Carolyn Guertin, PhD
Wanderlust: The Kinesthetic Browser in Cyberfeminist Space

 

Carolyn Guertin

 

From Charles Baudelaire’s roving flâneur to the cold, medical eye of the speculum, the gaze has long been a contested territory for feminists because it is a space of ownership or authority that has traditionally been denied to women. In cyberfeminist space, the gaze belongs to the browser (not to the author or to the feminist flâneuse her sister authors in print envisioned) and it is she who is in control of her own movement, perpetually shifting her orientation in space and time. Cyberspatial browsing marks a new subjectivity that refuses visual notions of progress, past and future by introducing multiple perspectives. Virtual browsing thereby shifts the visual decisions we make about when and how to move within the text back onto our kinesthetic sense. Liberated from the confines of real space but not from material concerns, the browser’s use of the digital medium is a new way of moving through literary texts that I call wanderlust. Wanderlust, a form of nomadic voyaging, is the expression of female desire and the condition of being an outsider in the act of leaping in electronic texts where the gaps in the narrative can only be linked, never reconciled.


The browser,[1] as presence and process, and as a means of movement, is a key concept for understanding the new kinds of narrative in digital spaces, and not in the least because “browsers” are our interface with the World Wide Web. Despite the virtual nature of the realm and the mode of engagement with a mouse, this is embodied browsing, for, in virtual space, we become “interactors,” to use Janet Murray’s terminology.[2] We are connected, but the cyber-realm brings with it a different kind of movement from our terrestrial engagements. Interactivity is limited by our interface with the technology just as our place in the phallocentric economy is, and an ongoing cyberfeminist project has been to critique the politics of the form. One surprising fact is that, like feminist digital artists, the father of cybernetics Norbert Wiener actually began his research by looking for a humanizing influence in and for our technology (what he called The Human Use of Human Beings.) The way he saw it, the limits of communication are sensory and embodied, defined by our perceptions of an environment. Kinesthesia therefore continues to be of paramount importance in contemporary[3] responsive digital spaces that we move through, both to us and to the technology itself. As our art becomes increasingly lively, performance—ours and technology’s—becomes the mode of communicating meaning and making sense. In fact, instead of speaking in terms of the interactive nature of new media, it would make more sense to discuss their performative nature. All media require interaction in order to become media (for example, a book without a reader is just a doorstop); the new interactive media, however, require acts of performance. We must physically interface with them in order to activate them, in order to get them to respond. Performativity is what makes them so engaging and why in the case of hypertext, for instance, where our embodied interaction simply consists of the gestures required to move a mouse, becomes a full-body experience for us. By extension, the narrator in Shelley Jackson’s hypertextual retelling of Frankenstein, Patchwork Girl, as an exemplary example, is not only self-aware, but sensory and kinesthetic as well. The originally unborn female monster alters Mary Shelley’s narrative by feeling her way through her story and performing it with us, and with her author, with critical theorists, and with the original owners of her recycled body parts. This give and take is essential. Our performance of the feminist narrative alters the story and its movements, but its engagement with us alters us at the same time.


 

Unlike Baudelaire, we are intensely aware of subjectivity being a type of “situated knowledge”: a subjectivity that is always already gendered, according to Donna Haraway.[4] Baudelaire’s 19th century flâneur, as I have mentioned, is by definition male. He was a figure conjured to describe a new urban type: the wandering, voyeuristic poet who documented architectural physiognomies—including human bodies—and sensations of the city. As with the masculine-only gaze engendered by Hollywood cinema, a flâneuse would have been inconceivable (and for a woman to assume a male gaze, to turn the lens back on herself, has implications for her seeing her own body and self as an objectified image). Doreen Massey says: “the notion of a flâneuse is impossible precisely because of the one-way-ness and the directionality of the gaze. Flâneurs observed others; they were not observed themselves.”[5] But unlike in real space, the virtual browser, the female and feminist flâneur begins to shift her own balance of power, reappropriating the gaze for personal, urban, and artistic space, subjective time and private narrative. Browsers are constantly in motion. They navigate space, look and sample, but do not buy into the economy of exchange. Browsers are analogous to and do have a predecessor in the flâneur. In Imagologies, Mark Taylor and Esa Saarinen evoke the image of the flâneur in electronic spaces, noting that all readers explore cyberspace peripatetically.[6] We can use the notion of the flâneur to invoke a new subjectivity for cyberspatial browsing with a potent, roaming gaze that looks, looks back and looks “elsewhere,” refusing linear progress as defined by print standards. Situated in the present moment of suspension, the 21st century browser is free to touch, and to become a sensuous crusader in the corridors of virtual space. Cyberfeminism is flow: it is sensory, spatial, and rhizomatic, and it can exist only in virtual space as a tactic or strategy for browsing. In cyberfeminist space, the gaze belongs to the browser with her many perspectives, and it is she who is in control of her own fluid movement, direction and orientation in space and time.


Feminist texts in virtual space strive for a collective, interactive experience and, in acknowledgement of their political aims, these literary texts make us want to engage—to talk back. In works like Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, the reader plays a far greater role than in traditional paper-bound literary works because of the unique way digital text privileges subjectivity. It does so by drawing the browser in as a part of the system, through the browser’s leap of faith in selecting each link. This act of browsing is an empowering process. Hypertext author and theorist Michael Joyce (who is credited with fathering the form) says that “Capturing the flow..., channeling it, the reader turns the text to distinctive uses of her own, which she can float upon or navigate through. She begins to voyage, both in space and for space.”[7] The fluidity of this kind of reading may seem random to the reader until she has encountered enough of the networked text to map it in her own mind and with her own body. In fact, the more densely constructed a hypertext narrative is, the more random the experience of an initial voyage. (Hypertext as a self-contained narrative form should not be confused with the hyperlinked World Wide Web whose blue underlined words simply connect different pages. The type of text I am discussing here is instead a prototype of a new novelistic form.) In Patchwork Girl, no matter where we begin (and the work is structurally laid out with multiple doorways through her body “in pieces” so we do have significant choice) we are plunged directly into the monster’s or Mary Shelley’s or Jackson’s stories: journals, theoretical reflections, séances, conversations with the long-dead owners of the monster’s original body parts and on and on. Excess choice leads to freefall—or nomadic voyaging—through the narrative spaces. The result of this random function is a sense of dislocation in space, time, and language.


