Original Link here.
My port is available here.
Shelley Jackson’s My body: A Wunderkammer, created in 1997, takes us on an intimate journey of discovery of her own body—and in the process, she awakens our awareness of our own bodies. This is a an html hypertext, which begins with an illustration of a naked girl, whose body parts are labeled and can be activated with a “click”. Not all hypertexts force readers along a straight path, because not all hypertext fictions are restricted by linear plots. Like print-based autobiographies or domestic stories, hypertext can be presented in an episodic format. Shelley Jackson presents her life story in My body uses the episodic structure of the domestic story combined with data archived under body-part categories. One element of autobiography that is not evident here is a chronological structure. As Carolyn Guertin in English 475: Literature and Hypertext Study Guide writes, “This is a messy text. It shifts back and forth through time, following the associational trails of recollection” (Guertin 25). The reader is in charge, selecting which hyperlinks to explore, and so the text along with a sketch of the associated body part is delivered based on the reader’s own navigation.
I chose to port My Body: a Wunderkammer using the open-source tool Twine. In the process of translating the work, I noticed the intentionality of the choices Jackson makes in linking different sections of the text. In recreating the work with Twine, I became hyper aware of the links that were made between text and body parts. The original work contains a main navigation page which consists of a drawing of the author’s naked body, which is segmented into blocks that are linked to various body parts, such as “armpits” and “tattoos.” Once the reader clicks on a body party,, the story progresses by clicking hypertext links embedded within the text. The reader is tempted by the hyperlinks to leap out of each page before finishing and may often land on a previously visited page. The navigational movement begins to feel like a journey impeded by attention deficit. f My body affords the reader the freedom of narrative travel with few boundaries or guidance. I introduce one “boundary” in my port—the reader cannot begin navigating to the various body parts from the first page of the author’s body. Instead all readers must navigate through a page of GIFs (Graphic Interchange Format) in order to find their way into the actual text. I use this page to reflect, to some degree, my own memories and desires that I associate with these body parts. The original work has 11 parts of her body that cannot be reached from the initial map, including, teeth, skeleton, phantom limb, and tail. This reflects the creator’s intentions to make the reader “feel their way in.” In order to locate some of Jackson’s deepest truths and experiences, you must find your way into the heart of the work. I used the same idea to showcase, on this page of GIFs, the body parts that I think I make most “accessible” or visible to the world on the GIFs page.
Another important feature of the original work is that the cognizant reader could take control of the access of information through reading the taskbar web address when hovering the mouse over a link. Clicking a blue hyperlink that leads to the “toes” page, does not change the color of “toe” links to a “visited” purple on all of the other pages. And even though the reader might find their way back to the same visited page repeatedly, they could navigate intuitively in avoiding visited pages through the categorizing of the hypertext information and the right knowledge of data archiving and interface design. Either way, without a main navigation listing of categories or pages, the reader explores the texts randomly, without knowing how many pages have been viewed or how many are left. My port takes away this navigational ability of the sophisticated reader of the original work that enables one to control the storyline to some extent. In my translated port, there is no easy access to readable interface design that can enable readers to avoid visited pages, unless they choose to “restart” the work.
I chose to preserve the actual stories and sketches that are the foundation of Shelley Jackson’s original work. Just as in the original, activating a body part (shoulders, skin, nose, middle fingers, hands, arms, tattoos, chest, elbow) leads us to another page of text that usually is accompanied by a sketch of the associated body part and includes reflections of memories and moments lived with those body parts. This feature gives the reader participatory power in the narrative. As you go deep into the work the body becomes a land to explore, and although the possibility of starting anywhere makes it impossible to speak of a chronology, there is an evolution in the creator’s perception of her own body. This lends the work its exploratory feature, where a reader can go from one page to the next through hyperlinked texts and phrases and explore the various associations of her thoughts, which are sometimes explicit and sometimes not. While the work deals with the idea of fragmentation of part as we are taken on an exploratory journey of the different parts of the creator’s body, such as her toenails and eyebrows, the work is fundamentally centered on the omnipresent whole body.
