Category Archives: General Literature

Guardfields in eduhypertexts

The fall semester will see me teaching two lit courses online, one straight on and the other as a hybrid course, where students meet with me once a week and make other time for meeting online in the foums of WebCT Vista. This may be my last online course for a while. I’ve taught online courses now going on close to five years and have become fatigued (“Captain, I grow fatigued”) with the environment. The next few years will see a concentration on intensifying the semester by using tech to “grow” the learning space beyond the “arbitrary” classroom. I keep going back to what my friends Larry Johnson and Robert Wren called the 24 hour classroom back in the late eighties.

One approach I want to try is having students talk about a piece of music online and in this way acquaint themselves with the Vista forums and the general geography of the learning space. Once they’ve done some work with the music, considering the lyrics and the phenomenon of music as something to “discuss” and argue about (much as we will do with the literature, then other areas of the course will open using Vista’s release tools.

This got me to thinking about guardfields in Storyspace and their significance to the experience of hypertext. The release tools in Vista behave like guardfields in that they restrict certain kinds of information from appearing in the new media space given a variety of conditions, much like levels in a computer game, which, until certain conditions are met, will open in all their glory. Pedagogically, this is one way of assessing a person’s path through the material of a college course.

Experience and preparation

Drawing from the last post and its active comments, it would seem that the fundamental conflict in Antigone is important. We know what happens: Creon acts, Antigone acts, and bad things happen as a result, with no godly interference, no god to swoop down and pause the action and aide the poor mortals in their bad decisions and woe, no Theseus to provide answers. Hence we’re left with the idea of judgement in the hands of Creon and Antigone and they become our ears and eyes into the Sophoclean world.

But this “contained” world provides very little control, just as it does in Cortazar. Fate is strong. What’s going to happen to Oedipus is going to happen regardless of what he does or what we do. Same goes with Sir Gawain and in the Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever.” In SciFi, the question of time always matters. If we’re put in a position of changing the future by interrupting something in the past, a past which has always led to our present position, we may suffer oblivion. This calls attention to the “rightness” of what happens in time. Don’t go back and change the past because that interrupt the “natural” flow of time; therefore, we conclude, what happens “should” happen as it occured without human interference. Changing even the most minor bit or byte of things, could result in disaster. But didn’t we create disasters anyway? Are disasters natural within the natural arrow? And if human agented disaster is “natural,” then is going back into time and changing something to avert disaster, is that not immoral then? If an individual could prevent 9/11 by going back and changing an element in the chain of events, would it be immoral or moral (hypothetically) to do so? This, yet again, assumes that the time traveller will make the right choice and is outside Sophoclean boundaries (and subject to what law?). If we could manipulate time, isn’t the ability to do so also “within” the boundaries of time itself?

The logic, of course, becomes strained here. In the text, the narrative boundaries for even the most complex of hypertexts are limited. The hypertext must have physical boundaries however they may be defined, by “resolution” or computer memory. There’s always a boundary, a last word. For some the boundary is where “they” stop. For others it’s the last count. A hypertext isn’t “the” universe which at this point continues to inch outward, extruding space. A game should close at some point, but not the universe. One day should lead to the next not continue to loop. Hense the narrative is “spatial.” It has physical boundaries.

But we know all this I think. Do we leave Sophocles with a sense of doom, paranoia, or satisfaction knowing that we “can’t” control everything? Do we leave Sophocles with a greater sense that we need to do better with the givens? We know we can’t leave Antigone thinking, wow, that was really fun watching those nice kids get killed off. Do we leave with a greater appreciation of “responsibility”?

The future’s shape

One of the interesting qualities of story is the idea of change. Some action is taken or something happens and the result is inexorable. The audience can do nothing to “save” the principle character. All we can do is “read” about Connie’s removal from the home in “Where are you going.” We can’t interrupt the action of Antigone and inform Creon that he will lose his son and his wife because he failed to “know” the consequences of his actions. Shouldn’t King Lear have known better than to divide his kingdom up? Should we not have known that space travel kills people? Should Oedipus have simply ignored the answer?

The idea that we would want a character to display sophrosyne as a value in story is at odds with what we know about Creon, Oedipus, the gods, Antigone, and most characters in story. We know that Creon isn’t going to display coolheadedness or any sort of golden mean. We need Creon’s arrogrance, just as we need a confused Hamlet and a pridefilled Coriolanus. But this is just one element.

The other element is our reaction to the story that comes from the principles. Hopefully we won’t repond by laughing and leaving, but that something about the tragedy proves either true or captivating, yes, like watching a trainwreck. Do we “need” to see the children not just eat their way out of a cage but also step forth into the dark wood where “we know” the hungry antagonist waits.

This returns me to the story once again. Creon makes his edict and stands by it, thinking himself in the right as the “state” made manifest, the state on whose side Ares has smiled, the state that must take a “moral” stand against the actions of Polynices. But do his reactions to the sentry and to Antigone “reveal” him as a corrupted leader or a coward? Is his original intent corrupted?

Another example. In Suttree, now being covered by Susan Gibb, the principle has money sent to him by a relative. The reader knows what he’s going to do with it. I can’t remember how much but Suttree hides some of the money for safe-keeping prior to the night of waste, in a place where he will forget while drunk or keep hidden from theives. The rest of the money will be lost. We know that something horrible is going to happen. Still, as we read, we hope it won’t.