While the postmodern condition is alienating and dislocating, Jackson’s hypertext narrative space is inclusive and intimate. It draws the reader in as a key element in the text through connections in space and, because the new media recreate this state on more intimate terms, it invites a weightless or a nomadic association rather than a homeless, disconnected one. We choose to meander and explore over and under and inside and around the rooms of an electronic text. Following the trails of nomadic logic, we choose to get lost.


Feminist digital narratives are elaborate, multidimensional architectural spaces woven of subversive linkages. Part of this subversion lies in the way that the digital text requires us to retrace our steps. We must keep rereading passages. It is in revisiting a particular narrative that the hyperlink most effectively undermines and subverts our browsing of the text. Rereading—or revisioning—exposes our earlier memory of and assumptions about the text and, by doing so, resituates us in place, time and space. Michael Joyce sees rereading as actually forming another space in the continuum of the text, a theoretical one.[8] Such are the facets of the form: the reader not only becomes a part of the text, but the act of (re)reading itself does too. This is molecular narrative at its most complex. The altered sense of the temporal and the spatial is the metatext of our reading, for the cultural experience of feminist electronic space is innately metatextual and kinesthetic. It remediates itself. The more the text emphasizes our own displaced visual orientation, dislocation in time, and our sense of information overload, the more we are aware of the flesh and the bones and the particular cells of the narrative’s structured space. This is integral to a genre that proposes to undertake social critique. In fact, hypertext theorist Stuart Moulthrop sees the subversive potential of hypertext as being embodied in its inherent sense of (technological) rupture and breakdown that self-consciously exposes political agendas and forces us to question our own assumptions.[9] In the hypertextual spaces of the literature of the new media, this kind of molecular structure is the textual interface that we dance our way through. These are texts that are said to change every time you read them for there is no or little predetermined order of engagement beyond the interface structure. Patchwork Girl has many narrative voices besides her own who help tell her story from multiple perspectives. They assume her own viewpoints on alternate plotlines, become author, literally, as we hear her mother Mary Shelley’s version of events, take the voices of the owners of her once (still?) dead anatomical parts, and speak in the voices of other sources and from other books who pop in to speak for themselves. The chorus of voices becomes split with each node—each screen being the electronic equivalent of a page—broken into dynamic and bite-sized pieces.


Every linkage is a rupture or disruption, and situatedness is realized through mouse-clicking gestures of dislocation. Let me clarify this paradox. In the new media, we navigate from node to node via links. Nodes are self-contained units that branch multidimensionally across rifts of space and time. Each link we take produces connection through physical dislocations in perspective; it propels us outward, or onward at least, in space and time. The labyrinthine universe of the cyberfeminist text might, therefore, be seen as a web representing, like Indra’s net, the connectedness of all things. Like the universe, the nodes of the networked text always exist connected in time and multidimensional space, starting into wakefulness when a browser’s motion activates a link and allows her to engage with the material in the present. Each node in space can therefore also represent a particular subjectivity—in short, a unique perspective or point of view—and thereby birth multiple subjectivities within the text. It is this union of node as both perspective and place that engenders situated knowledges for a self-reflexive browser of the networked text. Constantly in motion as she moves from place to place and in flux with perspective perpetually changing, a browser practicing situated knowledges is not an oppositional thinker, but “rather one that views discourse as a positive, multilayered network of power relations” with power thereby becoming “the name for a complex set of interconnections.”[10] Each browser in such a textual space becomes a member of the collective of the text (and its audience) while also occupying a gradient position as a unique individual, and each step through the textual space garners her power over and self-awareness of her own perspective. This conglomerate of unique viewpoints is multiplied exponentially by the browser’s fractured vision at each place she makes a choice in the matrix: she is always looking in multiple places while always only occupying a single intense point in time. Intensity, like the senses, can only exist in an embodied state in the pan-perspectival immersion of the present moment.


Sensory space is what I keep coming back to here because it is not only our way of moving and understanding the languages of the text, but because it is the narrators’ modes of engagement with their material too. Cognitive connection is wrought through the disconnecting gestures of the body in space. The Patchwork Girl describes her multi-dimensional nature as a “dotted line,” that which delineates a disconnection “without cleaving apart for good what it distinguishes”:


It is a permeable membrane: some substance necessary to both can pass from one side to the other. It is a potential line, an indication of the way out of two dimensions (fold along dotted line): in three dimensions what is separate can be brought together without ripping apart what is already joined, the two sides of a page flow Möbiusly into one another. Pages become tunnels or towers….[11]


The shuffling and unfolding of the information of her body in sensory space is enacted across a gap or trajectory of subjecthood that is multiple and present. Subjectivity is the lens and connector through which the spatio-temporal dislocation gets focused and bridged. The gap is outside vision—felt not seen—and always existing on the threshold in between nodes. Like the monster’s subjectivities, all knots in the matrix are linked. It is the subject that becomes the focal point though because the new media alters the eye (and body) in the continuously expanding and disorienting shifting of space-time. Subjectivities and perspectives get split in the prism of the new media, fracturing the speaking subject even as it holds the resulting selves all together in a unified (but not single) pattern.


