Jane's Absolutely Unadulterated WOE Reading Log

J. Yellowlees Douglas

[Mandala] Mandala seems to be the central place: the beginning of something is what the text seems to be saying - introing us to two unnamed protagonists clearly in the throes of something....



[she]: male protagonist looking at partner - reminiscing over what appears to be a lengthy course of their relationship - thinking that no one needs memory when books exist but dogged even as he says this by memory everywhere - a memory of a friend now dead (what's this - by cancer? by murder? business?) - of his own loss of memory, of what their mutual flesh had once been like. scene as the woman/protagonist vacuums a room.

[he]: the female partner in the basement, cleaning out her male partner's pockets, like an overgrown child, in the cellar. Sensory evocation of heat and of daydreams of sugar and milky coolness. Upstairs, the partner is still vacuuming, so these two scenes are continuous - separating out points of view, conveying simultaneity, like two cinema cuts.

[they]: the title is the subject of the first sentence, a fragment. "They" "Claim persistence as a virtue?" begins with "us", then becomes a description of how "they" have become entrepreneurs of balloons, condoms since Filly has discovered a tumor that may inhibit her from ever having children.

[it]: I'm not sure what "it" is - two people in bed talking "(this never happens)" between who? the partners? the lovers? is this the first male protagonist? the woman is not Filly, because in their discussion of impregnating memory with a vaporeware child he refers to "rubes like your friend Filly." She has an old scar from some sort of wound, and he traces the trajectory of an old wound, refers to love as being the body inside out, then they discuss AI as a means for creating surrogate children in memory.

[a]: is the flip side of the conversation in "it", I believe, because it begins with "An orator even flat on his back: why must he always make speeches to me?" What clues lead me here? The man in "it" seems to be orating or oraculating, the woman has a "cooling gelatinous liquid under her hip" - semen, if they were having sex. The woman says her male lover/partner lusts for her sad, sterile friend, she says: she thinks of almost ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, it seems, although the language is so sensory-and associatively loaded that it is difficult to see if she thinks of a sort of abbreviated march of evolution unfolding within the developing embryo that will never be - then she agrees with the remarks made by the man in "it" - that the child would be the sum of products consumed, only she thinks of a tumor that seems like an embryo with a developed penis - then the mention of the semen beneath her, and her sterile friend, sailing through the air (because we know she is a flight attendant?)

[your]: an odd shifting between "us" and "we" posing as a normal American family and "she" - the child of seven talks as if he is "sixty", she worries about him, despite his sing ing of child songs, for his seriousness. The scene is a picnic outdoors somewhere, in summer? who is the family, if the couple in the first segments "he" and "she" have no children - which could be Filly and spouse, since we know she longs for children but may be sterile.

[Their]: The scene is back between the two lovers, the man and woman with the scar - he wonders if she wears a certain perfume because he loves it on Filly. What is the connection between them? Are the two women friends - seems so - but to whom does this man "officially" belong, since we seem to be witnessing some sort of rite of adultery. But these people seem married - they've packed the kids off to see Dick Tracey while they have a bit of rumpy-pumpy and the woman reveals to the man that she believes he's thinking of Filly. He wonders how much the women have shared with each other, wonders about the kids at the film, then wonders again about how much "do you know"? could be rhetorical, could be a real, if unuttered, question.

[his]: This seems to be a flashback, triggered by association between adulterous events - "her husband Steve's voice" interrupts a bit of post-coital lazing. Steve taunts the male protagonist with boasts about conquests while the wife's away - ahh, so the "she" in this case isn't the "she" from the preceding place - because that woman talked of Filly and this woman hears her husband Steve boast that the male protagonist would just love to have Filly fry a steak for him - ergo, this woman must be Filly and the other woman in the preceding place must be the male protagonist's wife...iff the male protagonist is the same in both places. I think. The male prot. is Steve's friend, at any rate, just as Filly sees herself in her friend's bed and husband's arms.

[her]: the same "she" from the American family scene, because Liam reappears and Justin, the boy named in the place where husband and wife lay in bed while the kids are at Dick Tracy. She wonders how the kids would think of a 'guilty' father. Background little narrative embedded about "his" (Justin's?) father wandering home from a matinee at age 6, afraid to be left behind by his teenaged uncle. But use last bit to confirm judgments: "she" prefers Liam to Justin, but Filly prefers Justin, perhaps, "she" thinks, because he reminds Filly of his father, Filly's lover.

