Reading Network Fiction

Reading Network Fiction

Reading Network Fiction

Reading Network Fiction

Synopsis

The marriage of narrative and the computer dates back to the 1980s, with the hypertext experiments of luminaries such as Judy Malloy and Michael Joyce. What has been variously called "hypertext fiction," "literary hypertext," and "hyperfiction" has surely surrendered any claim to newness in the 21st century. David Ciccoricco establishes the category of "network fiction" as distinguishable from other forms of hypertext and cybertext: network fictions are narrative texts in digitally networked environments that make use of hypertext technology in order to create emergent and recombinant narratives. Though they both pre-date and post-date the World Wide Web, they share with it an aesthetic drive that exploits the networking potential of digital composition and foregrounds notions of narrative recurrence and return. Ciccoricco analyzes innovative developments in network fiction from first-generation writers Michael Joyce ( Twilight, a symphony, 1997) and Stuart Moulthrop ( Victory Garden, 1991) through Judd Morrissey's The Jew's Daughter (2000), an acclaimed example of digital literature in its latter instantiations on the Web. Each investigation demonstrates not only what the digital environment might mean for narrative theory but also the ability of network fictions to sustain a mode of reading that might, arguably, be called "literary." The movement in the arts away from representation and toward simulation, away from the dynamics of reading and interpretation and toward the dynamics of interaction and play, has indeed led to exaggerated or alarmist claims of the endangerment of the literary arts. At the same time, some have simply doubted that the conceptual and discursive intricacy of print fiction can migrate to new media. Against these claims, Reading Network Fiction attests to the verbal complexity and conceptual depth of a body of writing created for the surface of the screen.

Excerpt

In the process of researching a body of work for a full-length study such as this one, it is somewhat unsettling when that body receives a "death notice." It is even more unsettling when it receives two of them. The corpus in question is literature that is written on and for the computer screen, literature that takes the material form of a digital network rather than a printed book, literature that—at least in what media theorist Adrian Miles (1998) has called its first "rosy blushes"—was popularly known as literary hypertext and hypertext fiction. But although hypertext, the term, has indeed expired in its capacity to stand as metonym for the diverse field of digital literature, the project of writing literature for screen media has not. Rather, it persists in many forms, one of which is network fiction.

In 1997 Nick Montfort announced that "Cybertext Killed the Hypertext Star" in an essay for the electronic book review (ebr) (Montfort 2000). Although the ensuing "Cybertext Debates" in ebr involved as much terminological jousting as substantive debate, Montfort's suggestion was both significant and necessary in terms of broadening the field of digital literature to include much more than "literary hypertext." His essay reviews Espen Aarseth's landmark Cybertext: Perspectives of Ergodic Literature (1997), which situates literary hypertext in a continuum of "cybertext," a categorical approach that consists of systematic, nonmedia-specific analyses of a text's signifying properties. Despite the shortfalls of some narrow appropriations of cybertext theory early on in the debates—some of which betrayed an obvious bias toward a text's algorithmic potential, or in N. Katherine Hayles's (2001) formulation, mistook "numerosity for analytical power"—Aarseth's model drew distinctions that previously did not exist in digital discourse, and hy-

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