints themselves.


For me to relate this to Patchwork Girl, I have to think of the actual work, the piece of Hypertext called Patchwork Girl as the collection of blueprints. The map view is almost precisely that; a wire framework of squares illustrating what the work looks like from the perspective of a builder – or in Shelley Jackson’s case, a hypertext writer. The individual sections, the clumps of lexias: these are the possible structures. But to limit only the five main sections as the only possible structures would be similar to referring to DaVinci’s  “Mona Lisa” as “a nice work of art”. It is so much more than that.


Jackson uses many techniques to bring her monster that is Patchwork Girl to life. In keeping with linear, Aristotelian ideals, the “Story” section travels mostly in traditional story fashion: there is a beginning, a middle in which things happen to carry forward a plot of sorts, and an end of sorts. As you click on each lexia, you are brought in successive order to the next in line, and so forth. But this oversimplifies a lot of what Jackson has done in the section, and through the entire work. Any given lexia can have any number of disconnected links to lexia outside of the “Story” section. One can jump into “Graveyard” or “Body of Text” quite easily, without immediate notice of the jump.


The “Body of Text” section is very disjointed and non-linear, at least in its “telling”. The lexia themselves are connected somewhat linearly, but the ideas jump from lofty to absurd, thoughtful to confusing. And you can again go from this section to any of the other sections. By making sections of the hypertext difficult to navigate, Jackson forces readers to use the Map views, if for no other reason than clarity, to keep from repeating jumps outside of the section, or to sections already visited. All in all, however, Jackson’s loosely knit “quilt” of text (ugh, sorry!) remains together and whole, through its themes and feminist philosophies. It may be distracting to follow the path at times, but you know you are never far from it.


Michael Joyce in afternoon… a story was more interested in creating almost a self-contained human memory. More specifically, the work revolves around one specific memory, one the “author” has of seeing his wife and son killed in a car accident, and possibly being the cause himself. This hypertext is almost a demonstration in Psychology class of how human memories are thought to work: a thought leads to a memory, which in turn leads to another related yet separate memory, and this lead to another separate memory, etc. The lexias are very incongruent as you click one after the other, and grab only pieces from the author’s brain. This has the advantage, in this case, of emphasizing the magnitude of such a horrific event, by demonstrating with text, albeit hypertext, the flurry of human emotion, or lack thereof, one might experience when confronted with a horrible truth. An unsuspecting reader needs to end and begin several times before getting to the “meat” of the piece, in which the author reveals what is bothering him so, and why. Once the hypertext has been visited enough times, the reader can form a linearity of his/her own choosing.


In both cases, the Aristotelian ideal of linearity is perhaps the pot on the backburner of the stove which is Hypertext. Our culture, for whatever reasons, so relies on linearity in everyday life, from the movies we see to the stories we tell each other. Neither can completely escape Aristotle’s idea of beginning, middle and end. Patchwork Girl gets to a rolling boil occasionally, though afternoon simmers on low heat in terms of a linear narrative. Although neither have specific beginnings, middles, or ends, both do in some aspects and in certain areas.


I would venture to say that the Aristotelian ideal is “more natural” for one reason: it is what we know. Books, movies, stories have been told this way for hundreds of years; it is difficult to sway millions of people to thinking in bold new ways overnight. My personal belief, however, is that as the number of generations born into computer-ridden life increases, hypertext will creep slowly but surely into the mainstream. People are blogging all over the place, connecting to other blogs and sites, paying no attention to linearity. And, children raised on computers will be more adaptable to the point-and-click devices of hypertext. Superior? Not necessarily. Different? For sure!