Category Archives: Reading Hypertext: A Series

Reading Hypertext: Reading the Link II

It’s time to do a little essaying, proposing an idea and a reading.

In Lust, a woman (and others within the space of this hypertext) struggles with the powerful force of memory and recounting. She’s encouraged to “Try” but fails to remember a significant event. She remembers other details related to it but can never find the center. The reader will attempt to identify when this struggle is taking place or when the questioner’s voice says “Try.” The answer may be irrelevant because the story is not about when something occurred. In Lust, chronology or, let’s call it the imperative of chronology, to borrow from Milan Kundera, is of lesser importance than the moment or the struggle to understand the event of the moment. The woman may be fighting to juggle a series of images to formulate coherence but a chronological telling for this purpose is not required by the reader.

The main character in Lust fails to control a basic human property, the ability to remember and make sense of events, events that, we assume, occurred chronologically in experienced time. While significant, Lust moves beyond this and doesn’t concern itself with an historical sentiment. On the surface, what should be within the human boundary of control has become elusive under the stresses of trauma or the impulse to tell what must be told and understood. More importantly, the character is unable to express either the event or its significance–its meaning. This condition, the inability to express a past or an event in the past (or, as we shall see a thought in the past), forms a central problem for the character given that bits and pieces of that past stand alone in such crisp and powerful detail. This is the frustration of the inability to compose and share, a special kind of amnesia or silence, where one might have all the elements of a mathematical proof but cannot sort them to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.

Alone Lust’s images glow with poetic clarity as expressions of action and thought, but together in their complex link structures they disrupt the ability to know and comfort. In this light, some readers may see Arnold’s text as the manifestation of a de-centered, disorienting, and frustrating digital text. I would argue that Lust is, on the contrary, the very opposite: a centered probing or examination of human guilt, self-questioning, simultaneity, and the torment of loss in the form of hypertext.

Forgetting Revisited
In a way, we live in a time of imminent forgetting. Not only is there the potential to forget last week’s news but this news will be physically hidden behind the news of the current day and its narrative context. The news of the day will most likely come in the form of an alarming event or cluster of seemingly related events, an item or multiple related items edited to appear worth the time of the masses: a thing that will relegate yesterday to an object of insignificance. This news will by necessity disappear when the next item fills the screen, like an unwanted guest or an unwanted guest who keeps knocking at the door, and so news cycles stumble day to day, and the thinker is left with an impression that nothing has lasting meaning at all. This is the idea of imminent forgetting, a condition of human experience. What may have consequence may be lost in a stupefying sea of data or in a ceaseless waiting for relevance.

This is not an abrupt or even a new phenomenon, a condition that simply popped out of the thicket of the now because of technology (always the likely suspect), but a condition of modern life aggravated by the commodification of information and the business of ubiquity. (Sidenote: a new and trivial term describes this: twenty-four hour news. But twenty-four hour news means: the news doesn’t end.) All of this is merely a variation on the theme I highlighted in the context of the literature anthology and its discontextualizing of works of art for the sake of educational convenience. By this I do not argue that technology is a cause of this imminence or to say that human application and design is at fault. There may be no cause at all, simply an accumulation of catalysts and opportunities, or simply an inappropriate application of a form (an anthology is, after all, a mnemonic artifact).

The nature of imminent forgetting may even be a condition of humanity in general, if I can draw such a massive generalization: it just takes different forms or is more evident at different times. In generational thinking, the general memory of a family can be contained in genetic make up, records (this could be anything from relational databases to carvings), and story. People have struggled throughout time to stake their place in it (what happens when an entire family or population disappears?), even when tangible experience is beyond them, when the past becomes a special kind of fiction known as history, the great narrative of human passage. I can never really verify through my own experience the stories my father and mother told. Nor can I verify the facts their parents told them as experiences of my own.

“Your father reached into the machine,” Mother says. “That’s how he lost his finger.”

You relay this to a friend: “My father lost his finger in a machine.”

To the friend you have become a person whose father was cruelly deformed by the evils of the factory. And thus the fiction proceeds. In this analogy, fact is of lesser importance than image or even a political point of view.

In Beowulf, the historical past manifests as a measure for the presence. History is a force of recurrence: Beowulf must become as great as past leaders or his significance, like Hrothgar’s, will be diminished. The past, in this logic, may swallow him whole. Mark Twain once accused American’s of a woeful ability to determine the proportions of things. In a time of omnipresent data filters, where one event, image, or object has just as much extraordinary validity as any other (or where all events–the personal life of a singer and the eradication of a village–are judged equally), proportion becomes even more difficult to measure, such that politicians must take responsibility for any thought uttered by a friend (the ideas of the latter are used to judge the former), the fantastic decisions of governments can become just as common as any other outrage, and where perpetual war is the norm. In this sense, we live in a time where it is common to think of perpetual war and perpetual peace not as an irrational pairing but as a perfectly justifiable fusion.

I have a habit of telling students that if they want to read or hear the truth they should read or hear what poets write because while poets will not tell the truth they will not lie. In this I don’t mean to suggest that truth and lies are opposites. Irony, for example, complicates both. In a time, therefore, of imminent forgetting–where the news of the world (and the world at large, as if the world itself is slowly becoming one massive airport) becomes a set of forgotten yesterdays–oppositions and proportions are confused. In addition, under this condition, remembering becomes an act whose impulse is located outside of the body. (Side note: At the time I wrote this I received a Twitter message from a presidential nominee. It goes like this: “Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. watch the video . . . ” For me, this message is just unfathomable.)

Seeing the Light
In poetry and story telling, the reader may at some point in the experience see the light. What I mean by this metaphor is that during or after reading, the reader may experience understanding in the form of insight, when the text suddenly means something beyond its literal reality. It’s that “ah ha” moment when the experience of the text comes together and is exposed more often than not after lots of lingering. A blossoming, an emergence of meaning beyond the text. At the close of Raymond Carver’s story, “Cathedral,” Bub, the protagonist, experiences this kind of blossoming in his own experience

So we kept on with it. His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now.

Then he said, “I think that’s it. I think you got it,” he said. “Take a look. What do you think?”

But I had my eyes closed. I thought I’d keep them that way for a little longer. I thought it was something I ought to do.

“Well?” he said. “Are you looking?”

My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything.

“It’s really something,” I said.

Here Bub emerges, stepping out of the enclosed space that was his life in which intimacy had become a stranger. He opens. And we urge him to keep going, to push into a world of ambiguity and texture.

