by Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink
aka M.D. Coverley, creator of Califia
from Eastgate Systems.
Version | Standard Version
The term, blue moon, is a familiar one, though the origin of the phrase
is still being debated by folklorists.* This year, a second
full moon will occur in November. In harmony with the coming
second moon, The Blue Moon Review introduces a phenomenon both rare
and in contention: Web-specific hypermedia writing.
We have assembled ten works by women writers that use the features
of the WWW to create a new kind of literature. This work
may seem as rare as an extra moon, but, in truth, it is part of a
growing field - literary work that embraces the specific features
of the WWW to create a new syntax of text, image, sound, and movement.
of Web Hypermedia
Because the Internet began as primarily a text medium, electronic
literature has been at home on the WWW for several years. The
Blue Moon Review was one of the first publications to bring literary
texts on-line, and it has been publishing outstanding fiction and
poetry since 1994, giving writers increased accessibility and the
archiving powers of the new medium.
The computer also lends itself to literary experiments that expand
the aesthetic and sensory pleasures of reading a good poem or story.
These experiments began simply enough - adding images to linear text.
Then, as the technology improved, electronic writers began to venture
into innovations that challenged our notion of text itself.
The earliest works in hypertext involved lexia-and-link constructions.
These works were, for the most part, text-based, but they featured
multilinear structures - multiple story lines and complex spatial
Eastgate Systems published the landmark works in this form - classics
such as Carolyn Guyer's Quibbling, Judy Malloy's its name was Penelope,
Judy Malloy and Cathy Marshall's Forward, Anywhere, and Deena Larsen's
Marble Springs. Soon, the graphic capabilities of computers
improved, and a second-generation of works utilized elaborate graphic
interfaces. For instance, Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl encouraged
readers to click on parts of the body of the Patchwork Girl/Frankenstein/Mary
Shelley monster to access the text. Deena Larsen's Samplers
used the 2001 stitches of a quilt to indicate the paths to the various
stories. Stephanie Strickland's True North employed graphic
maps to interpret the inter-relations of the poems and allow access
to them in a reader-determined order. A third generation of
hypertext - now a true hypermedia - has evolved in the last few years
which incorporates text, graphics, sound, and animation; an example
of this on CD-ROM is Califia by M.D. Coverley (yours truly).
In addition to the evolution of disk- and CD-ROM-based electronic
hypertext literature, a parallel development has taken place on the
Web. The first hypertexts were mainly text with simple graphics
such as Martha Conway's Girl/Birth/Water/Death. Since 1995,
though, Web hypermedia literature has begun to acquire its own shape
and character as writers explore the technical and structural features
of html, dhtml, xml, java-script Java, and Flash. In the recent
hybrid WWW creations, the media all contribute to the essence and
effect of the piece. The field is still in its early stages,
and the future will, no doubt, bring further developments in the form.
For now, however, certain qualities can be identified that tend to
characterize hypermedia work on the WWW.
of Web-specific Literature
The pieces you will see in "Intersections: Explore" are
illustrative of some of the significant characteristics in hypermedia
work. First, our familiar genre distinctions seem to disappear.
While linear text, even on the computer in non-material form, is easily
categorized - the standard genres of poetry, fiction, and creative
non-fiction are recognizable - hypermedia often defies conventional
In Deena Larsen and Geoffrey Gatza's e: electron, the poem emerges
from a periodic table of the elements and is braided through a meditation
on materiality. Shelley and Pamela Jackson's The Doll Games
is part game, part memoir, part documentary - and the reader is invited
to submit his own doll stories to the collection. Jennifer Ley's
the amniotic meander ends with a re-entry into the "real"
world, erasing the boundary between fiction and action. Geniwate's
6 Calabi-Yau Poems includes a theory section that reflects on the
ambiguity of the poetry.
Other genre lines become blurred as well. Since hypermedia includes
graphics, sound, and movement, it often looks as much like "art"
as it does literature. The stanzas of Stephanie Strickland's
poem in Errand Upon Which We Came are certainly poetry, but the text
is embedded in Flash movies that expand the meaning and implications.
The text itself suggests that the reader might well devote as much
attention to the choreography of image and sound, the oscillation
between media, as to the words, themselves. C. Allen Dinsmore's
Terra is so visually striking that the reader may know a great deal
about the narrative before ever reading a word of the story.
The processing of and interaction with the graphic and structural
elements of these pieces is integral to the reading process.
Moreover, the blending of text, image, sound, and structure facilitates
unusual modalities of point of view.
