Bolter on Form in Hypertext Fiction

Bolter writes:

"Afternoon" is about the problem of its own reading. This will certainly be the problem that confronts us with all interactive fiction, at least in the early days of this new form. As an example of topographic writing, "Afternoon" asks us to consider how we are to appreciate the multiplicity of such writing The writing space of "Afternoon" can be represented by a diagram with squares for the episodes and arrows for the links between episodes. The whole diagram is vast, since "Afternoon" has over 500 episodes and over 900 connections.

The reader never sees this diagrammed structure: the reader's experience of "Afternoon" is one-dimensional, as he or she follows paths from one episode to another. Instead, the reader must gain an intuition of the spatial structure as he or she proceeds in time. This task is rather like that of a mathematician who attempts to envision a four-dimensional object by looking at several projections in three dimensions. Each projection is a snapshot, and the snapshots must be synthesized to win a sense of the whole. For the reader of "Afternoon," each reading is one projection of the geometry of the whole; the whole is the sum of all thepossiblc ways in which "Afternoon" may be read.

The geometry of electronic fiction need not be defined solely in terms of the plot. In "Afternoon," the important events seldom vary on different readings. Instead, it is the characters' reactions and interactions that vary. The electronic writer can exploit other organizing principles of modern printed fiction, such as the stream of consciousness of one character or the points of view of several characters. Linked rings of episodes would be particularly effective for presenting multiple points of view. "Afternoon" has what we might call a subspace in which Lolly and Nausicaa tell their stories, each in several episodes and each ending more or less where she began. There is also the possibility of narrating the same events from different points of view, a technique familiar from Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and Durrell's Alexandria Quartet. In the electronic medium the reader can be given more degrees of freedom than is possible in print: he or she may be allowed to flip back and forth among episodes, comparing one narrator's version against the others'.

The author might choose to build a narrative hierarchy by presenting the same events, for example, from three points of view, where the first point of view is in some sense superior to the second and the second to the third. The author might think of these as the divine, the heroic, and the satiric perspectives. From the satiric perspective, events are a confusion, as we normally experience them, making only a provisional sense that dissolves again into chaos. Imagine the dramatic story of Oedipus, told from the perspective of the shepherd who failed to obey the order to kill baby Oedipus and instead gave him away. After many years, this well-meaning shepherd is brought before Oedipus the king, threatened, and made to reveal what he did with the baby. He is then released and left to ponder the horror of Oedipus' crime and his own revelation. From the heroic perspective, events take on greater clarity and urgency, as Oedipus himself would tell the story. The third, divine perspective is omniscient and also detached, for the heroic sense of engagement is lost. It is the story of Oedipus as narrated by Apollo. Our triple structure can be represented in three dimensions.

Each of the levels contains six episodes from one perspective, corresponding to the scenes of the play. The reader begins on the lower (the satiric) level, and the task is to break into a higher realm of understanding. In the preceding diagram, corresponding episodes at each level are linked. Thus, as the reader is visiting one episode on the satiric plane, he or she may succeed in jumping to the heroic plane and instantly see the same event in a new light. The divine level should clearly be harder to reach than the heroic, and yet itspresentation of events might be so cold and crystalline that the reader maywonderwhether attaining this level was in fact worth the effort. This geometry omits the choral odes which divide the scenes of Sophocles' play. We could include these and have them serve as foci where the change of point of view might occur. The odes, like operatic arias, often take place in a time that is outside the conventional time of the dramatic action, pulling the reader or listener away from the plot to reflect upon the significance of past and possible future action. They provide a perfect moment for a shift in point of view. In this Sophoclean structure, each level is in the same narrative mode: each tells a story in the first person. We can also imagine a structure in which each level contains a different mode of discourse--rose, drama, narrative poetry, lyric poetry, and so on. There is no need to limit the modes to fiction: the same experience could also be treated in historical prose and in scientific prose with mathematics. Each level would then be presenting a different aspect of written reality. The fictive level describes a man seated at a mahogany desk writing a letter; the poetic describes the scratch of the quill pen upon paper and the sound of the sand used to blot the ink; the historical discusses literacy in Victorian England; and the scientific explains how ink disperses into the pores of the paper. In the electronic organization the author can refract reality into a series of such perspectives without destroying the rhythm or comprehensibility of the text. Readers do not have to contend with all facets of the event at once; instead, the order in which they examine the various facets determines their experience of the text.

The preceding geometries are suggestions; many others are possible. They simply show how we might envision the spatial expression of a multiplicity of temporal experiences provided by any one text.

Writing Space 127-30


Hypertext Rhetorical Forms Some preliminary speculations on what specific principles might guide HT form.
Kolb's List of Hypertext Forms
A list from Kolb's "Socrates in the Labyrynth."
December on HT Characteristics and Qualities A list from December's "Living in Hypertext."
Hypertext Rhetorical Functions A discussion of how HT forms grow out of different HT functions.

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