Writing and the Fragmented Self

Yousuf Dhamee (English 112, 1996)

"I am buried here. You can resurrect me, but only piecemeal. If you want to see the whole, you will have to sew me together yourself."

In many respects the medium of hypertext is ideal for examining post-modern issues of identity. The decentered text mirrors the fragmented self, allowing the author to explore a character without imposing an artificial framework on his or her psyche. The text, loosely structured through a series of links, lacks a traditional sense of hierarchical order, just as twentieth-century individuals are conceived of as lacking unified or coherent selves. The author has given up a degree of control by framing her work in this manner, leaving the reader with increased power over the text. The patchwork girl's identity "lies" in the cells of the computer, but the responsibility of creating the text lies with the viewer, who uses his/her own centers to form a unique vision of the character. In this manner each reader discovers a slightly different individual. The hypertext form forces the reader to a new level of awareness regarding the manner in which she or he creates an image of the other. This passage, from the opening screen of Patchwork Girl, reminds us that the protagonist exists only to the extent that she is created by the reader. There is no "authentic" reading or personality (the reader can only recreate the subject "piecemeal,") and each interpretation is bound to leave something out. This forces the viewer to constantly question his own reading of the text. She or he realizes that no single "Patchwork Girl" is privileged over another. The loss of certainty serves to demystify the text (and the author) to a certain degree. The reader can no longer trust either to act as an authority. The hyper"text" constantly questions and unsettles the reader. Jackson's passage ccould serve as an opening to virtually any hypertext document.

In the postmodern moment nothing is ever quite certain. The "I" of the passage quoted above, however, is more than simply Jackson's protagonist. Narrative and truth, as well as identity are fragmented in a post-modern world. Although individuals can piece together facts in order to create their own truths, there always exists the knowledge that the same information can be structured to tell a different tale. The decline of the metanarrative (which in fiction is made possible by hypertext) leaves a chaotic world where many different stories compete for a fair hearing.