Aug 072015
 

The Faulkner hypertext that I’ve been making in Tinderbox and that I’ve spoken about a few times is now online.

It’s far from perfect, but that’s fine. It’s my first stab at this kind of writing and I wrote it as an experiment. I wanted to discover what was involved in writing something that 1) could be read in various sequences, 2) by someone sitting at a computer. I also wanted to find out 3) if I could, at the end, when the writing was finished, produce something that could be posted online. Or was that all-important final step beyond me?

Importantly, none of these had anything to do with Faulkner. So why choose him as a subject? Well, because I already had a text close at hand. Working with it, I expected I’d be able to focus on the three concerns above right away without worrying too much about the basic writing problems involved in going from nothing to something.

As it turned out, this choice had one additional advantage: I know what it took to pull material from so many different sub-field of research into a coherent, linear structure. I remember the difficult choices required and the pattern I struggled to develop and then to work within. Making the hypertext involved breaking that pattern, undoing those choices in order to create a different structure. The difference was vivid as I worked, sometimes to the point of being overwhelming.

The Hypertext

What I have online right now is not in the end what I expected and my worries are not those that I had anticipated. Still, it’s a first ever attempt to do something like this and I’m fine with it.

My concerns? The hypertext is incomplete if by complete, I mean “containing the information in my dissertation.” I did have dreams early on of having everything, but it was a waste of time to work toward that. I could lose my life rewriting and reordering a text I was done with (concretely and intellectually) years ago. Then a few days ago, I realized I was avoiding number three above: export. Deep down, I didn’t expect to be able to come up with anything usable from my Tinderbox file and that was going to be a crushing blow. I was avoiding the moment when it would hit.

So I bit the bullet, cut materials, linked back from dead ends where I found them, left quite a few long notes I’d planned to break up whole, and then last night (less than 24 hours ago!) sat down to see what I could get out of my Tinderbox file.

It was a revelation.

Tinderbox’s export is jaw-droopingly, amazing. I have never written HTML to create a web page, much less a site. Yet with an HTML/CSS book at hand as reference and few hours work Tinderbox spit out the pages currently online. Are they beautiful? No. But that’s me not having any sense of web colours and fonts (because zero practice, duh). And better yet, export is so easy that revisions of the site are no big deal. I made several before going to bed.

All of which means I now know that I can write in Tinderbox, and Tinderbox will give me sturdy, legible pages to post when I’m ready. That’s a game changer!

Source v. Hypertext

I’ve noticed that the hypertext makes the contribution I offer in my dissertation implicit rather than overt. For my project, I didn’t discover a lost text or dig through a trove of recently discovered letters or manuscripts. I took three marginal segments of Faulkner studies coordinated their linked parts and set the whole within its biographical and historical context. The result was a clarification of how an important but misunderstood part of his development as a writer worked.

Here’s the thing: the hypertext links I created often replaced the transitional material I had used to explain and coordinate material. As a result, what had been a slide show became a room with various things on separate (but related) display. Illustration was in a sense replaced by collage. That’s interesting but leaves the hypertext feeling a bit obvious to me.

I do, now that I’m done, have some concerns about the scholarly apparatus of the hypertext. I adapted my dissertation text with an eye to learning about hypertext, not because of a burning need to create an online Faulkner resource for the globe.I tried to play nice with quotation marks and citations, yes, but I’ve realized that some citations have disappeared in pages I worked on in the early weeks. There are probably others I haven’t noticed, and so, I’ve felt compelled to point out in the hypertext that the dissertation is the scholarly statement not the web site, a hedge but one I can’t live without.

First Impressions

  • Clicking through things last night, I realize that I agonized over structural questions as I was putting this thing together but that on the web, structure is hard to make present. For the moment, the posted text feels like a “resource” rather than an “argument” to me. Perhaps this is inevitable given that as I created possibilities for where to go next, I had to create links for those who arrived without info they needed and I couldn’t assume they had. The result is a link structure that feels very flat to me. The “hubs” I’d created, which allowed me to assume that, whatever path readers took to get here, beyond this point they know at least x, y & z, are largely non-operative. I’d like to think that’s a product of the last few days rapid link-building aimed at closing down the loose ends, but it may not be.
  • The hypertext reads online as much smaller than it is. Shockingly so. This is exciting—because it means there is more space than I imagined to write within—but also, I feel stunned: how much do you have to write to create work that feel large?
  • What I have now, feels readable and navigable (not to be confused with interesting or useful!), which makes me very happy. Until last night I had no idea that I would ever get to the point where I had something I could post a link to.

So yes, I’m very very happy. The experiment is done. I now know that Tinderbox HTML export is unbelievably, mind-blowingly easy and effective.

And so I feel free to sit down and write for real.

Wow. I’m going to say that again: I feel free to write. What a great day.

 August 7, 2015  Hypertext Tagged with: ,
Aug 032014
 

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on the hypertext I took on as a summer project. It’s been an eye-opening experience and I’d like to jot down some observations informally for later. These are in addition to some earlier thoughts.

