“Gabriella infinita” by Jaime Alejandro Rodríguez

Open "Gabriella infinita" by Jaime Alejandro Rodríguez
Open “Gabriella infinita” by Jaime Alejandro Rodríguez

Gabriella infinita (1999–) is a hypermedia narrative by Colombian author Jaime Alejandro Rodríguez. The narrative is presented via a rich array of lexia, images, and audio files, and we are not provided with established markers such a contents list or page numbers which would normally guide the reader through the conventional print novel. Instead, links to the various lexia and sound files are hidden in the visuals, and it is only through exploring the interface and testing out possible entry routes that the reader/user pieces together the narrative.

A Lecturer at the Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Rodríguez is well-known for his theorisations on digital narrative and hypertext (see his bibliography). He is also arguably the leading hypertext author in Colombia and his Gabriella infinita, as well as his later Golpe de gracia (2006), have won him a series of awards and nominations, and put him at the forefront of e-lit in Colombia.

"Gabriella infinita" opening image
“Gabriella infinita” opening image

The plot of Gabriella infinita is clearly set in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, with references to immediately identifiable places within the city in several of the lexia. Similarly, the opening image which the reader sees before entering the narrative displays the landmarks of the Monserrate hill, and the Cerro de Guadalupe with its famous statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe appear behind the sky-scrapers of the Centro Internacional. Yet this is a futuristic and dystopian Bogotá, in which the cityscape is in a state of devastation and destruction.

Set in this identifiably Bogotano backdrop is the story of Gabriella, who searches for the missing Federico, and we follow her through the various lexia, images, and audio files as she attempts to piece together clues as to his disappearance.

Yet, more than just her story, what Rodríguez weaves for us is the story of our own encounter with hypermedia narrative. Gabriella’s sensations and experience, as she searches for Federico and tries to make sense of the scraps of evidence that she finds, stand for the experience of the reader of hypertext narratives. For instance, Gabriella’s perusal of Federico’s bookshelves as she attempts to make an order out of the apparent disorder in which the books are arranged is a clear metaphor for the work of the reader of hypertext narrative, constructing an order from the dispersed lexia. Or her examining of the loose sheets of newspaper strewn on the floor of Federico’s apartment, and finding that “al ordenarlas, le han revelado relaciones insospechadas” [‘when she put them together, they revealed unexpected connections to her’] is, again, an image of the reader of hypertext fiction creating his/her own order from the dispersed links, with the primacy on the reader, not the writer, to establish these ‘unexpected connections’.

But does Gabriella ever succeed in her quest? And do we, as reader-users of hypertext fiction, ever gain full control of the narrative we are navigating?

“The Fall of the Site of Marsha” by Rob Wittig

The Fall of the Site of Marsha 1
“The Fall of the Site of Marsha” by Rob Wittig

Rob Wittig’s 1999 digital text The Fall of the Site of Marsha chronicles the changes to the website of the narrative’s protagonist, Marsha, through the spring, summer and fall of 1998. The narrative opens with three narrative threads, each of which corresponds to the state of the website during the season indicated. The reader can click on each thread in order to view the website during that phase, and navigate it as one would have conventionally navigated any website’s homepage. Marsha’s website focuses on Throne Angels, a subclass of Angels that are conventionally associated with the Throne of God and therefore linked to divine justice and authority. Marsha’s original intent in creating the website is to produce these angels as beautiful and protective, asking people to share angel stories and linking these angels to her own performance of spiritual renewal. She intends to use the website to cheer herself after having been depressed due to the loss of her job and the death of her father. However, as time passes, Marsha’s website is vandalized repeatedly in order to reveal the unsaid buried beneath Marsha’s statements, and this vandalism is ascribed to the Throne Angels and their thirst for justice and divine retribution. Marsha’s invitation to the Angels to play on her website results in its vandalism and in Marsha’s own descent into depression and madness upon having to confront the events they reference or reveal.

As is characteristic of the gothic genre, Wittig’s tale plays upon the pervasive fears of one’s current society; that is, The Fall of the Site of Marsha reveals the societal horrors associated with current aging middle-class women – that of alienation, depression, affairs, and family secrets revealed. Wittig’s modern gothic tale allows for  the reader to read the events chronologically and note the changes made to the website’s homepage and its various links as these reveal the larger narrative in play; i.e. Marsha’s complicated relationship with her father, her husband’s affair with her best friend, Elizabeth or “Bits”, and Marsha’s own depression and issues with self-perception.  Playing with conventions of terror, unheimlich or the uncanny, death and the supernatural to advance its narrative, Marsha’s presumption of Angels being protective and nurturing is revealed to be false. Instead, they are shown to be vengeful and unrelenting in their pursuit of what they feel to be the “truth”. Yet despite the fact that these acts of vandalism are ascribed to vengeful Angels seeking justice, this claim cannot be verified and the reader remains aware that this vandalism could very easily be the work of Marsha’s husband, Mike, or an unknown hacker. However, given that the vandal is aware of events that are otherwise unknown by anyone other than Marsha, the events continue to seem uncanny and inexplicable, and linked to the supernatural.