[we]: Who is "we" when "We all swim in the water - Justin and Mommy, Daddy and Steve, Filly and me" - is me Liam? we move to "she", presumably mommy - holding "him" about the swell of each wave - precedents, lead me to assume continuity, of that "me" becoming "he" and being "Liam" since I have no others to include in list other than the actors here. Because the wrists are thin and she is able to hold him easily, I still think this is a child. Steve and Justin body surf, then we see "she" walking some distance from him, again description of thighs heavier - the poof of a belly of the man as also described in the "he" hoovering scene. Then "we" are seen as walking up to the car and driving home - mountains and ribbon of highway correspoinding to description at the end of Mandala - "a happy ending." The suspense makes me want to continue reading - the happy ending string seems ironic - not only in light of the adulteries described and web of intricate involvements, but also out of a sense that somehow, either from the sheer dynamics of the interrelationships themselves or from without, things are going to be precipitated to a head - something nasty is about to strike.

[an]: must be part of the hypertextual/metatextual framing which Michael and I discussed recently. What is "the same word occupying the outer border and accompanying the inmost word"? Will I know this only when I've finished and can retrospect over the whole thing. In a sense, IF is a lot like Ulysses, in that it can only be understood in its entirety (and sometimes even in closeup) in the act of retrospection. The pieces of the mosaic occupy our entire field of vision when we stand close to the wall - it is only when we back away that we grasp the overall design and can see the place that each individual piece occupies in the general pattern. Will I see the word - is it "an" since that is the title? - when I examine the cognitive map of WOE? Those teasing, first two references to Finnegans Wake, separated to make two names, if I remember correctly...Annie Oakley was the sharpshooting pioneer - who is Ann Green? Ann of Cleves was the only of Henry's wives to exe-cape the axe - cleverly annulling the marriage for non-consummation - if I can recall my history - or her's, rather.

[and/or]: is this authorial musing - giving us a sample of the stream of consciousness of the hand behind this small labyrinth (only 60 places, after all)? I'm not sure - but I don't have enough information to bring things into better focus without feeling like I'm wending my way through the Wasteland, buffeted at every turn by the need to track down the references. I'll background this...

[was is are]: When I see "already lost once unsaved" - I think somehow of neglecting to save and hitting a bug or a bomb, but, again, this is all very indeterminate, part of the same string I began with "an" - what are the "these" that "assume so little weight"? Is it sequence, places? These are the IF terms we've coined as a holding action, transplanted from other genres and situations and here they refer to other things, but I can't help seeing them referring to this, hypertext metatext, but then again, it's the way I've been trained to perceive.

[wan]: I can see the map now, since it dwarfs the place, and the contents of the place literally seem to grow from it: "sun, moon, eye, wife, death" - where am I to place this, in the web I'm spinning in my own head?

[addition]: Michael's letter to the reader, boldly entitled "Dear Student" meaning perhaps that no one outside academia would tackle this, or that as readers of post-modern texts, we are all students of their disjunctive, complex arrangements of meaning and not simply readers - I dunno. What is this "meditations on words or numbers" - is this the "intention" behind "an" and the he/she pairing in "are was were" ? When I first read this, I see it in the context of the 'mediations" on words and numbers and think immediately of links mediated by guard fields which are numbers or words, but, again, I am projecting here, not receiving, not a tabula rasa or even a proper reader: I feel like a high school student confronted with Yeats' Easter 1916 or "Among Schoolchildren." I didn't feel much better as an adult teaching "Among Schoolchildren." Michael talks of my concept of intention - only I would modify what he says here - I wouldn't say that IF redeems the neglected concept of intention, so much as it justifies our attention to something that has never ceased to be a force in communication - and what is literature if not communication? He goes on to cite Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" as a very direct communication from Whitman to himself, just as this letter is an overt reaching out to the audience that is a fiction at the moment of formulation, yet a reality afterward because it is a fiction . The shift onto adultery and the Wormser image, I suspect, bears on the narrative I began following from Mandala onto "an." Michael ends with noting that if this narrative appears " as I wish it to be" that is open, available for the first time to be appended to and created and erased and alterred by the reader on an equal footing with the author, not restricted to marginalia or mute sympathy or fantastic projection. How far his theoretical stance has come since "Selfish Interactions" - the irony is his take - as embodied in StorySpace and creating 'afternoon' and nearly everything else - has always been here.

