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Vous consultezInterrupting D: Patchwork Girl’s Syncopated Body
Shelley Jackson’s hyperfiction, Patchwork Girl, now a classic of this particular genre, flaunts its fragmented nature in its very title, conflating the fragmented body of the resurrected female monster she borrows from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with her own programmed piece. Encouraged to patch up the scattered chunks of text, the user shapes them into a coherent narrative as she digs out and resuscitates the hidden hyperlinks that syncopate or interrupt the textual body, entailing a partial or total loss of consciousness, as if our stream of thoughts had suddenly missed a beat. As both suture and cut, the moment of syncopation points to a zone of undecidability (Nancy, 1976 11), that is, that of the link, which overruns the boundaries of its originating writing space while, more often than not, leaving behind a blind, unread and ghostly remainder that haunts the user’s memory. The invisible hyperlinks that run through Patchwork Girl obtrude, obvert and obliterate the textual zone they dislocate upon activation, temporarily disrupting the flow of the narrative while opening it up to new intertextual relationships, always contingent on the user’s physical intervention and mental interpretation of the various sources Shelley Jackson rehashes: bits of critical theory, literary works, and instructions from the user’s manual for Storyspace intermingle and inform each other. I would like to assess the effects of such textual interruptions by focusing on a passage in which Shelley Jackson engages with Derrida’s critique of Plato’s idealism to illustrate her own approach of hypertextuality as the return of the body.
2 Clicking on “Derrida” in the lexia entitled “Mementos” (body of text/mementos) will reveal the full extent of the hyperlinked sentence which fleetingly appears encapsulated within a red box: “Derrida will come home mumbling about a she-monster who beset him in the woods,” and lead the user to another textual fragment aptly named “Interrupting D”. The aphaeretic gesture which detaches the initial of Derrida’s proper name expropriates his signature and literally dislocates his name while interrupting, or suspending, authorial reference, supplementing his text with that of another. Shelley Jackson intersperses intertextual fragments excerpted from Disseminations (Derrida, 1981) with her own work, turning Derrida’s reflection on the relationship between logos and writing into a fable of sorts in which she stages the more down-to-earth interpretation of Mary Shelley’s she-monster. Such an attempt at ironizing a philosophical text while punning on the worn-out polysemy of re/membering would certainly prove sophomoric if it did not partake in a more systematic exploration of the tenets of poststructuralist theory, starting with a relentless resistance to totalization through a process of textual hybridization and dissemination which keeps fraying Patchwork Girl at the edges.
3 As Shelley Jackson acknowledges that her own work is descended from Derrida’s, she also ghostwrites in another name, that is, in the name of an other who remains irremediably withdrawn as a spectral, or suspended presence, an errant ghost whose proper name in turn becomes anagrammatized. Furthermore, in an attempt to subvert phallogocentrism, Jackson literalizes Derrida’s critique of Platonic idealism in “Plato’s Pharmacy” (Derrida, 1972). In order to explain the relationship of author to text, Plato resorts to the metaphor of the son’s filiation to the father and places logos in a transcendental position which enables it to beget writing. Shelley Jackson furthers Derrida’s critique and in turn displaces the locus of authority onto more feminine grounds, reinscribing the theme of motherhood in her work.  Incidentally, this is a theme that haunts the works of Hélène...
suite However, the supplementary structure inherent in any signature turns it into a trace, a substitute for the author, a surrogate parent or “a midwife” of sorts (“Interrupting D”). There is something sepulchral about a signature: it is both a tomb and a dwelling (Derrida, 1990 11b), a seal and a scar that delineates the mobile boundaries which bind and separate the remains of a half-living, half-dead corpus. The relation of signature to death is thematized in the “graveyard” section of Patchwork Girl in which are told the stories of the dead owners of the limbs that compose the monstrous body, as well as in the section entitled “story” which conflates the theme of bodily amputation with that of spiritualism, the monster pondering over the remanence of memory in an amputee’s cut-off limb.  Derrida uses a similar metaphor in Glas (207b) when he compares...
