Esther’s Space- journey through my life

March 23, 2008

Hypertext, Filmtext, Futuretext?

Filed under: ENG 576: Literature in the Information Age — estherspace @ 9:28 pm

Both Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl and Mark Amerika’s Filmtext provide interesting postmodern formats for the future of narrative. They embody the fragmentation of the self like none other I’ve seen. Beyond that ability to prove themselves new, different, and unique, both authors quickly lose me.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re both smart, and they worked very hard to be super-special. On the MIT communications forum website, Shelley Jackson writes:

The project of writing, the project of life, even, is to dissolve that tumor. To dismantle the project is the project. That is, to interrupt, unhinge, disable the processes by which the mind, glorying in its own firm grip on what it wishes to include in reality, gradually shuts out more and more of it, and substitutes an effigy for that complicated machine for inclusion and effusion that is the self.

Yes, she does this. She takes apart the narrative and frees it for nearly random navigation by the reader, ensuring that every reader will have a unique experience, and, perhaps, a different reading of the text. Once I figured out the system (much like Nell and her Turing Machines), navigation got much easier, and I lost interest in the subject. I feel like I already knew the point of the entire project before I began interacting with it, and it didn’t reveal anything new to me. Largely, I felt like it was a new way to read a standard novel. I guess, according to the above quote, she was being a little more revolutionary than I found her to be.

I was much more surprised at how difficult it was for me to gain access to Mark Amerika’s project. Maybe it was the lack of recognizable narrative, but I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to ‘work’ the tools. I read the things, watched the videos, listened to the strange flying digital role of parchment, but I couldn’t really find an entry point, or any point beyond the frustration of trying to figure out how to navigate. The closest I came to what I would traditionally recognize as success in a game such as this would be the last couple of chapters, where he begins to introduce ‘music’ or more appropriately, sounds as part of the reader-generated experience of writing/reading. If I’m not being clear, I’m referring to the one where there is the bar of light that strikes a note every time you pass the mouse over that. For some reason, I found it incredibly entertaining.  It did make me think of the writing of music and music as a narrative, so I found the interpolation of music or the idea of sound into both written and visual language/concepts to be an important aspect of the future of text or the experience of reading a text.

My big hangup with both of these is access.  I think that in our lovely little postmodern life postmodern fiction needs to be accessible to a variety of levels of readers; everyone should be able to get something out of it.  While Jackson’s doesn’t fail so much in this area, Amerika’s completely does.  Readers need to be able to find some way, any way, of identifying with the text, or they won’t care.  Another potential issue if this genre is the fact that there is no definitive middle or end of the project.  It is possible to ‘finish’ Patchwork Girl without reading the entire thing.   This makes me wonder about what level of committed interaction the creator is getting from his/her readers.  We’ve all had that novel that wasn’t very good, but we still felt like we should continue reading it, just to see if it gets any  better.  That impetus is much shorter-lived with these fragmented hypertexts, where it is apparently possible to enter or leave at any moment easily.  If this really is the future of narrative, it seems like it will only appeal to a select population, and it will alienate many others.



  1. Hi Esther,

    At least you were able to get into Mark Amerika’s space. I’m still trying to decipher it! After Jackson’s quote I was overwhelmed by the feeling that these authors are trying too hard to be different. I mean, what is so wrong with tree flakes? Maybe I’m just being close minded, but these forms of “literature” are not working for me. I don’t know why, but after reading that quote I’m a little angry. In Jackson’s attempt to sound smart, she comes off as being arrogant and all knowing. This is probably why I’m not a philosophy person. Whenever someone tries to break something down like this, I get all riled up. In my simple mindedness, I sometimes just wish everything could be taken at face value. Sorry, I’m not angry with you, just frustrated because I can’t figure out Mark Amerika and Patchwork Girl was a blur of hypertext. See you tomorrow in class!


    Comment by Allison — March 24, 2008 @ 4:14 pm

  2. Allison, I agree, Jackson seems to revel in her ‘smartness’. It made accessibility a problem for me, too. I’d almost like to argue, however, that her weaving of her intense intelligence is based on a simple concept; that narrative doesn’t need to be linear. I think she is definitely promoted an inflated sense of her worth, and underneath it all, Amerika is suffering from the same issue.

    Comment by estherspace — March 24, 2008 @ 8:47 pm

  3. Esther, I think you bring up a great point about Jackson’s text when you talked in your post, “I guess, according to the above quote, she was being a little more revolutionary than I found her to be.” Perhaps Jackson, as an author, is jumping the gun by assuming that readers have this knowledge of what she is trying to accomplish with her text. I think that as writers, as academics, we tend to think of ourselves as more “enlightened” than the masses. After reading that quote and reading her text, I don’t think I realized that I was stuck in such a complex machine that required her text to help me break free (or at least recognize the structure that imprisons me). I have to agree with you that maybe these people are creating something just for the sake of being different. It reminds me of Jackson’s narrative, “While patchwork had its period in vogue, patched freaks, conglomerates, never did.” Is there some larger trend at hand or is all of this just art for art’s sake going in and out of vogue? It brings up that dreaded question of authorial intent, which (unfortunately) plays such a large role when the authors themselves are entrenched in the network (like Jackson’s post on the board or Amerika’s blogs). Does that change our readings of the texts knowing the authors are out there ready to hand you their meanings?

    Comment by Katie — March 24, 2008 @ 10:35 pm

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