December 6, 2017

Speak To The Yet Unknowing World

(Adapted from section 7 of “Some Moral Questions Concerning Story In Immersive Hypertext Narrative”)

The essence of hypertext fiction is multilinearity: as Oz’s Scarecrow once told us, some go this way, others that way, and some prefer to go both ways. Multilinearity offers important opportunities, but has also evoked plentiful anxiety lest coherence or authorial intention (if it exists) be compromised.

Hypertext’s threat to coherence has always been more a symptom of resentment of Critical Theory than a practical concern, but a related moral hazard has not been widely remarked: free and knowing navigation ought to be constrained by our duty. An important innovation in Seneca’s version of The Trojan Women—a play composed some five centuries after Euripides’—is the sacrifice of Polyxena, a young girl assigned by the victorious Greeks to be the bride of the dead Achilles and who is therefore to be sent to his shade in Hades. In my hypertextual school story Those Trojan Girls, Polly Xena is the head girl of a private boarding school, situated in a recently occupied third-world country. Like Polyxena, Polly is not the hero of the tale but her trial and execution are a fulcrum around which much revolves and a crucial reminder that school, to kids, is deadly serious. The matter requires care: we are, after all, imagining the judicial murder of a child. In the hypertext, the episode might be approached by different readers through differing paths. It might be dramatized in various ways or reported by various messengers. But attention must be paid; it is not the structural center of the story but, in decency, we cannot simply omit it.