And in a Different World Grows a Different Story

Shelley Jackson’s “My Body and a Wunderkammer” made me uncomfortable—not uncomfortable in the sense of being appalled by the subject matter, but uncomfortable in that it made me itch, like when someone points out a certain part of your body and you can really start feel it itch for touch. Uncomfortable in the way that some feminist poets use certain visceral or obscene language in order to make you uncomfortable, make you realize how uncomfortable and wrong patriarchal logic is….

There is a certain intimacy to the text, picking apart her body parts and personal memories and guilt (the guilt that resides in our body parts and taking pleasure in the body). The structure of the story, the use of hypertexts makes me uncomfortable as well. While we are used to reading a narrative from beginning to end, each reader has a different experience because of the order they choose to click/read things. I found myself anxious, trying to decode the “right” way to read it, learning fast that you don’t click every hyperlink that comes your way, because then you would get (even more) lost in this endless maze. I started to read pages fully, clicking on phrases that were still blue (purple, I had realized meant that I had already been to that page, even if I had not yet clicked that specific hyperlink—an amazing technological feature). I was still anxious that I would not find all of the links and I would miss something….at one point I even met a dead end and had to start back at the beginning. But perhaps all of this anxiety had to do with the fact that it was a different reading experience.

I feel as though this story could only really be told on the Internet because of the way the Internet adds a layer of whimsicality to an otherwise sort of eerie and complicated prose. The fact that it is your choice which hyperlink to choose adds a texture to the structure that a print book wouldn’t have. Also, it gives you the opportunity to “escape” from places that are too eerie for you at that moment, allowing you to quickly switch to a section. Lastly, wisps of hair (or whatever they are) littering the page makes you feel something giving it a visual texture.

Furthermore, I thought that the idea of the wunderkammer was essential to the piece; when I stumbled across the “cabinet of curiosities” page, I couldn’t help but see the sort of meta-narrative threaded without. She reveals the experience of reading this project on this page: the randomness as something essential and meaningful. When she writes, “I have found every drawer to be both bottomless and intricately connected to every other drawer, such that there can be no final unpacking,” it speaks to the idea that her body and her life’s story is interconnected, and at the same time, ruminating on the subject is not necessarily opening a vault into the truth—because the vault is “bottomless.”

In her project “Skin,” Shelley also speaks to this idea of being both interconnected yet bottomless, but this time with others.  Instead of using hyperlinks, this time Shelley seeks to tell her story through strangers, permanently engraving words on their skin and thereby connecting them in some unable-to-be-broken bond (the Ineradicable stain). There is a “bottomless” aspect to this as well: while this project is intriguing to many people, only the participants are able to read the text—and only after they prove they got the word tattooed on them. While the story exists in perhaps “linear” prose, it is bottomless in the idea that it is exclusive.

The most intriguing aspect of this project to me were the “footnotes” on the website. While some people wrote kind of lame explanations of their words through the use of a dictionary or petty anecdote, some chose to create more art (lyrical prose) out of Shelley’s words. Her title for the section is perfect and seem to serve a similar purpose to the hyperlinks. Here, her story is connected to many other people’s stories, art spawning off from art. Furthermore, the video commissioned by the Berkley Art museum is a perfect example of this phenomenon, as a few of the participants say their word in their own voices, and collectively form another piece of art. The last line of the video puts it perfectly: “And in a different word grows a different story.”


~ by khughes80 on February 3, 2013.

%d bloggers like this: