Hyperlab

Navigating the Hypertext Labyrinth

 
 
 

Literature+ by Alan Liu

 
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Re-doing Literary Interpretation: A Pedagogy

1. Following up on a pilot course I taught in academic year 2006-2007, I have created a suite of undergraduate and graduate courses titled "Literature+".1 The essential idea is stated on the wiki sites for the courses as follows:

Because of the recent, shared emphasis in many fields on digital methods, scholars in the humanities, arts, social sciences, and sciences increasingly need to collaborate across disciplines. This course reflects theoretically and practically on the new digitally facilitated interdisciplinarity by asking students to choose a literary work and treat it according to one or more of the research paradigms prevalent in other fields of study.

Students, for example, can choose a story or poem to model, simulate, map, visualize, encode, text analyze, sample, mashup, storyboard, blog, or redesign as a game, machinima, database, hypertext, or virtual world.2

2. During the first four weeks of the quarter, Literature+ courses meet in the usual manner of instructor-led classes. I begin by asking students to reflect on the normative practices of literary interpretation, concentrating on lower-order procedures of the sort now routinized as "close reading." Then I ask them to compare such interpretation to the normative research paradigms of other disciplines in the sciences, engineering, and social sciences where observation and the analysis of datasets are primary-level activities. To prompt the discussion, I assign readings from scholars who have recently suggested boldly different methods of literary interpretation borrowing from non-humanities protocols—e.g., Franco Moretti on "graphs, maps, trees," Willard McCarty on modeling, Lisa Samuels and Jerome J. McGann on "deformance," Stephen Ramsay on "algorithmic criticism," and Geoffrey Rockwell on text-analysis.3 I also demo some of the online or downloadable digital tools that (in the style of today's "Web applications" and "Web 2.0") allow ordinary, non-programmer users to create and share interesting projects.4 Examples from the "Toy Chest" that I keep on the Web include:

  • Text analysis tools (e.g., the tools provided through the TAPoR text-analysis portal).
  • Visualization/pattern discovery tools (e.g., the Many Eyes tools from the IBM Visual Communication Lab, the Gapminder World tool for animated statistics).
  • Mapping tools, both GIS-based and historical (e.g., Google Maps, the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection).
  • Timeline tools (e.g., Simile Timeline).
  • Social-network diagramming tools (e.g., PieSpy).
  • "Mashup" creation tools (e.g., Microsoft Popfly, Yahoo Pipes).
  • Simulation or modeling environments (e.g., NetLogo).
  • Visual programming systems (e.g., Scratch).
  • Tools for making machinima ("machine animation") descended from video gaming (e.g., MovieStorm).
  • Game-like environments for "roleplaying" literature (e.g., the Ivanhoe Game).
  • Online immersive social worlds (e.g., the instructional campus my English Department has created in Second Life where students can build, exhibit, and perform in a special zone).5

3. In the last six weeks of the quarter, Literature+ courses shift into studio or lab mode to build projects. Students form small teams of three or four, choose a literary work (or part of a work), and—as I explicitly require—do something with the work that is anything other than normative literary interpretation. The goal is to prototype a project able to provoke fresh thought about how literary scholars might "do" literature in alliance with—though sometimes also against the grain of—the way other disciplines do knowledge. Some projects concentrate on producing or modeling datasets while only secondarily re-rendering or "adapting" the original literary work; others reverse the proportions to focus on adapting literature while in a lesser way throwing off data or engaging in iterative modeling (change-the-parameters-and-see-what-happens experimentation). Examples of student projects include:

  • The Textones Project (assigns musical values to word types in Shakespeare's sonnets to create analytical soundscapes of individual poems).
  • The Borges Modeling Project (adapts a short story by Jorge Luis Borges as a film in which the parts of speech in the original text are mapped analytically over a corresponding typology of film techniques).
  • The Berlin Project (models the formal features of Jason Lutes's graphic novel Berlin: City of Stones through analytical image, film, and text adaptations—e.g., video animations that transform static forms into temporal durations).
  • The Alice Project (models the rules of spatial narrative underlying Lewis Carroll's Alice tales and their later film adaptations in order to reveal the generative constraints of "nonsense" art through analytical diagrams and montages).
  • The Ringu Transmission Project (creates an interactive timeline to track the new global production, publication, and dissemination patterns represented by the international Ring phenomenon, a proliferating, self-organizing set of novels, films, video games, and manga).
  • The Close Reading Re-visited Project (applies text-analysis, visualization, automatic translation, and plagiarism-detection tools to transform/deform texts analytically—e.g., into word-trees, word influence maps, tag clouds, punctuation patterns, etc.)
  • The Emigrants Project (plots the travels of the characters in W. G. Sebald's novel The Emigrants as a set of "Google Lit Trips" or annotated itineraries in Google Earth).
  • The Romeo and Juliet Facebook Tragedy Project (adapts Shakespeare's play as a set of Facebook pages complete with a "social graph" of character relations).6

4. The staging ground for Literature+ courses—serving both to facilitate collaboration and to present final projects—is a class wiki. While in the past I have used MediaWiki (i.e., local installations of the open-source wiki software best known for producing Wikipedia), currently I use PBwiki, an online hosted wiki platform with a strong user base in education.7


Intellectual Rationale: Toward Common Scholarship


5. Digital networked technology is now used across the board by scientists, engineers, social scientists, humanists, and artists who need each other's expertise to design the new generation of multidisciplinary research and teaching initiatives solicited, for example, by the NSF's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT), the NEH's Digital Humanities Initiative, the ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowships, and the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning initiative.8 One consequence of such digitally-catalyzed collaboration is that the disciplines must now truly communicate with each other so that their perspectives cohere in functional software (whether "deliverable" software defined as a project's goal or merely facilitating software for collaboration and dissemination). After all, making software actually work even at the beta (or, more realistically, alpha) stage characteristic of most academic research projects requires resource-allocation decisions that enforce explicit, rather than fuzzy, consensus about goals and methods. The kind of communication I refer to is more fundamental than the normal interdisciplinarity by which one discipline borrows high-level concepts from another uprooted from underlying instruments and procedures—e.g., the prolific poaching engaged in by literary theorists in the past few decades in their roles as armchair linguists, psychoanalysts, anthropologists, lawyers, physicists, etc. Instead, digital networked technologies provoke cross-disciplinary communication at the level of underlying practices and methods, which, in my experience (gained through a series of collaborative digital projects), can lead to unsettling questions about why one's native discipline does what it does in the name of knowledge.9 (My favorite anecdote: a computer scientist on my campus—broad-minded but frank—who, upon hearing a fine literary interpretation in a planning meeting, paused reflectively and asked: "What's that for?" At which point, a social scientist piled on: "That's item one. Where are the other thousand needed for a sample?") Facing up honestly to such impasses, rather than retreating mutely into separate and equal expertises, requires going back not so much to first principles as to first methods.

6. Literature+ courses do not necessarily give a blank check to the thesis that interpreting literature should be "just like" making models, simulations, visualizations, statistical analyses, and other non-humanities constructs designed (in the vocabulary of Willard McCarty's philosophy of modeling) to make datasets "tractable" and "manipulable."10 But they play with the constraints and affordances of the dataset paradigm so as to encourage new thinking about the similarly tight yet supple constructs—forms, genres, styles, plots, characters, structures, contexts, etc.—of literature.


Addendum: Institutional Rationale


7. I also developed my Literature+ courses to address institutional impediments that will be depressingly familiar to all humanities scholars who develop digital projects or, more generally, lead collaborative projects requiring them to write grant proposals, learn new methods and technologies, train research assistants, organize collaboration and dissemination activities, and exercise ongoing budgetary and other administrative oversight. Where does all that fit in the normal workload of the humanities, which does not yet well accommodate (let alone directly reward) the new style of collaborative, technological research (as opposed, for example, to the writing of monographs)? And this at a time, too, when funding for fellowships and other traditional ways of packaging humanities research support is proportionally dwindling?11 How to mitigate the squeeze created by new workload amid shrinking resources? More precisely, what solution does not absolutely require systematic course relief or permanent FTE (full-time employment funding) for technical support and other research assistance—strategies that most university administrations would be hard pressed to offer humanities scholars on more than an ad hoc basis?

8. The solution hypothesized in my Literature+ courses is for humanists to include in their ordinary workload one or two workshop/project-building courses each year.12 "Collaboratory" courses of this sort effectively lighten an instructor's teaching load because they require less class preparation during the part of each quarter devoted to studio work. Yet they are not "instruction lite" for two reasons. One is that they call on all that an instructor can muster when first developing a course to create innovative syllabi, assignments, technologies, and other resources (which then serve as the platform for fresh instances of the course each year).13 The other reason is that such courses require instructors on a daily basis to apply the best of themselves in the act of mentoring individuals and project teams. Not instruction lite, in other words, but instruction different.

9. The bottom line is that Literature+ courses seem truly to meet the needs of students. As I have found, students are hungry for studio- or lab-style environments where they work shoulder-to-shoulder with humanities professors. In Literature+ courses, the main "content" delivered is actually the role-model and working habits of an intellectual pursuing humane knowledge with all best passion, skill, and openness to collaboration with others, including students.


Ideal Conclusion

10. There has never been a time when world issues on the scale of globalism, terrorism, and the environment have created such a need for radical interdisciplinarity in the academy. There has never been a time when the digital tools facilitating such interdisciplinarity have been more accessible, shareable, and useable. And, from the point of view of our students (who are idealistic about the future but also worried about their careers after graduation), there has also never been a time when the workplace seems more to reward "knowledge workers" able to collaborate via digital technologies across expertises, departments, firms, and nations. My Literature+ courses are packed, drawing students from many disciplines who sense that they are in the pipeline, for better or worse, to such a future. Can the humanities prepare its students not just to survive but to shape the future into what might be called, in complementarity to Literature+ , Dataset+? I mean by this a view of the world that exceeds the usual spreadsheets, databases, reports, and other bleak expressive forms that today sum up the knowledge of business, government, etc., to afford some measure of ethical intelligence, social awareness, communicational fluency, aesthetic/design sensibility, and other cultural quotients of a robust human knowledge?

11. Of course, a skeptic responding to such idealism might be suspicious that asking students to take a literary work and do anything with it other than literary interpretation in preparation for a more robust knowledge work can only be a recipe for dilution, popularization, and philistinism. But I have rarely, if ever, seen students more truly engaged with literature than in these courses, where they decide what is essential about a work that must be modeled in new paradigms and technologies so as to make literary experience tractable and manipulable in other disciplinary world views. During the studio/lab classes, I rotate among student teams to ask such questions as, "So what is this work really about? What does your project have to carry over no matter what?" Given that responsibility, students act as if they were at the sensitive stick of a jet fighter called literature.


Notes

1. The pilot course I refer to was an undergraduate Literature+ taught in spring quarter of academic year 2006-2007 (http://liu.english.ucsb.edu/wiki2). I taught the more evolved undergraduate and graduate versions of the course in winter quarter, 2007-2008 (http://english149-w2008.pbwiki.com; http://english236-2008.pbwiki.com).
Undergraduate Literature+ courses are part of my English Department's Literature and Culture of Information (LCI) specialization, a curricular "track" for English majors awarding a supplementary credential. (See http://transcriptions.english.ucsb.edu/curriculum/lci/.) Both LCI courses and graduate courses on information technology are incubated in the Transcriptions Project, which my department started in 1998 with NEH funding to integrate information technology in the core of a literature program. (See http://transcriptions.english.ucsb.edu/.)

2. Quoted from the home page of the wiki for the graduate version of Literature+, <http://english236 w2008.pbwiki.com/>, retrieved 5 February 2008.

3. Reading assignments in the graduate version of Literature+ include: Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History (London; New York: Verso, 2005); Willard McCarty, Humanities Computing (Basingstoke, England: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005); Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann,"Deformance and Interpretation," New Literary History 30, No. 1 (Winter, 1999): 25 56; Stephen Ramsay, "Toward an Algorithmic Criticism," Literary and Linguistic Computing 18.2 (2003): 167 174; and Geoffrey Rockwell, "What is Text Analysis, Really?" Literary and Linguistic Computing. 18.2 (2003): 209 220.

4. Web applications refer to applications that can be used online through a browser without needing to install software on a local computer. A prominent example is Google Docs & Spreadsheets, which allows users to word-process and create spreadsheets through programs on Google's servers (and also to store and share documents on those servers). (See http://docs.google.com/). Web 2.0 refers to a constellation of developments in data architecture (e.g., database-generated Web sites than can be edited by multiple authors), social computing (e.g., collaboratively-created resources, comments, "friend"-interactions), and interface experience (e.g., "Ajax" principles allowing users to interact with content in a browser window in a manner more characteristic of software running on one's own hard drive). The early, influential definition of "Web 2.0" is Tim O'Reilly's essay "What is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software," 30 September 2005, O'Reilly Media, Inc., retrieved 8 September 2006, <http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html>.

