continue to politicising hypertext narrative

Towards a vector model of hypertext narrative

Ingrid Hoofd, National University of Singapore

Hypertext has a set of typicalities that accounts for some crucial differences in our understanding of what narrative is in a docuverse. These particularities are:

In order to understand which ideas of Aristotle's Poetics and which not can be used for describing hypertext narratives, it would be handy to think of the potential multiple readings of a hypertextual docuverse, which exponentially complexify Aristotle's epic rules, as constituting a set of fluctuating vectors.

In this vector model, we can, instead of thinking as a single hero working through a conflictual setting, think of the docuverse providing with a manifold of tension-creating devices: the content of the lexias with potential multimedia elements, the format of the docuverse, the placing and density of the links/trails, the specific markup of the texts within the lexias; all these can be regarded as creating possible tension, excitement, irritation and interest in relation to each other or to the reader's cultural position within the variable context. With each different reading, all these elements can be thought of as variable Barthesian codes, leading to multiple connotations and denotations, being allowed to be read as potential metaphors or metonymys. These all account for growing overall reader experience. For instance, the beautiful coloured format of the "crazy quilt" section of Patchwork Girl can arouse such interest in me that I go about selecting many of the lexias within the quilt after each other, connecting the quilt metaphorically with the works, stiched together, of many different women.

Whereever the reader plunges in, we find a beginning. While moving through the docuverse, the reader firstly will experience two vectors (see also figure 2):
  1. the 'pull vector', making the reader move in a certain direction and creating a sense of 'travelling through the text' which constitutes its own plot,
  2. the 'experience gradient', variably marking the reader's level of experienced emotions.

When either the pull vector becomes zero, or the experience gradient becomes big enough for the reader, we thus have an (temporal) ending or resolution of one or multiple plots. The reader can, and with a good hypertext, should, at any time restart from a different lexia, though. The vectors change automatically already when context or reader changes, as do potentially the character, theme or action the reader chooses to follow.

Examples of the way this works can be seen when reading Michael Joyce's Afternoon, Jackie Craven's In the Changing Room or M.D. Coverley's Califia.

When I first read Afternoon, it seemed that the main character, Peter, was desperately trying to find out who killed his ex-wife and son. After having followed some 50 lexias though, I found that possibly Peter's boss was involved somehow in the disappearance of Peter's ex-wife Lisa as he seemed to have a secret relationship with her. Having found out about this, the narrative somehow started to loop and since I felt quite content for some time I put the narrative away, only to reread it again days later. I followed a different path now which led to a sudden idea that maybe Peter may have killed his ex-wife and son accidentally himself. I am not sure though still about the solution of the 'crime' but feel content already with this suggestion. I might take the narrative up again at another time to see if there is a proper solution, but the traversing through was already quite a pleasurable experience.

In the Califia docuverse, I first jumped through different lexias trying to find out about the 'stack of gold' I was told would be there in the beginning. As this turned out to be a red herring that led me nowhere, I put the cd aside for several days. Later I took it up again though, and now I found I could follow either one of the three characters present in the text. I decided to follow the female character for some time and started to get pleasantly caught up in a web of visually attractive historical documents about California. Having read through a couple of them, I felt quite content, as in having watched a nice painting, and stopped reading again. Again some days later, I started reading again, but now stumbled upon some meta-narrational comments like "having multiple stories in one space might be as close as we get to the truth." This idea satisfied me so much that I shut down the story once more, wandering around for hours pondering upon the theoretical implications and viability of such a remark.

In the Changing Room from the outset, the reader can choose between nine different characters. While indulging in the narration of one character, say, Hank, who is somehow funnily content in hanging from the ceiling, at almost every lexia, several 'vertically' traversing links provide entrances into the other character's perspective. I chose Hank to follow at first as this gave me a feeling of watching a clown, but closed off the reading after several lexias and restarted reading, now following the vertical links much more, with gave suddenly the interesting experience of listening to dialogues between several characters. Although not sure about any overall theme for the docuverse, this theme of 'listening to dialogues' provided me the pleasurable sense of getting to know multiple viewpoints.

All the lexias and links together thus can be regarded as a collection of vectors in a multidimensional space, and the total sum of these vectors can have a highly pleasurable, affirmative, frustrating, decentering or subversive effect. The docuverse, in the process of reading, becomes a set of multiple plot-centres (that is, the centre is not necessarily where the reader finds herself at that moment in the docuverse!) The docuverse becomes then the Valerian 'emotion-machine' when being traversed through, and can better be understood as a 'new art-form' (see also Hypertext 2.0 p.218). One can follow characters, themes and actions

figure 2

continue to politicising hypertext narrative

Cyberspace Web Hypertext