Hegirascope

In Aarseth’s essay, “Hypertext Aesthetics,” Hegirascope is mentioned in comparison to Joyce’s Afternoon, though it is not given nearly as much attention.

According to Aarseth, Stuart Moulthrop’s 1995 work Heigrascope differs from Michael Joyce’s Afternoon in that it “adds a temporal figure, which can be seen as an allegory of the reader’s lack of influence over the text and, on a more general scale, of the partial in any process of reading: texts do not ‘sink in,’ they just stimulate the reader’s eternal process of meaning,” (79-80). Despite reading this description, I had a hard time imagining what Hegirascope would actually look like, and what kind of text it featured.

Hegirascope can be viewed online at http://www.cddc.vt.edu/journals/newriver/moulthrop/HGS2/HGS0B3.html.

The game starts with a quote by Joyce, presumably acknowledging its predecessor. Each page has a similar layout, with a brightly colored background and font, a title at the top, and a text block in the middle of the page. Narrative threads are connected by headings and matching color schemes, but they occur out of order and in between screens belonging to different threads. There are two links on each side of the text column, usually single words drawn from that page’s text. Clicking on one of the links usually leads to another page, though the text on each page seems to have little to do with what was featured on the others. If the reader/player waits too long to choose a link, the screens will progress on their own. This process makes it difficult to process what is happening in a narrative thread, let alone theorize about any kind of meaning.

One of Hegirascope‘s story lines follows two characters taking a road trip. Another features an exchange of letters between two characters. The most notable, however, section titled “Curtis LeMay’s Web Workshop,” which offers instructions on becoming a true “web master.” An excerpt from one of these pages reads,

Some people believe it is too hard to learn Hypertext Markup Language. Maybe it is, for them! They prefer to use utilities that “write the code for them,” so-called whizzy wig programs. As the name suggests, these programs were created by crossdressing leftwing intellectuals from California. True American Webmasters would never go near them. (Read here)

In actuality, Curtis LeMay was a United States Airforce general in World War II, and is referred to on strategic-air-command.com as the Cold War’s “fiercest warrior.” While he died in 1990 and didn’t have any involvement with the development of web technology, Moulthrop’s choosing to implement him proposes the imagined scenario of a powerful “tough guy” teaching web seminars. It also serves as a reminder of the internet’s roots, having been initially invented for military purposes. Maybe Moultrhop is trying to get Hegirascope users, who likely use the internet for entertainment, education, and communication, in a different way?

Ultimately, most paths that I chose ended up leading me to a blank black or white screen–in one instance, after clicking a link reading “failure.” After going through the hypertext several times, I finally chose a path that brought me to a “home page,” which offered a list of links featured elsewhere in the text. From that point on, I could chose a sort of “goodbye” to Hegirascope. If I chose an option about liking print, it directed me to, “Happy reading.” If I said I liked “the net,” I was lead to a page reading only, “Go surf!” Though I felt this was the “right” ending and seeing the list of links brought me some relief, I didn’t feel like I had learned any more by following that path than I had the others.

After interacting with this hypertext, my best guess was that its purpose was mostly to make the reader/player think about hypertexts themselves: how they can attribute differing meanings to the same passages (i.e. by assigning different traits/experiences to fluctuating characters, by ordering concepts in various ways), the sense of frustration they can produce (continually reaching dead ends, having to operate under a time constraint), and, finally, how much control a user actually has over the narrative/game. By referring back to the nature of technology itself in the “web workshop” sections, Moulthrop ensures that this idea stays fresh in the user’s mind.

Taking a closer look at the hypertext’s title enforces this idea. According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, hegira means “a journey especially when undertaken to escape from a dangerous or undesirable situation,” whereas scope refers to a “space or opportunity for unhampered motion, activity, or thought.” When combined, the name implies a variety of ways to escape a situation, which alludes to the fact that the work centers mainly on the often frustrating process of finding a way out, rather than a meaning drawn from any one narrative line. Similarly to the characters in the hypertext who are on some type of journey or attempt to communicate–a car trip, letter writing, or even developing Web programs–that has no specific end, a hypertext user could become lost in its maze.

In terms of its relevance to our class, Hegirascope is important both in its place in the development of hypertexts and the way it uses components of HTML coding like fonts and colors, links, and timed screen progressions to draw the user into its world, and its focus on the inherently self-reflexive nature of the hypertext itself.

– Elise Hawthorne

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~ by elisehawthorne on January 31, 2010.

2 Responses to “Hegirascope”

  1. I like how your post describes the disoriented, maze-like qualities of the hypertext and its form. I am also struggling with the seemingly infinite nature of hypertexts and so I find your analysis of “hegira” and “scope” useful in thinking abouthypertexts and labyrinths as journeys even if the end is uncertain.

  2. I dug his statement…something like linearity is the mission position of reading.
    He may have a point, but sometimes being face-to-face is more relaxing than (timed) porn-star position changing…
    Someone also needs to figure out how to make computer screens easier on the eyes. Take the kindle and apply it to desktops. I feel like my eyes are gonna pop outta my head.

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