Rebooting Electronic Literature, Volume 4

Traversal of Carolyn Guyer's "Quibbling"

Carolyn Guyer performed her Traversal of Quibbling remotely from New York via Zoom and YouTube while Dene Grigar navigated the work from the lab at Washington State University Vancouver using a Macintosh Classic II running System Software 7.1. The work was created with Storyspace software and published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. in 1992 on a 3.5-inch floppy disk. The performance was hosted by the Electronic Literature Lab at Washington State University Vancouver on Thursday, November 12, 2020. 

Carolyn Guyer’s Traversal of  Quibbling, Part 1

Dene Grigar introduces Quibbling, a work which scholar Carolyn Guertin in her hypertext essay “Queen Bees and the Hum of the Hive” called "the mother of feminist hypertext." As Grigar loads Quibbling on the desktop, Carolyn Guyer––via Zoom––describes her approach to hyperlinking: For Quibbling, she chose a map view, over which readers could move and "find more connections" for themselves rather than relying solely on a few links in a lexia or a default path. Guyer details how she came to writing from a background in the visual arts, and links the cover illustration of Quibbling to "the behavior of waves," which she observed while living by Lake Michigan and came to see as "associated with the way humans interact . . . especially men and women." 

Carolyn Guyer’s Traversal of  Quibbling, Part 2

Guyer reads from a first lexia, "cigar box," which describes a woman anticipating giving a gift to a man. Grigar navigates to the next lexia, "cup and rod," using the default arrow and, then, to the lexia that follows in which the same woman watches the same man receive her gift, "needing to recognize the subtle difference between his real response and the one he would perform for her," a moment immediately followed by a description of the waves. In the following lexias, the woman (occasionally identified as "Heta," but usually just with a "she") collects driftglass from the shores of Lake Michigan, seeking to put them together and replicate the way the water "plays light like music." The reader learns that this driftglass is the gift Heta intends to give to the man, Priam, who seems reluctant to meet her. Realizing "she could insist, but she would have to," Heta abandons the meeting and decides not to give him the box of driftglass. The gift remains both given and not given. These lexia are followed by a quote from Carolyn Heilbrun's Writing a Woman's Life, which Guyer cites as "a formative one for me." The next lexia describes a man watching a woman on the dunes (possibly Heta collecting glass) who he thinks "shouldn't be out this far from help alone." 

Carolyn Guyer’s Traversal of  Quibbling, Part 3

Grigar asks if Guyer would like to move to the map view of the Storyspace environment, which Guyer expresses enthusiasm at revisiting because the map view format gave her the chance to "write extensively for the first time in fiction" in a textual environment she thought "would help other people make this story, too." Starting from the box of lexias labelled "Heta," the group tries to navigate to the "quibbler" lexia in the "moon" box, but has trouble opening it, so the group turns instead to a lexia about a character named "Vera," a painter writing a letter to her lover expressing regret for a comment made in "a moment of pique." Grigar praises the panoramic scope of Quibbling with its four major couples, and Guyer goes on to read a lexia describing one of those four couples meeting at a bookstore, gradually starting a relationship, and the woman's perception of the man's growing fear of their "falling in love."  

Carolyn Guyer’s Traversal of  Quibbling, Part 4

The team navigates to the "mothers" section of Quibbling using the map view, and accesses a box describing Heta, who in the following lexias browses a shop in Spain and buys a house icon. Then, in a section narrated in the first person, Heta cares for her ailing mother at the hospital and reflects on the changing dynamics of their relationship. That lexia is followed by the lyrics of the song, "Walking and Falling," from Laurie Anderson's United States Live (I-IV), which both Grigar and Guyer call one of their "favorite songs." Guyer reads in a conversational tone of voice, matching the plainspoken and natural diction of the piece that leans heavily on the free indirect discourse of characters in it. 

Carolyn Guyer’s Traversal of  Quibbling, Part 5

The Traversal moves on to a series of emails messages between Heta and Priam, timestamped as coming from March of 1990, with authentic subject and address lines. The two discuss, at length, a book they are both reading about Henry and Margaret, a monk and a nun in the Middle Ages who carry on a forbidden love affair. Grigar expresses her interest in the documentation of early email which this section of Quibbling presents, commenting on how "deep, letter-writing experiences" over email no longer happen in the present day. Guyer attributes the intimacy of early email to the new form's "immediacy." Returning to the main story through the map view, Grigar navigates to the "Heta box," trying again to reach the "quibbling" lexia (which can't be accessed through the map view) via the ones around it. Guyer reads a lexia describing the courtship between Heta and Priam through a 3rd person voice aligned with Priam's perspective and, then, clicks through a series of lexias involving just a few emphatic words about Heta before at last reaching the lexia reflecting on the "quibbler," a figure who "wants it all" but "must allow for the negative space of the impossible."   

