Dirk Van Hulle
Hypertext and Avant-texte in Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Literature
Twentieth-century and contemporary literature are characterized by an increased attention to the writing process as an inherent part of the written product. This enhanced textual awareness is reinforced by a mutual influencing between literature in print and digital media, a development that is nicely captured in the 2001 revision of J. G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition (1970). While the idea of working with short blocks of texts, constituting the 1970 "exhibition," may have had an impact on digital literature, the reverse process became noticeable some thirty years later: in the internet era Ballard wrote an "Author's Note" to the revised, expanded, and annotated edition (2001), presenting his book as a hypertextual structure:
Readers who find themselves daunted by the unfamiliar narrative structure of The Atrocity Exhibition — far simpler than it seems at first glance — might try a different approach. Rather than start at the beginning of each chapter, as in a conventional novel, simply turn the pages until a paragraph catches your eye. If the ideas or images seem interesting, scan the nearby paragraphs for anything that resonates in an intriguing way. Fairly soon, I hope, the fog will clear, and the underlying narrative will reveal itself. In effect, you will be reading the book in the way it was written.(Ballard 2001: vi)
This form of what Roland Barthes called a "writerly" text (texte scriptible, S/Z 10) approximates the structure of hypertexts, which George Landow defined as "text composed of blocks of text — what Barthes terms a lexia — and the electronic links that join them" (Landow 1997: 3). These "lexias" or fragments of text reflect the emphasis on perspectivism and fragmentariness that characterizes numerous twentieth-century and contemporary works of literature, at least since Gertrude Stein's experimental literary equivalents of cubism and the fragments T. S. Eliot "shored against [his] ruins" in the last stanza of The Waste Land (1922). In many ways the experiments of the modernists prefigure literary aesthetics in the digital age. Notably the tendency to deviate from a linear narrative structure anticipates non-linear forms of writing and reading that characterize hyperfiction (digital literature that is marked by a hypertex-tual structure). Instead of representing or mirroring reality they tried to convey the experience of reality, resulting in complex studies of the ways in which human beings deal with time and space. Time became a dominant preoccupation to so many modernist authors in the wake of Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu that Wyndham Lewis started referring to them as "proustites" and worshippers of "the Great God Flux" (Lewis 1989: 335).
The modernist attempts to convey the experience of time and space resulted in formal experiments that may be regarded as proto-hypertexts. With reference to the treatment of Time (in Section 1 of this chapter), William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury serves as an appropriate paradigm of such a proto-hypertext, especially since it has actually been translated into a freely accessible hypertext edition on the web. With regard to the treatment of Space (Section 2), Julio Cortázar's novel Hopscotch suggests a key metaphor to describe the reading process of these proto-hypertexts and their translatability to a digital medium. Thus, old ideas like the creation of a "hideous progreny" by assembling body parts à la Frankenstein are reinvigorated by translating them into hyperfiction (Section 3), as Shelley Jackson shows in Patchwork Girl.
The reverse translation is noticeable as well. Especially toward the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first centuries, authors prove themselves increasingly skillful in applying characteristic features of electronic literature to print (Section 4). A paradigmatic work in this regard is Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, which manages to translate hypertextual multi-linearity to the leaves that constitute the house in which the reader is invited to actively participate in the creation of meaning. An important consequence of this evolution is the realization that texts are never quite finished. This awareness finds its expression in the decision to publish texts (both printed and digital) in the form of an unfinished product, as in the case of Toby Litt's Finding Myself, presented as a revised typescript with manuscript corrections by the publisher.
With hindsight, these contemporary writings have drawn attention to the importance their modernist predecessors attached to the writing process of their own writings. Given their preoccupation with Time, it was perfectly consistent with their poetics to acknowledge that their own writings did not escape the effects of Time: "the individual is a succession of individuals," as Samuel Beckett noted in his essay on Proust (Beckett 1999: 19); in a similar way the text consists of a succession of versions, a series of consecutive adaptations — which partly explains why so many modernist authors have carefully preserved their manuscripts and sometimes even donated them to university libraries, indicating the extent to which they considered the avant-texte (the whole collection of preparatory textual material) to be an integral part of the literary work. The intrinsically hypertextual structure of literary geneses (Section 5) — consisting of blocks of text that are shuffled around during the writing process — indicates how useful digital tools can be to map out literary composition histories. This involves yet another translation, this time from manuscript material to digital facsimiles and transcriptions encoded in markup languages, resulting in one of the most useful applications of digital media in literary studies: the study of the hypertextual nature of literary geneses.
Time is one of the preoccupations of major modernist authors in the first half of the twentieth century, resulting in sometimes intricate narrative structures. For instance, the strokes of Big Ben as a motif in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway do not merely emphasize the importance of time in this novel (whose provisional title in an early version was The Hours). They also indicate the tension between the human systematization of time and the way it is experienced subjectively in the mind, i.e., "psychological time" measured by what Henri Bergson called "duration." Since a human being's thoughts are constantly interspersed with memories, his experience of time cannot be accurately conveyed by means of a chronological account of events. When for instance in The Sound and the Fury (1929) William Faulkner tries to present what goes on in the mind of the eldest son of the Compson family on the day he is going to commit suicide (June 2, 1910), the succession of unpleasant memories gradually accelerates until Quentin is ready to kill himself. Each of these flashbacks can be divided into fragments, scattered over the chapter. The size of these lexias ranges from just a few words to a few pages. The recollections of Quentin's youngest brother are different in that the mentally retarded Benjy truly relives them, to such an extent that he lives more in the past than in the present: only one-third of the first chapter takes place in the "present" (April 7, 1928, his 33rd birthday). The reader is challenged to follow the associative leaps in his mind and assemble a story by means of the scattered fragments of remembrances.
