to the Hypermedia Writing Issue
Hyperfiction differs from traditional narrative forms in refusing to impose a path through connected material, and so disposes of the beginning, middle, and end that readers typically expect. Ideally the absence of a structure determined by the author allows the reader to write her own story. While the confusion of choices that face the reader of hyperfiction and the potential shapelessness of the reading experience brings into question the ultimate success of the genre as literature, hyperfiction is nevertheless making a significant contribution to the teaching of literature. As Lesley Smith explains in her contribution to this issue, hyperfiction novels can be used in English classes to dramatize ways that twentieth-century writers interrogate and experiment with the traditional novel's form, content, and meaning. Her remarks are underscored by Dean Taciuch in an essay which argues that hyperfiction highlights the "mechanisms by which meanings are created in a literary text" by making the reader's choices visible as choices. The conversation between Mark Wallace and Rachelle Heller joins Smith and Taciuch at making something else visible: the pedagogical challenges involved in using sophisticated and changing technology to explain and expore what stories are—and what stories might be.
The traditional story is held together by a narrative trajectory that establishes causality and meaning by relating and ordering events, and by moving toward closure. Authors of hyperfiction join a long tradition of innovators—from Gertrude Stein and Samuel Beckett to William Burroughs and Robert Coover—by disturbing conventional narrative connectors and by challenging the notion of closure. To do this, hyperfiction authors make use of maps, links, multiple paths, multiple-authoring, and direct questions to the reader. As Taciuch says, they "make the medium of meaning-making visible." In these ways, hyperfiction unpacks the idea of the "reader" into the various components of reading: using, browsing, co-authoring. The maker of hyperfiction leaves the matter of sequence (and the process of sequencing) in the co-author/reader hands, hoping to force her to take responsibility for the choices that go into her own process of narravitizing. Hyperfiction thereby demonstrates how the process of establishing causal connections is a matter of will and how precarious and arbitrary narrative closure really is. Yet, as Dean Taciuch suggests, claims made for hyperfiction's openness, and its freedom from closure, are debatable. The text is still "author"ative in terms of the possibilities presented to readers. While they are claimed to be radically open texts, the reality of hyperfictions is that openess is always being closed down. It's not just that once a certain chain is established the reader is again in a narrative that may work the way a traditional story does, but that many hyperfiction stories emphasize familiar tropes—especially journeys leading to sex. While journeys provide frames for narrative progression, sex is an event that can be placed anywhere in a story, serving as appropriate beginning, middle, or end. Our point is not that all hyperfiction ultimately returns to conventional narrative techniques, but that the utopian claims about the genre obscure the investments in these generic plots. Perhaps one of the most interesting things that hyperfiction can teach students is that causality and necessity are not the same thing. The way a reader moves through the story is not the way she must move through it.
So how the hyperfiction invites the reader to make choices is crucial. Every aspect of connections created through the hypertext link contribute to the structure and impact of the hyperfiction, from the visual design of the link and its placement, to the sense of connection between parts/episodes/nodes that the link makes available. Weepers, written by Lee Reily-Hammer and designed by Mel Nichols, creates a false sense of cohesion as a dynamic relationship is created between the multimedia components and the text; the relationships not only unify but also emphasize the fragmentary nature of Carolyn Gowan's recreated identity. Every aspect of the link is under revision as the genre evolves in relationship to ongoing developments in the technology.
Among the most inventive of such links are those that draw attention to the multiplicity of ways we make associations. For example, Dreaming Arnold Schwarzenegger makes the same link available through verbal and visual cues, hiding and revealing the visual and verbal cues to links as the cursor moves, using maps, galleries, images, interactive text, and sound. Stuart Moulthrop's Hegirascope opens and closes possible associations with links that become lost if not quickly chosen among the automatically refreshed pages. And by troping the mechanism of linking itself, Claude Closky's Do You Want Love or Lust continually foregrounds the process of decision-making. A hyperfiction that makes a connection between embodied memory and linking technology is Patchwork Girl, by Shelley Johnson (a collage of interlinked texts created in Storyspace is discussed in detail by Lesley Smith). Though Patchwork Girl is a pedagogically rich hyperfiction, the distress of Smith's students shows that the highly visible linking appartus of Storyspace can also be cumbersome. Rather than creating a labyrinth of links between texts, Hans Bergman's English 414 students create associations within a text by using visual markers to present literary devices in American short stories. Throughout the works surveyed in preparation for our Fiction and Hypermedia issue, the links most predictable—perhaps most literary—make connections between shared/repeated words and phrases in linked stories, as in the link "their kiss was sweet and brief" between two women's stories in Citythreads.
We want to leave the reader with several options for following the story of this genre: