Rebooting Electronic Literature: Documenting Pre-Web Born Digital Media

Critical Essay on Judy Malloy's "its name was Penelope"

On Memory, the Muse, and Judy Malloy's its name was Penelope

“Of these events,
Muse, daughter of Zeus,
Tell us the story again,
Beginning where you will.”–– Homer / Malloy [1]
On April 30, 2018 Judy Malloy sent the Electronic Literature Lab files related to the DOSBox emulation of its name was Penelope, her generative hypertext novel produced originally in 1989 but then republished in 1990 via Narrabase Press and 1993 by Eastgate Systems, Inc. This fourth iteration of the work, completed in 2016 and called by Malloy “The Scholar’s Version,” [2] opens with the tenth line of Homer’s Odyssey, which constitutes the final portion of the poet’s invocation to Kalliope, the muse of epic poetry. Because truth in oral culture literally means “not forgetting” [3]  and so relies on memory, the poet calls on the Muse to speak through them and so provide the poet with the ability to remember the story––and with 12,110 lines of poetry to recall, divine intervention can be helpful for jogging one’s memory.

While this Invocation is missing from the Eastgate version used for the Live Stream Traversal, [4] allusions to Homer’s epic resound throughout the work, for its name is Penelope represents a telling of the story by a contemporary poet for an audience living in the late 20thC and early 21stcentury as much as Homer’s story did over 2500 years ago.

Woven into the story are experiences from Malloy’s own life. its name was Penelope features an artist, Anne Mitchell, who is a photographer working and living in the Bay Area during the 1980s. This is the time in American culture of conspicuous consumption, Reaganomics, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and of course, the AIDS epidemic. We encounter Anne’s childhood in the opening section, “Dawn,” and then meet her again in her adulthood in the two other parts, “Sea,” and “Song.” The titular Penelope is the blue sailboat that appears in the story and reminds us of Anne’s innocence, a time when she and her family lived with her grandparents while her father was away at war. So, the correlation between Homer’s heroine and Malloy’s is interesting in that both stories feature strong female leads in stories not titled after them: in Homer’s story, it's the “man of many turns” (Ody. 1.1), the heroine’s husband Odysseus; in Malloy’s, it’s the sailboat the heroine played with as a child. While Homer’s Penelope has been lauded through time for her circumspection and domestic role as wife and mother, Malloy’s Anne speaks to a contemporary audience precisely because she is allowed agency and faces many agons because of it as any Greek male hero. Anne––through her adventures (and misadventures)––becomes for us the Penelope for our time.

Malloy is no stranger to ancient Greek language and literature. She reports in her reading of its name for Penelope that her father read Butcher and Lang’s translation of the Odyssey to her as a young girl, a scene that shows up in one of the lexias in the story (Malloy, Live Chat, 27 Apr. 4). Later, Malloy studied the poem with classics professor William Harris at Middlebury College (Malloy, email, 28 Apr. 2018).  [5] When she recreated the work for the iPad and later for The Scholar’s Version, she included her own translations of the various excerpts from Homer’s text that she cites in the work rather than quote directly from those by Richard Fitzgerald and W. H. D. Rouse as she did for The Eastgate Version. [6] As she tells us in her “Notes on the Creation of its name was Penelope” that:
its name was Penelope invites the reader to explore an artist's life -- from "Dawn", the Homeric sunrise, the beginning of life; to the details of the narrator's photography-based artwork in "Fine Work and Wide Across"; to the troubles related in "Rock and Hard Place"; to a concluding "Song" of love and a shared life. (Malloy, “Notes”)

So, reading its name was Penelope through the lens of its ancient Greek epic aligns with Malloy’s own training and focus. [7] It opens up the story to a comparison of the two heroes Odysseus and Anne and helps us to consider our shared humanity, for it doesn’t matter if one is male or female, born thousands of years ago or yesterday, or face death from sea monsters or AIDS, the quest for knowledge and wisdom is one we can all understand today.