The fluidity of multilinear structure encourages multiple voices -
and we see literary forms that are may be intimate and omniscient
in ways not often found in text-only narratives. Judy Malloy's
Interlude - Dorothy and Sid is part of a longer work, Dorothy Abrona
McCrae, that is a fictionalized autobiography. The informality
and seeming spontaneity of the piece, however, are much more at home
in Web narrative than in any formalized print publication. Adrienne
Eisen's What Fits also explores the possibilities of the intimate
voice. Here, the first person point of view is further internalized
through the choices at the end of each section. While Malloy
and Eisen develop their fictional voices through multilinear internal
monologues, hypermedia gives the author a range of tools for shaping
narratives. Diane Greco's Dirty Sex benefits from the sense
of immediacy and drama that is created by the layering of windows
of experience - a structure that materializes the process of discovery
in the plot.
On the other hand, Web hypertext can merge story and commentary, narrative
and criticism in a seamless whole. Giselle Beiguelman's
Recycled is a collection of small Web effects - compact technical
metaphors that, taken together, suggest the equivalent of a Web
collage. In a larger sense, each of these works is, in some
way, both artifact and meta-statement. Unlike linear print work,
where the authorial presence is discounted out of "willing suspension,"
the hypermedia work always announces the authorial entity. No
matter what the lyric or narrative voice asserts, we cannot ignore
the role of the an omniscient author/code-maker that constructed the
framework of color, sound, movement, and technical facilitation.
In the case of work launched on the network that evolves randomly
or is able to sustain intervention from others, the authorial contribution
is more ambiguous, but not less visible. Because the code-maker
cannot be suspended, hypermedia works operate in a space where the
potential for multiple points of view is pre-established.
Readers readily discover the innovative features in Web-specific writing
- hybrid media (graphics, sound, animation, structure, text), multilinear
voices, genre-blending and so forth. Yet, naming, and assigning
aesthetic values to these elements, has proven to be far more difficult.
Neither artists nor critics have agreed upon a suitable term for this
form, and the writers are not sure what to call themselves, either!
be Spinsters, Websters, Web Artists, Web Writers, New Media Writers?
If rose is a rose,
Gertrude, then a name is a name, too. In former centuries, myriad
terms existed for those who plied the weaver's trade. J.R. Dolan,
in his study, English Ancestral Names: The Evolution of the
Surname from Medireview Occupations, lists several categories for
names that were associated with the making of fabric. Those
employed in the wool industry, spinners and weavers especially, might
be Spinners, Twiners, or Wynders. Weavers carried names like
Borrell, Draper, Laner, Threader, Wooler, or Webber. According
to Dolan, these surnames evolved originally through tax records.
And, if the tax-payer happened to be a woman, her moniker would have
the "ster" suffix.* Thus, Spinner - Spinster; Webber
- Webster. In days of yore, then, the Spinster term was not
at all perjorative, but rather identified a woman spinner who was
responsible for her own business.
In keeping with the idea of craft and proprietary art, then, the women
who create Web-specific literature could be termed "Websters."
Our own associations with the term "Webster" might be germane,
as well. We think of the compiler of the famous dictionary.
In many ways these women are working on a similar project, not only
weaving the new literature of the web, but also inventing a new dictionary
of visual/textual/aural language in the process.
shall we call it?
In the same way that the adoptions of family surnames required a process
of trial and error, the aesthetics and poetics of electronic hypermedia
literature are yet in evolution. Since the early Hypercard and
Storyspace examples of multilinear writing were primarily text, the
term "hypertext" was current for a while.
Soon, however, hypertext writing began to incorporate one or several
other media. At that point it became difficult to disguish,
in some pieces, between visual art, poetry, narrative, criticism,
design, and even music compostion. All of these activities had
become fused to the literary project. New names sprang up.
Net.work, Web.work, Web-specific literature, e-literature, rich-lit,
Open Work, Net.Art. To date, no one handy term has come to represent
the scope of Web-specific hypermedia work. And, in much the
same way, the characterisitics of the pieces you will see/read/experience
are remarkably varied and fluid.
Is it Literature?
Finally, like the historic origins of the term, blue moon, hypermedia
literature is a subject of contention. One question critics
raise is this: is it literature? Foes of hypermedia literature
dismiss it by association: graphics and sound suggest commerciality
and therefore cannot be a part of literature. Critics also disparage
the "flashiness" and reliance on technology. More
often, criticism of electronic hypermedia isdirected at the fact that
one can't hold the leather volume in one's hand, read it in the bathtub.
But The Blue Moon Review readers are already familiar with excellent
literature on-line, and perhaps you will find that these pioneer writers
are building a body of work preserving the qualities we admire in
fine linear text and suggesting a new and unexpected mode of textuality
as well. The decision is finally, the prerogative of the reader.
In the light of the bluest moon, let us make a visit.
for blue moon research:
and Telescope, 1999.
Folklore & Language Archive
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