Apples to Oranges

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I think that hypertext fiction is possible.  If you look at 10:01, it has Aristotle's basic qualifications for plot; the beginning is 10:01 to the movie and the end occurs when the movie starts (obviously the middle occurs in between those two parts).  It has a concept of unity and wholeness in the idea of the thoughts running through people's heads, the waiting in boredom for the movie creating the thoughts.  Even the movie theatre itself ties everything together.  While you can drop in on the story at any point you like, there is a fixed sequence of events.  Something that happens eight minutes before the movie comes after something nine minutes before the movie, and though you click on the eight-minute link first, it still does not change the sequence of events leading up to it.  In a similar way, the last page of a book can be read first, but order in which the events occur.   This differs greatly from a work like the University of Yellow Paper or the Body, where any and every link is a possible entry point into the story.  As for a "certain definite magnitude," I did not count the number of stories in 10:01, but there was a finite size of them.  There are links embedded into the text, but these are external links, and have little effect on plot.

I think that even something like Tao fits these qualifications.  It begins with the music, video, and the words "earth blown out to stars."  It ends when the movie, music, and text stop; it has unity in the idea of "earth blown out to stars/stars blown down to earth..."  The sequence is fixed; you cannot start the movie at the end and move it to the beginning, and it has a definite size of 38 seconds and 18 words.

At the same time, there are works out there that are not fiction.  Carving in Possibilities is one of those.  There is no definite beginning: I could begin with the quote "I am your mystery" as easily as I could begin with the quote be honest.  There is no fixed sequence, just the random pattern that your mouse makes.  If you move your mouse back and forth enough times, the carving of David will complete itself and end the experience, for lack of a better word.  One time, you could make 40 passes of the mouse before the ending, and the next could be 15; there is no definite magnitude.  There is not even any unity or wholeness to the work.  One spot says "Be honest," while another spot says "Can we feel it in the depths or only in the carved shadows?" while yet another says "I saw precisely what the stone was meant to be."  These appear to be random quotes and inspirations thrown together because they dealt with carving.

Carving in Possibilities represents the new style of internet writing.  It is an interactive hodgepodge of media.  While lacking fictional merit, this style increases the interactivity of the work.  You are given the task of "carving" out the statue while meaning is carved out of the words.  On another web page, you can gain information from it while keeping the mouse still.  On this site, you will not gain any information without bringing yourself into the work.

Another illustration of this new kind of interaction comes from carrier.  The site asks the reader to type in his or her name to bring the reader into the plot.  This allows the website to use the name in all subsequent spots where a name would be required; instead of using generic character names.  I guess that you could cross out a main character's name and substitute your own on every page of a 600 page novel, but that would be very strange.

One final high point of creative writing on the internet is the ability to easily mix text and animation.  The Dreamlife of Letters is the work of a child without the internet; it is just a bunch of simplistic words put out on the web.  With the internet, however, you can make the word fish swim like one, or the word surprise rise up in fear.  The internet adds another level in which you can combine words and art.

I think that we should be wary of Aristotle's fixed forms.  Remember, he is the one who said that nothing could be humorous if it induces laughing through pain.  Ask the Three Stooges if that affected them.  The bottom line is that just because it is new technology does not give us the right to act xenophobically around these works; they are still artistic at the very least.  And that is where I think that the question of whether hypertext is fiction is futile.  It is like comparing a work by Delacroix to that of Victor Hugo; though they were both from the same time period, they specialized in different forms of art.  Just like music cannot be placed against drama, so too can we not compare hypertext and fiction constructively.

It's late at night.  Do you know where EL236 is?

5 Comments

Daniella Choynowski said:

There is a fixed sequence of events. Most often, back in the Greek times of Aristotle, "poetry", by which he meant drama, picks up already heavily embedded in plot. So many Greek plays I read last year were almost half exposition/half climax. Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato-they all had their reservations about new technology. Socrates didn't believe in writing. He thought it would make people forgetful. Kind of ironic, because we wouldn't know anything about Socrates or his work if it hadn't been written down. Let's thank Plato for going against his master's beliefs.

Jackie Johns said:

Jed, I was particularly caught by your use of the Dreamlife of Letters. I focused my essay on this text and its use of personification and other literary elements. So, it was interesting to see you take an opposite interpretation of the work, as something very simplistic yet none-the-less contributing to the genre of electronic fiction as a whole. In this way I guess traditional fiction and electronic fiction are the same; two people can have two very different interpretations of the same text.

Jed Fetterman said:

I'll be honest with you Jackie, I just did not "get" Dreamlife. It just seems like the author pointed to random words in the dictionary and decided to make them do different animated actions. To me, it did not seem like something that had more than face value.

Christina Celona said:

Frankly, Aristotle's fixed forms are outdated. They were written so long ago, and while they certainly aren't false, we shouldn't use them as the ultimate argument against any stort of storytelling. Aristotle isn't God. He didn't know everything, and he couldn't have anticipated anything much different than what he already knew.

And if we want to get smart about it, we can provide proof that hypertext fiction exists and therefore is possible.

Jed Fetterman said:

Well, if I did my job, I proved that hypertext fiction exists at the top of the page. But I agree with everything you say. We always revere these people like Aristotle, Da Vinci, and Shakespeare, and we forget that they were human. Most of them had something to gain by pushing through their art, or their idea of art, and usually that something was power.

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