Figurski at Findhorn on Acid
Author: Richard Holeton
Publisher: Watertown, MA: Eastgate Systems, 2001
Review Published: November 2006
Against a background of a poststructural reappraisal of print, early hypertext theory has been caught in a double-bind. On the one hand, this work has implicitly distanced itself from existing literary traditions, citing its "newness." On the other hand, theorists like Landow, Bolter, Joyce, and Moulthrop, have appropriated and moulded ideas from Barthes, Derrida, Deleuze, Iser, et al. in order to illustrate the parallels between print and hypertext fiction. The very term, hypertext, is loaded, suggesting a textual work which is beyond usual or established forms thereby immediately casting it in direct opposition to print discursive practice and traditions . In a remark that was typical for many, Bolter, in Writing Space (1991) states: "what is unnatural in print becomes natural in the electronic medium and will soon no longer need saying at all, because it can be shown" (143).
Richard Holeton is associate director of Academic Computing at Stanford University and Head of Residential Computing (ResComp) and Academic Computing's Consulting and Multimedia Services (CAMS). With some history as a writer for print (including text books and short stories), in 2001 Holeton turned his hand to hypertext. Figurski at Findhorn on Acid is, like much of the non web-based hypertext fiction available, published by Eastgate Systems using a story writing software program called Storyspace. Although Storyspace is not necessary for the reading of the fiction, it allows writers to "add, link, and reorganize by moving writing spaces on the map" . Figurski is an example of a hypertext making use of a program which has been available since the early stages of hypertext development. Like theory, technology evolves, and with the growth and increased functionality of the Web, second-generation hyperfiction writers are able to explore the fertile multiplicity the online environment now offers. Hypertext fiction has morphed into web works which can employ multiple modes including sound, text, image, streaming video, and, perhaps most importantly, connections with other websites. As Hayles explains, in Writing Machines, first generation hypertexts were "less interested in reinforcing boundaries…than in seeing what happened if you romped over them, which second-generation works were exuberantly doing as they moved toward multimedia, creating works that contained components drawn from literature, visual arts, computer games, and programming practices" (45). As a more "classic" example of hypertext, Figurski is a stand-alone fiction appearing offline with few images so that, as the author explains in a 1998 article, "Don't Eat the Yellow Hypertext," about the project, "the resulting standalone Storyspace Reader file could fit on a single high-density diskette for Macintosh; the Windows version requires two diskettes because of other Storyspace files needed for PC operating systems."
The fiction begins with the compulsory "map" to aid the reader in her narrative path. Understandably, as a new medium, directions are helpful but as hypertext has now become a dictionary term, these directions seem to strongly oppose Landow et al's utopian hoots of democratization and "dissemination of power" . In fact, in the "Dedication and Acknowledgements" page, Holeton's request that readers "set the resolution of [their] display" and the ensuing instructions on how to set the resolution offer proof of the tug of war between utopian delight and hypertext's "relative obscurity" . On the one hand, there is a certain kind of proximity between author and reader. On the other hand, the reader who follows the author's directions is interacting no more than when reading a non digital text. Additionally the authorial intrusion reminds us that although the genre of hypertext is now (at least) sixteen years old, there remain neophyte readers who require guidance through the technology .
Figurski is a construction of 354 nodes or screens with 2001 (matching the year in which it was published) links. While Holeton does explain to readers that the most "default" way through the narrative is to press the enter key, the more curious reader might choose to follow different paths by clicking on words that "yield" or browsing through screens. Clicking on the "Navigator" link situates the reader at the beginning of all possible paths through the narrative. There are twelve storylines that Holeton describes as running vertically through 147 scenarios. There are also options to follow each of the three characters, each of the three places, or each of the three artifacts (three is a recurring theme). Furthermore, as Holeton explains in "Don't Eat the Yellow Hypertext," there "are three iterations, evolving over time, of each character, place, and artefact description." Making up the remaining 207 nodes are various images, diagrams, and invented sources which readers can only get to by clicking on hidden links contained within the main 147 screens.
Like many hypertext and web fiction narratives, the story evolves through glimpses of nodes and altering reading paths. A summary of the entire story is almost impossible, mainly because I am not sure if I have indeed found all the nodes, my reading paths will invariably differ from another reader's, and my piecing together of the experience will be personal and subjective (as with any reading experience one might argue). A general synopsis would spotlight the main protagonist Frank Figurski who has recently concluded his jail term for the murder of Professor Quentin Kingsley. Since leaving jail, Frank is on a mission to uncover the authenticity of a seventeenth-century mechanical pig (which washed up on the beach in Findhorn Park). Frank's journey will be complicated and perhaps even dangerous; he is not the only one after the truth and he is on acid. A key node worth detailing (of which there are many) is "Note about Notes" which supplies a highly self-referential musing:
The simplest explanation is that the Macintosh version (which we can now determine was created first) loads 354 total spaces, so this space is needed to show the same total in the Windows version. But since the texts and structures of the two versions are otherwise identical, something more mysterious must be at work in either the software or the operating systems. The Windows version of Storyspace proves more mathematically precise, in that the author has indeed created 353 nodes, other than this one, in both versions. But maybe the Mac, more imaginative or philosophical, considers the implicit space that holds all other spaces to be itself another space and counts that one too. Depending how you look at it, such an implicit meta-space -- a space of spaces, or a space about spaces -- would be free of content, or full of it.
-- Alan Richardson, "Notes about Note about Notes," footnote to "Metanarration in the Notes directory of Figurski," in Millennial Machinations, ed. Alexander Parritt (Fictitious Press, 2001).
Nope. Just us characters.
Why should we stick around?
For the conversation.
-- Sammy Becker, Waiting for To Go (Groove Press, 1954, 1982).
J. David Bolter, Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1991.
N. Katherine Hayles, Writing Machines. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.
Richard Holeton, "Don't Eat the Yellow Hypertext: Notes on Figurski at Findhorn on Acid," Kairos, 3.2: 1998.
Richard Lanham, The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
Pamela McCorduck, The Universal Machine: Confessions of a Technological Optimist. New York: McGraw Hill, 1985.
Marie-Laure Ryan, Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
Jessica M. Laccetti:
Jess Laccetti is a doctoral student at the Institute of Creative Technologies at De Montfort University. Her Ph.D. thesis examines web fictions within a narrative and feminist theoretical context. Consequently she calls for a widening of certain narratological concepts such as "mimesis," "communication," and "temporality." She is also a research assistant for the Narrative Laboratory project and a lecturer in media and new media. Her work has been published on and offline and she has presented papers in the U.K., Europe, and Canada. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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