Jackson’s novel works on an architectural model that we wander through as we assume new perspectives on women’s never told and forgotten narratives. She interweaves these with a textual checkerboard of intertexts (rendered visually in their structure), told by a cyborg narrator. This literary ecosystem is stitched together by Mary Shelley’s stillborn monster—grown disturbingly lively—out of forgotten stories and a chorus of other discourses and voices, including her “mother’s” in the form of Mary Shelley’s “journal” and “literary theorists” like Jacques Derrida. The graveyard that was the monster’s cradle functions not only as her point of origin, but as her community, her family and her genealogy. Haunted by the memories of her original owners and her origin(s) (conceived by Mary as a “proper woman,” she is nearly aborted by Percy’s editorial pen, for instance), the monster raises the possibility that she may have survived only in Mary’s papers, stitched together in language as a fiction rather than in the flesh in life. Intertextually, she is thereby born in another’s words as a part of someone else’s story. Her life is a constant state of alien inhabitation as she tries to adjust to her willful body’s dictates from its minds of its own. In fact, the monster suffers from the vocal tics of Tourette’s Syndrome, from body parts that refuse to stay glued on, and from her limbs’ and organs’ hauntings by past lives. No surprise in the fact that she is obsessed with plastic surgery and the tenets of beauty.


The Patchwork Girl, as narrator and author of herself, also blurs the lines between storytelling and lies. She may well be the author of Mary’s journal, having tried on her mother’s voice for size. She also gives the browser alternative plots to journey through. All of her stories cannot be true, just as she tells us at one point in the narrative that she is still actually a virgin and that all of her sexploits have been inventions of her imagination. Are these lies or fictions? Where does “story” end and “falsehood” begin for a creature that was born in and of a work of fiction? Her tales are repositories of unrecorded knowledge and her community is a storehouse of alternative perspectives of other outcasts: “I am made up of a multiplicity of anonymous particles,” she says, “and have no absolute boundaries. I am a swarm.”[12] Part of Jackson’s buzzing, molecular informational space is organized on a model of the graveyard (entered through the headstone), and the archive of the text is contained in individual graves where her donors cluster together geographically adjacent to one another underground, just as they are in her form, but functioning as uneasy neighbours in both locations. This schematic of body-part lenders tells the unrecorded stories of women of the era—a swarm of forgotten, faceless, unknown souls who each have their own disabilities and afflictions, and methods of subverting the official system. “What is dreadful,” she asks, “about the plural? The swarm, the infestation. Is it that, without the necessary limits of any discrete entity, the swarm seems only accidentally, not essentially bounded in size?”[13] An unbounded and living example of multiplicity, the Patchwork Girl realistically sees herself as a messy, biological collective cluster of insect-like and inanimate parts. She yearns for the clinical detachment of scientific structures, but as a collision of subjectivities that goal is unattainable for her. Her swarm’s memories jostle together just like their parts, and from the friction the monster’s story is born. Jackson’s graveyard is a multidimensional space where the monster disinters lives, rifling through body parts and narratives to try to reconcile the disconnected pieces into a fractured whole. Unrestrained within a single graveyard plot or identity, she erupts from the grave with all of her stories, if not her parts, intact. As the temporal distance from her inception increases, her body and her language become increasingly unruly.


As a collaborative work with collective memory, the monster’s ultimate desire is for a community. Where initially her family and circle of peers are her own body and its voices, she gradually ventures out into space and into the world (in her imagination at least) to join other fringe-dwelling communities of women. While she tries to write her own liminal history and lineage, she—and we—keep circling back to past traumas, trying to find a way to place a salve on her wounds. For the monster, whose skeleton is a web of scars, she finds healing in knitting the crazy patchwork pieces of her past back together in this organic narrative—just as she sews unruly body parts back on—to form a future. Her body parts exercise their own will. Her lips laugh of their own accord and, she says, “[h]er tongue (my tongue) stirred up a fishy stew of folly, poetry, gossip, heresy, and the news, and she mixed up the real and the imagined, so you never knew where you stood with her.”[14] This circling and confrontation of embodied and sometimes traumatic moments is literalized in Patchwork Girl where the reader chooses the plotlines, limbs, wounds, and trajectories she will traverse in this text to excavate pain and resurrect healing. Allowing us to follow those scar trails and hear the voices of their histories, Jackson weaves an intertextual body of competing parts of the self, female community, and narrative spaces.


Nudged into motion, the meandering subject in cyberfeminist space is a comet in orbit around her own story, around her subjective experience of a text that keeps changing, spinning off into an uncharted future. According to Paul Virilio, we are no longer beings who inhabit a temporal plane. Instead, in Open Sky, he argues we have become passive agents who are acted upon like film—exposed, underexposed, overexposed—and are nakedly subject to the effects of light speed. As a result, Virilio says, the old notions of subjectivity and objectivity are too limited. What we need to describe our present condition is a third state: the trajective. Trajectivity is a dynamic (or kinesthetic) subject position that oscillates between subjective and objective moments.[15] To become kinesthetic agents, we need to be trajective: to step out into motion, leap without looking, and move with the acceleration of purposeful desire. We must achieve wanderlust: the desire to be in motion, to move with purpose instantaneously.


Meaning is born of our motion through a hypertext. As we move through the stillness and motion of the many changing paths of new media, we become dancers who try on differing perspectives, who stop to browse at intervals as our place continually shifts through our motions. Our wanderlust manifests itself as an ongoing reorientation in fluid dimensions in these immersive spaces. Realigning ourselves with the drifting continents of context, we perform navigational acts in response to our temporal and spatial desires, and, as a result, it is flowing motion rather than location that matters most. Location is in some ways irrelevant in these texts precisely because our perspective in them unfolds; it is constantly changing. Motion with purpose, with desire, is the location where our body performs the story in space, and it is our body that remembers the unfolding history of the journey. Its conceptual nodes, its screens, are the written history—tattoos, inscriptions, impressions—of a browser’s physical presence in the text. New realities are born of our splintering perspectives and our memories of our experiences are impressed on us as we pass through.


