Hayles: Flickering Connectivities in Patchwork Girl

Flickering Connectivities in Shelley Jackson’s
Patchwork Girl: The Importance of Media-Specific

N. Katherine Hayles
University of California Los Angeles

© 2000 N. Katherine Hayles.
All rights reserved.

1. Five hundred years of print have made the conventions of the
book transparent to us.[1] It takes something like Sol Lewitt’s
Squares with the Sides and Corners Torn Off to bring into
visibility again the convention of the page.[2] The pages
display black squares, centered with white margins, that indeed
have their corners torn. But the sides appear to be
intact–until we realize that the square in question is not the
black image but the entire page, cropped during production. For
some time now writers and artists working in the medium of
artist books have delighted in arranging such jolts of surprise,
exploring, transgressing, and exploding the conventions of the
book while still retaining enough “bookishness” to make clear
they remain within its traditions, even as they redefine and
expand what “book” means. Their work reminds us how important it
is to engage the specificity of media.

2. The long reign of print has induced a kind of somnolence in
literary and critical studies, a certain inattentiveness to the
diverse forms in which “texts” appear. Literary criticism and
theory are shot through with unrecognized assumptions specific
to print. Only now, as the new medium of electronic textuality
vibrantly asserts its presence, are these clearly coming into
view. Re-reading Roland Barthes’s influential essay “From Work
to Text,” I am struck both by its presceince and by how far we
have moved beyond it. As Jay David Bolter and George Landow have
pointed out, Barthes’s description of “text,” with its
dispersion, multiple authorship, and rhizomatic structure,
uncannily anticipates electronic hypertext (Bolter, Writing
Space; Landow, Hypertext). “The metaphor of the Text is that of
the network,” Barthes writes (61). Yet at the same time he can
also assert that “the text must not be understood as a
computable object,” computable here meaning limited, finite,
bound, able to be reckoned (57). Written twenty years before the
advent of the microcomputer, his essay stands in the ironic
position of anticipating what it cannot anticipate. It calls for
a movement away from works to texts, a movement so successful
that the word “text” has become ubiquitous in literary
discourse, almost completely displacing the more specific term
“book.” Yet Barthes’s vision remains rooted in print culture,
for he defines the text through its differences from books, not
through its similarities with electronic textuality. In urging
the use of “text,” Barthes was among those who helped initiate
semiotic and performative approaches to discourse. But this
shift has entailed loss as well as gain. Useful as
poststructuralist approaches have been in enabling textuality to
expand beyond the printed page, they have also had the effect of
eliding differences in media, treating everything from fashion
to fascism as a semiotic system. Perhaps now, after the
linguistic turn has yielded so many important insights, it is
time to turn again to a careful consideration of what difference
the medium makes.

3. In calling for medium-specific analysis, I do not mean to
suggest that media should be considered in isolation from one
another. Quite the contrary. As Jay David Bolter and Richard
Grusin have shown in Remediation, media constantly engage in a
recursive dynamic of imitating each other, incorporating aspects
of competing media into themselves while simultaneously
flaunting the advantages their own forms of mediation offer.
Voyager’s now-defunct line of “Expanded Books,” for example,
went to the extreme of offering readers an option that made the
page as it was imaged on screen appear dog-eared. Another
function inserted a paper clip at the top of the screenic page,
which itself was programmed to look as much as possible like
print. On the other side of the screen, many print texts are now
imitating electronic hypertexts. These range from DeLillo’s
Underworld to Bolter and Grusin’s Remediation, which
self-consciously pushes the book form toward hypertext through
arrows that serve as visual indications of hypertextual links.
Media-specific analysis attends both to the specificity of the
form–the fact that the Voyager paper clip is an image rather
than a piece of bent metal–and to citations and imitations of
one medium in another. Attuned not so much to similarity and
difference as to simulation and instantiation, media-specific
analysis (MSA) moves from the language of “text” to a more
precise vocabulary of screen and page, digital program and
analogue interface, code and ink, mutable image and durably
inscribed mark, texton and scripton, computer and book.

4. In the spirit of MSA, I propose the following game. Using only
the characteristics of the digital computer, what is it possible
to say about electronic hypertext as a literary medium? The
point of this game is to disallow all references to the content
or operation of electronic hypertexts, although naturally these
would be important in any full-scale literary analysis.
Restricting ourselves to the medium alone, how far is it
possible to go? This kind of analysis is artificial in that it
deliberately forbids itself access to the full repertoire of
literary reading strategies, but it may nevertheless prove
illuminating about what difference the medium makes. Following
these rules, I am able to score the following eight points.

5. Point One: Electronic Hypertexts Are Dynamic Images. In the
computer the signifier exists not as a durably inscribed flat
mark but as a screenic image produced by layers of code
precisely correlated through correspondence rules. Even when
electronic hypertexts simulate the appearance of durably
inscribed marks, they are transitory images that need to be
constantly refreshed to give the illusion of stable endurance
through time.

6. Point Two: Electronic Hypertexts Include Both Analogue
Resemblance and Digital Coding. The digital computer is not,
strictly speaking, entirely digital. At the most basic level of
the computer are electronic polarities, which are related to the
bit stream through the analogue correspondence of morphological
resemblance. Higher levels of code use digital correspondence,
for example in the rules that correlate the compiler language
with a programming language like C++ or Lisp. Analogue
resemblance typically reappears at the top level of the screenic
image, for example in the desktop icon of a trash barrel. Thus
digital computers have an Oreo-like structure with an analogue
bottom, a frothy digital middle, and an analogue top.[3]

7. Point Three: Electronic Hypertexts Are Generated Through
Fragmentation and Recombination. As a result of the frothy
digital middle of the computer’s structure, fragmentation and
recombination are intrinsic to the medium. These textual
strategies can of course also be used in print texts, for
example in Raymond Queneau’s Cent mille milliards de poemes. But
unlike print, digital texts cannot escape fragmentation, which
is deeper, more pervasive, and more extreme than with the
alphanumeric characters of print.

8. Point Four: Electronic Hypertexts Have Depth and Operate in
Three Dimensions. Digital coding and analogue resemblance each
have specific advantages. Analogue resemblance allows
information to be translated between two differently embodied
material instantiations, as when a sound wave is translated into
the motion of a vibrating diaphragm of a microphone. Whenever
two material entities interact, analogue resemblance is likely
to come into play because it allows one form of continuously
varying information to be translated into a similarly shaped
informational pattern in another medium. Once this translation
has taken place, digital coding is used to transform the
continuity of morphological form into numbers (or other discrete
codes). Intrinsic to this process is the transformation of a
continuous shape into a series of code markers. In contrast to
the continuity of analogue pattern, the discreteness of code
enables the rapid manipulation and transmission of information.
Human readers, with sensory capabilities evolved through eons of
interacting with three-dimensional environments, are much better
at perceiving patterns in analogue shapes than performing rapid
calculations with numbers. When presented with code, humans tend
to push toward perceiving it as analogue pattern. Although most
of us learned to read using the digital method of sounding out
each letter, for example, we soon began to recognize the shape
of words and phrases, thus modulating the discreteness of
alphabetic writing with the analogue continuity of pattern
recognition. The interplay between analogue and digital takes
place in a different way with screenic text than with print, and
these differences turn out to be important for human perception.
With present-day screens, reading speed on screen is typically
about one-sixth that with print. Although the factors causing
this difference are not well understood, they undoubtedly have
something to do with the dynamic nature of screen images. Text
on screen is produced through complex internal processes that
make every word also a dynamic image, every discrete letter a
continuous process.

9. To distinguish between the image the user sees and the strings
as they exist in the text, Espen Aarseth has proposed the
terminology scripton and texton (62ff.). In a digital computer
texton could refer to voltages, strings of binary code, or
programming code, depending on who the “reader” is taken to be.
Scriptons would always include the screen image but could also
include any code visible to a user who was able to access
different layers of code. Textons can appear in print as well as
electronic media. Stipple engraving, although it is normally
perceived by the reader as a continuous image, operates through
the binary digital distinction of ink dot/no ink dot; here the
scripton is the image and the ink dots are the textons.[4] In
electronic media textons and scriptons operate in a vertical
hierarchy rather than through the flat microscale/macroscale
play of stipple engraving. With electronic texts there is a
clear distinction between scriptons that appear on screen and
the textons of underlying code, which normally remain invisible
to the casual user. This difference between print and screenic
text can be summarized by saying that print is flat and code is
deep. A corollary is that the flat page of print remains
visually and kinesthetically accessible to the user,[5] whereas
the textons of electronic texts can be brought into view only by
using special techniques and software.

