Reading of Afternoon

Tay Shi'an, CCST02, "Telling Stories in Cyberspace," University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore

My initial experience of reading Michael Joyce's Afternoon was admittedly painful. Brainwashed as I was to expect a neatly laid out story line (Hypertext 2.0, 189), I experienced information anxiety of a tremendous magnitude when faced with a multitude of choices as to which lexia I wished to go to. This was made worse by virtue that I had no idea how long the story was, nor if there was an ending or logical conclusion to it. How would I know where to stop? Will I ever get to stop?

I tried to get through this text as quickly as possible. I found myself scanning through each lexia to get the gist of things before jumping to the next, expecting to find immediate and obvious connections between them as in a linear text.

This process of course failed miserably. For one, I was reading far too quickly and not nearly as closely as I should be. My usual laid-back and superficial reading of linear texts was not going to be sufficient to carry me through this hypertext; the very allusive and elusive quality of the text demanded far greater attention. Also, I was simply following the first link on the list, sometimes leading to some rather dry lexias I simply was not interested in. I needed to change my reading tactics to keep myself interested.

Thus I began a second reading of Afternoon, which was by all standards a great improvement. I found myself making deliberate choices as to which lexias I visited, and to no real surprise, I was most drawn to those which featured the "highly charged subjects" of sexuality and death, whose function is "to retain readers' interest, which might stray within puzzling and unfamiliar narrative modes" (197). In my case, these subjects performed their function very well indeed; many a times when I became frustrating in the reading, it was only the intrigue of these subjects that kept me going. By my 20th lexia, I found myself clicking the back arrow automatically each time I encountered a lexia containing temples and strange Indian names, while striving forward when the topic turned toward the development of the strange and complex relationships amongst the characters in the story, particularly the homosexual tendencies of Lolly toward her clients, and her reasons for what she does. By doing this, I was taking over the role of the author (189), by choosing and narrowing the possibilities of the story to what I most wished to read.

In some strange and rather magical way, lexias started to make sense after a while; I started to draw connections between events and speakers and forming relationships between them, particularly when the story looped back to a lexia previously encountered, only my understanding of it is heightened with the additional information I had gathered. I use the word "magical" because the experience of forming a tenuous link between lexias in a hypertext is far more satisfying than forming the obvious links to paragraphs above and below in a linear text. Linear texts of course have their own share of images, allusions and references running through them, but hypertext, being composed almost entirely of such tenuous links, is all the more richer and more intellectually stimulating to read.

A problem I found with this, however, was the difficulty in retaining all the information I wished. It was very much like my reading of Balzac's Sarrasine --once I left the text and left the machine, all the fragile links I had formed seemed to just vanish in my mind; I could no more remember the relationship between certain characters in Afternoon than I could remember which character Sarrasine was (my first, instinctive answer to this question was the old man, even though I had read the whole story just the previous day). This, I suppose, is the result of the complexity and multiple layers of the text, added with the inability to conveniently refer back to the text for confirmation, what with 538 lexias in Afternoon and the impossibility of remembering how to get back to the desired lexia. This retention of information is an aspect which would take much practice and getting used to.

Afternoon Discussion overview Hypertext Cyberspace Web