To analyze such an intricate narrative structure, hypertext can be a helpful tool, as the hypertext edition of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (Ed. R. P. Stoicheff et al.) illustrates (Figure 7.1). The remembered scenes are color-coded (one color for all the fragments of one recollection) by means of a bar that flanks the reading text on the left-hand side. For instance, the paragraph starting with "You a big boy" is flanked by a colored bar with a number (9.2) corresponding to recollection 9.2, which is summarized on the right-hand side as "Benjy sleeps alone for the first time at 13 years old, 1908." The analysis of these recollections has resulted in an interesting observation: the fragments of a particular recollection may be scattered over the whole chapter, but they are scattered in a more or less chronological order. Still, it is sometimes hard to recall the preceding fragment. To link up both fragments, a clock icon (next to the color-coded bar, at the beginning of each fragment) takes the reader to the other fragments in chronological sequence.
When the reader arrives at fragment 9.2 ("You a big boy"), clicking on the clock icon makes it possible to link it to 9.1 ("Come on, now." Dilsey said. "You too big to sleep with folks. You a big boy now. Thirteen years old. Big enough to sleep by yourself in Uncle Maury's room." Dilsey said.) and reconstruct the flashback in its entirety (9.1 ± 9.2).
Figure 7.1 Chronological rearrangement of segments in William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (Ed. R. P. Stoicheff et al.).
The reader's attempt to translate Benjy's psychological time into clock time is facilitated by means of twenty scenes, summarized in a permanent frame on the right-hand side in the hypertext edition, and chronologically arranged from the grandmother's (damuddy's) death to the present. These scenes can be regrouped into eight time slots: 1898 (damuddy's death when Benjy is 3 years old); 1900 (Benjy's name is changed); 1904–5 (his uncle's affair with Mrs. Patterson); 1905–10 (his sister's sexual adventures); April 1910 (his sister's wedding); May 1910 (his castration); June 1910 (his brother Quentin's suicide and subsequent death); April 7, 1928 (his 33rd birthday). But as Jean-Paul Sartre noted in his essay on "Time in the Work of Faulkner," reconstructing a chronological account of the events is "telling another story": "Jason and Caroline Compson have had three sons and a daughter. The daughter, Caddy, has given herself to Dalton Ames and become pregnant by him. Forced to get hold of a husband quickly… " (Sartre 1994 : 265). Whereas classical novels are built around a central complication, "we look in vain for such a complication in The Sound and the Fury": "Is it the castration of Benjy or Caddy's wretched amorous adventure or Quentin's suicide or Jason's hatred of his niece?" (265) Sartre is struck by the novel's "technical oddity," which is more than merely an exercise in virtuosity. Each episode hides other episodes. Unlike the chronological reconstruction, Faulkner's narrative gives access to a time without clocks. Notably Benjy's sense of time is clockless. When, at the very beginning of the novel, the golfers on the course next to the Compsons' house call for their caddie, Benjy is immediately reminded of scenes in the past with his sister Caddy.
The hypertext edition may give the impression of being designed merely as a tool to facilitate the reconstruction of chronology, and as Sartre suggested, to reconstruct the text in this fashion is a way of telling another story. But the edition facilitates many more alternative narrative paths. While the initial impulse might be a wish to re-establish order in the temporal disorder, the reader is also tempted into creating further disorder and invited to take part in the sound and the fury of the Compson chaos. Toward the end of the first chapter, when Benjy undresses, looks in the mirror and starts crying, the cook's grandson Luster says: "Looking for them aint going to do no good " (Figure 7.2).
By now the reader knows that "them" is a reference to Benjy's removed testicles, and even though "Looking for them aint going to do no good " the hypertext edition invites its users to do just that. The cruel mutilation of the sympathetic character may cause sufficient indignation to organize a search for Benjy's balls by means of the "search" function. This alternative narrative path allows the reader to follow this leitmotif in all its instantiations, notably in the form of the golf balls Benjy and Luster are looking for near the fence of the golf course. This simple search has remarkably complex consequences as it turns the reader simultaneously into an ally of Benjy (looking for golf balls and other leitmotifs) and into an accomplice in the act of castration (as the search highlights all the instantiations of "balls" and thus separates them from the text).
Figure 7.2 Faulkner's sequence of segments in The Sound and the Fury (Ed. R. P. Stoicheff et al.).
Every text requires a different approach, and this is even true for various chapters within the same novel. For Quentin's chapter, Faulkner changed his narrative technique. The mental processes that take place in Quentin's mind are more abstract and labyrinthine. As a result the temporal shifts occur even more suddenly, often in the middle of a sentence. For instance: "I carried the books into the sitting-room and stacked them on the table, the ones I had brought from home and the ones Father said it used to be a gentleman was known by his books; nowadays he is known by the ones he has not returned and locked the trunk and addressed it." (Faulkner 1994: 51) This different narrative technique required a different hypertextual treatment. Here, the editors have color-coded the text itself. One of the consequences of this color coding is that the text draws attention to what Rosalind Krauss calls the "grid."
The spatial metaphor of the grid is "emblematic of the modernist ambition," according to Rosalind Krauss 1985: (9). Whereas the grid used to be employed by painters as a tool to create a successful reality effect by means of perspective, modern artists tend to focus on the discontinuity between reality and its representation: "Unlike perspective, the grid does not map the space of a room or a landscape or a group of figures onto the surface of a painting. Indeed, if it maps anything, it maps the surface of the painting itself. (…) Considered in this way, the bottom line of the grid is a naked and determined materialism." (Krauss 1985: 10). The same applies to literature. Instead of hiding the grid that marks most forms of composition, the modernist artist draws the reader's attention to it. And this tendency continued after World War II.
