Challenging Afternoon

Voo Chee Kee, "Telling Stories in Cyberspace," University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore

If the creations of man be the result of the complexities of human thought, then perhaps the myriad forms of individual expression shows the inherent multi-linearity nature of the cognitive process. In reading Michael Joyce's Afternoon, one confronts a mesh of juxtaposing poetic imagery that attempts to capture our imagination. Hypertext fiction affords us the pleasure of unlimited threads of narrative. However, appreciation for any art form is acquired through the process of socialization. Creative writing in the electronic medium has immense potential in this technologically driven age. Yet, the prevalence of quick 'sound bites' still tend to dominate electronic media. Perhaps herein lies the strength and the weakness of hypertext fiction.

In reading Michael Joyce's Afternoon, our reading of the story can be constructed in many ways, be it the following of imagery such as winter or death, or the convergence of different plots by following the various characters' stream of consciousness. Sifting through the different possibilities, patterns do eventually arise, and a tentative construction of finality arises from a synthesis of the different trains of thought. Should we be unsatisfied with one conclusion, we can easily obtain another reading by restarting.

Part of the allure of electronic media and hypertext, is the presence of attention-grabbing devices such as animated images and links. In today's world, we are bombarded with so much information, our attention span has indeed been effectively shortened. Electronic media and hypertext presents information in a way that is instantly attractive and attention grabbing, since without all these, anybody is able to look at something else with just a mouse click away. Two scenarios can occur -- the development of a culture whereby it becomes the norm for readers to sift through different lines of narrative as part of reading habit, or the development of a accepted 'grammar' of linking in hypertext fiction to minimize the chances of misinterpretation and shifting attention span. The former seems remote, since reading electronic media at present still relies heavily on 'quick sound bites'. Joyce's Afternoon affords several choices to the reader, but how effective are these choices in grabbing the attention span of the reader? On simply put it in another way, has the explosion of choice diminished the 'mystery' in some respects of the reading experience?

Michael Joyce has written:

"Closure is, as in any fiction, a suspect quality, although here it is made manifest. When the story no longer progresses, or when it cycles, or when you tire of the paths, the experience of reading it ends."

Hypertext fiction lays down many of these 'paths' for us to follow in the form of links. In this form of literary expression, we are probably closer to the mind of the author than in traditional print media. In reading print, the links may not physically appear on the page itself, but we as readers can imagine these 'links' ourselves. In exploring the idea of 'closure', we hit on several possibilities. Is the ending of one thread of narrative, in fact, considered as closure? Have we even thought of the various cycles of even one thread of narrative, instead of hoping for hoping for even more threads of narrative? The final answer probably lies in the reader himself, and what he expects from his own reading experience.

Afternoon Discussion overview Hypertext Cyberspace Web