4 Jackson further complicates the interpolation of signatures while performing the tenets of deconstructionist theories taken up by early hypertext thinkers such as George Landow. Not content with reinscribing Mary Shelley’s text and name within her own, she slashes through the symbol of her own authority. She puts the acronym “M/S” into play to disrupt the textual genealogy and stage a complex redistribution of subjectivities along the invisible lines traced by the hyperlinks on the surface of the textual body. As demonstrated in Katherine Hayles’ thorough analysis of Shelley Jackson’s multiple “subversions of her publisher’s proprietary claims” (Hayles 157), “M/S” reverberates throughout the work while figuratively pointing to its hyperlinked nature in a seemingly endless metaleptic shift.
I, on the other hand, have adopted a nominal mother (M/S) who is more like a midwife, and spring unparented from my own past selves.
The slash symbolically suspends the appropriative loop of self-reflexivity, turning it into an undecidable collection of fragments which conflate the mother’s body, “M/S,” with the singular plurality of “my/selves”. Far from trying for a seamless integration of Derrida’s text into her own, Shelley Jackson foregrounds the grafting process, using a different text color as well as various typographies in other sections of the work in a strategy meant to flaunt the process of translation  It should prove quite useful to analyse the interpretative...
suite at work within and without.
5 Shelley Jackson’s use of hypertextuality, however, does not revolutionize our reading practices and merely foregrounds the tabularity of any literary text, be it electronic or in printed form. Along with Tosca’s argument that “every link communicates a presumption of its own optimal relevance,”  Tosca refers to Sperber and Wilson’s theory of relevance:...
suite the reader/user keeps renegotiating meaning according to former and anticipated associations (on both syntagmatic and paradigmatic axes). The diagrammatic and tree-like maps the user may choose to consult materialize the inherent connectivity of any literary text, albeit without precluding other forms of resonance as the text overruns its own margins. The refrain-like repetitions and rewritings compensate for the discontinuous nature of the reading experience and retain the attention of the user, who is caught in a cycle-like reading process instantiated in the form of a complex feedback loop:
7 The various loops that circulate within Patchwork Girl never resolve into a circular pattern, each cycle creating a new interpretative frame, and all contribute to the dissemination of the letter. Quite similarly to hyperlinks, repetition reinforces the isotopic coherence of the whole while breaking the syntagmatic flow as it folds back the text upon itself, weaving invisible semantic networks around the predetermined web of links which makes the associative process more tangible.
8 The relentless “anxiety of the link” (Miles) invites the user to interrupt the text and read on, clicking away while indiscriminately revealing a textual fragment, a tree-like map, or a drawing of the monster’s body in alternating states of chaos and order which equally illustrate the potential serendipity or flat ineffectuality of a random connection event. The temporary suspension of meaning produced by the activation of a link originates in the visible interruption of textual continuity by a hidden supplementary element that is fundamentally other and, as such, irreducible to human language. The connection performed by the link depends on the correct parsing and execution of a code by the machine which cannot tolerate ambiguity, as opposed to the various rhetorical effects produced on the semantic level: the metonymic shifts produced by the activation of the link become instantiated in a chain of substitutions made apparent on screen, that of succeeding lexias comparable to cinematic frames.
9 Hyperlinks lie at the juncture between code and language as non-linguistic and non-grammatical connectors. They perform an event of connection, namely, replacing a lexia with another in the postcinematic implementation of Patchwork Girl. The code itself remains hidden to the user who can only experience its effects in the way the text behaves on screen. The code controls or orchestrates the kinetic potential of text and ensures the performance, or even playability of the work. There is no transparency or translatability between deep code and surface language (Cayley), and Shelley Jackson deliberately obfuscates active zones to turn the reading experience into a deductive game of sorts, thwarting the anxiety of the link with the need to crack the logic of her system of poetic associations in order to move on. The user discovers the elusive presence of a hyperlink when, mousing over the text, the pointer turns into a grasping hand. While her finger remains poised on the mouse button, the hyperlinked fragment fleetingly detaches itself from the rest of the lexia and becomes visibly encapsulated within a red-lined rectangular box. Yet the box should not be mistaken for the link. It is only a representation or a trace of the underlying code.