In Lust, characters are beyond time. Time in the work is indicated by adjectives not by days, durations, or spans. The characters grope in a search for something lost (and something that is simultaneously undisclosed): The characters do not search for the meaning of a lost event (the meaning is trivial because past events have no intrinsic weight even under the most intense scrutiny), but the meaning of the event in a sublime totality of images. Which would lead perhaps to this conclusion: that the dominant protagonist, faced with tragedy, provides us her memory in its chronological tatters. Furthermore, it is not just one act of memory; it is several, several acts of memory conjoined in an instance of narrative space. In this sense, Lust becomes an instance of many acts of memory laid bare.

Let me attempt a definition in the spirit of the essay: Lust is several acts of memory conjoined into one instance of narrative space. If this is so, or possible, what does this memory laid bare reveal?

Pablo Picasso illuminated the object by examining an object’s numerous surfaces, making the object strange, disorienting, beautiful in its strangeness and multi-surfaced orientation. In doing so, he presented the object in an almost imperceptible light. Femmeassiseaveclivre.png For Picasso, the object is not just one object, the viewer not just one viewer. If the object is not just one object but many objects in time and space, then the object becomes imperceptible, imperceptible because of our limited perspective. And the viewer follows, removed ever more from the knowledge of the nature of things. Simplicity to complexity. More precisely, the multifaceted object has a life beyond our experience and the more we learn the more complex life becomes. In this sense, the object has a separate life in the eyes of a second and a third person, simultaneously with the first.

In similar ways, Arnold illuminates action from within and from without in ways as unique as Picasso’s but in the form of hypertext, extending Picasso, extending Joyce. An action or series of actions may be known in their chronological position, say in a plot or causal chain, but in Lust one act or event becomes a confluence of a universe of actions. An event is never singular. The fall of the Twin Towers is a collective event. Where Picasso illuminates the object, Arnold illuminates a much more complicated phenomenon, human action itself. The hypertext, therefore, resonates with new ways of expressing, capturing, and examining (holding up to the light) the complicated nature of human action.

Something will always be missed. Even if an action, such as the insertion of a finger in the jaws of a machine, is grasped as a confluence of a universe of actions in space and time, something still will be missed: the whole is, after all, beyond our grasp. This gap or hole, as in Lust (is the child dead, was the child murdered, was there ever a child at all–all of these are possibilities in Lust) serves to illuminate to a brighter degree the choices and proximal actions that orbit around it, like the powerful tug of a black hole.

There is a moment in Lust, (an unending ache) described as one possible reading, where the idea of the confluence of a universe of actions is laid bare. It comes in this sequence of reading spaces.


In this sequence we experience the confluence of remembered events, learning that an individual woman is agonizing over a gap in memory. We also learn that a man in He Wishing “remembers wishing he had stayed.” Aching comes as a wonderful synthesis, a wonderful link. The man, from the woman’s point of view, is “civil” and “She watches his eyes avoid her consistently. She watches his mouth twitch as he speaks. She blinks hard as if to erase the image.”

This urge for erasure is impossible. What the woman wants (to change the past) is beyond her physical ability, what she doesn’t want is inescapable (the memories that cannot be erased). These memories are provided in conventional narrative: “She screams. She picks up the knife, thinks of his face. She touches the blade, running it gently across the surface of her skin.” The narrator of Lust provides images as they come (it could be that “She . . . thinks of his face” is a part of another time not the time of the knife). Some things the man can’t remember: “He tries to remember how it happened. He tries to remember her face, her flesh.” Faces fill the cognitive spaces of both the man and the woman, a conceptual link connecting them.

Some things he can remember: “He remembers the tearing. He remembers the blood. He remembers the child.” What he remembers is the act of “Trying.” In He Wishing the paragraph following goes back to specific details: “She had fallen to her knees. He walks out of the room that night. She follows him. This night, she follows him home. She cries like a child.” In He Wishing “child” forms a motif. “Child” is an organizing pattern around which the event (an attempted suicide, violence, frustration) can only be understood, even if we suspect these details may be disordered and of questionable chronological integrity, as a desperate con-joining of a confluence of a universe of actions in space and time.

In italics we have a subtle illumination of the text, one that could easily be overlooked. We have the wishing: “If only you had stayed.” Counting, He Wishing, and Aching fuse and explode and conjoin:

He remembers wishing he had stayed.

If only you had stayed

We might understand that the couple is speaking “this night.” But, more importantly, they share a simultaneous thought. Both people wish they had stayed: both wish they can accomplish the impossible: to change the past. The event that they share yet cannot express (paradoxically) has sparked common guilt, common wishfulness, and a shared construction (in a polyphonic narrative) of a past that simply cannot be reconstructed as a coherent experience because the center is lost and all that can be found is the cloud of experience linked together around a node lost to memory. All that can be found and reconstructed is the act of trying, wishing, everything but the center.

Lust, therefore, can be read as a text that lays bare and makes luminous the phenomenon of imminent forgetting. In a world governed by its rules (these rules need more study, sure), the essence of an event or decision becomes imperceptible. While we proceed in our innocence, we fool ourselves into thinking that what the anthology contains is the work of William Blake because what contains him has physical property and concrete economic value. We forget that Blake, inside that anthology, has been brutalized, made ironically imperceptible. In such a world, the worth of Martin Luther King is reduced to an innocent request to “watch a video” about a politician “remembering” Martin Luther King (a sort of supra-anthologizing of King in the mechanical drama of a campaign. King is now simply a stop along the way). “Watch a video” becomes meaningful participation until the call comes a week after to watch another video and to participate not in meaning but in the act of forgetting.

Lust reminds the reader that meaning matters but that to find or contain it is not easy. It also reminds us that even the most concrete of events shared between just a few people exists in a complicated orbit of images and thoughts. Hypertext as the form, valuable for its ability to illuminate disunity, seems to say–yes, objects, science, events, and relationships are complicated, more complicated than previously thought, because human actions and the events they initiate have multiple surfaces and multiple lives.

For another view on Lust, see Richard Higgason’s The Mystery of “Lust”.

Reading Hypertext: Reading the Link Part I

Mary-Kim Arnold in Lust writes of John and Jeffrey. John has “sand colored hair and eyes of sea” and Jeffrey “had a past. He wrapped it around him like a blanket to keep him warm, to keep him safe from harm.” But “she” the unnamed point of view of Lust “has no need for blankets” (She Expects). We will learn that she cannot have one. In She Expects, a “him” is expected, “nearly naked.” Dave, however, “was a guy’s guy. . . . He wore a baseball cap, only touched her when they were in bed.”

In Michael, Arnold writes, “And when the traces of salty sweet lay on her skin like a blanket of breath and tears, she thinks of him, thinks of him, always thinking of him.”

In a space called Wishing, “The morning comes. Summer sun, heavy, falling across the carpet fibers. She is on her knees, facing the child.”

It is already a thrill to read and to feel.

Lust can be read many ways and should be. The reader cycles through words, images, and windows, feels the grit, the constriction of the throat.