10. Point Five: Electronic Hypertexts Are Mutable and Transformable.
The multiple coding levels of electronic textons allow small
changes at one level of code to be quickly magnified into large
changes at another level. The layered coding levels thus act
like linguistic levers, giving a single keystroke the power to
change the entire appearance of a textual image. An intrinsic
component of this leveraging power is the ability of digital
code to be fragmented and recombined. Although the text appears
as a stable image on screen, it achieves its dynamic power of
mutation and transformation through digital fragmentation and
recombination. In addition, the rapid processing of digital code
allows programs to create the illusion of depth in screenic
images, for example in the three-dimensional landscapes of Myst
or in the layered windows of Microsoft Word. Thus both scriptons
and textons are perceived as having depth, with textons
operating digitally through coding levels and scriptons
operating analogically through screenic representation of
three-dimensional spaces.

11. Point Six: Electronic Hypertexts Are Spaces to Navigate.
Electronic hypertexts are navigable in at least two senses. They
present to the user a visual interface which must be navigated
through choices the user makes to progress through the
hypertext; and they are encoded on multiple levels that the user
can access using the appropriate software, for example by
viewing the source code of a network browser as well as the
surface text. As a result of its construction as a navigable
space, electronic hypertext is intrinsically more involved with
issues of mapping and navigation than are most print texts.

12. Point Seven: Electronic Hypertexts Are Written and Read in
Distributed Cognitive Environments. Modern-day computers perform
cognitively sophisticated acts when they collaborate with human
users to create electronic hypertexts. These frequently include
acts of interpretation, as when the computer decides how to
display text in a browser independent of choices the user makes.
It is no longer a question of whether computers are intelligent.
Any cognizer which can perform the acts of evaluation, judgment,
synthesis, and analysis exhibited by expert systems and
autonomous agent software programs should prima facie be
considered intelligent. Of course books also create rich
cognitive environments, but they passively embody the cognitions
of writer, reader, and book designer rather than actively
participate in cognition themselves. To say that the computer is
an active cognizer does not necessarily mean it is superior to
the book as a writing technology. Keeping the book as a passive
device for external memory storage and retrieval has striking
advantages, for it allows the book to possess a robustness and
reliability beyond the wildest dreams of a software designer.
Whereas computers struggle to remain viable for a decade, books
maintain backward compatibility for hundreds of years. The issue
is not the technological superiority of either medium but rather
the specific conditions a medium instantiates and enacts. When
we read electronic hypertexts, we do so in environments that
include the computer as an active cognizer performing
sophisticated acts of interpretation and representation. Thus
cognition is distributed not only between writer, reader, and
designer (who may or may not be separate people) but also
between humans and machines (which may or may not be regarded as
separate entities).

13. Point Eight: Electronic Hypertexts Initiate and Demand Cyborg
Reading Practices. Because electronic hypertexts are written and
read in distributed cognitive environments, the reader
necessarily is constructed as a cyborg, spliced into an
integrated circuit with one or more intelligent machines. To be
positioned as a cyborg is inevitably in some sense to become a
cyborg, so electronic hypertexts, regardless of their content,
tend toward cyborg subjectivity. Although this subject position
may also be evoked through the content of print texts,
electronic hypertexts necessarily enact it through the
specificity of the medium.

14. In articulating these eight points, I do not mean to argue for
the superiority of electronic media. Rather, I am concerned to
delineate characteristics of digital environments that writers
and readers can use as resources in creating literature and
responding to it in sophisticated, playful ways. In much the
same way that artists’ books both reinforce and challenge the
conventions of the book, so electronic texts can variously
reinforce the characteristics of the medium or work against them
by creating representations that mask their operation, as
Voyager does with its Expanded Books. In either case the
specificity of the medium comes into play as its characteristics
are flaunted, suppressed, subverted. Whatever strategies are
adopted, they take place within a cultural tradition where print
books have been the dominant literary medium for hundreds of
years, so it can be expected that electronic literature will use
the awesome simulation powers of the computer to mimic print
books as well as to insist on its own novelty, in the recursive
looping of medial ecology that Bolter and Grusin call

15. To show how the eight points discussed above can be mobilized in
a reading of an electronic hypertext, I will discuss Shelley
Jackson’s brilliantly realized hypertext Patchwork Girl, an
electronic fiction that manages to be at once highly original
and intensely parasitic on its print predecessors. I have chosen
Patchwork Girl for my tutor text not only because I think it is
one of the best of the new electronic fictions, but also because
it is deeply concerned with the prospect hinted at in Points
Seven and Eight, that a new medium will enact and express a new
kind of subjectivity. To measure the difference between the
subjectivity envisioned in Patchwork Girl and that associated
with the late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century texts it
parasitizes, I will find it useful to return to the eighteenth
century, when a constellation of economic, class, and literary
interests clashed over defining the nature of literary property.
Although the decisions that emerged from the ensuing legal
battles were no sooner formulated than they were again contested
in legal and literary arenas, the debate is nevertheless useful
as a foil to Jackson’s work, which positions itself against the
subjectivity associated with this moment in the print tradition.

Text as Vapor

16. In his important book Authors and Owners: The Invention of
Copyright, Mark Rose shows that copyright did more than provide
a legal basis for intellectual property. The discussions that
swirled around copyright also solidified assumptions about what
counted as creativity, authorship, and proper literature. One of
the important assumptions that emerged out of this debate was
the assertion that the literary work does not consist of paper,
binding, or ink. Rather, the work was seen as an immaterial
mental construct. Here is Blackstone’s assessment: “Style and
sentiment are the essentials of a literary composition. These
alone constitute its identity. The paper and print are merely
accidents, which serve as vehicles to convey that style and
sentiment to a distance” (qtd. in Rose 89). The abstraction of
the literary work from its physical basis had the effect of
obscuring the work’s relation to the economic network of
booksellers who purchased shares in the work and used their
economic capital to produce books. The more abstract the work
became, the further removed it was from the commodification
inherent in book sales, and consequently the more exalted the
cultural status that could be claimed for it. Cultural capital
was maximized by suppressing the relation between cultural and
economic capital, although it was primarily economic capital
that stimulated the booksellers’s interest in promoting literary
works as immaterial works of art. As a result of these
representations, literary works operated somewhat like Platonic
forms achieving perfection because they were not sullied by the
noise of embodiment.

17. Although Rose does not develop the gender implications of an
evaluation that places abstraction above embodiment, his
examples reveal that men producing these discourses had
specifically in mind the male writer, whose creative masculine
spirit gave rise to works of genius that soared above their
material instantiations in books. Thus a hierarchy of values
emerged which placed at the ascendant end of the scale the
disembodied, the creative, the masculine, and the writer who
worked for glory; at the lower end of the scale were the
embodied, the repetitive, the feminine, and the writer who
worked for money.

18. Rose traces a series of developments that progressively
abstracted the work further away from its material
instantiation, only to re-embody it in purer, more transcendent
form. Although Blackstone located the work both in “style” and
“sentiment,” subsequent commentators realized that the part of
the work that could be secured as private intellectual property,
and therefore the part appropriate for copyright protection, was
the way ideas were expressed rather the ideas themselves. This
aspect–“style” or “expression”–was frequently likened to
clothes that dressed the thought. Through the clothes of
expression, the body of the work entered into social legibility
and was recognized as partaking in the social regulations that
governed exchanges between free men who could hold private
property. As Rose makes clear, it was the author’s style–the
clothes he selected to dress his thought–that was considered
most indicative of his individual personality, so style was also
associated with the originality that was rapidly becoming the
touchstone of literary value. These interrelations were further
extended through metaphors that identified the style with the
author’s face. Note that it was the face and not the body. Not
only was the body hidden by clothes; more significantly, the
body was not recognized as a proper site in which the author’s
unique identity could be located. The final move was to
reconstitute the author from the “face” exhibited in the style
of his works, but by now bodies of all sorts had been left so
far behind that critics felt free to attach this ethereal,
non-corporeal face to any appropriate subject. (The prime
example was the detachment of “Shakespeare” from the historical
actor and playwright and the reassignment of his “face” to such
august personages as Francis Bacon.) As Rose observes, these
developments operated as a chain of deferrals sliding from the
embodied to the disembodied, the book to the work, the content
to the style, the style to the face, the face to the author’s
personality, the personality to the author’s unique genius. The
purpose of these deferrals, he suggests, was to arrive at a
transcendental signifier that would guarantee the enduring value
of the work as a literary property, establishing it as a “vast
estate” that could be passed down through generations without
diminishing in value.

19. In the process, certain metaphoric networks were established
that continued to guide thinking about literary properties long
after the court cases were settled. Perhaps the most important
were metaphors equating the work with real estate. The idea that
a literary work is analogous to real estate facilitated the
fitting together of arguments about copyright with the Lockean
liberal philosophy that C. P. Macpherson has labeled possessive
individualism. Rose finds it appropriate that James Thomson’s
long landscape poem The Seasons became the occasion for a major
copyright case, for it was read as a poet transforming the
landscape into his private literary property by mixing with it
his imagination, just as the Lockean man who owns his person
first and foremost creates private property by mixing it with
his labor (Rose 113). Whereas the landholder supplies physical
labor, the author supplies mental labor, particularly the
originality of his unique “style.” Rose makes the connection
clear: “The Lockean discourse of property, let us note, was
founded on a compatible principle–‘Every Man has a Property in
his own Person’ was Locke’s primary axiom–and thus the
discourse of originality also readily blended with the
eighteenth-century discourse of property” (121).