To examine some of the spatial preoccupations of postwar fiction, Julio Cortázar's Hopscotch (1963) is a suitable starting point. This masterpiece, which presents itself as child's play, is divided into three parts: "Del lado de allá" (From that side), "Del lado de acá" (From this side), and "De otros lados" (From other sides). The story does not end with the word "acabó" (finished), which concludes the second part. With reference to the other sides, a "Tablero de dirección" by Cortázar suggests that the reader can easily leave this last part unread, and just read the first two parts as they are presented in the book. But he or she can also follow an alternative narrative path. The 155 short, numbered chapters are conceived as mobile units of text. Changing the reading order results in a new book. So, as an alternative book, Cortázar suggests a particular reading order, starting with number 73, followed by 1, 2, 116, 3, 84, etc. In case of confusion, it is always possible to return to the "Tablero de dirección" at the beginning of the book:
73 — 1 — 2 — 116 — 3 — 84 — 4 — 71 — 5 — 81 — 74 — 6 — 7 — 8 — 93 — 68 — 9 — 104 —10 — 65 — 11 — 136 — 12 — 106 — 13 — 115 — 14 — 114 — 117 — …
In the reading text, the end of chapter 114 is followed by the suggestion "(—117)" indicating that chapter 117 is the next one in this alternative narrative. Although this alternative narrative is an equally linear path, the idea to work with mobile lexias and indicate the next lexia by means of a proto-hyperlink prefigures the first forms of hyperfiction and also makes this novel particularly amenable to digital manipulation and translation into hypertext. As Espen Aarseth has argued in Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature — hypertextual structures do not need to be electronic. As a form of "ergodic literature," which urges the reader to complete the text, this novel already plays with the concept of "transclusion" before Ted Nelson had even coined the term: the same piece of information can be accessed in different contexts and from different perspectives. Hopscotch does not give shape to the desultory situation of Oliveira; it invites its readers to take part in this situation, and if they play along and follow the outlined track till the end, they are eventually sent back and forth between chapters 131 and 58. Like Oliveira in the open window (at the end of the second part), everything continues to be pending. The form matches and reflects the content.
Cortázar gives a few hints about the underlying poetics by means of a few chapters devoted to the character Morelli, an old writer who has had an accident in Paris. Morelli is said to justify the lack of coherence in his stories by arguing that we can never capture another person's life like a film, but only as a series of fragments. Hence Morelli's method of writing, which is comparable to a photo album. The link between two different moments has to be made by the reader. This appeal to the reader's involvement is a crucial aspect that many experimental works of fiction share with works of hyperfiction. As Cortázar indicates in the "Tablero de dirección," his book is multiple books: "este libro es muchos libros." The alternative narrative he suggests is only an invitation to try out other paths. The track he has outlined in the "Tablero de dirección" includes lexias from the third part and thus invites readers to look at the matter "From other sides," hopping from one chapter to another.
With this game of hopscotch, Cortázar offers an interesting spatial metaphor for hypertextual structures. What on the pavement looks like a single drawing is a multitude of combinations. Hypertext can be seen as an application of what authors such as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Julió Cortázar have suggested on paper with reference to the multiple ways in which we perceive time and space. Putting "Allspace in a Notshall," as Joyce called it in Finnegans Wake, is something readers need to do by themselves. This modernist idea underlies many works of hyperfiction; it is radicalized by means of its translation into a digital hypertext structure.
3. Toward Hyperfiction: Translation into a Digital Format
Other hypertexts on paper, such as Robert Coover's short story "The Babysitter," have turned out to be suitable for translation into an electronic format. This translatability is more than merely a technical issue. Samuel Beckett employed the notion of translation to stress that link between the idea that a "book is multiple books" and its existential equivalent by translating his own work from French into English or vice versa. In How It Is (his self-translation of Comment c'est) the phrase "ma vie dernier état" becomes another "version": "my life last state last version" (Beckett 2001: 2–3). The notion of perspectivism that is so central to twentieth-century fiction is probably the main reason why some of the texts from this period lend themselves particularly well to a translation from the printed medium to a digital format.
Some printed books not only contain elements that have the potential of being translated into a hypertext; they also give rise to digital rewritings or new creative hyperfiction, such as Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl, inspired by the different body parts of Victor Frankenstein's "monster" in Mary Shelley's bestseller. On the website of Eastgate Systems Inc. Patchwork Girl is recommended by Robert Coover as "[p]erhaps the true paradigmatic work of the era" (Jackson 1995). Shelley Jackson elaborates — among many other things — on Cortázar's hopscotch metaphor. One of the clickable words is "hop," leading to a lexia in which Patchwork Girl describes herself: "I am a discontinuous trace, a dotted line."
The formal structure of Patchwork Girl consists of multiple layers or levels. To move up or down in this structure, the reader can make use of upward and downward arrows in the toolbar, which shows a question mark, a two-way arrow, and a box with three dots, surrounded by four arrows in four directions (up, down, left, right).
In "Visual Structuring of Hyperfiction Narratives" Raine Koskimaa analyses how this visual device allows the reader to choose whether a text-screen or a map-screen will be shown uppermost. The map option shows a set of named boxes that can contain other constellations of texts, starting from an outline that contains the front picture, title page, and the main chapters. The arrows left and right of the three-dot button (in the toolbar) take the reader to the lexia either to the left or to the right within the current level of the map. Here, left and right refer to the spatial layout of the map. The role of the two-way arrow, on the other hand, is less strictly spatial.
