September 7, 2006

Critical Details

Critical Details

In her new Avatars of Story , Marie-Laure Ryan makes an interesting argument about Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl. Ryan sees Patchwork Girl as a link between Storyspace and the Web:

Patchwork Girl is one of the last major hypertexts written with Storyspace, and its general design hints at a departure from the complex labyrinths for which the Storyspace toolbox was conceived....The clear separation of the major constituents of the text, as well as the absence of hidden tricks in the linking strategy — no use is made of guard fields — allows for the type of goal-oriented navigation that we find in well-designed Internet Web sites. Abandoning the metaphor of the labyrinth so prominent in early Storyspace hypertexts, Patchwork Girl looks toward a narrative structure that will flourish under a new generation of computers systems [sic] and authoring programs: the structure of an open archive.

This sounds plausible, but it turns out to be wrong.

As it happens, I spent the morning working on a new edition of Patchwork Girl, using a new implementation of Storyspace. Recalling this passage, I asked Storyspace 2.5 to check for any guard fields in the hypertext. What do you know? Patchwork Girl has 18 guard fields:

us "revised"|"disguised"
Aftermath "revised"
Aftermath "disguised"
chancy "Aftermath"&"revised"
chancy "Aftermath"&"disguised"
chancy "disguised"
chancy "revised"
guises "disguised"
guises "revised"
an accident "revised"
an accident "disguised"
armadillo "revised"
armadillo "disguised"
fame "disguised"
fame "revised"
body ghosts "disguised"
body ghosts "revised"

This is a limited embrace of guard fields, to be sure, but guard fields are used, and they're used with some care. Without the argument about guard fields, the proposition falls aparts: Victory Garden has a Storyspace map that is even more clearly segmented than Patchwork Girl, and Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse actually is an open archive.

Ryan sees the Storyspace map as a route for access, but doesn't seem particularly interested in its metaphorical (or anti-metaphoric) role, the way its narrative limbs are stitched together around a tenuous core much as the protagonis herself is stitched together. The echo between the frontispiece and the Storyspace map has not been widely discussed, perhaps because it's obvious to everyone but me.

Critical Details
“My body is both insinuating and naive: moments of knowingness of art ... punctuate my abandonment.”

Unfortunately, Ryan seems not to have used Jill Walker's fine study of afternoon , which leads her to focus on that hypertext's apparent tangledness rather than on its underlying coherence. Patchwork Girl is more lightly linked than many hypertexts (for which see my "Storyspace I" in Proc. Hypertext 02), but the early Quibbling is also lightly linked.

Who is writing the next major hypertext written with Storyspace?