Embedded in the text as an extralinguistic element—the layers of code as code, as opposed to codework (Cayley), cannot be deemed commensurate with human language—the link remains in a suspended state of dormancy, awaiting activation. Interestingly, it is never fully grasped as its presence is both revealed and erased in the time of its performance. It is to be noted that this analysis still holds true even if the user chooses to rely on the visual support of the various maps and diagrams available in the menu as representational and static supplements for the underlying structure of the work. Such visual aids facilitate the user’s navigation experience, yet partially preclude the element of surprise as they expose the control structures that underpin the reading process while hindering the user’s urge to map out the text’s configuration in her mind’s eye. Patchwork Girl enmeshes the reader/user in a tangle of predetermined connections which limits the scope of her imaginary spectral projections  The specter is “among other things, what one imagines,...
suite and partially neutralizes them, somehow domesticating the monster Shelley Jackson was trying to set loose  Shelley Jackson’s representation of Patchwork Girl plays...
suite while paradoxically pointing to the ghost she was striving to tear out of the machine, that is, the figure of the author herself: code heralds the return of the dispersed, that is, authorial intention .  Katherine Hayles’ analysis of the redistribution of objectivity...
10 The hidden layers of code that tangentially line the text displayed on screen account for the spectral presence of the author’s invisible hand, which is made almost tangible by the interfacial links, and which the user is striving to grasp with the pointer of her mouse. Yet this handshake—a term which incidentally accounts for an exchange of signals between two machines to establish communication and ensure proper synchronization—results in an asynchronous tact without contact between author and reader/user, as well as between man and machine, on either pole of the reading/writing process. This touch occurs at a distance, mediatized by the technological apparatus, be it the book which is also a reading machine of sorts, even though in this case the reader is not as free to act upon a fundamentally static text. Interruption is a key parameter of the system, that which enables communication as meaningful: according to Derrida’s postal principle, the letter is always intercepted in advance (Derrida, 1991 490) and can never be fully traced back or returned to its sender or addressee.
11 What is the difference, then, between a hyperfictional lexia and a linear postcard? The addressing mode is further complexified by the necessary interactions with the machine through layers of code, which allows for greater authorial control over the delivery of the message, but not over its reception as sensed by the user who remains free to ignore the relationship. The link points to the interrupting gap that both binds and separates the surface text seen and/or read by the user and the underlying code written by the author. The two never overlap and entertain a tangential, and therefore constantly differed, relationship. The link acts as an interface that eventually eludes both the reader’s and the author’s control. As a mobile contact zone that is not entirely permeable, it adds some noise to the exchange, partially interrupting it like any technological medium, be it a book.
12 Philippe Bootz’s analysis of the specificity of programmed art forms in the “technical subsystem” that interfaces with both author and user, inducing a constantly differed, distorted and even failed communication process, proves quite useful. This theory may be extended, however, to all media, starting with print technology as the interface of the book also differs the contact between author and reader/user along a chain of technological relays (Nancy, 1992 47). In fact, Shelley Jackson’s CD-ROM-based hyperfiction foregrounds the materiality of writing and, in so doing, reduces the gap separating the two ends of the communication process, bringing author and user/reader into a more proximate relationship as it reduces the chain of posts and relays ensuring the delivery and reception of the message.
Pursuing her reflection on the complex relationship between technology, writing, and the body, Shelley Jackson interpolates a paradox of medieval theology focusing on reincarnation within Derrida’s postal principle. A random mouse click on the lexia entitled “mementos” will most certainly lead the user to “eaten” (body of text/eaten):
13 This lexia partially highlights the monster’s enigmatic conclusion in “mementos” while taking on the metaphysics of originary unity in a reinterpretation of the Eucharist as the disruption of the fantasized continuity of self-presence:
15 There is no return to a transcendental unity of the subject which always already stands interrupted.  Quite surprisingly Katherine Hayes’ thorough analysis...
