On Narrative Closure
In “How Do I Stop This Thing?”: Closure and Indeterminacy in Interactive Narratives [Douglas, 1987], J. Yellowlees Douglas investigates spatial form in hypertextual literature by drawing upon Frank’s ideas of spatial form and nonlinearity and its translation into hypermedia. Douglas notes spatial form’s navigation through parallel levels of collapsed time by indicating the similarities between Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and Michael Joyce’s WOE — Or a Memory of What Will Be [Joyce 1991]. In WOE, Joyce employs a memory map on the screen, illustrating the schematic relations of the narrative lexia or media chunks of the story. As Douglas notes, there are discontinuities in WOE that lead the reader to question the meaning of the text. For example, the indeterminacy of narrator and character is evident through unspecified characters, as, for example, when one portion of the text identifies an indeterminate woman as “not Filly”, as she wears a perfume that smells good on Filly. As with Proust, characters come and go, and sometimes one is not entirely sure what the sequencing of the narrative is. Douglas draws parallels between WOE as hypernovel and Proustian nonlinearity by equating the lexia of the hypernovel to Proust’s navigation of layers of time. This nonlinearity, Douglas states, creates a cycled “rereading” in hypermedia that calls into question the nature of closure. The reader/user in a hypertext novel can try to find the end, may wander around for a while, and perhaps never attain any sense of closure at all.
This indeterminacy of closure is also evident in hypermedia literary works like Mark Amerika’s Grammatron [Amerika, 1997] and Scott Rettberg’s The Unknown [Rettberg, et al. 2002]. Grammatron, Mark Amerika states, consists of “over 1100 text spaces, 2000 links, and 40+ minutes of original soundtrack” [Amerika, 1997], hinting at the abyss of lexia, and the statistical impossibility of closure by virtue of Grammatron’s scope. Golam’s sprawling cyber-erotic adventures based around the Grammatron Project, a metaphor for the author’s ambitions, whose mission is stated as:
…to project his, Golam’s, creative work to as many different people as possible over the Net and to have all of these different people pay him as many credits as they could cough up to help support his habit which, it ends up, was nothing more than continually pursuing his projects. [Amerika, 1997]
To sum up, Golam (an obvious analog for “golem”, or avatar) is in a Gordian knot of chasing his goals of infinite recognition through net.stardom, that will fund the work and enable him to chase his dreams some more. Therefore, Amerika erects a hyperlinked wilderness of mirrors or, as Golam states, “meaning.” “I’m Abe Golam, an old man. I drove a sign to the end of the road and then I got lost. Find me.” The problem is that Golam seems to have lost his way, and cannot tell you how he got where he is; in effect, he is leading the reader into his own recursive web. Grammatron exhibits a structural imposition that necessitates a Proustian wandering and “re-reading” that specifies a non-linear spatial form as per Frank. One question that arises is whether spatial form, (in hypermedia or in text as we have seen with Proust and James Joyce) is defined by the challenge of closure, i.e., defined by that form’s potential of infinite wandering? Perhaps, but Rettberg, et al. offer an interesting solution to the spatial hypernovel by introducing a narrative indexing narrative in The Unknown.
In The Unknown, Scott Rettberg and collaborators extend the spatial form into a playful conceit of claiming it as the “Great American Hypertext Novel” [Rettberg et al, 2002], echoing Amerika’s assertion that Grammatron is “the most widely accessed hypertext on the World Wide Web”. But The Unknown, unlike Grammatron, is one aspect of a larger lexial constellation. Using the graphic conceit of a color index inspired by the Chicago mass transit system, it posits that The Unknown is not just a hypermedia novel, but a larger oeuvre, including related correspondence, live readings, and art. This reminds one of Foucault’s What is an Author? [Foucault, 1977], in which he asks what constitutes an authorial work. How mundane can a “piece” be to be considered a work? Could Kafka’s laundry list be considered a work? Could all the ephemera, events, as well as the hypertext of The Unknown, be considered “the work” by virtue of its inclusion or is it just web documentation? Given our discussion of spatial form and hypernarrative, it would seem logical to say yes, but this further questions the notion of closure in spatial form. This includes not only closure in reading, but also an indeterminacy of closure relating to production. Although this points towards the Wiki, I would like to take a moment to consider historical precedents to hypertext and collectively editable texts.