afternoon: a series of random words on white background

After reading the Salon article on the death of hypertext as a literary form, I re-read afternoon.  Now, I can’t speak for every hypertext piece ever written, having never read any other hypertext work (or heard of it before last week), but I realized what has been bothering me about the format: there’s no connection to the characters.  There’s not much of a connection to anything within the text; it’s all so unbearably random.  If, as we spoke about in class Tuesday, the individual pieces are read as poetry, I think the combination may work a bit better.  However, there are actual characters; “I”s and “we”s and proper nouns, and the title of the hypertext is afternoon: a story, not afternoon: a series of random words on white background.  Trying to figure out who’s speaking when and to whom, about what etc. etc. gives me a terrible headache. Joyce himself claims, “…the story exists as several levels…. These are not versions, but the story itself in long lines.  Otherwise, however, the center is all…the real interaction, if that is possible, is in pursuit of texture. There we match minds.”  Never mind that I find this hilariously pretentious; the point here is that there is supposed to be a point.  The reader is supposed to be able to get something from this work.  I’ve started the story three separate times, and while it is interesting that the reader is never presented the same story twice—or, really, the same general feeling of a story, because a series of interlocking pages does not a story make—I really feel that the main appeal of the hypertext is a gimmick.  Like LaFarge said, “It’s interesting in a… if-it’s-boring-for-two-hours-do-it-for-four kind of way, but the appeal of endless clicking was perhaps greater in 1988 than it is now, when we click plenty at the office, thank you”.  I really appreciate the sarcasm of this quote, because it’s the same tone I find myself using when I think of this work.  I’m probably being far too hard on afternoon, but I find the entire experience remarkably frustrating.  I can appreciate the writing on individual pieces—some of it is quite lovely—but I think that when the pieces combine to a whole, the whole fails to be a complete, successful work.

6 Comments on “afternoon: a series of random words on white background”

  1. Brittany Stoudemire says:

    Even though you feel that the story as a whole fails to complete a successful work, do you feel that Joyce was trying to make a bigger claim other than leaving people confused and with headaches?

    • Candice Bang says:

      If Joyce is trying to make a bigger claim, I think it’s not conveying this well enough because even Lafarge discredits Afternoon. He blames mostly the craft, not the media and blames the terrible interface and boring, confusing passages. In the end, a piece of literature is judged based upon its execution. Even if Joyce had some good intentions in conveying a message, most of us won’t even get it because he executed it poorly.

  2. Lisa Park says:

    I think you bring up a good point in connecting afternoon with the article on hypertext. It is a novel way to present a story, and we could analyze it as any other literary work, but it is frustrating to do so, and for me at least the word “gimmick” is pretty accurate as a description.

  3. Brian Croxall says:

    I appreciate your perspective on this, Taylor, and the obvious passion that you’re writing with. I don’t know if we should find Joyce pretentious, however. He’s coming to writing fiction from a particular spot in the 1980s in which people are very much thinking about things in such terms. It’s all developing from a moment of literary theory, and it’s interesting to note that many of the most important Story Space hypertext authors are also academics and would be prone to thinking about such things.

    So it’s cultural to a degree. Once you know that, however, you’re fine to think him pretentious. But you’d have to lump in a lot of other artists/academics as well.

  4. Jordan Lewis says:

    I, too, had a problem connecting with any of the characters. I had no feelings for or about them, no empathy. The best books I’ve read have always stunned me by eliciting great emotions. Afternoon didn’t even come close. The whole experience of reading this story felt very sterile. It will be memorable, but not in so wonderful a way as, say, Wuthering Heights or Middlemarch.