“Of course, to say the Surfer “felt” anything was problematic, since there was nothing for him to feel with. This was real strange. Even stranger was his mood: not panic, horror, or fear. He had a hovering impression that he had to do something, but he couldn’t say what. Mainly he felt curious.”
One of the more obvious differences between electronic literature and a traditional book is the absence of something physical to read. Rather than hiding one page behind another, as with physical books, the text altogether vanishes as soon as the reader chooses to click it away. Recovering it, in most electronic stories, is a whole other mess.
The Surfer in Stuart Moulthrop’s Hegirascope loses his body the way readers of electronic text lose their book. His feelings toward this loss are, interestingly, not of loss at all. The entire page, in Hegirascope, is titled “Curious” which is representative of what you must feel in order to read elit. Without the will to actively click on different links, the power of the screen to show you a story goes away. Being able to choose between many links is another reason curiosity is a must.
The irony of all of this is in Hegirascope’s structure, however. Unlike other electronic texts we’ve discussed in class, the pages turn on their own if you refuse to click on a link within half a minute. This time limit is absurdly long considering the amount of text on some pages, but it’s also unreasonably short for others. There were multiple times, when I was reading, that I had to hit the back button in order to finish the section I was on after I was taken away mid-read. There is absolutely no room for “hovering” in Hegirascope-if you don’t focus on each page as it comes and race to its finish, you’re going to miss pages, and recovering them-if you even notice that you missed them-won’t be easy.
There’s a strange sense of futility in Hegirascope that was absent in the other hypertexts we read in class. Words pass you by, but attempting to read some of the longer passages is hopeless. Links pass you by, but clicking on them only draws you further into the maze, and can even send you back to the beginning, or somewhere nearer it. It feels like the only way to get through a text like this is to coast, read what you can as you see it, and let the apparatus take you wherever it chooses. This passivity seems to be the opposite of curious exploration, but no other option makes sense.
Part of what Moulthrop does by designing a text that turns its own pages is demand that his readers look to the future. This isn’t just by presenting them with text without order, but also by moving away from any sort of present text-reading they may be experiencing. This parallels the idea of throwing away conventional ideas of what it is to read a story. Hegirascope tells you a story without explicitly telling you how to read it. It tells you to look to whatever surprises the future may have in store, the same as the idea of an electronic text in this structure is a complete surprise. Overall, the best thing to do, as we can learn from the Surfer in this hypertext, is to proceed with curiosity.