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WriteSites: new manoevres

Adrian Miles

Adrian Miles teaches hypertext theory and practice at RMIT, available at

From Stuart Moulthrop’s Hegirascope, Mark Amerika’s seminal Grammatron and recent work that continues these traditions, web-based hypertext fiction has utilised simple time-based rules to produce interactive narratives. This has generally been achieved through the use of the refresh tag, where another URL is loaded after a nominated interval, producing narratives that literally move through time. On occasion this is performed in a quite linear manner, a work containing a ‘passage’ or ‘corridor’ of time-constrained nodes without links that then opens to a richly linked series of nodes (Grammatron), though it is also routinely used with links so that the reader is invited into a game of temporal cat and mouse, following a link before another screen displaces possible choices. Generally a work might use various combinations of these, and it is the structural patterns that these produce that in many ways determine the linearity, temporality, and interactivity of any hypertext work.

This animation of screens, whether image or text-based, allows a work to have rhythms that ebb and flow with a reading, liberating the work from the author’s subjection to a reader’s whimsy, while allowing the reader that allotment of choice that guarantees the illusion of freedom. However, Moulthrop’s work in Reagan Library introduces quite a different temporal trope. Here is a work that does not utilise meta refresh tags to produce a machine-based reading time, instead it uses what is known as state information (always quite difficult to do in the stateless protocol utilised by the web) through javascript to react to an individual reading.

In Reagan Library narrative closure is produced through a duration within the work that is defined by the negotiation of entropy and redundancy performed by the reader and the work. Rather than the reader recognising cycling narrative episodes and so deciding that they know ‘enough’ to finish, or surrender—a common strategy in much hypertext fiction—this work performs this redundancy on itself. Each screen starts out as almost abstract sentence collages, with pockets of sense, and as you read they coalesce, over time, into more stable units. Here the apparent disorder that many naïve readers claim for hypertext, a disorder due to the opaqueness of the structuring rhythms within any work, is not contained within the architecture of links, but within the time of the reading transcribed into the very spaces themselves. While this time of reading is marked by this evolving text, a series of QTVR panoramas form a part of every screen, providing a topographically consistent navigational interface.

The QTVR lets Reagan Library explore the architectonics of multi-linearity through a writing with noise, entropy, and negentropy. The consistency of the landscape allows the variability of the text to become more visible, and this is why the use of a panorama with ‘hotspots’ is more than mere fancy. The panoramas provide a navigable 3 dimensional space where pages can be visited by clicking on their eponymous objects. In turn, following a text link loads a page with the panorama which is the view from that geographical location, so the reader has, in fact, 2 methods of reading. One is spatial and concrete, the other is textual and abstract. Through these panoramas Moulthrop is not only exploring spatial metaphors in narrative, but expanding the relation of image to word. There is a well formed irony between the stability of the fictional visual world and its contradistinction to the permeability of the textual universe. The images are plainly imaginary (the Bryce generated landscapes tilt their collective caps significantly towards Myst and Riven) yet retain much more stability than the text, which in its turn appears as a series of fragmentary asides, personal reminiscences, observations and self reflexive aphorisms. In other words, the text reads like a typically interstitial postmodern fiction and so manages an ironical sense of historical or diegetic truth, while the images are of an imaginary world, yet concrete in their discursive permanence.

The world defined and produced by Reagan Library is one where the reader is unable to return to a space, where hypertextual repetition becomes a play of difference, a continual question of subtle variation. Within this world Reagan Library combines history, criticism, and self reflexive irony to meld a narrative that takes well aimed bites at both the self appointed keepers of a literary heritage and those who misread the vicissitudes of hypertext as merely the opportunity to turn a trick.

This is a work that is almost Oulipean in intent, but rather than operate as a rule governed combinatorial engine, Reagan Library probes the relation of reading and game playing, and explores the boundary between image and text based diegetic worlds, demonstrating that writing’s electronic future is less about textual pyrotechnics than a refiguring of words into other narrative spaces.

Reagan Library, Stuart Moulthrop, (link expired)

Adrian Miles teaches hypertext theory and practice at RMIT, available at

RealTime issue #37 June-July 2000 pg. 26

© Adrian Miles; for permission to reproduce apply to

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