She falls to her knees. She counts to ten slowly, deliberately. He is heavy. He is cold.

His carpet is stained with blood. There are loose fibers. She tries to speak to him. She can only scream.

If the reader lingers, remembers and reflects, a breathtaking image develops. If the reader lingers on She Aches, the hypertext bursts into a face of loss, where every other instance comes together, like several automobiles meeting in a common though tragic center.

We reflect because

His face is soft like a child’s.

She touches his face, running her hands across he surface of his skin. He is undressed.

She undresses him. She does not speak to him. She does not touch him.

He screams. He does not remember morning.

Summer sun and the child. (She Wishing)

Lust is a short, echosome text. Recurrences open and freshen contexts. “Dyed in the woolen blanket . . . She remembers the child.”

The reader will remember the child too and the “smells of sun and oranges.”


The link is about connections, whether sourced from a word, space, or other syntactical unit, such as a phrase. They are about creating human connection. Connection between reader and image, character and action. In Crime and Punishment, Raskalnikov connects a letter from his mother badly to what may or may not be real. The reader finds hope in the letter. Raskalnikov dashes it. In Lust, a woman struggles to know, and we root for her not to, because what happened may be too much, the memory of loneliness too powerful.

Links go beyond machine reading or processing. The link may be between meaning. The link makes a triplet–the origin, the link, and the destination, an action to another, an image to an image. In Lust, these triplets form greater accumulations of texture and frayed fibers; it is ultimately a frustrated recounting for the woman, with holes boring deep between the flashes of tangible, tactile memory:

She counts to ten, breathing slowly, deeply.

She screams. She picks up the knife, thinks of his face. She touches the blade, running it gently across the surface of her skin.

I don’t remember anything else.


I can’t.

We want her to remember. And not. Maybe John could help. But he’s gone. All the woman can connect to at the moment is the voice that speaks, “Try.”

Reading Hypertext: Briefly Stuck

I’ve been writing swiftly through the first few essays on reading hypertext, and I have several beginnings on the next three issues on single readings, another diversion, and to the idea of character. But now I don’t know which one to run with first. I’d also like to go back and fix some stylistic issues in earlier entries.

And I still have to complete a Brimmer path.

Reading Hypertext: Diversion I

Lots of people are worried about what to call the age we live in: is it post-post modern; the cyber age; the information age; the age of globalization; or is it just now, which doesn’t help? I have no idea. But I like to think about it. I disagree, number one, with periodization. The Age of Enlightenment seems a little over a rational edge. I would not argue that it is wrong to categorize, to create contexts and frameworks. For Hesiod, the Golden age served a narrative and instructive purpose. I would, however, argue that a text can neither be new nor old. Is Beowulf, the character in Beowulf the epic, old? Or is he a companion, a reference, a being who lives in the historical present human imagination as example, argument, or symbol?

That last sentence needs more examination. Here’s what I mean. Firstly, in the New Criticism, a particular form of academic practice that developed in the early 20th Century, the text one reads takes center stage in the attention of the reader. The text is “the subject” of inquiry, rather than the culture or writer who produced it. New Critical readings don’t wonder about a historical context because to do so takes the reader away from the subject, the text. In this sense, New Criticism emphases the close reading of a text over a study of anthropological and historical considerations. This is a good thing in many cases. We can learn a lot from a study of how a text is organized and what the words themselves appear to be expressing, regardless of how old “the work” is. The Iliad, therefore, is what it is and what the reader encounters on the pages of the printed poem. Of course, the Iliad, is not the Iliad, and this is one problem with all texts and with periodization in general. In anthologies, for example, William Blake’s poetry is presented stripped of the art in which it was produced because of the nature of the anthology as a printed text for mass distribution. Blake’s poetry, is, therefore, corrupted to some extent and is not really the sum of Blake. More so, Blake’s poetry is bundled in the anthology with other writings that are packaged in a common form and a common sequence. The reader can examine the poetry but has difficulty forgetting that Wordsworth is nearby and that these writers are Romantic and English and this is their proper place and order.

How texts are presented to readers matters. The modern anthology represents what I would call or argue as commodified reading and forms. In an anthology, Blake is a Romantic poet and this category in the book’s structure and in its editorial framework becomes the environment of encounter by the reader, no matter how hard the reader keeps her eyes shut. Editors will remind the reader that Romanticism as a set of dates and criteria is a creation of Victorian writers but will still “package” the text as if Romanticism is factual, an actual historical phenomenon. The fact of the matter is that Blake created in a space that had no foreknowledge of the frameworks and forms in and by which he would be represented. In another history, perhaps, Blake would be called by a different name and placed in a different context. In another history, he might be killed at the age of twelve, having produced no work of art at all.

It is almost impossible to break these knowledge frameworks, good or bad; they are instructive in revealing the human search for order in the universe (a light aside) and in many ways a systematic definition of Romanticism is useful. The fact that alphabetical information is physically static and that words do not move on the page out of their syntactical and semantical dependencies and that these can be printed and disseminated has shaped human notions of knowledge in deep ways, so much so that animated text or animated text with audio accompaniment or single letters that compile on a web site into words are considered “destabilized” not a normal method of conveying knowledge, opportuning entertainment, or presenting memorable information.

The history of print layers or hard-codes conventions, some unnoticed, on top of conventions, often in forms and their related institutions. These conventions provide such statements as “this is a newspaper article.” Ink-based print and its method of holding and expressing truths, values, beliefs, and logic has shaped epistemological expectations providing the validity of this kind of statement: “this is not a newspaper article” or “this is not a novel.” This expectation can be heard whenever someone says, “Can I have a print-out of that so I can read it?” The “print-out” acts as proof of reality or symbolate for permanence and clarity. People in their offices weight their desks down with forgotten “print-outs” whose content is important but lost. Ideas can be ignored in any form, even in digital files, whose owners refuse to let them go “just in case.” The BBC reported in March 2008 that 2 million emails are sent every minute in the UK. This volume of email implies what?

Informational schemes also form the superstructure of institutions as a kind of unseen conceptual infrastructure. Here I don’t mean to imply Mumford’s idea of the megamachine in this example, merely an assertion of connectivity and deep relationships between institutions. Laws written in a particular form are “the system” of justice. The importance of the law can be studied in a context of the physical construct of media that can be archived, codified, retrieved, and reused. Media companies generate newspaper articles within a tradition that relies just as much on pavement and steel as it does on the conventions of journalism. It would be out of form for me to claim that this essay is a newspaper article because it was not published or produced as such. It is impossible to approach William Blake without the infrastructural base of universities, book publishers, museums, and archivists. Without these institutions and their relationships, William Blake would no longer exist or be accessible to readers.