The jump cuts in the narrative shift Jackson’s fissured creature intradimensionally in both space and time. She observes that her physical divisions, her “scars,” “not only mark a cut but commemorate a joining” as well.[16] They indicate a coming together across the dimensions—that fold she refers to as a dotted line. The folding of space for instantaneous connection seems to suggest that there is no space between or that space is empty. But, just because we cannot see the gaps between the links in the text, this in no way means that they are less important for their invisibility. Split temporalities raise the potentialities for multiple readings, gaps where all possible routes are written in the spaces of choices not taken. The gaps in these texts occupy sensual and perceptual space, and, as we leap, we get a glimpse of their edges. This glimpse makes us aware of the boundaries, borders, and frames of the form. It makes us aware, for example, of the Patchwork Girl’s parts and personae. The gaps are not a part of the fabric of the text; they are the text itself, the architecture of the space of browsing. Hyperlinking and gestures of navigation in space-time undermine temporal sequence and privilege dislocation, disruption, and disorientation rather than location, continuity, and orientation. The spaces between the textual nodes are key, for it is the body in motion, the very act of moving, that births the multiplicity of subjectivities these texts evoke. The browser’s dynamic leap is the true link in the new media.


Links are a paradox uniting the full and empty space between nodes in the network. They are the means of connection through rupture. They underlie the continuity of space by breaking it and folding it back together. Moulthrop says the link is comprised of two parts, the “visible, binary circuit of connection,” and the “unseen matrix, or ‘structure of possible structures.’”[17] Breakdown, he says, “may be the most important cultural aspect” of hypertext.[18] As voyagers in seemingly unmapped terrain, we are naturally explorers of the Cartesian coordinates of multidimensional space. Our universe is not flat and we flow between dimensions as we fold space between one screen and the next. In a blink, perspective and place shifts. It is a push through the tension, resistance, and reluctance of the full space for the browser to pull herself forward—hand over hand on the rungs of a ladder. How can we not be changed by the journey? The spaces we keep circling back to are the moments that stand out in time: those memorable moments along our path, the snapshots of our travels; those moments that refuse to release us are the ones that we need to keep returning to—to travel through. They are conceptual knots that exist independent of space-time, isolated moments outside of the fabric of four dimensions that are pan-spatio-temporal. Browsing becomes an exploration of the monster’s and our multidimensional multiplicity, and a potential balm for healing. Moulthrop says breakdown is a “process not a product” of the new media and that it emphasizes the contingency of technology’s structures and claims.[19]


In the “Story” section of Patchwork Girl, which describes her life after Mary and up to the “present,” she provides two different versions of events. The plots diverge when her friend Chancy happens upon the monster naked. If a browser chooses “aftermath” as a link to follow, Chancy reveals to the Patchwork Girl that this apparent cabin boy is actually a woman in disguise. Then, when Chancy asks the monster (in an awkward manner) to tell her own story, she flees and is struck by a horse-drawn cab—losing her foot and part of her leg in the accident. The Patchwork Girl continues to run and, after being attacked, attacks in turn a would-be pickpocket. Leaving him for dead, she steals his leg as a replacement part. She never sees Chancy again and remains alone for the rest of the narrative and, presumably, her life. Alternately, if a browser chooses “the different road Aftermath” instead, after Chancy sees her patchworked nakedness, the browser discovers that they fell in love and became lovers. The monster, however, coyly refuses to tell Chancy her life story and, when Chancy finally asks, she storms out in anger to be struck by the cab. Instead of emulating her “botched brother”—the original monster—and resorting to violence, in this version the Patchwork Girl seeks out a circus freak friend of Chancy’s who gives her some advice, a wooden leg, and an armadillo. The monster returns to Chancy and, persisting in her refusal to explain her origins, rejects Chancy’s love and sends her back to sea. When the armadillo dies, she swaps its body for her much-celebrated (in the penny press) lost limb and buries it in the foot’s former casket. Finally reunited with her errant part, she stitches her lost appendage back on.


Cyberfeminist fiction makes no attempt to reconcile this dislocation between networked nodes and their gaps in space-time. Instead, it foregrounds and uses this aspect, highlighting the disjunctures of the subject’s position as she is depicted and as she voyages through the text. These nodes or multiple screens of the new media—what we might think of as pages in a print context—are sites of both connectivity and dislocation that are interwoven with and perforated by links, those directional indicators for leaps to new locations across the “gutters” of the form (as Stuart Moulthrop dubs these breaks). “Gutters,” he says, are “both the division between components in sequential art and by analogy any boundary that separates cultural domains.”[20] These gutters are pauses, structural gaps, moments out of time, and spatial entities in their own right. The sites of connection between nodes as destination are both fluid and fixed, constantly forming and reforming as we call them up, jump the divide via links, and encounter them anew, recontextualized and resituated by arrivals and departures across the gaps in our browsing and rereading.


The tidal drift in these novels is our experience of wanderlust. In the kinesthetic new media, we yearn, we desire, we meander with purpose. Nomadic desire and ecstatic transportation is the body in motion in time and space, expressing what new media author Carolyn Guyer calls the “buzz-daze,” or the modern sense of dislocation seen in the powers of attraction and repulsion between one’s selves and one’s perspectives.[21] Wanderlust is the desire to be other places, to be other people, to always be in flux, to always be in motion wandering with intent. Our journey is determined by desire because it is an embodied condition, a sensual and perceptual space that we inhabit, remember and have yet to travel through. Motion in these texts is born of longing, curiosity, and hunger. Motion seeks a path in any direction to express the browser’s yearning after narrative. This wanderlust is simultaneously a hunger for knowledge, an urge to explore, and a desire for the body of the text. Networked texts are created by the browser, the trajective network being spun by the lusty motions of her navigation in space. Desire propels the subject onward, deeper into the story, forward through the narrative, harnessing anxiety by encouraging the browser to explore still further. Wanderlust knows no trajectory or single-minded direction. Unhinged in time, the browser can move back and forth, but tends to prefer to deviate from the timeline to follow spatially and thematically connected threads.


