Follow me on Twitter

No Interruptions

Last week I cited the 1988 Dryden Minifesto, TINAC’s fascinating 1988 proposal for a new way to write. There’s a lot to be learned from TINAC – lessons we never quite assimilated, lessons we forgot, lessons we only half mastered.

The very first statement seems puzzling today:

I) No interruptions.

Reading should be a seamless and uninterrupted experience. Its choices proceed from the expression of possibilities as a narrative medium and depend upon the complicity of the reader in the creation of a narrative. Reading is design enacted.

We might object, for example, that hypertexts – including the wonderful work the TINAC people were doing – is full of interruptions, since it’s broken up into screens or lexias or pages and since, in a hypertext, you need to choose a link. On a more theoretical plane, “seamless and uninterrupted” sounds like Gardner’s “perfluent dream” of immersive fiction. But Gardner extols the perfluent dream to oppose metafiction, the self-reflective manner of postmodernism, and early TINAC work seems to abound in metafiction. What can this mean?

Puzzled, I asked the authors. Nancy Kaplan was under the weather (feel better!), but the rest wrote fascinating replies.

John McDaid answers that “When you click and zap somewhere, as an anthropologist, you are inclined to say, aha, interruption. But the emic experience of the reader as she traverses that link is one of flow. This was, to me, no different in kind from a cut in film. No one but theorists says that a film is discontinuous because we cut to a closeup.”

Michael Joyce recalls that “In writing afternoon I was obsessed with having it read seamlessly in the way books did and which Gardner was neither the first nor last (me too) to overvalue.” In afternoon, links are not underlined or blue or frames, and nearly every word yields to the click. “They all (with a few planned and significant exceptions) were links.” Joyce also calls attention to the concluding sentence,

Reading is design enacted.

“There,” he writes, “we truly were way ahead of the curve in setting a standard by which almost all current interfaces fall short, as well as our own.”

Stuart Moulthrop responded with a new manifesto, fragmenting the stricture against interruptions into a twelve step embrace. He recalls that, in 1988, he was anxious to move the reader’s focus from the command line back into the narrative. “I liked afternoon because it moved interaction cues (clickable words) into the narrative discourse, rather than interposing a command line.” He has since recanted; “Interruptions are just fine, thanks. So are in-your-face interfaces.” Stuart also recalls Nancy Kaplan’s insistence that it’s impossible to read immersively anyway, that you’re always arguing with the author. (Even “real life” isn’t as immersive as the holodeck: Job’s question is always with us.) Moulthrop also raises interesting questions about the status of the tablet, “made not revealed, one among all the Moores allowed by Law.”

Stuart’s seventh point is an important lesson for all who write about new media:

This is not about computers.  It's about books.  Books won't die, and the world will always welcome novels, backlit or otherwise.  I've found that a tendency to attack anything that doesn't look like a book or a novel (or the sorts of novels one writes) appears in inverse proportion to belief in the previous sentence.