5. Links for these and other tools, along with descriptions and screenshots, are available at "Toy Chest," which I started and currently maintain on my department's Knowledge Base wiki. See "Toy Chest (Online or Downloadable Tools for Building Projects)," English Department Knowledge Base, University of California, Santa Barbara <http://wiki.english.ucsb.edu/index.php/Toy_Chest_%28Online_or_Downloadable_Tools_for_Building_Projects%29>. I publicized a rationale for the Toy Chest to the Humanist listserv (Humanist Discussion Group) on 8 January 2008 (available in the list archive at http://lists.village.virginia.edu/lists_archive/Humanist/v21/0461.html).

6. For these and other student projects, see the project pages on the course wiki sites for the 2007-2008 instances of Literature+ cited above. My description of these projects was written while the projects were still in progress. The final projects may vary.

7. Like other such wikis hosted by third parties (commercial or otherwise), PBwiki has the advantage of getting teachers and campus staff out of the increasingly unsustainable business of supporting proliferating wiki, blog, and other installations on their own servers, all of which require frequent upgrades and security patches complicated by "plugins" and "widgets" unique to each instance. PBwiki allows for both free and paid-subscription wikis (the latter with extra capabilities). See the PBwiki home page, Pbwiki, Inc., <http://pbwiki.com/>, retrieved 6 February 2008.

8. For information on these grant competitions, see the following Web sites (all accessed 3 February 2008): National Science Foundation, "Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT)," <http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=12759>; National Endowment for the Humanities, "Digital Humanities Initiative," <http://digitallearning.macfound.org/site/c.enJLKQNlFiG/b.2029199/k.BFC9/Home.htm>; American Council of Learned Societies, "ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowships" <http://www.acls.org/grants/Default.aspx?id=508>; MacArthur Foundation, "Building the Field of Digital Media and Learning," <http://digitallearning.macfound.org/site/c.enJLKQNlFiG/b.2029199/k.BFC9/Home.htm>.

9. Two recent collaborative interdisciplinary projects have most unsettled me in regard to my own discipline's assumptions and practices, and have also provoked leaps of thought about how literature might be done differently. One is a University of California funded multi-campus research group that I direct called the Transliteracies Project: Research in the Technological, Social, and Cultural Practices of Online Reading (http://transliteracies.english.ucsb.edu). The other is the UC Santa Barbara Social Computing Group, which Transliteracies co-started in collaboration with the following units on our campus: the Center for Information Technology and Society, the Macarthur Foundation-funded Credibility and Digital Media@UCSB initiative, the Computer Science Department, and the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management (http://transliteracies.english.ucsb.edu/category/research project/working groups individual/social computing). This group is currently collaborating on designing a program to train graduate students in the new field of social computing.

10. McCarty: "Two effects of computing sharpen the distinction between 'concept' on the one hand and the 'model' on the other: first, the computational demand for tractability, i.e. for complete explicitness and absolute consistency; second, the manipulability that a digital representation provides" (Humanities Computing, 25).

11. We might remember elegiacally that the Guggenheim, NEH, and ACLS fellowships once supported a whole year of monograph-writing without requiring scholars to beg their universities to top off their award or to lien future sabbaticals. And once, also, major public universities in such states as California at least aimed to keep pace with premier private universities in regard to humanities resources, however many laps they stayed behind.

12. Though I have myself not yet tried it, an even more interesting variant of this strategy is to create lab/project-building courses that revolve around, or contribute directly to, a collaborative research project. For example, my colleague Patricia Fumerton has taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses on English broadside ballads in tandem with the NEH-funded English Broadside Ballads Archive (EBBA) digitization project that she directs. In these courses, students actually help transcribe ballads, contribute to an edition of essays about the ballads, etc. (See under "Recent Courses" on Fumerton's bio page on the UCSB Early Modern Center site, <http://emc.english.ucsb.edu/cvs/pfumerton_brief.asp>, retrieved 7 February 2008. For EBBA, see the project's site, <http://emc.english.ucsb.edu/ballad_project/>, retrieved 7 February 2007.)

13. One way that forward-looking universities can foster innovation in the humanities is to provide seed-funding for assistance in developing such courses. On my own campus, I have helped draw up hypothetical plans for a digital "humanities incubator" for this purpose. The main idea is that groups of faculty could apply for an annual development seminar giving them access to high-level technology consultants, staff, and research assistants; cross-project brainstorming; and other resources/activities dedicated to hatching innovative humanities research projects and courses. The operative concept is a "project" with a common deliverable product (plus related courses) instead of the more usual humanities paradigm of talking-events (conferences, colloquia, etc.) leading only indirectly to fractured, individual deliverables (separate articles and books).

14. On this topic, see my Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), esp. Parts 1 and 2.


Alan Liu is a Professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a member of the Board of Directors of the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO).
ayliu@english.ucsb.edu
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The Work of the Encyclopedia in the Age of Electronic Reproduction 

 
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By Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Most discussion on the impact of the shift from print to electronic publishing has focused on issues like the fate of linear narrative, notions of authorship, and copyright. This article examines how the digitization of literature affects the craft of editing, and the everyday work of content producers. It focuses on the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which like all encyclopedias has been profoundly affected by the emergence of compact discs and the World Wide Web. The digitization of the encyclopedia has affected the structure of articles; it has also begun to affect the character of editorial work, the responsibilities of editors, and relations with authors, animators, and others.

A number of writers have prognosticated on the future of literature, copyright, and commerce online. George Landow and Jay David Bolter, to name but two academics, have argued that electronic literature will possess qualities very different from its printed predecessors. Copyright lawyers and content providers worry that current copyright law will not apply to electronic publications or will be impossible to enforce, while Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) cofounder John Perry Barlow and a few others argue that traditional notions of intellectual property are irrelevant to the emerging realities of cyberspace anyway. Edventure Holding's Esther Dyson, McKinsey's John Hagel and Arthur Armstrong, and others have written extensively about online commerce, and argued that community-building will be central to the success of any e-commerce effort. [ 1 ]

However, few writers so far have spent much time talking about what impact the shift to electronic publishing-- the combined digitization of both the production and sale of content - will have on the authors, editors, and managers who create and produce content. The purpose of this article is to sketch out those changes, to show how the digitization of content-production and -publication looks from perspective of the shop floor, and to show how it changes the shop floor. During two years' service as deputy editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, I was able to see at first-hand what the shift from print to electronic publishing means for publishers, authors, and editors. Newspaper and book publishers still enjoy strong revenues from printed products, or are working in both media; the encyclopedia market, in contrast, is already dominated by electronic products. In the recent history of the Britannica, it may be possible to glimpse the future of publishing.

This article is organized into three parts. In the next section, I'll briefly describe how the encyclopedia market has changed in the last several years, as CDs and the World Wide Web have emerged as major publishing venues for encyclopedias. In the third section, I'll explain what the shift from print to electronic publishing has meant for the craft of editorial work: how it affects our articles, the way it has changed Britannica's editorial priorities, and its impact on the what editors do. Finally, in the fourth section I'll discuss the ways the development of electronic markets and electronic editing is affecting our relationships with authors.

The External World

In the early days of the World Wide Web, a number of writers predicted that the commercialization and popularization of the Internet would lead to the death of the book, magazine, and newspaper. After several years of electronic books, online magazines, and newspaper Web sites, it appears that predictions that electronic versions of printed publications would kill their printed counterparts were premature. Instead, it appears that electronic publications are generally either read by different people than those who read printed works, or are used by them differently. The National Academy of Sciences Press, for example, put its new monographs online, and saw printed sales rise 17% in the same year. Apparently prospective buyers browsed through the online versions while deciding to buy, much as they would read a few pages of a book in a bookstore. In general, it seems that readers tend to treat printed and electronic versions of the same work - be it a newspaper or book - as different or complimentary, but not as competitors.

The important exception is encyclopedias. The development of the electronic, multimedia encyclopedia, and dramatic changes in the pricing of encyclopedic content, has transformed the market and the world in which encyclopedia companies conduct business. [ 2 ] Printed encyclopedias, no matter the publisher, have declined greatly in popularity for a variety of reasons:

 

  • For one thing, electronic encyclopedias give the appearance of being more interactive, accessible, and interesting than their printed counterparts: they don't just provide pictures, but also animations, video, and music, offer advanced searching capabilities, and links to the Internet.

     

  • Another set of reasons is economic. Encyclopedias have gone from being expensive, one-time purchases costing $1500, to mass-market items costing between $30 and $150. They're even available by subscription over the Internet, or sold to computer manufacturers, who bundle them with new computers. (One expert claims that more compact disc encyclopedias have been given away in the last ten years than print sets were sold in the previous 200! [ 3 ]) The price difference between the printed and electronic versions of magazines and newspapers is generally minimal: for most people, even the difference between spending fifty cents for a newspaper and spending nothing is not quite worth changing their spending habits. The difference between $1500 and nothing is something else entirely.

     

  • Further, the money that people used to spend on encyclopedias now gets spent on personal computers - which often come bundled with a multimedia encyclopedia.

The markets for electronic media have also segmented somewhat. In the past, our principal consumers - the people who actually paid for encyclopedias - were individuals. Today, the Britannica publishes a printed encyclopedia, a compact disc (Britannica CD, or BCD), and a Web site ( Britannica Online, or BOL [ 4 ]). The three versions have gradually diverged, like a supercontinent breaking apart into three similar but separate continents. The electronic encyclopedias have more articles than the printed version; audio, video and animations, which are impossible to include in a print encyclopedia; and a search engine and hyperlinks that change the experience of accessing and reading the encyclopedia. The electronic versions, in turn, differ slightly from one another: BCD and BOL have slightly different interfaces, and BCD has several features not available in BOL (timelines, a statistical program called Analyst, and multimedia spotlights).

Different kinds of electronic content also appeal to somewhat different markets. In the last few years the CD has generally been the platform of choice for home customers, while institutions - public schools, colleges and universities, and libraries - have proved themselves more willing to spend money on subscriptions to online services. This can be explained by several factors. One is the installed technology base: CDs have been part of home computers for several years longer than have fast modems, while universities have been wired for decades. Another is concern about control: parents can keep their kids from surfing over to playboy.com by not having a connection to the Web, while institutions generally consider this the price of freedom - or not their problem. Finally, libraries and universities have long been accustomed to paying for online services like OCLC and Lexis-Nexus, while many individual buyers still think that information should be free, or at least should come free with their new PCs.

This isn't a hard and fast market division, of course. Nor is it one that any electronic publisher anticipated, or wants to maintain: technologies change too rapidly for such things to last more than a few years, and we're all too interested in making money to let them stand if we can break them down. However, they're a fact of life for the moment, and Britannica's sales, like everyone's, tend to break down along these lines. BCD has been extremely strong in the home market, and with public schools and libraries with limited Internet access. The biggest market for BOL, in contrast, is institutions. As of December 1997, over 1,000 colleges and universities, and 4.7 million college students, had access to BOL. Most did not purchase BOL individually, but subscribed through consortia, groups of institutions that purchase subscriptions of electronic journals from university presses, databases like JSTOR, and online services. CIC, ACM, and other organizations buy BOL for groups of colleges, while state departments of education pipe BOL to grades K through 12, and throughout state college systems.

The Economics of Revision

The world in which printed encyclopedias were produced and consumed has vanished. The economics that control and constrain the production of encyclopedic knowledge have likewise changed radically.

In the days of print, the physical nature of the page, and the constraints it placed on economics and editing, determined how encyclopedias worked. Put simply, manufacturing costs drove everything. You knew when the printer was going to start the presses rolling, and you knew you had a certain amount of money to spend. Editorial schedules and budgets were then "backed out" based on those two variables, yielding that season's work. These strict and predictable economics made it possible for the entire system to be organized as a production line, with divisions of labor finely established, and copy flowing from editorial to copy, to art, to page makeup, occasionally back to editorial, and then to the printer. There were two other important factors guiding editorial work. It cost a certain amount of money to "open" a page for changes, no matter how big or small; and since it was not economically viable to add a few pages here or there, each volume of the encyclopedia was a closed system, and editing was a zero-sum game. When a new article or picture was added, something had to be cut.

This system required two important things of editors. First, they had to be generalists, since a page could have anything on it (an article on a French king, a mathematical theorem, a chemical elements, an Asian river, and a baseball player). Second, much of the work of producing an annual revision consisted of the craft-work of eliminating articles, fiddling with word and line counts, and rephrasing sentences to save (or add) a line or two. Indeed, it was a great challenge to make the maximum number of changes on the minimum number of pages, to add or change content without causing "rippling" or changes through more than a tiny portion of the encyclopedia.