Figure 7.3 Toolbar in Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl.
It takes the reader to the next lexia in the default narrative. The question-mark button shows the links that lead to and from the lexia currently read.
Many of the lexias in this hypertext are concerned with the problematic nature of identity, not only the identity of the protagonist (for which the etymology of the text — from Latin textus, woven — is further complicated in the central metaphor of the quilt), but also that of her author, Mary/Shelley & Herself. The ideas of authorship and of a singular origin are problematized, as Patchwork Girl notes with reference to her own birth: "My birth takes place more than once" (lexia: "birth"). The link with death is crucial, as the lexia "a graveyard" emphasizes: "I am buried here. You can resurrect me, but only piecemeal. If you want to see the whole, you will have to sew me together yourself (in time you may find appended a pattern and instructions — for now, you will have to put it together any which way, as the scientist Frankenstein was forced to do.) Like him, you will make use of a machine of mysterious complexity to animate these parts" (lexia: "a graveyard"). The text thus urges the reader to become a writer and assume the roles of Frankenstein, Shelley Jackson, and Mary Shelley. The composition of Patchwork Girl is described in two lexias that mirror the writing/ sewing metaphor:
I had made her, writing deep into the night by candlelight, until the tiny black letters blurred into stitches and I began to feel that I was sewing a great quilt (…) (lexia: "written").
I had sewn her, stitching deep into the night by candlelight, until the tiny black stitches wavered into script and I began to feel that I was writing (…) (lexia: "sewn").
Against the backdrop of the problematized issue of origins, it is somewhat paradoxical that the text retraces the origin of the textus metaphor: "At first I couldn't think what to make her of. I collected bones from charnel houses, paragraphs from Heart of Darkness, and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame, but finally in searching through a chest in a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house, I came across an old patchwork quilt, a fabric of relations, which my grandmother once made when she was young" (lexia: "research"). Even in the period of hypertext euphoria, when Deleuze and Guattari's notion of the rhizome was celebrated and any arboreal concept generally abhorred, the mention of the chest and the grandmother indicate that the problematized notions of origins and filiation apparently still hold great attraction.
The focus on the etymology of the word "text" indicates the extent to which digital literature can be defined as a "fabric," not just as a textile metaphor but also in the sense of a manufactured construction. In digital literature, this fabric of the text can be explored in more innovative ways than on paper, as Dan Waber and Jason Pimble show in I, You, We, with its six-dimensional words, plotted on the X, Y, and Z axes. Or Kenneth Goldsmith's Soliloquy, which fully exploits the blank space and allows the reader to experience the transitoriness of spoken language: moving over the white screen makes sentences appear and also disappear again as soon as the user moves the cursor. Since it is almost impossible to move the cursor in a straight horizontal line, the reading will automatically be multi-linear. Technically more sophisticated hyper-fictions, such as Mary Flanagan's [the House] (built with the open-source programming language called "processing") or Cruising by Ingrid Ankerson and Megan Sapnar (which are part of the Electronic Literature Collection), are not necessarily more sophisticated in terms of narrative structure but rather emphasize the possibilities of linking linear narratives to respectively architectural and cinematic concepts.
One of the characteristics of many forms of digital literature is the use they make of disorientation as an aesthetic quality. As Ziva Ben-Porath pointed out during the ICLA conference on comparative literature and hypertext ("Literatures: from text to hyper-text," Madrid, Universidad Complutense, September 21–22, 2006) this disorientation also has an effect on the reading process in that it urges the reader not to jump to interpretive conclusions. As soon as readers have formed an opinion on a passage, they are usually reluctant to revise it, even if new information seems to make the interpretation implausible. But the presence of a hyperlink (i.e., of potentially new information) may function as an invitation to suspend the formation of an opinion. To some readers this may be a cause of frustration, which goes some way to explain that up until now hyperfiction has not become "mainstream." Alexandra Saemmer, however, suggests that this may only be a characteristic of the first generation of hyperfiction authors, whose work can in many ways be seen as a continuation of the French nouveau roman or the experiments of Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle). Several electronic literature projects, such as the interactive poetry or Oulipoems by Millie Niss, build on the notion of combinatorial literature initiated by Oulipo.
The tenth issue of the French journal Formules (June 2006), to which Saemmer contributed one of the essays, is devoted to "littérature numérique." Its central question is whether digital works of literature will remain in an experimental stage or whether they announce a new literary paradigm. While this is an important question, it also indicates a paradox that characterizes the poetics of the first generations of hyperfiction authors. The first generation of hyper-poets and -writers have emphasized non-linearity and the empowerment of the reader, and this emphasis still pervades hypertext rhetoric — as the repetition of the word "libéré" in Eduardo Kac's definition of "holopoésie" illustrates: "L'holopoésie traite le mot comme une forme 'immatérielle', c'est-à-dire comme un signe qui peut changer ou se dissoudre dans l'air, en brisant sa rigidité formelle. Libéré de la page et libéré de tout autre matériau tangible, le mot envahit l'espace du lecteur et force celui-ci à le lire de façon dynamique" (Formules 10). But the recourse to this rhetoric of empowerment and liberation, combined with the wish to "force" the user to read in a particular way, may be symptomatic of the difficulty to "sell" experimental and sometimes high-brow digital literature to a broad audience. The central question of Formules 10 indicates the tension between the experimental nature of a majority of hyperfiction and the somewhat paradoxical desire to become more mainstream, or — in more dramatic terms — cause a "paradigm shift." In this respect the reverse translation from hyperfiction to print may prove to be of help.