It is impossible to judge the significance of email and mail to modern life. The number I drew above of 2 million emails needs perspective, but what will serve to help create this it? A comparison? The United States postal service claims that it handles nearly 500, 000 pieces of various mail per minute. These numbers say a lot about habit. They also say a lot about the history of tools in communication. New tools also affect human determinations of what is and is not significant to the construction of reality. Tools help us shape reality. A simple garden rake, if it is successful at feeding a family, becomes a part of “reality.” Spatially, place is significant to creating constructs of reality, such as the four walled room and the book that sits on a table inside it. Similarly, a poem also has a reality that is related to its place in human culture. Cultures without an alphabet will find a poem strange, just as cultures with alphabetic reality will find a poem written as an email message “out of place.”

The two great dividing lines in story telling are not new and traditional based forms. They remain the written story and the oral story. These two forms of conveyance remain the two great major types of telling in modern culture: digital forms do not change this but they do complexify it. Fiction written in hypertext still follows a written tradition and remains conformal to the short traditions of what is determined as fiction. Indeed, the term fiction is merely a label for a greater system of human creativity built around untrue occurrences or events that didn’t occur in reality. The term novel can also be confused for its typical form of conveyance to a public readership in the form of printed books. But this is misleading. The term novel can also describe any long form narrative, although to call a two hour film a novel would be to confuse references to medium. The term novel is simply problematic because films can be based on novels and a day-long film could be repurposed into a written novel but the day-long film will still convey a fictional world and fictional characters.

Marquez’ novel One Hundred Years of Solitude cannot be conveyed as a film, however. A film entitled One Hundred Years of Solitude could certainly be offered to the public but it would no longer be Marquez’ novel, even if he wrote the script. This is the point: such a film would be a different experience and a different object. It would be changed from a written experience to a visual/oral spectacle, whose aesthetic is grounded in different tools and principles. Both productions would convey knowledge in the form of character in different ways. Neither one of these “differences” should diminish the value of the methods by which knowledge is explored through character. Bill Bly’s hypertext We Descend could also be repurposed as a paper-based fiction. The same phenomenon would result: a new form with a new method of exploring the human lifeworld. The lesson here is instructive: difference matters because forms of knowledge require different habits, different tools, and different languages with and through which to frame them.

Future thinkers may derive and convince the community of better ways of differentiating digital from paper, new from old media, non-traditional and traditional forms of publication, non-linear from linear systems if the need arises. But we should be careful not to base value judgments on trivial comparative criteria such as static and dynamic, non-linear and linear, print versus digital, or object versus object. As I’ve already demonstrated, hypertext fictions require different habits of reading, different tools through which to engage them; they require different speeds of analysis, different methods of referencing, a new generation of archivists to maintain them, and re-conceptualization of publishing ecologies. In addition, they need a broadening of the frameworks of aesthetic engagement and awareness to include the influence and mechanism of their environments to understand how they convey and augment human knowledge in its interpretable variety.

The study of architecture is important in the above regard. In my mind there are two important knowledge factors engaged by architecture. The first is, what is possible for people to build, and, the second, what are the variety of ways that people can move from point A to point C. Architecture also assists us in understanding human relationships, such as the need to capture metaphors through the shaping of space. In Reading Hypertext: Reading Blue Hyacinth I said that airports were “displacing” spaces. This doesn’t mean that they are valueless and/or neutral. Their “liminality” is exactly what makes them interesting as built environments, as are the choices designers have made to “make people feel comfortable” or as spaces that feel like a place but are really no place at all, in between destinations, nodes in the commerce of elsewhere.

Reading Hypertext: Reading Touch

I started this Part Five on reading hypertext in exactly the wrong way: by beginning with a subject I’m really not interested in exploring at this moment: literary criticism. This is not a critique of criticism: I’m not really interesting in discounting an area of thought that for some may show evidence of appeal and insight. I find the insights of criticism philosophical rather than “textual” and therefore applicable to abstract questions, such as is there a “self,” is there gender beyond culture, and how can we know and question these things. Fiction and poetry may come at such questions but they do so with a language intrinsic to their methods of inquiry, as does philosophy.

It strikes me that people always learn a subject in their own native language while the subject itself, such as architecture or physics, is applied with universal tools. A pencil is made of wood just about everywhere people use pencils. The quantities of mathematics can be experienced beyond native language, as when on a foreign shore two people cannot express their ideas about politics but share an image of two crabs in the sand.

This doesn’t mean that philosophy wont ask interesting questions about human experience. It does mean, however, that it will do so differently than fiction and poetry and digital animation. For some readers, this is an impossible nut to break: that poetry will express a different view of a common notion like love, a view of love impossible to express in, say, philosophy of painting. Poetry is required because it holds a particular kind of knowledge: the knowledge only poetry can express. I believe that future methods of expression will not challenge the validity of poetry, but will encourage new views or “points of view” on human life experience, as the novel did since Shikibu’s Tale of Gengi and Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

Here are a couple of trivial examples of different language usages, units of meaning that point to a similar aim:

1. “That bridge’s structural integrity is well below standard.”
2. “Any day now that bridge is going to kill someone.”

Here’s another set:

1. “Subtracting an accusatory object from a conjunctive series can be an excellent tool for comedy.”
2. One man says, “Max is fat as a hog and everyone hates his guts.”
Max’s wife says, “That’s bullshit. Everyone loves Max.”

In her hypertext, Bottle of Beer, Susan Gibb writes

Yolanda only felt loneliness in the dusk of the day. It was the meeting time of a man and his woman. It forgave all wrongs of the night that lay still cold and heavy as an anvil at dawn. In the morning there were things to be done that hid the seeds of resentment under plates, inside cups. (Dozing Mendoza)

In this section, we learn something that complicates our understanding about Yolanda and her particular circumstance: she feels loneliness at a time of day when intimacy is the custom. In Yolanda’s life forgiveness is significant, also, given the life she’s had with several men in succession, but even more than forgiveness as a value or moral imperative, it’s also nearly impossible for her given the role resentment plays in her relationships, especially on the day of her death.

In Bottle of Beer two deaths play important roles in the story: Yolanda’s and Juan’s. These two deaths structure the of emotional arc in the story.

This line in the story follows the above paragraph: “It had always been this hour that had found her vulnerable.” Yolanda is “vulnerable” at dusk, or, as the author writes, she is “found” vulnerable at this time, as if a particular time of day hunts her and is on the hunt. When others convene into spaces of intimacy, Yolanda has been alone, even in the company of others. She persistently suffers loneliness, and because she does, she remains trapped in a state of vulnerability.

