Rebooting Electronic Literature, Volume 2: Documenting Pre-Web Born Digital Media

Essay on Kathryn Cramer's "In Small & Large Pieces"

Curiouser & Curiouser!: The Mad House of Kathryn Cramer's In Small & Large Pieces 
by Dene Grigar, PhD

Kathryn Cramer's In Small & Large Pieces was published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. in The Eastgate Quarterly Review of Hypertext (EQRH) Volume 1, Number 3, Summer 1994. Bundled with Kathy Mac's Unnatural Habitats, it is packaged in the cardboard folio that the company had begun to use after abandoning the original vinyl folio. Published on two 3.5-inch floppy disks, one for each the Macintosh and PC computer, the work was produced with Storyspace 1.08 and used 875K. At the time it cost $19.95 to purchase. It remains today one of the works published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. that was never upgraded to CD-ROM or the current flash drive technology. Unlike Unnatural Habitats, In Small & Large Pieces is bundled with a folder that included various sizes and styles of Palatino and Futura fonts, which the work makes good use of in its presentation. The Electronic Literature Lab owns two copies of the work, one of which was donated by N. Katherine Hayles and the other purchased by Dene Grigar.

Navigation & Structure
Upon launching In Small & Large Pieces, readers find the story contains 513 spaces, or lexias, and 2625 links. The lexias feature both narrative writing and poetry. The title screen, which appears after the work loads, introduces readers to a black and white ASCII image of Alice in Wonderland with a bit of color––blue in the title and red in the author's name. Storyspace hypertexts, particularly those produced for the Macintosh environments, began to incorporate color after the release of the LCII and Macintosh Color Classic, which occurred in 1992 and 1993, respectively. This essay accessed the work with a computer contemporary to these, the Macintosh Performa 5215CD, in production from 1992-1997.

Clicking on this screen takes readers to a quote by E.M. Forster from Aspects of the Novel, which addresses––along with character, setting, plot, and other literary elements––fantasy, appropriate to a story that draws upon Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass for inspiration. To navigate sequentially along a predetermined path, readers can simply hit the return key, a strategy that literary artist and theorist, Michael Joyce, calls "the wave of returns." [1] To move non-sequentially, readers can double-click words highlighted in red and blue in a lexia or by holding down the OPT + CMD key––what are known as the Tinkle and Bell keys. [2] The Tinker Bell keys are required to interact with the images featured in the story. For example, the lexia, entitled "eye," presents readers with an image of an eye containing an image map divided into eight sections, each hyperlinked to a unique lexia. Simply mousing over the image does not evoke a link; one must use the OPT + CMD keys to access them. Likewise, the image on the title screen, pictured above, contains 10 possible paths readers can follow in the story, plus two more about the publisher and author.

Cramer's hypertext novel is structured as six chapters. They include:

Chapter 1: The Effect of Living Backwards
Chapter 2: Injury & Breakage
Chapter 3: Anna, Phantomwise
Chapter 4: The Unified Parent
Chapter 5: Scrambled Eggs
Chapter 6: The Mirror Shattered

The opening screen for each chapter introduces what could be read as lines of a poem or two poems arranged in its own column. For example, Chapter 1 reads:

"Another moment
In the mirror
I remember
You saw what happened
All three chased me
You broke it
The encyclopedia"

Each of these eight lines are also hyperlinks that take readers to lexias of the same name. "Another moment" goes to the lexia "Another moment" and reads "In another moment Anna was gone." Each of these six words are each hyperlinked to a unique lexia, which like the previous phrases, is named for the hyperlinks.

