Monday, November 8th, 2004
Michael van Mantgems hypertext Completing the Circle is a great example of how language structures work in hypertext space in general. Not to mention it being a great story about Haller, a man who weaves and intersects across scotomatic space struggling against the tragedy of the linear.
Consider this lexia, titled Images, and its links:
She moved her hand up his leg in measured, smooth, contractions. She still hoped that his labored breathing could be a sign of sexual arousal.
He pressed deeper into his seat, trying to create a safe distance from his dream. Fragments. He took a few deep breaths to prepare for the images that were beginning to appear in front of him. Fragments of faces. Pieces of time. A first kiss. Dreams intersecting. Dreams changing. Dreams compressed.
Here Haller is in a car with Mary. Theyve parked; theyre watching the Albuquerque light line through the darkness. The scene has snugged into the car. The paragraphs disclose irony in that what Mary hopes Haller is thinking doesnt quite match his internal state; shes seeking closeness through physical touching. Well learn later that Haller wants a closeness that was beyond sex, an intimacy beyond mere penetration. The reader is invited into both characters heads. But to see these characters develop we must traverse the links, perhaps opening narratives we may not expect, unanticipated forks.
In “Images,” the text links include fragments of faces, a first kiss, dreams intersecting, and dreams compressed.
A first kiss links to this text, titled Movement:
Her body moved despite her.
This sentence length paragraph begins with the word Her which recalls the initial word of the prior lexia She. It could be that the pronouns refer to the same woman, but does the link itself, embedded in the prior paragraph, compel a different expectation given that a first kiss suggests movement back into the past. In addition, the destination of a first kiss is enigmatic: Her body moved despite her, a description that doesnt really correspond to the narrators attitude toward Mary, who hoped that his labored breathing could be a sign of sexual arousal. The first paragraph of Images is thick with Marys movements, her desperation. She moved her hand. The movements are measured and smooth. Hallers breath is labored. But hes concerned with dreams and the links would suggest in the context of the writing mental drift, internal considerations, perhaps even regret, all of which would suggest a journey through the past, thus the links would be memorial in nature. These anticipatory considerations all form continuity across the paths of the hypertext.
Her body moved despite her sources to Sex Scene:
The anticipation of what lay ahead caused him to shiver uncontrollably. His skin became rough as it constricted around him. Every sound, every texture was distinct and immediate; the sweat trapped against his scrotum the roughness of his underwear the softness of her bed the slap of her feet against the tile bathroom floor the flush of the toilet the click of the lightswitch the shadows playing outside and against the far wall dancing, dancing in and out of focus the rustle of sheets the coolness of his fingernails as they slid along his own thighs the tug of underwear the clinging of elastic the delicacy of her breath the hardness of her lips the strings of saliva stretched between their tongues the smoothness of her freshly shaved legs the thin sheen of sweat across his back her fingers burrowing into the matted fur on his chest the press of fingertips to nipple the weight of his body pressing down on hers the fumble of hands the resistance of elastic and silk the crack of hips spreading open the whiteness of clenched and quaking hands the pressure of penis against vulva the pressure of penis against vulva the pressure of penis against vulva the pressure of penis against vulva. . .
I leave it here. Is this the past? Obviously. Continuity can be read in the path from Images to Movement to Sex Scene, only one path out of Images in the use of pronoun, the specific tone of the narrator space to space, persona, subject, and, of course, the link itself, whether it be a word or a word group. In the hypertext, source, link, destination are all at play in meaning, forming a new semantical grammar and logic. Indeed, the juxtaposing of The anticipation of what lay ahead caused him to shiver uncontrollably with Her body moved despite her with He took a few deep breaths to prepare for the images that were beginning to appear in front of him. Fragments of faces. Pieces of time. A first kiss. Dreams intersecting. Dreams changing. Dreams compressed, snipped here as I would be likely to think about them in readerly retrospect, invoke not a distorted set but a vigorous rereading and concentration on the reasons why the paths have been constructed as they are: in other words, Im being asked to pay attention to structure, to meaning, to context, to details in my act of reading, rereading, and understanding. As I read I move back and forth; I try out different paths; I concentrate on the context and action, and, importantly, forgo the habit of thinking that Im missing something or being tricked because if I follow one path, I may be missing something on another (It could that I could just click through 20 spaces and stop and try to find my way “out” or the edge of the circle). Im forgetting that in order to read Completing the Circle I have to read it in some predisposed sequence. I go where my interests are pushing, given the density and attraction of the link structure. Im not free to go where ever I wish, since the hypertext is woven before Ive begun to read it just as any story is. I sense the story and just read, constructing meaning and finding continuity along the way.