As nomads, we jump through space from screen to screen, but while our journey is purposeful, it does not follow a linear trajectory. It is a path of exploration with many stops along the way to investigate the complexity of shorelines, eddying currents, and spiralings back to revisit key places and important moments. As travelers, we jump back and forth in time to track different threads of the story. These are the motions of thought: we make associational linkages, relive this bit, revisit that, and conjure up a half-forgotten snippet. The fluid network of space(s) in the electronic text is constantly in motion like the Möbius strip or like the female flâneur in her uncontainable and excessive roving. Sally Munt maintains that the artist-voyeur risks being produced, consumed, or translated by the gaze of the heterotopic city looking back as much as he or she produces art in the act of looking.[22] This is inherent to the condition of being an outsider. The urban environment—like the electronic one—could position everyone in the role of outsider in the act of active looking as a method of generating meaning in the landscape all around.


The female flâneur herself could be read as embodied space. This space is composed of those gaps in the narrative that are connected but never reconciled, or of the disjunctures that we cannot bring closure to. These spaces are the sites of re-visioning and revolution in a text where, according to Foucault, systems of order are disrupted. The feminist flâneur thereby appropriates a heterotopia of “deviation” for herself; a space where individuals’ behaviour does not conform to societal expectations and in which desire is the catalyst for movement.[23] Desire requires both the existence of and entrance to other spaces and, as a result, motion can become heterotopic space. Like the urban voyager, the only control we have over our direction in our browsing in the electronic realm is via nomadic logic. It lies in the ways we move and in the choices we make along the way. Nomadic desire or ecstatic journeying, this thing called wanderlust, is the sum of our transformative journey through these entangled textual spaces. Nomadic desire is the meeting of our temporal desire—movement, direction, speed and our place in time—and our spatial desire, that is our need to map, entangle systems, modalities, subjectivities, and mnemonic orderings, to create disorientation, ruptures, and loopholes to produce the rapturous transformation of the cyberspatial journey. The performance of time and space is a form of mnemonic engagement with sensory and perceptual dimensions common only to the body. Like rereading, which resituates us in time and space in relation to our memory of a text, our embodied browsings in new media texts raise spatial and temporal issues, only navigable at these sites of intersection between public and private, and past, present and future.


This is an embodied journey through space-time. A browser’s journey is dynamic, fluid in the present tense of experience. The textual voyage is alive and kinetic, fractal and in flux, birthed as she travels through its fullness. The lust for belonging in Patchwork Girl infects her, but mostly she lusts for a paradigm in these texts. She hunts for threads, connections, and clues. She hunts to unravel the key knots in the narratological fabric, to find the legend to understand the map of the text as a whole. She yearns to chart these spaces and this desire to map is a mnemonic impulse, for, there is no need to map if you have no intention of returning. Navigation is an act of writing one’s corporeality in these spaces and it is a process—or a history—that gets mapped by the senses on the body. The browser body desires to document the history of her voyagings spatially in smooth space, while the mind yearns to quantify, categorize, gridlock, and classify each component in striated space.


Our body is our interface with the textual world and the spatial map of the map of the text is the literal interface. In other words, our body maps the map that is our textual body. A map is a document of the mind in process; it is also a memory and an alternative form of historical telling. The nomad is always already a cartographer; her stories are maps and she maps her memories in space with her body. Drawn by the act of wandering, a map exists outside the system in conceptual space as a union of nomadic concerns with place and perspective. Her challenge is always to situate herself, to plot her coordinates in relation to the whole, even as she is always in motion. This is a system that is in flux, in the process of perpetually remapping itself. Like any other system, however, it cannot be copied or reproduced. Any map exists only in the present moment as a snapshot because the system as a whole is always in an organic state of change. We can only represent our impressions through the metaphor of a map. Because a map is written on and by a browser’s body, she acquires shifting subjectivities to accommodate her changing perspectives where the fixed points that she keeps returning to are sites of narrative unfolding. The desiring subject in her natural state is as fluid as mercury. She is all flow in perpetual motion, in process.


The wandering subject in new media moves by digressing: via deviance, blind faith, and dead reckoning. The mouse click is the gesture of navigation and movement through virtual space. This disconnection is an expression of wanderlust, desire being realized along her journey through deviance from a linear trajectory. It is a constant motion of sidewinding, sidetracking, sidestepping, sidling movements of deviation from the norm. Never purposeless wandering, her path embodies motion with meaning, with an object in sight. She constantly defers in the fractured space of the electronic text, seeking resolution but not wholeness, stillness but not stasis, reconciliation but not closure. She occupies all elements and states of being at once. Both speedy and sedentary, her movements through the links of a digital narrative’s structure are the record of her passage.


The trajective browser lusts after these fragments of story encoded as the nodes or screens in the text and are perpetually propelled forward by the desire for healing, understanding, and resolution. Voyaging is the wanderlust of the deviant seeking solace for the irreconcilable multiplicities the text carries within. Wandering is a kind of flight of the mind, a retreat into more comforting times or an escape or avoidance of present unpleasantness. The temporal dimension is a metabody acquired through the process of moving through and performing space, and through which we gain an awareness of how and where and why we move. Movement in the space and time of the new media is an act of transformation. To move is to be alive, to be present, to reject nostalgia in favor of life, to refuse to look anywhere but along a forward trajectory. To be in motion is not to deny the path, but to embrace it as a part of the journey and to use the speed of it as an escape conduit, to use her body’s memory of the journey through the text as an emergency chute to slide out into a new future. The browser kinesthetically rewrites the potentialities of the future. This is a different kind of history for a different kind of time. Histories are always already changed by our revisitation. They are rewritten or re-envisioned by the resonance of her movement as her perspective on them shifts with each return.