Encyclopedias still have deadlines and ship dates, but in the digital world they're set by our markets, not printers. Academics make decisions about renewing subscriptions to online services in the spring, while the home market buys most CDs around Christmas, so new releases are timed to those buying seasons. Likewise, the constraints imposed both by the economics of print, and by the physical nature of the printed page, no longer bother us. The length of articles can now reflect the importance of the subject and the attention span of readers rather than the space available on the page, and editorial judgments need not be sacrificed on the altar of economics. Editors can concentrate on other things. Most important, they no longer need be generalists, but can be specialists working on articles that are not adjacent to one another on a page but related by subject. Indeed, not only is it now possible to revise all the articles on a given subject at once, but the economies realized by focusing editorial effort - commissioning, fact-checking, art acquisition - on specific subjects are more worth pursuing now that printing costs are so much lower.

This is also worthwhile because consistency and currency are very important to readers of the digital encyclopedia. In print, readers were less likely to notice if the distance to Alpha Centauri is given as 4.3 light-years in one place and 4.4 light-years in another, or different dates for the birth of jazz are given in two articles, or Genghis Khan is spelled two ways: the physical separation of related articles - usually on separate pages, often in separate volumes - made it harder to notice such variance. Now, thanks to the miracle of hyperlinking, apparently inconsistent information is - to use a tired phrase - just a mouse click away. Even when inconsistencies do not reflect errors, but choices between two reasonable alternatives (as is the case with each of the three examples given above), the basic problem remains: readers expect consistency, and are not necessarily able to tell the difference between simple mistakes and variations arising out of technical or philological disagreements. Readers also expect electronic publications to be more up-to-date than their printed counterparts. Everyone accepts that a printed volume slowly grows obsolete, but part of the appeal of the service of electronic publications is that they stay up to date.

Finally, the character of electronic texts encourage specialization and greater attention to bodies of content rather than disparate individual articles. Unlike in print, where they existed essentially as autonomous units, articles published in electronic media are joined to their kin by hyperlinks, yielding a body of content greater than the sum of its individual parts. This development finds a parallel in electronic reading habits, which tend to emphasize (or at least encourage) movement through interconnected texts rather than attention to single texts. It thus becomes necessary for editors to think about how changes to one article affect other articles, how well the structure and organization of a body of articles encourages or inhibits thoughtful browsing, and whether there are enough signposts and links to keep readers from getting lost. Print encouraged editors to think about articles as self-contained objects, but in the electronic world the "article" is starting to become as obsolete a unit of editorial planning and work as it is becoming irrelevant to readers.

The dynamics of multimedia development have further changed the way editors work. In this early stage in the history of the medium, text, art, design, and programming exist in close relationship to one another, and changes in one sphere can have serious effects on all the others: for example, a decision to change the standard size of a pop-up window, forced upon programmers by slow loading times, will require resizing pictures, rewriting captions and articles, and redoing a screen design. (Indeed, rather than being a realm in which content becomes a set of ones and zeros, capable of being broadcast, recombined, and republished effortlessly, electronic media ties content and medium more closely together than print. The contents of a book do not change if the pages are resized, or it is printed using photolithography versus offset press, in no small part because the constraints of the medium have already been internalized by authors.) As a consequence, multimedia development cannot proceed on the assembly-line model of print. Because it's much more fluid and dynamic, with nothing fixed at the outset, it requires people of varied backgrounds and interests to work closely together so as to better understand the consequences of decisions and respond in time to unexpected challenges. (Calling this "teamwork" isn't perfectly accurate, as it suggests harmony, a common set of assumptions about how the game is played, and agreed-upon notions of what constitutes victory. In reality, designers, artists, authors, and programmers have very different skills, work in different ways, and understand their goals and roles in their own ways. The term "collaboration," with its slightly shady political overtones, is much more precisely evocative.[ 5 ]) At Britannica, the people who keep these groups together - who articulate the basic vision for a project, who communicate essential information to different parties, and who make sure that the pieces come together to form a coherent whole - have been the editors. It used to be that they could work just on text; now editors have to work on just about everything.

Relations with Authors

Another emerging shift, which is still being negotiated, is with our authors. Put most simply, the model of author-editor relations is shifting from one characterized by short periods of intense contact to one in which authors provide Britannica with a continuous service, and from one that revolved around writing to one defined by the sharing of expertise.

In the past, once an article was published, it might not be handled again for a decade, and so keeping in constant touch with authors was not a high priority. However, the world - and the world of learning - is changing very quickly, and any encyclopedia publisher with an editorial division smaller than a good university faculty will lack the in-house expertise necessary to stay on top of the news and at the frontiers of knowledge. In fast-moving fields, like computer science, business, and astronomy, the challenges of keeping up with a field are growing more and more severe; it is even difficult to know enough about a field to know what new developments are really important enough to report. As a consequence, articles are starting to be revised more quickly, and on a more regular basis; indeed, the need for constant diligence is beginning to render the idea of a "finished" article obsolete. In the future, some articles will change every month, others every thirty years, but they will all change. As a result, authors will not be people who create specific pieces of work, but people with whom Britannica contracts for ongoing performances: their duties will revolve less around writing, than providing a variety of services that guarantee the accuracy and timeliness of a subject in which they are expert.

Contributors are also being pulled more deeply into the development of other kinds of content. Multimedia development is a challenging business, and mistakes can be very costly: authors who can work with artists and developers, and who can verify the accuracy of an animation or database, are far more useful than those who are concerned only with text. The scale of revision also creates new roles for contributors: on large projects, authors who can suggest other contributors, recommend sources for pictures, and provide other advice have already proved invaluable.

In short, it seems clear that authors are not going to disappear in electronic publishing; if anything, they're only going to become more important [ 6 ]. In some ways, these developments fulfill the predictions of academic theorists who argue that hypertext renders the concept of the "author" problematic: authorship of encyclopedia articles no longer points to a single action that produced a single, stable work, nor do texts possess the autonomy characteristic of printed works. At the same time, we're no closer to the much-heralded "death of the author" than we were in the days of print: the duties authors assume will undoubtedly change, but the basic social category will remain [ 7 ].

Conclusion

The development of the electronic encyclopedia has had a profound impact on the encyclopedia market: it has radically altered the economics of selling encyclopedias, and changed the way our markets work. Breaking free of the constraints of print have also had an impact on the character of editorial work, from the kinds of intellectual skills editors must have, to the way in which they go about editing. The culture of multimedia development, with its emphasis on speed and necessity for close collaboration, has turned editors into producers and coordinators of content production. Finally, our relations with authors is beginning to change: authors are evolving into constant suppliers of new content - reporters and advisors as much as writers.

 

About the Author

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang became Deputy Editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1996. He holds a Ph.D. in History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennyslvania, and has conducted research on visual representation in science, the history of American technology, and science in Victorian culture.
E-mail: apang@eb.com

Notes

Acknowledgements: My thanks to Margit Dementi, Nathan Ensmenger, Paul Mosher, Tom Panelas, and Heather Pang for their advice and encouragement. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at conferences at Michigan State University and the Library of Congress; my thanks to those audiences for their useful feedback and suggestions.

1. George Landow, Hypertext: The Convergence of Technology and Contemporary Critical Theory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992; rev. ed., 1997); Jay David Bolter, The Writing Space (NJ: Erleben, 1992). Their work has set the terms for discussion about hypertext and multimedia's impact on the world of letters and communication: see Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, "Hypertext, the Next Generation: A Review and Research Agenda." The classic articles arguing that the Internet and copyright will collide are Esther Dyson, "Intellectual Value," originally published in Wired 3.07 (August 1995), 136-141, 181-185, and John Perry Barlow, "The Economy of Information," originally published in Wired 2.03 (March 1994), 84-90, 126-129; see also Robin Wright's interesting critique of Barlow, "Dead Head," published in Slate magazine (available to subscribers only). On community-building and electronic commerce, see John Hagel III and Arthur G. Armstrong, Net Gain: Expanding Markets Through Virtual Communities (Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press, 1997); other useful recent articles include Shikhar Ghosh, "Making Business Sense of the Internet," Harvard Business Review 98 (March-April 1998), 126-135, and Constance Loizos, "Feeling the Burn," Red Herring (April 1998), 34-38.

2. On the history of Britannica through 1995, see Thomas A. Gerace, "Encyclopaedia Britannica," Harvard Business School case study 396-051, and Jeffrey Rayport, "Encyclopaedia Britannica: Teaching Note," Harvard Business School case study 396-419. The recent history is described in Adam Davidson, "Bound for Glory? The Venerable Encyclopaedia Britannica Struggles to Survive in an Electronic Age," Chicago Tribune Magazine (1 March 1998), 16-19; Michael Rozansky, "Encyclopaedia Britannica's Plight: Remaining Relevant in the Digital Age," Philadelphia Inquirer (19 April 1998).

3. Joseph J. Esposito, "Very Like a Whale: The World of Reference Publishing," Logos 7:1 (1996), 73-79.

4. For technical background on Britannica Online, see Liora Alschuler, "Behind the Scenes at Britannica Online," Seybold Report on Internet Publishing 1:3 (November 1996), 1-8.

5. The different worlds of editors, artists, and programmers is admirably surveyed in Fred Moody, I Sing the Body Electronic: A Year With Microsoft on the Multimedia Frontier (New York: Penguin, 1993); additional insights on the culture of programmers can be found in Ellen Ullman, Close to the Machine: Technophilia and its Discontents (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1997), the first chapter of which also appears as "Disappearing Into the Code," Salon 21st.

6. This compares rather sharply with the experience described in Paul Roberts, "Virtual Grub Street: Sorrows of a Multimedia Hack," Harper's Magazine (June 1996), 71-77; but see also the spirited response by Carina Chocano, "Don't Worry, Be Hacky," Salon.

7. This vision is articulated in Bolter and Landow (cit. n. 1), and admirably summarized in Ilana Snyder, Hypertext: The Electronic Labyrinth (New York: New York University Press, 1996); for a penetrating critique, see Richard Grusin, "What is an Electronic Author? Theory and the Technological Fallacy," Configurations 3 (1994), 469-483.

 

References

Liora Alschuler, "Behind the Scenes at Britannica Online," Seybold Report on Internet Publishing 1:3 (November 1996), 1-8.

John Perry Barlow, "The Economy of Information," Wired 2.03 (March 1994), 84-90, 126-129.

Jay David Bolter, The Writing Space (NJ: Erleben, 1992).

Carina Chocano, "Don't Worry, Be Hacky," Salon.

Adam Davidson, "Bound for Glory? The Venerable Encyclopaedia Britannica Struggles to Survive in an Electronic Age," Chicago Tribune Magazine (1 March 1998), 16-19.

Esther Dyson, "Intellectual Value," originally published in Wired 3.07 (August 1995), 136-141, 181-185.

Joseph J. Esposito, "Very Like a Whale: The World of Reference Publishing," Logos 7:1 (1996), 73-79.

Thomas A. Gerace, "Encyclopaedia Britannica," Harvard Business School case study 396-051.

Shikhar Ghosh, "Making Business Sense of the Internet," Harvard Business Review 98 (March-April 1998), 126-135.

Richard Grusin, "What is an Electronic Author? Theory and the Technological Fallacy," Configurations 3 (1994), 469-483.

John Hagel III and Arthur G. Armstrong, Net Gain: Expanding Markets Through Virtual Communities (Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press, 1997).

George Landow, Hypertext: The Convergence of Technology and Contemporary Critical Theory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992; rev. ed., 1997).

Constance Loizos, "Feeling the Burn," Red Herring (April 1998), 34-38.

Fred Moody, I Sing the Body Electronic: A Year With Microsoft on the Multimedia Frontier (New York: Penguin, 1993).

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, "Hypertext, the Next Generation: A Review and Research Agenda."

Jeffrey Rayport, "Encyclopaedia Britannica: Teaching Note," Harvard Business School case study 396-419.

Paul Roberts, "Virtual Grub Street: Sorrows of a Multimedia Hack," Harper's Magazine (June 1996), 71-77.

Michael Rozansky, "Encyclopaedia Britannica's Plight: Remaining Relevant in the Digital Age," Philadelphia Inquirer (19 April 1998). Ilana Snyder, Hypertext: The Electronic Labyrinth (New York: New York University Press, 1996).

Ellen Ullman, "D isappearing Into the Code," Salon 21st.

Ellen Ullman, Close to the Machine: Technophilia and its Discontents (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1997).

Robin Wright, "Dead Head," Slate.

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Toward a Theory of Hypertextual Design

 
hypertext 3-D por Kathryn Cramer.
Image © http://www.flickr.com/photos/kathryncramer/62234316/
                                   by

KATHLEEN BURNETT
Communication, Information & Library Studies
Rutgers University
<burnet@zodiac.rutgers.edu>

_Postmodern Culture_ v.3 n.2 (January, 1993)

Copyright (c) 1993 by Kathleen Burnett, all rights
reserved. This text may be freely shared among
individuals, but it may not be republished in any
medium without express written consent from the author
and advance notification of the editors.