The original work covers all the properties of digital environments described in Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck, and I wanted to preserve (and attempt to upgrade) these properties. This work is procedural in the sense that it is rule based and follows a set of instructions, which is the computer code that makes is possible. Even though there is a sense of randomness like the ability to access any body part it is generated through a defined process. The introduction of an added layer or “intervention” in my port of a page of personalized “GIFs,”, the reader must follow the rules of the “procedure” in order to enter the work. Next, My body is participatory—this work demands participation from the reader and won’t work until you choose the next path to explore. (In this case, a specific body part). The work is spatial and represents navigable space. We can move through the author’s body and choose what part of her body to navigate, and the process of doing this through the text and images in the digital space draws attention to the analogy between these texts and images and the body. In many instances the text is harder to navigate and brings us back to the same previously visited pages, and the only way out is to “restart” the work, while other texts lead to seamless transitions and connections between new body parts and memories. The text, therefore, becomes a metaphor for the body, and vice-versa.
In translating the original, I tried to emphasize and focus on the metaphor of the “wunderkammer” or curiosity cabinet in relation to the exploratory feature of the work. The text reproduces the body not only as a repository of memories, where we have access to Jackson’s recollections of past experiences and discoveries, but also as a site of mystery and contemplation. The body is displayed in its transformative capabilities as a vast territory that is explored through the continued tangential links-
“there are drawers within the drawers, behind sliding panels or false bottoms. I have found every drawer to be both bottomless and intricately connected to every other drawer, such that there can be no final unpacking. But you don’t approach a cabinet of wonders with an inventory in hand. You open drawers at random.”
This work places an emphasis on the process of discovering the body, which will differ for each reader depending on which path they choose to navigate. The readers have a different relation to the work because we are witnessing the process rather than coming to see an object. The idea of process is critical in Shelley’s work as she describes various discoveries and realizations as she is growing up. And as the body is constantly changing, we can never fully know our own bodies, we can only hope to continue the process of understanding and continually discovering our bodies as they evolve. Finally, the port is encyclopedic and it expands in excess of our expectations. It contains so many experiences, recollections and images of the body. The work is therefore both interactive and immersive in its form, according to Murray’s framework.
The work draws attention to your own perception and awareness of the body, and I tried to incorporate an aspect of my version of awareness of myself and my body through one of the opening pages. One has to go to this page in order to find their way into the story and read any of her stories and recollections.
These are experiences that we witness but are not a part of. Her quest to understand her own body is so familiar. Her use of language and first person takes us on a journey of exploration of her body and makes us think of our own experiences discovering the capabilities of our own bodies. This work evokes the Uncanny described in Freud’s 1953 essay “The Uncanny,” in which he describes as a class of the terrified which leads back to something long known to us once very familiar. Here, Jackson experiences her body in ways that are so familiar, and yet simultaneously so unusual as to be uncanny. Her descriptions are often easy to relate with. They are often familiar but strange, sometimes in an unnerving way. There is a underlying theme of the reappearance of the body which is often repressed and forgotten. There is a lot that happens in My body that does not appear so uncommon in the work, but if it were to be discussed in everyday life, would seem uncanny. On her page on the skeleton for instance, she says “When I am kissing someone and our teeth bump together, jarring us both, I think: our skeletons touched.” Some of these experiences we inevitably share with the writer at some point in our lives as we discover our bodies. Even as everything around us is continually in flux, our bodies stay with us from birth to death, and though we tend to think little of it as we live our lives, each body part has a rich story to tell. At least once, we have all thought about our bodies in the same way Jackson exposes to us. Her work is like an album of memories, and in all its purity, it invites the reader to explore and navigate the body to create her own narrative. There is no right path, the reader chooses their own path, her own journey of the body—which in turn brings a unique self-awareness of their own ups and downs accepting, discovering and understanding our bodies, and exploring our individual identities.
Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, edited by James Strachey, XVII:218–52. London: Hogarth Press, 1953.
Guertin, Carolyn, Tschofen Monique and Totosy de Zepetnek, Steven. English 475: Literature and Hypertext Study Guide. Athabasca University, 2002.
Jackson, Shelley. “My Body”’: A Wunderkammer.” http://www.altx.com/thebody/
Murray, Janet H. “Chapter 3.” Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1997, pp. 65–94.