20. We have to go no further than Macpherson to realize, as he
pointed out years ago, that there is implicit in Locke a
chicken-and-egg problem. Whereas Locke presents his narrative as
if market relations arose as a consequence of the creation of
private property, it is clear that the discourse of possessive
individualism is permeated through and through by market
relations from the beginning. Only in a society where market
relations were predominant would an argument defining the
individual in terms of his ability to possess himself be found
persuasive. The same kind of chicken-and-egg problem inheres in
the notion of literary property. The author creates his literary
property through the exercise of his original genius, yet it is
clear that writing is always a matter of appropriation and
transformation, from syntax to literary allusions and the
structure of tropes. A literary tradition must precede an
author’s inscriptions for literature to be possible as such, yet
this same appropriation and re-working of an existing tradition
is said to produce “original” work. If arguments about literary
property were found persuasive in part because they fitted so
well together with prevailing notions of liberal subjectivity,
that same fit implied that certain common blindnesses were also

21. In particular, anxiety about admitting that writing was a
commercial enterprise haunted many of the defenders of literary
properties. In a fine image, Rose remarks that “the sense of the
commercial is, as it were, the unconscious of the text” for such
defenders of literary property as Samuel Johnson and Edward
Young (118). There were other suppressions as well. The erasure
of the economic networks that produced the books went along with
the erasure of the technologies of production, a tradition that
continued beyond print technologies to other media, and beyond
Britain to other countries. Rose recounts, for example, the
landmark case in the U.S., Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v.
Sarony (1884), in which the court decided that the photograph
derived entirely from the photographer’s “‘original mental
conception'” and thus owed nothing to the camera that produced
it (cited in Rose 135). The decision clearly relied on the
notion of the author’s “originality” as a key component of an
artistic work. The commitment to originality led to especially
strained interpretations when the work was collaborative, for
“originality” implied that the work resulted from the unique
vision of one gifted individual, not from the joint efforts of a
team of skilled craftsmen. Thus the legal fiction was invented
that allowed an organization to become the “author,” a fiction
that to this day is routinely invoked for films in which
hundreds of cultural workers may be involved in the

22. The patchwork quality of these legal fictions indicates how
fragile was the consensus hammered out in the eighteenth
century. Over subsequent decades and centuries it was challenged
repeatedly in court. It was also challenged through artistic
productions that sought to wrench the idea of the writer away
from the transcendent ideal of the autonomous creator, from the
automatic writing of the Surrealists to the theoretical
arguments of Michel Foucault in his famous essay “What Is An
Author?” Patchwork Girl contributes to these on-going
contestations by exploiting the specificities of the digital
medium to envision a very different kind of subjectivity than
that which emerged in eighteenth-century legal battles over
copyright. Those aspects of textual production suppressed in the
eighteenth century to make the literary work an immaterial
intellectual property–the materiality of the medium, the print
technologies and economic networks that produced the work as a
commodity, the collaborative nature of many literary works, the
literary appropriations and transformations that were ignored or
devalued in favor of “originality,” the slippage from book to
work to style to face–form a citational substrata for Jackson’s
fiction, which derives much of its energy from pushing against
these assumptions. When Patchwork Girl foregrounds its
appropriation of eighteenth-century texts, the effect is not to
reinscribe earlier assumptions but to bring into view what was
suppressed to create the literary work as intellectual property.
In Patchwork Girl, the unconscious of eighteenth-century texts
becomes the ground and surface for the specificity of this
electronic text, which delights in pointing out that it was
created not by a fetishized unique imagination but by many
actors working in collaboration, including the “vaporous
machinery” that no longer disappears behind a vaporous text.

Performing Originality through Reinscription

23. Patchwork Girl’s emphasis on appropriation and transformation
begins with the main character, who is reassembled from the
female monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Recall that in
Frankenstein the male creature, having been abandoned on the
night of his creation and learned through hard experience that
humankind finds him repulsive, returns to beg Frankenstein to
create a mate for him, threatening dire revenge if he does not.
Frankenstein agrees and assembles a female monster, but before
animating her, he is struck with horror at the sight of her body
and the prospect that she and the monster will have sex and
reproduce. While the monster watches howling at the window,
Frankenstein tears the female monster to bits. In Shelley
Jackson’s text the female monster reappears, put together again
by Mary Shelley. Like the female monster’s body, the body of
this hypertext is also seamed and ruptured, comprised of
disparate parts with extensive links between them. The main
components of the hypertextual corpus are “body of text,”
containing the female monster’s narration and theoretical
speculations on hypertextual and human bodies; “graveyard,”
where the stories of the creatures whose parts were used to make
the female monster are told; “story,” in which are inscribed
excerpts from the relevant passages in Frankenstein along with
the monster’s later adventures; “journal,” the putative journal
of Mary Shelley, where she records her interactions with the
female monster; and “crazy quilt,” a section containing excerpts
from Frank Baum’s Patchwork Girl of Oz, as well as
reinscriptions from other parts of the text.[7]

24. From the hypertext links and metaphoric connections between
these parts, a vivid picture emerges that radically alters the
eighteenth-century view of the subject as an individual with a
unique personality and the Lockean ability to possess his own
person. For the female monster, it is mere common sense to say
that multiple subjectivities inhabit the same body, for the
different creatures from whose parts she is made retain their
distinctive personalities, making her an assemblage rather than
a unified self. Her intestines, for example, are taken from
Mistress Anne, a demure woman who prided herself on her
regularity. The monster’s large size required additional
footage, so Bossy the cow contributed, too. Bossy is as
explosive as Mistress Anne is discreet, leading to expulsions
that pain Mistress Anne, who feels she must take responsibility
for them. The conflict highlights the monster’s nature as a
collection of disparate parts. Each part has its story, and each
story constructs a different subjectivity. What is true for the
monster is also true for us, Jackson suggests in her article
“Stitch Bitch: the Patchwork Girl.” “The body is a patchwork,”
Jackson remarks, “though the stitches might not show. It’s run
by committee, a loose aggregate of entities we can’t really call
human, but which have what look like lives of a sort… [These
parts] are certainly not what we think of as objects, nor are
they simple appendages, directly responsible to the brain”

25. The distributed nature of the monster’s subjectivity–and
implicitly ours as well–is further performed in the opening
graphic. Even before the title page appears, an image comes up
entitled “her,” displaying a woman’s body against a black
ground. Traversing the body are multiple dotted lines, as if the
body were a crazy quilt of scars or seams; retrospectively the
reader can identify this image as representing the female
monster’s patched body, among other possible referents. Cutting
diagonally across the ground of this image is a dotted line, the
first performance of a concept central to this hypertext. As the
reader progresses further into the text, a map view of the
different parts opens up, displayed in the Storyspace software
(in which the text is written) as colored rectangles which, when
clicked, contain smaller rectangles representing paragraph-sized
blocks of text or lexias. The lexia “dotted line” explicates the
significance of this image. “The dotted line is the best line,”
this lexia proclaims, because the dotted line allows difference
without “cleaving apart for good what it distinguishes” (body of
text/dotted line). Hovering between separation and connection,
the dotted lines marks the monster’s affinities with the human
as well as her differences from other people.

26. The dotted line is also significant because it suggests that the
image can move from two to three dimensions, as in a fold-up
that lets “pages become tunnels or towers, hats or airplanes”
(body of text/dotted line). The movement out of the flat plane
evokes the hypertext’s stacks, which suggest through their
placement a three-dimensional depth to the screen and a
corresponding ability to emerge from the depths or recede into
them. The text mobilizes the specificity of the technology by
incorporating the three-dimensionality of linked windows as a
central metaphor for the fiction’s own operations. Like the
hypertext stacks, the monster will not be content to reside
quiescent on the page, moving fluidly between the world
represented on the pages of Mary Shelley’s text and the
three-dimensional world in which Mary Shelley lives as she
writes this text. Lying on a plane but also suggesting a fold
upward, the dotted line becomes itself a kind of join or scar
that marks the merging of fiction and metafiction in a narrative
strategy that Gerard Genette has called metalepsis, the merging
of diegetic levels that normally would be kept distinct.[8] It
signals the dangerous potential of the monstrous text/body to
disrupt traditional boundaries in a border war where the stakes
are human identity.