suite Quite tellingly, the first image that pops up on screen upon launching the program is a drawing of the monster’s patched-up and scarified body which stands for the discontinuous structure of the work itself while inviting the user to touch her with the pointer of her mouse: hoc est enim corpus meum. This somehow parasitic citation situates the moment of sharing of the body as sense in a secular communion of sorts, a cutting through or parting of the surface, enabled by the hyperlink embedded within the liminal drawing. In fact, the pervasive theme of resurrection in Patchwork Girl displaces the abstract Platonic metaphor of filiation onto that of Christian flesh, inscribing Shelley Jackson’s own reflection within the very tradition of incarnation she keeps interrogating. Her whole work revolves around the dualistic separation between body and mind, or the ways in which body and sense can be brought into contact:
16 Shelley Jackson’s critical obsession  Shelley Jackson’s vision of the body as the point of touch...
suite with touching the limit, the boundary that cuts across language and matter, that is, the spacing of the body where the world may be encountered as both meaningful and other, echoes many aspects of Jean-Luc Nancy’s preoccupations. The interruption of the text does not amount to an erasure of the author’s presence, but to the excription of her body, placed outside as meaningless matter, and yet tangentially in contact with the world as sense, at the limit, even though the relationship between the “banished” and the “excribed” body remains to be fully articulated  Nancy’s evocation of the ambivalent status of Mary Magdalen’s...
suite: “[the banished body] is a hybrid of thing and thought, the monkey in the middle. […] Hypertext is the banished body” (Jackson, “Stitch Bitch”). In fact, Patchwork Girl metaphorically foregrounds the originary technicity of writing (Nancy, 1992), a technicity that lies at the root of our relationship to the world shared as both sense and matter thanks to its interconnection with the body. The hyperlink is the stigma (a word which, before bearing any religious meaning, etymologically refers to a scar or mark made by a hot iron) which opens both image and text. Such an opening of space literally exemplifies the interruption of the loop of an idealistic and transcendental self-unity, enabling the sharing of a world through an aesthetic of touch that places the body at the intersection between sense and matter. The event of connection exposes abstract latent relationships and spatializes them as tangible traces that fray the surface text. The performance of the link is therefore an event at the limit of sense which articulates space, an effraction that interrupts the continuity of text as both matter and sense.
Bootz, Philippe. “The Problematic of Form. Transitoire Observable, A Laboratory for Emergent Programmed Art”, 2005.
http://www.brown.edu/Research/dichtung-digital/2005/1/Bootz/index.htm Checked on June 30, 2009.
Cayley, John, “The Code is not the Text (unless it is the Text)”.
http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/electropoetics/literal. Checked on June 30, 2009.
Derrida, Jacques. Between the Blinds. A Derrida Reader. Peggy Kamuf, ed. New York: Columbia UP, 1991; Disseminations. Barbara Johnson, trans. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1981; Glas. R. Rand & J.P. Leavey, trans. Lincoln:University of Nebraska Press, 1990; Specters of Marx. Trans. Peggy Kamuf, trans. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Hayles, Katherine. My Mother Was a Computer. Chicago: Chicago UP, 2005.
Jackson, Shelley. Patchwork Girl. Watertown, MA: Eastgate Systems,1995; “Stitch Bitch: The Patchwork Girl”. URL:
http://web.mit.edu/comm-forum/papers/jackson.html. Checked on June 30, 2009; & Scott Rettberg. “Written on the Body: An Interview with Shelley Jackson”, 2006.
http://www.uiowa.edu/~iareview/mainpages/new/july06/jackson.html. Checked on June 30, 2009.
James, Ian. The Fragmentary Demand. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2006.
Miles, Adrian. “Hypertext Structure as the Event of Connection”. Journal of Digital Information 2:3 (March 2002).
http://journals.tdl.org/jodi/article/view/48/51. Checked on June 30, 2009.
Nancy, Jean-Luc. Corpus. Paris: Métailié,1992; Le Discours de la syncope. Logodaedalus. Paris: Aubier-Flammarion, 1976; Noli me tangere. Paris: Bayard, 2003.
