Text Over Time

Damian Kulash (English 112, 1996)

Many of the comments assembled here focus on Patchwork Girl as a metaphor. Several layers and combinations of metaphor have been mentioned: the text, context, reader author, subject, character(s), narrative, and format itself all operate in patched, stitched, scarred, and fragmented ways. Each of these elements can be likened to the others through the dynamic and multi-dimensional segmentation that they share. This class' annotations aptly recognize the several and often parallel sets of relationships that are set up by this reflexive and format-conscious commentary. Indeed, it would be difficult to read Patchwork Girl without grasping this central theme: hypertext is itself like Shelley Jackson's narrative and the central character in her work, piecemeal and make-it-yourself.

Reading Jackson's work, however, led me to think about how the dynamic composition of hypertext restricts and enables the text in ways that printed texts do not. I suggest, as a topic for discussion here, the unique temporal nature of hypertext. Patchwork Girl, more than any other hypertext, has highlighted for me the relation of text to time. The packaging of text into small bundles and their subsequent instantiation in emphatically distinct narrative moments creates a sharpened sense of textual rhythm. The "flow," which Jackson speaks of as "the sheer pleasure of movement," and even, "the main point," is the rhythm of the text as it surfaces in its clumpy moments. This heightened temporal dimension to reading adds a new freedom to the text, but it invokes new restrictions as well.

I found, for instance, that Jackson in several places uses the narrative gesturally, aligning her textual motion over time to suggest a certain familiarity that reinforces the high pace of her work. The clearest of these passages is her authorial commentary on movement itself where she choreographs an elegant temporal/textual gesture by giving us decreasing text blocks (and increasing speed as we flip through them) while she tells us, "The moments of text get smaller / and smaller." Finally she hits top speed and bursts into a commentary on the pauses and flow of her work. The motion is tangible and exciting; the text's form reverberates with its content.

On the other hand, the heightened time-sensibility that hypertext offers also demands that it be dealt with. Where text moments are too jumbled or confusing, the rhythm of their links becomes stilted. Where texts are reflective and slow moving, the artificial segmentation into shorter window-sized passages becomes distracting to the point of aggravation. For example, the passage covering the monster's voyage to America is tedious; its slow tempo seems to static for the schizophrenic flipping of windows. Here, that the discomfort of monitor-reading and my impatience with having to navigate dialog boxes and layered windows came to the forefront as the formal rhythm of the hypertext slipped out of kilter with its content.

It is interesting to note that the passages I've chosen are here are among the most linear areas of Patchwork Girl. Perhaps this suggests that the rhythm of a text depends largely on the authorially dictated elements -- on how regimented a reading must be. It would be interesting to investigate hypertext's complicated relationship to time in more and less 'structured' hypertexts. Can chaotic many-to-many linked pieces maintain a cohesive rhythm? hmmm....