27. In hypertext fashion, let us now click back to “her,” the
opening graphic, and explore some of the other links radiating
out from this lexia. Linked to “her” is “phrenology,” a graphic
that further performs the metaphoric overlay of body and text.
Showing a massive head in profile, “phrenology” displays the
brain partitioned by lines into a crazy quilt of women’s names
and enigmatic phrases. When we click on the names, we are taken
to lexias telling the women’s stories from whose parts the
monster was assembled; clicking on the phrases takes us to
lexias that meditate on the nature of “her” multiple
subjectivities. Thus we enter these textual blocks through a
bodily image, implying that the text lies within the represented
body. This dynamic inverts the usual perception the reader has
with print fiction, that the represented bodies lie within the
book. In print fiction, the book as physical object often seems
to fade away as the reader’s imagination re-creates the vaporous
world of the text, so that reading becomes, as Friedrich Kittler
puts it, a kind of hallucination. The bodies populating the
fictional world seem therefore to be figments of the reader’s
imagination. First comes the immaterial mind, then from it issue
impressions of physical beings. Here, however, the body is
figured not as the product of the immaterial work but a portal
to it, thus inverting the usual hierarchy that puts mind first.
Moreover, the partitioning of the head, significantly seen in
profile so it functions more like a body part than a face
delineating a unique identity, emphasizes the multiple,
fragmented nature of the monster’s subjectivity. The body we
think we have–coherent, unified, and solid–is not the body we
actually are, Jackson claims in “Stitch Bitch.” Like the
monster’s body, our corporeality, which she calls the “banished
body,” is “a hybrid of thing and thought… Its public image,
its face is a collage of stories, borrowed images,
superstitions, fantasies. We have no idea what it ‘really’ looks
like” (523).

28. Although the monster’s embodiment as an assemblage may seem
unique, Jackson employs several strategies to demonstrate that
it is not nearly so unusual as it may appear. Drawing on the
contemporary discourses of technoscience, the lexia “bio” points
out that “the body as seen by the new biology is chimerical. The
animal cell is seen to be a hybrid of bacterial species. Like
that many-headed beast [the chimera], the microbeast of the
animal cells combines into one entity, bacteria that were
originally freely living, self sufficient and metabolically
distinct” (body of text/bio). In this view, the “normal” person
is already an assemblage, designed so by evolutionary forces
that make Frankenstein appear by comparison an upstart amateur.
Other perspectives yield the same conclusion. Boundaries between
self and other are no more secure than those between plant,
animal, and human. “Keep in mind,” the monster warns us in “hazy
whole,” that “on the microscopic level, you are all clouds.
There is no shrink-wrap preserving you from contamination: your
skin is a permeable membrane… if you touch me, your flesh is
mixed with mine, and if you pull away, you may take some of me
with you, and leave a token behind” (body of text/hazy whole).
The mind, Jackson writes in “Stitch Bitch,” “what zen calls
monkey-mind and Bataille calls project, has an almost catatonic
obsession with stasis, centrality, and unity.” The project of
writing, and therefore of her writing most of all, is to
“dismantle the project” (527).

29. Following this philosophy, the text not only normalizes the
subject-as-assemblage but also presents the subject-as-unity as
a grotesque impossibility. The narrator satirizes the unified
subject by evoking visions of resurrection, when the body will
be “restored to wholeness and perfection, even a perfection it
never achieved in its original state” (body of
text/resurrection). But how can this resurrection be performed?
What about amputees who have had their limbs eaten by other
creatures? Following medieval theology that held the resurrected
body will “take its matter, if digested, from the animal’s own
flesh,” the narrator imagines those parts re-forming themselves
from the animals’ bodies. The “ravens, the lions, the bears,
fish and crocodiles… gang up along shorelines and other verges
to proffer the hands, feet and heads that they are all
simultaneously regurgitating whole… big toe scraping the roof
of the mouth, tapping the teeth from the inside, seeming alive,
wanting out” (body of text/resurrection/remade). Bizarre as this
scenario is, it is not as strange as the problems entertained by
medieval theologians trying to parcel everything out to its
proper body. Some philosophers theorized that eaten human
remains will be reconstituted from the “nonhuman stuff” the
creature has eaten, a proposition that quickly becomes
problematic, as the narrator points out: “But what (hypothesized
Aquinas) about the case of a man who ate only human embryos who
generated a child who ate only human embryos? If eaten matter
rises in the one who possessed it first, this child will not
rise at all. All its matter will rise elsewhere: either in the
embryos its father ate… or in the embryos it ate” (body of
text/resurrection/eaten). This fantastic scenario illustrates
that trying to sort things out to achieve a unity (that never
was) results in confusions worse than accepting the human
condition as multiple, fragmented, chimerical.

30. As the unified subject is thus broken apart and reassembled as a
multiplicity, the work also highlights the technologies that
make the textual body itself a multiplicity. To explore this
point, consider how information moves across the interface of
the CRT screen compared to books. With print fiction, the reader
decodes a durable script to create, in her mind, a picture of
the verbally represented world. As we have seen, with an
electronic text the encoding/decoding operations are distributed
between the writer, computer, and reader. The writer encodes,
but the reader does not simply decode what the writer has
written. Rather, the computer decodes the encoded information,
performs the indicated operations, and then re-encodes the
information as flickering images on the screen. The
transformation of the text from durable inscription into what I
have elsewhere called a flickering signifier means that it is
mutable in ways that print is not, and this mutability serves as
a visible mark of the multiple levels of encoding/decoding
intervening between user and text (Hayles, “Virtual Bodies”).
Through its flickering nature, the text-as-image teaches the
user that it is possible to bring about changes in the screenic
text that would be impossible with print (changing fonts,
colors, type sizes, formatting, etc.). Such changes imply that
the body represented within the virtual space is always already
mutated, joined through a flexible, multilayered interface with
the reader’s body on the other side of the screen. As Jackson
puts it in “Stitch Bitch,” “Boundaries of texts are like
boundaries of bodies, and both stand in for the confusing and
invisible boundary of the self” (535).

31. These implications become explicit in one of the opening
graphics of Patchwork Girl, “hercut 4.” In this image the
monster’s body, which was previously displayed with dotted lines
traversing it, has now become completely dismembered, with limbs
distributed into rectangular blocks defined by dotted lines,
thus completing the body/text analogy by making the body parts
visually similar to the hypertext lexias, connected to each
other in the Storyspace display by lines representing hypertext
links. In addition, the upper right-hand corner of the image
looks as though it has been torn off, revealing text underneath.
Although fragmentary, enough of the text is visible to allow the
reader to make out that it is giving instructions on how to
create links to “interconnect documents and make it easier to
move from place to [word obscured].” Thus the text underlying
the image points to the software program underlying the text, so
the entire image functions as an evocation of the multilayered
coding chains flexibly mutating across interfaces to create
flickering signifiers.

32. Of course print texts are also dispersed, in the sense that they
cite other texts at the same time they transform those citations
by embedding them in new contexts, as Derrida among others has
taught us. Moreover, print texts can engage in reflexive play at
least as complex as anything in Patchwork Girl, as Michael
Snow’s wonderful artist book Cover to Cover playfully
demonstrates.[9] The specificity of an electronic hypertext like
Patchwork Girl comes from the ways in which it mobilizes the
resources of the medium to enact subjectivities distributed in
flexible and mutating ways across author, text, interface, and
reader. As we have seen, electronic text is less durable and
more mutable than print, and the active interface is not only
multilayered but itself capable of cognitively sophisticated
acts. By exploiting these characteristics, the author (more
precisely, the putative author) constructs the distinctions
between author and character, reader and represented world, as
permeable membranes that can be configured in a variety of ways.

33. In Patchwork Girl, one of the important metaphoric connections
expressing this flickering connectivity is the play between
sewing and writing. Within the narrative fiction of
Frankenstein, the monster’s body is created when Frankenstein
patches the body parts together; at the metafictional level,
Mary Shelley creates this patching through her writing. Within
Patchwork Girl, however, it is Mary Shelley (not Frankenstein)
who assembles the monster, and this patching is specifically
identified with the characteristically feminine work of sewing
or quilting. The fact that this sewing takes place within the
fiction makes Mary Shelley a character written by Shelley
Jackson rather than an author who herself writes. This situation
becomes more complex when Mary Shelley is shown both to sew and
write the monster, further entangling fiction and metafiction.
“I had made her, writing deep into the night by candlelight,”
Mary Shelley narrates, “until the tiny black letters blurred
into stitches and I began to feel that I was sewing a great
quilt” (journal/written). This lexia is linked with “sewn”: “I
had sewn her, stitching deep into the night by candlelight,
until the tiny black stitches wavered into script and I began to
feel that I was writing, that this creature I was assembling was
a brash attempt to achieve by artificial means the unity of a
life-form” (journal/sewn).

34. The feminine associations with sewing serve to mark this as a
female–and feminist–production. Throughout, the relation
between creature and creator in Patchwork Girl stands in
implicit contrast to the relation between the male monster and
Victor Frankenstein. Whereas Victor participates, often
unconsciously, in a dynamic of abjection that results in tragedy
for both creator and creature, in Patchwork Girl Mary feels
attraction and sympathy rather than horror and denial. In
contrast to Victor’s determination to gain preeminence as a
great scientist, Mary’s acts of creation are hedged with
qualifications that signal her awareness that she is not so much
conquering the secrets of life and death as participating in
forces greater than she. In “sewn,” the passage continues with
Mary wondering whether the monster’s fragmented unity is
“perhaps more rightfully given, not made; continuous, not
interrupted; and subject to divine truth, not the will to
expression of its prideful author. Authoress, I amend, smiling”
(journal/sewn). The self-conscious placement of herself in an
inferior position of “authoress” compared to the male
author–surely in relation to her husband most of all–is
connected in Jackson’s text with subtle suggestions that the
monster and Mary share something Mary and her husband do not, an
intimacy based on equality and female bonding rather than
subservience and female inferiority. Although Mary confesses
sometimes to feeling frightened of the female monster, she also
feels compassionate and even erotic attraction toward her
creation. Whereas Victor can see his monster only as a
competitor whose strength and agility are understood as threats,
Mary exults in the female monster’s physical strength,
connecting it with the creature’s freedom from the stifling
conventions of proper womanhood. When the female monster leaves
her creator to pursue her own life and adventures, Mary, unlike
Victor, takes vicarious delight in her creation’s ability to run
wild and free.

35. In her comprehensive survey of the status of the body in the
Western philosophic tradition, Elizabeth Grosz has shown that
there is a persistent tendency to assign to women the burden of
corporeality, leaving men free to imagine themselves as
disembodied minds–an observation that has been familiar to
feminists at least since Simone de Beauvoir. Even philosophers
as sympathetic to embodiment as Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Mark
Johnson are often blind to issues of gender, implicitly assuming
the male body as the norm. The contrast between woman as
embodied female and man as transcendent mind is everywhere at
work in the comparison between Mary’s care for the female
monster and Victor’s astonishing failure to anticipate any of
the male creature’s corporeal needs, including the fact that
making him seven feet tall might make it difficult for the
monster to fit into human society. Whereas the disembodied text
of the eighteenth-century work went along with a parallel and
reinforcing notion of the author as a disembodied face, in
Jackson’s text the emphasis on body and corporeality goes along
with an embodied author and equally material text. “The banished
body is not female, necessarily, but it is feminine,” Jackson
remarks in “Stitch Bitch.” “That is, it is amorphous, indirect,
impure, diffuse, multiple, evasive. So is what we learned to
call bad writing. Good writing is direct, effective, clean as a
bleached bone. Bad writing is all flesh, and dirty flesh at
that… Hypertext is everything that for centuries has been
damned by its association with the feminine” (534).

36. Reinforcing this emphasis on hypertext as “femininely” embodied
are links that re-embody passages from Shelley’s text into
contexts which subtly or extravagantly alter their meaning. A
stunning example is the famous passage from the 1831 preface
where Mary Shelley bids her “hideous progeny go forth and
prosper” (qtd. in story/severance/hideous progeny). “I have an
affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when
death and grief were but words which found no true echo in my
heart. Its several pages speak of many a walk, many a drive, and
many a conversation, when I was not alone; and my companion was
one who, in this world, I shall never see more. But this is for
myself; my readers have nothing to do with these associations”
(qtd. in story/severance/hideous progeny). In the context of
Frankenstein, “hideous progeny” can be understood as referring
both to the text and to the male monster. As Anne Mellor points
out, taking the text as the referent places Mary Shelley in the
tradition of female writers of Gothic novels who were exposing
the dark underside of British society. When the monster is taken
as the referent, the passage suggests that Mary Shelley’s
textual creature expresses the fear attending birth in an age of
high mortality rates for women and infants–a fear that Shelley
was to know intimately from wrenching personal experience.
Moreover, in Barbara Johnson’s reading of Frankenstein, Shelley
is also giving birth to herself as a writer in this text, so her
authorship also becomes a “hideous progeny.” The rich
ambiguities that inhere in the phrase make Jackson’s
transformation of it all the more striking.

37. In Jackson’s work, the passage’s meaning is radically changed by
“Thanks,” to which it is linked. In this lexia, the female
monster says, “Thanks, Mary, for that kindness, however tinged
with disgust. Hideous progeny: yes, I was both those things, for
you, and more. Lover, friend, collaborator. It is my eyes you
describe–with fear, yes, but with fascination: yellow, watery,
but speculative eyes” (story/severance/hideous progeny/thanks).
The linked passage changes the referent for “hideous progeny,”
so that the female monster occupies the place previously held by
the male creature, the text of Frankenstein, and Mary Shelly as
writer. All these, the link implies, are now embedded as
subtexts in the female monster, who herself is indistinguishable
from the ruptured, seamed textual body that both contains her
and is contained by her. “The hypertext is the banished body,”
Jackson remarks in “Stitch Bitch.” “Its compositional principle
is desire” (536). If desire is enacted by activating links, this
linked text not only expresses the reader’s desire but also
Mary’s desire for her monstrous creation. Its most
subversive–and erotic–implication comes in changing the
referent for the lost companion “who, in this world, I shall
never see more.” Now it is not her husband whose loss Mary
laments but the female monster–the “lover, friend,
collaborator” without whom Patchwork Girl could not have been

38. Among Patchwork Girl’s many subversions is its attack on the
“originality” of the work. “In collage, writing is stripped of
the pretense of originality,” Jackson writes in “Stitch Bitch.”
“One can be surprised by what one has to say in the forced
intercourse between texts or the recombinant potential in one
text, by other words that mutter inside the proper names” (537).
This muttering becomes discernible in Shelley Jackson’s playful
linking of her name with Mary Shelley’s. The title page of
Jackson’s work performs this distributed authorship, for it says
Patchwork Girl is “by Mary/Shelley & herself,” a designation
that names Mary Shelley, Shelley Jackson, and the monster all as
authors. (In a perhaps intentional irony, the Eastgate title
page inscribes Jackson’s name below as the “authorized”
signature, along with the usual warnings about copyright
infringement, even though the entire thrust of Jackson’s text
pushes against this view of a sole author who produces an
original work.) Jackson’s subversions of her publisher’s
proprietary claims continue in a section entitled “M/S,” a
naming that invites us to read the slash as both dividing and
connecting Mary Shelley and Shelley Jackson. When Jackson
re-inscribes Shelley’s text into hers, the act is never merely a
quotation, even when the referents are not violently wrenched
away from the originals as in “Thanks”; witness the fact that
Jackson divides Shelley’s text into lexias and encodes it into
the Storyspace software. Rather, the citation of Shelley is a
performative gesture indicating that the authorial function is
distributed across both names, as the nominative they share
between them would suggest (Mary Shelley/Shelley Jackson). In
addition, the slash in M/S (ironically interjected into the MS
which would signify the “original” material text in normal
editorial notation) may also be read as signifying the computer
interface connecting/dividing Mary Shelley, a character in
Patchwork Girl, with Shelley Jackson, the author who sits at the
keyboard typing the words that conflate Mary’s sewing and
writing and so make “Shelley” into both character and writer.
The computer thus also actively participates in the construction
of these flickering signifiers in all their distributed, mutable
complexity. “There is a kind of thinking without thinkers,” the
narrator declares in “it thinks.”

Matter thinks. Language thinks. When we have business with
language, we are possessed by its dreams and demons, we
grow intimate with monsters. We become hybrids, chimeras,
centaurs ourself: steaming flanks and solid redoubtable
hoofs galloping under a vaporous machinery. (body of
text/it thinks)

The surface of the text-as-image may look solid, this passage
suggests, but the “vaporous machinery” generating it marks that
solidity with the mutability and distributed cognition
characteristic of flickering signifiers. Even the subject
considered in itself is a site for distributed cognition,
Jackson argues in “Stitch Bitch.” “Thinking is conducted by
entities we don’t know, wouldn’t recognize on the street,”
Jackson writes. “Call them yours if you want, but puff and blow
all you want, you cannot make them stop their work one second to
salute you” (527).