While the study of the temporal and spatial
distanciation of communication is important to the
concept of the mode of information the heart of the
matter lies elsewhere. For the issue of
communicational efficiency . . . does not raise the
basic question of the configuration of information
exchange, or what I call the wrapping of language.
--Poster, 8


HYPERTEXT/HYPERMEDIA

[1] What distinguishes hypermedia from other modes of
information is not that it is computer-driven--after all,
the browsing and retrieval mechanisms of Vannevar Bush's
memex were non-electronic--nor that it is interactive, since
the entire history of oral communication, whether
electronically mediated or not, might be characterized as
interactive; nor even that it includes navigational
apparatus such as links and nodes, which might better be
thought of as symptoms than causes, or buttresses rather
than groundwork. What distinguishes hypermedia is that it
posits an information structure so dissimilar to any other
in human experience that it is difficult to describe as a
structure at all. It is nonlinear, and therefore may seem
an alien wrapping of language when compared to the
historical path written communication has traversed; it is
explicitly non-sequential, neither hierarchical nor "rooted"
in its organizational structure, and therefore may appear
chaotic and entropic. Yet clearly, human thought processes
include nonlinear, nonsequential, and interactive
characteristics which, when acknowledged by traditional
information structures, are not supported. In fact, one
might characterize the history of information transfer as a
tyranny against such characteristics, that is, a tyranny
against the rhizome.
[2] Hypermedia might be understood as one manifestation of
the struggle against this tyranny. In current parlance,
hypermedia is used to describe both applications which make
use of navigational tools such as links and nodes to form
"texts" or databases, and the organizational principles of
such "texts" and databases. Hypertext is also used to
denote these same meanings. When a distinction is drawn
between the two, it normally focuses on content--"hypertext"
is used to refer to hyper-structures consisting exclusively
of written texts, while "hypermedia" denotes similar
structures built around multiple media. Others have noted
the artificiality of such a delineation. "Text" is also
used as a synonym for a "written work" or "book" which may
or may not be limited to alphanumeric characters. A "text"
may included charts, graphs, illustrations, photographs, and
other visual media in its expression of meaning. Why then
should a "hypertext"--which has the potential for
incorporating an even wider range of expressive media
(sound, animation, etc.)--be limited to alphanumeric
characters in its expression?
[3] A more useful differentiation might be drawn along
structural rather than contextual lines. Hypertext
demonstrates "traits that are usually obscured by the
enforced linearity of paper printing"; it is text--only more
so--because it participates in a structure that resonates
asynchronous and nonlinear relationships. Hypertext is a
kind of weaving--"text" derives ultimately from the Latin
%texere%, and thus shares a common root with "textile"--a
structuring with texture--web, warp, and weave, allowing for
infinite variation in color, pattern and material; it is the
loom that structures the "text-ile." Hypertext is the
organizational principle of hypermedia. Hypermedia is the
medium of expression of a given hypertext structure. When
that medium mirrors the singularity of the print medium of
alphanumeric text, it may be properly called either
"hypertext" or "hypermedia"; when the medium reflects an
"intertwingling" (Nelson 31) of what we understand as
separate "media" in the analog sense of the term, it should
perhaps be referred to as "hypermedia," but might equally be
acknowledged as "hypertext." Neither hypertext nor
hypermedia is an object, rather the former is a structure,
and the latter a medium, of information transfer.


HISTORICAL CONTEXT

[4] All electronically mediated exchange participates in
hypertext, though the degree of participation varies
enormously. Some electronically mediated exchange is
"hypertextual" only to the degree that it is virtual--that
it consists of a series of switches or codes (binary or
otherwise) which are, in and of themselves, unreadable (and,
therefore, nontextual), and which contain "pointers" to
their reconstruction as meaningful exchanges. The switches
or codes are "nodes" which are "linked" to a "textual" form
which, at any given moment may exist only "hypertextually."
Electronically mediated exchange is therefore
paradigmatically different from other modes of information
precisely because it participates in the organizing
principle of hypertext.
[5] In _The Mode of Information_, Poster proposes a concept
which plays on Marx's theory of the mode of production:
By mode of information I similarly suggest that history
may be periodized by variations in the structure in
this case of symbolic exchange, but also that the
current culture gives a certain fetishistic importance
to 'information.' Every age employs forms of symbolic
exchange which contain internal and external
structures, means and relations of signification.
Stages in the mode of information may be tentatively
designated as follows: face-to-face, orally mediated
exchange; written exchanges mediated by print; and
electronically mediated exchange. (Poster 6)
Poster's periodization suffers from the coarseness of any
totalizing metaphor. While he stresses the trans-historical
nature of his classification of symbolic exchange, the
metaphor is only as effective as it is historically
informed. As outlined, the third stage--written exchanges
mediated by print--is not only Western in its bias, but
fails even within this bias to recognize a rather large
chunk of history--the manuscript period (circa 4th century
AD through the mid-fifteenth). An examination of the
influence of the mode of information on social structure can
only be enriched by the recognition of the impact of
mass-production, in the form of the mechanized reproduction
of written language, on that structure. It is impossible,
however, to understand the full significance of this impact,
either historically or theoretically, unless its
contextualization is carefully discerned. For example,
contrast these two very different experiences of the
introduction of the hand-press and its effects on social
stratification.
[6] The pre-Reformation Church was able to maintain a
restrictive social stratification largely because of its
ability to control the production and comprehension of
written communication--those who could read and write
belonged to a privileged elite, while those who could not
had to be satisfied with acquiring their information from
those who did. Through most of the Medieval period and well
into the Renaissance, the Church was able to control the
size and membership of the elite through two mechanisms:
Latin education and limited distribution of written
communication. The latter was facilitated by production
limits imposed by the rigorous and time-consuming process of
hand-copying, which in turn limited the supply of reading
material. Without supply, the demand for education was kept
to levels that the Church could manipulate and control. The
introduction of the hand-press in the mid-fifteenth century
was accompanied by a precipitous erosion of that control
which led decisively to the Reformation. Once reading
material could be produced in large quantities in a
relatively short period of time--500 to 1000 copies of an
average-length manuscript could be produced by a printer
owning two hand-presses within the space of less than a
month, as compared to the production of a single copy of a
manuscript, which could take up to a year--in other words,
once the non-elite were able to acquire material to read,
they began to do so. Printers, recognizing the commercial
potential of this new market, began to produce material in
the vulgate, which in turn expedited exponential growth in
the educated population, since it facilitated the process of
self-education. As this population grew, demands for equity
in education across social classes escalated. The earliest
signs of this movement are evident in the growth of the
popular and self-help literature markets, and the
introduction of mass communication, across time and
distance, over which the Church could ultimately exercise
little effective control (Eisenstein).
[7] Contrast this experience with that of the introduction
of a hand-press in colonial Massachusetts in 1660 for the
express purpose of propagating the gospel among the Indians,
who had no written language. The social stratification
which existed within the tribe prior to the introduction of
the press was anchored in the individual's ability to
communicate with the spiritual realm and was maintained
through oral mediation of the ritual culture. After the
introduction of the press, the very foundations of that
stratification were undermined. A schism developed between
those who subscribed to the gospel, and thus to the notion
of a single god, and those who continued in the old beliefs.
Since the introduction of the very act of written
communication was inextricably tied to the new religion,
many who did not endorse the Christian faith simply refused
to acknowledge the new mode of information.
[8] Clearly the introduction of the hand-press in this
context did not have the effect of popularizing written
communication that it had in western Europe on the eve of
the Reformation. While differences in the social structures
of the two cultures might be cited as the major contributing
factors in this differentiation, the privileged status of
chirography in pre-Reformation Europe clearly at least
served to buttress the social structure of that culture,
while the absence of any form of written culture in the case
of the Native American tribe equally served to buttress a
quite distinct social structure. Both structures were
undermined by the introduction of a new mode of information,
but in very different ways. While a totalizing metaphor may
be put to effective use in an account of this
differentiation, Poster's four-stage delineation is simply
too coarse to serve. Clearly, a distinction must be drawn
between a culture which partakes only of oral exchanges and
one in which oral exchange is coupled with some form of
written exchange. Equally clearly, a similar distinction
needs to be drawn between written exchanges mediated by
chirographic writing and written exchanges mediated by
typographic writing. The latter of these could be further
subdivided into two stages: the first mediated by hand-press
reproduction, and the second by machine-press reproduction.
The importance of this latter distinction is borne out by
the study of the growth of literacy in nineteenth-century
Europe following the introduction of the mechanized press
(cf. Altick and Eisenstein).
[9] Between Poster's third stage--written exchanges
mediated by print--and his fourth--electronically mediated
exchange--lies much of the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries, for although he does at one point acknowledge the
nineteenth century origins of electronically mediated
information systems in the telegraph and photography (19),
his analysis of such systems is limited to the telephone,
television advertising, databases, computer writing and
computer science. The inclusion of the machine-press
production stage suggested above accounts for a large share
of the information technology of the nineteenth century, but
the end of that century and the first half of the next, it
seems to me, several quite distinct modes of information
transfer have emerged which may help to provide a bridge
from written exchanges to electronically mediated exchange
and, particularly, to multimedia exchange mediated
electronically.
[10] We might group the various non-computer modes of
information available in the twentieth century in a variety
of ways; I would like to propose one such classificatory
scheme based, as is Poster's, on the wrapping of exchange:
verbal media: telegraph, radio, telephone
visual media: visual arts media (painting,
sculpture, etc), photography
combinatory media: offset printing, film, television,
video
The first group fits neatly into Poster's progression, since
it participates in the wrappings of language. Historically,
it is characterized by progressively orally mediated
electronic exchange, which might be seen as an inversion of
the pattern found in the Poster's earlier stages. The fit
of the second and third groups into Poster's schema is more
problematic because, despite his statement that the study of
the mode of information "must include a study of the forms
of information storage and retrieval, from cave painting
and clay tablets to computer databases and communications
satellites" (7), his pre-electronic mediation stages are all
decisively characterized by their participation in the
wrappings of language. Nonetheless, visual means of
communication and information transfer have always
existed--from cave paintings to religious icons to Gothic
cathedrals to paintings, sculpture, and other visual arts
media. The information-poor, one might even argue, have
historically relied on the visual media as their primary
mode of reproducible information transfer. Certainly this
was true in Western Europe before the growth of literacy,
and even today scholars point to the democratizing effect of
television.
[11] Also evident in the development of twentieth-century
modes of information is a ever-increasing trend toward
synchronous combinatory media. This January, AT&T announced
the release of its first videophone, the latest
manifestation of a trend which began with film and has
progressed through television, video, and in the last few
years, developments in multimedia computing. The design of
synchronous combinatory exchange is necessarily unlike that
of written exchange. The organizing principle of
combinatory exchange in its simplest form is synchronicity
rather than sequence (which is essential to all forms of
written exchange). Both forms are linear to some degree--
both rely on a time-line of expression. In written
exchange, linearity is an overt feature of the expression.
In the case of synchronous combinatory exchange, linearity
is only covertly present since the elements of a
synchronized combinatory expression must be aligned in time.
In an analog environment this alignment creates a singular
linear expression. In a digital environment, on the other
hand, the expression may be multiple, may consist of a
multiplicity of lines.
[12] While historicism clearly must inform such a totalizing
metaphor as Poster's "mode of information," Poster's
objective is equally clearly trans-historical:
the stages are not 'real,' not 'found' in the documents
of each epoch, but imposed by the theory as a
necessary step in the process of attaining knowledge.
In this sense the stages are not sequential but
coterminous in the present. They are not consecutive
also since elements of each are at least implicit in
the others. The logical status of the concept of the
mode of information is both historical and
transcendental. In that sense the latest stage is not
the privileged, dialectical resolution of previous
developments. In one sense, however, a sense that Marx
anticipated, the current configuration constitutes a
necessary totalization of earlier developments: that
is, one cannot but see earlier developments from the
situation of the present. The anatomy of the mode of
electronic information . . . necessarily sheds new
light on the anatomy of oral and print modes of
information . . . . I prefer to consider the present
age as simply an unavoidable context of discursive
totalization, not as an ontological realization of a
process of development. (6-7)


