«Thesis presented to the Faculty of Arts of the University of Zurich for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Mark Staff Brandl of USA and ...»
Half the fun of Midnight's Children is following the bouncing balls of reference through the merry tunes and wailing dirges Rushdie's languages sing. Names slide from context to context. Actions echo across this text to others. Meaning interpenetrates. Form cannot be avoided, though it seems tenuous. The whole is filmy. The movies have taught people to read the techniques that bring this book to life.31 Rushdie at his best integrates the masses of bits of cultural knowledge he bears (and in which he believes at least a little) into great compositions. He is a Walt Whitman of the British post-colonial world. The building blocks in Rushdie's works are the individual words, like individual citizens of that disheveled, massive country, India. His metaphor(m) is a synecdochical / metonymic / metaphoric complex. "Words are people, are cultures, a mix of cultures, which is the world, is life."
Hypertext. This is the most stimulating of the new forms of composition discovered through electronic media. In this category of text, the reader or viewer determines the sequential order of a montage. For the few uninitiated among the readers here, hypertext is when spots, usually single words, of a text can be highlighted in some way (say by being a different color). This is a clue that one can move the cursor on the computer screen to that point, and by activating it (e.g. "clicking" on it, i.e. pushing the button on the "mouse" control) the computer is commanded to turn to another page — not necessarily and usually not even the traditionally "next" page. One can travel through a text, or among a group of texts, in many different directions. It is like being able to flip through a book, actually many books, at the touch of a button. Doelker and others call it "non-linear." I claim that it is still linear, but "open-linear" or "multi-linear." One determines one's own, or many, paths through the work. However, lines of experience are still envisioned and created. It is not iconic, static, three-dimensional, iconosequential (iconic and sequential as in comic books), or simultaneous whole-part (as in painting). It is still phenomenologically linear, if not ontologically so. There are precursors to this in such things as John Cage-inspired aleatoric scores and even magazines in the 60s which consisted of loose pages to be ordered as one liked and similar
experiments.32 Hypertext is not as random as it is sequentially over-determined. I cannot click just anywhere and thereby go just anywhere else. The possibilities are starkly demarcated by the author or web designer. A better analogy would be filigree three-dimensionality, hence the appropriateness of the word web. In short, hypertext adds many alternate vectors to the process of interacting with the standard codex-form book text.
The question is how will hypertext be used in literature and art? How can it be added to the compositional repertoire? How will it be incorporated into necessary metaphor(m)s? How will it influence non-computer-based forms? Generally the uses have been mere toys, kitsch, or adventure games, yet there are an ever-increasing number of aesthetic applications of hypertext.33 It can be said that a form must be nearly commercially dead before it can become of use to fine art. This is true because a kind of cultural brainstorming must be conducted on each new form. First the obvious, frivolous ideas are used, then the commercial viable (but still often witless) ones are discovered, and so forth, until infantile ideas are used up.
Practitioners of this nature go elsewhere, to another new toy. Others with more fantasy and determination come and begin the struggle resulting in creative use and real metaphor(m)s.
Types of Texts Under this rubric Doelker examines two divisions of text on a more general level than he does so in his categories discussed above.
One strand (or monogenic) texts exhibit a one-to-one relationship of all parts. Since the beginning of Modernism this type of text seldom occurs. A one strand novel would be, in fact, terribly avant-garde or terribly mundane, such as a one-to-one second-by-second memoir of one's life. Perhaps the small pre-novel prose work Microcosmographie (1628) by John Earle comes closest to this.34 It is primarily descriptions of ordinary people. Yet already by 1653 Izaak Walton had written the Compleat Angler with beautiful, and still readable, descriptive passages that include wit and opinion going beyond any real one-strandedness.35 The first films of simply a train on a track or the like were perfect exemplars of this text type. Yet film was soon transformed into narrative to keep the audiences coming after the novelty wore off.
A one-stranded painting is the great bugaboo of visual artists, that non-existent entity which "common man" takes to be natural yet purposefully avoided by artists in order to "be different."36 Some sort of one-to-one realistic rendering of some pleasing view is probably what is imagined. The true ungraspability of what "transparent" realism is, what constitutes a pleasing subject, and how culturally and period-specific this all is, makes the creation of such a work impossible. The dream is perhaps of some imagined version of Flemish painting, with contemporary subjects, yet with smiling people and with prettier colors. Avant-garde See Source: Music of the Avant Garde (Davis and Sacramento, California: Composer/Performer
Edition, 1967-1973). A small selection of music from its pages is featured on UbuWeb, link:
See Scott McCloud's on-line comics at http://scottmccloud.com/1-webcomics/index.html; Olia Lialina's Zombie and Mummy at http://www.zombie-and-mummy.org/ among others.
John Earle, Microcosmographie, (0riginally published1628) (London: A. Murray and Son, 1868).
Izaak Walton, (with additional material by Charles Cotton), The Compleat Angler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).
This is indeed based on personal communication from relatives and friends of mine from childhood who have little to do with the arts.
Metaphor(m) and the Expanded Text Concept 201 Modernism attempted to recast the one-stranded text in new, inventive forms: in performance art, word-based conceptual art, body art, found-object, reported "stream of consciousness" thought, first person camera, and many other experiments. In the light of Doelker's thought, a new enlightening perception of this work arises. Such avant-garde works can be seen as nostalgia for direct experience and direct relations, or perhaps a requiem for the same.