Story’s Focus and Structure
Though a work of fiction, the story draws upon Malloy’s childhood when her father went off to fight in WWII and Malloy’s family stayed with her mother’s family in a small East Coast community. Both the grandfather and grandmother figure largely in the story, as does her mother and brother. As an adult Malloy moved to the Bay Area and was at the forefront of the avant garde art movement. [8] La Mamelle, the gallery and arts group founded by Carl Loeffler in 1975 that Malloy was a part of, is alluded to frequently in the story. All of the content unfolds as memories––bits and pieces of images, experiences, and feelings captured in lexias accessed through the work’s generative and hypertext functionality.

The story can be viewed as six episodes in the protagonist’s life, beginning with childhood, covered in the part called “Dawn,” to young adulthood and middle age chronicled in the four episodes contained in “Sea,” and ending in her middle-age with “Song.” The structure of the work is interesting in that readers must begin with “Dawn” but then are free to move to the other episodes and follow any path they wish. Ancient Greek scholars believe that the poets singing Homer’s epics could just as easily move around to episodes they believed their audiences would most be interested in hearing––the ones relating to Penelope to an audience comprised of female listeners, for example––as they could also sing the complete epic in an order. Thus, Malloy’s hypertext mirrors, to a certain extent, the reading structure of oral tradition.

The interface emphasizes this structure. It features three top menu items, “File,” “Edit,” and “Penelope,” which contains general commands those familiar with software come to expect. [9] However, the bottom three contain the navigation for reading the work itself. Here we find “Next,” which the reader clicks to evoke the various random lexias for each episode, and the two other main parts of the story, “Sea” and “Song.” This means after accessing the start of the story with “Dawn,” readers can either continue down that path by clicking “Next,” or go to one of the other two main parts of the story. “Next” remains the method for moving down a path for any of the three main parts. That said, while “Sea” and “Song” are always accessible, the only way to return to “Dawn” is to go to the top menu item “Penelope,” and choose “Return to Dawn.” Both literally and metaphorically, once one leaves childhood, one cannot easily return to that exact experience, but as readers find, Anne––having acquired wisdom and knowledge of the world––does return to innocence in “Song.” Retained in the five other episodes, though, are allusions to Anne’s childhood––the woods where Anne often goes, the stream she played in, and the family members she loved.

Put simply, the story is structured with six episodes, as such: [10]
1) “Dawn”: The beginning; Anne’s childhood memories
“Sea”: Memories from Anne’s young adulthood to her middle age. It includes four episodes, all of which allude to various episodes or images found in Homer’s story:
2) "A Gathering of Shades" 
3) "That Far Off Island"
4) "Fine Work and Wide Across"
5) "Rock and Hard Place” 
6) “Song”:  Anne’s return to innocence in her middle age

The six episodes function independently as unique experiences; but together they provide insight into Anne’s life’s journey just as Odysseus’ episodes do in his own epic.
Dawn: Childhood Memories
Once the work is launched, the story goes straight into “Dawn.” We see this information: 
The story begins in the file called Dawn.
To read memories from Dawn,
Click on Next or press <return> after each screen.
To move to another file, choose Sea or Song.
The narrator is a photographer.
Her name is Anne Mitchell.

“Dawn” implies the start of the day, the beginning. It is also the goddess Eos whose lover is a prince of Troy, Tithonus, and son of King Laomedon and the Naiad Strymo. The king is represented in Greek art as a rhapsode, one who sings Homeric poems from memory. Eos was cursed by Aphrodite to fall in love with whomever Eos sees, including mortal men. Once she fell in love with Tithonus, though, she carried him away to her island and kept him there safe until his death of old age. In the Odyssey, Eos is referenced throughout and finds poetic expression with Fitzgerald’s translation when he refers to her as the “rosy-fingered dawn.”