[stone sequence]: segment of a journal entry and I wonder - since "wan" seems to indicate this is his journal entry - or is it that I merely take a journal entry to be autobiographical - by default - unless somehow it is indicated to be fictitious, part of the fabric of the narrative, manufactured? This is the case - I think of Fish and the act of perceiving in context....I wonder if the "lost marriage" brooded upon here is the strained marriage unfolding in the narrative - infidelity rife there - or if it is in fact the "crazy" first marriage Michael recalled for me over dinner once. In the end, however, it doesn't matter.

[2/23/75]: the title of this is the same date, I think, I will not go back - I don't want to retrospect too much, this is not a book after all, I can't lay it open on my lap- as the date of the journal entry in "stone sequence": this seems to open more fully the mourning of the lost marriage referred to in the preceding place. Because the Other is referred to as "M" and I know that only the mother in the narrative is unnamed, I wonder if this is her, or if this passage is drawn from Michael's experience and echoes, in some way, the tearing of the marriage in the narrative through infidelity and misunderstanding. At the same time, the promise "Things and people do not go away" makes me reflect on my own situation: I beg to differ - Although they may not go away, Things and People sure as hell do recede - even when they're before you.

[2/25/75]: there isn't a title on this one: it's a scan of two rows of stones in an irregular sahped image which suggests that the larger stones are enclosed in a bed of sorts, only the right hand side of the photograph has been cropped on the scan. The caption reads - if we can call it caption - "Detail is understatement, a student writes."

[2/29/75]: the journal entry continues, "poem through seven drafts. the Invocation. Again the purposeless anger."...

[3/3/75]: the journal continues - chronicling getting used to loss; but the quote from Marx gives me pause: does Marx mean that your capital is your externalized life - meaning the bit that society can make use of? The concept of a greater externalized life at the expense of a store of alienated being reverberates for me, but I'm left uneasily puzzling over the connotation Marx intends for capital - not having read Das Kapital, to my chagrin.

[her]: back to her - I've read this before, and the foregoing, since it hasn't shed directly any light on this particular narrative, doesn't make me see this any differently, the way I did with places in 'afternoon'

[we]: ditto



[was is are]:



[stone sequence]:





[her]: a loop. I don't want to end - I need now to figure out strategies for discovering what I want to about the narrative. I still feel a tension there, which I need to resolve.

[pakora]: discovered by following paths. A scenario in a third world cinema: or simply a movie theatre where Indian films play. A howling child running to his mother amid the din and continual movement. A little letter, like in Herzog, thought in the context of the scenario painted? "I do not believe I can function in the third world," and the thought about the lack of privacy, particularly for the conjugal embrace and the need to scream stifled against a shoulder.

[Nelson]: again, path followed (henceforth PF) "Nelson" refers to Mandela and the T-shirt pictured on the Free Press front page. Again, the metatextual meditation: how the window remained empty, the date and context of the composition, the context of the end in sight: Writing on the Edge. His desire not to let the windows scroll - we've discussed this: I think IF wants to be kinetic; at least I know how I as a reader feel: I want to fucking leap through the thing, jumping from place to place on the fly, scrolling only when fascinated - or when I absolutely have to.

[# 2 of ___]: Default. The continuation of the triumphal procession of Mandela through NYC and Michael's rationale for naming the screen which did not want to be completed "mandela" with the intention of punning on place 1 "mandala", then the association of Ted Nelson - father of hypertext, (sorry, Doug). Then, what is this? a section of the narrative where a woman weeps softly, talking of Col. Higgin's body, and "I" say that "she" shot him - that he wasn't killed by a knife which women generally prefer, but with a gun, shot in the presence of their child who "I've named Innocent to protect him" in the narrative? a real-life identity of someone fictionalized into the narrative I'm about to read?