4. The Interaction between Hyperfiction and Print
In many forms of hyperfiction the reader's space (or "l'espace du lecteur" as Eduardo Kac calls it) is not so much "invaded" but rather enlarged — for instance by making use of Google's image search engine — in the case of Gregory Chatonsky's La révolution a eu lieu à New York, in which Ben Saïd walks the streets of an American metropolis. As the readme file explains: "Some words are associated fragments of video and sound, images are turning into 'Manhattan' while walking toward Ground Zero, sounds are coming from sources of the account itself. Other words are being translated into images through Google (<http://www.google.fr/imghp >). Associations of all those elements, produces a flowing narration, a narrative." A similar interaction between text and image is also realized in print in Jonathan Safran Foer's novel Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by including the successive stills of a person falling from one of the Twin Towers. Foer's other typographic and visual experiments in the novel serve as tools to visualize the way the nine-year-old protagonist's mind functions: "That's how my brain was." (Foer 2005: 36) The interest in what goes on inside the human mind, which is one of the most prominent features of twentieth-century and contemporary fiction, is increasingly linked to the dominance of visual media and its importance in contemporary society.
The link between the processing of images and associative mental activity is the central focus of Transitoire observable (created in 2003), a group of so-called "numerical artists" interested in "the globality of systems which are using computers and not only on the forms of surface which can be observed on screen." In his creative work, one of the founders, Philippe Bootz, tries to simulate the mechanisms of information processing that take place inside the brain. Since the human brain is an open system, Alexandra Saemmer rightly wonders whether an electronic work can be equally open. This question is all the more relevant since there seems to be a link between "literatures of constraint" and digital literature, as Jean-Pierre Balpe points out. Again Oulipo serves as a hinge point, for many members of Oulipo took part in the founding of Alamo (Atelier de littérature assistée par la mathématique et les ordinateurs) in 1981. Another contributor to the Formules issue on "Littérature numérique" is Jan Baetens, who — together with Jan Van Looy — edited a volume on Close Reading New Media: Analyzing Electronic Literature (2003). Starting from a brief discussion of key works such as Marie-Laure Ryan's Narrative as Virtual Reality (2001) and Bolter and Grusin's Remediation (1999), the editors draw attention to the way electronic works of literature often turn the interior inside out.
With its tripartite structure, this first publication to apply the method of "close reading" to electronic literature clearly distinguishes between "Hypertext," "Internet Text," and "Cybertext." While Theodore Holm Nelson coined the term "hypertext" in his 1965 paper "A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing, and the Indeterminate," he defined it in Literary Machines (1987) as "non-sequential writing" (Nelson in Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort 2003: 452). In the meantime, the term multi-sequential writing is usually preferred. The first hypertext theorists (such as Jay David Bolter, Michael Joyce, George Landow, Stuart Moulthrop) were quick to relate the idea of the branching text to poststructuralist ideas, notably to Roland Barthes and Julia Kristeva's notion of intertextuality. Vannevar Bush's original interest was mainly of an encyclopedic nature, making associations between different sources of information; now, the disruptive potential of hyperlinking was recognized as well: "The dismantling effect of hypertext is one more way to pursue the typically postmodern challenge of the epistemologically suspect coherence, rationality, and closure of narrative structures, one more way to deny the reader the satisfaction of a totalizing interpretation" (Ryan 2001: 7).
But electronic literature is not limited to hypertextual works, as Baetens and Van Looy rightly point out. Raymond Federman's Eating Books, for instance, does not work with non-sequential writing, but is — on the contrary — radically linear in that the words are "consumed" and disappear as soon as they are read: The text appears as just one horizontal line and for each new letter one reads on the right-hand side of the screen another one disappears on the left-hand side. While a book still allows readers to page back and reread a passage, this "Internet Text" does not even grant them this slightest of non-sequential reading acts, since the words of Eating Books do not reappear once they are read. In Brian Kim Stefan's Star Wars, one letter at a time (part of the Electronic Literature Collection) the dimensions of the text are reduced to even less than a line: each letter disappears as soon as it is overwritten by the next.
Apart from Hypertext and Internet Text, the notion of Cybertext refers to both Espen J. Aarseth's work of that name and to Norbert Wiener's Cybernetics (1984). Stressing the importance not only of the text as a product but also as a process, a cybertext requires an interface and depends upon a human operator's action. The production of meaning implies a reader who has to work (Gr. 'ergon'). This eventually leads to increasingly interactive texts, of which Marie-Laure Ryan notes: "The critical discourse that will secure the place of interactive texts in literary history may still remain to be invented, but it is not too early to derive from the hypertext some cognitive lessons about the nuts and bolts of the reading process" (Ryan 2001: 226).
This renewed focus on the dynamic production of text also applies to the writing process and has resulted in an enhanced textual awareness, metafictional self-reflexiveness, and a different interpretation of the term "mimesis." In Narcissistic Narrative Linda Hutcheon makes a distinction between "product mimesis" and "process mimesis." The latter form implies more involvement on the part of the reader, because he or she is invited to participate in the creative process as a witness of the way the book analyses itself (Hutcheon 1984: 9). Readers are expected to do more than simply show their admiration for the credibility and verisimilitude of the fiction; they are involved in the creation of meaning by means of language (30). In metafiction, the mechanisms that are usually hidden in a traditional realist novel are uncovered and made functional (41), drawing attention to what Krauss referred to as "the grid."
