A Labyrinth

Rachel Yeo, "Telling Stories in Cyberspace," University Scholars Programme, Mational University of Singapore

Making my way through Michael Joyce's "Afternoon was very much like taking a journey into a labyrinth -- alien and unfamiliar. The narrative brought me round and round in circles and at the initial reading, my mind was swamped with confusion and disorientation. Akin to being in a labyrinth, at times I was unsure if I had come across a particular lexia before and could not recall clearly which path I took previously, creating some sort of a flashback effect.

At some forking paths in the story ("the lady or the tiger?", "love or death", "me or Nausicaa?", etc.), I was also forced to solve certain puzzles with regards to Peter, Lolly, Nausicaa, and Wert's relationships with each other, the connections between the lexias, whose life history was being told, etc. before proceeding. Other times, I reached dead ends, without a clue as to where I was in the story.

Despite the difficulties I encountered navigating through this new genre of reading narratives, it was definitely a refreshing and unique experience. After adjusting myself to my newfound freedom of choice that I welded as a reader, I began to relish the power I had to "write" my own story -- what Foucault terms as the "death of the author". There are many lexias in Afternoon, however, we are not required to read through all of them before being able to ascertain if we've enjoyed or disliked the story. Although we may omit or read more lexias than the next person, the meaning one gets from the story is of a personal value. Joyce reflects this in his closing lines: "When the story is no longer in progress, or when it cycles, or when you tire of your paths, the experience of reading it ends." It can be likened to when you experience a work of art. You do not simply take in the artist's intention, but actively participate in creating whatever meaning or message you find. You are also the artist. The original artist slowly fades away.

Ironically, though many speak of the freedom and power of choice granted to a reader in an electronic text as compared to print text, this is not always the case. I realised whilst reading Afternoon that unlike in a book, where one can jump to the end of a story should suspense get the better of him or her, it is not possible to do so in Storyspace as one has to pass through a stipulated minimum number of lexias before reaching the end, and in some sense is not that "free" and "powerful" after all. It is also important to remember as well that although we as readers are given the choice of where to go in a story, ultimately the map is still drawn out by the author, and thus I personally feel that Foucault is rather absolute in his use of the word "death" to describe the author's position.

Finally, the structure and form of this hypertext purport to parallel the issues raised in Joyce's Afternoon. Personally, I felt that the disorientation that I experienced and the defamiliarisation process I underwent reading this hypertexual fiction mirrored the dysfunctional relationships between the two couples in Afternoon. Just as all the lexias are interconnected, the characters in Joyce's narrative are similarly entwined with each other, but in a warped, non-traditional way, mirroring how perhaps in modern day, archetypal form and structure no longer binds us -- physically and now textually.

Afternoon Discussion overview Hypertext Cyberspace Web