I'm not sure . . .

Asia Wong '97

I'm not sure I have a story. I'm not sure that everything is not my story or that whatever is my story is anything more than pieces of others' stories.

"I kept wanting to put her into some story of my own making. I kept wanting to change the facts, not just the way things happened, but in what order."

Both quotations are from Michael Joyce's Afternoon: A Story however I am not sure if they are accurate or just paraphrases. I wrote them down when we came across them in class, but when I went looking for these lexias I could not find them.

Afternoon cannot be criticized in the same way as a print text because it is virtually impossible to read the whole text, to get every single combinatorial option, and even were it possible to get all the combinations, it is impossible to see them all as discreet stories, independent of each other. Afternoon has few clear beginnings and ends, and one often comes into a part of the story in the middle or towards the end of it. It points to the impossibility of separating the text as a discreet entity which can then be examined and understood. Mingling different character's voices with the voice of the protagonist ( if one can even separate Peter out as a protagonist) and with the author's own voice makes the line between the story and the writer indistinct and undefined, a sort of wavering effect occurs in the text between the different characters and the author, presumed to be outside of the story creating it.

It is of interest that Joyce chose to name his work Afternoon: A Story as opposed to Afternoon: Stories. It seems that he intends to create, out of these different voices and stories, a kind of whole, exactly the sort of discreet entity which his text makes impossible. Another possibility is that he is attempting to define a new kind of whole, a new kind of "story", with an inherent quality of incompleteness, a lack of beginning or end, an overlapping of voices and stories to make up a kind of story which is by definition multi-vocal and open-ended. A third possibility is that Joyce intends for the reader to believe that all stories are like this, whether they appear to be or not, that there exists, outside of the apparently cohesive story a web of underlying meanings and voices not represented directly in the text, but nonetheless a part of it.

I didn't particularly like Afternoon because it was so disjunctive that it felt like floating alone the top, something I was reading but was not invested in, just bits of prose and imagery. And too, I felt that Joyce kept trying to cover his bets, in a manner of speaking, that he would write nasty things and then write "Oh, I just said something nasty." so that one couldn't really call him on it. His whole thing with his women characters, and then the ex-wife calling either the author or the character on it, for example, it all seemed so contrived.

Of course, maybe if I did another reading of Afternoon all would be explained, Joyce would be redeemed and I'd suddenly find it an excellent and compelling work of fiction. This is what I find interesting about hypertext: it precludes the possibility, in many cases, of making an informed judgment on the work. It constantly reminds the reader that they are not getting the whole story, that at every point at which the reader chooses one link over another there is a whole chain of events which he/she is missing. In Afternoon, Joyce goes one step further and reminds the reader at every turn that these are characters of his own construction, but what makes this story interesting is that the reader is unsure as to whether the characters are constructions of the author's or that of another character. Take the second lexia I quoted, for example, "I kept wanting to put her into some story of my own making. I kept wanting to change the facts, not just the way things happened, but in what order."

I can't help looking for what I want out of this story, and it is exactly this desire that Joyce is exploiting, but what I find ironic is that it is impossible for me to find it. I have never come across the two lexias which I have quoted in any of the four or five readings which I have done of Afternoon, I only read them when we explored Afternoon in class and someone else was doing the reading. Yet it is exactly these two lexias which I find most compelling.

Afternoon Discussion overview Hypertext Cyberspace Web