Hacking and The Virtual Disappearance of Miriam

One of the biggest issues at question in The Virtual Disappearance of Miriam (featured on Dreaming Methods) is that of reality–which portions of the narrative are “real,” and which have been manufactured by its creator (whether the narrator, or the author him/herself)? This idea is nothing new for our class–we’ve seen it explored thoroughly in both House of Leaves and People of Paper–but Miriam presents a new way of imagining this conflict: virtual hacking.

Early on in The Virtual Disappearance of Miriam, we learn that the main character, Luther, is a “freelance” software who engages in 7 hours of “screen time” a day, non-work related. Although the brief profile he offers his readers scrolls by at high speed, performing enough re-reads to process everything reveals that his interests include gaming, and–more important for the purposes of this blog entry–hacking.

The “hacking” that occurs in The Virtual Disappearance of Miriam, though, is not hacking in the sense we would usually think about it: a person who uses online technology to access or change someone else’s work or information. In Luther’s case, his sense of reality has been hacked–but he himself is the culprit.

From the beginning of the text, we as readers are brought to question Luther’s grip on reality: not only are his reactions to the disappearance of his girlfriend Miriam extreme and paranoid (i.e. the desperate message he leaves on the answering machine of female friend Sam, the automatic assumption that she may have died), the physical proof of her existence is notably questionable. For instance, even though Luther and Miriam have been together for seven months, he doesn’t have a single photograph of her. The hypertextual elements of the story help to emphasize this fact when the reader purposefully clicks on her name, expecting to see her pictured, and is instead shown a catalog clipping gathered by Luther.

When Luther finally finds a lead to Miriam’s disappearance in the form of a virtual letter she’s written him, he accepts the risk of getting ” virus” by opening the file containing the letter (all with the help of the user, who must ignore the virus warning and select the “OK” button to continue). At this point, we become more conscious of the fact that Luther himself may have been “hacked.” In section 2, after allowing the virus, he begins to lose control of his body: “And my body doesn’t seem right. Maybe it’s the dope. But this doesn’t resemble a dope hit, it’s more like I’ve dropped a tab or something.”

Luther’s experiences become, from this point, increasingly more strange, and though he claims Miriam was the source of the virus, the fact that his hallucinations point more toward his own desires and interests suggest that it is he himself has “hacked” his own reality: he’s placed within a movie scene directed by idol Quentin Tarantino, and he defeats Sam, whom he sees as a threat to his relationship with Miriam, in a Mortal Kombat-esque faceoff. Luther recognizes that these occurrences are strange, but he clings to the physical as his basis for what is real. In section 3, he writes,

I’ve no idea who, what, or where I am since this began – the half-empty bed, the e-mail, House of Sam, and now the movie Role. But I’m guided through this Labyrinth of the Bizarre by the thread of a consistent, reassuringly physical fact…wedged between my bottom teeth, jagged against my probing tongue-tip, there remains a shred of Miriam’s fingernail. Or possibly thumbnail.

At the beginning of the text, Luther claims that he is still in possession of Miriam’s fingernails, which he likes to chew. Even after Miriam disappears, these artifacts prove her existence. Ironically, however, as Luther becomes more desperate to hang onto this physical proof, a play on words suggests that this might not be the case at all: does Luther have a fingernail, or just a virtual “thumbnail”–a sample-sized computer image. The fingernails may very well be just another instance of Luther hacking into his own reality.

As the mystery of The Virtual Disappearance of Miriam culminates in the last section of the narrative, the allusions to hacking become increasingly obvious. When Luther convinces himself that Miriam hasn’t run away after all, and has just been working in her office the entire time, his delusions seem to have reached their height.

She didn’t leave me or go off with another guy (or gal), she didn’t die, she just went to the office – so engrossed in what she was doing she clean forgot to call to let me know. And all the while I was so crazed by her disappearance I’d looped myself into some kind of transcendent timewarp. Yes. YES.

While accepting this explanation ties up the loose ends for Luther in a convenient, tidy way, the eagerness with which he does so illustrates the self-serving nature of his delusions. When Luther is unable to connect with Miriam, however, and must do so in an online chat format instead, he is forced to face with the biggest reality-check of all: that perhaps Miriam never existed: “I’ve been hacked. It’s not me doing this, it’s her. Hacking into me, corrupting me, de-filing me. Miriam is inside the system, and the system is me.”

Upon making this assertion, Luther also realizes that the nail he has been chewing is gone. Luther’s reality has been “hacked” by Miriam, but, if Miriam doesn’t exist, the true hacker is Luther himself. In this sense, I am inclined to agree with the story’s “postmodernist” ending, that there never was a Miriam to begin with: “I wake to find the space beside me is just a space, as usual.” For hacker Luther, the self-deception involved in Miriam’s “virtual disappearance” may be his greatest work.

Elise Hawthorne

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~ by elisehawthorne on April 11, 2010.

3 Responses to “Hacking and The Virtual Disappearance of Miriam”

  1. Interesting, I focused on gaming as the more important aspect of his hobbies in my blog post. You have done a lot more with interpretation than I have though, so kudos.

  2. It never occurred to me that there was a possibility of not having been a Miriam in the first place, until the postmodernist ending said what it did; even then I just regarded it as a creative jab at postmodernism and not really a serious attempt to end the story. However, reading your interpretation of it, the postmodernist ending gains a little more credibility with me because if the story was this way from the beginning, i.e. Miriam never was, then the postmodernist ending not only makes sense but is the only ending to do so.

    Luther as a hacker seems capable of having hacked his own memory, so if he did, maybe some sort of a Miriam got into his head (hard drive?) when there never was one. The movie scene, as well as the battle with Sam, seem all the more possible in a world inside the mind of a computer-man that can hack itself. Luther as a real person would never have this sort of stuff happen to him; Luther as a computer contains the entire world of cyberspace, within which anything is possible.

  3. I think that the idea of Luther “hacking” his on reality is increidbly interesting, and I wonder if you could give more examples of how this relates to the typical hackign we know of. i still remember my disappointment when I realized how unrealistic the portrayals of hacking were in Matrix and Hackers. There are no binary codes lime green on black scrolling past at a dizzying speed. The goal, from what I gather, of “real” hackign is to corrupt files (chaos) or to access information that is private.

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