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

Traversal of Mark Bernstein's "Those Trojan Girls"

On Wednesday, March 20, 2019 Dene Grigar gave a Traversal of Mark Bernstein's hypertext narrative, Those Trojan Girls, at Hof University in Hof, Germany. The event was organized by Claus Atzenbeck, Visual Analytics Research Group at iisys at the university. Bernstein joined the event from the U.S. to participate in the Q&A that followed the performance. Grigar read the work from the USB Stick version of the work on an iMac.

Traversal of Mark Bernstein's Those Trojan Girls, Part 1

The video of the Traversal opens with introductions by Claus Altzenbeck and an an invitation to the 2019 ACM Hypertext. Introduced are Grigar, the reader, and Bernstein, the author of Those Trojan Girls. Bernstein begins with a discussion of his motivations for writing his hypertext novel. He explains technological motivations for hypertext and creative motivations for this particular hypertext. The camera switches to Grigar who next explains the Traversal methodology and the way today’s reading will proceed before beginning her reading.

Traversal of Mark Bernstein's Those Trojan Girls, Part 2

Grigar continues her introduction by mentioning Those Trojan Girls debuted at the ACM Hypertext conference in 2016 at Halifax, Nova Scotia. The work is described as a mashup of Euripides and Seneca’s play The Trojan Women and the Victorian School Story tradition. Also mentioned is Bernstein’s early work, The Election of 1912, which debuted at the first ACM Hypertext Conference in 1987. She goes on to describe the USB Stick that Those Trojan Girls is distributed on and Bernstein’s legacy as a publisher with Eastgate Systems, Inc.

Grigar moves on to describe the screen elements of the Storyspace 3 environment. There are at least five separate methods of reading the text--five views the software allows a reader to navigate the lexias. Next, Grigar gives the background of the Illiad and sets the stage for the setting of Those Trojan Girls. Grigar then begins the reading proper with the introductory remarks in the text. After reading this, she demonstrates the different ways links between lexias are signaled to the reader. The segment concludes with Grigar soliciting choices from the audience to navigate between the lexias she reads.

Traversal of Mark Bernstein's Those Trojan Girls, Part 3

In the third video Grigar continues her reading and demonstrates how some of the lexias are grouped into clusters. Animated links between lexias are also pointed out as the reading continues. Grigar pauses here for an aside about, Janet Murray, whose 1997 book Hamlet on the Holodeck, had been influential in the theorizing about interactive media. Grigar notes that history has shown hypertext to indeed be a future of narrative. The reading continues through several lexias, then Grigar pauses to reflect on the size and scale of the work, noting where on the map of the entire work the reading has taken the audience so far. The reading continues and Grigar reads from the story map, which allows for her reading not follow the choices set in the work but rather jump between lexias that are not connected.

Traversal of Mark Bernstein's Those Trojan Girls, Part 4

The fourth and final video segment of the Traversal continues through more lexias of Those Trojan Girls. Grigar notes that some narrative paths through the work can bypass certain lexias. It is possible to make choices as one reads the work that cause parts of the text to become invisible or unseen. After this aside, Grigar returns to the reading, narrates a few more lexias, and then stops the reading to make time for a question and answer period with the audience and Mark Bernstein.

Traversal of Mark Bernstein's Those Trojan Girls, Q&A Part 1

The question period opens with Altzenbeck asking about links between notes that are shown as different colors. Bernstein answers by explaining that the colors represent varying methods of linking between lexias or notes. Stretch text is also discussed, why it was not utilized very much in Those Trojan Girls and how it can be employed in other hypertexts. Grigar poses a question to the audience, asking how many of them have had an experience with electronic literature, hypertext, or interactive fiction.  Audience members generally respond that they had not and some of them share their first-time impressions of electronic literature. A comparison between games and hypertext, electronic literature, and interactive fiction is discussed.

Traversal of Mark Bernstein's Those Trojan Girls, Q&A Part 2

The second video of the question and answer period opens with Grigar bringing up the video game Her Story as an example of a literary game in the tradition of Astrid Ensslin’s book, Literary Gaming. She then poses a new question to the audience, asking them to consider the performative element of the Traversal and contrast this with the experience of sitting and reading a text. The conversation moves to comparing performative literary events, such as poetry readings to reading silently. The performer’s role in interpreting the work is mentioned as well as N. Katheryn Hayles’ three modes of reading. A question is raised about the reader’s role in not just interpreting the text but with editing and changing the text through one’s interaction with the notes (lexias) and links. Bernstein answers that it is possible using edit mode to change the text, despite that it was not his intention to offer this service to readers. Bernstein moves on to discuss some unlinked notes that appear to be unfinished. A new question from the audience asks if the film concept of breaking the "fourth wall" is possible in hypertext.

Traversal of Mark Bernstein's Those Trojan Girls, Q&A Part 3

Grigar posits that hypertext, using Storyspace’s edit function, can break the "fourth wall." Bernstein raises the example of a lexia (note) in Those Trojan Girls where a key event occurs “off screen” and how the order of lexias (notes) are read can impact the narrative. This is another example of how the readers, without the edit function, can determine the meaning of a particular reading. Grigar raises the example of Deena Larsen’s Disappearing Rain where links to external resources died, making them unavailable to readers. A new question is raised: “Is there a default reading?” Bernstein comments that there are notes with no default links, but most notes have default links, so it is possible to navigate large potions of the work in a kind of default mode. This concludes both the question and answer portion of the Traversal. Before the recording ends, Grigar mentions in conversation with Bernstein and Altzenbeck that this is the 18th Traversal she has produced over the last six years.

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