III. Degree Zero of visuality: Afternoon
Michael Joyce's Afternoon, a story, arguably the first hyperfiction Text proper, uses only a minimal number of visual devices or navigational tools--which can be seen as one answer to the problem of maintaining the fictional illusion. There is no overview of the conceptual space of the hypertext, and there is no visible signing of the words that 'yield', that is, take the reader to an alternative story line. That leaves the 'tool bar' as the only distinctive visual means used in addition to text. The tool bar has four 'buttons' and a type-in area (see Fig. 1, below). The first of the buttons is an arrow pointing left: pressing it takes the reader back to the previously read lexia. The second button contains an icon of an open book: pressing it shows the reader a list of the links that can be activated from the current lexia. The third button is 'yes/no', which lets the reader answer possible questions posed in the Text, while the fourth button is 'print', letting the reader make a hard copy of the lexia on screen. There is also the type-in area, in which the reader can either answer possible questions in the Text, or type any word that he/she thinks might activate some link. In addition to the tool bar there are two possible ways to navigate through Afternoon: the reader can either press 'return' after reading a lexia, which takes him/her to the next lexia in the default story line (there are numerous default stories depending on decisions made earlier in the reading), or he/ she can double-click any word on the current lexia which he/she thinks may be a yielding word.
Fig.1. The Toolbar from Afternoon
The icons on the buttons are, then, the only visual devices in Afternoon, but to some degree they do affect the mental structuring of the Text. First of all, the use of the left arrow strongly implies that there is a directional line, with respect to which it is possible to define 'back', but also 'forth' (the 'return' key has a close relation to linear print, suggesting forward movement). In addition, especially when the directions follow the traditional (Western) way of depicting time lines, the button also suggests temporal control, referring to 'back' and 'forth' in time, too. But it also has strong implications for the temporality of the story line; since readers' expectation of temporal succession is strong, the lexia read first describes a story-time earlier than the lexia read next.
There are, however, situations where these two temporalities--reading time and story time--do not coincide. When a reader has chosen an alternative link (either clicking a word that yields, or choosing from the list) instead of the default one, and then presses the back-button, he/she will go back only on the level of reading time; with regard to the alternative story line, he/she just abandons it. This has the effect of strengthening the central role of the default story line, and the alternative status of other story lines: the backtracking takes the reader always (ultimately) back to the default storyline, instead of probing further in the history of the alternative storyline.
Another narrative device heavily used in Afternoon is that of leaving out specific indications of persons, places and times. The lexias themselves don't create a strong feeling of temporal succession or causality among themselves. On the other hand, as Landow has pointed out: "The very existence of links in hypermedia conditions the reader to expect purposeful, important relationships between linked materials." (Landow 1993, 83)
To sum up, the left-pointing arrow and 'return' suggest a (story)line, which reinforces the reader's expectation of linear temporality, establishing the concept of a stable story. The existence of links, expressed with the open book icon, tells the reader that there are different alternative storylines. But because of the linear model evoked, it is most likelly that the reader will treat these storylines as intersecting lines or as flashbacks/prolepses in relation to the default line, instead of the truly 'net-like' or 'rhizomatic' structure cherished by most hypertext theoreticians. George Landow has argued that Afternoon "produces an experience very similar to that provided by reading the unified plot described by narratologists," but only if we consider the plot as something "created by the reader-author ... rather than a phenomenon belonging solely to the text" (1992, 116). Afternoon creates the feeling of an underlying stable storyline in much the same way that modernist printed narratives do, even though there does exist more than one version of the story. This feeling is also strenghtened by the use of an open book as the icon for the links: after all, the reading of Afternoon does not differ so much from leafing through a printed book.
In fact, this relationship to a print book is reinforced by the
print button: using it produces a hard copy of the text, even
if it is from within the text window only. That is, the title
bar (each text window has a title bar), the buttons, or possible
background documents, are not printed. Thus it defines in its
own very concrete way what is considered as 'text proper.' This
means for example that the lexia-titles function more as technical
properties of links than they do as chapter titles in printed
fiction; however, it is difficult to define who is responsible
for this--the author, the programmer, the program used.
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