Of Two Minds Review -- Selfish Interactions: Subversive Texts and the Multiple Novel

Subversive Texts and the Multiple Novel

Joyce outlines 4 single sentence musings in this essay and proceeds to connect them to each other.

1. Interactive fictions are largely figments of our imaginations.

Joyce says he wants to doubt this but cannot, since, for him and most of us, true interaction means that the system responds to the user as much as the user responds to the system and that each should alter the behavior of the other. This becomes the starting point for Joyce to speak to our expectations of interactivity. He goes on to claim that true interactivity does exist in the form of the text editor or data structure,

"especially during the early stages of the learning curve as we come to use them. For during that time we convince ourselves that we know the story of our own thought at least as often as the application reminds us that we do not know its representation. Likewise, we imagine we give structure to a formless conceptual space, only to discover that the space itself is a labrynth of glass walls within which we unravel skeins of our thought in order to find our way. An error message or a dialogue box at such times becomes an utterance from an offstage demon. We accommodate our thought to the system, and the system accommodates our thought; we interact" (136).

He then goes on to explain what he thinks future interactive texts will look like. They will appear "more closed" in order to be more open, "more like current print fiction, than the computer programs we currently consider to be interactive."

2. The first level of interaction precedes the creation of any text.

I think by this he means that the very act of writing, whether using the print medium or electronically, supposes that there will be an interaction with a reader somewhere. In his words,

"...the preprocessing results in the creation of and intricately networked novel-as-knowledge-structure that both simultaneously invites and confirms reader interaction" (138).

In making this point he uses Finnegan's Wake, Hopscotch, and Tristam Shandy as examples of works that contain multiplicities as "intricate as any we envision for interactive fictions" (138). This move does a couple of interesting things. First it ties known works of literature to the hypertext fiction effort, which is an attempt to add credibility to hypertext fiction for those who prefer more traditional literature. It also partially reveals the wellspring of hypertext. We see, perhaps, a history to this movement that for some has come out of nowhere, with no apparent impetus from "respectable" literature practices.

3. It is likely that no one interrupted Homer.

"Or perhaps there were drunken hecklers then" (141). And I chuckle out loud at the image and think of my preconcieved notions about literary fiction. "Since the technology has existed for some time, why don't people write alternate chapters in the blank spaces of bound novels or alternate sentences in the blank spaces between printed sentences?" Good question. Joyce goes on to talk about the relationship between the reader and what is read, pointing out how we do not suspend all thought while we read. We plan out what will happen in each successive sentence in each coming page. Then, we "selfishly seek confirmation or our alternative choices within a text" by gauging how correctly or incorrectly we anticipated the unfolding drama of the work. Hypertext fiction has the power to alter this dynamic, though the power has always been there, we have not been encouraged to participate in this manner.

4. Suppose a text can anticipate unpredictable variations upon it.

Is this possible? Our print history screams "no!" and points to the barriers of the page. Joyce calls our attention to a phenomenon in computer science called "interference, the concurrency problem, or software interraction" where in complex systems where layer upon layer of software is interacting together, unanticipated "side effects" happen. This is where the debugging begins. Joyce quotes Umberto Eco:

"Sooner or later someone understands in some way the reason for the connection and the necessity of the factual judgement that does not as yet exist. Then, and only then, is it shown that the course of successive contiguities, however tiresome, was traversable or that it was possible to institute certain transversals. Here is how the factual judgement, anticipated in the form of an unusual metaphor, overturns and restructures the semantic system in introducing curcuits not previously in existence" (146).

So, we wait for a "text that can anticipate unpredictable variations upon it" and wonder if Storyspace, or any other hypertext software, really allows for this to happen.