"I am drawing attention to the paradox involved in the use by the infant of what I have called the transitional object. My contribution is to ask for a paradox to be accepted and tolerated and respected, and for it not to be resolved. By flight to split-off intellectual functioning it is possible to resolve the paradox, but the price of this is the loss of the value of the paradox itself." {15}

D.W. Winnicott
Playing and Reality

3. Navigate

Research in digital media can create a paradoxical dilemma regarding form and format. Should this thesis be a paper-bound document or a web of linked electronic files? Fortunately, the simultaneous rejection and embrace of conventional narrative places one in the company of some interesting figures. History reveals that hybrid forms provided an intermediary solution for authors of ancient texts who straddled the worlds of oral and written discourse. According to Jay David Bolter, Plato’s dialogues mixed the permanence of writing with the flexibility of conversation. Herodotus used a technique called “ring composition”:
He would start to tell a story,
digress to a different topic,
then alert the reader or listener
that he was resuming the original storyline. {16}

Bolter’s book, Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print, traces this history of writing’s struggle with form and format. This second edition of his book considers the web as a new writing space, charting the various manifestations of human authorship from papyrus scroll to illuminated manuscript to the printed book as they lead up to the recent innovation of electronic literature. Bolter describes the transitional periods, during the incunabula of new forms, as phases of “remediation”.

We might call each such shift a “remediation”, in the sense that a newer medium takes the place of an older one, borrowing and reorganizing the characteristics of writing in the older medium and reforming its its cultural space. Writing on papyrus remediated oral communication by involving the eye as well as the ear and so giving the words a different claim to reality. The other shifts too blatantly or subtly changed the terms on which we as readers approach the text and its mode of representing the world. Remediation involves both homage and rivalry, for the new medium imitates some features of the older medium, but also makes an implicit or explicit claim to improve on the older one. {17}

Jay David Bolter
Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print

Bolter acknowledges that these periods of change generate uncertainty and anxiety. He claims that digital technology is “one of the more traumatic remediations in the history of Western writing.” {18} One reason he gives for this discomfort is that it changes the look and feel of both writing and reading. Here Bolter is very much concerned with the material properties of writing spaces and how they are being “refashioned”. (19)

Subject: Re: question about a word
Date: Thu, 31 May 2001 10:08:39 -0400
From: Jay David Bolter

In her book,
Hamlet on the Holodeck, The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, Janet H. Murray chronicles how the computer has been reshaping the stories we live by. Murray contends that the transformative power of the computer is particularly seductive in narrative environments. The threshold experience described here by Murray is very much the same as Winnicott’s idea of the transitional object and his conception of potential space:

The computer itself, even without any fantasy content, is an enchanted object. Sometimes it can act like an autonomous, animate being, sensing its environment and carrying out internally generated processes, yet it can also seem like an extension of our own consciousness, capturing our words through the keyboard and displaying them on the screen as fast as we can think them.
...The enchantment of the computer creates for us a public space that also feels very private and intimate. In psychological terms, computers are liminal objects, located on the threshold between external reality and our own minds. {20}

Janet H. Murray
Hamlet on the Holodeck

Janet Murray uses the term “multiform story” to describe a narrative that offers a single situation or plot line in multiple versions. {21} Jorge Luis Borge’s The Garden of Forking Paths, a dark story-within-a-story of alternating realities and bifurcating choices is the oft cited literary inspiration for many multiform texts. But Murray notes examples of multiform narrative evident in popular culture as well, including the two divergent versions of George Bailey’s life in Frank Capra’s movie It’s a Wonderful Life and Bill Murray’s comically looping life plot in the movie Groundhog’s Day.
More recently, films such as Run Lola Run and Sliding Doors depict women protagonists caught in stories which duplicate and multiply their options. Multiform narrative at play in the life of a character illuminates the human being trapped in an infinite labyrinth of futures. For a female character, this existential condition takes on sociological resonance as political as the issue of “choice” for a woman and her body on her path.