The Fall of the Site of Marsha 2

The website moves from a relatively clear, ornate interface to one that is darker, largely unreadable, and has numerous additions that are then marked as strike-throughs, misspellings, and cut up or manipulated pictures. This movement of the website from seeming innocence to decay and ruin creates the gloomy and frightening scenery that is conventionally associated with the gothic genre. The image of the changed website thus not only recalls its origin as clean and thriving, but displays its downfall as the result of the hidden secrets that lay under its façade.

Featured in: Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1

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“Reagan Library” by Stuart Moulthrop

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Reagan Library by Stuart Moulthrop

Reagan Library might be best described as exploratory hypertext fiction. In this work, Stuart Montfort has created an eerie world, reminiscent of the game Myst and its sequels, which seems to require a particular state of mind, a suspension of disbelief, and a total immersion into a new and unexplored universe.

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“Eclipse Louisiana” by M.D. Coverley

Screen capture “Eclipse Louisiana” by M.D. Coverley.  Red moon atop a black background, words below. Text: "eclipse: what makes the moon. Well, we stopped and got out of the car too. I was suddenly bewitched, I guess, by/-dragged Craig over to the old, closed/up shack, started babbling on about/look newmoon/ crescentmoon/ waxingmoon/ gibbousmoon/ fullmoon/miss disseminatingmoon/ waningmoon/ darkmoon Eclipse Louisiana.
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“Weave” by Thomas Bell

Screen capture from "Weave" by Thomas Bell. White background with image of a woman in the foreground. The image is completely covered in text that overlaps other text, making all of it illegible. Text: "How weave? / How we've." Rest of the text is illegible or too small to read.
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“The Body Politic” by Jennifer Ley

Screen shot from “The Body Politic” by Jennifer Ley. This screen shot is formed by three pictures, two on the sides and one in the middle. The two pictures on the sides are of a human being. The head is only viewable and the are both identical and looking towards the middle picture. The human being is green colored and something golden-colored is coming out of his mouth. The background of these two pictures are red colored. In the middle picture, which is wider and a bit taller,  has the title of the work and a text in red. The text is in a white colored rectangle. Text: “The Body Politic/ Epidermis/ Dermis/ Occipital Love/ Spine/ Vertabra.”
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“Four Letter Words” by David Knoebel

Screen capture from "Four Letter Words" by David Knoebel. White text on a black background. 9 words arranged as an equilateral grid. Text "pout, aped, farmed, fain, dour, baal, oily, beta, food."
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“Bad Machine” by Dan Shiovitz

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Bad Machine” by Dan Shiovitz

“The Intruder” by Jorge Luis Borges and Natalie Bookchin

Screen capture from “The Intruder” by Jorge Luis Borges and Natalie Bookchin. White background with gray-colored text in prose and a brown basinet on the right-side bottom corner. Text: “People say (but this is unlikely) that the story was first told/ by Eduardo, the younger of the Nelsons, at the wake of his/ elder brother Cristián, who died in his sleep sometime back in/ the nineties out in the district of Morón. The fact that/ someone got it from someone else during the course of that/ drawn-out and now dim night, between one sip of mate and/ the next, and told it to Santiago Dabove, from whom I heard/it. Years later, in Turdera, where the story had taken place, I heard it again. The second and more elaborate version closely/ followed the one Santiago told, with the usual minot vaiations/ and discrepancies. I set down the story now because I see/ in it, if I’m not mistaken, a brief and tragic mirror of the character of those hard-bitten men living on the edge of Buenos Aires/ before the turn of the century (…)”
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“Puddle” and “Paddle” by Neil Hennesy

“Puddle” by Neil Hennessy

This kinetic concrete poem, along with its companion piece “Paddle” (below), is a minimalist statement of how meaningful the movement of words can be. Using three words with simple animation, Hennessy is able to build a narrative of the formation of a puddle and what happens after. The timing and spacing of the downward flow of language in this poem sets up a variation in the final part of the poem, as we get a little bit of upwards movement, combined with an insight on the shared etymology (or orthography) of the first and final words in the poem.

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