I would like to talk about endings, specifically what I have come to expect from an ending, and how Moulthrop’s Reagan’s Library completely turn my expectation on its head. At the end of Reagan’s Library, for those of you who did not make it, the work goes into a circular narrative that is hard to recognize and disturbing in that it only ends when you decided to stop looking at it. It goes through I believe eleven or twelve iterations of the same circular text depending on your choice of two links at the branching point. The two choices are “The world is what you see and where it takes you”. Depending on which one of these you choose, the text will cycle through, but it always ends back to a block of text that says “Control-Z my life”. After clicking this link, as it is the only one available, we get to what is at first perceived as another crossroads. Two links that will take us in two different directions, except they don’t. They just keep cycling through the same material again and again. It took me probably four cycles of this to realize that I was in a recursive loop, and there was no way out expect for restarting the program.
First let’s look at the starting point of the recursive loop, “Control-Z my life. I am a Mac user so I had to look this one up, but Control-Z is the undo command on PCs. So “undo my life” is what Moulthrop is really saying. Then when you click to undo his life, you find yourself in this recursive loop that you cannot get out of. It’s a circle. Now this type of cycle is only possible to perpetrate against the reader in a digital text. If this were a paper book, I would have read through it once, got to the starting point again, and immediately realized that I had read it. With the hyperlinks though, the sense of movement and control that the author seemed to impart to me, and with the rest of the text so full of recurrences and seemingly random jumps, I did not notice that I had reached the end until I had seen everything four times!
This is important for a number of reasons, the first being “what you see”. Moulthrop has built for the reader a network to move through, with the assumed understanding that clicking a link will take you to something you have not seen before, or will reveal itself to you in ways that it has not before. This expectation is built throughout the narrative as the primary way in which the author interacts with the reader. The power of movement is what keeps you going through the text. This world that we inhabit with the author is “what we see”, and what we see is dictated by where we click. But at the end the world, what we see is not something that we control anymore. We are stuck with the author in an unending cycle of the same pages of texts, and it is impossible to escape without restarting the work, or Control-Z-ing the author’s life.
The other option at the crossroads of the cycle is “where it takes you”. Well we run into the same problem as we do with “what we see “. What we see becomes stagnant after looking at it four times. The reader loses their agency when what they see is all the same cycle.
I think a good way to read this text is as a person trapped within their memories. Memories do not change all that much. They link to other memories and the author has constructed an incredible network of memories that we can journey through, but at the end, memory is circular. At a certain point it cannot take us anywhere new, which is why it ends with this recursive structure. The only way out of the authors mind is to Control-Z the work and leave.
There was a part of me that was disturbed by this type of ending, not because it was completely new to me, but because it perfectly mirrored some of the same problems I encounter with my memories. I call it walking the well-worn paths of my mind. It never takes me anywhere new. I can learn from them, but at the end of the day, the only way to keep moving is to keep moving. Create more memories. To steal from Pynchon, “keep it bouncing” (The Crying of Lot 49).
Moulthrop, Stuart. Reagan’s Library
Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1966. Print.