“Dawn,” in its name was Penelope, involves over 45 lexias of the 510 comprising the work. [11] Because it is a generative narrative, meaning that the lexias appear in a different order with each reading, the story unfolds as bits of memories. Clicking “Next” on the bottom menu takes us to each lexia. In one reading we begin with a memory about a tree of  “brown bark” “hitting” Anne’s “head.” Another reading may begin with Anne making "pudding" with "Jello mix" because, as mentioned earlier, the lexias unfold randomly. One lexia has Anne and her mother going to a field and giving a horse a “lump of sugar.” Another tells us that Anne lives in “[t]he house . . . at the end of Cedar Lane,/on the edge of several acres of cedar, oak, and birch woods/in a small seaside town/on the South Shore.” We learn about her family, about her father before he would read the Odyssey to Anne and her brother, “skip[ping” over “paragraphs” and “get[ting] angry” if she calls him out for it. She reads them “quietly to [her]self” while “listen[ing] to his melodic voice.” She recalls her “grandmother’s white dressing table.” She details the “painted” “drawer handles” with “violets with green leaves.” She remembers the “photographs of [her] mother and her sisters/in silver frames” that sat “on top of the dark wood bureau/across the room.” In another she and her brother are returning from swimming in the salt water. They are “sit[ting] on towels in the back seat of the warm car.” She details the “cardboard containers” and the “fried clams, onion rings, and french fries,” and her brother’s “tan bathing trunks/ with a white drawstring.” She remembers picnicking at the beach when her brother tries to climb the sand dune but “kept sliding back.” She can still see her mother taking the sandwiches out of the “wax paper.” 

Longer memories are broken into portions. A story about skating includes a lexia that has her removing her “red wool mittens” in order to take off her skates. She returns to this memory of skating at the pond, recalling “[f]ive or six boys . . . slapping a hockey puck/back and forth across the black ice.” She seems to be encouraged to join them but has to take her “mittens” off in order to “untie” the “knot” that had “tightened into a hard ball.” Childish mischief figures largely among her memories. In one she mixes dog poop with water, puts the mixture in a coke bottle, and tries to pass it off to her brother as “Coca Cola.” In another she and her brother are sitting “on the edge of the river” eating M&Ms that they bought with money that was supposed to go to the “church collection plate.” The “ringing” of the “church bells” do not seem to cause them any guilt because they eat the candy as they listen to the bells sound. In yet another she and her brother put a “KICK ME” sign on the back of their “new babysitter.” They use the “cardboard” that “had been packed inside/[her] father’s new shirt.” They used a “stubby red crayon” for writing the words.

We also find memories of the sailboat, the Penelope referenced in the title. In one, Anne is by a “shallow tide pool” “digging and shaping a harbor for [her] sailboat.” In another Anne returns to the “tide pool” and the “blue sailboat.” Now she is finished with the harbor construction and “push[es]” it “out into the middle of the tide pool.” Her mother had made “two sails” for the little boat out of “a torn white sheet.” We get an allusion to Fitzgerald’s “rosy fingered dawn” with the last two lines: “The boat sailed peacefully across the long finger/of trapped sea water.” What is interesting about the boat is that it is the metaphor for her childhood, an experience that cannot be returned to but only remember with much fondness and nostalgia.

Along with memories of recollections of family and childhood antics, we find dreams and nightmares. In one dream, she is in the “desert” with a “tumbleweed blowing along an empty road.” She is “lying in a ditch” with a broken leg. The Lone Ranger and Silver show up and see her. There is also a weird memory that has men standing over the bathtub and her “father turn[ing] on the warm water.”

There are tales that hint to the deprivation of life during the war. She recalls a fairly awful “[s]upper” that is a “mixture of brown meat, canned peas/and a gummy cream colored sauce.” She obviously is not interested in eating it because she “stuck [her] fork into it/and moved it around on the plate.” Another lexia speaks to the financial hardship of this period when Anne does not receive much in the way of Christmas presents. The lexia contains only a pitiful “Is that all the presents for me?”

The reader moves through these lexias not knowing which one will come up next. In one reading lexias did not repeat until the 27thscreen; yet another time, repetition began in the fifth. This use of randomly generating text to mimick human memory continues the experiment that Malloy began with part three of Uncle Roger, called “Terminals.” Whereas parts one, “A Party in Woodside,” and two, “The Blue Notebook,” were structured as a database narrative where readers interacted with the work by calling up lexias by names, places, and objects, part 3, “Terminals,” was structured as a generative text where lexias were accessed randomly. All three parts played with the notion of memory: In “A Party in Woodside” the narrator can’t recall facts because she has been drinking too much; in “The Blue Notebook” she purposely “fudge[s] them;” in “Terminals” she “is plagued by dreams and memories to the point that we cannot always discern if what she is telling us is real” (Grigar 76). Malloy herself said about this approach that: 

Like a photos in a photo album, each lexia represents an image from Anne's memory -- so that the work is the equivalent of a pack of small paintings or photographs that the computer continuously shuffles. The reader sees things as she sees them, observes her memories come and go in a natural, yet nonsequential manner that creates a constantly changing order -- like the weaving and reweaving of Penelopeia's web. (“Notes”; "its Name was Penelope: A Generative Hypertext")

Based on this account, it comes as no surprise that the 1989 installation of its name was Penelope at "Revealing Conversations," held at the Richmond Art Center in California, included a collection of 61 small paintings and pencil drawings of the 61 lexias pinned on the wall as a backdrop (Malloy, Email 30 Apr. 2018).

