A Reader Rethinks His Notion of the Reader

David M. Yun'00, English 111, Autumn 1997

As the first major hypertext author, Michael Joyce, he and his work, afternoon, a story , are at the center of the very conception of a new canon, a canon of hypertext fiction. With the advent of this new genre, comes a reallocation of power. The traditional roles of author, reader, and character are reinvented, as are the established notions of genre, plot, and narrative. Because this was the first "real" hypertext fiction that I have read, the real agency for the hypertext author to present a "multi-vocal," many layered story became readily apparent. Joyce's constant cajoling of the reader is brilliant and unique, and afternoon, exploits this capacity of genre of hypertext fiction to the fullest. I guess it really struck me in my conversation with Michelle Neuringer ('00) prior to class about our very different readings of afternoon. The point in the plot which where these many possible readings was pointed out to me, was the section which talked about the racism still alive in the deep south.

In her reading of the story, Michelle did not stumble upon this group of lexias which I reached by clicking on the word "Nigger." After reading these lexias, my entire reading of the blacktop took on new meaning. I began to see it as a metaphor for this underlying racial strife. That the turmoil in the south was being compared to the turmoil going on inside within Werther when he realizes that the accident that he saw earlier that afternoon may have been his wife and child. His thoughts about this were constantly being portrayed through the blacktop, which strengthened my opinion that this was an intended metaphor. But after considering that Michelle had not even read these lexias, I began to realize the infinite number of ways in which this text could be read. Unlike the linear, print text, the hypertext fiction provides a means by which to embody the many voiced narrator, to allow the reader some say in the course that his reading takes and is a break away from the tyrannical authorial control that is exercised in the traditional fiction.

That's not to say that Joyce did not plan out the many intricacies and seemingly coincidental events laden throughout the text. It is also obvious, upon reflection, that every image invoked, every diction choice, had its reason in the larger scheme that was the central plot.

This also made me think of what exactly the reason that Michelle and I had our differing readings. I feel that my postion as a minority led me to get the reading that I had. I was drawn to the word "Nigger" and clicked on it because the use of this word so awfully grated on me. I wanted Joyce to give me a reason for using such a horrible word. As readers, Michelle and I come from polar backgrounds. She is a Jewish, New Yorker, who has always considered herself a humanities person (although her recent endeavor into the world of computer science seems to be subverting her self-image). I am a former engineering concentrator from the Midwest, a naive Asian-American who has only recently (since I came to Brown last spring) discovered this literary side to himself. In hypertext, these differences are emphasized. For the mere fact that I as the reader have the free will to choose the way in which the text reads. It becomes my reading, one unique to me. The conspicuous line between author, character, and reader are all challenged in this work, and this has caused me to rethink my notion of what exactly the reader is...for in the world of hypertext the reader becomes author, an author to his own story (or at least he thinks so).

Afternoon Discussion overview Hypertext Cyberspace Web