Yolanda also suffers nightmares (Kismet Slept), nightmares that accrete from the experience of memory. In Ill Winds, for example, Jorge penetrates into Yolanda’s space because he desires her and she admits him in because she suspects his knowledge of a secret, the murder of her husband Juan. The rape that results is a direct effect of secrets that need keeping:

Eventually he did not bother with the meal and came late at night. She would feel his hairy arms around her, his chest furred like that of a bear, his calloused fingers grabbing and poking. He would thrust himself into her but he was quick, and if she held her breath, he would be done and gone and she could go back to sleep.

. The importance or emotional weight of this penetration is not expressed by Yolanda, however, but by the narrator, who observes this jalapeno-fleshed woman alone on her porch.

Partly, because of the distancing voice, the significance of the approaching jogger can be read as sinister and benign, strange and ordinary. The jogger approaches out of the sun and into the middle distance which is the light of dusk, entering into Yolanda’s most vulnerable period. Gibb writes, “As Yolanda dozed, half in the world of the sun and the living, half in the world of the missed and the dead, the black spot of life on the highway advanced and grew into a man.” Yolanda is between worlds. She’s not quite on or off the porch, neither alive nor dead, neither in the present nor in the past, awake or in dream. Has she ever lived without loneliness or emotional violence, treated often like a “breed mare” (Cellar Secrets)? Has she ever lived outside of a time without masculine presence or influence, though Carlos is described as having a “sweet touch” (Hard Times), or the brutal honesty of physical sexuality?

Touch matters to Yolanda. When she enters the house her legs scrape together and that scarping draws up the memory of Carlos (Eventide). Additionally, while Carlos is a favorite, he is also a man who broke Yolanda’s heart: “Then Carlos had broken her heart with his fist . . . ” Even here, touch matters. Carlos is described with the image of the fist, a fist that breaks a pot. Curiously, in Hard Times, Gibb restricts the reader to the writing space without supplying a link for exposition or further exploration. It would appear that Yolanda is reluctant to give up some aspects of this relationship to the narrator. Instead, the additional opportunities for exploration point to other men in Yolanda’s life. Conceptually in the hypertext, this amounts to an undisclosed shard, a shard, or additional linked memory, that might have been, or, rather, may be imagined by the reader, unseen but imagined, untouched, but an aspect of the texture of Yolanda in the reader.

The touches persist. Yolanda clasps a beer in her breasts so that her hands are free on her climb from the cellar. Yolanda grasps furniture to steady herself on the way back out to the porch. And in the embers of the day, Gibb writes

Yolanda closed her eyes, listened to her mother, her brothers, Juan, Javier, and her Carlos, all singing a loud disharmonious song. Padre Pietro blessed them, sprinkling them with holy water and winking at her with a sly grin. Babies cried and faces moved through memory, sorting themselves in her life. Javier sat counting gold coins into a pile, and Jorge screamed as he ran into the moon.

This is the wonderful touch of successive memory moving at the end of a woman’s life, a woman we never see die. Rather, the runner finally arrives and the narrator’s attention shifts to him, penetrates him, and ends with the resuming of his run, as if what he sees is perhaps nothing but normal, nothing he hasn’t seen on other runs, an image that he’s witnessed over and over again.

Touch is partly an issue with the particular kind of technology we use as readers to experience Gibb’s story. The stylus of the mouse assists us in our own penetrative acts, as it did in Andrews’ “Blue Hyacinth,” and the screen illuminates the text by contrast. Yolanda’s life is about touch, loneliness, and the ability to act at a time when action is required and yet this act, though protective and ultimately ethical, must be paid for with silence in the face of brutality. In this story, we must not forget Juan, who penetrates and stalks the memory. We also must not forget to pause on the links, perhaps read the shards, all or just a few. This has been one reading of Bottle of Beer and, more importantly, of Yolanda, a reading where, importantly, the reader’s knowledge of the narrator, Juan, Jorge, and Carlos will affect Yolanda as a figure of human touch. Yolanda is a kind of touch, a gesture of the human. Another kind of unfamiliar city to explore.

Reading Hypertext: Reading Blue Hyacinth (Updated Aug 2008)

In an essay titled Navigating Electronic Literature in Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary, Jessica Pressman writes:

Navigating a nonlinear narrative such as a hypertext, or a related form like Andrews’s stir frys, demonstrates how electronic literature challenges expectations associated with and codified around print-based reading practices. Since hypertexts are structured as networks rather than linear plots, they lend themselves to openness and disorientation. Some hypertexts may not even contain a definitive ending but instead continue in endless loops of lexias; such works depend upon the reader to resolve when to finish reading the work. In other words, the navigational aspect of hypertext changes our interaction with both the story at hand and also with the concept of narrative itself.

I’d like to use bits and pieces of this section of Pressman not to argue with terms or agree with the affect of electronic literature on the reader or even the assumptive truths about plotting but to assess the question of “how electronic literature challenges expectations associated with and codified around print-based reading practices” with a brief reading of Pauline Masurel’s and Jim Andrews’ story Blue Hyacinth.

In this essay, I’m going to avoid the idea of “openness and disorientation” that Pressman writes about in her essay but appeal rather to the two guiding principles I’ve been following before moving on to the idea of narrative and how it may be constructed, organized, and experienced in hypertext fictions. I believe that “disorientation” is a loaded term and often taken as pejorative and should perhaps rather be attributed to the study of narrative systems and technology, not necessarily to their content. But I’ll come back to this later.

First let me enlarge a little on the juicy notion of orientation in the reading environment. Shelley Jackson in “Stitch Bitch: The Patchwork Girl,” an essay in Rethinking Media Change, writes “My favorite writing is impure, improper, and disorienting. Ecstatic or fantastically systematic, hybrid in form or uncertain genre, incomplete or overwrought, too little or too much, it staggers off the straight and narrow line” (240-41). It’s hard to say whether I agree or disagree with the phenomenon of disorientation, but I am drawn by Jackson’s sentiments. In order to engage this more deeply, I’ll draw in the metaphor of the city.

Whenever I’m in an alien place, a city for example, I usually take a walk, if this is possible. I walked Mexico City a little, Aguascalientes, Milwaukee, and Fairbanks. I found these places unfamiliar and, yes, disorienting. These places or texts demonstrated all the familiar gestures of place and space, though: roads, buildings, vegetation, sounds and signs but none of these were in the right or proper place. They were arranged differently than my neighborhood and had different shapes, but they could be read and made orient-able by experience. I must admit, though, that I understand Jackson’s point of view, and in several contexts, such as the context of place. There is something fascinating about one’s own reactions to the unfamiliar and having the opportunity to find spatial and place-specific pattern. There’s something interesting about pausing on a street in Milwaukee and having a conversation with a stranger and finding that they speak about familiar feelings and articulate similar and honest ideas about life.

