A Node Is Still A Node Is Still A Node


If I were to start this by a citation it would come from an old R.E.M song: itís amazing what devices you can sympathize... I guess what bothers me the most whenever Iím talking about hypertext is the fact that a node is still a node is still a node. It doesnít change in time and thereís not much movement inside it. Itís like any other place left behind by a neutron bomb.
So as a writer and a programmer-Neanderthal Iím in desperate need of temporal and kinetic plug-ins slightly more refined than the rhythmically easily too monotonous client-pull or server-push or banners and marquees that are far too conspicuous to be able to produce subtle and almost imperceptible effects.  I know I really should blame myself for my sad situation but knowing itís shared by most fiction writers in this world, somehow all the other options seem to feel more attractive. But letís restart all this from somewhere completely different and let the constraints grow more paralyzing while I move from the problems that were easy to solve to those that should be easy to solve.
†† My work in progress is titled Interface which is a digital novel in three movements. In its first phase Interface combines private letters, e-mail and a web site to the book on the last pages of which readers are confronted with at least ten sets of options. They may select sections or nodes to be removed or replaced, expanded, variated and combined. They can also increase the proportion of any character, story or theme and add new characters, dead or alive, real or fictional, as well as new happenings or actions. They can manage this all by themselves or let me do the job for a small fee. The results over which I exercise the sole linking power are then transferred to the web except when some reader wants to keep my unique supplement to Interface to himself, that is, as an unpublished private letter.
†† When more and more of Interface was dragged, dropped and deformed into the Web there were one guiding principle above all the others and that was not to link the obvious. In other words readers need to realize that there still exist connections and relations which canít be shown by links and linking.
†† Within a few months from now, right after the time for mail and e-mail orders is finally up; the full scale Interface web will be launched. Little later it will be accompanied by a slightly different arrangement of the same material designed to function as a discussion group. That way the dual ontology of my project can continue and multiply. So far so good, no problems anywhere except a few legal ones discovered during the trial run. They all relate to the advanced textonic possibilities for defamation or slander, but they can and will be solved, I think.
†† In any case the web version also serves as a sort of a testing ground for the final version of Interface which shall find its way into a floppy disk or cd-rom within the next two years if the efforts of my programmer friends are to bear any fruit. So at this point of time, I can just sit back and relax while waiting for my order to be delivered. Thatís the game plan and now back to the constraints of time, movement, genre and interface which have forced me to join some kind of a digital OuLiPo against my will.       
†† Letís restart once again with the (user) interface and its most typical problem which is the one that it usually gives little if any qualitative information about the hypertext at hand. As an author I might very well know that the choices offered in a particular situation are far from trivial but thatís simply not enough. I decided there really should be better ways to persuade and guide a reader than to show her a series of maps, charts or little boxes with little arrows. Thatís one reason why there will be at least three different and mutually exclusive menus available
in the Interface web.  The other reason behind this policy is the necessity to remind every reader that there are always more than just one or two ways to organize an archive or, as in this case, a story and discourse -store.
†† The coherence menu is meant to help the reader especially when she gets bored or excited, or things seem to happen too fast or too slowly or when the text doesnít feel to be simple or complex enough. This menu allows you to choose among and move between the four different user functions recently described by Espen Aarseth in his Cybertext. Each function is indicated by its own colour code but those wonít be entirely reliable when followed. Almost whenever you move to the textonic level you will be confronted with an empty node where an e-mail box will open as if you wish to contribute something. Should you need assistance the correspondence menu will be available. It specifies the type of your contribution and lets you have four options.††† You can connect Interface either to other fictions, real events or your own fantasies or associations whatever they may be, or you can use structurally more accurately defined expansion slots. All the aforementioned possibilities are within readers reach also in the configurative mode with the exception that there any contribution may be wiped out and overwritten by the next eager contributor. So there might be some kind of an on-line vote going on from time to time.
†† Secondly, thereís the pleasure menu that lets you to choose what kind of a reader you really are or wish to be this time: hysterical, obsessive, paranoid or fetishist. You are treated according to what(ever) Roland Barthes once said about the connections between the reading neurosis and the hallucinated form of the text. Maybe there should also be client pull features available for masochists and a psychotic omnipotent user function for those who are drawn towards
traditional authorial positions.
†† Thirdly, there is the narratological menu, a forerunner of sorts to the hydraulic-narratological timetable presently under construction. In the web version it has remarkable similarities with the pleasure menu. They are both operating simultaneously at three levels. First, they help the reader to situate herself and give her at least an illusion of nontrivial choices. On the other hand they are not entirely trustworthy because they both guide and misguide at the same time which is to say that they function just the way all the other self-conscious textual elements do - that is by creating, developing, directing, disturbing and destroying suppositions and notions of meaningful hunting and gathering -sessions or provisional textual wholes. Their third function is to circumscribe and anticipate possible theoretical invasions and colonisations. In short they are out there to produce a parody of errors. Yes, there should definitely be a deconstructive set too, full of those generous quasi-transcendental concepts - just to pull the hype out of hypertext theory.
In the final version these menus have to include at least three more functions. Any reader at any point of her reading would be allowed to stabilize certain intratextual relations: that is f. ex. to choose the frame story, to decide what narrator is to be held reliable and whoís speaking even if these things are in principle left aporetically undecided. And perhaps sheíll even be able to decide whether to move forward in the rhythm of ellipsisī, summaries, scenes, stretches or pauses. But for these purposes much more advanced software is needed because these decisions would immediately affect every other part of the text too. But I shall come back to this a bit later.†††

