"Terminal Hopscotch": Navigating Networked Space in Talan Memmott's Lexia to Perplexia
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"Terminal Hopscotch":
Navigating Networked Space in Talan Memmott's Lexia to Perplexia

If the reader is patient enough to make it to the final episodes of Lexia to Perplexia, digital artist Talan Memmott's beautifully intricate piece of electronic literature, at some point she will encounter a puzzling image. Comprised of animated layers of computer code, checkerboard backdrops, cryptic prose, and a stick figure drawn in chalk, this image depicts a palimpsest-like environment that threatens to spin out of control. At this moment, the reader will participate in its wild oscillation by moving her mouse around the screen in an effort to find a gateway or portal to the next segment, having learned that active searching is the only way to proceed through the text. For her efforts, she will be rewarded not with a new section, a sense of closure, or a formal denouement; rather, her participation here will involve playing what Memmott has referred to as "terminal hopscotch," a looping sequence of animations that unfold ad infinitum, or at least until the reader chooses to withdraw ("Active/onBlur").

Created for the trAce Online Writing Community's annual conference in 2000, Lexia to Perplexia consists of four sections divided into a series of thickly layered Web pages, each of which leads to further layers before linking to a new page. The text is a mixture of DHTML and JavaScript, which, when strung together, forms a fragmented narrative visually complemented by empty grids, snippets of source code, and cluttered signs of death and [End Page 493] mourning.1 Like many examples of electronic literature or digital poetry, Lexia to Perplexia emerges from a variety of artistic traditions: it is a visual poem, a linguistic experiment, and a piece of executable code all in one. It is a technological collage performed on a computer screen, filled with references to various media forms while settling exclusively on none. Yet there are many things that Lexia to Perplexia is not. It is not a linear narrative, yet through a sustained interaction with the piece, an abstract sort of "story" emerges. It does not contain a set series of causal sequences, yet any path through this image-laden text is causally dependent upon the decisions the user makes in response to its interface. It is not a story in which a single "main character" functions as a center of narration, yet the piece is suggestive [End Page 494] of a subjective amalgam, a stitched-together entity that has joined itself to a network. Nor does the piece fit entirely within the tradition of the avant-garde in the visual arts—even as its operative and interactive features, which express an unusual sort of seeing that might be termed "networked perspective," resonate in many ways with Marcel Duchamp's attempts to deter the "retinal shudder" that results from traditional manners of representation (qtd. in Ades et al. 70). Yet although this intriguing text borrows from, mixes, and remediates various artistic traditions, it deserves special attention as a piece of literature, not only in terms of its syntax and its play with words, but in terms of the way the work emerges from a long literary tradition of aligning external spaces with the interior landscape of the self. In short, Lexia to Perplexia is a work that needs to be read.

In her analysis of Lexia to Perplexia in Writing Machines, N. Katherine Hayles opens the door for such a literary approach by highlighting the manner in which Memmott creates an anonymous protagonist resigned to a divided and encoded existence that the computer interface and distributed network have made inevitable. Hayles's convincing argument is that in Lexia to Perplexia, human subjectivity is depicted as intimately "entwined" with computer technologies (49), and that this entwinement is achieved through Memmott's use of "idiosyncratic language, a revisioning of classical myths, and a set of coded images that invite the reader to understand herself as a permeable membrane through which information flows" (49-50). Hayles's analysis addresses the unique character of Memmott's project in such a way as to shed light upon digital art as a whole, providing ample evidence to support...