Resonance is a process that writes itself like turbulence on the body as the body is written by the memory of its movement in space. As the vibrating living record of the song of the journey and the transformation, resonance is the first step towards the rupture of space-time where she is transported by her desire and quest to another place and moment to another dimension or a sensual and perceptual space. This is not disembodiment but re-embodiment—meta-embodiment. We inhabit our bodies differently when we are out of phase, oscillating in the turbulence of dynamic space, that space where the textual body is written as contextual knot. The ways of moving in virtual space are directed and mapped by the knots that span spatio-temporal rifts. Without movement, we cannot cross the space-time divide. Without movement, we cannot read the work. Movement is engagement, agency, an act of memory, but it is never linear trajectory.[24] It is the impulse to explore and therefore to map, to record, and to structure. That which resonates is her memory of her movement in space-time, that turbulence that Gilles Deleuze says is a “spiral” where successive turbulences unfold between each other.[25] The only fixed points in the turbulent hypertextual system are conceptual knots. In the same way, Marshall and Eric McLuhan argue for the intradimensional entanglement of audile and tactile spaces. To their minds, each sense occupies its own distinctive space separated by intervals: “Intervals…are resonant and not static. Resonance is the mode of acoustic space; tactility is the space of the significant bounding line, of pressure, and of the interval.”[26] In fact, resonance is such an important idea in much of Marshall McLuhan’s thinking that it could be argued that he sees resonance as an entirely new and distinct dimension of hyperspace—a complex, dynamic entangled dimension.[27]


Entangled, the parameters of cyberfeminist narrative space become audible when multiple systems and dimensions collide. This collision is a merging of two different kinds of desires: one spatial and one temporal. The synchronous vibration of the body in space and in time writes knots on the bodies that transcend those systems. The record of the performance of the resonant body excited by its motion on a quest for desire is an oscillation of the body in space-time that produces a disruption of the narrative structure. Sensory time is resonant as the link beckons and calls us, tempting us to take the leap across the spatio-temporal divide. Static space cannot break the space-time bridge, but the phase shift of resonance—Guyer’s buzz-daze state—gives us sight across the rift of the sensory dimensions as we leap a link, a disorienting experience akin to sim sickness or vertigo. The phase shift makes evident the link between our desires and our senses. It embodies us as it re-embodies us, making us aware of ourselves as resonant beings. It gives us a context for the browser’s desire. Rapture, that disruption that results in the browser’s transportation by desire, is realized as the wanderlust that drives her to keep moving onward.


Temporal desire writes itself through movement, direction, speed, deviance, and knots on the body. Spatial desire is performed through maps and mapping, resonance, oscillation, loopholes, and rupture. Combined, these elements birth wanderlust: the entanglement of interactivity, transcendence, rapture, and transformation. The browser’s journey writes itself rapturously on her body. Her motion in space traces patterns on her skin, fingers that tease her forward inviting her to act on her lust, to enact her desire. She performs space in real time. She writes her body through her movements through the cosmos of these texts as she creates the text and as it writes itself on her. Like life, the text impresses her with the conceptual knots that she experiences in her intradimensional voyagings. It is the intradimensional twist that shows her the way out of the system.


Movement—or the governing nomadic logic in these texts, the undulation in the form—is a very important part of how we understand the works. The tension between floating and diving is a constant. Perhaps they are different kinds of minds, different kinds of logics (as Diana Reed Slattery proposes in her online exploration of visual language, Glide).[28] Nomadic logic is similar to Virilio’s trajectivity, the space between objectivity and subjectivity given to motion. Nomadic logic is the logic of wandering or, more exactly, of wanderlust. It is not illogical so much as a-logical: it is a logic of multiplicity, of many logics, but never all logics because by definition it is logic born of the act of choosing. Choosing a path. The logic of wanderlust has direction, but no set trajectory; it does have trajectories plural, but no set targets.


Like resonance, oscillation too is a vibrating motion. Repetition, oscillation, spiraling, and floating are lesbian writer and theorist Nicole Brossard’s four movements of narrative.[29] Brossard argues that feminism makes space for the “body politic” in fiction and, in the same way, the dynamic nature of narrative makes room for feminist content and discourse in four ways: “ a) oscillating movement, which manifests a certain ambivalence; b) repetitive movement, as if to exorcise the patriarchal voice; c) spiraling movement, which serves to gradually conquer the territory concerned and d) floating movement, where thought is suspended over the void.”[30] Motion in narrative is integral because narrative is a process not a product, because narrative is a way of transforming reality. We must move through it in order to experience it (like the paintings of Cubism, which make sense only if our visual perception is constantly in motion) and in order to be moved by it. This excitation, as of resonant particles, is even embodied in the word “to excite” derived from the root “to move,” just as the marker of difference in the new media is the phase shift—the intradimensional movement—in space-time. The act of storytelling is also a dynamic process. Motion crosses the spatio-temporal divide through the act of rupture. Rupture is an opening or a window from where the browser gains perspective on her interactions with space-time. She cannot see space-time or the rupture as she moves through it, but in retrospect, in the written record retained on the body, the dislocation of her movement from location to location becomes clear, evident, perceptible, and audible. Rupture is perceptible and sensible only in retrospect or in the space of her memory of the journey.