39. The trace of flickering signification is as pervasive and
inescapable in this text as it is with the constantly refreshed
CRT screen. In one of the fiction’s climactic scenes, Mary and
the monster, having become lovers and grown physically intimate
with each other’s bodies, decide to swap patches of skin. Each
lifts a circle of skin from her leg, and Mary sews her flesh
onto the monster, and the monster’s flesh onto her own human
leg. This suturing of self onto other reveals more than a wish
of lovers to join. Because Mary is the monster’s creator in a
double sense, at once sewing and writing her, the scene
functions as a crossroads for the traffic between fiction and
metafiction, writer and character, the physical body existing
outside the textual frame sutured together with representations
of the body in virtual space. Throughout, the narrator has been
at pains to point out the parallels between surgery and writing:
“Surgery was the art of restoring and binding disjointed
parts… Being ‘seam’d with scars’ was both a fact of
eighteenth-century life and a metaphor for dissonant
interferences ruining any finely adjusted composition” (body of
text/mixed up/seam’d). One of the sutures that reappears in
several lexias is the “intertwisted” closing that “left needles
sticking in the wounds–in manner of tailors–with thread
wrapped around them” (body of text/mixed up/seam’d). Thus a
metaphoric relay system is set up between surgery, particularly
sutures using needle and thread, sewing, the seamed body, and

40. Jackson uses this relay system of surgery/sewing/writing to set
up an argument about “monstrous” writing that reverberates
throughout the text. The narrator points out that “the
comparison between a literary composition and the fitting
together of the human body from various members stemmed from
ancient rhetoric. Membrum or ‘limb’ also signified ‘clause'”
(body of text/typographical). As the narrator notes, this
body/writing analogy allowed rhetoricians to conclude that
writing was bad if it resembled a disproportioned or grotesque
body. But the analogy was to go only so far; writing was not
actually to become the body. Decorum dictated that the barrier
between the book as physical object and text as immaterial work
be maintained intact. Joseph Addison found any writing
distasteful that was configured in the shape of the object it
represented, such as George Herbert’s poem “Wings,” printed to
resemble the shape of wings. The narrator remarks that Addison
called this “visual turning of one set of terms into another”
the “Anagram of a Man” and labeled it a classic example of
“False Wit” (body of text/typographical). This aesthetic
judgment is consistent with the assumption that the work is
immaterial. Making the physical appearance of the text a
signifying component was improper because it suggested the text
could not be extracted from its physical form. According to this
aesthetic, bodies can be represented within the text but the
body of the text should not mix with these representations. To
do so is to engage in what Russell and Whitehead would later
call a category mistake–an ontological error that risks,
through its enactment of hybridity, spawning monstrous bodies on
both sides of the textual divide.

41. It is precisely such breaches of good taste and decorum that the
monster embodies. Her body, “seam’d with scars,” becomes a
metaphor for the ruptured, discontinuous space of the hypertext,
which in its representations also flagrantly violates decorum by
transgressively mixing fiction and metafiction in the same
chaotic arena. When deciding what skin to swap, the monster,
with Mary’s consent, significantly decides that “the nearest
thing to a bit of my own flesh would be this scar, a place where
disparate things are joined in a way that was my own”
(story/severance/join). Comprised of parts taken from other
textual bodies (Frankenstein and Frank Baum’s Patchwork Girl of
Oz, among others), this hypertext, like the monster’s body,
hints that it is most itself in the links and seams that join
one part to another. “My real skeleton is made of scars,” the
monster says in a passage that conflates body and text, “a web
that traverses me in three dimensions. What holds me together is
what marks my dispersal. I am most myself in the gaps between my
parts” (body of text/dispersed). The reader inscribes her
subjectivity into this text by choosing what links to activate,
what scars to trace. Contrary to the dictates of good taste and
good writing, the scars/links thus function to join the text
with the corporeal body of the reader, which performs the
enacted motions that bring the text into being as a sequential
narrative. Because these enactions take place through the agency
of the computer, all these bodies–the monster, Mary Shelley,
Shelley Jackson, the specificity of the electronic text, the
active agency of the digital interface, and we the readers–are
made to participate in the mutating configurations of flickering

42. As a result of these dotted-line connections/divisions, the text
has a livelier sense of embodiment than is normally the case,
and the bodies within the text are more densely coded with
textuality. “I am a mixed metaphor,” the monstrous
text/textualized monster declares. “Metaphor, meaning something
like ‘bearing across,’ is itself a fine metaphor for my
condition. Every part of me is linked with other territories
alien to it but equally mine. . . borrowed parts, annexed
territories. I cannot be reduced, my metaphors are not
tautologies, yet I am equally present in both poles of a pair,
each end of the wire is tethered to one of my limbs. The
metaphorical principle is my true skeleton” (body of
text/metaphor me). The multilayered sense of “metaphor” here–a
rhetorical trope of writing that is also a Storyspace link and a
scar traversing the monster’s body–implies that the movement up
and down fictional/metafictional levels is not limited to
certain moments in the text but pervades the text as a whole,
spreading along with (and becoming indistinguishable from) the
“true skeleton” of the text/monster/software. In this fluid
movement between bodies inside texts and texts inside bodies,
inside is constantly becoming outside becoming inside, as if
performing at the visible level of the text the linkages between
different coding levels within the computer. The dynamic makes
real for the user that each visible mark on the screen, in
contrast to the flat mark of print, is linked with multiple
coding levels whose dimensionalities can expand or contract as
the coding commands require.

43. The dynamic inside/outside/inside is vividly, hauntingly
represented in “body jungle,” in which the monster dreams
herself inside a lush jungle landscape comprised of body parts:
beating hearts “roost like pheasants on high bone branches”;
“intestines hang in swags from ribs and pelvic crests, or pile
up like tires at the ankles of legs become trees”; “ovaries hang
like kumquats from delicate vines” (story/falling apart/body
jungle). The monster imagines passing days and nights in the
jungle: “In the morning the convoluted clouds will think about
me. They will block my view of the domed sky, which I know will
bear faint suture marks, the knit junctures between once-soft
sectors of sky.” In time she supposes that her legs will be
dissolved by the acid dripping form the overhanging stomachs:
“My bony stumps will sink deep; I will shuffle forward until I
tire, then stand still. I will place the end of a vein in my
mouth and suck it. At last I will no longer bother to remove
it… I do not know how my skull will open, or if I will still
know myself when my brain drifts up to join the huge,
intelligent sky.” In this vision she becomes a body part of some
larger entity, perhaps the computer that thinks/dreams her, just
as her parts were once autonomous entities who have now been
incorporated into the larger whole/hole that she is. In
hypertext fiction, Jackson remarks in “Stitch Bitch,” there are
especially powerful opportunities to “sneak up on reality from
inside fiction to turn around and look back on reality as a text
embedded in a fictional universe” (534).

44. We can now see that the construction of multiple subjectivities
in this text and the reconfiguration of consciousness to body
are both deeply bound up with what I have been calling
flickering signification, constituted through the fluidly
mutating connections between writer, interface, and reader. It
is not the hypertext structure that makes Patchwork Girl
distinctively different from print books. As Dictionary of the
Khazars has taught us (along with similar works), print texts
may also have hypertext structures. Rather, Patchwork Girl could
only be an electronic text because the trace of the computer
interface, penetrating deeply into its signifying structures,
does more than mark the visible surface of the text; it becomes
incorporated into the textual body. Flickering signification,
which in a literal and material sense can be understood as
producing the text, is also produced by it as a textual effect.

45. It is primarily through the complex enactment of linking
structures, both within the text and within the distributed
cognitive environment in which the text is read, that Patchwork
Girl brings into view what was suppressed in eighteenth-century
debates over copyright. Instead of an immaterial work, this text
foregrounds the materiality of fictional bodies, authorial
bodies, readerly bodies, and the writing technologies that
produce and connect them. Instead of valorizing originality, it
produces itself and its characters through acts of appropriation
and transformation that imply writing and subjectivity are
always patchwork quilts of reinscription and innovation.
Rejecting the notion of an author’s unique genius, it
self-consciously insists on the collaborative nature of its
productions, from the monster as assemblage to the distribution
of authorship between the monster “herself,” Mary Shelley,
Shelley Jackson, the reader, the computer, and other more
shadowy actors as well.

46. To complete the comparison between Patchwork Girl and the
subjectivity implicit in eighteenth-century debates over
copyright, let us now turn to the distinctions between style and
idea, form and content, face and body that informed the
invention of copyright. Although one could still talk about the
“style” of Patchwork Girl, the text offers another set of terms
in which to understand its complexities: the alternation between
lexia and link, the screen of text that we are reading versus
the “go to” computer command that constitutes the hypertextual
link in electronic media. In Patchwork Girl this alternation is
performed through a network of interrelated metaphors, including
tissue and scar, body and skeleton, presence and gap. Underlying
these terms is a more subtle association of link and lexia with
simultaneity and sequence. The eighteenth-century trope of the
text as real estate has obviously been complicated by the
distributed technologies of cyberspace. When the print book
becomes unbound in electronic media, time is affected as well.
The chronotopes of electronic fictions function in profoundly
different ways than the chronotopes of literary works conceived
as books. Exploring this difference will open a window onto the
connections that enfold the link and lexia together with
sequence and simultaneity.

