Hypertextual Fetish

Daniel Parke [ntropy@brown.edu]

[Note: the @ indicates an OFF-SITE link, which will open in a new window.]

Jackson's body hypertextual

The dominant visual and structural motif of Shelly Jackson's Patchwork Girl and My Body is the female body. And not simply the female body but the fragmented female body. Jackson's stitched together monster with the seams showing, or the image (supposedly) of her own body framed and labeled into pieces.

In My Body the text is entered through the body, the text is the body, and always location and space can be conceived of in terms of place in Jackson's body.

I think in things: complicated ideas come to me in flesh, concrete metaphors with color, heft, stink. So it is easier and more pleasing for me to think of text as a thing or things, arranged in a place, than as a story told by a storyteller, or a piece of music, or a journey, or one of the other more linear metaphors for fiction. Hypertext makes it easy to place things side by side, rather than one after another, so it makes "thing" and "place" metaphors much easier. I guess you could say I want my fiction to be more like a world full of things that you can wander around in, rather than a record or memory of those wanderings. The quilt and graveyard sections, where a concrete metaphor that resonates with the themes of the work creates a literary structure, satisfy me in a very corporeal way. I salivate, my fingers itch.

-- Shelly Jackson @

It is easy to see this navigation by dismemberment as a sort of fetishizing of the body, but to what end? Jackson's attachment to things physical, to the flesh seems to simultaneously glorify, objectify, and fetishize the body... her body. Looking at how she chooses to organize My Body where she chooses to draw links and organize her lexias draws attention to each body part, bringing the reader's focus to her sensual and personal prose.

What draws Jackson to this metaphor? Answering this will make it possible to explore the implications of Shelly Jackson's fetishizing text, and perhaps even more.

hypertext as fetishized text

... the text appears to fragment, to atomize, into constituent elements; and these reading units take on a life of their own as they become more self-contained, because they become less dependent on what comes before or after in a linear succession.

[George Landow, Hypertext 2.0, 64]

Hypertext is the quintessential fetishistic writerly language. It lends itself so well to the dismemberment, fragmentation, commodification, and objectification of the text. Because the writer can not be sure the reader will read every lexia, each one must stand on its own. Hypertext is constructed around the atomized text; bite sized morsels for the reader to take as she pleases. Often times each lexia is crafted with such care that it is a jewel all its own; the individual lexia appeals to the beauty of the words in its isolation, detached from any conceptual whole the hypertext is supposed to have.

and here there are two ways at looking at things. in alphabetical order link a then link b.

ultra-psychoanalytic ulterior motive for fetishized text

Since lexias can often be taken independent of context, jewels or fascinations all in their own, they can be appreciated purely on the asthetic beauty, clarity, horror, etc... of the text itself. It is this fetishization of the words that hypertext lends itself to so well. Is it, however, the fetishization in a psychoanalytical sense? Is it a breaking apart of the text into pieces to decrease the threat of the whole?

The purpose of this fragmentation could be a denial that everything need be connected. The desire to find a pure text, that can be isolated and needs no other text, is an attempt to strip the network of links that connects all texts of its power. It is an attempt to deny that there is a larger, encompassing world out there that is bigger than the reader/writer. It is possible that the atomization of the text allows the reader/writer to sink back into the imaginary world before difference, where words were less than a whole language, when they were only lilting, beautiful nonsense coming from the mother.

But that's old stuff. And patriarchal. And hierarchical. And all kinds of trouble.

the incomplete reading anticipated, eagerly

This is what I find interesting about hypertext: it precludes the possibility, in many cases, of making an informed judgement 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.

[Asia Wong, "I'm not sure..."]

The incomplete reading is more than a problem of hypertext, it is blessing. When two people read a print text they will, inevitably come away with different understandings of the text, but they will have been assumed to have gotten the same information. No such assumption can be made with hypertext. With print text there is a hierarchical arrangement of information that is not easily circumvented without considerable more effort. In hypertext there are multiple paths that the text can be read by.

Breaking down a text into it pieces, atomized chunks does not steal its power instead it destroys the artificial hierarchy that print would enforce upon it. While Asia contends that "making an informed judgement" is impossible, but I would say that only a definitive judgement is precluded by the hypertext medium. Even if one is sure they have read every lexia, sequentially is still in question. Without structure a new language of hypertextual criticism must be established that takes into account the personal bias and unique reading from square one.

This fetishization is new, it is different, it is positive. It does not seek to dominate, to objectify the threat of alternate views. The hypertextual text defies positive identification the same way the modern cyborg does, the same way Shelly's Frankenstein does, the same way the hypertextual consciousness @ does.

reading between the lexias

There is a purpose to links, then. Really. They connect lexias that are designed as independent, yes, but they are connections with meaning. There's the saying life's a journey not a destination; given that it is cliched, the links are what give the lexias meaning, that justify their fragmentation. They are paths of consciousness that suggest ways of connecting diverse information. They allow the reader to form a conception of the whole text in different ways, dodging the hierarchy from on high that print text delivers.

"The proto-hypertextuality of *In Memoriam* atomizes and disperses Tennyson the man. He is found to be nowhere, except possible in the epilogue which appears after and our side the poem itself. Tennyson, the real, once-existing man, with his actual beliefs and fears, cannot be extrapolated from within the poem's individual sections, for each presents Tennyson only at a particular moment. Traversing these individual sections, the reader experiences a somewhat idealized version of Tennyson's moments of grief and recovery."

[Asia Wong, "I'm not sure..."]

Even though the bond between lexias is not as physically strong as the ties that bind each paragraph to the next in a print volume there exists a ghost of narrative, story that lives between the lines.

a new reason to love the atomized/fetishized text

Hypertext is a different way of looking at the body, of breaking apart the body. The body physical, the body politic, and the cultural and social bodies that have been created by exclusionary, taxonomic classifications. Following the links in My Body forces a reconceptualization, a reconstruction in the reader/writer's mind of Shelly Jackson's body, Shelly Jackson's identity. And it is not a thing to be labeled definitively.

As cyborg reader/writers we can acknowledge that we break things down... that we fit everything into an existing schema about "the way things are" or create a new one. The true hypertext defies a definitive reading. The myth of objective critical reading is dissolved and the bias of the writer is acknowledged. Another person's opinion and reading can not simply be disregarded as wrong because it does not fit your own or the dominant, prevalent reading. Hypertext has the ability to tear apart hierarchical dissemination of information and absolute, universal truth. For that is the truth that binds, gags, and suffocates.

but that's just me.

texts are like bodies, but bodies are like texts, too. They aren't simple, self-evident things, they're composed.

-- Shelly Jackson @

Discussion of Patchwork Girl Overview Screen for Website Body and Self