[New] Blas Valdez Hypertext Disorder
|I can understand how hypertext can overwhelm some readers, how complex webs of links may seem chaotic and cause anxiety in a person holding a mouse. However, hypertext to me feels like home, it feels natural. In fact, most of what I’ve written in pen and paper even has a hypertext feel to it.
To explain myself better I would have to go back to my childhood. And when talking about my childhood or my teenage years, one big fat book always comes to mind: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The DSM.
I’m proud to say that ever since I was a child, I have shown the symptoms of several mental disorders and can be legally diagnosed with any one of them. But today, I want to focus on one of my favorites: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Re-reading the diagnostic criteria of this disorder reminded me so much of hypertext. I felt as though I was reading a theoretical work on cyberliterature.
The essential feature of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a persistent pattern of inattention and or hyperactivity-impulsivity. Inattention may be manifest in academic, occupational, or social situations. Individuals with this disorder often appear as if their mind is elsewhere. They shift from one uncompleted activity to another. Individuals diagnosed with this disorder may begin a task, move on to another, then turn yet to something else, prior to completing any one task. In social situations, inattention may be expressed as frequent shifts in conversation, not listening to others, not keeping one’s mind on conversations, and not following details or rules of games or activities.
Hyperactivity may be manifested by fidgetiness or squirming in one’s seat, by not remaining seated when expected to do so, by excessive running or climbing in situations where it is inappropriate, by appearing to be often on the go or as if driven by a motor or by talking excessively. Children with this disorder are always jumping or climbing on furniture, running through the house, may have difficulty participating in sedentary group activities like listening to a story. In adolescents and adults, symptoms of hyperactivity take the form of feeling of restlessness and they also have difficulty engaging in quite sedentary activities.
Impulsivity may lead to accidents (knocking over objects, running into people, grabbing a hot pan) and to engagement in potentially dangerous activities without consideration of possible consequences.
Now, doesn’t this all remind you of how a reader experiences hypertext literature or the internet in general? Shifting from one web page to another before completely reading it. Beginning a text and clicking to another page or site while still reading the first paragraph, then clicking yet to something else, prior to completing any one page.
Isn’t hypertext precisely a very un-sedentary reading experience? Isn’t hypertext just a text plus neurosis?
Because of my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity background, very linear and static literature has always made me anxious. High doses of prescription drugs and frequent visits to neurologists during my childhood managed to control the inattention side of the disorder, but the hyperactivity (mental and physical) remained.
Taking this into account, it is no surprise that in those pre-internet years, I felt immediately drawn to Cortázar. When I first picked up Rayuela as a teenager, it was like prozac injected into my skull: jumping back and forth between pages just felt right, it made reading a book less anxious. Reading Libro de Manuel, with its mixture of prose and newspaper clippings, was just as soothing to my brain.
Of course, you can imagine my joy when I discovered the internet and hypertext during the mid 90s. After publishing a traditional book of short stories, entitled Restos de Corazón, I inevitably started experimenting with hypertext literature and wrote and programmed Dolor y viceversa (in English Pain & vice versa).
I always say that Dolor y viceversa is a collection of hypertext short stories. However, at the root of its structure,Dolor… is just a traditional book of short stories with a traditional index. The root stories can be read without exploring any of the links and won’t lack any punch. They already possess enough complexity to stand on its own and in fact some of them have already been published in this root form. Of course, once the reader starts clicking away the whole experience becomes richer.
Dolor y viceversa does not have just one structural pattern, but, like most hypertexts, contains instances of many different patterns: cycles, counterpoint, sieves, parallel worlds, etc. Like Mark Bernstein says: “the great utility of structural patterns, in fact, derives in large measure from the ways that patterns can be combined to form larger structures”.
Structurally speaking, the index in Pain & vice versa works like a sieve, sorting readers through twelve stories or layers of choice. Once we enter one of the stories, one of the branches, we cannot jump to another story unless we return to the index. In other words, the stories are cycles: the reader returns to a previously-visited node (the index) and eventually departs along a new path.
The overall theme in Dolor y viceversa is that love eventually, inescapably, leads to pain. This fatalistic view permeates the whole structure. Pain & viceversa is not made up of interactive narratives in which the reader's intervention changes the course of events. I even added a script to prevent readers to use the back button: we are forced to face the tragic fate of the characters. There is no escape. We cannot click ourselves to happy endings. The cycles, counterpoints, and parallel worlds in Dolor only allow us to experience different shades of pain.
Besides this hopeless view of love, the twelve stories are connected by a hidden tale: the also tragic love story of Mariana and Arturo. This thirteenth story is not in the index but hidden away in the links of the twelve stories, where Mariana and Arturo are background, minor, characters. Taken as a whole, their twelve appearances, twelve non-linear episodes, tell the tale of their doomed relationship.
Some stories, like “Tlahueliloc”, “O+”, “Für Elise”, have an internal counterpoint and mirror world but are essentially linear. In these three stories, the reader has the option of experiencing the story from the point of view of any of the main characters. Like I already mentioned above: the course of events cannot be changed, only the eyes through which we live them. We can pretty much stay through the whole story following a specific character, or we can be jumping back and forth alternating between the leading actors.
I’ve have always found it fascinating how a story, how an event can be drastically changed just by experiencing it through the eyes of a different character: the winner and the loser; the victim and the victimizer.
After Dolor y viceversa, I could not help but write a hypermedia novel using only pen and paper. I can’t seem to get away from the hyper. The result was Rompecabezas (in English Jigsaw Puzzle): which mixes stream-of-consciousness prose, poetry, song lyrics, email messages and film-script-style passages.
Rompecabezas is the tale of Andrés, an emotionally wounded economics student who arrives in a sinister Mexico City looking for his missing sister Viviana, but soon finds out that in his sister’s world, nothing is what it seems including her. As he gets closer to the truth, Andrés is forced to deal with his own past and attempt to assemble an even bigger and ultimately unsolvable puzzle: the human heart. Rompecabezas is a left-brain (Andrés) vs. right-brain (Mexico City) battle to the death: where the logical result is madness.
After Rompecabezas, my plan was to return to hypertext or hypermedia, but it was then that I received a grant to write a novel around the theme of globalization. Since the finished product had to be a traditional paper-based book, again I had to figure out a way to infect it with my hypertext virus. The solution was to write a novel in thirteen short stories. The book, entitled Deleting Me, consists of thirteen local stories that can be read separately as short stories, but that together form the chapters of a global reality.
The background, minor, characters in one short story (one chapter), are the leading characters in another and vice versa. Moreover, the novel is full of references to URLs where different aspects of the story can be continued: some of the url’s are to sites that I have access to. In other words, the novel can keep evolving even after it comes out of the printing press.
Right now, I’m working on a project called Self-Sabotage. Before going back to doing something in hypertext, I wanted to first find a way to click inside the text itself: I wanted to go inside the structure of fonts and be able to hide in plain sight a story within the story.
I first got the idea when studying handwriting analysis. Handwriting is a diagram of our unconscious mind. Our writing patterns are clear indicators of how we feel about ourselves. They are a measure of our self-confidence and self-esteem, they indicate our fears as well as our talents. Graphology, also called handwriting analysis, is the science that correlates handwriting patterns with personality traits. My goal was to design fonts using the principles of graphology so that the font itself would indicate specific character traits. I called the prototype font Self-Sabotage.
Self-sabotage is a font that was designed using the principles of graphology to include some of the worst character traits a person can have. From a graphological point of view, this font includes handwriting patterns typical of individuals with low self-esteem, aggressiveness, impulsivity, paranoia, suicidal tendencies, sexual dysfunctions, etc.
By using this tool that can be called hyper-font, I can hide in plain sight the psychological profile of a specific character. For example, I can have a politician giving a speech proclaiming himself to be the champion of democracy and human rights, but using a font that betrays his real beliefs, his actions: the font can show the personality of a cruel dictator.
Virtual presentation given at the 10th Annual Symposium on Contemporary Narrative, dedicated to Latin American cyberliterature and cyberculture / La Ciberliteratura y Cibercultura Latinoamericanas, University of Leeds, UK, 29 March, 2006.
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"Violancelo", hypertext by Blas Valdez