The Thing That Should Not Be

Adrian Kang, CCST02, "Telling Stories in Cyberspace," University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore

When I started reading Michael Joyce's Afternoon, I was initially fascinated by the three ways offered to the reader for him to progress in his reading. These three options allow the reader to navigate around the text:

  1. By viewing all the links that the present lexia leads to and choosing the link that has a particularly interesting name (at the reader's discretion, of course).
  2. By choosing either a "yes" or "no" in response to the question or possible consequences in the present lexia.
  3. By typing in a word in the given space and it will display the links that is associated with the word you type in. (You can only do this after reading at least a few lexias so that the word you type in is in a way related to the story. Mind you, this is not a search engine.)

Different types of hypertextuality can be found here:

  1. Every lexia can lead to an assortment of lexias and it is up to the reader's discretion which link he chooses to follow. This is the "one-to-many" method of linking.
  2. The "yes" or "no" option where you come to a crossroad at every lexia. Although there are only two choices at every lexia, the more number of lexias you read, the more unlikely that you will be reading the same story the next time.
  3. The related search brings all the links that is related to the word you typed in. (This is the author's notion of associativity and you may or may not be able to make head or tail of it.)

As I progress through the story, it seems like there is no beginning and no end; or maybe I should say I could begin anywhere and end anywhere. The individual lexias are just like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. You try to determine which piece can fit in with the other. Yet, you can never seem to see the complete and whole picture after reading it. But did Joyce intend it to be a complete and whole picture in the first place? Every time I read it, I see a different portion of the jigsaw puzzle. At my third reading, I think that perhaps it is better for me read a different story everytime.

Is Joyce toying with our notion of readership? He knows that as a reader, our minds will attempt to make a logical sense of the story. What I mean here by logical sense is that the reader will always try to associate the different events or characters with one another. There should always be a cause and effect way of reasoning. Yet he refuses to grant us the light in the darkness. This is just like appreciating a painting of abstract art. You try to guess what the painter is expressing but you can never guess correctly because the truth is: It is what you think it is.

Is Joyce granting us the power of authorship? We choose what we want to read. Joyce does not know where we are going in his story. This could be Barthes notion of a readerly text. The characters and events seem to fade in and out of the story and the different voices that guide us through the story. The snapshots of the different events that hints the story to us. No events seems to have more significance than the others. I think that I am becoming my own author and a different author at every reading.

This has definitely been an intriguing experience for me because I think that it has given a new dimension to reading. The conventional linearity of the printed matter has totally been revolutionalised by this expression of hypertextuality. The reader has been freed by the author as he is reading the thing that should not be.

Afternoon Discussion overview Hypertext Cyberspace Web