Hypertext is Bad WritingPosted: April 7, 2009
This is where I start to make some sense of Patchwork Girl: Jackson’s interest in hypertext writing as a resistance not just to traditional views of narrative or novel, but to conventional definitions of writing as such. In “Stitch Bitch” (I am reading ahead for next week, but also following up connections that Hayles makes in “Flickering Connectivities”; Hayles cites this as well) Jackson connects her understanding of the feminine, “banished body” at work in hypertext and at play in her novel with “what we learned to call bad writing.” So hypertext is a kind of writing that traditional (masucline) literature has edited out: a body and its loose aggregations.
This suggests to me that we are supposed to spend our time looking at this body (and multiplicitous embodiment) of writing; and are greatly helped in resisting the tendency to look through it, which is to say, look past it. She goes on to use the word ‘composite’; think how this resides in ‘composition.’
Hayles, in her analysis of the novel and in her contextualizing of its interest in 18th century discussions of authorship and copyright, provides a rationale for understanding the body of writing and the body of bodies. She connects Jackson’s interest in the (multiple) bodies of her text (author, character, novel, computer) to her argument for media specific analysis: it matters, Hayles asserts, which textual bodies we are dealing with when we write and read. Jackson goes even further: the bodies we write and read with matter as well.
I am curious, reader. Do you also view bad writing as bodily–as those elements of your writing that are in some way too physical, in need of surgery? Do you think, as Jackson seems to think, that we read with a body I wonder, certainly, where this finds us: we, in a composition and literature course, working on our writing and reading. And I wonder, I speculate, that engaging Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, with better attention to this sense, these senses, of an embodiment of writing and reading, will allow us to make more sense of the text. I would suggest that this way of making sense is one version of what Hayles means by “cyborg reading practices.” This is not about becoming plugged in, as in the cyborg of film; it is to recognize that we already are. In other words, I think much of what we experience today with ‘web 2.0’ (as it has been called), the read-write capability of many digital applications and sites, can be likened to the characteristics of bad writing as traditionally viewed.
And, Birkerts, in his use of ‘process’ as a pejorative, as something that good writing should not reveal, would agree. See my next posting: process and privacy.
So, if you think Patchwork Girl is in some form bad writing and are having difficulties with it, you might be on to something.
By the way, for those interested, here is an electronic copy of Baum’s Patchwork Girl of Oz, one of the many sources/intertexts/bodies that are taken up in Jackson’s composite. [thanks to Joannafor the reference] There is an original copy in the Sophie Kerr room, if you want to browse through it.
Also, here is an excerpt from an interview with Shelley Jackson, when she has a print book of stories come out after Patchwork Girl. Notice how she is not attached to any particular medium–and also notice how she seems to want a collective writing experience (contrast with Birkerts on privacy).
You are somewhat well-known in the world of electronic literature for your work, The Patchwork Girl. How does it feel to have a book of stories out, something that, while not necessarily read front-to-back, is very different from a hypertext* work?
* [Hypertext literature is kind of like reading on the web, where the narrative structure is defined by reader (rather than the writer) and the act of reading and following links.]
Oddly, it feels kind of hypertextual. It would scarcely be in keeping with the shifty nature of hypertext to maintain a fanatical attachment to one medium, even if that medium was hypertext. I feel dispersed, but in a cheerful and intentional way, like one of those spiders who let their offspring set out on the wind on little silk parachutes.
What media do you find most satisfying (or dissatisfying) to work in?
I like black ballpoint pen in narrow lined college notebooks. Is that what you meant? I am a faithless but passionate person, and I love all my trades. Though I have to confess that I sometimes think writing a novel is an absurd and doomed enterprise, much too much work for one person to do alone. You really ought to get a group of friends together with sandwiches and beer and sleeping bags and put it together over a long weekend.