The Project

I’m making an online presentation of the argument and research from my dissertation, but I don’t want to create an ordinary web site in the sense of a menu or search driven collection of resources. Instead, I want to offer something that someone could actually read and that, as they move from page to page, unfolds only aspects of the story that are of interest to them.

Despite what I’ll say below, things are going well and I’m excited. I have a third (maybe a bit more) of the thing done and the way I’m working is already very different from what I planned and imagined as I began: it seems that there’s life in the beast and so I’m letting it show me what to work on and when. I’ve also accepted that this is an experiment, everything’s new to me, and whatever I might dream up, things are not going to be perfect if I ever want to finish.

Things I’ve Noticed

  1. How do I decide to link: I imagine the questions people will ask as they read then link to the answer. Rinse, repeat.
  2. I’m cutting texts to the size of the screen and adapting language to multiple audiences. This changes the originally academic prose drastically. There are still deep places where academic guts are exposed and the language rumbles along with the mannered rhythms of a conference paper. Those who are interested will find these places easily enough. But hopefully, it will be just as easy for others to read Faulkner’s story in engaging prose without ever visiting these places. If I pull this double-language off, I will be very very happy.
  3. Scale matters. Without enough “nodes” in play, links feel like icing, like an add-on. Once enough nodes are in play though, links serve a purpose and feel essential, like a line thrown out and tied off to keep loose things whole. With enough nodes in play, I have a standard for deciding what works and what doesn’t: does this link keep things from breaking or my head above water? Good. Then, what about this one? When I start asking these questions, a lot of my small-scale, links-to-have-links are deleted.
  4. When linking materials, the complexity eventually settles down, becomes clear and “flows.” But only after a cruel march through spirit-crushing complication. How do I know things are right? A jumble of material suddenly runs like water through a system of canals. How do I know I’m not quite there? Things that used to make sense have become so complicated and confused I’m ready to throw in the towel. It’s brutal.
  5. Words have momentum and writing words in a hypertext is as involved and as intimate as drafting and revising words for printed text. It takes time and effort and attention to detail. I hadn’t expected this and in an act of pure insanity chose to resurrect 100,000 words that I thought I was done with and had stashed away years ago. This too is brutal, and when I’m done, I’m staking the dissertation and scattering the ashes.
  6. I don’t actually care if anyone reads all the pieces of this thing, which surprises me. I want people to read what interests them, to find what they need, maybe something unexpected, and then when they are satisfied, to leave. I imagine myself creating possibilities for useful partial readings, and that feels like a better way to write (which is another surprise).

The Topic: William Faulkner’s MGM Screenplays

My dissertation and the hypertext are about William Faulkner’s screenwriting during his first Hollywood contract at MGM Studios.

Faulkner’s reputation is based upon his novels and short stories, but he wrote in Hollywood for more than twenty years. That first year is special though. He was learning the ropes, and to do so, he adapted his own fiction for the screen, something he rarely attempted again and never with such commitment.

My dissertation looks at how Faulkner changed his source stories in response to Hollywood storytelling conventions and emerging censorship. And because he returned to and used these same stories when writing subsequent fiction, I also indicate the ways these adaptations produce important changes in his style that critics associate with his later works.

More info to come…

 August 3, 2014  Hypertext Tagged with: ,
Jun 062014
 

My big project this summer is to create a non-fiction hypertext. I have a subject. I have the material. I even have some initial ideas about form.

Obviously I’ll make the thing in Eastgate’s Tinderbox. I can’t imagine organizing multiple paths through my materials—some narrative, some analytic, some argumentative—without its maps, outlines, aliases, and everything else.

But I also have a worry: HTML is fundamental to Tinderbox and HTML export is carefully explained in the manual, but I’m intimidated. Once I’ve created the hypertext I will I be able to get it online?

“You’ll figure it out.”

That’s what I’m telling myself: “Make it now, and when it’s time, you’ll figure it out.” But it’s unsettling.

More news to come…

 June 6, 2014  Hypertext Tagged with: , ,
Jan 052014
 

the long tomorrowThe Long Tomorrow is a sci-fi novel from 1955 by Leigh Brackett. After a nuclear holocaust, Americans decide high population cities invite attack and outlaw large settlements. So post-apocalyptic America becomes a world of Amish and Mennonite communities. Obviously, there a people who resist and children who want more than farm life. What follows is a story of boys finding a radio and using it to connect with an illegal technological community deemed heretical by their family and friends. Stoning or bonfires or simply beatings are meted out by religious mobs the boys keep escaping. Ultimately, I didn’t find this future-as-early-19th century storyline very appealing.

One thing: Brackett worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter and collaborated with Faulkner on the screenplay for The Big Sleep. According to her memoires, they adapted alternating chapters without consulting with each other and without ever seeing each other’s work. (Or at least, without her ever seeing Faulkner’s.)

 January 5, 2014  Book Logs Tagged with: ,
Feb 122012
 

Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move. This is the artist’s way of scribbling “Kilroy was here” on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass.

–William Faulkner

 Faulkner on Kilroy  February 12, 2012  Commonplace Book Tagged with: , ,