A Confusing yet Interesting Story of Sex and Death by Desmond Kuah

Desmond Kuah, CCST02, "Telling Stories in Cyberspace," University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore

I must confess that in my first reading of Michael Joyce's Afternoon, I was confronted with an intriguing and massive chunk of lexias, which seemingly made no sense. First of all, the narrator began the story by describing the scene of winter and then suddenly I found myself in a bar with the narrator talking about poetry with his friends! I found it almost impossible to make head or tail of what I was reading, simply because Michael was not telling a single story. The reader is expected to make a series of opinions in choosing which lexia to follow and consequently, unfolds a different story with each combination of choices. Every single combination produces one story and even if it is possible to have all the combinations, it is impossible to see them all as independent sensible stories. Within each story, the reader is confused by the lack of completeness and coherent, the introduction of multiple characters each telling their own story in different time and space. Indeed a confusing mass of imagery and experience.

The hypertextuality of Afternoon provides the reader with a reading experience unseen in printed text in the form of multiple lexias, But as a reader, I find this most annoying because some links do not make sense when they do not address specific words or ideas embedded in both the source and the target lexia. The result is that often I found myself in a new lexia which had absolutely nothing to do with the previous one, for instance a lexia talking about the narrator, Wert, Nausicaa and Lolly playing parlor games leading to a lexia concerning a bizarre sexual rendezvous between two lesbians and the narrator.

It was only after quitting in frustration and attempting to read Afternoon again and again that I realized Joyce's ingenuity in telling this interesting story. Firstly, Joyce's use of lexias creates a constant appeal to the reader. Each lexia is short and yet enough is told and left out to keep the reader intrigued then attracted to the story and carry on reading. This is seen in the lushness used in his first lexia "begin" that describes the winter scene and ends with a question to the reader "Do you want me to tell you about it?" The selection of yes or no gives the reader an active and meaningful part to play in the telling of the story and definitely is something printed text cannot offer. (Barthes's opinion of the reader as the producer of the text) This co-authorship is only possible in a hypertextual fiction and Afternoon with its many and returnable lexias, offer the reader new paths every time and yet allows a "return" or flashback at any point of the story possible. The end result is a reading experience intertwined with dialogue, description, memory, poems and imagines all blending together to tell a story.

The use of sex and death in Afternoon represented Joyce's profound knowledge with human beings and what naturally attracts and intrigues us most. Quite certainly, Afternoon is associated with sex and death. Many of the lexias are filled with sensual descriptions of lesbians and couples in the act of love making. By including sex as a central theme in Afternoon, Michael has successfully drawn the attraction of male readers by espousing their sexuality and the homosexual relationship between Lolly and Nausicaa in lexia "Olympia" as well as others bind the curiosity of the other gender as well.

While sex excites the reader by arousing his sexuality, death on the other hand, works on our emotions and grief; an almost universal attraction for all readers, young and old. Just like the In Memoriam web, the death of a friend spurred Tennyson to produce some of his masterpieces. Likewise in Afternoon, the scene of a car accident in the narratoršs memory opened up a whole new world of imagination for the reader; "who was killed and why was the narrator so concerned about, was this the crux of the whole story?" These are the questions which will spur the reader to continue to read the story in spite of its bizarreness, to try and unfold the mystery, which makes Afternoon such a exasperating and yet pleasurable fiction to read.

Next, being a hypertext fiction, Afternoon, is a lot more easier to read with its many helpful links. As in most literal works, an appreciation of the language and social-cultural and political context of the story is essential in understanding the whole story. But quite often, these information are lacking in printed text, the most a reader gets is footnotes and references. In Afternoon, on the other hand, the reader is assisted by lexias that are specially catered to address this deficiency. The two movies "Red Desert" and "Blowup" mentioned each have a lexia giving a brief description of what they are. This is clearly helpful to a reader like myself who have never seen these movies and without the lexias, have absolutely no idea the purpose of their place or inclusion in the story.

In conclusion, Afternoon, is basically a single story which is told by telling many different ones each withdrawing some parts and yet finally blending together like a jigsaw puzzle. The joy of reading Afternoon, is not trying to find out its conclusion or any intellectual discovery but rather it is the quest for this conclusion that ultimately makes Afternoon so interesting. Its many lexias are just like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, each telling a part of the story, yet dependent on other lexias to complete the whole picture.

'Afternoon' Discussion overview Hypertext Cyberspace Web