A paradigmatic work of metafiction, indicative of the mutual impact of digital and printed literature, is Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves (2000). The reader does not get to see a single shot of the movie that is the novel's central topic. Everything has to be reconstructed on the basis of the elaborate commentary of the old blind poet Zampanò, who is on a par with Jorge de Burgos in Eco's The Name of the Rose or Melquíades in García Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Apart from the possible reference to Cortázar's character Morelli, Zampanó pays homage to the blind Argen-tinian builder of labyrinths Jorge Luis Borges. The house with its empty rooms, endless corridors, and dead ends is a strong metaphor for this book about shifting immobility and surreal estate, full of meta-Ficciones. Borges is another author whose stories have had a serious impact on the development of hyperfiction. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort rightly included Borges' story "The Garden of Forking Paths" in The New Media Reader, arguing that "many of new media's important ideas and influence first appeared in unexpected contexts" (Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort 2003: 29). One of the most explicit references to Borges in Danielewski's House of Leaves is a footnote about Pierre Menard. The note is a short comparative study of a passage about truth from, on the one hand, Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quijote (" … la verdad, cuya madre es la historia, … ") and on the other hand the deceivingly identical passage by Pierre Menard (" … la verdad, cuya madre es la historia, … "). Borges prefigured the copy/paste function and the Nelsonian concept of transclusion by creating the perfect reflection of a narrative Narcissus. But Danielewski constantly disturbs this smooth mirror image, for instance by suggesting that the printed text is never identical with the text as it is "performed" by a reader. By projecting all kinds of hobby-horses into the text, the reader is the one who turns the house into a House of Leaves, i.e., a text that is bigger than what is on the pages. The book is always smaller than what people read into it.
What may seem a gratuitous literary experiment, mocking any interpretive effort, can also be seen as an attempt to find out how the human brain functions and creates meaning, especially when it is confronted with an overload of data. Hypertext suggest that the creation of meaning is a matter of making links, which is what this book invites the reader to do by means of footnotes, annotations, glosses, appendices, and comments. Between Zampanó's notes, Danielewski inserts long footnotes by Johnny Truant, who has edited Zampanó's manuscripts. Truant arranges, (mis)transcribes, edits, selects, censors, and distorts, so that — even though he is not as cunning as Charles Kinbote in Nabokov's Pale Fire — he cannot be trusted. The errors reflect Truant's own mental wandering, and thus illustrate an important aspect of Danie-lewski's poetics. By presenting the process of transcribing as part of the novel, he suggests both the implied identity of writer and scribe (Zampanó and Truant, "the blind man of all blind men, me" ), and the "non-self-identity" of the text, as Jerome McGann calls it in Radiant Textuality: "Texts are not self-identical" (McGann 2001: 149). Not unlike the house whose interior keeps changing, the interior of the text is constantly on the move. This process is part and parcel of the product: "If the work demanded by any labyrinth means penetrating or escaping it, the question of process becomes extremely relevant" (Danielewski 2000: 115). The book even provides its readers with some facsimiles of manuscripts to create the effect of authenticity and emphasize the inextricable link between the book and its textual memory. This way, the temporal and the spatial preoccupations characterizing twentieth-century literature intertwine, which opens up a fascinating aspect of digital literary studies: the use of digital tools to study writings as processes, rather than merely products.
5. Time and Space: the Hypertextual Structure of Literary Geneses
Modernist authors such as Marcel Proust and James Joyce were well aware that the effects of time, which they wrote about, also applied to their own writing processes. The hypertextual mechanisms underlying the composition history may have an unexpected impact on the published version of the text. This effect of the avant-texte is noticeable in the genesis of James Joyce's last work, Finnegans Wake. In its published form the text consists of four books, subdivided into seventeen chapters, and each chapter consists of several sections. The section is usually (in its first draft version) not longer than a few pages and may be treated as a lexia. This was Joyce's favorite working unit. Each of these lexias consists of multiple versions. Thus, for instance, the so-called red-backed copybook (British Library 47471b) contains —among many other sections — three versions of a letter (written by the main female character ALP, in defense of her husband HCE). It is preceded and followed by a philological commentary of this document. Within the context of this early phase in the writing process, this lexia is referred to as I.5§2 (Book I, Chapter 5, Section 2). After a few versions, however, Joyce decided to extract this letter from chapter 5. Not until the summer of 1938, i.e., fourteen years later, did he decide to reincorporate it, but in a heavily distorted way and at a completely different location: at the very end of the text, in Book IV. The shuffling of lexias is common practice in many composition histories, but this one has a special effect. Because of the extraction of the letter from its original context, the philological commentary discusses an early version of this letter (one of the versions in the red-backed copybook) instead of the one that is printed in Book IV. This way, the writing process becomes an inherent part of the published text.
In contemporary literature, the tendency to present the work's genesis as part of the text becomes even more overt, for instance in Toby Litt's Finding Myself (2003). By means of the interaction between the characters of the writer (Victoria) and the editor (Simona), Toby Litt is able to use the process of revision in a functional way to deal with themes such as self-censorship, social control, and perception. When the editor reads this final draft, she deletes several passages. Since the text is presented as a draft, some blocks of text are still considered to be mobile lexias, to be shuffled and inserted elsewhere. In a note to herself, Victoria adds this parenthesis after a long paragraph: "(Insert this earlier.)" But the editor disagrees, deletes the note "(Insert this earlier.)" and adds: "Works better here, I think" (66). To the title page of this final draft she sticks a Post-It to tell the author (and the reader at the same time): "This is what we're thinking of printing. Hope you can live with it." On the title page, the title Finding Myself is replaced by From the Lighthouse. This kind of interaction between author and editor, writer and reader, text and avant-texte reflects an enhanced notion of the mutability of both the text and the self, suggesting a close link between textual and existential matters that is also explored in electronic literature. It is interesting to notice that pioneers of hyperfiction such as Michael Joyce and Shelley Jackson have recently published printed novels, which does not need to be interpreted as a loss of faith in the potential of hypertextual fiction, but rather as a sign of the applicability of hypertextual writing as a composition method. Conversely, the hypertextual structure of writing methods discussed with reference to modernist authors proves to be more than just a metaphor and is applicable to contemporary literature as well, even to authors of hyperfiction. An excellent example is Juan B. Guttiérrez' novel Extreme Conditions. This "adaptive literary hypertext" reconfigures itself according to the lexias the reader has read before. Depending on the reading history the links have different destinations.