Anne’s memories of her childhood, taken together, comprise one episode of her life. It is one that stays with her throughout the coming episodes and provides her the sustenance to survive the hardships she faces in adulthood. 

Sea: The Journey of Adulthood
Presented to us in the bottom menu are “Sea” and “Song,” words that evoke Odysseus’ journey by ship from Troy to Ithaka where he encountered the Sirens and other denizens of the Mediterranean. “Sea” includes “A Gathering of Shades,” “That Far-Off Island,” “Fine Work and Wide Across,” and “Rock and a Hard Place,” four episodes that take the reader into Anne’s adult life. Each is introduced by an excerpt from the Odyssey, translated by either Fitzgerald or Rouse and which corresponds in some way to Anne’s narrative.
“A Gathering of Shades”
“A Gathering of Shades” recalls Odysseus’ journey to the underworld in Ody. 11.36-637. In this episode Odysseus enters Hades and makes several offerings to the dead, the last being one of sheep blood. Only by giving this gift will Teiresias, the blind seer, now dead, impart the knowledge the Greek hero needs for returning home, an experience with the Shades that made Odysseus “sick with fear” (Ody. 11.43). Odysseus also learns from Achilles, whom he meets during this episode, about the importance of fighting for life, family, and community. Nothing on earth (or beyond) is more important than being alive, Achilles tells Odysseus (Ody. 11.88-93). Understanding that the hard lessons in life about survival and staying alive are painful and come at a cost is a concept that relates well to Anne’s life in the Bay Area as an artist immersed in the avant-garde art world of the 1980s. As Malloy tells us, this episode directly references the AIDS epidemic and honors those artists who died of it. [12] Thus, the “shades” in Anne’s adventure are the people she encounters who teach her about life’s pains and sorrows.

There is the man whose “face looked thin and worn” and who is wearing “a black leather jacket” that Anne asks about. We meet Terry who is “standing beside the bannister” and holding “two or three/bouquets of flowers.” He is later “kissed” by “a tall lean man with an unruly shank of dark/limp hair hanging over his forehead” and holding “tiny red roses and white baby’s breath/wrapped in clear cellophane in his hands.”  [13] In another lexia Anne is with her friends “in the parking lot behind La Mamelle, passing around a “joint.” We learn that it is “October” and “[t]he cement was cold.” A man wearing “cowboy boots” “puts his arm around [her.]” In another she is with a friend in her “second floor apartment” in a room artfully painted with “pastel stripes, dots, and splashes.” Her friend introduces Anne to a man, Ralph, that who had “answered” the woman’s “ad in The Guardian.” Another lexia tells us that Anne is “nervous” and driving to Japan Town. Her stomach was so upset that she had to go “into a bathroom in the Japanese Cultural Center/and [sit] down on a toilet.” A clear reference to Homer’s Penelope occurs in the lexia where Anne sits on a “bed” with a another female. “A wooden loom with yellow and pick threads stretched across it/occupie[s] most of the room.” There is a “bad review” in a magazine the two women read after Anne “pick[s]” it up. We find Anne in another lexia at a man’s very messy “studio.” She “wonder[s] where he slept.” He gets “two beers in brown bottles” out of the “refrigerator.”
“That Far-Off Island”
“That Far-Off Island” begins with a reference to Rouse’s translation of Ody. 5.203-213, where Kalypso questions Odysseus’ desire to leave her––a goddess––and return home to Ithaka and his mortal wife Penelope. At the heart of Kalypso’s speech is her lack of understanding about Odysseus’ drive not just to return home but to lead a heroic life, which he cannot do if he stays with her on her island. Even after Odysseus returns to Ithaka and reestablishes himself as husband, father, and ruler, he is aware that his journey is far from over.

