Roads, Paper, and Afternoon

Michelle Neuringer, English 111, Autumn 1997

"Elsewhere it is sheer shimmer, like the skim of hallucination which holds above roads in summer. We have been spoiled by air conditioned automobiles to think we can transcend the blankness. It is as if paper were never invented."

I came across this particular lexia very early on in my first reading of Afternoon. I had to read it quite a few times before I attempted to interpret it. Reading this work as an assignment for a Hypertext theory class, I immediately was drawn to the use of the word, paper. I guess I have been trained to see this word in direct contrast to anything that is hypertextual.

I view paper as something that is meant to be marked. That which is written on paper becomes embedded in paper; the fibers in a piece of paper and the ink from a pen get weaved into one when contact is made. They create an often uneraseable and very concrete connection. The closest parallel to paper in the above excerpt is "roads": just like paper is meant to be written on, roads are meant to be ridden on. The contact that a car makes with a road is supposed to be as concrete as the contact that a pen makes with paper. However, the image of an air conditioned vehicle challenges this notion of concrete contact. The air conditioned vehicle is presented as an object that hovers over rather than sinks in. It tends to veer, unlike standard cars (or paper) which represent that which does not veer, neither deviates from nor branches out. Other phrases in this excerpt that relate to this notion of "hovering" include "sheer shimmer," "skim of hallucination," and transcend the blankness." These phrases remind me of the dreamlike, imaginative quality of hypertext. Although many people compare the consumption of hypertext to "navigating the roads of a superhighway," I feel that hypertext consumption is more closely related to skimming over those paths, in an almost hallucinatory, transcending manner. Afternoon introduces the recurring theme of automobiles and different kinds of cars, along with a frequent use of phrases such as "grip the wheel" and "unveering." The power and strength of hypertext is its continual coaxing to "let go of the wheel" and to veer away from the definite and the concrete. The hypertext reader travels in an air conditioned vehicle above the text, spoiled by boundlessness and free choice.

Afternoon Discussion overview Hypertext Cyberspace Web