What I don’t like is the act of travel to an unfamiliar destination. Airports are “placeless,” liminal spaces. In airports, you see people avoiding intimacy and knowledge because they are “displaced” and want to move on. Such places are equivalent to the aisle in a store where one stands looking and does not want to be fixed or interested; these places do not invite “stay.” They are psychologically empty.

We are rarely in cities. In The Life of Geronimo Sandoval, Ham Sandoval’s love interest, Pen, calls him and says, “I’m in Atlanta.” But she isn’t in Atlanta. She is in a phone booth and Atlanta is merely a contextual devise, a familiar abstraction. For Ham, Atlanta means “not here.” For Pen, Atlanta means “not there.” Experientially, we can sit on the steps of a building in Atlanta or Milwaukee and observe the birds. I remember watching the sparrows hop around with bread in their beaks and they brought me some bit of comfort. We can feel that environment and wonder over the birds, but we cannot feel Atlanta or know it beyond it’s sectional topology.

Likewise, we cannot experience literary genre in their abstract definitions, that tragedy is this or that. We can know and describe genre. But it’s the instances of those genre that act as familiar or unfamiliar experiences. Most people know how a mystery or romance novel will be organized from beginning to end, or, rather, as a whole. I remember my first narrative disorientation came with a horror movie that ended with the supposedly destroyed monster rearing from the surface of the water to grab the hero’s ankle to the clash of music. The end. I’m drawn to B-movies because I know exactly how to read them. I enjoy making jokes about them, too. Regardless of the required cliches found in mystery or romance novels or B-movie horror films, it is one thing to make fun of them, quite another to write one with the right conventions in their proper place. We typically come to a mystery novel much as we agree to a meeting with friends for coffee or a sip of wine: familiar images, rehashed tales, and the intimacy of shared experience and knowledge.

Much of this, of course, has to do with rules. People love rules, which is one reason for the durability of games in culture. People also love to break rules on their own terms. We don’t like when others change or beak the rules outside of our knowledge. Legal or ethical, rule changing is typically an act of consensus.

Permit me now to move to Pauline Masurel’s fiction Blue Hyacinth to explore issues of continuity and the text in context. Let me stipulate that Blue Hyacinth is like an unfamiliar city, a text we may come to and not really know what to expect from it. Below is a screen shot of the “first page” of the work after following the above link.


In the shot of text above, we have several units of meaning to read and explore. We know that the owner of the Pink Tulip “stands – still clutching mobil phone – in the alleyway.” The reader doesn’t know which alleyway or anything else really about the Pink Tulip other than that it is in a vicinity with other clubs. But the reader does have context. The owner has bribed the bouncer to “set off the fire alarms in the rival establishments . . . ” Of course, the proprietor’s target is The Blue Hyacinth and he means to disrupt its business in order to fatten his own accounts. He’s put a plan into action and all seems to be working and perhaps more real than he had intended: the customers at other clubs “spill out” and a DJ is sorry about the loss of his equipment. We have everything we need: characters, conflict, the beginnings of plot, and a track for the reader to follow.

Now I must pull back.  Masurel’s story is not what I would technically call a hypertext in the tradition of Gibb or Lockridge, even though I would refer to it as such at a party. I must warn the reader that a stray move of the mouse may shuffle some of the text “out of its initial state.” Moreover, clicking on the link to the site that houses “Blue Hyacinth” may not reveal what I’ve written about above. The next screen reveals what might happen if the reader enters the site and touches any part of the text with their mouse:


This unique experience is instructive about texts in general. Relations, technology, and contexts matter to the reading of an unfamiliar village or city. Following a reentry into  Masurel’s text, we have another set of paragraphs. What I notice first is not a club but an animal and situation of betting. A speaker, a woman, puts “a tenner on Blue Hyacinth to win.” The point of view character is unfamiliar with the business of racing and is also aware of the bookie’s subtle understanding of her naivete.

The betting scene, which carries over the relationship in the prior text between the proprietor of the Pink Tulip and his bouncer into this new area, is only a portion of the experience. For this reading, I made the mistake of touching the left middle of this delicate and responsive text with my mouse and I don’t know what the bluer text replaced. I’m suddenly reminded of Shelly Jackson. This is precisely the text she referenced in her own writing earlier:

Ecstatic or fantastically systematic, hybrid in form or uncertain genre, incomplete or overwrought, too little or too much, it staggers off the straight and narrow line.

Masurel’s text worked by Andrews’ stir fry scripts certainly “staggers off the straight and narrow line.” With one clumsy and accidental touch of the mouse, “Blue Hyacinth” has changed and with that change I’m presented with a deep blue ellipses and the words “it goes on for months” with only a space between that sentence and “another in the corner is smoking.” And with this one touch of the mouse I’m offered a unique opportunity for multidimensional sleuthing. I’m going to step and make some guesses: the fight between the proprietors continues. The betting continues. It’s a cat-and-mouse game, in the streets–maybe.

In the betting parlor, the woman observes another woman “watching the race.” She’s watching the race in a certain demeanor. ” . . . a subtle matter of class, tone and expectations.” Someone wins.

In that same space, my mouse carefully moved aside, we learn that weeks pass and that the cleaning lady will take the betting slip away, “ignoring the bin.” By reflecting on the two text windows, via the reading narrative I took to encounter “Blue Hyacinth,” a world is taking shape, with two plots already bespoken: we have a woman, we have a war between the clubs.

But it’s time to tap the text and build whatever world it wants to reveal. The mouse in this reading is a subtle stylus. What follows are three touches in succession to show how the story grows.

Tabitha who “flexes against the collar” is inscribed over “a tenner on Blue Hyacinth to win”:


In this, the bookie disappears and “on the wall of a more popular club” replaces it. Additionally, ” . . . but who’d believe?” and “The manager of The Pink Tulip has already left the vicinity” enter the unfamiliar city. ” . . . but who’d believe?” is an additive unit to the text while “The manager . . .” enters in from the screen I first encountered concerning the Pink Tulip and The Blue Hyacinth establishments as does “on the wall . . . ” This subtle, near surgical, incising and layering of units would seem to suggest spatial and temporal connection. While the blue neon sign blinks and the manager plots, a woman is betting on Blue Hyacinth.


In this subsequent shot, we have a subtle alteration at the top. “she walks in.”


The reader may not know who the pronoun “she” references: “The smoker,” the point of view character,” even the cleaning lady. What we do know from “Blue Hyacinth” is that the reader can learn how to read the responsive spaces if he or she treats the text with delicate prods of the mouse. It is not required that the reader know what sort of text this is. The reader may indeed find that Masurel’s text discloses a story in units of meaning that will come together not by sequential prose schemes but by the relationships a reader makes by watching, recalling, onMouseOvering, and connecting images, characters, and events, such as the cleaning lady departing with the betting slip or the proprietor’s scheme.