Pajares Tosca, Susana. “A Pragmatics of Links”. Journal of Digital Information 1:6 (June 2000). URL: http://journals.tdl.org/jodi/article/view/23/24. Checked on June 30, 2009.
Tolva, John, “Ut Pictura Hyperpoesis: Spatial Form, Visuality, and the Digital Word”.
http://www.dilip.info/HT96/P43/pictura.htm. Checked on June 30, 2009.
[ 1] Incidentally, this is a theme that haunts the works of Hélène Cixous’ to which Shelley Jackson refers explicitly in the “Sources” section of her work.
[ 2] Derrida uses a similar metaphor in Glas (207b) when he compares signature to a wound, a bleeding cryptogram, as well as to the Egyptian God Osiris.
[ 3] It should prove quite useful to analyse the interpretative effects of translation on Shelley Jackson’s own assimilation of foreign texts insofar as translation is also an interruption of reference, a countersignature that challenges authority.
[ 4] Tosca refers to Sperber and Wilson’s theory of relevance: “an information is relevant if it has cognitive effects; this includes surprising information or change of topics, supposing the reader can make the meaningful connection”.
[ 5] The specter is “among other things, what one imagines, what one thinks one sees and which one projects – on an imaginary screen where there is nothing to see” (Derrida, 1994, 100-101).
[ 6] Shelley Jackson’s representation of Patchwork Girl plays on such blurring of identities through the recombinaition of her proper name into that of another : “ I expect there are some of you who still think I am Shelley Jackson, author of a hypertext about an imaginary monster, the patchwork girl Mary Shelley made after her first-born ran amok. No, I am the monster herself, and it is Shelley Jackson who is imaginary, or so would appear, since she always vanishes when I turn up. You can call me Shelley Shelley if you like, daughter of Mary Shelley, author of the following entitled: Stitch Bitch: or, Shelley Jackson, that imposter, I’m going to get her” (Jackson, “Stitch Birch: The Patchwork Girl”)
[ 7] Katherine Hayles’ analysis of the redistribution of objectivity should therefore be qualified and rethought in terms or representation rather than implementation (Hayes, 159).
[ 8] Quite surprisingly Katherine Hayes’ thorough analysis of this lexia (Hayes, 151) fails to problematize the deep and complex interconnection between Christian thinking and Shelley Jackson’s own représentation of the book as matter.
[ 9] Shelley Jackson’s vision of the body as the point of touch between sense and matter has found its most radical expression in the literary art performance entitled Skin, a story published in tattoos on the bodies of 2095 volunteers, which originaly stemmed from an attempt at inscribing traces onto dead matter as she travelled across America.
[ 10] Nancy’s evocation of the ambivalent status of Mary Magdalen’s body as that of glorious saint and a mortal sinner in Noli Me Tangere, will serve as a starting point for a future and more extensive analysis (Nancy, 2003).
S’inspirant de la pensée de Derrida, Shelley Jackson interroge le rapport entre écriture, corps et technologie qui hante l’ensemble de son œuvre. À l’interface entre le code et la langue, infime pulsation que le texte retient du corps, chaque lien espace le corps du texte tel un trait d’union invisible qui en doublerait la surface. C’est pourquoi on parlera ici d’une écriture syncopée, car l’hyperlien est à la fois cadence, rupture et suture : il permet la reconfiguration des possibles dans une tension permanente entre la fragmentation des lexies et l’inaccessible totalité d’une œuvre qui ne cesse de se replier sur ses marges.
Mots-clésShelley Jackson, Jacques Derrida, hypertextualité, code, corps, syncope
PLAN DE L'ARTICLE
- Derrida Meets the Patchwork Girl
- “A Hidden Figure That Traverses Them All”
- “A Heap of Letters, Sender Unknown.”
POUR CITER CET ARTICLE
Arnaud Regnauld « Interrupting D: Patchwork Girl's Syncopated Body », Revue française d’études américaines 3/2009 (n° 121), p. 72-83.
URL : www.cairn.info/revue-francaise-d-etudes-americaines-2009-3-page-72.htm.