THEORIZING

[13] From within this context of discursive totalization,
other possibilities suggest themselves. In _A Thousand
Plateaus_ (1970), Deleuze and Guattari propose a different
history of written exchange. "Writing," they claim, "has
nothing to do with signifying. It has to do with surveying,
mapping, even realms that are yet to come" (4-5). Their
history is delineated in terms of types of books. There are
three types of books, the first being historically the
earliest and the third the most recent, but all three are
coterminous in the present. The first type they describe as
the root-book. The root-book "imitates the world, as art
imitates nature: by procedures specific to it that
accomplish what nature cannot or can no longer do" (5). The
second type is the radicle-system, or fascicular root book.
"This time, the principal root has aborted, or its tip has
been destroyed; an immediate, indefinite multiplicity of
secondary roots grafts onto it and undergoes a flourishing
development" (5). The approximate characteristics of
Deleuze and Guattari's third book type--the rhizome--clearly
indicate a departure from the book as printed codex to
electronically mediated exchange:
1. and 2. principles of connection and heterogeneity;
3. principle of multiplicity; 4. principle of
asignifying rupture; and 5. principles of cartography
and decalcomania. (7-9)
The significance of this taxonomy for this discussion is
that its classification, unlike Poster's, is entirely
media-independent, gaining its meaning, so to speak, from a
delineation of structure or design.
[14] The root-book roughly corresponds to written
communication prior to the development of the paste-up
technique (which Deleuze and Guattari refer to as
assemblage; 4) in the early part of the twentieth century.
Its history is one of linear production. In its earliest
form, the writing of the root-book was synonymous with its
publication. Today, the production of the root-book is
still characterized as a linear process consisting of five
steps: 1. writing of a manuscript; 2. submission/editing of
the manuscript; 3. the composition of the manuscript in
type; 4. the proofing of the type sheets; and 5. the
dissemination of the publication. The production process
for the radicle-system book is much lengthier, requiring the
addition of at least two additional steps, the first, the
mock-up or layout stage normally falling between the second
and third root-book steps; and the second, the paste-up
stage falling between the third and fourth steps in the
production of the root-book. In its earliest manifestations
(and still today in the certain fine-printing and vanity
publishing circles), the production of the root-book is
characterized by oneness and stability. Even in its more
recent manifestations, the root-book strives to be an exact
replica of the author's words, a representation or
signification of an individual's thoughts. Even as the
production process has fragmented (through the intervention
of editors, publishers, printers who are not the author), it
has maintained its linearity. Likewise, the publication has
retained its insularity and rootedness.
[15] In contrast, the design of the radicle-system book is
fragmented and multifarious, and while representation is
still employed as an element, it is only one of many couched
in layers that problematize its signification.
Interestingly, the technology which initially enabled this
kind of production was photography. The production process
is less emphatically sequential, the organizing principle
being collage or assemblage which allows for alteration and
reorganization at almost every stage of the production
process. In some cases this process has extended even to
the composition of the manuscript itself, as in the case of
William S. Burroughs's cut-up texts, or, in a less
mechanical implementation, in the poetry and critical
writings of Rachel Blau DuPlessis.
[16] Deleuze and Guattari describe a third type of book:
A system of this kind could be called a rhizome. A
rhizome as a subterranean stem is absolutely different
from roots and radicles. Bulbs and tubers are
rhizomes. Plants with roots or radicles may be
rhizomorphic in other respects altogether . . . .
Burrows are too, in all their functions of shelter,
supply, movement, evasion, and breakout. The rhizome
itself assumes very diverse forms, from ramified
surface extension in all directions to concretion into
bulbs and tubers . . . . The rhizome includes the best
and the worst: potato and couchgrass, or the weed.
(6-7)
Telecommunications systems are rhizomorphic, as are computer
networks. Think of maps you have seen and descriptions you
have heard of the internet--a rhizome. If we accept the
rhizome as a metaphor for electronically mediated exchange,
then hypertext is its apparent fulfillment, and Deleuze and
Guattari's "approximate characteristics of the rhizome"--
principles of connection, heterogeneity, multiplicity,
asignifying rupture, and cartography and decalcomania--may
be seen as the principles of hypertextual design.


PRINCIPLES OF CONNECTION AND HETEROGENEITY

[17] The principles of connection and heterogeneity state
that "any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other,
and must be" (Deleuze & Guattari 7). In this sense a
rhizome is very different from a tree structure, where the
order is fixed by a hierarchy of relationships. Cognitive
jumps, which must be mechanically forced in an hierarchy,
are intuitively sustained in a rhizome. A rhizome is the
only structure which can effectively sustain connections
between different media without giving hegemony to language.
Many current relational and flatfile multimedia database
applications support the storage of multiple forms of media,
and some will even display different types contiguously, but
keyword searching is the only mechanism provided for
cross-type searching. Like film and video, they support
synchronous display (but then, so can the book, albeit with
limitations), but they do not support nonverbal access.
Traditional hierarchical database structures are even more
problematic in their support of nonverbal expression.
Meaningful formation of hierarchies across media boundaries
can be accomplished only through the use of language, since
hierarchy is itself a creation of language, and therefore,
language is the only universal tool available within an
hierarchical structure. A rhizomorphic structure, on the
other hand, does not rely on language for its ordering,
although many of the linkages in a given structure may be
linguistic.
[18] A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between
semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances
relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles. A
semiotic chain is like a tuber agglomerating very diverse
acts, not only linguistic, but also perceptive, mimetic,
gestural, and cognitive; there is no language in itself, nor
are there any linguistic universals, only a throng of
dialects, patois, slangs, and specialized languages (7).
[19] Hypermedia design is rhizomorphic in its sustenance of
heterogeneous connection, because there is no systemic
hierarchy of connection. The perception of connectivity is
entirely left to the user, though the pre-existence of
particular connections may foster varying user perceptions
of overall structure. At its most political, connectivity
is a democratizing principle. It functions as a structure
of individuation since at any given moment the "center" of
any rhizomorphic structure is the individual's position in
relation to that structure. Distinctions between author and
reader, constituent and politician, even intermediary and
end-user disintegrate as the reader participates in
authorship, constituent in %polis%, and end-user in the
search itself. At its worse, connectivity inspires anarchy.
Witness (as we all did) the impact of limited connectivity
(exclusive of the important element of interactivity) via
the broadcast of a videotape of the arrest in the case of
the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict.
[20] As the distinctions between participant/viewer,
author/reader blur, the concept of authorship itself will be
problematized. All paths through hyperspace are equally
valid to the individual traveller. As the "reader"
negotiates hyperspace he/she becomes a navigator--traversing
established links to pre-existent nodes; but also an
explorer--creating new links to previously known, but
unrelated territories; a pioneer--venturing forth into
uncharted realms; and a visionary--imagining and giving
shape to the as-yet unknown.


PRINCIPLE OF MULTIPLICITY

Act so that there is no use in a centre . . . .
--Stein, 63

A multiplicity has neither subject nor object, only
determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions that cannot
increase in number without the multiplicity changing in
nature . . . . An assemblage is precisely this
increase in the dimensions of a multiplicity that
necessarily changes in nature as it expands its
connections. There are no points or positions in a
rhizome, much as those found in a structure, tree or
root. There are only lines.
--Deleuze & Guattari, 8

[21] Hypertextual design is able to support non-hierarchical
thinking and cognitive jumping because it recognizes the
diversity of multifarious modes of information. Information
may be structured hierarchically within a hypermedia system,
but only to the extent that such a structure exists in a
coterminous relationship with other structures. In other
words, hypertextual design presupposes not only that
multiple points of access are preferable to a single point,
but by extension, that multiple structures are preferable to
a single structure. Information retrieval studies have
shown that a single user's selection of access points for a
given topic may vary over time and space, making it
difficult for an indexer to predict potential user
vocabulary. The principle of multiplicity is reflected in
hypertextual design by the coterminous presence of varying
modes of access to a single structure on the one hand, and
of varying structures on the other.
[22] Landow and others have noted the hypertextual nature of
pre-hypertext literary projects from Sterne's _Tristram
Shandy_ to Robert Coover's _Pricksongs and Descants_. Yet
the lists I have seen are conspicuous in their omission of
female writers and feminist critics, not to mention writers
of color. I have already mentioned Rachel Blau DuPlessis,
but there are others who might be mentioned as well--Emily
Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, Zora Neale Hurston--all of whom
practice a writing of inclusion and fragmentation, of absent
centers and centered absence. Multiplicity, as a
hypertextual principle, recognizes a multiplicity of
relationships beyond the canonical (hierarchical). Thus,
the traditional concept of literary authorship comes under
attack from two quarters--as connectivity blurs the boundary
between author and reader, multiplicity problematizes the
hierarchy that is canonicity.


PRINCIPLE OF ASIGNIFYING RUPTURE

[23] Hypertextual design intuitively supports two forms of
access which must be forced in hierarchical structures:
user-generated access and mapping. The principle of
asignifying rupture supports the former, and those of
cartography and decalcomania, the latter. In an
hierarchical structure, a user-generated access point may
cause a rupture in the system. For example, in a database
search, a user may, through the process of serendipity,
arrive at a particular point in a hierarchy, even though her
departure-point has no apparent hierarchical relationship to
that arrival point. If she is allowed to introduce a link
from her departure term to her arrival point into the
hierarchy without further evaluation, the very structure of
that hierarchy might well be undermined. One might view the
project of feminist criticism in this light. The
introduction of non-canonical texts and authors into the
canon disrupts the foundations of the canon altogether.
In contrast, hypertextual design encourages such disruptive
activity while rendering it insignificant. Since the
structure does not rely on any given theory of relationship,
it cannot be affected by the characterization of a new
relationship previously alien to it. The potential for any
relationship exists within the hypertextual structure; some
simply await unmasking.


PRINCIPLES OF CARTOGRAPHY AND DECALCOMANIA

[24] The second form of access not easily supported within
an hierarchy is mapping. Tracings or logs of an
individual's progress through an hierarchical database are
of course possible and may help a user to retrace a given
path, or provide useful data for research in human-computer
interaction. Current maps of search paths exist in the form
of recordings of transactions, though the best systems
record only the user query and the system response, without
making a record of the context of either query or response.
The records thus constructed are divorced from context,
non-relational, and perhaps most importantly, non-spatial.
They are grammatic, rather than diagrammatic. They
perpetuate the hegemony of language and de-emphasize the
sense of a journey through space and time. Deleuze and
Guattari's notion of mapping is, however, quite different,
and presupposes the operation of the principles discussed
previously.
[25] Each user's path of connection through a database is as
valid as any other. New paths can be grafted onto the old,
providing fresh alternatives. The map orients the user
within the context of the database as a whole, but always
from the perspective of the user. In hierarchical systems,
the user map generally shows the user's progress, but it
does so out of context. A typical search history displays
only the user's queries and the system's responses. It does
not show the system's path through the database. It does
not display rejected terms, only matches. It does not
record the user's psychological responses to what the system
presents. On additional command, it may supply a list of
synonyms or related terms, but this is as far as it can go
in displaying the territory surrounding the request. It can
only understand hierarchy, so it can only display
hierarchical relationships. What distinguishes the map from
the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward an
experimentation in contact with the real. The map does not
reproduce an unconscious closed in upon itself; it
constructs the unconscious. It fosters connections between
fields, the removal of blockages on bodies without organs,
the maximum opening of bodies without organs onto a plane of
consistency. It is itself a part of the rhizome. The map
is open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is
detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification
(12).
[26] A hypertextual map is more closely related to
geographic maps than to search histories. It shows the path
of the user through the surrounding territory, but always
from the point-of-view of the user. It is as though the map
were perpetually shifting as the traveller moved from one
quadrant to the next. Some of that territory is charted--it
is well mapped out in terms that the user understands, and
connected to familiar territory or nodes--and some is
uncharted, either because it consists of unlinked nodes that
exist in the database much as an undiscovered island might
exist in the sea, disconnected from the lines of transfer
and communication linking other land areas, or as an
unidentified planet in space, with the potential for
discovery and even exploration, but as yet just a glimmer in
the sky--or because it is linked in ways that are
meaningless to the user in his present context. The user
can zoom in on zones of interest, jump to new territories
using previously established links or by establishing new
links of his own, retrace an earlier path, or create new
islands or nodes and transportation routes or links to
connect them to his previous path or the islands or nodes
charted by others.
[27] The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest,
capture, offshoots. Unlike the graphic arts, drawing, or
photography, unlike tracings, the rhizome pertains to a map
that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always
detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable, and has
multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flight.
It is tracings that must be put on the map, not the
opposite. In contrast to centered (even polycentric)
systems with hierarchical modes of communication and
preestablished paths, the rhizome is an acentered,
nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system without a General and
without an organizing memory of central automaton, defined
solely by a circulation of states (21).
[28] Hypertext is rhizomorphic in all its characteristics.
Its power derives from its flexibility and variability; from
its ability to incorporate, transmute and transcend any
traditional tool or structure. Like the rhizome, it is
frightening because it is amorphous. The hierarchical
systems we are accustomed to are definitional--they are
centers of power. Knowledge of the hierarchy engenders
authority; corrupted authority breeds despotism. Knowledge
of the rhizome as a totality is impossible, precisely
because "totality" and other absolutes have no meaning in a
rhizome. The rhizome is as individual as the individual in
contact with it. It is that individual's perception, that
individual's map, that individual's understanding. It is
also, and at the same time, a completely different
something--another individual's perception, another
individual's map, another individual's understanding. It
provides no structure for common understanding. It is a
state of being, reflective always of the present, a plateau
in a region made up entirely of plateaus--"a continuous,
self-vibrating region of intensities whose development
avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or
external end" (Deleuze & Guattari 22).

-----------------------------------------------------------

WORKS CITED

Altick, R. _The English Common Reader_. Chicago: U of
Chicago P, 1957.

Bush, V. "As We May Think." _Atlantic Monthly_ 176 (July
1945): 101-8.

DuPlessis, R. _Tabula Rosa_. Elmwood, CT: Potes & Poets
Press, 1987.

---. _The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice_. New
York: Routledge, 1990.