Non-linear, when applied to such a text, could be a reference to or description of either the text and its rearrangement or to an array or to stored variables or the programmatic for loop. In either case, Masurel’s and Andrews’ unique text is an invitation not just to new media literary art but to any text whose configuration, presentation, and power, no matter the system that makes it available, shape experience in meaningful ways. This is Shelley Jackson’s “favorite” writing: Milton’s, Masurel’s, Gibb’s, and Lockridge’s. As I believe I’ve begun to show, these writers’ texts are delightfully familiar enough to promote linger, pause and reflection.

I would therefore add to Pressman’s description above: “openness and disorientation” but also “meaning” and examination of the human.

Reading Hypertext: Lingering, Part 2

Milton writes, “Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit / Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast / Brought Death into the World, and all our woe” (I.1-3). These first few lines don’t make a lot of sense until the reader arrives at line 6, which begins “Sing Heav’nly Muse” and even then the muse as noun may just sound like more nonsense tumbling down the page, like rocks, a hill. The reader may recognize and identify the ideas in the lines and relate death to the “Fruit,” but that’s not what the prolegomena wants. It wants narrative understanding.

To make sense, the syntactical elements of the lines have to be reordered: “Sing Heav’nly Muse of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit Of that Forbidden Tree.” Reading Milton is a continual, and often brutally difficult, act of reordering sound from one language and formal tradition to another: Latin verse structures to modern English conventions, where, for most of us, strict word orders or grammatical schemes have been enforced since grammar school.

The brain, we know in general, must reorder arbitrary sounds constantly into meaningful patterns. And people tend to learn how to read Paradise Lost, which is not really an act of reading English but of reordering grammatical patterns into the logics of poetry.

Tim Lockridge’s hypertext A Sky of Cinders published at New River, begins, unlike Milton’s poem, with a strict adherence to English language word order. The first reading space after the title page is shown below:


“It is the summer of ash” is about as straight forward as a writer can cut to establishing time. “It is” means it isn’t something else. For example, this is not winter. During this “summer of ash” we “stand beneath the broken sunset” in an environment where the clouds are no longer high, fluffy, and inviting, but tangible and, like the sunsets, breakable. The noun verb structures are tight, the sense units short. The second person address hammers us to the window. In this presentation, every word matters, and every gray text link is surrounded by pepper-colored symbols. The links are the color of the falling ash or the surrounding words are their smears.

In that first space, the reader is oriented to place, time, and texture. The aggregate image as a result is apocalyptic. “Summer of ash” could easily mean “Nuclear winter.” But in this space, whatever the grounding associations, we are left standing with ash on our shirts. And we can’t help but reach up and crush the clouds in our “fists.”

Clicking on the link “ash” takes us to the next reading space, found below:


The style of orientation in Lockridge’s hypertext is, up to this point, driven by point of view, similar to Carlos Fuentes’ novel Aura. Other readers may disclose more. “You” is the first read word. The reader learns more about “us” after clicking “ash.” The “you” collects books about the sky. Star patterns are held in “memory.” The first sentence assists the reader with an orientation to time by anchoring us to a specific now: “You begin to collect books about the sky” is a present moment, a starting point to the narrative after the original space orients us to the general conditions of the fictional world. I collect books. With these books, claims the second, longer sentence, I “commit constellations to memory” and when I close my eyes, I see the patterns of the stars in my inner, darker eye.

Yet, even in this short space, there are deeper gaps to think about or linger on. Lockridge avoids an article between “about sky,” framing sky in greater conceptual interpretability. The word “sky,” therefore, is a place to stop and reconsider. Sky sky sky, no “the.” What are these books about sky. I can see myself holding them, books about what is behind the clouds. Is the sky gone now, only known from books. Have the stars themselves disappeared from normal experience?

This “gap” between “about” and “sky” is critically important to reading hypertext or any other work, be it prose or poem or painting. We learn a lot from what isn’t revealed or made plain. “Sky” in this syntactical scheme is of enormous importance to Lockridge’s world because in that world “Sky” has been eliminated from human observational experience. Wow.

Clicking on the link “eyes,” the reader proceeds to the following space:


From the experience with books and memory, we move to “Cherry and Walnut,” where “A man sits” strumming “a guitar.” We are in this place for a good amount of time, observing and listening. The reader knows this because of the “tenseless” but time orienting “Between songs . . . ” As observers, we are provided no emotional responses, only images from observation. We bring with us the straining to recall constellations to a new place, where a man struggles with the ash, cleaning the strings of the guitar, cursing his dirty shoes. In between all this, we have a momentary vision of mystery, a shape “kicked away when he stretches his legs.”

In these three pages, the writer uses the framing window of the hypertext to nail us to a grimy world, sprinkles the sentence with ash-colored links, and orients us, as any writer would, even Milton, with opportunities to construct narrative order.

In these first three parts of my series, I’ve introduced readings of two hypertexts according to two basic principles: 1. the sentence as a sense unit and 2. a reading habit, the linger. More guiding principles will come and they will be used to frame readings, to create a context for reading hypertext. One issue that may develop is a problem with genre. It may become an issue that both Bottle of Beer and A Sky of Cinder draw from several traditions of the literary arts. The details and relations may not matter, but I do know that orientation happens and that, in some cases, “finishing” the hypertext is less important than lingering on the spaces in which their language is made available. In a house, we may not visit every room to know that we have experienced it. Still, the story arc is important, but for that I’ll have to wait till later entries, and I build on these starting points. I have, after all, just begun. I’m interested to know, where the things might end.

Reading Hypertext: Lingering

As a literature teacher I have experience with all kinds of readers, people who enter the classroom with very few books and people who come with enormous background in numerous kinds of texts. All of them are fine people and they really don’t need my assistance with their lives or decisions. But the classroom comes with a tradition of study and encounter. I try to encourage all of these students to practice a certain kind of attitude about reading that doesn’t push “finishing” a text but “lingering” on it.

This is the importance of the sentence, that small unit of sense in any text. We should linger on the sense units. Case in point: Milton’s Paradise Lost. Milton1.jpg I try to cover as much of Paradise Lost as possible in the first iteration of English Literature because it is a significant text for writers after Milton and because it is significant to the history of literary studies and because I just enjoy reading it and talking about it. It is quite lengthy and demanding. Still, even the first few lines demand pause to think about literal and historical matter. What is the “First Disobedience” that did so much damage to Man? Why does the poet address the Muse and what does this tell the reader about the poem as a whole, the role of the poet and muse, and the argument Milton will be making throughout the poem? Thinking about the first few lines of Paradise Lost could prompt all kinds of interesting conversations about creativity, the influence of religion and spiritual narrative, and whatever else might come to mind. The novice reader will often rush through the text, get lost, snarl at the mythological references, and not know where to start to gain back orientation.

