WriteSites

Kirsten Krauth looks at hypermedia fiction on the net

Adrienne Greenheart’s Six Sex Scenes www.altx.com/hyperx/sss/index.htm
announces itself as “a novella in hypertext” (why do online writers feel the need to state the obvious? Is it because they are insecure about the value of fiction on the internet?). It traces a woman’s brutal childhood and its effects on her current relationships. It works as a journal, the sometimes stodgy writing of personal memoir. Oral sex (a curious rendition by the Yeastie Girls), lesbianism (to be or not to be), Jewish identity, incest; they are all covered. Negotiating the spaces of most couples, and with a spiralling devotion to Sylvia Plath, the hypertext structure is simple. Links at the bottom of the page branch out, gradually sinking deeper into the character’s obsessions, building on our friendship.

Gradually her skewered reality is revealed. The family’s power struggle is brilliantly conveyed in the descriptions of game playing. Strategies of Scrabble. The art of letting your parents win. In her childhood she asks for a chair so she can sit near the window to look out on the street all afternoon. Her parents send her to a psychiatrist. In her teens she plucks her eyebrows and goes to school with bloody holes and scabs. In her 20s she attends a poetry reading and, with Dorothy Porter-esque cynicism, stabs at the “god-of-all-liberated males” who gets off on reading poems about battered women (with proceeds of his book going to a women’s shelter); he is not the only one who eroticises violence.

Like films such as Female Perversions and Welcome to the Dollhouse, Six Sex Scenes is uncompromising in its exploration of what it means to grow up female, a site worth sticking with for the complex way it treats sexual abuse and incest.

Where the Sea Stands Still www.illumin.co.uk/ica/wsss/ [link expired] is, in contrast, a minimalist hypertext based on a highly structured poetic sequence by Yang Lian (cybertext transformation by John Cayley, English translation by Brian Holton). Lian aims to translate his Chinese characters to the screen, investigating the creation of meaning through visual arts, space, and cross-cultural representation.

The mahjong tiles—blue pixellated waves, calligraphy characters, black and white rooftops—dump text deposits onto my screen, “lust’s blank water on noon’s black bed sheet/the further from blood ties the brighter it is”, a flotsam and jetsam of the shore, the contracting line between nature and city. A series of snapshots where we are constructed, erected, opened up to Peter Greenaway decay, where we become “kids sliced by long dead light.”

New River http://ebbs.english.vt.edu/olp/newriver [link expired] continues the watery theme, an excellent hyperfiction/media journal, offering a small but innovative selection created purely for the web, and a good introduction to how hypertext has evolved in the last few years. Back issues feature Stuart Moulthrop’s Hegirascope 2 (“what if the word will not be still”) and Edward Thacker’s fleshthresholdnarrative. In the latest edition Curtis Harrell’s hypermedia poem Nightmare Wonders Father’s Song successfully takes on a “dream logic.” Sitting in the dark with a pitch black screen, there are no words, and as you move flashes of story, images, come out of the night and disappear. You are, as in dreams, attracted by the light, this night-poem delicate, childlike, grasping, feeling its way, blind at times, evoking death and dragons, fairytales and lost child(hood). At a page titled Quick I play hide and seek with words that tease and taunt (trying to catch them with my mouse) and become the predator, entering the city at night, an architecture of rhythm and fear: “In their sleek cars, people/Are migrating/from anger to homicide.”

RealTime issue #30 April-May 1999 pg. 16

© Kirsten Krauth; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 1999