Hypertexts

Dear Reader,
Please note: I have just re-read the finished letter and decided to use the convention of underlining words to suggest hypertextual links. Rather than reading the line beneath the word as an authoritarian marker of emphasis, as if words were bound to the page like black flies on white flypaper, the reader is encouraged to interact imaginatively with the potentialities of the text (do a little cerebral hypertextual flea-hopping (See “Notes on Mutopia”). This is just a suggestion.

“It is deathly still in the room—the one sound is the pen scratching across the paper—for I love to think by writing, given that the machine that could imprint our thoughts into some material without their being spoken or written has yet to be invented. In front of me is an inkwell in which I can drown the sorrows of my black heart, a pair of scissors to accustom me to the idea of slitting my throat, manuscripts with which I can wipe myself, and a chamber pot.”
Nietzsche, Fragment of 1862
(quoted from Kittler by Tabbi, in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol 43, number 3, Fall 1997)

On The Letters K and Q

Sometimes there is a queue in our house to use the computer. I like this image of a bold Q forming, like a shallow pool, outside the room with the computer, with me standing anxiously by. I am aware that two persons maketh not a queue. I am also aware that the use of the possessive ‘our’ is misplaced, since we do not, at the time of writing, own our own home, although we would like to. At the time of writing we do not even own our own computers (plural). Please note that interest in and enthusiasm for the net are no guarantee of computer access and/or ownership (singular). The fact that we want to own our own computers—one each, mine and yours, or else it’s over, and I’m taking the car— leads to my first conclusion: here, in what used to be called the Domestic Sphere but which now, surely, after it has had innumerable holes punched in it by penetrations of market, media, man, ought to be renamed the Domestic Sieve; here at least we are still in the Kingdom of the first person possessive pronoun, no matter what the PDH (Partie Democratique Hypertexte) tell us.

But I digress.

Re: The Uses of the Q. I’m sorry. I apologise. I have exaggerated both the intensity with which we want to use the computer, and the associated protocol. We do not queue, as such. I went a little overboard, because in order to parade the badge of (partial/situated) knowledge, to lay claim to some right to write, I felt I must cite extreme feelings for the computer, that I must gesture towards addiction (see Ann Weinstone, “Welcome to the Pharmacy: Addiction, Transcendence and Virtual Reality”, diacritics, fall 1997). Of course, the Q also introduces a hint of domestic conflict into the picture— even, dare I say it—romantic/situational comedy. One man, one woman, one computer, one mouse, one cat…another story. I confess to playing the junkie card, mobilising the (to some) all too familiar scenario of the transcendental rush, the nightly habit of queuing in a dark corner, waiting to make a connection, scratching, itching to log on and get out of it. Intensity sells stories.

Outside the study, gazing into the glassy pool of the letter Q, I catch a glimpse of myself. At least it looks like me, and in this day and age that is enough. I sink into the curly embrace of the Q, wrap myself around myself, and take up my pen—a thin, black, felt-tipped pen. Most people, as they move inexorably towards middle age, develop a preference for one writing implement over another. They exercise their choice. Optimum Scriptive Technologies. Sitting there, alone, I write—Each adjective that qualifies this pen of mine—thin, black, etc—makes me think, My pen and me, we’re special. We are singular types with something singular to say. Just for fun I sign my name, over and over, reducing my irreducibility and singularity to pure iteration(!). And then I wake up and realise it is all nostalgia, that it is not me in the pool at all, and cross out what I have written. Unlike the screen and its blinking little cursor, the trace of what I have just un-wrote remains on the page. Interesting. Bored by waiting in the queue, I pick up an interview with Paul Auster. He has just sold some manuscripts to a Library. A man who specialises in mediating between Libraries seeking manuscripts and writers who might want to sell them, comes to visit Paul every day for several weeks, putting the drafts in order, checking that the words that have been crossed out can still be read, so that the future readers can see quite clearly where the writer has been even though he chose not to stay there. What a job, I think, not sure if I would want it or not. (“Excuse me Paul, is that a ‘t’ or a ‘b’ I’m seeing here? Is that ‘hat’ or ‘had’?”)

What happens to the idea of the manuscript now? Should we be worried, I ask a representative of the PDH? Ought we all to be saving and printing our drafts as we go, just in case that little man from the Library should one day call? Is this a paradigm shift? Is this the future? Is there money to be made in places we nearly went?

My emails are re-routed. The server is down. Or something like that.

Some say it all started with the typewriter. I believe the Heideggerians began this fingerpointing, but I am not sure. It was the typewriter that directed written language away from the body, the hand, away from the ME! ME! to the reproducible discretion of the SHE/HE, left to tap away peripatetically under artificial light, like neurotic battery hens. Around this time, some say, writing became a terrifying prospect. Kafka felt it, (and hence the letter K). Nietzsche felt it before him. Eventually all the big guys got it bad.

(I realised the other day that I wanted to buy a typewriter. ‘Why?’ was the incredulous response. Who ever thought we’d get nostalgic about typewriters? Remember the old IBM Golfball? The speedy Kthunk. Sigh.)

At last it is my turn. I sit down and study the illuminated square in front of me, thinking about all those monks who worked on the first letters of manuscripts. I think about solitude. About writing. About reading. Turning back the pages, I think about the time that it used to be just me, my book and my (moving left to right from age 7 to the present) banana, cold milk, chocolate, coffee, cigarette, chocolate, tea, chocolate, and finally, herbal tea. I have renounced the lot. But have I renounced the intimate relation of the body with reading, writing, and thinking? Am I finally, once and for all, a severed head? (Of course, all this giving up and renunciation are merely a rhetorical ploy, the flip side of my addiction-simulation above). My mother is worried. My eyes, RSI, radons, microns, veiled dangers emanating from behind the screen. Don’t worry, I tell her, reaching for a raw carrot. It gives me something to do with my hands. I hold the little mouse tight. I click. It is a voyage of sorts.

Textual islands rise up here and there, archipelagos of quotations, aphorisms, fragments, and we sail from one to the other, trying to connect the dots, to get something sweet to eat, to make love in the shade. That is what I am doing here and now; hopping from island to island, lily-pad to lily-pad, oasis to oasis, enclave to enclave. I am anachronistic, but what counts is, I am quick.

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, “Notes on Mutopia” (Postmodern Culture 8:1 http://muse.jhu.edu.journals/post [expired]…but only if a university near you subscribes, I believe.)

I read on. “What matters now is not the straightness and purity of connection, but how many things something can be connected to.” Questions linger. Is the ideal world one in which everything is connected? Is this choice? Or the definition of paranoia? Remember the military-industrial-psycho-medico-multinational-corporate-arts-complex? Is this what we want? Is this what we are getting? Why are all the articles I read online from East Coast American Universities?

I keep my mouth shut while the battles are replayed on the listserv. The Prophets of Doom vs the Angels of Rapture. Mea culpa, I say, one hand on the mouse, the other on the cat, I am just a beginner. I feel like a sneak, a voyeur. I recognise in my inordinate fear of exposure the working of power.

I worry that the PDH has weakened their case, fetishised the footstep in the sand, instead of worrying a little bit more about whose boot was on whose foot. And what about this Hypertext Aesthetic? How come hypertext seems to be the realisation of every theoretical dream of poststructuralism, postmodernism, deconstruction, and now even post-colonialism (see Jaishree K. Odin, “The Edge of Difference: Negotiations between the Hypertextual and the Postcolonial”, Modern Fiction Studies Vol. 43, No. 3 Fall 98). How can it be democratic, reader-driven and avant-garde as well? Have I overlooked something?

Outside, the queue is getting longer. The crowd is getting restless. I look forward to your response and could you hurry, please. People are waiting.

Sincerely,
Josephine Wilson

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 22

© Josephine Wilson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 1998