I was planning to respond to the assignment for week 4, focusing on the ideas that I had been developing over the last several weeks. I found postings by Lori and Zephyr, and my path, quite appropriately, forked away from what I had intended to write about to something new.
Reading Lori’s entry on Karpinski and Howe’s open.ended, which ties previous discussions about three-dimensionality to the current one about chance, I was reminded of a work which I had forgotten about, but which I want to share: Brooke M. Campbell’s Choose Your Own Sexuality from Rhizomes 8. Campbell’s piece combines poetry, biography, and history under the familiar form of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel to create a queer biography of Emily Dickinson. Campbell’s piece takes seriously the implications of queer scholarship, shedding light on the general import of such work: The author is often just as much what he or she is as what he or she isn’t and that creative works reflect this similar tension. Decision-making is not simply the rational evaluation of two choices, rather they are heavily laden with cultural expectations, social frameworks, habits, law, and deep desires. Though Campbell’s piece uses the familiar framework of binary choices, the fact that Campbell’s piece is based on actual historical events loads the choices up with the questions: “What happened?” and “What do we want to happen?” The effect is not to simply fork the work, but to play in the imaginative spaces between the choices, to speculate about possibility.
A similar experience in narrative forking is Scott McCloud’s Choose Your Own Carl, a fairly straightforward, early, and lo-fi experiment in digital comic. Inspired by Zephyr’s comment on Lori’s piece, I was inspired to revisit McCloud’s online comics, and found them to remain interesting, particularly because they employ forking in a way that allows the reader to view both “choices” at once. [As a sidenote: McCloud’s The Right Number does not explore forking formally, but it does a great job addressing this experience in the narrative.] .
Zephyr’s entry on “chance timing” shifted my focus towards another aspect of chance. While Lori’s piece focused on chance as a process of unfolding in the present time, Zephyr’s piece considers chance as a process of recursion [The video, by the way, managed to push so many buttons–dread, fear, happiness, regret, sadness–what an accomplishment.]. So often in life, our experience of the variable is not a process of unfolding as much as it’s an experience of reflection. What happened? What did I do? What might I have done? What should I have done? Chance is experienced is a process of reflection, in which we meditate upon how now might have been different. Or why now is the way it is.
To bring this back to Neruda’s “Ode to Broken Things” is a challenge. Thinking about Campbell’s Dickinson, for example, I might consider the fact that poet’s work is simply an expression of larger life experiences. I could write a fork in which Neruda’s poem doesn’t exist. Something never happened, he was never inspired, it was never written. Or, I could introduce an internal variable to the piece: A shift in attitude or a shift in narrative structure. Perhaps I could ditch the speaker’s apparent peace with the continual breakdown of things, and heap blame upon the “hands,” “girls,” “hips,” and “ankles.” I could turn the poem towards anxiety, frustration, and anger. Or, I could alter the proposed human action of the final stanza, “Let’s not put all our treasures together…” None of which makes a great deal of sense or sound particularly appealing.
But to reflect upon the piece might simply be enough—to cling to the writer’s commitments, because those are the only ones that we have. And, if I had to apply to look at how this insight might work in the field of new media, and I see it clearly addressed in MotionText Ferment by mIEKAL aND and CamillE BacoS. A combination of texts in a variety of formats drawn together to meditate on the notion of lost knowledge, dead languages, destroyed formats, and vanished cultures. From history’s dead ends, MotionText Ferment reaches for the living, as if to suggest that we are all just a hair’s breadth away from annihilation in this renewed era of burning books, cultural imperialism, war, and accelerated technological obsolescence. Here, things aren’t broken by “invisible deliberate smashers,” but by deliberate forces. In spite of this difference, both pieces are chances to see things differently. Neruda accomplishes this through his writing, mIEKAL aND and CamillE BacoS accomplish this through theirs. The strength of much good hypermedia spins on this potential to provoke reflection in readers—buttons, images, sounds, motion, time—all must function like words to promote this end.
And, to revisit the insights gained from Lori and Zephyr’s pieces, good hypermedia does not necessarily give us choices. It gives us depth. It allows us to experience richly. Sometimes this is accomplished through a nonlinear processes, sometimes through linearity, but they always seem to provide windows into the nonlinear, subjective realm of the reader’s reflection.