The Story
The plot focuses on the conflict between the Miller siblings Anna, Martin, and Annabelle, and between their parents, Norma and Martin. Readers meet the siblings in Chapter 1 in the midst of a squabble over a broken mirror. Annabelle, Anna's twin, appears in the story often "hiding under her bed" ("Doing something awful"). Italicized words in lexias like "I remember 2" represent Anna's thoughts. Readers learn that Anna views Martin as cruel. Red blood on a shard of the mirror and "something red" ("Still crying, Annabelle") on Annabelle's dress reflects the violence she reports to experience at his hands. Martin's vulgar language––he calls his sister a "bitch"––adds credibility to her perspective. The presence of the mirror and the allusion to Carroll's novel, however, complicate a simple reading of the story. We learn, for example, that Anna initiated the fight by "punch[ing]" her brother ("It was addressed to me"). In the broken mirror Anna sees a "commingled" image of Martin and her. Hints at sexual abuse emerge when readers are told that the altercation between sister and brother takes place while Anna is "dressed only in a green towel" ("Full length mirror 3"). 

The opening poem in Chapter 2 suggests Martin "[d]oing something awful" that she could not stop because "[h]e outweighed her." Readers learn more about the sisters: Despite their differences in appearance, they, like a mirror reflection, "had the same glazed fragility" and, so, were "a matched set" ("It was bad enough"). Anna doesn't like her mother Norma and wishes to be different, more "original" ("Like her"), "smirk[ing] at the thought of the woman being named for her father Norman ("She got the mail"). The problem with both parents, Anna believes, was that they "were under an enchantment" ("Under an enchantment"), a "spell" cast upon them by their Aunt Melba ("Under 5"). The Atheist magazine sent by mail to Anna's mother motivates the girl to write a poem centering on women's rights and a rule by "Gynarchy" ("Nestled 2"). Frustrated with her output, she returns to writing "erotic poetry" ("Nestled 3"). Despite Anna's protectiveness toward her twin, Anna expresses jealousy about the attention Annabelle shows Karl, a Mormon boy in which Anna is also interested ("It was a lie 2") and has sex with after school ("Blue light"). Sibling violence mirror the violence in their parents' marriage ("The three 3") that spills out to the children, leading them "to conceal minor injury and breakage" ("Injury and breakage"). Later, "a creepy man" tells Anna that "Karl had been making passes at him" ("A son-of-a-bitch"), which later Karl does not deny to Anna ("She went 2"). The accusation, however, does not stop the two from having sex "[a]s usual . . . in the bed next to the washing machine in his basement room" ("She went 3"). Anna catches Annabelle's face watching "through the glass" and "[feels] viciously triumphant" over the experience ("She went 5"). When Karl discovers that Annabelle had seen them, he "punched [Anna] in the stomach as hard as he could" ("Expecting someone?") and "shoves her" ("He grabbed her arm").

Chapter 3 entitled "Anna, Phantomwise," contains only three lexias, the first two of which are poems Anna has written. The first lexia is written backwards: "?dream but it is what, life, gleam golden the lingering stream the down drifting Ever" ("?dream but it is what"). Anna, readers puzzle out, is "haunt[ed]  . . . [s]till." Allusions to a "boy slain" and a "brother" who "dies" speak to the death and violence alluded to in this lexia and the next, "Aaaaa and Anna." We learn later in the story that Martin tries to commit suicide. The final lexia quotes Alice from Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, shifting the scene from the poem Anna writes to Anna's view of it: "It seems very pretty," she said when she had finished it, "but it is rather hard than to understand."

Readers find Anna returning to her house in Chapter 4, and discovering "blood" and Annabelle's toe, a "small gray-white lump with a toenail attached" ("Anna came in the back"). Anna sews the toe back on her sister and cleans up the blood ("Anna got some ice"). The story shifts to a past violent event when Anna had "force[d] her finger down [Martin's] throat  . . . and . . . force-fed him lumps of charcoal from the fireplace" ("Brutality and comfort 2") as a way of saving his life after his suicide attempt ("Brutality and comfort 3"). Such moments unify the parents in violence toward one another. Anna describes their fight as:

"For each parent there was a torso
(moving in and out as though breathing,
though there were no passages for air), two
pieces and a foot for each leg, two pieces
and a hand for each arm, and of course a
head and neck which were all one piece." ("Here parents were there")

While they fought Anna "banged [Martin's] head against the toilet seat" to force him to "submit" to her ministrations ("The pieces would keep 2") and later "tied him, hand and foot, to the bedposts" to keep him from trying to kill himself again ("Lumps of coal"). 