Possessing a similar drive, though one focused on the heroic pursuit of art instead of glory on the battlefield, Anne’s life is just as fraught with obstacles as Odysseus.’ There is her breakup with an unnamed man with a “backpack.” “Goodbye” is the only word they speak to one another before he leaves. There is a lexia where she describes a man who is “work[ing] as a projectionist at the North Beach Theater/Which is a porno theater on Keany Street.” Although this man “had a film degree from the Art Institute,” this was “the only job he could get.” Hinted at in this lexia is a bleak future for Anne, too. In another lexia reminiscent of Odysseus and Kalypso, Anne is with a lover “on a rock beside the brook.” She references the “[m]orning sun” and her “fingers.” She “trace[s] the patterns the sun made/on the front of his tan shorts.” We learn in another lexia about a man who is very untidy and only bathes “[o]nce a week” and washes clothes for a “entire day” “[o]nce every two months.” A reference to the AIDS crisis which ravaged the Bay Area in the 1980s is found in the lexia where she visits a male friend who is sick and “in the bathroom throwing up.” The “sheets on his bed were dirty and rumpled.” She finds “an unopened package of yellow sheets/which his mother had given him.” In another she is given an ultimatum by a lover who wants to break up because she won’t live with him. This episode seems to go with the one where she is with a man in her apartment drinking coffee. He tells her that he doesn’t “want to continue seeing [her].” In another we learn that her lover had “a portfolio of photographs of [his former lover’s] breasts.” He also had “a painting of her /that he had been working on for four years.” We find Anne in the “hospital,” and “[w]hen [she] opened [her] eyes/he was sitting by [her] bed, reading.” In another lexia a man washes the dishes for her. He tells her to “take it easy.” She seems impatient for him to leave so that she can get back to her art.

In some lexias there are references to her childhood. One recalls the image of the sticks that she threw in the river and watched sail down across the water in “Dawn.” Here though the “[w]e” references an unknown person instead of her brother: "We watched the twigs move along ahead of us,/until the brook curved,/and the water carried them out of our sight.” In another she references her grandmother when she thinks about her “rocking chair.” A man is with Anne, and they sit together, him on the floor and Anne in the rocking chair, with the books he brought with him to her apartment.

Life has shifted for Anne from the more carefree life she lived in her grandparent’s home on the East Coast to the more challenging one she encounters on the West. So enmeshed is she in her daily life that she does not yet realize that these experiences are part of a long journey she has only begun.
“Fine Work and Wide Across”
“Fine Work and Wide Across” cites the passage from Ody. 19.137-201 that features the trick of the shroud, the ploy for which Penelope achieved great ”fame” or κλεος (Ody. 24.196) for her “cunning,” or κερδεα (Ody. 2.118). In the epic Penelope weaves the death shroud for Laertes, Odysseus’s father, on the loom by day but unravels it at night to delay marriage to one of the suitors. 

Anne, we learn, is also crafting a work, one she hopes will bring her recognition. Hers however involves “twenty strips” of paper (she calls them “tape”) made up of “photographs” of a place like “Macy’s . . . the week before Christmas” or at the “BART at 5:00 on a Friday,” or “Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley on a warm spring day,” or “newscasters as the (sic) appear in the evening on [her] TV monitor.” In this episode we meet Alan who comes out of his apartment with an Asian woman. In another lexia Anne is with Luke and had run out of “film.” He pulls away from her when she kisses him. We get to a lexia that recalls “a little boat” that Anne is trying to photograph. It’s in the “middle of the pond” and “mov[es] faster than [she] was.” She is with a man and he “pick[s] up a book” which is “Structional(ism) and photography by Lew Thomas, a text by a respected American photographer. There is the lexia where Anne is at a child’s birthday party. She has given the girl a gift wrapped with “kittens.” She is asked by another woman at the party, “Which kid is yours?” There is a reference to sodomy with sheep by a man she is talking to as they ride together in his pickup truck. She tells us about her black cat “Tess” who “lay[s] down on the pages of the open notebook.”