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. _A Thousand Plateaus_.
Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987.

Eisenstein, E. _The Printing Press as an Agent of Change_.
Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1980.

Landow, G. _Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary
Critical Theory and Technology_. Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins UP, 1992.

Nelson, T. _Dream Machines_. Redmond, WA: Tempus, 1987.

Poster, M. _The Mode of Information_. Chicago: U of
Chicago P, 1990.

Stein, G. _Tender Buttons_. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press,
c1914.

Vandergrift, K. "Hypermedia: Breaking the Tyranny of the
Text." _School Library Journal_ 35:3 (Nov. 1988):
30-35.

© http://www.iath.virginia.edu/pmc/text-only/issue.193/burnett.193

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Reading Victory Garden by Raine Koskimaa

Competing Interpretations and Loose Ends

 

 

Stuart Moulthrop’s Victory Garden (1991) is one of the ”classical hyperfictions” alongside Michael Joyce’s Afternoon (1987) and Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl (1993). Of these three, however, Victory Garden has been all but neglected by the critics – while especially Afternoon has been the subject of dozens of detailed analyses, Victory Garden has been mainly shortly referred to, receiving mentions as a rather traditional, typical academic novel etc. There are, however, several reasons to pay closer attention to this tour de force of one of the most innovative and prolific hyperfiction authors so far, as I shall be trying to show in this article.

 

Moulthrop’s digital oeuvre is wide ranging. He first started with an adaptation of Jorge Luis Borges’ short story ”The Garden of Forking Paths” (which included a mass of original text in addition to Borges’ source story) using software he had programmed himself for this purpose. He later transferred the text into the brand new Story Space hypertext environment – the work and its reception by a group of students is described in Moulthrop’s influential essay ”Reading from the Map: Metonymy and Metaphor and the Fiction of Forking Paths”[1]. Victory Garden was published in 1991. After that he has done mainly Web-based works, including The Colour of Television (1996; with Sean Cohen), Hegirascope (1995/1997), and Reagan Library (1999). Hegirascope effectively uses push technology to produce a stream of narrative fragments starting with the highly charged ”What if the word would not be still?” header. Reagan Library uses Quick Time VR plug-in to add a three-dimensional panorama illustration to the hypertext – the work can be navigated both through the panorama or through the text links. Reagan Library also uses random operators in selecting the text materials – repeated visits to particular locations add information to them, thus ”reducing noise” and giving more coherent picture of the text.

 

One obvious difference between Victory Garden and Afternoon or Patchwork Girl is size: Victory Garden includes 993 lexias, and more than 2804 links connecting them (compared to 539 lexias in Afternoon with 951 links, and 323 lexias in Patchwork Girl with 462 links) . In Victory Garden there are also several original features like a menu of preordered paths, and a map of the ”Victory Garden” – this map differs fundamentally from the cognitive maps representing the hypertextual structure employed in Patchwork Girl (and in the PC version of Afternoon)[2].

 

 

Victory Garden – an overview

 

Victory Garden (Macintosh version) employs the most simple variant of reader interfaces Story Space offers. The navigating mainly happens through a toolbar with five functions: the backtrack button (takes you back to the previously read lexia), the link list button (opens a window listing all the links leaving from the current lexia, each link is named and the title of destination lexia is told), the yes/no button (can be used to answer possible questions in the text), the print button (makes a hardcopy of the lexia), and the type-in field. Usually each lexia has a default link, that is, simply by pressing the return key the reader can follow a path provided by the author. Pressing the control keys shows the anchor words/ phrases by framing them (double clicking these words activates links which may differ from the default link). In short, the reader may move in the text by pressing the return key after reading each lexia, double clicking anchor words, opening the link list and selecting a link from the list, by typing a word in the type-in box (an alternative to double clicking anchor words), or, back-tracking her way.

 

From the title page on, the reader has several options for going forward. She can go to the map and choose one of the lexias presented there as her starting point. She can also go to the page listing ”Paths to Explore”, thirteen preordered pathways through the text each concentrating on different aspects of the narrative materials (some of them loosely organised around various characters appearing in the text). From the ”Paths to Explore” there is a default link – which is easily left unnoticed – leading to a lexia listing ”Paths to Deplore”, offering seven more preordered paths (it should be noted that even when choosing one of these paths, the reader may always choose not to follow the default links and select an alternative narrative strain). There is still the possibilty of going to a lexia where you can build up a sentence by repeatedly choosing a word from two alternatives offered. This way several different sentences can be constructed, each leading to different starting points (some of the sentences coinciding with the starting of ”Paths to Explore”  & ”Paths to Deplore”).

 

Once having started reading the reader confronts fragments of narratives (usually several clearly successive lexias developing a certain story strand), letters, tv-report transcripts, citations from books fictional and theoretical, song lyrics and other various materials. Most of the materials are related to the Gulf War in 1991 – either things happening in the Gulf area, or, meanwhile in the home front. The Gulf War figures heavily in all the story lines, if not concretely influencing characters’ lives, then at least as a background force for larger changes in society affecting indirectly (but not a bit more weakly) their lives.

 

There are direct citations from Jorge Luis Borges’ short stories ”Garden of Forking Paths” and ”Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, as well as more or less implicit allusions to them. There are also mentions to or citations from such novels as Don Quixote, Tristram Shandy, and Finnegan’s Wake ("riverRerun"!). The theoretical materials include citations from Donna Haraway, Neil Postman, Arthur C. Kroker, Jay David Bolter, Michael Joyce etc.

 

Victory Garden, like Afternoon, is dominated by plain alphanumeric text. The map in the beginning is one obvious exception; there are also a few lexias with crude graphics (see picture), the signatures in letters are reproduced in handwriting, and there is even one crossword-cum-concrete poetry style lexia. The letters differ from other text by different font type.

 

 

 

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Main story-lines and characters

 

The main characters in Victory Garden are people from a University town Tara, most of them teachers or students in the University. Thea Agnew is a professor of rhetorics (or something like that), sisters Veronica and Emily Runbird are her pupils, although Emily is currently in military service in the Gulf War, handling mail in the head quarters. Thea is also the head of a Curriculum Revision Committee (for studies in Western Culture). An eccentric scholar Boris Urquhart is supposedly an expert in Virtual Reality technologies, employed in a top secret project, and also in the Curriculum Revision Committee. Harley Morgan is a television journalist who has refused to go to the Gulf Area, and is spending his ”stress-leave” in Tara with his girl friend Veronica Runbird (several years older than Veronica, he has earlier had an affair with Thea, too). Emily Runbird, on the other hand, has an affair with Boris Urquhart, but his former boy friend Victor Gardner (!) is still desperately in love with her. Leroy is Thea's teenage son, who has left his school to make his ”On the Road” tour a la Jack Kerouac. Gerard Madden is an F.B.I. agent on a minor job in Tara, and is an old acquitance of Harley. Miles MacArthur, Boris’ colleague, provost Tate, and Thea’s adversary in the Committee, professor Heidel, as well as Victor’s student friend Jude Busch all have their parts in the stories too.

 

 

There are several scenes which occur in most of the preordered paths, identically or with little variation. The order in which these scenes are related differs quite a lot from one path to another, but mostly they can be arranged in a chronological order. As Jill Walker has finely showed in her paper ”Piecing together and Tearing apart: finding the story in afternoon”, Gérard Genette’s narratological concepts dealing with the temporal order of narratives can be employed with hypertext narratives too – even though the narration in Victory Garden is anachronical (events are narrated in a different order from which they happened), and even though there are differences in this anachronical order in different paths, there are still indexes or markers enough to help the reader put them in a particular order[3]. That is, we really are dealing with anachronical, not achronical narration (where no definite order for events can be found). This does not hold for the whole of Victory Garden, to be exact, but we can take it as a starting point.

 

There is a sequence in which Thea, Veronica, Harley, and Miles are swimming in the Whitman Creek natural park area, when they learn that the area has been sold to a company planning to build a golf course up stream, effectively ruining the whole creek. Immediately after hearing about these plans, their swimming is further disturbed by a protest against the plans, ending with a scene where one of the protesters declares himself to be Uqbari the Prophet, condemns the plans to ruin the creek, and finally, symbolically, urinates into the creek in front of a tv-crew in a helicopter. Later the same evening, there is a big costume party hosted by provost Tate. After quite a carnevalesque party scene the provost invites Thea, Harley, and Veronica to his office to discuss Boris, wondering if he is in his mind (after the Uqbari the Prophet scandal).

 

One of the key scenes is another party, this time a much smaller one, in Thea’s house, which is disturbed by another appearance of Uqbari – this time he comes up in an army style camouflage outfit, and with a gun which he fires a couple of times in Thea’s back yard and flees. Then Urquhart goes to the garage, meets agent Madden there, who asks him a few questions about the security of the University computer network, also inquiring Urquhart’s opinion of Jude Busch, possibly in liaison to assumed security violations. Urquhart leaves in Harley’s car, and when he sees Madden tailing him, he tries to get rid of him, nearly crashing with a truck, and finally ending up at the student bar Just Say No Cafe where he meets Harley, takes him along and continues running. Finally, they are stopped by the police, who, in a very Rodney King affairesque scene, start beating Harley (who is black). But then the police see Harley’s press id, realising he is a CNN reporter – agent Madden rushes to the scene at the same time, and Urquhart uses the occassion to flee once again. He runs to the old observatory, where he was going all along, to meet provost Tate who works there. From that point on the story branches to several variations which I shall be dealing in more detail below.

 

There is also a scene happening in Saudi Arabia, describing Emily’s experiences during the first air raid after the War has finally started. It includes Emily’s and her sergeant’s discussion about Emily’s loves, as well as various stories told by other G. I.s. The overall lenght of this episode differs from one path to another. One of the paths ends in a black screen with no default links suggesting that Emily and her group are victims of an Iraqi missile.

 

There are several such quite clear-cut sequences like these, one describing a long and serious discussion between Thea and her son Leroy; a telephone discussion between Thea and Heidel, where the latter informs Thea that he has used fraud means to force Thea to leave her position as the Commision Head; description of the first war evening when Thea and Veronica are watching the television coverage not quite believing the war has really broke out, when their evening is disturbed by Omega-fraternity boys who have come to protest outside ”leftist radical” Thea Agnew’s house; an intimate scene between Jude and Victor where Jude acts up as Emily etc.

 

The sequences listed above are not told in succession like this – they are intertwined with each other so that the reader can follow one scene for some lexia’s length, then the focus shifts to another scene, then possibly to a third one, before returning to the first one. This is pretty much like any old modern fiction, where several story lines are intertwined, but usually easy enough to follow.

 

Even though the different paths give different weight to different scenes and characters, most of them include at least something of all the central scenes. There are exceptions though: in the ”NORMAN – The Path of Glory”, for example, Victor (and scenes related to him) is not mentioned at all. After the first readings of Victory Garden one can easily accept Robert Coover’s description of it as quite a typical academic novel, after all. But there is much more to it actually.

 

 

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Hypertextual Structure in Victory Garden

 

As said, Victory Garden offers twenty preordered paths through which the reader can traverse simply by pressing the return key after each lexia. These paths differ greatly for their length and coherence. The shortest path is just four lexias long, while ”The Grand Tour” comprises some four hundred of the 993 lexias. ”NORMAN – the path of glory” is a very coherent, one is tempted to say traditional, narrative, where Emily is the main character. The scenes from Saudi Arabia and Tara are in balance, and letters from Tara to Emily, as well as letters from Emily, are also in an important role. Even though absent from Tara, Emily is clearly the central figure so that events in Tara are all somehow related to her.

 

The paths have two ways to end. The first way is to deny the default link – at some point pressing the return key will produce only an audible beep. This is as close as hypertext can come to an ending but this is no definite ending in any way[4]. First, there may be other links from the lexia, even though there are no default links. Thus, by double clicking yielding words or activating the link list, the reader can still find links leading further from the provisional ending. And even though there were no links at all, it is always possible to backtrack one’s way and make a different choice somewhere at an earlier stage and that way totally avoid the dead end. So, after a path of lexias connected with default links, the author may suggest a possible ending by denying any further default links, but this is no more than a suggestion which the reader may or may not accept.

 

The other way to provide ”a sense of an ending” is to make an infinite loop – from one point the story returns to an earlier  phase in the path, from which it then continues exactly the same way until it reaches the point from where it is once again thrown back to the earlier phase. Thus, the path does not exactly end, but there is nothing new happening anymore; using Douglas’ distinction we can say that in a case like this there is no ending of a conventional kind, but some kind of closure is nevertheless provided. Naturally, the same precautions hold here as with the no-default option: the reader may, at any point in the infinite loop choose an alternative link leading her out of the loop.