Author Alasdair Gray both scrutinizes and snubs this text type. His novels such as 1982 Janine or Lanark: A Life in Four Books are duo-strand, rather than one- or multistrand.37 There are always two clearly separable styles running parallel in and out of one another, as if each book were a cable made of only a red and a blue wire. One is always naturalistic, social and personal. The other is a tale told in a clearly popular genre — science fiction, soft pornography, horror or the like. Each sub-tale casts shadows on the other. Each seems to be symbolic of the other. The impossibility of one-strandedness is brought to a head as nowhere else. Gray's truly postmodern central trope is the yin-yang duality of mediated life. Opposition is mapped onto genre and style itself.38 Interactive video games may be the closest we come to a monogenic para-artistic / literary experience in our society at this moment. However, the newest games feature repeating "heroes," have begun to be narrative, or involve actual social interaction with others, thus shedding the skin of virtual sport, and therewith one-strandedness.
Multi-strand (or plurogenic) texts are composed of sections which would not naturally come together. Thomas Pynchon is a zenith of multi-strandedness in literature. He seems to know everything, use everything, and weave it all together. There are always several substrands in his books that are just slightly out of reach. The mysteries in his novels are vast, yet almost at hand, just slipping away, like a word on the tip of one's tongue that will not come.
The Crying of Lot 49, Gravity's Rainbow and V include immense chunks of history. Vineland assaults all aspects of American life.39 Pynchon's central message is that mystery and confusion remain even when everything reveals its patterning and even when vast knowledge lies at hand. His metaphor(m) is the direct mapping of this conviction onto the readers' experiences of working their way through his novels. The reader is experientially the detective, who is furthermore the chief character. Pynchon's vocabulary is a corollary of this operation with its mix of intellectually sophisticated, scientific fact and odd, almost cheap, easily decoded names, such as V's "Benny Profane."40 His facts are tantalizing, but of no assistance. His mysteries are purposefully hidden or condescendingly revealed. Even the syntax is sculpted by this metaphor(m), but mostly the novelist manifests it in the structure at the level of composition.
The works of several excellent, obviously multi-strand painters could be chosen to illustrate this text type. Three candidates are the combine paintings of Robert Rauschenberg, the free-for-alls of Sigmar Polke, or the restlessly inclusive thought-model paintings of Lydia Alasdair Gray, 1982 Janine (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, King Penguin, 1985) and Lanark: A Life in Four Books, (London: Paladin, Grafton Books, 1989).
As an aside, it is worth critically noting that it is a shame that Gray has not brought his remarkable inventive "duo-strand" form into his occasional visual art. His paintings tend to be semi-social realist in style, rather straightforward, naturalistic and lackluster.
Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1966); Gravity’s Rainbow (New York: Viking Press, 1973); V, (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1963); Vineland, (London: Minerva, Mandarin Paperbacks, 1992).
Metaphor(m) and the Expanded Text Concept 202 Dona. I displayed the inherent multi-strandedness of painting in Chapter Six in the analysis of a painter who was a seemingly unlikely recruit, the geometric, minimalist, colorist Charles Boetschi. My contention holds that Doelker's media literacy and extended text concept suffuses all current good, strong, paintings and novels. In a creator such as Boetschi, we had to look for metaphor(m)s of extended text in a more discreet form. As was shown, the postmodern complexity in Boetschi's metaphor(m) is the fact that his image-mapping relies on our expectations from the history of the forms with which he works. I develop the image of multi-strandedness in application to models of the art history timeline in the following chapter.
Varieties of Texts
This further subclassification overlaps with Doelker's other divisions, presenting what can be seen as functions or goals of text types and categories. One fashion in which contemporary literature and art become multi-strand is by using and redefining each of these varieties. After the analyses above, I would like to don that second hat of a theoretician, to act as a harbinger and allow my imagination free play, much as I did in Chapter Four. This is a change from Procrustean to proleptic theory. I will fantasize various fashions in which a contemporary novel or painting could make use of the insight behind each of Doelker's varieties.
Pragmatic. Such a text is a recipe for use. Sol LeWitt's instructions through which assistants create his wall drawings come close to this text form. However, the wall drawings themselves are the art, not the directions. This makes LeWitt's art more akin to the fashion in which notation and performance are related in E-Musik, so-called classical music. Lawrence Weiner's early works were both pseudo-pragmatic and the art object themselves. He presented instructions or descriptions such as "A Square Removal from a Rug in Use." 41 Since then his work has developed into purely abstract language, such as fragmentary lists of prepositions. It has become an often tedious variation on concrete poetry, losing the strength it had earlier as vague potentiality.
Novels created in this variety of text form could be composed of instructions, or serve as instructions. Certain poetry has mimicked this form, especially in Fluxus works. 42 A whole novel would be unusual. This would be a kind of epistolary novel-cum-cookbook. Neither visual art nor writing of a pragmatic nature, it seems, could be serious art without a heavy dose of irony, parody or comedy. I envision a certain cheapness to such an endeavor, the artsy equivalent to a one-line joke: a painting with scenery described in words on it, a novel telling you how to construct a novel. This is apparently not a very promising wellspring of new options for deeper literature or art. Perhaps we must leave pragmatic works where they belong, as fact deliverers: books on how to rebuild your house and the like.
Documentary. This is an artwork which is a record of an event. The most famous are TV documentaries, clearly achieved art in every sense. In the fine arts, there is always a secondariness to be overcome in this genre. A documentary about a famous artist is a work of art, yet somehow always ancillary to the work of the painter herself. Correspondingly, although essays have been works of art since Francis Bacon, a paper about a specific novelist such as J. D. Salinger always retains an overriding "aboutness." This text variety has entered fine art in "docu-dramas" and accurately researched, historically-based fictional works. Alex Haley has authored and co-authored two of the most extraordinary: the Autobiography of Malcolm X and Roots.43 Popular forms have also occasionally achieved resonance, for example James Michener's novels such as Alaska or Caribbean.44 These works suture adventure and documentary together. Documentary detail is frequently so basic to good books of social portent that it hasn't needed to be experimentally developed.