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Patchwork Girl Notes

Shelley Jackson’s Traversal of Patchwork Girl

  • Excerpt from N. Katherine Hayles’ Writing Machines: –The text that heralded the transition to second-generation electronic literature for Kaye was Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl. It presented itself as a rewriting of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in which the female monster, dismembered by a nauseated Victor in Mary’s classic tale, is reassembled and made into the text’s main narrator. Written in a later version of the Storyspace software that Joyce used for Afternoon, Patchwork Girl engaged the tool in significantly different ways. In an important innovation, it drew connections between the electronic text and the female monster’s fragmented body. One of the screens showed a large head in profile, presumably the monster’s, divided into sections after the style of a phrenology chart. Clicking on them took Kaye to the stories of the women whose body parts were used to make the monster. Navigation was envisioned as taking place not only between lexias but between images and words, and more profoundly between the text and the computer producing it. This was something very different than moving from lexia to lexia; it was an effect print could not duplicate. Jackson reinforced the point by writing passages that explicitly drew connections between the machinery and the text, asking what happened to consciousness when it existed discontinuously as screens with gaps in between. Where was the narrator’s consciousness during the gaps, the microseconds that separated one screen from another? Did it dissolve into the noise of the machine, decomposed back into ones and zeros? The speculation sent chills down Kaye’s spine. It was her first glimpse into how significantly literature might change if the literary body was not a book but a computer. She could name dozens of print texts that played with connections between the book and a narrator’s body, from Laurence Sterne’s eighteenth-century masterpiece Tristram Shandy, to Italo Calvino’s contemporary print hypertext novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. As a print lover, she had taken for granted that the book as a physical artifact would ground metaphoric networks connecting the print form with the bodies of characters and narrators, authors and readers. Authors regularly thought of their books as offspring; characters in metafiction often tried to peer out of the covers that contained them to see the book as an object; the human form converged with book technology even in such inert metaphors as footnotes, spine, and appendix. All this was obvious and known. But the trembler now rippling through her consciousness hinted at a shift in tectonic plates massive enough to send an earthquake roaring through the terrain of literary studies, for it implied that a shift in the material SUBSTRATE of the artifact would affect not just the mode of delivery but everything about the literary work. Like all really momentous changes, this realization came in fits and starts for Kaye, now clearly foreseen, now slipping into inarticulate intuition. She knew and yet she didn’t know. It would take several shocks to her system before she grasped the fuller significances of moving from print to the computer
  • Excerpt from Astrid Ensslin’s Literary Gaming: Hypertext as a formal principle has often been described metaphorically in terms of a labyrinth (of possible pathways through the text; e.g., Keep, McLaughlin, and Parmar 1993– 2001), a spider’s web (of links in which it is easy to get lost; e.g., Millon 1999, 89), or a patchwork quilt (of patches, or text chunks, sown together into a fragmented whole; Dicks et al. 2005, 170). It is the latter image that lies behind the main theme of Shelley Jackson’s cyberfeminist hyperfiction Patchwork Girl; Or, a Modern Monster (1995). The work is a feminist take on Mary Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818/1998). It features “Mary Shelley herself” as narrator, telling the story of her own female monster, which is constructed by readers of the text— literally by “sewing together” text chunks into a subjectively coherent, albeit open-ended, whole. The monster embarks on an adventurous journey of spiritual maturation and physical decomposition in the “a story” chapter. That said, this mostly linear element of the novel contrasts with four other chapters (“a graveyard,” “a journal,” “a quilt,” and “broken accents”) that are nonlinear in concept and structure and provide the reader with material for assembling the monster’s body by symbolizing the text in the mind. Jackson uses Eastgate’s Storyspace software for the writing and reading environment, which carries with it a specific aesthetic that keeps the text self-contained, that is, without any external links. The text is represented in Storyspace’s characteristically small, mostly typescript-based windows, or lexias. It contains some pictographic devices, the most important being a body map in the “a graveyard” chapter of the chaotically assembled, eponymous female monster, whose individual body parts are graphical links to the life stories and tragic deaths of the deceased women to whom they used to belong. This map lends the metaphorical, quilted text-body iconic form and readers are invited to assemble the body by clicking on its various parts. The “scars” (Seidel 1996, quoted in Landow 2006, 239) holding the limbs together in a makeshift way visualize the hyperlinks loosely connecting the text patches in readers’ mental representations of this narrative. The fact that the scars gradually dissolve in “a story” serves as an allegory of the fluidity of narrative meaning in hyperfiction as well as of female writerly identity in cyberspace.

