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Pathfinders

Shelley Jackson's Traversal of Patchwork Girl

This traversal of Shelley Jackson took place on Friday, October 18, 2013 in the Electronic Literature Lab at Washington State University Vancouver as part of the Pathfinders project. Jackson is the author of Patchwork Girl, a hypertext poem riffing off Mary Shelley's Frankenstein that represents a high mark of the genre. The traversal is divided into four parts and reveals to us the intricacies and nuances of the work. The commentary is written by Moulthrop.
 
Jackson Traversal, Part 1, "Unweaving the Poetic Narrative"
Jackson introduces Patchwork Girl, noting differences between the original and the CD-ROM edition she is using here, then starts the program. She notes that the opening image of the monstrous body was produced with MacPaint, the graphics program included with first-generation Apple Macintoshes. From the image she moves to the Map View (boxes and curved lines): "For me this is what the piece looks like, really." She notes that by holding down two keys (ALT and COMMAND, the two keys left of the spacebar) readers can reveal linked words. There are five paths from the first lexia, "evenly weighted for the reader." Jackson decides to choose a path that emphasizes story, and moves to a lexia called "Birth." From there she moves into passages appropriated from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The male creature demands that Frankenstein provide him a female mate. The next lexia mixes Mary Shelley's prose with an interjection by Shelley Jackson's monster, in which she asserts autonomy (more in the manner of the Patchwork Girl of Oz): "I forge my own links," living her life as a fabric that perhaps "will begin to resemble a web." Jackson's female monster, then, alludes to her love affair with Mary Shelley, and this part ends in one of those reminiscences.
 
Jackson Traversal, Part 2, "Confronting the Monster"
A link on the word "journal" leads to a section of a fictional Mary Shelley journal (invented by Jackson) describing Mary's first encounter with the female monster, who exists both as a real person (in Jackson's fiction) and as Mary's deliberate creation. From this section there are two links, displayed in a Storyspace link-selection dialog box, one labeled written, the other sewn. Jackson explains that this choice encapsulates her main metaphor in Patchwork Girl, the body as text, and text itself as a fabric or weaving.

Jackson takes the link called writing. Jackson's Mary Shelley recalls the creation of her monster as an act of writing, but writing that quickly comes to resemble sewing and, thus, leads to a reverie or digression (somewhat eroticized) about the ladies of the town sitting together at their work.

Jackson backs up to take the other link, sewn. The making of the monster is now an act of needlework ("I had sewn her"), but sewing flips over into writing. From here we move to a lexia called "she stood," containing Jackson's Mary's description of her naked creature: "Various sectors of her skin were different hues and textures, no match perfect." She is monstrous, and yet "in this way she was beautiful."

After this, Jackson clicks through a largely linear section, passing over a lexia in which her Mary makes love to the female monster. She returns to Map View and jumps to the path called "Graveyard," which contains stories of the people from whom the monster's body parts have come.

Here Jackson demonstrates a striking feature of her design that seems partly unrealized in the current version. (The cause of the problem Jackson finds is not clear.) Clicking on each bodypart link, the reader should be able to move to a passage associated with the part, or alternatively to an image of the part, which Jackson intended to be moveable around the reading screen, allowing the reader to re-assemble graphically her own monstrous body. The attempt to do this with "arm" proves unsuccessful, though "head" does work. This technical exploit represents a strong departure from the purely verbal register, reminding us why Patchwork Girl is often compared to graphic novels. It is also clear that Jackson pushed the presentation space as far as she could toward the compositional workspace in which she created the project -- though Storyspace appears to have pushed back. Jackson reads lexias associated with the head, the lips ("my lips always get the joke") and the tongue. Then we leave the Graveyard: "a kind of resurrection has taken place."
 
Jackson Traversal, Part 3, "Stitched Remix"
Back to the start (title page). We move from there to the "Quilt" path, which appears as "a visual image made out of the basic structure of the Storyspace program itself," i.e., an array or grid of variously colored boxes. Quilt contains passages remixed from various sources: Frankenstein, The Patchwork Girl of Oz, critical commentaries, works of cultural theory, and even the Storyspace user manual. At the bottom of each lexia in the Quilt we are supposed to see "a series of hyphens," representing the stitches that draw passages together. For some reason, these do not appear in the CD-ROM edition Jackson used for this reading, though they can be seen in earlier editions.

Monsters, hybrids, offspring: "Mosaic techniques of the maternal imagination, mistress of errors, aren't you the very demon of multiplicity?" Jackson's delight in this (lovely) passage is apparent, and she reads with a spontaneous smile. We leave the Quilt and travel "upstream" to the Map View again, descending once more into the "Story" path.  Jackson explains that she wants to show how Story is built from two parallel threads that meet and diverge, one celebrating, the other resisting multiplicity.
 
Jackson Traversal, Part 4, "Parallel Patches"
Jackson returns to the Story thread, following the female monster in 19th-century America. Illustrating the split between celebration and resistance, she reads two lexias that both bear the name "Revelations." They are two versions of the same scene, in which Chancy, the sailor into whose company the monster has fallen, walks in on her in a state of undress. In one version, Chancy also strips, revealing that she too is a woman. The succeeding lexia after this has Chancy responding to the situation with laughter, and the two make love. In the alternative (resistant) version, Chancy responds to the monster's body with aversion, and the two part "distrustfully."

Both versions of "Revelations" lead eventually to a lexia called "An Accident," which Jackson reads in its entirety. The monster is run down by a cab, and her left leg is separated -- in something less traumatic than a bloody severing -- from the rest of her body. In an earlier lexia (in the Graveyard), the monster hints that her left leg has always had a wayward impulse and seems ready to go its own way.

The monster wonders at Chancy's astonished and fearful reaction to the accident and her survival: "Was there a right way to go to pieces?" Eventually the leg is found and receives a funeral, after which the monster heads west, and into something like the present day.

In the final sequence, the monster takes up residence in a trailer near Death Valley, where she tries to "erase my history and be made new." The attempt to re-stitch herself surgically has not succeeded, so she attempts a psychological re-unification. "Files could be erased, pictures snipped. ... I thought I could grow into my oneness" -- but this is not to be.  The monster falls apart again.

In the final lexia, "Aftermath," she concludes: "And doubt and movement will be my life, as long as it lasts."

This page has paths:

This page references:

  1. Shelley Jackson Traversal, Part 1
  2. Shelley Jackson Traversal, Part 2
  3. Shelley Jackson Traversal, Part 3
  4. Shelley Jackson Traversal, Part 4
  5. Shelley Jackson's Traversal