In the meantime I kept one hand

[I posted this reading response earlier to the blog that came with my wordpress account. I see now that it belongs on the course blog, so I am reposting it.]

From the moment of arrival at the “body” page, my body – a wunderkammer presents the user with the question of how to navigate the work. Some parts of the body are labeled and singled out for attention by white outline boxes. The boxes overlap and the flat image gives all the hatched clickable parts equal weight. Other links in the face are unlabeled, and other labels in the body are unlinked. All of the pages for the parts are even located at the same level of the website directory structure, revealed in the browser’s status bar when the mouse moves over a linked portion of the image. There is no obvious place to start, no obvious link to follow.

Because the page appears as a portal of links, a visitor might not stop for long to search for all the hidden details. The function of the hyperlinks clashes with the function of a still image – one entices the reader to move on and the other entices the reader to stop and look. If the reader chooses to move on, even unhidden details are passed over, leaving more unseen to discover in future viewings.

But a visitor to the site might think about the link page itself in any number of ways. They might treat all the links as equal and pick any one, or they might impose their own order onto the image. They might think they should start at the top or the bottom. They might try to pick an interesting body part – perhaps “internal organs,” which differs from most of the other parts by virtue of being internal and usually uncommented on. They might pick based on what they guess would be hidden behind the link, a topic interesting by association with a word.

Though each reader may take the open-ended details in different ways, to draw the reader into the network of passages a certain amount of detail must be communicated. What makes this communication more difficult is the way readers can move through the site in different orders. No page can make the assumption that the content of any other page has already been read, while there is the potential that any other page could have already been read. My reading started at legs, went to teeth, and then to “erogenous__gen”. The pages for legs and teeth both referred to drawing and to monsters. Other pages continued those references, while some dropped them. If I had started reading at a different page, the themes that drew me through the site might have been pain, attention, or the capabilities and development of the author’s body. Because of the reading order I chose, I didn’t focus on the paragraph in legs about “grown-up flesh” until the theme was drawn out in other pages – but had I started at those pages and come to legs, I would have found the thread there to follow, and would not have felt lost.

With more pages read, the sense of what could have been missed becomes more apparent. If the reader wants to check for those details, there is no straightforward way to go back. There are no “back to the main page” or “back to the body” links on each page. The only ways back to the initial image are to step outside the page, using the address bar to navigate directly to the beginning or using the browser’s back button to retrace the path taken to the current page. While a print book could provide some similar experiences – the words of a page direct the reader only onward, not backward to the table of contents – the turning back of webpages differs from the turning back of paper pages in that the same page can be passed many times on the way back if it was passed many times on the way forward through a maze of links.

When I read, attempted to save the pages with non-body-part names for last. I reasoned that as they were not linked from the index page, they must be different in some way than those pages that were. If they weren’t available as the first links I could click, I must not be supposed to view them first. “Theories” and “cabinet” were the ones I noticed most, in links across multiple pages. By simply being something other than body parts in a site composed of the body, the names of these pages in the links stood out strongly to me.

Looking first at theories, I felt it had the sense of a conclusion: “I had been shown up: I was stupid and brutal in my pride, just like everyone else.” Here the author’s exploration of the body finally reaches a definitive result. Then I found my way to cabinet, with its talk of “no final unpacking,” and reference to the structure of the site itself. The statement that “you leave off in the middle of a sentence” was jarring to me, as in my entire reading of the site I had left off in the middle of no sentences. I wanted to go up a directory level and see all the pages laid out as neat html files when I was told “you will have to feel your way in,” though, unlike with some websites, here going up a directory level just brought me back to the entrance of the body, where I could consider the ways other people would approach the page.


~ by k2theiso on January 17, 2011.

One Response to “In the meantime I kept one hand”

  1. I really liked the observation that some of the pages were impossible to reach from the main page, which I completely overlooked. I feel like the author’s intention here was that if you’re really interested in finding out about her, you have to dig deeper on your own accord and put patience into the discovery process, much like with real people. You can’t just know everything about a person from the surface, you have to take the time to listen to them, understand them and, eventually, know them–from their darkest secrets to their most basic principles.

    Consequently, I also liked the observation that there was no “Home” option from any of the pages. This means that, if you want to re-read something, you have to wait for it to come up again or start over completely. I feel like the motive for this is “you should have listened the first time,” because when people are telling you very personal things, they don’t like to repeat themselves. It’s pretty impressive that the author was able to incorporate that aspect into a webpage.

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