August 11, 2015
MarkBernstein.org
 
Follow me on Twitter

Let Go Of The Line

Let Go Of The Line

You are writing a short hypertext.

Your hypertext will be clear, coherent, and concise. You have something to say: stand up, speak up.

Tell everyone that you are busy. Find a comfortable place to write. Close the door if you think that will help. Be sure you have a good chair.

There was a link in the previous note. Perhaps you did not see it. You cannot see it. Only Italo Calvino and his readers can see it, but there it is. In hypertexts, there may be many kinds of links.

Each of these notes may contain an instruction worth hearing and weighing. Obedience is not required or expected. Rules about writing are made to be broken.

We are accustomed to writing a fixed line, one that we imagine will be read from its start to its end. Let go of old habits.

The reader is always thinking about what has been read, and about their reaction to it. The eye jumps ahead, the mind falls behind.

Some readers have always started in the middle, because this week’s assignment covers pages 113-184. Some start in the middle because they like it like that.

Coffee may help you focus. More coffee may help you focus more intensely. You may consider decaf. Consider scotch, but not too closely.

Multivalence is not a vice. One word may mean many things. Won’t you stay just a little bit longer?

Calligraphic hypertext uses links to connect notes together. Sculptural hypertext assumes that everything might be linked together; the writer adds constraints to remove connections.

You are a writer. You are writing a short hypertext. You write. You do not author. No man but a blockhead ever authored.

Links come in many varieties. The slow, static, blue and underlined links of the Web were a mistake. They are neither typical nor ideal. Respect them, but do not venerate them.

Storyspace introduced the valuable concept of the default link – the link the reader will follow if they have no immediate preference. The default link from a given place may change, depending on what you have read.

Do not think about the babysitter.

In Storyspace 3, if a note has no default link, the system looks for sculptural connections. Sculptural connections augment calligraphic link, offering a set of destinations, all connected to each other except where the author has removed the connection.

A set of sculptural links is like a shuffled deck of cards. The destination is the first playable card.

From time to time, we might tell the reader to swap the deck she’s reading (or that she’s exhausted) for a new deck. The young Aristotle exchanged the scroll he was reading for a new scroll.

In sculptural hypertext, a fresh deck signals a new chapter. Time has shifted, or circumstance. Everything has changed. You cannot go home again, not yet.

The link is the most important new punctuation since the invention of the comma in the late middle ages. There may have been a time, long ago, when you did not know enough about the comma.

You are not required to tell the reader when their deck has been swapped. If you wish, you may signal the shift by writing a transition that establishes a new place, a new topic, a new time, or a new voice.

If things don’t make sense, take care. Readers may suspend disbelief, but they always form theories. One theory holds that you are an incompetent bore.

Would you like another cup of coffee? You might consider the scotch. Or, you could bake some scones: they’ll be out of the oven in 17 minutes. Sometimes, when you are writing and young and merry, the dawn comes soon.

The link’s guard field is time’s winged chariot, always urging us to move along. Without guard fields, large hypertexts may feel encyclopedic, and large narratives may have trouble getting anywhere.

In the midst of sculptural hypertext, we find calligraphic links. A sculptural link takes us to the start of a calligraphic sequence – a dramatic dialogue, perhaps, that needs to be performed in a specific order.

In the midst of calligraphic links, we find sculptural interludes, tangles and split/joins where the writer can ease up and let the reader improvise and chance intervene. Eventually, a new calligraphic link restates the theme and returns us to the tonic key.

Cause and effect, call and response, point and counterpoint: constraints and calligraphy protect coherence.

See whether new sequences will work for your hypertext. You may find many paths through your thicket.

Four tourists are walking down a busy summer street in Ogunquit, Maine, past the boutiques and the bars and the organic bakeries. One of them asks another, “Say, is your husband out of jail yet?”

Closure is a suspect property.

“Stand up; speak up.” I said that before. I also told you to focus, to get comfortable, to close the door if you think that will help. Have you done as I asked? Don’t keep the door closed, and don’t keep your work in a drawer. The grave is another fine and private place.

Comic theorist Scott McCloud describes “closure” as the theory that viewers develop to explain a cinematic cut, to piece together two shots – shots that might have been performed months apart – into a continuous scene. The reader will create a theory; you cannot stop her.

The patience of the audience can be exhausted. It is greatest at the outset: they have come here for a story and they are inclined to let you tell it.

While you were trying to get through your college’s legendary reading load, a girl across the dorm hall used to shout, to no one in particular, that she really, really wanted to fuck but how would she ever find the time?

The patience of the audience may increase when the end is in sight. Even when it is not the end, a glimpse of the goal, the object of desire, can renew their patience.

Your readers may form theories to explain what you meant, even if what you said cannot be true. You may tell them what they once heard: they know they did not hear that, but they may nod, anyway.

You may fear that, if you let go of that line, you will fall, lose coherence, be lost to meaning. Your fear may be correct, but until you let go of that line, you will not know what lies beyond.