[#3 of ___]: PF This still seems to continue the meditation of the preceding 2 places - a litany of anger against the narrowness of the own, of American responses to changes in the world, then the heuristic - "the remaining words of the opening sonata (Mandala) are a measure of death. WE count on them. When they are linked, this is done. History." Who is Amy Tan, who says "Fiction is a wild beast" in WOE? Why haven't I come across it? So is this the game plan for the text, to complete this circle? But a mandala isn't a circular figure, in t hat sense, or perhaps it is in the sense that in a mandala, the eye is continually drawn into the center.

[myself here, my wife]: PF - just a few words from a Chas Olson poem


[#3 of ___]: I go back here in order to run down another path

[of]: again, almost stream of consciousness stuff - I remember the woman daydreaming in "her" and see a similarity in the visions here.

[for instance]: PF I'm struck by the similarity of the mother image at the end of this holding the child and the Indian woman cradling the wailing child in the cinema earlier. Who is this cousin who killed then killed herself? Why do I see this: I have only murder and suicide orphaning a child "Who looks like him" as cues - but I gleaned from that _ of # passage that "she shot him" and that the child was named Innocent to protect him. How does these connect up with Justin and Liam? Who is "he"?

[I. Mountain]: PF a poem about autumn, about factories crushing dreams, running on blood.

[Second son in NE]: quote to the effect that a teacher giveshis son only what he gives the sons of other men - not an individual craft or legacy passed down...

[I. Mountain]: PF

[II. Stone]: PF a poem - I background it....

[III. Shell]: PF

[IV. Birds]: a poem - again, I backround it, uncertain where it fits. Each of the path's is entitled "Jera's Poem" who is Jera, the Jeremiah mentioned in that Second son quote, the one about fathers and teachers?

[V. Words]: PF another of "Jera's poems" Is this "You are so like my grandpa, you even look like him somehow relevent to allt he rest? Or should I be expecting something like what Barthes might say, an accumulation of meaning or association, not a narrative slouching toward something....

[water]: A child - seems to be in the context of the Indian children at the cinema because we get "howling dogs staked to chains....everywhere, Anjelica, the cinnamon children breathing."..and a child asking about history with a father who seems to be a teacher. Who are these people?

[for instance]: PF already here, go back to go forward to de rerum... because this place sat over the sequence of paths I began reading a while back...

[de rerum naturam]: someone trying to recall the "simpelst memories of my mother and father or rather all of us together at the table." Is this the child of the dead parents?

[Ponge]: The narrative seems to proceed again, we have Liam and then a brief excursion into parenthesis: speculating on the story taking shape....the narrative of a child without narrative, not often in the journals and never in the early fiction? A reference to the passage in "Water" where the child imagines his father as a contemporary of Andrew Jackson's - the lost son and the orphan....what should I make of "All this happened"? Is this Michael's story, or the narrator's story? Who is Ponge who "writes on these things?" ( And what are these things? We haven't been introduced - Ponge and I. A reference to an academic's judgment of afternoon - a post-modern accumulation inviting the accumulation of meaning. Yes.

[the]: associative bits, intratextual, extratextual - the trinity of muderous wife, dead cousin, orphaned son

[pakora]: PF I've been here - no new context


[pakora]: back to move forward....I've been "their" before...

[for instance]: PF been here too.

[as if]: a memory of the relationship between the narrator and the dead cousin, from different sidesof the tracks from the way that the boys' skates are flagged....the orphaned child named Innocent...where do I put these pieces?


[as if]: back to move forward...

[6/24/90]: the meditation by Michael on how these things all come together in the form of a journal entry: how the infidelity thing emerges, the matinee bit, then movement by association - musing on the geometry of histoire in Tough Guys Don't Dance and how people like Stuart are drawn to hypertext because these are narratives of paranoia, the antithesis of the short story describing worlds of possibility (but IF is supposed, literally, to be about alternaiety, possibility) and how a linked world is what we all long for....I'm not satisfied, yet...I want a more direct link between the orphaned child and the two boys earlier - I don't need a direct match between wife and killer in the two narratives; I just want to resolve them - is the seemingly autobiographical bit the inspiration for spinning a tale of infidelities as its raison d'etre?

TENSION IN A NARRATIVE OCCURS WHEN WE BEGIN READING TO PROVE HYPOTHESES - we pursue not resolution but the proof or disproof of our vision of the narrative and our sense of its development which encourages us to forumulate certain conclusions about it....This is how I feel, reading this, because it makes me prolong my every action to examine it and the motives behind my interpretations and pursuit......Reading as a sort of prolonged foreplay with plenty of interruptions to cool down....

[relic]: getting back to the conversation between the man and woman discussing cloning or embedding in microchips a memory or a re-creation of what any one was once in the past....something more haunting than any reproductive fragment....

[was is are]: PF seem to be looping through places already seen

[clustering]: browsing - mock exam, piss-taking of stream-of-consciousness du Lis- lis= lire= read

[zero]: a list of circles - sexual mostly

[tree]: list - seems to be recollection of icy river and cousin's family


[stone sequence]:


[6/3/90]: more metatextual stuff: Michael meditating on topographic writing on how guard field names describe narrative as Stuart and I saw in afternoon...and how they inevitably come to be read as significant - so that Michael organizes them into clusters which have already come to cluster around water - stumbles across journals and puts them into the work "unmediated" and the diary of inscription - the open text, which puts all the materials before, conceals nothing - although the dates supplied, he says, are approximate lies.

Reading this is hard work - consciously and reflectively bridging so many gaps - reading as conscious and recorded translation. I'll leave off here, this time. Mention some bugs to Michael - if that means anything - how bits of the menu bar have become blanked out by some little box that clearly rests up there but remains all but invisible...


[for instance]:

[directions?]: I find directions with great difficulty: basically, I'm curious to know if I have visited all the places in the piece: why am I? Is it the desire to exhaust all physical places and thereforemy guesses at interpretation more informed? This is how I see it: I don't want to be embarassed by the contents of any places I have not visited. So I become resourceful and feel devious. I exit the Woe reader and remember how, way 'back when I first moused my way through afternoon, I found a filter which literally listed all the places for me, which I used as an index - that's how I happened on the orphaned place Michael had forgotten. The interface has changed, so I change views until I can see the skeleton of WOE laid out before me and a clutch of places I've never seen - although I can recall a link from (I believe it was) addition to Mondrienish, or something of that ilk, so I track down the cluster and dive into the reader again.

Another metatextual bit of musing: Michael refers to the "doubled" family - which seems to clear slightly the ambiguity surrounding the adulterous/murderous families, if we can call them that. This seems to indicate that the intricate web of deceit involving Filly and her unnamed lover and his better half - a little like the triad - or tetrad of lovers in afternoon - are invented from more or less slender real-life snippets; but the 'other' family which in some way mirrors their unhappiness is something carved from Michael's own past - perhaps even evoked by the act of spinning the narrative for WOE - hard to say. The coming to the edge of things - in the water, as Michael notes - interests me, because I had, simultaneously, a desire to press beyond this place while I, at the same time, thought I detected something of a closing cadence in it, a falling off and tying back up with the imagery which WOE opens to in Mandala.

[Mondrienish]: using the Browser

[Notes]: what does he mean: " a geometry of text links which would read as hidden poems" - the names of the links? that the links themselves would look like concrete poetry? And what of "an unsuccessful resolutio of the numbers 60 and 4 gave way to a pattern of ones" - does this mean that he originally intended (ahhh, that word, that word!) to provide four links from each, but ended up with strays with only a single link - this seems extremely dubious, knowing Michael. The places would have links determined by the centrality or marginality of its text; I know the cognitive map - with all its named links and tunnels and nesting - is part of the text, but somehow I don't see it superseding the narrative itself. An artifical distinction theoretically, of course, but in the here and now, the spatial/concrete aspect of these narratives is something we're so unused to dealing with, it will take a good deal of time for us to grow accustomed to using this map with the same facility and degree of deliberateness

[myself here, my wife]: that we use language to generate meaning.




[myself here, my wife]:

[hypertext*]: reads simply "Nelson (196_)" - which might mean, when Nelson "invented" hypertext with Englebart...

[cf., John Barth, "Life]: lines from Barth which mirror what Michael, in sitting down at his CX, attempts with StorySpace - Woe

[ time*]: Now the Nelson had an asterix after the hypertext* title - this "time"* also has one and gives an exact time in 1966 - the time that hypertext was invented


[myself here, my wife]:


[cf., John Barth, "Life]:

[ time*]:

[simplicity*]: functions like a footnote - the starred word "simplicity" in the text of one of the places is modified by a note, nested at the Notes level that says that Michael meant "distant complexity." So, unlike Barthes' writing - where re-thinking and amendation and revision are all invisible, here, we have something like speech - all of Michael's text hanging out in the breeze, completely and utterly open, like a particularly rich, mesmeric narrative conceived extempore, before our eyes, with the persistence of print text and the complexity of post-modern narrative in it.





[stone sequence]:

[glas]: more metatext - insight into the conception of the IF in three dimensions - the ideal of every word being linked - and the links with directors' names: Ray (maybe not just Satyajit, but also Nicholas) Satyajit, Huston.....


[murders]: Is this Michael musing about his own past? It seems like this to me - there is a different tone that I recognize, I think.Who is F - seems to be Michael's cousin - but are there two murders:" M's sister's murder"? Who is the "coefficient cousin, the suicide's dark daughter"? What does he mean by "simple memory"? Or by the "shared dreams" 'she' talks about. And why does she ask: "Which one do you imagine the child?" Does this build off the longing to hold/be held - like a child?

[the railroad]: Now the 'I' seems to have become 'he' - although the thought is continuous from the preceding place...although, since I have arrived here via the Browser (not wanting to lose hold of these places I have not seen before), I'm not certain that one is linked to the other - I'll check...but, at any rate, the text is continuous..."when I say the child..is you."


[the railroad]: WEll, two links from murders take us to "the railroad", so, yes, I'd say that most readers will encounter these two in ordered sequence...the concept of "shared dreams" gets modified/clarified somewhat by a reference to Fuentes' The Old Gringo - like Ambrose Bierce trying to fuse dreams with Ellen Winslow. We're back at "we" - presumably the I and she from "murders" - and a pun on the top of the WTC and Windows on the World. I still want my hypothesis confirmed, or at least not hanging foolishly on threads of gossamer, mere supposition...

[6/17 Father's Day]: "when I have exhuasted the number of words in the mandala, I will link the texts of all the nodes" - if a manadala consists of concentric, geometric forms pulling the eye inward, what does he mean by words in the mandala....which seem to be finite, if he anticipates exhausting them. So here we move from anger at the commercial bits to something like Father's Day, to a child's fear of his going away, which turns him back, toward the orphaned child's pov, the murdered cousin - the movement through C-Span and the aleatory two cameras capturing narratives without moving - like McDaid's camcorder....The reader wants what life will not give him: tidy significances, reverberations that have subjects and margins, neatly ruled links and economy, above all, economy - no happenstance, nothing wasted - it all adds up to something - even Eliot's fragments can all be shored up (with an assist from his fucking footnotes) if one is diligent enough. Even when our desires run counter to this, when we delight in Pynchon's leaving off before we discover the McGuffin in The Crying of Lot 49 or the openness of Truffaut and all the expressionistic work in the world, it is hard to unlearn what growing up with print and our genres has done to us - made us into Barthesian detectives seeking out discernible geometries.

What the hell can we do?

[6/18 a.m.]: My query is" has M's sister really been murdered then? Is there a mirroring of cousin/sister murders, or something? Who is "S"? Is "M" Martha, or are these intials, too, part of the "approximate lies"?

This, then, is the open work, truly - all its inspirations and converted moments and imagined narrative (the narrative with Steve and Filly and Justin and Liam is there in "relic" all neatly connected and compactly laid out ) bracketed by admissions about the design and context in which the work is laid out, the decisions and impulses behind, snippets of the scenarios unfolding as it is written - written into it in both fiction and open avowal - I've covered all the places - the layers here are not the stratigraphic layers of afternoon - where one got closer and closer to an elemental, complete picture of the goings-on between all actors - so much as it is, well, topographic? revealing the process of its own production, its intertextuality, its beginnings and influences - the text finally as "and/and/and" with nothing, no decision or impulse left out - and not as the proverbial "either/or" of print writing. If afternoon is what the Alexandria Quartet really wanted to be, then Woe is Lost in the Funhouse written in three dimensions, not one.

[Back to the Writing on the Edge special section, 1991 index.]