Wednesday, February 27, 2008

a very very very rough draft - midterm project

Reading a hypertext novel was probably one of the most confusing texts I have ever tried to read. A hypertext does not follow a set sequence of events; rather it tells a bit of a story here and gives a few details there. I chose to read Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, which is a hypertext that uses images, stories and details to tell part of a story. Patchwork Girl was inspired by The Patchwork Girl of Oz, by L. Frank Baum in 1913, and also by Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley in 1818. There are many different aspects from this novel that relate to topics we have discussed in class. I have found that I can explain how this novel fits into both the narrative and interactive technologic realms. It also relates is some ways to the Choose Your Own Adventure books we have been discussing.

First thing’s first; explaining what a hypertext is. A hypertext contains links that can take you to an array of images, texts, music, or whatever else the author wishes to include. A hypertext is not like your typical novel. It incorporates links and connections that spiderweb throughout the novel. Just in the title page alone of Patchwork Girl, Jackson includes links to specific parts of the novel. Just by clicking on a word, you are transferred to another part of the story. The links on the title page include a graveyard, a journal, a quilt, a story, and broken accents. In all, Patchwork Girl contains 323 lexias and 462 links. Needless to say, it is hard to keep track of what you have and have not read. One reason I found it so difficult to read was because there was no right or wrong way of reading the story. You have to piece parts of the story together as your read.

The next task is to give a short background description of Patchwork Girl. An understanding of the story is essential in understanding anything else I may say. After reading through the hypertext a few times, I was still confused about the storyline, so I had to look up reviews. I found that Shelley Jackson actually incorporates parts of Frankenstein and The Patchwork Girl of Oz. In actuality, Patchwork Girl was supposed to be Frankenstein’s female companion. While being made, she was destroyed but Mary Shelley finished her in secrecy. In Baum’s novel, Patchwork Girl is made of cloth, buttons, pearls, etc. She is brought to life by a magician that sprinkles magical powders into her head that constitute as a brain. Jackson depicts patchwork girl as being made of human parts. This is explained when you use the link that takes you to “a graveyard.” You are taken through the creation of Patchwork Girl piece by piece. You learn who her body parts come from and this gives her some sort of identity. Patchwork Girl is lost throughout the whole story and searching for her true identity, for the only memories she has are the memories of her creator, Mary Shelley. She is described as a “monster” for the most part with no sense of self. One specific memory she recalls is how she got the scar on her leg. She received a piece of skin from Mary Shelley so that they would always be a part of each other. As the story progresses, so does Patchwork Girl, mostly mentally. She eventually travels to the United States to find her original creator, Mary Shelley.

As I was researching Patchwork Girl to get a better understanding of the novel, I came across a website in which someone made a PowerPoint presentation that explained the novel and also related hypertexts to many things we have talked about in class. They related hypertexts to interactive technology, old text-based games, like Zork, and Choose Your Own Adventure novels. Just as in a CYOA, the reader must be directly interacting with the story in a hypertext. You must choose what link you want to go to next. In some cases, you must choose how Patchwork Girl’s life will turn out.

As defined in class, a narrative is a representation of an event or a series of events. A narrative doesn’t necessarily have to tell a complete story. It could be in the form of an explanation, such as in the link to “a graveyard.” While navigating through the graveyard, you find mostly explanations and details about where Patchwork Girl’s body parts came from. The rest of the hypertext takes you through a series of events in which you learn about Patchwork Girl’s creator, their memories, and her trip to the United States. Patchwork Girl is a narrative in every sense, a confusing one, but nonetheless a narrative.

Technology plays a huge role in Patchwork Girl. Obviously, it is a hypertext. You need a computer just to be able to read the story. By using technology instead of just writing a typical novel, the reader can become more engaged in the process. In the circumstances of hypertexts, the reader is automatically forced to interact with the story. Although you may not actually be in the position of feeling like a character in the story, like in CYOA’s, you must still choose the link you want to go to next. You have to unfold the story yourself in whatever order seems fit. This ties in the interactive feature of the novel. No matter how much I dislike the game Zork, I can still find a way to tie it in here. Zork and Patchwork Girl are related in a sense in that I think they are both interactive narratives. They are very different concepts; Zork is a game, and Patchwork Girl is a hypertext novel. They are similar because, in both situations you have to choose what path you want to take next. In Zork, you type in a command to tell your character where to go next, and in Patchwork Girl you simply pick the link you want to go to next.

