By Rosemary Passantino
These are the circles that get drawn when discussing hypertext fiction. What are your aesthetic triggers? Bartheleme, Burroughs, Duras. Godard, Renais, Vertov. Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Kathy Acker's Blood and Guts. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Arabian Nights. I mention these because anyone drawn to writing hypertext has found pleasure in notions of the fractal, the fragment, the deconstruction of omniscient hegemony. We have somewhere been imprinted with the desire to destroy, and create new structures for storytelling. Been mesmerized by the extremes of flicker film, characters in search of a play, Invisible Cities that stripped down or out stock instruments like character, plot, and point of view.
There is perhaps something self-serving in all this--what happened to the audience? After all, doesn't every viewer or reader deserve to be mesmerized, rewarded, entertained? If you are not playing by some rules, who can you get in your game? Many readers object to the desolation of structure and identity, not to mention the paucity of phenomenological concern. Husserl claimed intentionality is as valid as actuality. Are we writing well enough? Find me the reader who will not, unsatisfied, ask for their money back guarantee. Does this mean hypertext should be free?
That is some of the theory; then there are the tools. Hypertext differs significantly from straight writing, because it requires application development. The composer must formulate an information architecture based on the intended user experience, and interpret that structure per the limitations of the engineering environment--the World Wide Web, Storyspace, C++. Ideally, your binaries inform the objectives of your interface, which is a concertina of your content. Hypertext is not pen and ink, or drag and drop. It's On Mouse Click, if then or, return to state.
As so often happens in software revs, "Faktura," the hypertext I composed in Robert Kendall's class, was formulated in one environment--Storyspace--then ported to another--the WWW. Between release 1 and 2 the text, a somewhat conventional, though I hoped sexy, narrative about a group of Soviet nonconformist artists, remained intact. But tone, the pace, the magic all changed. HTML is open platform. The application is the story.
So, are we being written by the machines?
Enter the rhombus, the story, into the information age, where matter is both particles and waves, where our oculars correspond with lit glass, where tribal songline fire circles are rivaled by sparking routers, pings, and fiber optics. Adorno claimed "life is a succession of shocks, interspersed with empty paralyzed intervals." Perhaps that is the quantum pulse hypertext attempts to capture, the moments when insolence is revealed as personal isolation, the reading that is the misreading.