47. With many print books, the order of pages recapitulates the
order of time in the lifeworld. Chronology might be complicated
through flashbacks or flashforwards, but normally this is done
in episodes that stretch for many pages. There are of course
notable exceptions, for example Robert Coover’s print hypertext
“The Babysitter.” Choosing not to notice such experimental print
fictions, the narrator of Patchwork Girl remarks, “When I open a
book I know where I am, which is restful. My reading is spatial
and even volumetric. I tell myself, I am a third of the way down
through a rectangular solid, I am a quarter of the way down the
page, I am here on the page, here on this line, here, here,
here” (body of text/this writing). In Patchwork Girl, like many
hypertexts, chronology is inherently tenuous because linking
structures leap across time as well as space. As if
recapitulating the processes of fragmentation and recombination
made possible by digital technologies, Patchwork Girl locates
its performance of subjectivity in the individual lexia. Since
the past and the future can be played out in any number of ways,
the present moment, the lexia we are reading right now, carries
an unusually intense sense of presence, all the more so because
it is a smaller unit of narration than normally constitutes an
episode. “I can’t say I enjoy it, exactly,” the narrator
comments. “The present moment is furiously small, a slot, a
notch, a footprint, and on either side it is a seethe of
possibility, the dissolve of alphabets and of me” (body of
text/a slot, a notch).

48. Sequence is constructed by accumulating a string of present
moments when the reader clicks on links, as if selecting beads
to string for a necklace. In contrast to this sequence is the
simultaneity of the computer program. Within the non-Cartesian
space of computer memory, all addresses are equidistant (within
near and far memory, respectively), so all lexias are equally
quick to respond to the click of the mouse (making allowance for
those that load slower because they contain more data, usually
images). This situation reverses our usual sense that time is
passing as we watch. Instead, time becomes a river that always
already exists in its entirety, and we create sequence and
chronology by choosing which portions of the river to sample.
There thus arises a tension between the sequence of lexias
chosen by the reader, and the simultaneity of memory space in
which all the lexias always already exist. The tension marks the
difference between the narrator’s life as the reader experiences
it, and that life as it exists in a space of potentiality in
which “everything could have been different and already is”
(story/rethinking/a life).

49. When the narrator-as-present-subject seeks for the “rest of my
life,” therefore, the situation is not as simple as a unified
subject seeking to foresee a future stretching in unbroken
chronology before her. To find “the rest of my life,” the
narrator must look not forward into the passing of time but
downward into the computer space in which discrete lexias lie
jumbled all together. “I sense a reluctance when I tow a frame
forward into the view,” the narrator says in an utterance that
conflates writer, reader, and character, as if reflecting within
the jumble of fiction and metafiction the jumbled time
represented by the lexias. “It is a child pulled out of a
fantastic underground hideaway to answer a history quiz. Were
you brought out of polymorphous dreams, in which mechanical
contraptions, funnels, tubes and magnifying glasses mingled with
animal attentions and crowd scenes, into a rigidly actual and
bipolar sex scene? Don’t worry, little boxy baby, I will lift
you by your ankles off the bed… I will show you the seductions
of sequence, and then I will let the aperture close, I will let
you fall back into the muddled bedsheets, into the merged
molecular dance of simultaneity” (story/rest of my life).

50. The interjection of simultaneity into the sequence of a reader’s
choices makes clear why different ontological levels (character,
writer, reader) mingle so monstrously in this text. In the heart
of the computer, which is to say at the deepest levels of
machine code, the distinctions between character, writer, and
reader are coded into strings of ones and zeros in a space where
the text written by a human writer and a mouse click made by a
human reader are coded in the same binary form as machine
commands and computer programs. When the text represents this
process (somewhat misleadingly) as a “merged molecular dance of
simultaneity,” it mobilizes the specificity of the medium as an
authorization for its own vision of cyborg subjectivity.

51. Part of the monstrosity, then, is this mingling of the
subjectivity we attribute to characters, authors, and ourselves
as readers, with the non-anthropomorphic actions of the computer
program. This aspect of the text’s monstrous hybridity is most
apparent in “Crazy Quilt,” where excerpts from Frank Baum’s The
Patchwork Girl of Oz increasingly intermingle with other
sections of the hypertext and with the instructions from the
Storyspace manual. Typical is “seam’d,” a significantly named
lexia that stitches together the surgery/sewing/writing
metaphoric network established in other lexias with the
Storyspace program: “You may emphasize the presence of text
links by using a special style, color or typeface. Or, if you
prefer, you can leave needles sticking in the wounds–in the
manner of tailors–with thread wrapped around them. Being seam’d
with scars was both a fact of eighteenth-century life and a
metaphor for dissonant interferences ruining any finely adjusted
composition” (crazy quilt/seam’d). The patchwork quality of the
passage is emphasized by the fact that another lexia entitled
“seam’d” appears elsewhere (body of text/mixed up/seam’d), from
which some of the phrases cited above were lifted.

52. Although memory is equidistant within the computer, such is not
the case for human readers. In our memories, events take place
in time and therefore constitute sequence. The “seam’ed” lexia
in “crazy quilt” relies for its effect on the probability that
the reader has already seen the lexias of which this is a
patchwork. Because we have read these lines in other contexts,
they strike us now as a crazy quilt, a textual body stitched
together from recycled pieces of other lexias and texts. Memory,
then, converts simultaneity into sequence, and sequence into the
continuity of a coherent past. But human memory, unlike computer
memory, does not retain its contents indefinitely or even
reliably. If human memory has gaps in it (a phenomenon
alarmingly real to me as my salad days recede in the distance),
then memory becomes like atoms full of empty space, an apparent
continuity riddled with holes.

53. Fascinated with recovering that which has been lost, the
narrator recalls a speech made by Susan B. Anthony at a “church
quilting bee in Cleveland” in which the monster “was the
featured attraction, the demon quilt” (body of text/mixed
up/quilting). Anthony (or is it the monster?) remarks that “Our
sense of who we are is mostly made up of what we remember being.
We are who we were; we are made up of memories.” But each of us
also holds in her mind experiences she has forgotten. Do these
memories, the monstrous Anthony speculates, cohere to make
another subject, mutually exclusive to the subject constituted
through the memories one remembers? If so, “within each of you
there is at least one other entirely different you, made up of
all you’ve forgotten… More accurately, there are many other
you’s, each a different combination of memories. These people
exist. They are complete, if not exactly present, lying in
potential in the buried places in the brain” (story/séance/she
goes on). Like the eaten body parts incorporated in the animal’s
flesh that scrape to get out at the resurrection, like the
textual body that exists simultaneously within the equidistant
spaces of computer memory, human memory too is chimerical,
composed of the subject I remember as myself and the multiple
other subjects, also in some sense me, whom I have forgotten but
who remember themselves and not me.

54. When the monster offers to buy a past from Elsie, a randomly
chosen woman she approaches on the street, this lack of a past
is in one sense unique to the monster, a result of her having
been assembled and not born, with no chance to grow into the
adult she now is. In another sense this division between the
past the monster can remember and the pasts embodied in her
several parts is a common human fate. “We are ourselves
ghostly,” Anthony/herself goes on. “Our whole life is a kind of
haunting; the present is thronged by the figures of the past. We
haunt the concrete world as registers of past events… And we
are haunted, by these ghosts of the living, these invisible
strangers who are ourselves” (story/séance/she goes on).
Significantly the hybridity performed here is a mental
assemblage that does not depend on or require physical
heterogeneity. Even if the text were an immaterial mental
entity, it still could not be sure of internal cohesion because
the memory that contains it is itself full of holes and other
selves. On many levels and across several interfaces, this
monstrous text thus balances itself between cohesion and
fragmentation, presence and absence, lexia and link, sequence
and simultaneity, coherent selfhood and multiple subjectivities.

55. How can such a text possibly achieve closure? Jane Yellowlees
Douglas, writing on Michael Joyce’s hypertext fiction Afternoon,
suggests that closure is achieved not when all the lexias have
been read, but when the reader learns enough about the central
mystery to believe she understands it. The privileged lexia, she
suggests, is “white afternoon”–privileged because its
transformative power on the reader’s understanding of the
mystery is arguably greater than other lexias. Although
Patchwork Girl has no comparable central mystery, it does have a
central dialectic, the oscillation between fragmentation and
recombination. “I believed that if I concentrated on wishing, my
body itself would erase its scars and be made new,” the narrator
confesses, an endeavor that continues in dynamic tension with
the simultaneous realization that she is always already
fragmented, ruptured, discontinuous (story/falling
apart/becoming whole). When this oscillation erupts into a
crisis, the text initiates events that make continuation
impossible unless some kind of accommodation is reached. The
crisis occurs when the narrator awakes one morning to find she
is coming apart. As she tries to cover over the cracking seams
with surgical tape, the dispersion rockets toward violence. “My
foot strove skyward… trailing blood in mannered specks. My
guts split open and something frilly spilled out… my right
hand shot gesticulating stump-first eastward” (story/falling
apart/diaspora). The tide is stemmed when Elsie, the woman whose
past she bought, comes upon the monster disintegrating in the
bathtub and holds onto her. “I was gathered together loosely in
her attention in a way that was interesting to me, for I was all
in pieces, yet not apart. I felt permitted. I began to invent
something new: a way to hang together without pretending I was
whole. Something between higgledy-piggledy and the eternal
sphere” (story/falling apart/I made myself over). This
resolution, in which the monster realizes that if she is to
cohere at all it cannot be through unified subjectivity or a
single narrative line, leads to “afterwards,” in which the
monster decides that the only life she can lead is nomadic, a
trajectory of “movement and doubt–and doubt and movement will
be my life, as long as it lasts” (story/rethinking/afterwards).
Thus the narrative pattern of her life finally becomes
indistinguishable from the fragmentation and recombination of
the digital technology that produces it, a convergence expressed
earlier through the metaphor of the dotted line: “I hop from
stone to stone and an electronic river washes out my scent in
the intervals. I am a discontinuous line, a dotted line” (body
of text/hop). Connecting and dividing, the dotted line of the
monster’s nomadic trajectory through “movement and doubt”
resembles the lexia-link, presence-absence pattern of the
screenic text. Following this trajectory, she goes on to become
a writer herself.

