The Unknown: The Red Line.
  After "A Night at the Cybertexts" at DAC 2001, we retired to our room at the Marriott to read and discuss “Internet Hyperfiction: Can It Ever Become a Popular Art Form that is Also Innovative?”—a dissertation about our work written by Nikolaj Fournaise Jensen, a student at the University of Copenhagen. Enervated by the performance, and still experiencing the warm intestinal glow of a round of scotch enemas administered by Shelley Jackson, we spoke candidly about Jensen’s scholarship, finding that we agreed on some points but not others. The room was a circle of burning Nat Shermans backed by the three of us, as well as Eric Rasmussen and Traekner and Komninos Zervos, who was videotaping our discussion. Eventually Zervos would attempt to blackmail us, having obtained digital video of the enemas as well as other footage which was simply incriminating, and certainly embarrassing, but we happened to know facts about his bathtub he had confessed to us, and we threatened to put that information directly into this scene if his digital video ever ended up on the web. There have been rumors of a bootleg CD of the whole sordid affair, but so far we’ve not run into anyone who will admit to having seen it. Let’s keep it that way, shall we Kom?

Scott: I think it’s clear that while this dissertation certainly goes a long way towards giving The Unknown the critical attention it definitely deserves, that what is really needed now is another dissertation that will answer the challenge Mr. Jensen has thrown down.

William: That’s not very gracious, Scott. You’re already consigning this work to someone else’s Works Cited page.

Scott: Don’t get me wrong. I admire this study immensely, it’s just that those who refuse to repeat history are condemned to never have their star hung in the firmament.

Nick: What?

Shelley: It’s the scotch talking.

Scott: . . . and frankly, next time we do a reading, we’ve got to find some way of preventing the audience from calling out links before we even get a chance to read anything. What I suggest is that every seat be wired in such a way that we could administer an electric shock to any audience member who had an itchy link finger . . .

Kom: Link finger? Is that some Yank term?

Scott: Yeah, I just invented it. You know, like a trigger finger. Or should it be itchy mouse finger? Click finger?

William: Technically, the audience doesn’t use their fingers at all . . .

Scott: It’s a metaphor, man! Who ever heard of trigger lips? Or a trigger tongue? Or trigger larnyx?

Shelley: I knew someone once who had a trigger tongue.

Scott: Tell me again about your body.

Shelley: Funny you should ask.

Kom: I type with my tongue. You will not be programmed. You will not be programmed. YOU. WILL. NOT. BE. PROGRAMMED.

[Rob Wittig enters, after knocking on the door and being admitted by one freaked-out Nick Montfort, who has recently realized that all the readers for his planned panel discussion ‘Command, Line, Interface’ in Austin, Texas, at the Zork 2002 conference have not yet gotten in their Aesthetic Statement statements.]

Shelley: I have typed with my tongue as well.

Rob: Typing with tongue is a clear manifestation of the cultural effects that email are having on our love lives. It actually calls to mind something that one of the medieval troubadour poets said in 1348, a Frenchman by the name of Molieeeepinstro. Which reminds me, what do you guys, just a thought, think of having a writing event in which we all steal compact discs from the Providence Borders, I’m thinking maybe the latest Cat Power, and then write sestinas on them, on the physical media, in fountain pens, the rhyme scheme not being exact but produced in real time, and then returning them to the store and then videotape the people while they purchase the items and then immediately afterwards interview them regarding their thoughts about the idea of sampling versus the portrayed idea of piracy sort of implicit in the Napster model of music distribution?

William: Dude.

Shelley: Do you have any olives stuffed with pimentos?

Dirk: Shelley? I have a question for you.

Shelley: What?

Dirk: Um, could you again?

Shelley: Oh sure. Roll over. Pass me the bourbon, Eric.

Scott: I think the weakest parts of the dissertation tend to focus on The Unknown in comparison to other works. Really unfair comparisons, apples and oranges.

Dirk: And the fact that he somewhat tenuously, oh god yes, that’s . . . oh, places us, in a, ooh that tickles, places us in a position where our metafictional bullshit is somewhat, um, that’s it, that’s it. Wow, you can really feel that in the membranes.

William: Not right now, thanks Shel.

Dirk: The guy defends us as somehow being an antidote to the kind of tongue-wagging theory-laden drivel that we are in fact a part of.

Scott: . . . inescapable during this historical moment and I’d imagine some brilliant young dissertation writer, who knows, Jean Van Looy, perhaps you Eric, will pick up the ball on this. But I admit I admire Nikolaj for taking the first step.

Nick: Beg your pardon?

Scott: Not you, Nick. Though the Tech Review thing was good journalism.

Shelley: Scott, don’t do anything embarrassing.

Scott: Such as?

Dirk: Touch me now.

Nick: I wish you guys would start to work in a little second order computing, conversation interface.

Shelley: High seriousness will get you nowhere.

Nick: Shelley, have you seen the hot tub? It’s really cozy.

Komninos: The feather boa is adding a lot to the shot, work it, Shelley, work it. And how did you get that mark on your thigh?

Nick: My god. This is the closest I’ve come to seeing another man fellated.

Shelley: You can let things come to you, you know. You needn’t always charge madly after them.

[William scribbles furiously on a note pad. Shelley leans over and giggles.]

Eric: . . . and where do they get off with these draconian liquor laws? Is that a Puritan thing? Nowhere to buy beer at midnight?

Komninos: . . . performance is at the heart of it, really. Multimedia only adds glamor to the grammar.

Scott: Nonetheless, critical differences aside, we owe the guy at least one beer, don’t you think?

Rob: This all reminds of a fragment from Engines of Desire, legs parted, the wind whistling through the wind, the smells of sex and perfume intermingling, faith and destiny on a collision course, caviar spilled across a milky white thigh, stoking the engines, moving ever faster, feather boa draped carelessly into a glass of champagne, furious abandon.

Dirk: . . . unaware of when Beckettian repetition becomes a meaningless chant, a reversion to simple staple characteristics. Where is the art in that?

Scott: . . . can’t deny the value of some familiar tropes. The rebirth of vaudeville in an open system, a text without delination, sans closure.

Shelley: Would you just stop?

Nick: Would rub your ass with loofah, would sing to you as troubadour, would . . . [falls over]

William: Well, I think that Jensen’s analysis of The Unknown is quite good. That’s about as closely as I’ve ever been read. It tickles. And I agree that the weakest part of his scholarship was his efforts to dismiss other hypertext works. He should have just written about us. Notice how he manages to address all my contributions to The Unknown, in the half-page devoted to how we’re deeply politically committed socialists. Now that took a magnifying-glass-close reading to discover. Elsewhere he refers to The Unknown as an “anti-bourgeoisie novel.” In that respect, I think he may have been reading too close. Or reading something else by mistake. We love the bourgeoisie, we’re just a little jealous sometimes. I would have loved to see Jensen challenge himself by going into more detail about, say, our link structure. I guess what I’m really looking for is a Skeleton Key to The Unknown in which the complicated intertextual references underlying every single comma were brought to light. Something like that would pave the way for the next generation of Unknown scholars to arrive at complicated interpretations of intentions they believe to be ours. I’d really like to see some kind of VRML 3-D model of the entire novel, with a mathematical anaylsis of the complex numerology underlying the way scenes link to each other.

There was a sudden crash as Komninos pushed the television set through the window. He and Shelley stood by the window and their faces were lit from below as the tube exploded.


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