This is a new response to the first generation of hyperfiction authors, who continued the tradition of experimental literature, exploiting a sense of disorientation. Guttiérrez does not indulge in the sense of fragmentation, which hypertext seems to enhance. Instead, he uses the new medium to "optimize the plot": "Are multilinearity and fragmentation the goal of hyperfiction, or are they the product of the state of the art when the first literary hypertexts were produced? Is fragmentation a paradigm that we want to preserve? We have the ability to produce a text that exploits the essence of digital media, and that at the same time preserves the essence of narrative in a classical sense: immersion" (Guttiérrez 2006). The "adaptive literary hypertext" interacts with the reader in that each lexia suggests different ways to continue reading. Thus, for instance, the text on the opening page or first lexia of Extreme Conditions is followed by three suggestions for further reading or "adaptive links," preceded by a percentage and accompanied by a short summary:
90% Tenth Decade: Miranda parked her car near a service station. (…) 85% End of Ninth Decade: Central Lab. Miranda at 22 enters (…)
85% Eighth Decade: The avatar children pummeled out of school in troops. (…)
A higher percentage indicates greater narrative continuity, so that more adventurous readers will probably be tempted by the latter links.
This work also indicates that genetic criticism is not necessarily limited to manuscript versions on paper. Guttiérrez provides the necessary links for "digital archaeology" with reference to his novel, and explains what is characteristic about each of the electronic versions:
Extreme Conditions Version 3 — 2006 (English): This version was the first piece of digital narrative (…) in which the information system tries to optimize the reading process.
Condiciones Extremas Version 2 — 2000 (Spanish): This version tried to optimize the user interface and facilitate navigation through multiple entry points grouped by space, time and characters.
Condiciones Extremas Version 1 — 1998 (Spanish): This version was (…) a primitive hypertext; it was important, however, because it helped in the learning process.
Condiciones Extremas. Printed Version — 1998 (Spanish): First Edition: April, 1998.
Another initiative that emphasizes the continued interest in the writing process, even in a digital age without the aura of authorial manuscripts, is the Digital Variants archive, founded in 1996 by the Department of Italian at the University of Edinburgh. Several contemporary Italian authors have agreed to contribute to this project by preserving electronic versions of their works at different stages of the writing process and making them available on the internet. "The aim of the project is to make available on the internet texts of living authors at different stages of writing" (Digital Variants). Although this initiative is called Digital Variants, the different stages of the texts (for instance the three versions of chapter "666" from Angel García Galiano's novel El mapa de las aguas) are presented as a form of "versioning," without highlighting the variant readings. Here, the Versioning Machine might be a useful tool, the way it is applied in the Thomas Macgreevy Archive, for instance to the four versions of the poem "Nocturne, St. Eloi, 1918," which can be visualized in parallel juxtaposition. Clicking on a line in one of the versions makes it appear in bold in all corresponding versions, so that the user can follow the composition history of a particular line and see for instance how "Afraid, aware, little blundering, lonely thing" became "Alone, self-conscious, frightened, blundering" in the second version.
One of the most important challenges for digital literary studies is to try to give shape to what Peter L. Shillingsburg describes as "knowledge sites." In From Gutenberg to Google: Electronic Representations of Literary Texts (2006) Shillingsburg envisions what might be viewed as a scholarly interpretation of Ted Nelson's Xanadu (outlined in Literary Machines, 1981), shifting from a paradigm in which editorial control was paramount to a "new model edition," in which "control should be passed along with the edition to its users" (83). This implies an infrastructure for script acts that "provide[s] tools that allow individuals to personalize their own access to the work" (100). These knowledge sites would have to include, among many other things, a literary work's reception history (reviews, criticism, literary analyses, …). Although these theoretical ideas still meet with numerous practical problems, several modest but brave attempts have already been made to give shape to different aspects of such an electronic infrastructure. A laudable initiative is Raphael Slepon's Finnegans Wake Extensible Elucidation Treasury (FWEET), which links each line of Joyce's last work to the critical analyses that have been written about it. In theory, this reception history is also linkable to each line's textual prehistory, but copyright is a practical obstacle that impedes many digital projects dealing with twentieth-century literature. This copyright issue explains the lack of twentieth-century thematic research collections. It is related to a complex issue that was signaled for the first time by Walter Benjamin in his essay "Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit." The increased reproducibility of works of art may imply a loss of what Benjamin refers to as its "aura" (linked to the authenticity of the original). With reference to literature the aura of unique manuscripts determines to an important extent its value. The fear that this value may decrease by putting digital facsimiles online seems unfounded. In their capacity of cultural objects manuscripts may function in the same way as for instance paintings, and it seems more likely that their reproducibility will rather raise the value of the original document thanks to the greater interest aroused by a more general awareness of their existence and their importance.