Alice Bell – The Possible Worlds of Hypertext Fiction

Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl; Or, a Modern Monster (1995) is a gothic novel in which the protagonist, the patchwork girl of the title, is a supernatural being comprised of a collection of human body parts donated, willingly, from the dead. The narrative documents her adventures in nineteenth-century England and modern-day urban America as she transforms from a solitary figure to a confident and independent member of contemporary society.

Structurally, Patchwork Girl is rather different to the texts discussed in the preceding chapters. Unlike the hidden links of afternoon (see Chapter 3) or the intricate structure evidenced by the map in Victory Garden (see Chapter 4), Patchwork Girl has a relatively straightforward configuration comprised of five different sections. The text does not instruct readers to start at ‘graveyard’ and progress to ‘broken accents’, but, as Figure 5.1 shows, the visual concatenation of the sections on the title page does at least suggest that each section should be seen as part of the larger whole.

While, visually, the title page suggests a particular reading sequence, the order in which each section is read is largely inconsequential for the overall narrative experience. This is because while they contain thematic similarities, each of the five sections of Patchwork Girl addresses a different facet of the novel: ‘a graveyard’ offers details of the donors of the patchwork girl’s body parts; ‘a journal’ is narrated by the patchwork girl’s creator and describes the relationship between her and the patchwork girl; predominantly narrated from the creator’s perspective but also containing extracts from other fictional texts, ‘a quilt’ details the process of the patchwork girl’s construction; ‘a story’ is narrated by the patchwork girl and offers her own perspective on her life; ‘broken accents’ offers reflections on the process of hypertext fiction writing.

Readers might choose to explore the text in a sequential fashion but this is not essential for an overall comprehension of the text. Similarly, while in afternoon and Victory Garden different reading paths depict different narratives, in Patchwork Girl fewer choices are offered. The structure allows readers to explore each section by following hyperlinks but with few narrative consequences tied to their selections. Each reading will inevitably result in a slightly different configuration of lexias but, because there are fewer hyperlinks and therefore fewer options, incongruent narratives are few in number. In this respect, the text makes relatively conservative use of the hypertext form. However, the overall interrelated configuration of the narrative is anything but simple.

.- -. -.. / -. — .– / ..-. — .-. / … — — . – …. .. -. –. / . .-.. … .

  • Reading all this I was reminded of this line from Chris Kraus: ‘R.D. Laing never figured out that “the divided self’ is female subjectivity. Writing about an ambitious educated 26-year-old “schizophrenic girl” in the suburban 1950s: “…the patient repeatedly contrasts her real self with her false compliant self.” Oh really’

.- -. -.. / -… .- -.-. -.- / – — / – …. . / .- -.-. .- -.. . — .. .-

James Pope – A Future For Hypertext Fiction

Shelley Jackson calls herself the ‘stitch bitch’ (Jackson, 1996), a kind of anarchic literary seamstress who defies plot, motivated by associations, dismantling the linear in narrative. Hypertext, she says ‘is always at its end and always at its beginning’, ‘hypertext doesn’t know where it’s going’ and ‘it isn’t clear just where it ends’ (Jackson, 1996). It sounds poetic and dreamily attractive, but can it deliver the satisfaction of closure that most readers want? Jackson concludes her thesis in ‘Stitch Bitch’ by saying I see no reason why hypertext can’t serve up an experience of satisfying closure not drastically different from that of reading a long and complicated novel, though it will do it differently. But I’m not sure closure is what we should be working toward, any more than a life well lived is one that hurtles without interruption toward a resounding death. (Jackson, 1996)


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