Back to the notion of order

For the past couple of weeks in lit we’ve been talking a lot about the notion of order and chaos, taking I guess the Hegelian dialectical approach to clashing notions, an approach that goes pretty well with Antigone, Sophocles’ play. It’s not the end all of course. Nevertheless, the idea that something must be resolved in Antigone is palpable, and always relevant to contemporary politics and culture (the play always reads fresh because something about Antigone–her resolve, energy, and anger always touch a cord with the audience. Something must be resolved may appear dull || obvious, but in the play the fundamental notion that things are falling apart and must be stopped is central to the tragedy. What’s the problem, though, in the play? Why doesn’t Antigone simply accept Creon’s decision for Polyneices’ body? Why doesn’t he retract sooner than he does? Why does he react as he does in the first place? Why doesn’t Haemon kill Creon when he has the chance? And what about Ismene, who declines her sister’s request. Then again, why doesn’t anyone ask the question about Polyneices’ actions vs Eteocles’ choice to suspect transition of the right to rule?

If we take the sequence of events in the Oedipus cycle and consider (for limited time) the notion of fate as a force fluid in the plays, then the above questions become even more interesting to the underlying drama and to the general course of anagnorisis (revealing). The play is filled with powerful questions and incredible sense of “dramatic” telling.

But the original issue keeps coming back to me: something must be resolved. But what? More to come on this.

Oxyrhynchus Papyri Revisited

While away reworking the GLH space and getting lots of help from Jim Revellini, whom I really couldn’t get along without, I notice the reports on the Oxyrhynchus Papyri in the Independent. Regardless of the mismatch between content and headline, I come away from the article with more questions than answers. We’ve known the Oxyrhynchus Papyri for a long time now yet the contents for lots of reasons have been hard to detect, piece together, and authenticate. Even mentions by later authors, mentions say in Aristotle, are tough to assimilate.

I’d argue that the papyri are going to have to work pretty hard to change world history. The fact of the matter is, nevertheless, a vast amount of knowledge about the ancient world is lacking. How many Greek tragedies do we have, after all? Not that many. So what can we say about Greek tragedy beyond the few examples that we have compared to what we know about the last 30 years?

The OP will answer lots of questions when we have access to the materials: who was writing; what was being written; and what haven’t we known or inferred? What was missing? How do the expository and intro texts and analyses have to change?

I want to know how we figure that Lucian was writing a so-called novel beyond bits and references.

heaven and time

Interesting class today in Brit Lit. When we get to Tennyson things always start to come together since in Tennyson we see another one of those poets and thinkers who has his feet and head and work slipping into the future. Easy to say now, though; in the present, who knows what the future holds.

Anyway, it was good to see Neha but she have been able to tell me that the word I couldn’t find was the “sublime” and its relevance to Tennyson and the images that populate and grow in In Memoriam such as the image of grasping, hands, and light and dark, the divisions of cycles. We talked a lot about death and absence. The subject of heaven came up which is a notion important to the poem, not in a stated way but in the way believers in heaven may think about death in a Christian context. Sorrow in Tennyson is a liar and grants tempting secrets. According to some, everyone is already in heaven given that heaven is an absolute with no coordinates in space and on no time arrow. In this Aquinian sense, in Heaven everyone has yet to be born, everyone is living, and everyone has passed. This is a confusing and comforting thought for mortals. Christian, one of our youthful members, had a tough time grasping the idea that he’s already in “Heaven.” An odd theory.

on dreaming

I hadn’t caught this newest post over at Jesse Abbot. Professor Abbot is one of the tightest writers I know and he negociates the circles with crisp and luminous fingertips:

In the last decades of the Twentieth Century, Postmodernism accentuated all of the discoveries that Modernism made (in the face of contemporary fears and stressors) regarding relativism and the reality of multiple subjectivities  and yet lost the inner value of these finds in a pit of nihilism. Nihilism mistakenly identifies the Dream and the Machine as one entity and unfolding process, as two poles cut from the same cloth, subatomic particles, or what have you. It fails to see the necessary dance between the two  with the Dream leading  that sustains concrete historical possibilities.

Helping to further the work of literature in its mission of promoting human survival  and beyond that, nurturing the meaning of what it is to be human  is our work.

I’d like to hear more about this issue of dreaming.

And thanks for the Ersinghaus post.

Nevertheless, I wonder if Jesse is a little rough on postmodernism by calling upon the metaphor of “the pit”? Is this not a matter of a particular priority given a point of view or world view. That is, I could create a monolith made of raised smudges and call it The Faces of Homer, a minimal sculpture that asks a question of the viewer,and leave it at that. Perhaps the question is: in postmodernism, who is the nihilist? Or better who are the postmodernists? Have we not seen Blake walking the streets with his bother Bonaventure at his side?


In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Caliban has a neat turnaround, as do most of the characters, fulfilling that most earnest story convention. Caliban says

You taught me language; and my profit on’t
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!


Ay, that I will; and I’ll be wise hereafter
And seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass
Was I, to take this drunkard for a god
And worship this dull fool!

The initial quote from Act I and ending with Act 5 both point to language and knowledge. While it’s not the most likeable end for Caliban the technique remains sounds. It’s that nice arc.

There’s Finding Nemo, too. At the end Nemo’s father finally let’s go of Nemo in the fishing net and gives him “will,” a thing Caliban won’t be given. In the whale’s mouth, Marlin gives Dory trust. In Syberia, Kate Walker is bound on getting her business done then going home and at the end chooses not to. So the stories go.