The parents' fight had caused them to "come apart" and require Anna to reassemble them. The suggestion at this point is that there were many other times Anna had to help her parents so that she had "[e]ventually . . . developed a strategy: legs first, then arms, then re-attach the legs to the torso, then the arms and, finally, the heads" ("The first time"). Against this backdrop is Anna's memory of a spaghetti dinner she made, her family seated at the table, her father saying "grace" at "the head of the table," and "warm colors of the wallpaper" and a "glass of milk" making "everything" so "ordinary" ("Spaghetti dinner 3"). But then the story takes readers back to the day when Martin cut off Annabelle's toe and the sight of Anna's repair on her sister's foot caused their parents to "immediately [fall] apart" ("Of course"). This time Anna sutured them together like "artificial Siamese twins" so that they "would never fall apart again" ("A new difficulty"). Dressing the "unified parent" was challenging, so Anna and Annabelle "wrapped it in blue and green flowered bedsheets" ("A new difficulty 4"). This strategy did not, however, stop the parents from continuing with their fight ("The unified parent"). Giving up, the girls steal off to read "The Jabberwock" from Through the Looking-Glass ("A story"), a nonsensical poem reflecting the events taking place at the Miller home.

Chapter 5 contains nine lexias that focus on Anna and Annabella. They are alone in the house, getting dressed and eating scrambled eggs together. From all appearances, it is a mundane day, filled with the daily routine of getting ready for and going to school. The "fog" and "overcast" sky along with the strange appearance of Annabelle's room with its "unmade bed" and "bedclothes" that "looked enormous, out of proportion to the rest of the room" are ominous omens. Anna's distorted perception may have its roots in a psychological phenomenon called, not so ironically, the Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AiWS), which occurs during childhood. Hallucinations are common for people afflicted with this condition. [3] If readers have not yet wondered how reliable Anna's account of her experiences are, certainly the stories she recounts have, by this point, become fantastical. 

Readers return to the violence of the novel's opening in Chapter 6 with the encyclopedia hitting and "shatter[ing]" the "mirror" ("The encyclopedia hit"). As in Chapter 1, Anna again stoops to clean it up. Picking up the mirror, she again sees herself and Martin. After Martin leaves to tattle on Anna to their mother, Anna looks again in the mirror and sees "no one." She starts to "melt away, just like a bright silvery mist" ("Anna thought"). The final lexia of the story is the first one readers encounter: "In another moment Anna was gone" ("In another moment"). 

It is no surprise that the two ways to navigate this hypertext narrative open the story up for different experiences with the text. First, reading it sequentially allows for a coherent narrative framed by Anna's disappearance, a mirroring effect that emphasizes the phantasy world she encounters and then vanishes from and the way Annabelle serves as a counterpoint to Anna (While Anna is bold and authoritative, Annabella is frightened and cowed.) This reading may also lead readers to question the existence of Annabelle. Within this madhouse of violence and mayhem Annabelle may be a fantasy of Anna's making and, so, Annabelle's conduct is yet an expression of Anna's response to her environment.