†† And fourthly if you are really lucky you might find a node which allows you to search for the appearances of certain characters or narrators. Itís not impossible that they might also be available for an IRC session at least once a week.
†† I honestly believe that hypertext needs more ways to strike back than just the postponing or denying an access to some node. Thatís why Iíve always liked the idea that the reader will no longer have all the time in the world. Or maybe Iím just a little tired of telling and describing situations in which decisions are to be made quickly if they are to be made at all - I would like to be able to just show this  by controlling and timing the responses of readers. Thatís what quality time means to me.
†† To give you a more concrete example one of the 12 major storylines of Interface deals with a group of activists or terrorists, if you like, and their rather devious plan to cause a very profitable nationwide panic by serious media manipulation. So thereís a definite war going on between different stories and various interest groups behind them. They all are struggling for time, space and credibility. Now, if the reader is incapable of deciding what is irrelevant and what is not, this should affect his positions and possibilities within this story world. Some nodes or parts of nodes may have been lost or destroyed for good or in any case they are to be viewed in the process of deforming. Itís all about time and timing and the almost ever-changing nodes can be reached either too soon, too late, or just in time. And if you doubt nothing and buy everything, you are finally left with the official story or the end of story. No nerve gas there, never.
†† Likewise it would be nice to find a kind of Karma Police at work inside the digital fiction monitoring, evaluating and translating the actions and decisions of the reader and making sure they will have consequences. Iíve been told that proper devices could easily be borrowed from the realm of various computer game industries. If this is really the case then the real question is not the hybrid one of how can we do this but rather the all too human one of why should we. So Iíd better explain the need to construct this hydraulic-narratological timetable.
†† For starters I would like some nodes to oscillate between different positions, voices, styles and genders, which presuppose that I must have means to set even the smallest linguistic details in motion. If Iím able to do this then Iím not just interfering with the rhythm of reading but also with the processes and possibilities of identification and recognition. And only then every node will truly be its own non-identical twin.
†† Behind this there lies the question of the psychopathology of everyday reading which has traditionally been a sort of out-of-limits area for writers. The defences and resistances to controversial material are still to be left intact. However, things could rapidly change in this respect if it were possible to control the duration and movement of the smallest textual units: letters, syllables, words. Even one letter could be meaningful in itself when endowed with the capacity to change, multiply, trade places and disappear and reappear in a complex and unpredictable rhythm. As easily, any word could be turned to its anagrams and back again and some kind of Freudian Schreber-machine should be there to contradict and manipulate subjects, verbs, objects and other parts of speech. Wouldnít you like to watch a screen where the puns of Finnegans Wake will break into their multilingual constituent words?
All this is needed before the options given to a reader can radically be diversified, that is before her choices can affect every textual level of hypertext. Or to put it in another way: before hypertext will become a hydraulic machine that surrounds its readers like water. Then, in that perfect story world, every node would have its own time not necessarily in synch with the time of its readers. Thank you for your time. 

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