Everybody Else's Girl

Constructs of Identity and Other thoughts on Shelley Jackson

Ruiyan Xu

Despite criticism from others, I found Patchwork Girl to not only be an effective hypertext fiction, but a beautiful collection of writing. More interesting, and personal to me, though, is Jackson's My Body. Perhaps it's because Iím a sucker for good, confessional writing, but I immediately got drawn into the individual lexias and constructed an identity much in the same way that the narrator asks us to in Patchwork Girl.

I am most myself in the gaps between my parts.

An interesting element of My Body was not only the structure of the lexias together but the relationship between lexias. Soviet filmmaker and theorist Sergei Eisenstein believed that meaning originates in the collision of images instead of the images themselves whereby it is the cuts that are essential to film; Jackson substitutes links for cuts while working in a hypertextual environment. While Glen Sanford found this problematic, I found it fascinating -- almost as if I were working on a jigsaw puzzle. Upon approaching a new lexia in My Body, I'd find a link to a document that's already been read. But because the link itself would invariably intrigue me, I'd follow it just the same. Not only to read the lexias on their own, but to discover the intricacies of the relationship between them. At times I was confused, but Jackson would invariably provide me with a clue if I looked hard enough. This allowed me as a reader to approach a lexia from several different angles, if you will, and gain different perspectives and see how that specific piece related to the whole.

My vagina had rewritten Joyce. It was then I knew I was going to be a writer.

Both My Body and even more so, Patchwork Girl are about the process of writing. The first deals with the origins of the author's goals, the second with the process of writing electronically (and self -referentially). Parallel to Jackson's idea of a woman composed of many different parts from many different lives, scars bulging, seams showing, is the image of a composition of lexias - of many different styles and genres, its seams/links joining, threading, suturing the parts into the whole. The association between women and hypertext is not new, yet the skill with which Jackson accomplishes this without making Patchwork Girl contrived is very impressive. My Body, at times, reminds me of a post-modern, hypertextual, female version of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man . Maybe it's because I'm female, but there's something both deeply touching and deeply absurd as Jackson talks about her body and her soul so openly.

If you want to see the whole, you will have to sew me together yourself.

Mary, Shelley and I don't exist. That is, they (we) don't exist on a disk. Nor a screen. We are only pieces -- we are not whole. It is the reader who has to sew -- it is the reader in possession of so much power. The construction of identity, in this case, is only partly the responsibility of the author. Despite the fact that the reader brings a bit of himself/herself to every reading of every text, never has characterization been so malleable. By following different paths, stitching together different pieces, leaving some hanging off one side, ignoring others completely -- the formation of the character is wholly dependent on the reader. A girl who'll never quite be her own, the fragmented self has never been presented so well. There are hundreds of different ways to read her, and perhaps thousands of different ways to interpret her. Which one is real? None of them? Any of them? Or is the term "real" simply absurd?

A universe of sideways

Hypertext is not yet an easily read environment. At times through Jackson's works, I found myself getting frustrated at the lack of a resolution, the lack of building tension, lack of traditional fictional elements. But at the same time, I found myself getting caught in the beauty of the language, the impact of the images. They're really more like prose poems than a fictional work, Jackson's individual lexias. The whole web, a scrap book, or an album. It is largely dependent on the language, the quality of writing that Jackson's webs are so successful. It is not an escapist novel which takes us on a ride, but a puzzle which we have to piece together on our own. There's no great mystery solved, no final pieces -- what, then, do we get for our hard work? Something like a cubist portrait, showing us different sides of the author/narrator at the same time. But at the same time that she reveals herself, we make her ourselves.

Discussion of Patchwork
Girl Overview Screen
for Website Body and Self Theory