The Associative Mind

Wee Liang Meng, CCST02, "Telling Stories in Cyberspace," University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore

To navigate is a better and a more appropriate description than to read when one encounters Michael Joyce's Afternoon, a hypertext fiction consisting of an impressive 538 lexias. By employing any of the functions in the movable palette or by double clicking on any words in a particular lexia, it allows for multiple ways readers can explore and navigate through the hypertext fiction. This calls for active readers, who are not just reading but are given highly participatory roles and who will decide their progressions of the story. Indeed, we come back to Roland Barthes's notion of a writerly text where "the reader [will] no longer [be] a consumer, but a producer of the text" and it signifies an end to her idling and intransitive mood (S/Z, 4).

Nonetheless, what caught my attention when I first navigate through the story was its temporal manipulation and subsequently an awareness of the multiplicity of the text. In this aspect, I will highlight the insight or rather the implication that this particular hypertext fiction revealed -- the associative nature of the our mind.

When we make our way through the different lexias, we are exposed gradually to the contents of this fiction. At one moment, we have the writer narrator in a restaurant chatting with his friend Werther and in another instance, in another lexia, we have the writer narrator driving past an accident scene and suspecting that his wife and son may have been killed in the accident. Likewise at times when the narrator reminisces about the period he had spent with his ex-wife, Lisa. This switched in time frame between lexias when the narrator recalls his past memories and encounters in what Gérard Genette terms as an analzepsis defined as "any evocation after the fact of an event that took place earlier than the point in the story where we are at any given moment" (Order in Narrative, 147). Of course, there can be also the projection of events that will occur later in the narrative, which Genette calls it, prolepsis. Often ineluctable in most narratives is this technique of temporal maneuvering, an element of discourse, very much exemplifies in print narratives such as Batik by Romesh Gunesekera and Red Sorghum by Mo Yan.

As we proceed, we will realize that Joyce's Afternoon is in fact complicated and sophisticated because we "often [encounter] puzzling changes of setting, narrator, subject and chronology" (Hypertext 2.0, 193) when we move from lexia to lexia. It is no longer simply chronological variations that this text manifests: we must recognize and accept its inherent multiplicity. Nevertheless, the interest I have is with the way our minds react to this form of narrative. Having to experience this type of narrative where bits and pieces of the story is told via numerous lexias, we will have to piece them up to a complete picture liken to that of a jigsaw puzzle. George P. Landow writes about a phenomenon where we start to construct "narrative placements, so that one assigns particular sections to a provisionally suitable place" (193) after reading through sections of the hypertext fiction. I see this construction of the narrative placements as parts placed within a larger mind map as an attempt to sort out the different pieces of information from the various lexias in order to observe the coherence and congruity among them.

Joyce's hypertext fiction entails more than the construction of a single mind map that evolves around and involves only the story of Afternoon. This highly allusive narrative promises links to other narratives that we have read before. If I can put it this way, assuming that we create mental maps for every narratives we encounter, Joyce's hypertext fiction enables the linking of the mental map created for Afternoon to other earlier maps that we have set up for other narratives.

To elaborate, one lexia in Joyce's hypertext fiction assumes the title "Lost in the Fun House" which evoke attentions and the questioning of any relations to John Barth's Lost in the Fun House. One other example is in relation to Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Silver Pavements, Golden Roofs. A particular incident arises in Divakararuni's fiction where four boys were blatantly shouting "Nigger" at Jayanthi, the character-narrator of the story, and her aunt when they were walking along a sidewalk. A similar scene appears in one of the lexias in Joyce's Afternoon when the narrator was driving down a road where similar shouting of nigger was heard in the background. Though the discriminatory swearing was not emphasized and explicitly explained, it alluded to the social context of Joyce's hypertext fiction. It can be Divakaruni's work or works by any other authors Joyce's hypertext fiction is seemingly related to but this is not what I am stressing. Rather, it is with the results that Joyce's hypertext fiction have in reminding one who has read Divakaruni's narrative or other similar works along with the effect of prompting one for an association among these works that bespeak my intention and interest in this discussion.

Clearly, Joyce's hypertext fiction does more than the exploration of the personal lives of the various characters in the stories along with their problematic relationships. Perhaps it is not of Joyce's intention for this hypertext fiction to have inkling to postmodernist works such as Barthes or even to social implications concerning racial discrimination in Divakaruni's narrative. However, it is undeniable that Joyce's Afternoon has exploited to a great success the nature of the associative mind, as observed in my questioning of the relations and the linking of Joyce's work with other narratives.

<B>Afternoon</B> Discussion overview Hypertext Cyberspace Web