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Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl
The Board of Studies of NSW recently incorporated Patchwork Girl and other hypertext works into the new Advanced English curriculum for Year 12 for 2000-1. I spoke to Eva Gold from the Board about the implications of this decision.

KK Why did you decide to include hypertext? Is this decision a world first?

EG The new English HSC courses have a much broader definition of ‘text’ to include texts other than print texts. This allows students to study film, television and multimedia texts such as CD-ROMs, websites and other forms of hypertext. This change is in recognition of the pervasive influence of the visual and the electronic on our modes of communication and ways of thinking.

Hypertext is seen as particularly important because of its non-linear structure and the reader’s control of the directions of the reading experience. This makes students aware of their own reading and writing practices of more conventional types of texts. For this reason, hypertext is also helpful in introducing students to the more theoretical aspects of the nature of reading and writing and so provides a sound basis for the more abstract elements of Advanced English and for further study in the subject.

I have been told by several people that this is a ‘world first’ and that the effect of hypertext in the curriculum will be viewed with interest by various educational institutions around the world.

KK What in particular appealed to you about Patchwork Girl and Samplers? Did you consider other hypertexts as well?

EG The committee did consider a range of hypertext fictions but the appeal of these 2 lay in their accessibility to HSC students. The text selection working party considered many hypertexts too difficult or sophisticated for HSC students. They were clearly directed at an adult audience or at university students. Samplers [Deena Larsen] was considered valuable as it played with notions of short story structures in an amusing way. Patchwork Girl is well regarded as a rewriting of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a text that has worked well with students in the past. The committee believed that this connection with what is known by teachers through familiarity and students through popular culture would assist in the introduction of a new form.

KK Also on the curriculum is Manguel’s non-fiction A History of Reading and Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. Are there connections made between these texts and hypertext fiction? Calvino’s book seems a very useful and sophisticated example of playing with, and subverting, narrative structure, of a text that reveals itself as a constructed object and acknowledges the reader, something that most hypertexts self-consciously do…Are these links explored with students?

EG Yes. The elective in which these texts are found provides students with the opportunity to “explore the ways in which different assumptions about reading and writing affect the language of texts…and consider how language shapes the relationships between readers, writers and texts.”

KK In terms of responding to these works, do students submit an essay? Are they encouraged to experiment with the way they hand in work, eg creating a website or putting their essay on disk and adding hyperlinks? How would this affect teachers’ marking, if students moved beyond the traditional essay and into multimedia themselves?

EG Students compose spoken, written and visual texts in a range of genres and media. This means that while the essay is an important form for responding to texts, it is far from the only one. There are many opportunities for students to develop their skills of composition using computers and blending the verbal with the visual in as many ways as the medium offers.

The new HSC is outcomes-based and assessment is based on the extent to which students achieve the course outcomes whatever the content or medium through which they do so. Students are encouraged to compose in a range of modes and media. To ensure this, there is an outcome that states: “A student assesses the appropriateness of a range of processes and technologies in the investigation and organisation of information and ideas.” This outcome can be achieved through work with hypertext.

Of course, this does not change the fact that teachers’ marking is affected with every change of question. Different criteria are applied to assess the learning outcomes depending on the demands of the question.

* * *

I think I’ve created a monster…

As I insert Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl into the a drive, it’s the first time I’ve experienced hypertext on disk rather than on-line and I’m in an unfamiliar iconic landscape, Storyspace. I have 2 new things to read, the programming tools and the work itself. Reluctant to read the Help menu, I start to explore: ‘Tree map: her.’ ‘Chart View of Patchwork Girl.’ Design and structure. Grid-like maps. Writers as construction workers. A graphical interface dissecting “a modern monster.”

Patchwork Girl looks at the act of writing as much as text itself, “tiny black letters blurred into stitches”, as a creation process not full of Mastery; this is a woman making a monster, this is Mary/Shelley. The metaphors of quilting and patchwork have been consistently used for hypertext writing (eg TrAce’s Noon Quilt project), sewing together nodes, acknowledging the process as much as the outcome, its made-ness. At times, Patchwork Girl seems overwritten, full of churning and astonishment, but perhaps this is to reclaim the monster, to re-outfit her in emotions that fit. Mary’s stitched creation does not resemble her. Fragile yet independent. Strong. Beyond her control: “I crave her company; I crave even the danger.” Exploring what it’s like to be freakish and monstrous—something most teens can relate to—there’s an uneasiness in the text, an eroticism: does Mary desire her own creation? Our monster has on the surface what most of us carry inside, scars, finely stitched, criss-crossed evidence of her making, which “not only make a cut, they also commemorate a joining.”

If this were a film my eyes would be shut. The text becomes grotesque. We slice off, and into, bodies. A pre-cyborg experience. Vines and grafting. Bedroom operations and surgery as control. Patchwork Girl becomes about losing that thing you desire/fear most, a must-read for all parents: “Far from sentimental, we were both testy in the knowledge that we would soon be parted; seeing each other still nearby stuck us both with an ugly shock, like a foolish anachronism in a novel that makes you distrust the author, and regret the time already invested in a world gone paper-thin.”

Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl, Eastgate Systems, USA.

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg. 19

© Kirsten Krauth; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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