With the gesture of echoes, space and time call to each other across the divide where rupture becomes rapture, “ecstatic delight, mental transport. Great pleasure or enthusiasm or the expression of it.”[31] Rapture is also the “act of transporting a person from one place to another” through ecstasy.[32] When the browser is enraptured, her wanderlust is made spiritual and corporeal; it becomes simultaneously embodied and transcendent, breaking the boundaries of space-time. Her resonant body hums in response to the text so that it might seem that the corporeal is made musical, even as the harmonies of heavenly bodies are made flesh in the entanglements of the music of the spheres—and not just musical, mechanical as well. The whole system/text is subjected to a resonant force similar to its own when space and time intersect. The alchemical explosion of the body in space-time rupturing the dimensions is essential to movement and sensory time is a prolongation of our normal state through reflection or synchronous vibration. Her movement uses links as an invitation or beckoning across the divide of the spatio-temporal rift. They ignite her desire to move forward. Her narratological lust is in flux, constantly changing, with wanderlust becoming a means of transformation—and not simply transportation—along the narrative journey. Rapture, therefore, unites space and time and the two desires become entangled.


It is multidimensional motion by the browser on her journey as well that births multiple perspectives or subjectivities. Renaissance art used a single focal point as a means of depicting perspective, ultimately thereby fixing a moment in time and space, and negating movement. New media, in contrast, do not use perspective as an orientation, but privilege instead disorientation. The science of the body in motion in the spaces of the text creates fractured perspectives, which, by definition, cannot be fixed except in time (the real time of the present moment). This shift from a single perspective to multiple perspectives is a trademark of the paradigm shift of the information revolution itself, altering not just how we see, but transforming our vision and the nature of our gaze into dynamic and kinesthetic abilities (just as loss of another sense can lead to an enhanced understanding and use of our kinesthetic sense as well). Wanderlust is a component of the reading experience, but it is also embodied in the written text. There is a merging of the browser and the narrators’ points of view and a mapping of the coordinates where desires collide with the narrators’ desires in the telling. Sensory time is immediate and exists in suspended animation, inhabiting the immersive spaces of the here and now. In Patchwork Girl, for instance, the narrator’s obsession with her immortality and multiplicity of past lives results in an overarching preoccupation in the text not with time’s arrow, but with an un-counting or “unfolding” of time back on itself. Instead of looking forwards to the future, the monster lives a breech existence, looking back to a dynamic past, to a living past that predates her birth in the grave.


She categorizes and maps her self and her body as something “cross-bred, cross-dressed, cross-referenced. Moving chaotically through spirals, percentages and hair-pin turns,” she describes her motion as “‘one step forwards, two steps back,’ hopscotch, hokey pokey, double dutch, bass-ackwards.”[33] She is incapable of a linear trajectory on account of her very systemic and hybridized multiplicity. She is constantly pulled up short, turned around 180 degrees by the interference from past lives, forced to reassess herself and her position in space, time, and motion. Her inversions are many and multi-layered. Rather than her identity being an aspect of her embodied self, her body is her self and her body has its own minds. She is also not simply body deviant, but sexually deviant as well. Lesbians and gay men were, in the 19th century, called “inverts” since their sexual drives were considered to be backwards or inversions of the norm. Similarly, the Patchwork Girl is not only taken for a man aboard ship as she travels to America, but also for a woman impersonating a man and vice versa. She takes a man, Chancy, as a lover who turns out to be a woman. Her future throws shadows on her past and her gargantuan perpetual present moment overwhelms her past.[34] Outliving Mary, she ingests her mother as well as all of the immensity of time and space themselves, and suffers post-partum depression in the process of carrying the grief of the gestation of maternal absorption. Not surprisingly, the monster is unable to reverse the process though because as a character she is not in control of her own author’s intent. Her “self” is an emergent property of the whole and any attempt to “unwrite” her will unravel the very fabric of her being: “if all things are called back to their authors… Mary, Mary. I know you want me back, but I shall be no more than a heap of letters, sender unknown when I return.”[35] She does in her own turn have a phenomenal impact on Mary. Upon being turned inside out by the magnitude of her encounter (and love affair) with the monster, Mary says, “I thought I too was rent and sewn, that I was both multiply estranged and gathered together in a dynamic union.”[36] In such a fashion, the monster also strives to achieve agency for herself as a present-day navigator of the stepping-stones of space-time.


The Patchwork Girl is a spacer or stopgap measure between instants. This spatio-temporal aspect of the reading experience is an important concept for browsing. Wanderlust is the coming together of these temporal and spatial desires. Where space and time meet rapture is born. The browser’s quest in space and time is an act of desire, and desire in this context is movement, direction, speed, mapping, rupture and remembering (i.e. mapping in both space and time). The browser’s quest is for the disorientation of loopholes that will transport her through time and space, and it is only the connection across the dimensions that births rapture, the transportation by desire into a transformation. In these texts, the browser is always slightly out of phase with narratological time. The act of transformation in browsing is a product of the phase shift of inhabiting the space-time of writing, plus the contextual drift, in textual space. This is because her motion moves her from knot to knot, never fully inhabiting the space-time of a node because, as an outsider, as a mere browser, she is unglued from the dimensions of the text. New realities are born of continually shifting perspectives. The contextual drift of her leap through the full space of a textual cosmos births a phase shift that keeps her always slightly out of sync with the space-time of a text. She experiences the present moment at a distance, at arm’s length, through the narrator’s eyes, in a character’s shoes. She experiences the present moment as a spatial—not temporal—dimension.[37] Enraptured, as a browser she voyages through key moments in a work, cycling around and back again as a healing process. Navigating through this tangle of ideas in narrative space are the gestures of the intradimensional time traveler, of the dreamer. Her intuitive navigation is movement and her movement births rupture: the rapture of the browser. The body in motion is the meaning of the text and the pleasurable act of choosing her movements is where she finds agency.


