Good Literature on a Computer Screen

Monica Lancini, English 111, 1999

To all those who are still skeptical about the potentialities of the electronical medium, Michael Joyce's Afternoon is the proof that good literature can be read on a computer screen. Afternoon is an exceptional piece of prose, where words play with sounds and images beautifully. The starting invitation suggesting a deeper reading is almost superfluous. The style is accurate and poetic. For the first time, I had the impression that fragmentation is not a synonym of deconstruction only. A double movement takes us in and out of dialogues places and characters. The lexia is at times a little tile we stick to a big mosaic or a little part we take away from it. Sometimes it conveys a subtler meaning, sometimes a broader one.

As most of hypertextual fiction, Afternoon is a kind of diary, where narrator and author coincides... but not only. There are other voices rising and melting, male and female at the same time. And of course there's the reader who plays the biggest part in it. The ways he can ์write๎ the story are multiple. Differently from the works on the net, Soryspace allows him a yes-and-no navigation and a browse option. The reader is the real protagonist. He is totally absorbed by the style, the content and the structure. Afternoon is a good, practical example of co-authoring. And even more so, considered the fact that here and there we find quotations to other writers as well.

This piece, that Joyce wrote more than ten years ago (1987), is built on two hypetextual constants: repetition and openness. The same lexias inevitably come up again and again, offering alternative paths every time. The text is one and plural at the same time. In this specific context, repetition is not only a structural device, but also a nice flashback.

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's an auto-deterministic approach to the text and to me what really makes the electronic reading a different experience. We are finally free to put an end to what we are doing without feeling uncomfortable or guilty. In spite of the fact that we live in an era of great technological changes, we are still conditioned by the book physical entity. The digital inconsistency sets us free. Either we read all the lexias or some of them, it's not important as long as we get a meaning out of it. We are not even asked to go through all of them, we don't even know how many they are. You can object that even a book might have an open structure, let's take Kafka's endings. Still, before the author brutally cuts the last sentence, our journey has begun with the first page and ended with the last word...

Afternoon Discussion overview Hypertext Cyberspace Web