 

We can think of a third solution for ending, too, even though I find it much more problematic than the previous two. The reader may always take it as her task to exhaust all the possibilities in the hypertext. In a more or less systematic way she can try to reach each and every single lexia in the hypertext. Even though there may always be readers finding this the best attitude towards hypertexts, there may not be too many hypertext fictions offering even a theoretical possibility to succeed in this attempt. With texts like Afternoon and Patchwork Girl (or, Reagan Library and Hegirascope) it does not take too much time and effort to read the lexias in their totality – it can even be argued that even though these texts quite naturally do invoke the idea of parallel or intersecting alternative possible stories, deep inside they also suggest precisely this exhaustive (or nearly exhaustive) reading as the ”real story” – Douglas’ description and interpretation of Afternoon illustrates quite convincingly this point. But then, this has to be just one very special sub-class of hypertext, intentionally limited to a relatively small and dense web of storylines, and also, I would like to argue, intentionally subscribing to the aesthetics of traditional narrative form. But there is a mathematical logic behind the lexia-link structure making it unavoidable that a relatively small number of lexias and a relatively restricted number of links between them, in any case, produce quite a great number of possible paths through the hypertext web. Because of this, the whole of hypertext is, quite soon, out of full authorial control. The order in which story segments are read, the local context for each lexia, determines to some extent how they are interpreted, and in some cases the cumulative effect of unpredicted interpretations may really produce a new story altogether. Of course, at least since Stanley Fish’s essay ”Interpreting the Variorum”, we have been confronted with the idea that any stable, printed text may be interpreted in totally different ways in different interpretative communities[5]. With hypertexts the situation is different, though: even if we belong to the same interpretive community and thus share the same interpretative conventions, we can still end up with radically different interpretations. The difference is located in the functioning of the text itself, not in the interpretative strategies.

 

This discussion of the possibility of exhausting a hypertext, and of totalistic control of hypertext narrative, is highly relevant for Victory Garden. With as many as 993 lexias and 2804 links the task of reaching and reading every lexia is a serious challenge – since a hypertext fiction, in Espen Aarseth’s terminology, is not random, but restricted in access, many lexias require the reader to go through a certain path of lexias before it can be reached[6]. Because of that, reading all the lexias in Victory Garden means that one has to read, or at least skip through, many of the lexias several times[7]. Trying to comprehend all the possible permutations of orders in which the lexias may be read, is well beyond the capacity of any individual reader. Thus, even though still a limit case, the Victory Garden is clearly pointing towards the kind of hypertext fiction which, because of its size, is theoretically and practically, inexhaustible.[8] Because of this, I will rule out the exhaustive reading as a definitive ending for Victory Garden (there are other reasons too, to be dealt with later).

 

 

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Singular Loops

 

One of the hypertextual structures in Victory Garden is what I call a singular loop (as opposed to an indefinite loop). In singular loop the reader is taken back to a previous point in the path she is reading, but the next time around not. There is a loop, a sequence of lexias read twice, but after that the path continues forward:

 

This particular device is used in a few places in Victory Garden, but usually there is no clear motivation for this. One explanation could be -- and this is related to one interpretation I’ll give for the whole text – invoking a certain sense of  malfunctioning, of an unintentional lapse in the running of the narration. With loops, both infinite and singular, the question of repetition is foregrounded. Jill Walker has written about the ”Nietzschean repetition” (following J. Hillis Miller), repetition with difference in Afternoon[9]. With loops the difference follows from the backward movement in reading – it is like a concretization of Peter Brooks’ idea of ”anticipating retrospection” in reading: we read expecting to get a thorough understanding of a situation, trusting that that understanding will help us better comprehend the things we are currently reading[10]. With loops in hypertext, in the occasion where some (local / temporary) conclusion is reached, the reader is taken back to read the previous moments anew in the light of that conclusion.

 

There is one particularly interesting occasion mixing loops and repetition with variation. The moment when Urquhart – after the runaway from police – arrives at the Observatory and meets provost Tate, in one path, will be repeated not once but twice, and in each case with concrete difference, not just difference produced by the repetition. The titles of the lexias in that sequence are as follows:

 

”Ring” –> ”Help Mister Wizard” -> ”Fool’s Errand” –> ”Ring Cycle” –> ”Errant Fool” –> ”In Need of Help” –> ”Ring Around” –> ”Arrant Fool” -> ”Helpful”

 

The beginning paragraphs of each starting lexia seem to be commenting on this exact cycle structure:

”Ring”: U ran through the dark field, slipping and scrambling on the dry ground.  He knew Madden was behind him somewhere.  He did not look. […]

 

”Ring Cycle”: Once more U ran through the dark field, slipping and scrambling on the dry ground.  He knew Madden was behind him somewhere but he did not look. […]

 

”Ring Around”: U is once again still always running through that dark field, slipping scrambling through his own footprints on the dry ground.  He knows Madden is behind him somewhere but he doesn't dare look.  You've had this dream before, you know.

 

This sequence comes (in some of the preordered paths, at least) right after a long sequence where Urquhart is fleeing first from agent Madden, then from the highway patrolmen, and then from Madden again – so even if you happened to read only the third variation of the ”Ring” (starting with ”Ring Around”) you could easily interpret the beginning in the light of these previous events, totally ignorant of the other variations. Other variations during this cycle are less significant:

 

”Help Mister Wizard”: […] U picked up the book.  It was quite heavy.  Ponderous. 

 

”In Need of Help”: […] U picked up the book.  It was very heavy.  Voluminous.

 

”Helpful”: […] U picked up the book.  It was very heavy.  Massive.

 

The title ”Ring Cycle” invokes in quite an ironical way (this is no real loop, or, ring, at all since the lexias are not  the same but just closely resemble each other) an allusion to Wagner’s opera cycle, and also to the idea of Gesamtkunstwerk. This again can be related to a more general interpretation, where Gesamtkunstwerk could seen as an early version of virtual reality (and multimedia). What is important here is that this time, when the repetition is only approximate (the three instances differing in details), it has a totally different effect than with real loops: this time it is more like different drafts, or adjustments, trying to find the exact atmosphere.

 

This again nicely demonstrates the difference between hypertextual semantics and narrative semantics: narratively speaking we certainly are dealing with repetition; the hypertextual structure here is plainly a linear path (as shown in the title list above).

 

 

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Frame stories – conspiracy, virtual reality, dream as hypertext

 

The obvious explanation for Victory Garden's structure of alternative story paths is Borges' story "The Garden of Forking Paths" - the title refers to that story, Borges is mentioned in the credits "for seeing it all before" and there are instances in the text itself explaining that relation:

At the time of the last great War, Jorge Luis Borges imagined a fiction that would not conform to lines of determinism or destiny -- a fantastic Chinese novel called The Garden of Forking Paths.  Now we find ourselves living once more through world conflict, admittedly of a very different kind from the events of 1914-18 or 1939-45.

 

There is also one lexia including a dense summary of the idea of the "garden of forking paths":

 

All the Above

In all fictional works, each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the fiction of Ts'ui Pen, he chooses - simultaneously - all of them.  He creates, in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves also proliferate and fork.

                                                           - Borges his Garden

 

In this sense Victory Garden can be seen as a follow up for Moulthrop's early work "Forking Paths" – he says that explicitly on his web site:”Victory Garden is an original work based partly on the structure of ’The Garden of Forking Paths’”[11] . Robert Coover has interpreted the map in the beginning as an illustration of either a garden with paths and benches, or, a graveyard (rectangles being not benches but graves) - the garden referring to Borges' story, the graveyard to Gulf War casualties.

 

Even though the idea of forking paths must be seen as the dominant metaphor for the overall structure of Victory Garden, it is not the only possibility. Following the proper paths the reader will confront a sequence where it is explained that the research Boris Urquhart is doing is about transforming a person's dreams into text. But that is not all - other persons may pick up things in the transcript and give related feedback to the dreamer, thus "directing" the flow of her dream:

Loop

 

"The transaction loop is simple," Urquhart told them.  "NVACS compiles its transcript, which is displayed in real time on the monitor here."  Indicating the western wall.  "The transcript takes the form of a simple constructive hypertext with unconstrained possibilities for branching."

 

Tate smiled indulgently.  "What's that you say, Boris?"

 

"Transcript contains many words.  Pick a word, any word; pass it to the computer.  NVACS specifies its semantic and iconolectic correlatives then formulates an appropriate Subliminal Suggestion Holoform (SSH), which it feeds back to the human interactor through his personal listening device."

 

Tate pointed quizzically at his ears as if to say, you mean headphones  ?  Urquhart nodded.  "Ah," said Tate.  "Thanks." [12]

 

There are several lexias which clearly describe a dream, or other dreamlike experiences - these are clearly typographically marked to differ from other lexias. A "minimal" interpretation could be that these dream sequences represent Urquhart's dreams-as-hypertexts experiments, or, simulate them (the reader's choices imitating feedback from fictional observers of the experiment). But the general logic of interpretation works so that once we detect the dream-as-hypertext structure in one part of the work, there is always the possibility to widen that interpretation to go with the whole work - so the frame number two is this dream-as-hypertext version, in which we can either read Victory Garden as a record of one such experiment (or several experiments), or, as a simulation of that kind of experiment, the reader assuming the position of the observer of the fictional experiment.

 

There are also several places stating that Urquhart is studying Virtual Reality - and there is even a description of a course he is (should be) giving on the topic:

 

8088

 

CS/HUM 8088 - Special Topics in Cybernetic Arts and Sciences: Simulation and Subversion

 

B. Urquhart * Tu&F 2000-2130 * Tower 606

 

Do you suffer from frequent headaches?  Believe in extraterrestrial life?  Have you  ever had an out-of-body experience, with or without the use of drugs?  Do you watch a lot of television?  Are you a proficient COBOL programmer?

 

This  is a graduate research seminar concentrating on aesthetic and political implications of virtual reality and cyberspace technologies.  Readings in cybernetics, informatics, communications theory, detective fiction.  Frequent quizzes.

 

Note: This course is not available on interactive videodisc.  

 

It is possible that Boris is studying both virtual realities and dreams-as-hypertexts, but is also possible that, since his work is classified, the virtual reality is merely a cover. And of course, we can take the truly forking paths type approach and determine that in some possible story he is dealing with dreams and hypertexts, in others with virtual realities, and still, in some with both. Whatever the solution, the fact remains that there are several mentions of Boris' interest in virtual realities. Also, there are some passages which strongly suggest that at least some of the scenes in Victory Garden are representations of virtual reality experiments; there are some lexias which clearly allude to such cyberpunk classics as Vernor Vinge’s "True Names" or William Gibson’s Neuromancer, or the not-so-classic motion picture Lawnmover Man:

Create

 

What makes you think of me as paranoid?  Could be the way everyone spends his time plotting against you. 

 

Let me tell you about my vision, Tate relates, a vision of the End of History: All the experience of humankind, Tate orates, is a huge cosmic riddle whose answer is - whose answer is Something Out Of Nothing

 

...and we have only now entered into the age of autonomous and self-modifying simulacra, the moment of convergence between the IS and the COULD BE.  Which is where you come in.

 

U must engineer a System - or be enraged by another man's. […]

 

 

Tate Reboots

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You find the nearest rheostat and twist it till the room dims down to near blackness.  This takes Tate by surprise and he's caught up in the state-change algorithm, before he knows what's going on he's been redefined down to a nearly immobile pair Tate of eyes.

 

- Dirty trick, Tate protests, trying furiously to invoke a subroutine.

 

You allow your palm to linger over the switch.  - Don't tempt me.  Now what was that about a mysterious speaker?

 

Tate winks his left eye three times.  - ESCAPE-PF13? he tries.  Command-period?

 

- Talk, you insist.

 

- CONTROL-ALT-DELETE!   he cries and vanishes in a flash of blue light.

 

Once again, we are left with the feeling that possibly all we have encountered so far is just some kind of virtual reality - possibly all of Tara, and everything else, including the Gulf War, is virtual reality simulation created for some purpose not known to us. This would be very much like the plot in Philip K. Dick's novel Time Out of Joint (1959), or more recently, in the film Truman Show). This interpretation would also explain the structure of forking paths - with simulation it is always possible to change some variables and make another run mapping an alternative course of events. There could be a sub-experiment going on trying to find out how Boris would react to different scenarios like Emily's death in Saudi Arabia.

 

And finally, we can never forget the old conspiracy-paranoia solution. There are clear evidences of Boris believing in  some kind of conspiracy; belief in different orders of conspiracies (or paranoias) could be possibly attached to several other characters too:

Coincidence

 

[…]

Tate opened his hands, palms up.  "History, Agent Madden.  Human affairs.  The struggles of nations.  What do you suppose the odds are of such a rare astronomical event happening just as the industrialized world enters its most significant military conflict since the Second World War?"

 

As would most of us, Madden immediately heard music: the four-note signature of theTwilight Zone  theme, cycling over and over in his head.  He knew the spy business had had its share of eccentrics in the old days, but Tate was something special.  Not wishing to show disrepect, he kept these thoughts to himself.  "Coincidence," he said.

