August 14, 2015
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Sabbat

This Twine story of transformation begins unpromisingly with the question, “first things first witchdumpling what’s in your drawers • vagina • penis • what’s it to ya.” This is obviously problematic. Who is being addressed? Does the answer matter? What happened to the punctuation? Does the writer have so little faith in their ability to command the reader’s identification with the protagonist – in a story written in second person present tense, no less – that they can’t get past your underwear? After all, they’ll shortly be writing this:

> look around your apartment

what a mess, dishes fill the sink, hair covers the floor. the air is hazy and sharp from the cloud of poison misery that smothers the city outside, the air conditioning unit rattles and whines, and the old tv set softly mumbles static.

But dishes don’t fill the sink. There is no sink. I’m reading this in my office. (The air conditioner might take the edge off the city haze; why include it? If we don’t have a dishwasher, maybe we don’t have an air conditioner either.) I can get past all this: I can imagine the sink, I can imagine the dishes. I can imagine being the sort of girl who is about to summon the elder gods to her dingy Staten Island walkup: I’d better be able to imagine that, because it’s that kind of story.

Of course, things are not that simple. The author is (or might be) transexual; the whole question of “what’s in your drawers” matters to them. I’m not sure that ritual transformation into a demonic supernatural being is really the ideal way to explore that question, but what do I know? Eva Problems is also seriously interested in Milton, which is a good thing, but here is chiefly concerned with the meeting between Satan and Sin (his daughter and former lover) and Death (their illegitimate son). (II 629-884)

The one seem'd Woman to the waste, and fair,

But ended foul in many a scaly fould

Voluminous and vast, a Serpent arm'd

With mortal sting: about her middle round

A cry of Hell Hounds never ceasing bark'd

With wide Cerberian mouths full loud, and rung

A hideous Peal: yet, when they list, would creep,

If aught disturb'd thir noyse, into her woomb,

And kennel there, yet there still bark'd and howl'd

Within unseen.

I came late to Milton (via His Dark Materials) and he’s great at his best, and Book II is Milton’s best. Still, Homer nods, and young Shakespeare sometimes chimes, and Milton is inclined to go overboard, and if there’s one episode where he loses his head entirely, this is it.

But if there’s something to take away from Milton here, it’s the ancient morning prayer: “Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast not made me a woman.” Which makes Eva Problems’ focus on the passage particularly interesting, but that’s a discussion we don’t get to have.

There’s an inventive hypertext trapped in Sabbat and trying to get out. You see hints of it in the finished work, gestures like the end where an attack on capitalism (and perhaps a defense of Stalinist ruthlessness?) seems rushed and unreflective. Almost all the links are story choices, asking what you want to do now, and most of the rest are inconsequential.