Marshall McLuhan proposed that contemporary media formats should be thought of as mosaics rather than as the linear structure found in traditional books. Murray affirms that this mosaic organization lends us the overview of the front page of a newspaper, the faster pace of the contemporary film, and the interactive agency of the TV remote control. {22}

The computer offers search engines for mastering this fragmentation and website maps that allow us to view the whole in a glance and enter the content at any number of points. In electronic literature, this may mean that a reader may view the text as a branching tree, hopping limbs at whim. Hypertext works like Stuart Moulthrop’s Victory Garden and Michael Joyce’s Afternoon are authored for this interactive reading environment. These texts give new form to the literary paths first forged by Borges. Eastgate Systems markets the software Story Space as a tool for authoring just these kinds of electronic texts. Story Space provides the authors a format for creating hypertext fiction, where highlighted text can be clicked upon, leaping the reader to a new block of text, a jump to another part of the story. Though this convention is now fully integrated into the experience of millions of internet surfers, some remain uncertain whether or not this non-linear narrative structure yields a satisfying read. Story Space hypertexts do offer the branching overview, the navigational site map of a literary work.
Ultimately, it is the reader’s agency which crafts the narrative path.

Increasingly, ways of telling have critiqued the confines of both the book and linear narrative, frequently through the use of multiple perspectives or resistance to closure, both signature postmodern strategies. Groupings of micro-narratives, such as hypertext fiction or hybrid novels or essays that intersplice genres and voices, illustrate the dispersal of the line of linear narrative to that of the branch, the collage, or the weave. And a weave - to use just one example - can tell a different story (or set of stories)- than can a line." {23}

Anne Burdick
Ways of Telling/Or the Plot Gets Thicker, Fragments, Reconfigures, Branches, Multiplies

Patchwork Girl,
created by Shelley Jackson, makes good use of the conventions established by Story Space. Her reworking of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein shows a female monster’s body as the branching site map, clicking on the body parts gives you chunks of text, the story told from the perspective of the body part donors. It is an elegant work, inspired by a small piece of the original Frankenstein story, in which a companion creature is begun and then quickly destroyed by the author, fearing the overwhelming power of such a beast in female form. Jackson’s work makes sense in the fragmented digital environment largely because it is about a body in pieces. It doesn’t hurt that the writing is ornate. A reader may stick with Patchwork Girl, if only to luxuriate in its language. What’s disappointing about Patchwork Girl is its limited visual design. We are trapped in the interface provided by Eastgate, a rudimentary flow chart with limited visual appeal. Shelley Jackson is an accomplished visual artist with elaborately illustrated books in print. I long to read Patchwork Girl in a multimedia environment that would give full range to her doubled talent.

Like Russian matreshka dolls, the computer’s interface can provide a doll within a doll, nesting transitional objects.
The navigational device
within the story object
within the ornamental overview
are all housed inside the object of distribution...
once a book,
now a box of windows inside windows,
folders inside folders.

Framed over and over, each is a concretized comfort object, a potential playmate, that may provide ways for a disenchanted audience to reconnect with the stories that both surprise and nourish.

Shelley Jackson’s website www.ineradicablestain.com
offers a generous story environment.
There you will find Doll Games, stories inside a story about doll play, as told collaboratively by Shelley and her sister Pamela.

"A doll is a thing we think with. In this it is hardly unique, but it is special in resembling its users. Such a tight circuit between the object, its representation, and the girl who observes the resemblance. Is the doll something like symbolism with training wheels, the easy first step? The little girl observes that she can use this thing to mean herself. She branches out from there, gets the hang of simulacra, develops a taste for it. When the simulacra begin to develop simulacra of their own,then you know you’ve got it: it seems to be the ability to represent yourself that makes you real. The portrait of the doll, the private papers of the doll, the handicrafts of dolls, these second order fakes make the first order fakes stauncher,
sturdier." {24}

Shelley Jackson
Doll Games