Carolyn Guyer’s Traversal of  Quibbling, Q&A, Part 1

Grigar expresses joy at hearing the work read by its author and experiencing the live Traversal Zoom chat full of audience members responding spontaneously to Quibbling. Mariusz Pisarski comments that Quibbling feels like the yang to afternoon, a story’s yin (a work covered in Rebooting Vol. 2). Instead of “sharp interaction,” the hypertext feels like a “long exposure,” and Pisarski asks if Guyer wrote consciously against more male hypertext fiction. She responds that it was “impossible” not to think about what men like Stuart Moulthrop and Michael Joyce were working on, and she did “push against them all the time,” but mostly she “ignored a lot of it and just focused on the writing.” Pisarski then asks about the influence of Catholicism, and Guyer replies that the faith is central to the work because she grew up in a deeply Catholic area and family, where the two roles offered to young women were nun or mother, and “fortunately I left that area and got some other ideas about religion.” Grigar relays a question from Matthew Hannah in the YouTube Chat about the cover image of threads. Guyer answers by describing her work in textiles and fiber art, stressing the centrality of the overlapping imagery of waves and threads in the work. Another audience member asks how modern readers should approach Quibbling, and Guyer replies: “It’s of its time. It needs to be seen that way.” In the chat, Kathleen Zoller asks about the wave imagery as a metaphor for relationships, and Guyer explains that it came from “watching the waves of Lake Michigan come in, jumping over each other, and that gradually became a metaphor for human interactions.”

Carolyn Guyer’s Traversal of  Quibbling, Q&A, Part 2

Pisarski inquires about the character of Cora, whom Guyer identifies as a “minor part of the work” and whose name used to be Jane before she became a nun and took on “Cora.” Guyer describes the significance of nuns both in the work and in her upbringing in an area where nuns were powerful “role models” for girls. She reflects on her choice of putting all the female characters of Quibbling in a box called “nun,” concluding that it was “a way to protect them.” Cora is related to the other characters in that she is “something that might have been” for all of them. She references that she continued pursuing the nun topic in Izme Pass, a collaboration with Martha Petry and Michael Joyce, which prompts Grigar to ask about collaborative communities in hypertext writing such as HiPitched Voices (which Guyer founded). Guyer and Grigar reflect on the richness of these communities and also on the way that the lack of a web connection prevented international, East Coast, and West Coast communities from connecting. As Grigar reflects, the Web ultimately did connect these communities but also “took us away from hypertext as a literary form, [and] took us into other forms.” Guyer reflects that “it’s a remarkable experience for me to dive back into this after so long.”  

Carolyn Guyer’s Traversal of  Quibbling, Q&A, Part 3

Grigar and Guyer discuss Twine, which involves less fragmentation than work in the 1990s, prompting Guyer to comment with a laugh “so their work is more easy to read now.” Grigar identifies hypertext writing as “high art," and a form that doesn't need to be easy to read, which Guyer agrees with, praising the work as “intensely creative” and adding “everyone has it [creativity] in them, they just had it squashed along the way. We need all our creative instincts about us now in this world.” Pisarski adds that if hypertext is “high art,” it can be a “very friendly high art,” to which Guyer also agrees. The group then reflects on the potency of live performances of hypertext work both in the 1990s and the present, and how much people enjoy experiencing works like Quibbling as a group. Grigar, invoking 2020's coronavirus pandemic and political turmoil, argues that “we need the calmness of thought that comes from literary experiences.” In the chat, Dave Sabrowski concurs, and Holly Slocum writes about the importance of “shared positive emotional experiences” to build community. Grigar remembers the significance of hypertext as a community for women's writing, especially. The question and answer session ends with Guyer saying about the Traversal and Quibbling: “Seeing it again and remembering how important it was to me and how much I believed in it, and listening to you and the things that you believe in about it, has been a really wonderful experience, thank you.”  

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