In some cases, it might be wise to skim the text for an anchor or some sense of the literal narrative and then return for detailed analysis later, but either way, the gems of the text will only surface or are more likely to surface for the reader if he or she stops to consider meaning. This is true of any text. In a way, this is much like reading the environment in a work of Interactive Fiction, where the significance of any object will only surface until it’s examined. If the richness of the textual environment goes un-mined, the reader may close the experience prematurely. Likewise, we may dash through a building to get that piece of mail off on time, and only on the slow return to the exit notice the carvings, the grillwork, and the well-placed stones.

Consider Susan Gibb’s hypertext Bottle of Beer in the quest for linger. This work is published at the Hypertextopia Grand Library. In the first writing space presented to the read we have an emphasis on light, shadow, and routine:

Down the road to the west where sunsets sizzle like a ball of melting butter, a shadow jogged closer in little flicks of black. Yolanda picked through the basket of jalapeños with fingers fat and stiff as sausages. She selected one and stabbed it with a threaded needle, drawing it up into a ristra.

The image of Yolanda’s “fat and stiff” fingers and the jalapeños merges for a sense of human and vegetable fleshiness. The second paragraph ends with an additional feature of Yolanda, that she has large breasts. Yolanda is presented as fleshy, like a nice fat jalapeño. The air is hot and she’s drinking beer and she stringing chiles, peering into the sun. In the Hypertextopia writing and reading system, the “main axis” or narrative of the story is followed by following links in a space beneath each text space, as the below image illustrates.


The reader simply clicks on the link “Closer” and moves to the next reading space, which is itself entitled “Closer.” The entire text of that space goes like this:

Yolanda plotted against the dying sun. Balanced on the horizon, it flamed angry red in its agonies, sinking slow and low onto the sharp blade of highway. She would not be able to finish stringing all the peppers before dark.

She wiped her hands on the folds of her skirt, brought the hem of the bright purple cotton up to her face to mop up the perspiration that hung on her skin.

The black spot grew and bounced along the linearity of road.

The link “Closer” binds the space titled “Yolanda” with the space titled “Closer.” By reading “Yolanda,” we already have a pretty good picture of Yolanda as a fleshy woman stringing together chiles. I’ll be examining links in another area, but it bears mention that the links in Bottle of Beer, those provided for “linking” in Hypertextopia, and links in general, are special devices. They, like any other element in a work of art, demand some pause. Consider “Closer” as a link. In one sense, this link is an invitation. This link can be read to say “Come closer” or “Examine further.” When the space “Closer” appears, the reader is in a way agreeing to “Move, Examine, or Come” closer to the fictional world being presented, to get a “closer” glimpse into Yolanda and what she may mean. The reader could indeed chose ignore the the link and close the window. Additionally, the link itself could merely denote, rather than connote, meaning it could simply imply that what is to follow has something to do with “Closer” as nothing more than a label or title.

However, links often function as more than mere navigation device. In Bottle of Beer, “Closer” as link is also bound to the final sentence of the next space: “The black spot grew and bounced along the linearity of road.” The author is careful not to write: “The black spot came “closer.” In this sense, and only after reading the final sentence of the next space, the link may be re-deemed a foreshadowing device. The link, therefore, constitutes a fragment of physically detached grammatical elements, a figure of diction in its own right, to draw again from the ad Herennium. And if this is true, then every other link in the hypertext suddenly rises in status becoming more than just a textual button or indicator of an axis. Hypertext, in this context, positions single word links as powerful elements to linger on and perhaps move back to, like carvings on moulding in an architectural space, before using them to move from point A to point B.

The graces of the link are important to think about as tools of meaning, just as the figure of the muse is important to Milton’s reader. Yolanda sweats on her porch. She strings the peppers. She’s waiting for something and something is on its way. What?

Lingering on Lockridge tomorrow.

Reading Hypertext: The Sentence

A Series on Reading Hypertext

I’m going to begin this series with the phenomenon of the sentence. I can best boil down the rhetorical term to “a saying that has meaning.” The ad Herennium describes sententia as a figure of diction. It’s a grammatical unit of sense. Given this, a poetical line can be a sentence, even without a period or a semi-colon.

In my novel, The Life of Geronimo Sandoval, I begin with one sentence in its unit sense: it goes

“It is, has been, and will be confirmed. In tenseless space.”

Despite the period between the two units, this is intended to be a complete grammatical thought, but with a little bump in its semi-middle. “Tenseless space” indicates the space where the novel is to be read: Storyspace. But it could also be more conceptual: mind space, which, in terms of memory, has very little to do with “tense” or time order but has a lot to do with putting chunks of images together meaningfully. In terms of mental effort, a memorial image might make no sense in the way we put it together into a personal historical pattern. I might have lost a dog as a child and remember the way she licked her paw. If a person asks the name of the dog, I use “recall” to draw it out. But an event later in life may cause a consideration of feeling. In this, the meaning of the memory may have nothing to do with the actual order of events in my life but with triggers that I don’t necessarily control.

“Confirmation” has another intension. It implies who is telling the tale: the mathematician Ham Sandoval, who pretty much wants to confirm everything with numerical logic. But the subject/verb series proper wants to be all-inclusive and mysterious: “what” will be confirmed in several tenses?

My point above is simply to suggest that a sentence can do a lot of work as “unit of sense.” I like the idea of a unit of sense. What would poetry do without this phenomenon? How would we show someone that we wanted milk with a bowl of cereal? Please . . . milk . . . bowl . . . cereal.

How would Susan Gibb convey time and place without it.


In the above, we have a sense of the time of day, a little bit of work being done by Yolanda, and we know that there is an approaching figure in the distance, framed by the sun. Physically, the text is surrounded by a window in which all kinds of images are being arranged in sequence. Yolanda is picking through chiles. She has beer. A figure is approaching. Our look into the bounded window is making sense.

Likewise, Tim Lockridge exposes the summer of ashes inside a similar window. The window follows:


In Lockridge’s beginning space, we encounter a “longer” sense of passage than in Gibb. We are dealing with summer as a general span or “space” of time. We have “days” to contend with, too. In Gibb, the sun “tends to” boil like butter and thus becomes an average. In Lockridge, the “sunset” tends to be “broken.”

In both Gibb and Lockridge we have a great deal of continuity at the unit level. Yolanda “squints.” She “rubs the water rings.” In Lockridge, the second person has “dark” and “chalky” palms. Air-born ash dirties the clothes. Both hypertext fictions, provide just enough detail to ground the reader in a sense of place and a sense of time, all within windows that contain several units of meaning.

Thus I end this first post with the sentence and the windows that contain them. “It is the summer of ash” and “Down the road to the west where sunsets sizzle like a ball of melting butter, a shadow jogged closer in little flicks of black.”