Individually, these memories recall no insurmountable challenges, but taken together they point to the kind of quotidien nuisances that can sap ambition. Lovers are overbearing or inattentive. Anne is distracted from her art. She doesn’t have her art supplies when she needs them. She finds herself an unmarried, childless woman at a children’s birthday party. In all of this, Anne has to rely on her artfulness to survive––but life is indeed a struggle and she is in danger of being worn down.
“Rock and a Hard Place”
“Rock and a Hard Place” cites from Rouse’s translation of Ody. 12.425-449, which refers to the episode involving Charydbis and Scylla who reside on opposite sides of the strait Odysseus and his men need to pass. Having just survived the Siren’s song, Odysseus and his men next encounter these two sea monsters––Charybdis, a whirlpool, and Scylla, the six headed monster––and need to decide which one to steer the boat more closely by. Odysseus opts for Scylla because he knows he would lose only six men instead of potentially the entire crew if he attempts to pass by Charybdis. Thus, the notion of “a rock and a hard place” means no good choices, a theme that corresponds to Anne’s life at this point.

From one lexia we learn that she is 43 years old, never married, hasn’t been successful in landing exhibitions—in fact, has been turned down 23 times––and works “as a file clerk for an insurance company/in San Francisco.” We find out that the job is not going well because in another lexia she is told that the “noise” from her “personal telephone calls” and her “printer” has elicited complaints. Another lexia makes it clear just how mundane and demeaning her job now is: A man complains about needing copies for a meeting, but the “machine is jammed.” “[She gets] up from [her] desk” to fix the problem for him. We are not told why, but we learn in another lexia that her “lip was split down the middle” from “biting it.” What’s worse is that she is not making enough money to live on and cannot buy groceries. She is forced to eat “peanut butter and cheese crackers/from the vending machine in the basement.” But another lexia tells us that she is still receiving magazines despite the fact that she has not paid for them. An image of a woman buying “cheap sherry/at the small store around the corner,” in another lexia, seems to reflect a fear of her future. Yet in another she checks her diaphragm held in a “blue box” and sees that it is “stained.” In another she is “on the table with [her] feet in the stirrups” about to undergo some medical procedure. She has even become so poor that she is eating “CreamMate” with “a white plastic teaspoon.” The most indignant experience that happens to her, perhaps, is where some guy at work tries to smooze her by asking about her being an artist and saying that he would introduce her to a “neighbor” who won “first prize at a watercolor show at Hilltop Mall.” This constitutes a very large step down from the kind of art she practices and the lifestyle for which she yearns to live. Another lexia tells us that her car breaks down. In another a man uses her phone to talk to his girlfriend for “15 minutes” and then hits Anne up with the line: “What do you do for fun?” She gets hassled for not doing a good job because she had “sent the wrong report.” She has fallen so low that in one lexia she searches for loose change in her car seats and in another rummages in her closet and finds 35 cents in her clothes pockets; in another she dumpster dives for “lettuce and rotting tomatoes.” One lexia has her going out with a younger man and noting her “wrinkles.” Another insult is reported in a lexia where a female friend tells her that a guy, who is a “genius,” would not go to the “opening” with Anne. Yet again in another lexia she is insulted by someone implying that her work was not good enough for a particular exhibition venue. Then there appears the lexia where she learns that a friend “died last winter.” Rejections continue when Anne runs into “[t]wo local curators” who had rejected her work in favor of male artists.

Destitute, working in a mundane, low-paying job, rejected by galleries, and with close friends dying of AIDS, Anne’s life has literally hit rock bottom, and she has found it to be hard. Thus, we leave these episodes of “Sea” full of agony and hardships and go next to “Song,” the last item in the bottom menu. 
While “Song” may first seem an allusion to the Siren’s Song in the Odyssey where the Greek hero gains wisdom from the goddesses, this reference instead focuses on Ody. 4.551-560 where Telemachus travels to Sparta to ask Menelaus if the old king has any information about the whereabouts of Telemachus’ father Odysseus. The young man gains hope in this journey that his father is still alive and, so, returns home emboldened to hold up against the aggressive suitors. Malloy’s episode contains 16 lexias, all taking us to a moment in Anne’s life far away from the Bay Area, the avant-garde art scene, pretentious people, and the former indignities she has suffered to one more filled with hope for her life.

