The Unknown: The Purple Line.

The Hypertextual Borderlands of The Unknown

By Cynthia Nitz Ris, B.A., M.A., J.D., Ph.D.

Representations, as Stanley Fish has said, and as Angela McRobbie said in “The Politics of Feminist Research,” are interpretations. And those interpretations in turn are not, of course, mirror images of some objective reality, but exist as a result of what McRobbie has called “a whole set of selective devices, such as highlighting, editing, cutting, transcribing and inflecting.” She could have been talking about the representations found in The Unknown that, thanks to its digressions, links, dialogues, and more links, cut and paste a white male world that exists partly in the imagination and partly in the real life road show of four authors who trumpet their virility almost as often as they do their writing.

It’s about messianic proclamations, assassinations, sex, drugs, literary theory, sex, life’s boundless angst, drugs, name-dropping, intertextuality, meta-writing, sex, art, art imitating life, life imitating art, drugs, and sex. Perhaps I’m overemphasizing art. But, in keeping with the tone of some of The Unknown, seriously folks, I jest. In fact, I’m almost caught up in The Unknown’s infinite jesting, and would laugh my way through the many lines, the frequent conversations, the seemingly infinite digressions, except that I feel myself to be the lone female (except for Marla, one author’s love interest and [Katie], often in brackets—the lone, exceptional female significant contributor who is kept—only figuratively?—constrained).

Settings include Hugh Hefner’s mansion and “The Liquid Kitty.” While names of male powerhouses are bandied about, including Pynchon, Coover, Chomsky, and Krass-Mueller, female names are dropped like bombs that explode as the authors run off the page. Boom! Julia Child is vomited upon. Blast! A Playboy bunny (known by number, not name) is renamed Catharine MacKinnon. Denise Levertov, Audre Lorde, and a host of other females are dissed and dismissed, while the quartet trade quips about their latest sexual exploits. One sings a new kind of “blowin’ in the wind” song where he’d like a little, together with a Pabst and some beef jerky. Another chastises his friends for interrupting the sex, make that the really good sex, he had with his unnamed girlfriend (hey, some things just aren’t important). Yet another urges himself to “rise up;” by this point, can we really believe it’s only in the psychological or resurrectional sense?

And yet there are glimmers of humanity. Planting grass (the green type intended for mowing) with some neighborhood kids in Chicago; the thoughtful author who quotes Susan Brownmiller and waits outside Hefner’s mansion where he only peeks at the lugubrious undertakings of his compatriots; the art that our bracketed Katie has sensitively portrayed. And yet, and yet. . . . Debates are “pecker measuring” ones, a link to “my mother” only recounts acid hits and mass confusion, capitalist male icons the likes of Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg are sprinkled throughout the text, and the United States is described as a woman with oil refineries under her armpit and marijuana “in her pubes.” One of the first extended reprintings of portions of The Unknown is to be found in a new Chicago magazine, No Time, whose ads feature women’s crotches and whose art “rejoices” in women’s breasts. Boys, boys, boys.

The brilliance that shines through the hypertext novel/book tour, the metaphysical ramblings, the documentary sections, and the other “lines” of this site make the reader want to join you on your flight. Yet the landscape of The Unknown brings to mind Sandra Harding’s article “Reinventing Ourselves as Other,” in which she supports Susan Bordo’s idea that “‘the view from nowhere’ is generated by those who can afford the luxury of the ‘dream of everywhere.’” For here we luxuriate sharing the dreams of a privileged group which roams from everything to everybody; from virtually everywhere the authors romp in the country and across the links of the hypertext. And yet the question arises whether this culminates in a view from nowhere when members of a dominant group are permitted to interpret their lives, their adventures, their obsessions with glory, fame, sex, and power, as representative of the human. Those of us Others who have our alternative realities are left on the outskirts, speaking as “female literary critics” or “gay interest groups” or “African American critics” or any one of a number of groups whose lives and concerns are considered by omission and overwhelming obfuscation to be less legitimate because they contradict the situated narrative of the authors. It’s the “God trick,” as Donna Haraway would call it, and I’m not referring to the messianic cult leader of The Unknown, but rather the tendency by all The Unknown authors to see their reality as the only reality, known or unknown.

Of course, the authors would claim they may only be incidentally male and white; they, too, are also socially situated within groups traditionally considered to be the Other—the poor, the literary, the artists. True, but it would appear that they are leading with certain parts of their anatomy that describe them more appropriately as part of the dominant group in which one would consider his body, as Simone de Beauvoir has said, as having “a direct and normal connection with the world, which he believes he apprehends objectively.” And because this “normalcy” includes sexual exploits and because, as Gayle Rubin has stated, sexuality is the nexus of the relationships between genders, in this text, “much of the oppression of women is borne by, mediated through, and constituted within, sexuality.” Not that sex here and the related power struggle is given primacy over the attributes of the hypertext that speak to humanity and artistic freedom and self-exploration, but the stereotypically male obsessions around which much of The Unknown revolves (one author coyly admits the tendency toward mental masturbation) by necessity continue the very oppression of women that the text would, at places, suggest the authors are concerned about and sympathetic toward. (The identification of a female America, for example, comes on the heels of some pseudo-insight into the early colonizing powers that lyricized America as being as submissive as a woman; their own sexualized description of America follows).

Will it be possible for these four white dudes, as they call themselves, to escape the boundaries of their own situatedness to truly explore the unknown dimensions of time, history, and gender? As The Unknown continues to expand and develop into the eventual creation the authors are purportedly touting, i.e., the book, will they be able to locate a new consciousness that, as Gloria Anzaldua has acknowledged, “is a source of intense pain,” but one in which “its energy comes from continual creative motion that keeps breaking down the unitary aspect of each new paradigm?” These trailblazers, these new colonizers of hyperspace, have the opportunity to redefine themselves and break down the unity that circumscribes even this new apparently boundless hypertextual creation. While they cannot escape their situatedness, a push toward a new consciousness that would serve to break down the still-existing subject-object duality that infuses this text would be a push into an unknown that would truly go where many male authors have not gone before. If these authors are as endowed with the stereotypic male source of power as they claim to be, they should each be “man enough” to break down those male boundaries and expand into a new, even more-excitingly unknown, realm of consciousness.

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