Second, reading it non-sequentially through the hyperlinks––many of which are not accessible by hitting the return key––reveals the horrific violence in unpredictable ways. Clicking on one of the three hyperlinks found on image of the eye on the title page, for example, can take readers to a lexia called "white lace" featuring an image of young girl with a butterfly on her face. The hope and rebirth represented by the butterfly belies Anna's nihilism found elsewhere in the story. Associated with this image are 15 hyperlinks. Clicking on one of them can take readers to a lexia called "kittens" that reads: ". . . impersonal violence . . . ." Here readers find innocence, suggested by the kitten, juxtaposed against the word "violence." "Violence" is hyperlinked to the lexia that reads: "In situations like this, brutality and comfort become one and the same" ("Brutality and comfort"). "Same" takes readers to the scene, mentioned previously, where Anna forces charcoal down Martin's throat in order to save him from dying. Thus, readers may not encounter characters or plot until they have worked through numerous foreboding lexias. This structure breaks down the story literally into its own "small and large pieces" that readers need to suture in order to make sense of it. 

Final Comments
The work gained notice early in its publication. Cramer, also known for writing science fiction, was interviewed by Harry Goldstein for Alt-X, the reigning journal for the avant-garde, where she names, along with Carroll's novel, The Shining and MC Escher among her influences. [4] The novel also received excellent reviews from the Utne Reader, the San Francisco Chronicle, and sci-fi writer Bruce Sterling.

Those familiar with Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl may be struck by references to stitching, sewing, and suturing in Cramer's work. Though the publication date for In Small & Large Pieces precedes Jackson's by a year, the concept of pulling together fragments of text had been in the air with the interest in post-structuralist literary theory in the early 1990s by hypertext scholars. George Landow leverages the writings of Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, and others in his influential book, Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (1992), to explain his theory of hypertext. Landow's reference to Derrida's notion of "assemblage," he says, "suggests[s] . . . the kind of bringing together . . . [a] structure of an interlacing, a weaving, or a web which would allow the different threads and different lines of sense or force to separate again, as well as being ready  to bind others together" (9). Jackson studied under Landow at Brown University and drafted her famous hypertext novel in a course she took from him. [5] Thus, Cramer's "unified parent" and Jackson's "patchwork girl," generate from a period of literary history where fragmenting and binding together text––that is, "small and large pieces" of writing––were common themes for hypertexts during the early to mid-1990's. Readers who venture on to the chapter featuring Deena Larsen's Samplers: Nine Vicious Little Hypertexts will be alerted to the fact that Cramer helped to inspire and, then, served as an early editor on that hypertext anthology, which "pieces" together nine hypertexts, "quilting them with double and triple layers to produced three-dimensional texts" (Larsen, “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine: An Introduction").


[1] See Michael Joyce, "Preface," afternoon: a story, Eastgate Systems, Inc. Grigar references this term in her essay, "Rhapsodic Textualities," Digital Media & Textuality: From Creation to Archiving, edited by Daniela Cortes Maduro, Verlag, 2017, p. 20.

[2] The use of this terminology came from Storyspace creators Michael Joyce and Jay David Bolter and was reported to be Apple Developer slang. Grigar learned the term in 1991 in a graduate course she took from Nancy Kaplan, a close friend and collaborator of Joyce and Bolter. During this pre-Web period prior to the ubiquitous blue underlined hyperlink, the Tinkle Bell keys would evoke a box around words or phrases to denote a hyperlink was present. Thus, the keys may have received the name because something magical, a hyperlink, happened when one used them together. See Grigar's chapter,  "The Archives Pertaining to Bill Bly," in Stuart Moulthrop and Dene Grigar's Traversals: The Use of Preservation for Early Electronic Writing, The MIT Press, p. 247. 

[3] See Anne Weissenstein, Elisabeth Lutcher, and M. A. Stefan Bittmann's essay, "Alice in Wonderland Syndrome: A rare neurological manifestation with microscopy in a six year old child," Journal of Pediatric Neurosciences, 2014 Sep-Dec; 9(3): 303–304.

[4] See Harry Goldstein, "Interview with Kathryn Cramer." Alt-X Hypertext Horizon

[5] See Shelley Jackson's Traversal and Interview in Grigar & Moulthrop's Pathfinders: Documenting the Experience of Early Digital Literature, 2015, and Landow's Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

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