One lexia explains that  Anne now lives where there are “no crowds of young men and women wearing black.” This new crowd drives pickup trucks and drinks six packs of beer. We also learn that she is still making art, now with less distractions. One lexia sees her “sitting beside this small frog crowded swamp/taking pictures of broken branches and twigs.” Cats, which appear in lexias throughout the narrative, are found in a lexia here playing havoc with a cassette tape while Anne’s lover goes out for beer. Another lexia has her enjoying a fire with her lover while he lovingly “strokes her hair.” In another they are on a plane together. He is listening to music and “working in his notebook,” and she is reading People magazine. In another, he stops them from arguing about “politics.” She tells us that “[k]ittens were chasing grasshoppers in the orchard.” In another lexia we find that he is in San Antonio recounting the problem with cars and pedestrians with her over the phone. Another describes a “brook,” “granite pebbles,” “twigs,” the “stream.” Later, she sees “[a]cross the brook, three teenage boys [sitting] on a rock,/drinking beer./[She takes] out [her] camera.”

Anne is back in the woods, among trees, twigs, a stream, elements of her childhood she had always held dear. She is making art. She has found companionship. “Song,” thus, represents Anne’s return, or νοστος, a major theme in its name was Penelope as it is in the Odyssey. In Malloy’s story Anne yearns for childhood, a time when she was surrounded by loved ones and adventures confined to the familiar space of one’s home. Odysseus, likewise, wants desperately to return to his in Ithaka, which is not just a kingdom he rules but also represents home and hearth, wife and son, all that encompasses family and community. If the parallel holds between the two stories, we know that like Odysseus, Anne is not at the end of her journey but rather at a momentary pause, for there is no guarantee of a happy ever after for heroes.

This idea of the fleeting nature of happiness takes us to the title of the story. The name of the little blue sailboat Anne so fondly recalls was Penelope––not is Penelope. The use of the past tense signifies that even in “Song,” Anne is looking back, and we, her audience, do not know from what vantage point the story is being recalled. But we do know that “Song” seems to be situated in a past less distant and frightening than the others. It is one where Anne has put the knowledge she has learned from the pains she had experienced earlier to find herself. We are left with the feeling that this home Anne carries within her will sustain her in future ordeals this hero will face. [14]
[1] Ody 1.10 reads: τῶν ἁμόθεν γε, θεά, θύγατερ Διός, εἰπὲ καὶ ἡμῖν. The Scholar’s Version includes translations of Homer’s work by Malloy herself. The Eastgate Version uses both Robert Fitzgerald’s poetic 1961 version and W. H. D. Rouse’s prosaic 1937 version.

[2] Working with Malloy, I organized the various versions in this way:

Version 1.0: "The exhibition version." Created in 1989 with Malloy's own generative hypertext authoring system, Narrabase II, in BASIC on a 3.5-inch floppy disk
Version 2.0: "The Narrabase Press version." Published in 1990, this version is an extensive revision of the 1989 version and features a new cover and the edited text; it was released on a 5.25-inch floppy disk, self-published via Narrabase Press, and distributed by Art Com Software. Malloy mentioned 3.5-inch floppies may have been produced for later requests (Malloy, Email, 9 May 2018)
Version 3.0: "The Eastgate version." This version is a retooling of Version 2.0 by Mark Bernstein from the original BASIC program into the Storyspace aesthetic. Version 3.1: Published on 3.5-inch floppy disk for both Mac and PC formats by Eastgate Systems, Inc. in 1993 but copyrighted in 1992. Version 3.2: Published on CD-ROM in 1998 with no changes from the original. This version does not appear on the Eastgate Systems, Inc. website
Version 4.0: "The Scholar's version." Created under the auspices of the Critical Code Studies Working Group 2016 from Jan 18 t0 Feb 14, 2016 as a DOSBox emulation of Version 3.0 and includes uses the new text and translations of the Odyssey by the author
An iPad version has been in development since 2012 by Eastgate Systems, Inc. Grigar had the opportunity to read through a Beta version of it at the ELO conference in Bergen, Norway in 2013. It was designed with the same aesthetic as Version 3.0 but used the affordance of mobile touch technology for its functionality. To date, it has not been completed; but once it is, it would constitute Version 5.0
[3] Truth in ancient Greek is “alethe” (αληθη), with “a” meaning not and “lethe,” forgetting.

