Simultaneous Recall: The Wholeness of Strickland’s Book

Traditional stories, like the way humans perceive time, are told linearly. However, as thought has evolved, time has begun to be understood as not linear. Some people believe that time, in its temporal dimension, may exist all at once, simultaneously. Stephanie Strickland must know this theory, and it is evident in her book V, which exists simultaneously as Losing L’una and WaveSon.nets, as well as the Vniverse. Strickland pays no attention to chronology in her book, and it isn’t evident that there is a clear narrative at all. The poems in her book don’t seem to be strung together into a cohesive narrative, but instead exist as vignettes that can be appreciated together.

Strickland even insists to her readers that they do not need to read the poems in any particular order. On page 34, more than halfway though Losing L’una, Strickland writes that the poems can be read in whatever arrangement the reader would like:

“Gentle Reader, begin anywhere. Skip anything. This text is framed fully for the purposes of skipping. Of course, it can be read straight through, but this is not a better reading, not a better life.”

While the poems can be read in the order that Strickland presents them, this order does not matter at all. However, Strickland also says that reading them at random will also not give the reader a more significant understanding of the text. Thus, time does not exist at all for this book. All of these poems exist when the reader opens the book for the first time, and they can be presented to the reader at any point without penalty.

This form of storytelling feels very futuristic and advanced. It is also reminiscent of the Tralfamadorian style of storytelling in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s novel Slaughterhouse Five. In this book, the Tralfamadorians are an advanced alien race that perceive all time simultaneously. Because of this, they tell stories in a way that is vastly different from traditional human literature. Vonnegut explains this concept on page 76 of his novel:

“Billy couldn’t read Tralfamadorian, of course, but he could at least see how the books were laid out–in brief clumps of symbols separated by stars… each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message–describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”

Strickland’s book clearly mirrors this idea of Tralfamadorian literature. Unrelated moments all strung together in a non-linear format that can only be appreciated when the whole is understood instead of the individual. The stars that dot Tralfamadorian books also points to a clear parallel between them and Strickland’s work, which features stars and constellations in the Vniverse.

The notion of perceiving all things at once is also pertinent to the way computers process information. While we humans have to sift through our memories in order to recall a piece of information, computers have all of their information instantly on hand. A sentient computer would surely be able to read on understand Strickland’s book in the same way that the Tralfamadorians read their own literature. Thus, Waveson.nets and Losing L’una exist as a form of networked literature, where there is no chronology, but each “node” can be called forth in relation to any other one in the same way that a computer finds information on its hard drive.

If we humans could read all of Sticklands work simultaneously, we would surely get a much richer experience from the text. However, that would clearly be impossible for our minds. Instead, in order to get the true experience from the work, we would have to read it over and over again, in various orders, until each and every poem was ingrained in our minds. Then, and only then, could we call each piece of writing into our minds simultaneously and appreciate the work as a whole network of interconnected nodes.

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2 Responses to Simultaneous Recall: The Wholeness of Strickland’s Book

  1. leficorn93 says:

    The quotation from Slaughterhouse Five, “There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time,” precisely explains Strickland’s work. This description reminds me of viewing a beautiful painting. At the Louvre, one does not take his/her magnifying glass and observe each individual brushstroke of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa–we observe the painting as a whole, as a single united unit. The masterpiece makes an impact on us in its entirety. Unlike the strokes of a painting, we cannot observe all the words of a book at once. It does not make sense until we look closer, and observe each word, each sentence, individually. Strickland’s work is able to be read like a painting, but we don’t have the minds to do it, or rather, our minds must be stretched in order to do it. This sort of challenge makes for an intriguing read and marks a fascinating new stage in literary history.

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  2. rdlebby says:

    I’ve thought about that Vonnegut quote as well as relevant to the way electronic literature suggests we can read! What I think is really interesting about it is that, even though Strickland says directly in her text that we can choose any order we’d like, it seems almost inevitable that the reader will read V from from to back, flip it in the middle, and then read from front to back again. She says there’s the option to do it other ways, but it seems to flow best when read (as) linearly (as possible). I think maybe that’s in part what the online text does – it makes just exploring different passages aimlessly feel a lot more natural and inviting. Even then, though, we can choose to read it in order by typing in the number if we’d like.

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