56. But what does she write–the narrative we are reading? If so,
then the authorial function has shifted at some indeterminate
point (or many indeterminate points) from Mary Shelley to the
monster, recalling the earlier distribution of authorship
between M/S. Just as the reader can no longer be sure if, within
the fictive world, the monster now writes herself or is written
by Mary, so the monster is similarly unsure, in part because her
body, like her subjectivity, is a distributed function. “I
wonder if I am writing from my thigh, from the crimp-edged
pancakelet of skin we stitched onto me… Mary writes, I write,
we write, but who is really writing?” Faced with this
unanswerable question (unanswerable for the reader as for the
narrator), the monster concludes, “Ghost writers are the only
kind there are” (story/rethinking/am I mary).

57. The larger conclusion suggested by juxtaposing Patchwork Girl
with eighteenth-century debates and the characteristics of
digital media goes beyond showing how this text makes the
unconscious of the earlier period into the stage for its
performances of hybrid subjectivities by exploiting the
specificities of the computer. More fundamentally, Patchwork
Girl demonstrates that despite such important critical
developments as deconstruction and Lacanian theory, we continue
to operate from assumptions that are grounded in print
technologies and that become problematic in the context of
digital media. Why do we talk and write incessantly about the
“text,” a term that obscures differences between technologies of
production and implicitly promotes the work as an immaterial
construct? Why do we continue to talk about the signifier as if
it were a flat mark with no internal structure, when the coding
chains of the digital computer operate in a completely different
fashion? Why do our discussions of reading and writing largely
focus on the author and reader, ignoring the cognitively
sophisticated actions of intelligent machines that are active
participants in the construction of meaning? The effect of
Patchwork Girl’s creative juxtapositions is to shake us awake
from the dream that electronic fiction is simply “text” that we
read on screen instead of on paper. If Patchwork Girl insists
through its appropriations that the past can never be left
behind, it also shows through its transformations that new media
create a new kind of literature and a new sense of cyborg

58. As we work toward crafting a critical theory capable of dealing
with the complexities of electronic texts, we may also be able
to understand for the first time the full extent to which print
technologies have affected our understanding of literature. The
juxtaposition of print and electronic texts has the potential to
reveal the assumptions specific to each, a clarity obscured when
either is considered in isolation. Mark Rose ends his book (note
that I use the media-specific practice of calling it a book and
not a text) by suggesting that copyright continues to endure,
despite its many problems, because it reinforces “the sense of
who we are” (Rose 142). Patchwork Girl invites us to understand
the situation differently. Although the sense of who we are is
still informed by the assumptions of print technology, the
specificities of digital technologies provide writers with
resources to complicate that sense through flickering
connectivities, re-working it into something rich and strange.

English Department
University of California Los Angeles






1. In formulating the framework for this essay, I am indebted to
the readers who critiqued it for Postmodern Culture. Although
their names are not known to me, I wish to express my gratitude
for their insights and helpful comments.

2. I am indebted to librarian Jennifer Tobias at the Reference
Library of the Museum of Modern Art in New York for arranging
access to their extensive collection of artists’ books. An
excellent survey can be found in Johanna Drucker, The Century of
Artists’ Books. An illustration of the Lewitt book can be found
on page 199.

3. For an exploration of what this Oreo structure signifies in
the context of virtual narratives, see Hayles, “Simulating
Narratives: What Virtual Creatures Can Teach Us,” Critical
Inquiry 26 (1999): 1-26.

4. I am indebted to Robert Essex for this example, proposed in a
discussion of William Blake’s strong dislike of stipple
engraving and his preference (which for Blake amounted to an
ethical issue) for printing technologies that were analogue
rather than digital.

5. There are of course exceptions to every rule. David Stairs
has created a round artist book entitled Boundless with spiral
binding all around, so that it cannot be opened. A similar
strategy is used by Maurizio Nannucci in Universum, a book bound
on both vertical edges so that it cannot be opened. Ann Tyler
also plays with the assumption that pages are visually and
kinesthetically accessible to users in Lubb Dup, an artist book
in which several pages are double-faced, so that one can see the
inside only by peering through a small circle in the middle or
prying the two pages apart enough to peek down through the top.
These plays on accessibility do not, however, negate the
generalization, for the effect is precisely to make us conscious
of the normative rule.

6. This practice was visibly reinforced for me when I sat
through the credits of Wild Wild West and watched this
disclaimer roll up on screen: “For purposes of copyright, Warner
Bros. is the sole author of this film.”

7. This list omits the graphics, of which there are several as
the hypertext opens. A note on citations from Patchwork Girl: I
identify them using slashes to indicate a jump in directory
level, moving from higher to lower as is customary in computer
notation. The uppermost level is always a name the reader would
see on the screen when opening the highest level of the map view
in Storyspace, and the lowest level is the lexia in which the
quotation appears. Thus the citation “body of
text/resurrection/remade” indicates that within the major
textual component entitled “body of text” is a sub-section
entitled “resurrection,” which when opened also contains the
lexia “remade,” where the quoted passage appears.

8. I am indebted for this reference to Reader #1 in his/her
critique of this essay for Postmodern Culture.

9. This visual narrative begins with a realistic image of a
door, which a man opens to go into a rather ordinary room. With
each successive image, the previous representation is revealed
as a posed photograph, for example by including the photographer
in the picture. As one approaches the center of the book the
images begin shifting angles, and at the midpoint the reader
must turn the book upside down to see the remaining images in
their proper perspective. At the end of the book the images
reverse order, so that the reader then goes backwards through
the book to the front, a direction that the orientation of the
images implicitly defines as forward.

10. The lexia’s explosive potential may explain why it is
partially hidden. It can be seen in the Storyspace chart view
but is not visible in the more frequently used map view.

Works Cited

Aarseth, Espen J. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature.
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1997.

Barthes, Roland. “From Work to Text.” The Rustle of Language.
Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1986. 56-64.

Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and
the History of Writing. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,

Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding
New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.

Coover, Robert. “The Babysitter.” Pricksongs and Descants. New
York: Grove Press, 1969. 206-239.

Derrida, Jacques. “Signature Event Context.” Limited Inc.
Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1988. 1-24.

Douglas, Jane Yellowlees. “‘How Do I Stop This Thing?’: Closure
and Indeterminacy in Interactive Narratives.” Hyper/Text/Theory.
Ed. George P. Landow. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1994.

Drucker, Johanna. The Century of Artists’ Books. New York:
Granary Books, 1995.

Foucault, Michel. “What is an Author?” Language, Counter-Memory,
Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Ed. Donald F.
Bouchard. Trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon. Ithaca:
Cornell UP, 1977. 113-138.

Genette, Gérard. Narrative Discourse: An Essay on Method. Trans.
Jane E. Lewin. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1983.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism.
Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1994.

Hayles, N. Katherine. “Simulating Narratives: What Virtual
Creatures Can Teach Us.” Critical Inquiry 26 (1999): 1-26.

—. “Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers.” How We Became
Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and
Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. 25-49.

Jackson, Shelley. Patchwork Girl by Mary/Shelley and herself.
Watertown, MA: Eastgate Systems, 1995. Electronic.

—. “Stitch Bitch: The Patchwork Girl.” Paradoxa 4 (1998):

Johnson, Barbara. “My Monster/My Self.” Diacritics 12.2 (1982):

Landow, George. Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary
Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP,

Lewitt, Sol. Squares with the Sides and Corners Torn Off.
Brussels: MTL, 1974.

Macpherson, C. B. The Political Theory of Possessive
Individualism: Hobbes to Locke. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962.

Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her
Monsters. New York: Routledge, 1988.

Nannucci, Maurizio. Universum. N.p.: Biancoenero Publishers,

Rose, Mark. Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright.
Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993.

Snow, Michael. Cover to Cover. Halifax: Nova Scotia College of
Art and Design; New York: New York UP, 1975.

Stairs, David. Boundless. N.p.: D. Stairs, 1983.

Tyler, Ann. Lubb Dup. Chicago: Sara Ranchouse Publishing, 1998.HyHa


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