She only has control over the leap not over where she lands, and her logic in these spaces is determined by desire. Her logic and ours is the disorienting wanderlust born of her craving for continuity and so she hunts down divergent threads to find connections. The goal of the nomad is to map the territory in this sensory space. The whole space cannot be seen or visualized, only conceptualized and understood in terms of metaphor, which means she and we must inhabit the monstrous body, and, in doing so, let her body do the work for this part, carrying her forward through a leap of faith into the dark. Just as the Girl embodies all dimensions, so her perspective and place are legion. She is everywhere and everyone all at once. Her body is in nomadic flux, being torn apart limb from limb by nomadic logic and desire. Exploiting disruption as an aesthetic, Jackson builds a multiple subject. Similarly, the nomadic browser is unhinged from space-time, operating always in the present tense, capable of moving in any direction all at once, inhabiting all dimensions and body parts/texts simultaneously. A nomadology is flux: the interplay, the space between memory and forgetting, smooth and striated space, between continents as they shift. These browsings embody the act of wanderlust across the fissures of multiple dimensions.

 

Dr. Carolyn Guertin, Senior McLuhan Fellow and SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Toronto, will be joining the English Department at the University of Texas at Arlington in 2006 as an Assistant Professor of Digital Media. Her creative and critical works have been appeared internationally online, in print and in gallery space. For more info, visit: http://www.mcluhan.utoronto.ca/academy/carolynguertin/



[1] John Slatin in “Reading Hypertext: Order and Coherence in a New Medium” defines three types of readers: the browser, the user and the co-author. “The browser,” he says:

is someone who wanders rather aimlessly (but not carelessly) through an area, picking things up and putting them down as curiosity or momentary interest dictates. In this respect the browser is someone who reads for pleasure, with this important difference: there is no expectation that the browser will go through all of the available material; often the expectation is just the reverse… (159).

Unlike Slatin, my argument is that the cyberfeminist reader is always already a browser in the patriarchal system. The way she engages with digital narrative is the same way in which she engages with the world. I do not believe that retracing one’s steps in the new media is possible. Instead, we experience re-visionings. Everything old is new again and, rather than going backwards, we see with new eyes from new, ever-shifting perspectives. See Slatin in Hypermedia and Literary Studies, eds. Paul Delany and George P. Landow (Cambridge: MIT, 1991) 153-69.

[2] Janet Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck, (Cambridge: MIT, 1997).

[3] Norbert Wiener, “Cybernetics in History,” 1954. Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality, eds. Randall Packer and Ken Jordan (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001) 52.

[4] Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women, (New York: Routledge, 1991).

[5] Doreen B. Massey, Space, Place and Gender (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994) 234.

[6] Mark Taylor and Esa Saarinen, “Telewriting,” Imagologies: Media Philosophy London and New York: Routledge, 1994) 11.

[7] Michael Joyce, Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics (Ann Arbor: Michigan UP, 1995) 245.

[8] Michael Joyce, “Nonce Upon Some Times: Rereading Hypertext Fiction,” Modern Fiction Studies 43 (1997): 582.

[9] Stuart Moulthrop, "Pushing Back: Living and Writing in Broken Space," Modern Fiction Studies 43

(1997): 665.

[10] Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic Subjects (New York: Columbia, 1994) 76.

[11] Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl, Or A Modern Monster by Mary/Shelley and Herself, CD-ROM (Watertown, MA: Eastgate Systems, 1995) “dotted lines.”

[12] Jackson, “self swarm.”

[13] Jackson, “earwigs.”

[14] Jackson, “tongue.”

[15] Paul Virilio, Open Sky, trans. Julie Rose (London: Verso, 1997) 24.

[16] Jackson, “cut.”

[17] Moulthrop, “Pushing Back” 663.

[18] Moulthrop, “Pushing Back” 664.

[19] Stuart Moulthrop, “Traveling in the Breakdown Lane: A Principle of Resistance for Hypertext,” Mosaic 28 (1995): 55-77, 11 Nov. 2006 <http://iat.ubalt.edu/moulthrop/essays/breakdown.html>.

[20] Stuart Moulthrop, “Misadventure: Future Fiction and New Networks,” Style 33 (1999): 184-203, 11 Nov. 01 < http://iat.ubalt.edu/moulthrop/essays/misadventure/>.

[21] Carolyn Guyer, “Buzz-Daze Jazz and the Quotidian Stream,” 04 Apr. 1997

<http://mothermillennia.org/Carolyn/Guyer_Essays.html>.

[22] Sally Munt, “The Lesbian Flâneur,” Mapping Desire: Geographies of Sexualities, eds. David Bell and Gill Valentine, (New York: Routledge 1995) 114-125.

[23] Elspeth Probyn, Outside Belongings, (New York: Routledge, 1996) 10.

[24] The concept of agency is key to the browser’s interaction in textual spaces. The very fact of her movement in these environments—her navigation—is what gives her pleasure in the reading experience and endows her with a limited form of autonomy. Her interactive motions become plot events and constitute what we normally think of as “story.”

[25] Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, trans. Tom Conley (Minneapolis and London: Univ. of Minnesota Press 1993) 17.

[26] Marshall McLuhan and Eric McLuhan, Laws of Media: The New Science, (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press 1988) 6.

[27] Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, (Toronto: Signet, 1964).

[28] Diana Reed Slattery (with Bill Brubaker and Daniel J. O'Neill), Glide: An Exploration of Visual Language. 1997-2001. CD-ROM version courtesy of the author. Some portions online: <http://www.academy.rpi.edu/glide/portal.html>.

[29] Lev Manovich’s definition of the seven modes of dataspace navigation as “linking, searching, sequentialization, hierarchy, similarity, mapping, guides and agents” are also forms of movement. The acts of comparing, sorting or organizing could also be read as formative narratives or foundational frameworks for storytelling. Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, (Cambridge: MIT, 2001) 272.

[30] Nicole Brossard, The Aerial Letter, trans. Marlene Wildman (Toronto: Women's Press, 1988) 91-92.

[31] Oxford English Dictionary (OED), <http://www.oed.com/>.

[32] OED, <http://www.oed.com/>.

[33] Jackson, “bad dreams.”

[34] Jackson, “america.”

[35] Jackson, “mementos.”

[36] Jackson, “her, me.”

[37] McLuhan and McLuhan 47.