Another solution is a combination of "in-house" and "hybrid" editions. A complete electronic edition with scans of all the manuscripts is made accessible in the holding libraries, so that the valuable originals do not need to be touched so often and are preserved in optimal conditions. Part of this edition, without the digital facsimiles but with both topographic and linear transcriptions, can be published in a so-called hybrid edition, combining the electronic texts (for instance on CD ROM) with a printed reading text and a genetic analysis. This way the philological research can be shared with a broader audience, while the complete "in-house" edition can constantly be updated.
The exposure of texts and avant-textes by making them available on the internet may put off literary estates. Peter Shillingsburg's suggestion to make knowledge sites self-sustaining by generating revenue with user fees revaluates a form of "micropay-ment" (suggested by Ted Nelson 1981), a system comparable to a utility charging the user a small amount for each piece of information accessed ("Proposal for a Universal Electronic Publishing System and Archive," a chapter from Literary Machines). A large portion of "micropayment" is returned to the owners of the viewed material's copyright. But apart from the financial aspect, the very idea of availability and general access to digital images of manuscripts on the internet among all kinds of data, not all of them equally trustworthy, may be even more deterring or discouraging to literary estates and holding libraries. Hence the importance of the attempts to build a scholarly environment on the internet, so that readers know that the information provided within this environment is peer-reviewed. In this respect Paolo D'Iorio's HyperNietzsche project <www.hypernietzsche.org> is an interesting initiative that will have an impact on digital literary studies with reference to twentieth-century literature, for this research group is trying to build an open scholarly community with so-called "crossing hypertexts" on several authors, including Vir-ginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, and Marcel Proust. The idea of integrating access to primary sources (digital images of manuscripts) with the publication of peer-reviewed scholarship is yet another way in which hypertext and avant-texte are combined in a useful way. The seemingly fixed nature of the printed text is confronted with the fluidity of the writing process — which may have been one of the reasons why twentieth-century authors such as Samuel Beckett donated their manuscripts to university libraries, to study their works as part of a poetics of process. With the support of the Beckett Estate a first electronic genetic edition of Samuel Beckett's last bilingual texts was completed during the Beckett centenary year (2006). This edition is a continuation of a project that was initiated during the last years of Beckett's life. The disadvantage of the printed medium was that the transcriptions of manuscript versions could only be presented by means of a synoptic apparatus with an intimidating amount of diacritical signs.
Digital technology makes it possible to present different transcriptions (both topographic and linear) of each of the extant manuscripts in their entirety and with a minimum of diacritical signs. Moreover, if the linear transcriptions are encoded in a markup language like XML, it becomes possible for the user to view the textual material from different perspectives (according to language; according to the order of the documents; in the order of the writing sequence; with a focus on abandoned sections or dead ends in the avant-texte). As in the case of the hypertext edition of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury an electronic genetic edition allows the user to follow alternative narrative paths, such as the search for a particular leitmotif; the difference is that this search comprises both the synchronic and the diachronic structure of the work, i.e., the text as it was published as well as all its preceding and subsequent versions, editions, and self-translations up to the author's death.
Figure 7.4 Comparison of versions of textual segments in the electronic genetic edition of Samuel Beckett's Stirrings Still/Soubresauts.
A particular problem with reference to the study of different versions (especially of longer texts) is the danger of getting lost in the manuscripts. Here, the digital medium offers a solution in that it allows the user to compare all versions of a particular unit of text in different sizes: Large (sections); Medium (paragraphs); Small (sentences). This way an electronic genetic edition can facilitate a reading "through time," following for instance the sentence "Leave him or not alone again waiting for nothing again" through all the stages of its composition, highlighting the genetic variants between the versions (Figure 7.4).
In conclusion, digital literary studies seem to intensify the relation between a published work and its textual memory. Twentieth-century and contemporary literature show a sensitivity for the correlation between the idea that a text is a succession of versions and the notion of the individual as a succession of individuals, which Samuel Beckett explored in his self-translations. Digital literature radicalizes this notion of the text as a constantly adaptable and retranslatable set of lexias that only build a text thanks to the efforts of the reader to assemble or "sew together" a set of narrative fragments into a narrative. With reference to twentieth-century works, genetic criticism is one of the fields of research in which digital media prove to be quite useful for literary studies. Literary geneses often have a hyper-textual structure and digital tools prove to be of help in their examination. The preservation of manuscripts is indeed becoming less evident now that most authors use computers to write fiction, but the interest in the writing process and the tendency to thematize the composition history have not diminished in contemporary writing — on the contrary.
References and Further Reading
Alt-X Network: <http://www.altx.com/>.
BeeHive Hypertext /Hypermedia Journal: <http://beehive.temporalimage.com/departments/>.
Digital Variants: <http://www.digitalvariants.org/>.
Electronic Book Review: <http://www.electronicbookreview.com/>.
Electronic Literature Collection: <http://collection.eliterature.org>.
Electronic Literature Organization: <http://www.eliterature.org/>.
Finnegans Wake Extensible Elucidation Treasury (FWEET): <http://www.fweet.org>.
Formules 10 (June 2006): <http://www.utc.fr/-bouchard/formules/index.html>.
Image [&] Narrative: Online Magazine of the Visual Narrative: <http://www.imageandnarrative.be/>.
Thomas MacGreevy Archive: <http://www.macgreevy.org/home.jsp>.
Transitoire observable: <http://transitoireobs.free.fr/to/>.
Versioning Machine: <http://www.v-machine.org/>.
Voice of the Shuttle: <http://vos.ucsb.edu>.
Aarseth, Espen J. (1997). Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
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Beckett, Samuel (1999). Proust, and Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit. London: Calder.
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