[4] Malloy responded to a personal inquiry about the missing invocation in Version 3.0 that she had included the invocation in Version 2.0  and later in Version 4.0 but may had left it out of Version 3.0 “because the original translation [she] used did not go as well with the work and was thus omitted from the Eastgate version (Malloy, Email, 9 May 2018).

[5] Malloy reports in her email of 28 April 2018 that she studied the Odyssey with Harris, who used the Rouse translation. She provided an essay, entitled “On Translating Homer,” by Harris. See

[6] As Malloy reports in the Live YouTube Chat, for The Scholar’s Version she used four translations, the Greek version, and a Greek dictionary to produce her own translation of the excerpts of the Odyssey used in the story.

[7] Malloy says outright in “its Name was Penelope: A Generative Hypertext” that she purposely “structure[d]” her story after the Odyssey. See p. 390.

[8] Malloy outlines the avant-garde art scene of the Bay Area in the 1980s that informed its name was Penelope, calling out artists Tom Marioni, Paul Cotton, Lynn Hershman, Roberta Breitmore, Bonnie Sherk, Carl Loeffler, Michael Pepe, Richard Alpert, and Jill Scott. See pp. 388-390 in her essay, “its Name was Penelope: A Generative Hypertext.”

[9] “File” contains New, Open Close, Save, Save As, and Quit. All but Quit are grayed out). “Edit” contains Undo, Cut Copy Paste Clear, with everything but Undo and Copy are grayed out. “Penelope” contains Return to Down and Previous Page; the former is grayed out.

[10] In her “Notes on the Creation of its name was Penelope,” Malloy identifies the six main files comprising the story as "Dawn,” "A Gathering of Spirits," "That Far Off Island," "Fine Work and Wide Across," "Rock and Hard Place," and "Song.” The essay also cites “A Gathering of Spirits” rather than “A Gathering of Shades,” found in the Eastgate version, which follows the term for the dead more commonly found in translations of Homer’s epic. She explains that she preferred spirits instead of shades because she “wanted to indicate the lasting influence of the artists who died from AIDS, and I thought spirits conveyed this a little better” (Malloy, Email, 9 May 2018).

[11] I logged 45 different lexias in “Dawn” during several readings of the work. I base the number 510 on the number of lexias included in the Scholar’s version, which are easily viewed in the file.

[12] Malloy cites the horrors of the AIDS epidemic that killed many of her artist friends. “Notable” among them she mentions David Mott, Terry Ellis, and Irwin (Richard) Irwin, whose obituary shows up in its name was Penelope. See pp. 389-391 of Malloy’s essay, “its Name was Penelope: A Generative Hypertext.”

[13] As Malloy reminds us: This is probably obvious, so it may not need to mentioned, but in its solemness, it describes a public ceremonial gesture (this time at an exhibition opening)  that told all who did not know that Terry had AIDS" (Malloy, Email, 13 May 2018).

[14] I would like to thank the author for her comments on this essay and the reminder that "different interpretations are expected in a generative work."

Grigar, Dene. “The Many Faces of Judy Malloy’s Uncle Roger.” Traversals: The Use of 
Preservation for Early Electronic Writing. Stuart Moulthrop and Dene Grigar. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2017.

Homer. The Odyssey.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1919.

Malloy, Judy. “the 1989 unbound codex.” Personal Email. 30 Apr. 2018.

---. “the Eastgate iPad of Penelope.” Personal Email. 30 Apr. 2018.

---. "final version. Personal Email. 13 May 2018.

---. “The First Bit of the Essay Drafted.” Personal Email.  9 May 2018.

---. its name was Penelope. Watertown, MA: Eastgate Systems, Inc. 1993.

---. "its Name was Penelope: A Generative Hypertext.” #WomenTechLit. Ed. Maria Mencia. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2017. 381-395.

---. Live YouTube Chat. 27 Apr. 2018. 

---. “Notes on the Creation of its name was Penelope." The WELL

---. “Question about the Invocation.” Personal Email. 8 May 2018.

---. “Thank you.” Personal Email. 28 Apr. 2018.

This page has paths:

This page references: