A Spotlight on the Haze: Notions of Origin in Patchwork Girl

Brian Perkins (English 112, 1996)

The hypertextual patchwork (as well as its host of commercial purveyors) wants to mark itself as a new medium which allows, or even demands, that the reader construct the text for him/herself. Each reading, then, marks itself as a fantastic collaboration between the author(s) and the reader, made possible by the wonders of the digital age. This collaboration, however, is nothing new.

If you want to see the whole, you will have to piece me together yourself.

Hasn't this always been the case? Has there ever been an utterance whose meaning was so perfectly clear and singular, to all and forever, that the perceiver did not have to piece it together? Reading has never been a passive task. Given the overdetermined (borrowing from Althusser), multicausal state of events (and texts) and the infinite contexts in which they can be read, the role of reader must necessarily be constructive. Misguided notions which declare the author to be the ultimate source of textual meaning clandestinely exempt the reader from the creative responsibility which s/he has always maintained.

My birth takes place more than once.

And who was it that gave birth to the Patchwork Girl(s)? Shelley Jackson's name stands boldly on the box in which the product comes, but can we discount Mary Shelley's labor as essential? And what was it that gave birth to the Patchwork Girl(s)? Eastgate Systems physically produced that object which transmits that data comprising Patchwork Girl to us, while The Patchwork Girl of Oz most certainly deserves consideration as the progenitor of Patchwork Girl. Although much of the text is linked in a strict linear fashion, and the lexias are prechosen and conceptually unified, we cannot forget the reader, who pieces together the Patchwork Girl him/herself. Each reader stitches together the utterances from within his/her own context (which is academic, personal, ideological, political, ad infinitum), thereby creating sometimes similar but never replicate Patchwork Girls.

The idea of authentic origin is thus problematized. There is no one, discrete, textual Patchwork Girl , and there is no one, unified, conceptual Patchwork Girl. There never has been and there never can be. So goes it with all texts. Neither the reader nor the author can claim full responsibility for the creation of a meaningful text; births are always-ever multiple. Patchwork Girl demonstrates this both textually, in the repeated insistence on the multifarious origins of the corporeal collage that is the Patchwork Girl, and formally, in the hypertextual structure which clearly rejects notions of singular origins or authentic beginnings. However, hypertext is not so much a harbinger of the new possibilities, but a spotlight on the old machinations. It makes manifest the problems involved in defining the author as producer and the reader as consumer, problems which are not specific to hypertext, but which encompass all of language and signification. The transmission of meaning has forever been a blurry and complicated phenomenon. Hypertexts like Patchwork Girl are not novel because the reader is decisive in determining their meaning, they are novel because they more clearly demonstrate the process which has always been at work.