Sunday, March 16th, 2008
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.”