History as Hypertext, Memory as Hypertext, Identity as Hypertext

Izel 'Izzy' Sulam izzy@mindless.com

Forever striving to tie together disparate themes from our course, I will now argue that Shelley Jackson's works and Japanimation are both based on the very same essential principles of hypertextuality.

The above perhaps constitutes a misleading statement of my motivations. The fact of the matter is that I kept putting off writing my Jackson essay, coming up with various and sundry things to postpone the inevitable, and at one point I decided that watching yet another episode of Rurouni Kenshin would be a good idea. For the uninitiated, this anime tells the tale of one Himura Kenshin, a former government assassin who finally decides to give up his job to become a rurounin (wandering samurai) and takes an oath not to kill anyone ever again.

This anime has the usual cheesy prologue, long swordfights, obligatory love interests, enemies who end up becoming friends, and some well-placed bits of monk wisdom, one of which helped me understand Jackson's work. This particular episode featured a conflict between Kenshin and an evil, apparently superhuman, samurai rumored to be a better swordsman than the protagonist, who in the course seeking his newfound enemy, meets an old, blind monk who had encountered this samurai many years earlier. As the monk tells Kenshin of this encounter in a cliched anime flashback, frames representing his his memories of the past replace those representing his current conversation.

After watching half a minute of this alternation between past and present, memory and speech in the fictional present, I realized I was witnessing the reading of a hypertext! The old monk was linking his current conversation (a lexia in the present) to his memories (lexia from the past). His narration was a hypertext of current emotions, sympathy for Kenshin, as well as of emotions from the past, including intense hatred for this supernatural samurai. His momentary consciousness was therefore constructed on the fly, compiled from various lexias from the present (i.e. his sensory input) and from the past (i.e. his memories). In fact, the situation is much more complex than this summary here: The superhuman samurai had used a magical spell to blind this man for life during their fight, after which point he decided that he would become a monk since he could no longer excel as a fighter. Therefore, the monk perhaps owes his wisdom to this samurai. His narration occasionally shows his conflicting feelings. This episode appropriatly instantiates hypertextuality, because (1) conflicting lexia are inevitably linked within the monk's identity and the monk, because (2) the hyperreader, has to resolve these conflicts in order to come to terms with himself, which is nothing but a hypertext of lexia based on his (constantly updated) memories.

So how does all this relate to Jackson's work? Clearly, Jackson uses her body as a set of links. Every appendage links together a lexia from the present to one from the past, or possibly two from the past with one another. This is less obvious in Patchwork Girl, which is based on how the female Frankenstein comes to terms with her own physicality, as well as the doctor's feelings about her, and the narrator's rather skillfull descriptions of the creative process, using metaphors of scars and quilts and inkmarks. However, My Body makes no attempts to conceal this technique. The appendages literally form the links between the lexia. While thinking of her nose, Jackson is reminded of her vagina. (Isn't the connection obvious?) While ruminating on her breasts, Jackson makes the jump to her armpits, then to leg-hair (through a fleeting consideration of armpit hair), from there to her toes, and ultimately to the elusive wunderkammer. Each appendage exists both for its own sake, as an object of meditation, and for its hypertextual value, as links between Jackson's memories of that bad girl with the green tube top and of her mother imitating a big fat fish as well as of a late night of study in her best friend's room and of much, much more. The body constitutes a very intuitive interface for one's identity, it's personal, unique, familiar and intimately connected to one's sensations which in turn help define one's emotions, and thus are memories ultimately formed. Click on Jackson's vagina and she'll tell you how it rewrote Joyce and how she then decided that she was going to be a writer. Click on her back and she'll tell you about the boy she saw in a book, one who sprouted wings, and how she was so fascinated with the whole idea that she decided to grow her own. Go on, click anywhere you like. Someone else would probably slap you in the face, but Jackson, incredibly candid and brave, uses her body as the ultimate hypertextual interface to her identity, which is nothing but a huge jumble of lexia all interlinked among one another. The stories we tell, the memories we remember, the identities we claim, are all linked, all compiled-on-the-fly, all hypertextual.

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for Website Body and Self Theory