Hayles on Twelve Blue and why the story works

I think Hayles does a fairly good job of critiquing Twelve Blue, but I think she may give the story a bit too much credit for its seemingly impressive “cognitive mode.” She pieces together the connections between the incidents of menstruation, the moths, the drownings and other images that stick to the larger patterns of the nonlinear narrative rather nicely. However, I have a hard time seeing these connections–what she seems to deem as unique characteristics of hypertext–as any different than the connections a reader makes through traditional storytelling. Of course there is symbolism and continued parallel references in a story!! What work doesn’t have these characteristics?! This is hardly a novel concept.

BUT, as Hayles points out, Twelve Blue does indeed enable the reader to wander the plateaus of the twisting stories in a method not attainable by the ol’ pen and papyrus. There is certainly no definite ending to the tale and the reader, if they so choose, may freely tread along Javier’s and Lisa’s and Aurelie’s and Lisle’s and Samantha’s and Delores’s ambiguous and vine-like tales on and on and on.

Righteous. But what does this accomplish? It seems to me that old man Borges’ “Aleph”–the all-encompassing point of everything and nothing at once–is indeed the ultimate goal of hypertext, but since impossible, let’s call it the ultimate direction of the medium or something to that effect; either way, all relevant critiques and commentaries I’ve read on the subject thus far have lead me to believe that this innumerable-singular-yet-infinite web is the basic motivation.

So, does Twelve Blue get close to this? How close is the reader to the Aleph? Hayles compares Joyce’s piece to the “Web,” itself.  It therefore must have a constant flow in all directions at the voyeur’s own behest. But Twelve Blue is contained. It’s web is limited to the world Joyce has devised. We may only choose the finite threads available to us. The possible problem with this in the case of Twelve Blue is the transience of the characters, which Hayles also makes note of. The ambiguity of the pronouns and just who is who is often confusing and has the capability of alienating the reader. I, too, felt this way initially. But after reading the work a few times over, I think it actually expands the possibilities of Twelve Blue. By enlisting a cast of mobile, interchangeable and over-lapping characters, Joyce allows his world to become a sort of miniature, mutating and, ultimately, pretend Aleph. The story is not necessarily following a specific “cognitive mode” but piling the layers of blue onto the reader. Joyce’s story is able to mimic the Aleph because of his simple and oblique language and the small individual tales told in no particular order.  His refined story-telling with the ambiguous characters throughout Twelve Blue allows the reader to feel as if they are flowing freely within Joyce’s microcosm. I was pondering to myself how different the story would be if it was constructed in print. Say that there was no order to any of the short tales and you could simply flip open to any page and it would appear just as it does online. I don’t feel that it would be much different. The clicks here are aesthetic; the fact that if it were a book it would physically have an end is also an allusion and doesn’t change the natural “links” of a well-told tale. The story works because of the quality and style of Joyce’s writing, not necessarily because of its use of the Web. Any story employs a sort of “cognitive mode” that pushes the reader to make his or her own connections throughout an otherwise instruction-less and non-linear work. To credit it this to the fact that the story uses links is an overstatement. Really, if the book were in print, it may even give the reader more freedom to wander whatever plateaus in any particular order.


~ by PDG on February 22, 2010.

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