 

 

Big Games

 

"Big games and nasty games, kiddo.  The war's just for starters.  There's some major changes in store, especially for those of us without a penis.  You know what they're thinking.  For ten years we tried to teach you Family Values, but you wouldn't toe the line, bitch.  So now we'll have to try some new rules .  Yeah.  They'll come after abortion, affirmative action, and free speech early in the day, but why stop there - why not go all the way?  Why not give up this pretense of equality and accept a society with different levels of entitlement, different classes of citizenship?  It's their economic policy, after all.  So why not go all the way and repeal the 19th Amendment?"  

 

"Whoa," Veronica responded.  "Sounds like you've been on the Western Civ warpath too long."

 

"Bingo," Thea cried.  "Everything fucking well connects."

 

There is one hint of what the supposed bigger plot behind all might be about. It is related to Japanese Master Johndan’s ideas of ”Shadow Economy” and its systematic application as a huge simulation:

We Can Work It Out

 

"I'm talking about a systematic application of Master Johdan's vision.  Think about it, Boris.  A vast simulation embracing all aspects of economic activity, a gigantic competitive structure with hundreds of millions of players - or are they workers? - who would in fact derive their livelihood from subsidies paid out according to their performance in the game.  A game involving technologies, politics, laws, regulations, ideas, trends, fashions, philosophies, belief systems.  I'm talking about greatest imaginative endeavor in human history."

[…]

 

 

So, after all, all or some of the forking story paths may be fabrications of paranoid minds. All in all, we have four different frames with which to motivate the structure in Victory Garden: the forking paths idea (which is closely linked to possible worlds semantics), the dream-as-hypertext, the virtual reality simulation, and, conspiracy paranoia. It should be stressed that none of the above excludes any other frame. Thus, Boris may be a real paranoiac used in a virtual reality experiment  being a part of some larger plot etc. In this aspect it differs from Afternoon and Patchwork Girl, both of which are built around one central concept: in Afternoon (according to a paradigmatic interpretation of Jane Y. Douglas[13]) the sense of guilt of the protagonist is the cause for delaying the final revelation, leading to all kinds of digressions; in Patchwork Girl, more explicitly, the equivalence of Frankentein's Monster and a text (both being patchworks of their kind).

 

 

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Intertextual Fields of Reference

 

I will next turn to intertextual references and allusions in Victory Garden, which back up the different interpretational frames described above.

 

1. Borges' "Garden of Forking paths" and "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius". There is the direct citation from "Garden" (see above), and a scene from a seminar where Miles MacArthur discusses the story with his (actually, Boris') students. While the students do not find much of interest in Borges' story - ("I think Borges was an intellectual masturbator" as one of the students comments), MacArthur gives a positive interpretation of the story anyway:

 Work

 

"No, wait," Macarthur maintained, "you're not getting it.  We're talking about possibilities and alternatives.  Try for a minute to see beyond necessity, beyond determinism.  Who says there's only one way?  Who says it only happens once?  If we use our imaginations we can learn to see the world differently, and with that vision we can create systems that aren't constrained to singularity.  Multiple values, multiple horizons.  That's what the shift to virtuality is all about - to create new worlds that make room for difference.  Why, someday we might even be able to bend time itself..."

 

This is also connected to virtual realities by a student:

With Mirrors

 

"The trouble is," Jude Busch noted, "what that story has to say about time is really a lot of horseshit.  Time is a garden of possibilities, some kind of cosmic combinatorial, a universal lottery."  She reached over and poked Victor in the ribs.  "I can see how that connects to VR, even if some of us are too slow."

 

"Time becomes the matrix of all simulations," Amanda put in, her prodigiousness showing.

 

This is an exceptionally explicit case of metafictionality, where the text itself discusses and proposes the way in which itself should or could be interpreted. But there is another dimension to the relation: Victory Garden as a rewriting or appropriation of "Garden of Forking paths".

 

Quite apparently, there is a correspondence in names, other than the title alone. Boris Urquhart is usually referred to as just U. which is read like the name of Yu (Tsun), and there is an agent Madden in both texts. Yu has to kill his friend Albert to indicate to the Germans which French city will be the target of an attack - Moulthrop has interpreted this by saying how Yu has to reduce the person Albert to mere sign in order to fulfill his task[14]. When Urquhart arrives at the Observatory, he tells he has to kill Tate - to reduce the multiplicity of virtual realities? There is a war in the background in both stories and from that analogue we may infer that also in Urquhart’s case it is the war that is the motivating force for everything.

 

Here comes to play another hypotext by Borges, namely ”Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”. The lexia ”Story of My Life” refers to the story:

Borges referred to a place called Uqbar, supposedly "a region of Iraq or Asia Minor" which was in fact unreal.  Uqbar is brought to you by the people who invented Tlön, a conspiracy to replace the bad old world with a novus ordo saeculorum.  There's a lot of that going around.

 

Urquhart uses the role name ”Uqbari the Prophet” – Uqbari, that is, a citizen of Uqbar. Thus, Urquhart is part of the ”novus ordo saeculorum”, The New World Order, which, not coincidentally at all, is located in the region of Iraq. More ”realistic” intepretation might be that Urquhart is an Islamist activist, but more convincingly, part of some even bigger plan of New World Order. Or still, Uqbar is figment of the Tlön people; that is, Urquhart lives in a fictional world of Virtual Reality simulation. Choose your own favourite conspiracy.

 

2. William Burrough’s cut up technique. There is one sequence in Victory Garden which works as a digitalized version of Burrough’s cut up technique. All the titles of the lexias in this sequence are just a few letters long fragments, and the contents of the lexias are (at least seemingly) random bits and pieces from previous lexias:

Th

 

A large man wearing a bowling shirt and headphones was stretched out on a truly ugly Italian couch.  His sleeping cap was wired for EEG.  It was at this point that something entirely plausible happened. 
Let me explain. 
Miles wasn't sure he wanted to know what the suit looked like once it got wet.

 

the 38th Vice President of the United States, Spiro T. "My Kind of Guy" Agnew big schnozz beady eyes and all

"Live and in person, the fascist pig god himself."

 

A little paranoia never hurt anyone, Tate insinuates, nor for that matter a whole lot.

ESCAPE VELOCITY,  the P.A. announces.  The audience stands to applaud.

 

What was it, too much Liquid Sunshine back in the sixties?

 

From ”Escape velocity” to ”applaud” the two sentences are from the lexia ”Miles & Miles”[15];  ”A little paranoia” sentence from a lexia titled ”A Little Paranoia”; ”the 38th vice president” from the lexia ”Wallshot” etc. This sequence could be interpreted as a lesson in cut up, and a key to understand the hypertext structure as a device with which the reader may ”cut up” their own narratives.

 

And one should not overlook the mention of Liquid Sunshine in a passage which is formally linked to Burroughs – add to the list of paranoia and conspiracy also the drug induced hallucinations.

 

3. Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Stuart Moulthrop is introduced in the leaflet attached to Victory Garden, as:”In 1975 he read Gravity’s Rainbow and became an English major”. Even without this knowledge of Moulthrop’s enthusiasm about Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), it must be one of the primary hypotexts for any attentive reader. There are no explicit references – curiously enough – to Pynchon’s magnum opus, but more indirect allusions all the more. There are certain scenes which resemble situations in Gravity’s Rainbow: Emily’s waiting in the shelter while planes are screaming outside parallels with Gravity’s Rainbow’s opening (and closing) scene where people are sitting in a theater hearing the screaming outside – possibly a V2 which would blow the whole place to pieces, just like Emily’s shelter may be the target of an Iraqi Scud missile. But mainly the similarities are in the huge web of entangled plots and subplots. In a recent essay about misreading and ”interstitial fiction” Moulthrop has quoted the following paragraph from Gravity’s Rainbow:

”This is some kind of plot, right? Slothrop sucking saliva from velvet pile.

”Everything is some kind of a plot, man,” Bodine laughing.

 

”And yes but, the arrows are pointing all different ways,” Solange illustrating with a dance of hands, red-pointed fingervectors.

Which is Slothrop’s first news, out loud, that the Zone can sustain many other plots besides those polarized upon himself… that these are the els and busses of an enormous transit system here in the Raketenstadt, more tangled even than Boston’s – and that by riding each branch the proper distance, knowing when to transfer, keeping some state of minimum grace though it might often look like he’s headed the wrong way, this network of all plots may yet carry him to freedom. (603)[16]

 

This could as well be a description of Victory Garden – and after this we can offer one more interpretation for the map; it could be a transportation track plan with stops (as entrance points to the different plots). In Gravity’s Rainbow the German V2 missiles are in a central role (the title suggesting the parabel path of a ballistic missile; and one of the characters is able to predict the missile attacks – he is so conditioned that he gets a hard on always a few minutes before the attack…) and while in Victory Garden there is just the Saudi Arabia scene which is directly dealing with missile attacks, there is one interesting by-way: in Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint the protagonist is kept in a virtual reality in order to provide him with safe surroundings; but all the while he is partaking in TV quiz program in which he actually calculates the targets of extraterrestrial missile attacks! It may be a bit far-fetched, but tempting anyway, to assume Urquhart’s work, whatever its apparent form, is actually doing some kind of military calculations (there is even the strong science fictional element in the Observatory scene hinting that there may be something happening in the astronomical scale while everybody’s attention is on the Gulf War).

 

Also, the simulation-application of Master Johndan’s ”Shadow Economy” is just the type of ”second order plot”[17] any Pynchon reader would immediately find familiar.

 

One of the most important narrative techniques in Gravity’s Rainbow is the way how Pynchon veils the changes in narrative levels – the narration may shift from representing the textual actual world (”fictional reality”) to representing some textual alternative world (like, a person’s dream, or as often in Gravity’s Rainbow’s case, hallucinations) without giving any clear marks of this change[18]. Very much the same thing is happening in Victory Garden – at least if we choose to interpret it in the dream-as-hypertext, or, virtual reality simulation framework – telling which scenes belong to the textual actual world, which to textual alternative worlds is totally impossible.

 

 

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Competing Interpretations – Loose Ends

 

As is clear by now, I hope, there are several possible interpretations for Victory Garden. What ”interpretation” with hypertexts actually is, what it should be or could be, is discussed in more thoroughly in ”In Search for Califia”. All these competing interpretations share the common property of being very flexible, and also strongly indeterminate – despite that they still can not in any way explain each and every aspect of the large web of Victory Garden. There are always some loose ends, which will not have a ”natural” place in one or another composition of the larger picture.

 

Interpreting Victory Garden means mainly to try and give it a structure – to try to describe how the mechanism works. In other words, trying to explain the poetics of Victory Garden. It refers towards even larger and more complex works, in regard to which there is no sense anymore to talk about individual story lines or scenes at all – all that may be reachable is some kind of understanding of the metastructures which govern the whole and set limits to possible actualisations.

 

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[1] Moulthrop1991.

[2] More about these maps and their differences, (SEE: ”Visual Structuring of Hypertext Narratives”).

[3] Walker 1999; Genette 1980.

[4] Jane Yellowlees Douglas especially has dealt with the question of ending and closure in hypertext fiction: see Douglas 1992, 118-152; 1994.

[5] Fish 1976; reprinted in Fish 1980.

[6] Thinking in other terms, it is the equivalent of some 200 hundred print pages, which is still, in novelistic terms, quite a modest number.

[7] Douglas estimates that reading a five-hundred-lexia hypertext requires as much as seventy hours, and compares that to the six to twelve hours required for an average reader to consume a three-hundred-page novel. (1992, 50)

[8] Actually, this does not necessarily require that much of materials to begin with: Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliard de Poèmes manages with 140 poetry lines to produce the amount of sonettes mentioned in the title. In this case, there is a very modest number of lexias, but a much greater number of links (1300) – but even the number of links is still far away from infinite – the net result of these two factors is the unimaginable number of one hundred million billiards… In the case of narrative hyperfiction, the fact that many lexias are strongly attached to each other (forming a certain narrative scene, or, paths) in practice reduces the number of possible permutations somewhat.

[9] Walker 1999.

[10] Brooks 1984.

[11] http://raven.ubalt.edu/staff/moulthrop/hypertexts – from the menu in the left frame, choose ”forking paths”.

[12] Michael Joyce's term "constructive hypertext" is used here, and in another lexia there is a quite a long citation of Joyce's definition for the term. Another important cybertext author could be mentioned here, John Cayley. In his Book Unbound the reader may choose a word or a passage from the text she is reading, which is then fed back to the program and used as a factor in generating the continuation for the text - a procedure which closely resembles Urquhart's explanation of what's happening in his experiment.

[13] Douglas 1992, 118-150.

[14] Moulthrop 1991, 119-124.

[15] ”Miles & Miles” is a good example of Moulthrop’s way to use linguistic puns (in very much the same way as Michael Joyce); ”Miles & Miles” is a dream sequence in which a character is running through a stadium which is full of Miles Macarthur replicas – ” you must be passing forty or fifty Miles a minute”.

[16] Quoted in Moulthrop 1999.

[17] About second order plots, see Lyotard (1991, 27).

[18] A thorough analysis of this device in Gravity’s Rainbow is in McHale (1992, 61-114).

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