INTERVIEW: MICHAEL JOYCE
When did you first become aware of the possibilities of hypertext fiction?
The first time I used a word processor I became dimly aware that its ability to move things that "should" be on page 60 from where they appeared, say on page 220, suggested the possibility of writing a story that changed each time you read it. A story where what should be appears in different places under different circumstances. We had built a system for writing these kinds of fiction (Storyspace) before I heard the word, hypertext.
What are its strengths as a literary form?
I'm tempted to say its realism, how truly it lets us render the shifting consciousness and shimmering coherences and transitory closures of the day-to-day beauty of the world around us. Hypertext is equal to the complexity and sweetness of living in a world populated by other, equally uncertain, human beings, their dreams, and their memories.
What are its weaknesses?
Oh, the chief weakness is that it is thus far anchored to a slab of plastic and some sort of power source (all puns intended). But that's not a weakness of the literary form, I guess. In my mind all literary forms are composed in and of our weaknesses. This one has the weaknesses of poetry, which it is most similar to.
Is it possible that it's an intermediate step to something else, and, if so, what might that something be?
There's a question fit for philosophy. All our steps are intermediate. This one seems to be veering toward television, god help us, perhaps even television imprinted on your eyeballs. I put my trust in words. Propellor heads talk about how we won't need stories, we'll have new, virtual worlds, but soon those new worlds, too, will have stories which we won't think we need and we will need words to put them into.
What sort of advice would you have to young writers approaching hypertext fiction for the first time?
Avoid links, look to music. Hyperfiction isn't a matter of branches but rather of the different textures of experience into which language (and image) leads us. Hyperfiction is like sitting in a restaurant in the murmur of stories, some fully known, some only half-heard, among people with whom you share the briefest span of life and the certainty of death.
MICHAEL JOYCE's hypertext fictions include the novels, afternoon and Twilight, A Symphony, and shorter fictions including WOE, Lucy's Sister and the Web fiction Twelve Blue. This interview first appeared in Rebel Yell (1998).