Afternoon: Overcoming Closure?

Gilbert Wong, CCST02, "Telling Stories in Cyberspace," The National University of Singapore

"Closure is, as in any fiction, a suspect quality although here it is made manifest. When the story no longer progresses, or when it cycles, or when you tire of the paths, the experience of reading it ends. -- from "Work in Progress", a lexia in Afternoon.

The reading of Michael Joyce's Afternoon was a disorientating experience. The difficulty in comprehending the fiction raised questions on "how to read the story?" Often, I had to pause and ponder over the texts on the computer screen. Faced with lexias that make no sense on their own, I was puzzled and frustrated with every click on the mouse to find a whole new reading that had seemingly no connections to the previous one. All I wanted was to read the story and to discover the experiences of Peter, Werther, Lolly and Nausicaa. Like in conventional linear story telling, I desired to see on the monitor "Werther2" when I proceeded from "Werther".

The seemingly indefinite structure in Afternoon where plot lines often interrupt each other, disallows a "strong sense of narrative continuity" (Andres Luco, Experience and Memory). There is simply not enough information given at the end of each lexia to offer an understanding of the story. Similar to my encounter of Italo Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveller..., the reader senses that he is missing chains of events.Then, I had to make associations of my own to conjure up a story out of unrelated lexias. As such, the reader is given the freedom to create his own story. Thus, in the hypertextual medium, the reading experience transforms the fiction into Barthes' "readerly text", where the responsibility of story telling is "shared both by the reader and the writer" (Shakeeb Alireza, Difference, Time and Repetition).

How then does one read the Afternoon? How do we battle the seemingly disorientation in the hypertextual arena? Should we shirk the responsibility of story telling shared by both reader and writer? Would we find assurance if we seek asylum in the familiar conventional linear text? Or could we convince ourselves to take up the challenge of pursuing our freedom of movement in hypertextual works?

In "Whom", Peter is afraid to witness the accident. He is apprehensive to discover the incident. Like Peter, we are questioned whether we are "afraid to see" (from "Whom", a lexia in Afternoon). Can we muster enough courage to pick up the mouse and choose from the many links in the fiction well knowing that the choice may need us to another seemingly unrelated story? A hypertextual reader is one who is "an active, even intrusive reader" (George P. Landow, Hypertext 2.0, p.90). He is aggressive and brave to choose his own paths through the hypertextual fiction. There is no authoritarian closure that inhibits his quest for intellectual discovery.

Closures occur when the reader finds that "the story no longer progresses, or when it cycles, or when (he has) tire of the paths". In Afternoon, there are no consistent beginnings or ends. The hypertextual reader is personally involved in creating his own beginning and end of the story. He encounters repetitions of lexias but discovers more of the story than before. By making his own choices, the reader "overcomes closure" (Henry Kariel, Open Sytems, p.15). "We still have closure, but it is a closure that is a part of a larger extended family of conclusions" (Shakeeb Alireza, Difference, Time and Repetition). The hypertextual reader creates his own closure, when he chooses the paths that lead to the end of the story. Yet, he realises that this closure is merely one of the many possible endings that he can reach. As such, Michael Joyce's Afternoon sets the arena for the reader to challenge the apparent divide between writer and reader. Then, the reader becomes an author of his own story.

Afternoon Discussion overview Hypertext Cyberspace Web