What I have found about the visual aspects of these three hyperfiction narratives can be summed up in three points: 1) the three Texts I have examined make very little use of visual devices; 2) the visual structuring is mainly done with navigational tools; and 3) the presence or absence of visual means have an impact on the overall aesthetics of the Texts, so that the (virtual) absence of visual effects in Afternoon makes it appear episodic and epistemologically unstable, the use of a representational map in Victory Garden restores the coherence of the Text and makes it possible for the reader to relate to it in the same way as to realistic narratives, and in Patchwork Girl, the use of the conceptual map as an alternative site of signification lends it a postmodernist feel.
The question of the bricoleur, though, is a crucial one and calls for some remarks. There may be strong opposition to my account of hyperfiction, because I rely too heavily on the narratology of printed fiction, and neglect the role of the hyperfiction reader as a bricoleur. As Landow says of Afternoon: "This construction of an evanescent entity or wholeness always occurs in reading, but in reading hypertext it takes the additional form of constructing, however provisionally, one's own Text out of fragments, out of separate lexias. It is a case, in other words, of Levi-Strauss's bricolage, for every hypertext reader-author is inevitably a bricoleur' (1992, 115). I have concentrated here on three existing hyperfiction Texts, which means that my conclusions are not automatically to be generalized--hypertext is such a rapidly developing area that the nature of hyperfiction will change drastically in the near future (a possibly perpetual state, as claimed by John Slatin 1994, 153), and there probably already are hyperfiction Texts that operate in totally different ways than the three Texts described here.>17
With these three Texts, though, I cannot see how the reader could actually work as a bricoleur. The mostly random selection of links barely makes one a bricoleur, and random it is, since as many have noted, the associative links seldom seem evident to the reader (cf. Jane Y. Douglas' "Introduction to Victory Garden: 'What comes next,' and what I expect to see come next can be two entirely different quantities."). John Slatin, for example, when writing about interactive poetry, has made this quite clear: "The difficulty here, of course, is that what are to me self-evident associations may not be even faintly apparent to you, and vice versa"(162). Of these three Texts, only Patchwork Girl has some potential in this direction, mainly thanks to its use of conceptual mapping. I think that to make the reader more interactive, a real bricoleur, requires that the reader be provided with more information about underlying structure. It is only on this metatextual level that the structuring of hypertext, as well as hyperfiction, occurs and J. David Bolter has quite fittingly cited Ricoeur writing about the "followability" and second order writing of hypertext. Slatin has a similar argument to make:
I think of hypertext coherence as appearing at the metatextual level--that is, at the level where the reader perceives ... 'the pattern which connects.' ... This metatextual level is perhaps best represented by a visual map of some kind,...
Hyperpoet Jim Rosenberg's ideas about the "external syntax" of hypertext--how visual means can be used as a "channel for syntax" allowing, for example, a kind of simultaneity even in textual representation--seem to be accurate with hypertext fiction, too. If narrative as a whole is seen--in structuralist fashion -- as "an extended sentence," the visual navigation tools can be seen as providing the syntax for that sentence, the "pattern which connects". (Rosenberg 1996)
Even if these three Texts do not offer the possibilies for a true
bricolage, this is not to say that they have somehow failed; quite
the opposite--they are excellent works in their own right, and
make very efficient use of their limited interactivity. It is
necessary to develop already a vision of future interactive fiction,
and to think about the consequences it has for narratological
theory (or reader-response theory, or the theory of fictionality),
and not to take existing hyperfictions as the final statement.>18 But on the other hand, I find it also necessary to study these
Texts as they currently are, not only as pre-texts for what is
to come. Since reading habits change slowly, it is useful to note
how efficiently the traditional views of narratology and fictionality
can be made to work with hyperfiction. And although the traditional
concepts inevitably function as obstacles to seeing the truly
new aspects of hyperfiction, they may also reveal some inherent
characteristics of narrative fiction which are valid with respect
to interactive narrative fiction.