Alice’s Adventures in Hypertext

Adrienne Dodt, Series Contributor

Adrienne’s series “Digital Landscapes” is about navigating hypertext.

&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c., a poetic hypertext by Cynthia Spencer and Zoe Addison, follows one character, Alice, as she navigates exterior and interior spaces.

Characters named Alice always hearken back to Lewis Carroll’s titular character from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice is a totemic figure for girls, especially those who have experienced drugs or mental illness: to go on a trip, to go on a journey of the mind, to fall down the rabbit hole. Indeed, Spencer & Addison’s text includes both heroin and self-injury.

In another sense, however, the journey that both Alices experience can relate to gender relations in general: that women exist in a world without control over that world. Women (that is, people that society deems “women”) have to constantly struggle against a world that does not permit agency, that acts upon them.

In &c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c., one page simply states:

“Alice sat quietly filling space.”

Women are expected to be small, to not take up space. Men will encroach upon a woman taking up too much space. I experience this constantly when riding the train: men will always sit next to me, even when there is an empty seat next to another man who is carrying nothing. They “put me in my place,” demand that I take up less space by virtue of designating me “woman.” Through most of the poem, Alice is alone, so she has the ability (though not always the psychological wherewithal) to take as much space as she wants.

This is disrupted by the character of “the man”:

“There is a piece of paper. The piece of paper has a picture on it of a man.
The man is to be feared. She fears the man.
She cannot climb down the hillcrest where the man is waiting to be feared by her.”

Alice then goes in the opposite direction of her intended destination to avoid the man. Women are the ones who have to change direction to avoid danger, specifically masculine danger. The men who are dangerous have the privilege to exist wherever they want. It is women who must circumvent.

Spencer and Addison’s Alice is not only encroached upon by people, but by the natural world:

“Now, she is experiencing blueberries”

The act of eating becomes passive, as though the blueberries were the real actors in this scene. And:

“Horizon is approaching”

She does not move; the horizon does.

“She keeps the clouds from her eyes
with the ease of a habit. Then the water
breathes her into the little parts of her sigh,
salting both the precarious object and the price charged with it.”

The natural world, then, has agency and acts upon people, who are rendered objects. One can liken this to many natural disasters in which people are swept away or flung or electrocuted. Alice is a part of the world, but she is also subsumed by that world.

The journey is also through the text. There are multiple links on most pages, so one could travel many paths, circle around, and pick another link. Words blink into other words, black boxes show words when one mouses over (and the words change when moused over again), words that disappear, backgrounds that “blink”— quickly changing from white to gray then white like lightning. The links loop the reader around a lot. The reader will take one path and circle back to where ze began. The subject/reader can only respond to a world that doesn’t always make sense, that is always changing. The reader is taken for a ride.

One page, “linger,” shows “A square/of ashes.” Above, if one mouses over some white space, the phrase “a  l i s t  o f  b l a c k b i r d s” which is a repeating phrase throughout the poem, appears. If one mouses over “A square/of ashes.”, it disappears and two more stanzas appear: “An irretrievable/solemnity.” on the left and “Three broken/twigs.” on the right. One can only see one stanza at a time because when one mouses over either stanza, it disappears and displays the other one. Both stanzas, though, are one link. The reader expects two choices between these stanzas, but there is only one. (However, “a  l i s t  o f  b l a c k b i r d s” is also a link— more on that in a minute.) The fork in the road is a mirage; there is actually only one. It is a sort of deterministic “there is only one path” sense that the reader receives from this world.

Another set of nodes does something similar. On the page “an-experiment2,” there are four black boxes in a grid, and the reader can mouse over and see, from top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right: “Her head felt heavy/like honey, and” “her fingers did not /want to move.” “She thought anyone/who interrupted” “was a nuisance.”

There are two links out of this page, out of seemingly four links. If one clicks either of the top squares, one is taken back to the same page. They are links that go nowhere. “her fingers did not /want to move.” takes the reader to another grid. All boxes say “Not much caring if/she failed,” and mousing over makes “she did not want to/ move.” The first phrase irretrievably disappears and is replaced with “Oh.” Clicking any of these boxes takes the reader to one single black box that says, “Oh.

Going back to that first grid, on “an-experiment2,” “was a nuisance.” changes to “a  l i s t  o f  b l a c k b i r d s” when moused over a second time. On the next page, “grain,” there are two choices: the blackbird sequence (which is separate) or another sequence beginning with the word “pearl.”

Regardless of these choices, one ends up at this page:

This is where the paths actually diverge into several paths and sub-paths. After one continuous path, there are suddenly many, many choices. The reader is overwhelmed (or at least this reader was) with the freedom of movement within this space and one must overcome one’s sense of linearity in order to read the text.

UNLESS one follows the blackbirds, which, through following several links with “a  l i s t  o f  b l a c k b i r d s,” brings the reader back to the original grid on “an-experiment2.” It is a loop; the blackbird circles, and the reader circles with it. The blackbird is a sort of spirit animal, but then it does not allow for flying away/escape. At another point in the hypertext, Alice performs a ritual on a crow which had died by flying into a window. The spirit animal is, itself, a spirit by virtue of being dead. The blackbird cannot lead the reader outside, as though it were circling its own carcass.

In sum, &c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c. takes the reader through a ritual of space, a journey through interiority and exteriority, examining the subject as object.

Adrienne Dodt is a poet and essayist. Adrienne’s work can be found in The Body Electric anthology and Fact-SimileApothecaryCon/Crescent, and Monkey Puzzle magazines. Ze is a member of The Next Objectivists poetry collective in Chicago. Ze was the Poetry Editor for Bombay Gin magazine in 2008-2009, and ze edited the Next Objectivists’ chapbook Collective Unconsciousnesses in 2011. Adrienne currently teaches English at City Colleges of Chicago.

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