One specific part came to mind when reading this novel that immediately made me think of CYOA’s. Instead of choosing the adventure for yourself as if you are the character, you get to choose Patchwork Girl’s fate. When Patchwork Girl finally gets to the United States, the reader has the choice of either letting her have a “happily ever after” ending, or you can choose a more dismal ending in which she remains viewed as a monster. If you choose the monster fate for Patchwork Girl, she arrives in America with the notion that no one has to feel like, or be treated as a monster. She eventually alienates herself from people and rejects anything that may be slightly unusual to her, thus leaving her life miserable and lonely. If you chose to give Patchwork Girl her “happily ever after” ending she comes to terms with the world. She realizes that everything in the world is monstrous in its own way and she is able to find love. She finally finds a sense of self and identity. I guess you could say that Patchwork Girl can be a Choose Her Own Adventure novel if you choose to view it that way.

I found it very interesting that I could connect this one novel to so many different things that we have discussed in class.

This is a very very rough draft. I saw something interesting online that related Patchwork Girl to “A Cyborg Manifesto.” Maybe after getting a better idea in class about “A Cyborg Manifesto” I could relate that in there too.

I also wanted to be able to add some images her Patchwork Girl herself, and some of the maps that they give so that everyone can have some sense of what I am talking about in here. I don’t know how to make links for that, so I’ll need a little help!


Adam Johns said...

You are providing a range of responses to Patchwork Girl here: you contextualize it with uncited research (cite the sources you're using! Always!), briefly summarize some aspects of it, and then sketch out several ways in which it relates to our class.

I agree that it's rough, maybe for different reasons than you find it to be rough. Here's my question: why does any of this matter? You're not trying to argue anything here - you're not saying that we _should_ understand PG in a certain way, or that it helps us read CYOAs in a different way, or that it shows why interactivity is a good/bad thing. In all fairness, you begin to show that you _could_ do some of these things, but you aren't really doing it yet.

What you need, first and foremost, is focus. What interests you about PG? Here's one possible starting point from your draft: "Although you may not actually be in the position of feeling like a character in the story, like in CYOA’s, you must still choose the link you want to go to next. You have to unfold the story yourself in whatever order seems fit."

If you have a central idea, this is it, but it's not in the form of an argument. Is this a good or bad thing that we "must choose the link you want to go to next"? What does it accomplish that a conventional narrative or, say, a CYOA couldn't? Work that out through examples from PG - what in the text itself interests you? It's a problem that you rely more on other people's uncited responses to PG than to your own response - why is that?

My tendency is to think that you aren't responding directly to PG because you find it annoying and confusing - but if this is the case, you need to either work through that annoyance and confusion or pick another project.

_First_, you need a thesis - or else you need to write explicitly in order to discover one, and then begin your real project there.

One Last Caress said...

I'm confused about what you are trying to do. You're not really doing anything other than summarizing your experiences with hypertext novels (and a brief relation to some texts in the class).

Please excuse my crudeness; I'm wondering if you're interested in what you're doing.

You are obviously bored/frustrated with Patchwork Girl.

"Perhaps the true paradigmatic work of the era, Shelley Jackson's elegantly designed, beautifully composed Patchwork Girl offers the patient reader, if there are any left in the world, just such an experience of losing oneself to a text, for as one plunges deeper and deeper into one's own personal exploration of the relations here of creator to created and of body to text, one never fails to be rewarded and so is drawn ever deeper, until clicking the mouse is as unconscious an act as turning a page, and much less constraining, more compelling."
-- Robert Coover

Could Patchwork Girl be written effectively in any other form? PWG goes along with many of the themes we've explored in class: what's reality, what's living, what's human... so on and so forth.

One Last Caress said...

Also make a solid opinion. Don't be afraid to say something. Find something that provokes you about this work... or something about it you really hate. It's hard to write about something you're not passionate about.