Rebooting Electronic Literature Volume 3: Documenting Pre-Web Born Digital Media

Interview with Stuart Moulthrop about Victory Garden

Following his Traversal, Moulthrop was interviewed by Dene Grigar about the development and concept behind Victory Garden. This event, part of the Pathfinders methodology, is intended to provide future scholars with the history and lore of early pioneering electronic literature.

Interview with Stuart Moulthrop, Part 1: Storyspace Methods

Part One of the author interview with Stuart Moulthrop begins with a discussion of the Storyspace environment. Moulthrop avoided the map feature in Storyspace and, instead, mapped out the structure of Victory Garden using MacDraw. He describes the attempt to employ more ambitious graphical features than had been employed in Storyspace at that time. He notes that Shelly Jackson exceeded this in her work, Patchwork Girl. A question is asked about how character driven each of the paths through the work are. Moulthrop acknowledges that Victory Garden is a novel, and this aspect of the work is seen throughout. The next question is about the media format the work was published on. Moulthrop responds that it originally came out on 3.5-inch floppy disk, and somewhere in the 2000s it was published on CD-ROM. Dene Grigar explains the history of the publication formats. Moulthrop closes this segment by recalling giving his family copies of Victory Garden as a holiday gift and noting that the Macintosh computer must be acquired separately.

Interview with Stuart Moulthrop, Part 2: Hypertext Foundation

Part Two of the interview discusses the impact of the Hypertext. It opens with a memory from Stuart’s undergraduate days. He tells of taking a course in Computer Science in his final semester as an undergraduate student in English and realizing he majored in the wrong discipline and was about to go to graduate school in the wrong discipline. He felt the call of the computer, and when personal computers became commercially available, he played with words in the BASIC programming language. His early work is comparable to interactive fiction. He strongly felt the impact of having your own machine that allowed playful interaction, not just practical tasks such as word processing. Stuart recalls meeting J. David Bolter, one of the authors of Storyspace and corresponding with Michael Joyce. Joyce sent him an early version afternoon, a story in 1986. He then built an interactive fiction in Hypercard during a sabbatical, which was never completed. Even with all of this work, hypertext was still considered not the “real” work for a professor of English. The role of the Kinko's franchise in providing access to computers and publishing digital texts is discussed, before Eastgate Systems, Inc. became a publisher. Voyager multimedia is discussed as another pioneer of publishing and distributing digital texts.

Interview with Stuart Moulthrop, Part 3: Composition and Strategy

The third segment of the interview opens with a question about what amount or percentage of the total text is a clickable link. Moulthrop confirms that each word in the novel may be clicked on to link to another lexia. He goes on to explain how the Storyspace architecture deals with links. When a reader clicks on a specific word, Storyspace checks to see if a specific link has been specified for the word clicked. If so, the link goes to that specific link; if not, the reader is taken to the default location for that page. He goes on to talk about visual puns in his text and to discuss the influence that Alan Moore’s Watchmen graphic novel may have had on Victory Garden. The conversation moves on to the mirroring of the wars the author witnessed and the war in the text. Moulthrop mentions Jean Baudrillard and Donna Haraway as influences and acknowledges the work is bookish in nature.

Interview with Stuart Moulthrop, Part 4: The Mechanism of the Labyrinth

When asked a question about the labyrinthine structure of Victory Garden, Moulthrop embarks on a branching and twisting narrative. He draws links to the labyrinth of Knossos with the minotaur in its center. Moulthrop notes that in some paths through Victory Garden the young woman comes out of the labyrinth and survives, but in others she does not. The conversation moves to the discussion of open hypertext versus closed hypertext. Victory Garden predates the mainstreaming of the World Wide Web, so openness was not an option for it. There were no external links to place in the text when it was composed. Using Michael Joyce’s terminology, Victory Garden is an "exploratory hypertext" as the reader is not free to restructure the work; rather they explore the structure set by the author. Noting that he once created a paper copy of Victory Garden and tried to read it in sequence, he discovered that the work doesn't function well in that structure. Drawing from video game terminology, Moulthrop describes the goal of creating an "evergreen" work, or a hypertext that can be played infinitely and is still fresh.

Interview with Stuart Moulthrop, Part 5: Impact of Victory Garden

Grigar opens the fifth segment of the interview with a question about the impact of Victory Garden.  Starting from the context of the Traversal project, she mentions that each work traversed to date has had significant impact on subsequent generations of hypertext and electronic literature. Moulthrop begins, darkly, with a comparison to the inventors of phlogiston (a superseded theory that proposed a fiery element called phlogiston.) Early hypertext showed later generations what not to do. He goes on to discuss the work of Talan Memmot and Jason Nelson. Moulthrop doesn't claim they are influenced by him, but he finds structural links between these later creators and his own work. The conversation moves on to discuss the flourishing of multimedia in the next generation of hypertexts. Moulthrop closes by asking the audience to imagine reading a novel on your car's navigation system. The screen is similar in size to a Macintosh computer.

Interview with Stuart Moulthrop, Part 6: Later Projects

Grigar asks Moulthrop about his work post-Victory Garden. Moulthrop says his work became all about the web. Discussing the evolution of HTML browsers and the introduction of the game Myst, he moves on to describing his next work Hegirascope. Hegirascope adds to Victory Garden's hypertext structure a timer––after 30 seconds the work will refresh with a new page. The reader can assert control by clicking on a hypertext link, but the timer starts again. Michael Joyce referred to Hegirascope as "the hypertext that reads itself."  When Flash came on the market, multimedia works exploded on the landscape. Grigar notes that "to stay in you have to stay up"––that is, the rapidly changing landscape of authoring tools created a barrier to creators who do not have an intrinsic desire to continue to learn a new platform constantly. Moulthrop and Grigar both note that as craft advances, so does the time commitment. Moulthrop notes that later works are much more likely to be collaborative, as the time demands stretch the capacity of solo authors. Moulthrop mentions one of his later works, called Radio Salience, that featured ambient sound, multimedia and poetry and talked about how that work caused him to question whether we was a writer anymore since so much of the work was not textual.

Interview with Stuart Moulthrop, Part 7: Misunderstandings

Grigar opens the seventh segment by asking if there are aspects of Victory Garden that were misunderstood. Moulthrop answers the question by discussing the economics of distributing texts. Victory Garden and other works published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. were commercial publications, but the field moved on to more of a system of free distribution. Moulthrop also mentions a sentence-generating tool in the work that may have been overlooked by many readers. He also mentions that out of all the Eastgate works, Victory Garden had been described as a "lexia flipper"––or the hypertext version of a page-turner. This leads to a discussion of the economic consequences of writing work that could only be read on a Macintosh computer that cost, in 1991 value, $3000.

Interview with Stuart Moulthrop, Part 8: Preservation and Selection

The final segment of the author interview turns to the question of preservation. Whether the works that are selected, or those that were not included in the first series of Traversals reveals both the precarity of the work and the enormity of the task. Moulthrop and Grigar discuss this first effort to select and preserve works of electronic literature and theorize about future preservation work that will build on their start. In closing, Moulthrop talks about what it feels like to come back to a work after 20+ years. He notes that it is scary to come back to a work that is too complex to carry in his head. He feels the work has a life of its own, but he was pleased to discover that it is a system, and the system still works.

This page has paths:

This page references: