The Electronic Labyrinth

Structural Experiments in Hopscotch

Cortázar's hypertext experiments take place at the chapter level. Yet he also experiments with other structures within chapters. Chapter 142 is composed almost entirely of dialogue. Each paragraph begins with a number indicating a speaker. Chapter 95 ends with a nested sequence of footnotes, the first footnote ending with two asterisks to indicate the second note, etc. This textual oddity is referred to later in the book (441) by one of the characters as being an example of Morelli's writing, even though the chapter itself begins as a third-person description of Morelli's writing. Here, Morelli stands in for Cortázar:

Morelli had gone off into an adventure analogous to the work that he had been painfully writing and publishing over the years. For some of his readers (and for himself) it was laughable to try to write the kind of novel that would do away with the logical articulations of discourse. (430)

Chapter 69 is written in a brand of strange phonetic English ("It waz a sad surprize to rede..."), supposedly "translated from the Ispamerikan" (374). In Chapter 96, a particularly vigorous conversation is rendered as a play, with the names of the characters in the left margin, their dialogue at right. Even this structure cannot contain the energy of the text; one character's words flow into the next without separation. Chapter 34 is both the contents of "a clumsy novel" and Oliveira's comments on it, printed in alternating lines (191). This allows us to follow along, in "real time" as it were, with Oliveira's reading.

The character of Morelli, his notes on writing, and non-attributed passages on the reading experience appear only in the hopscotched reading of the book. This is no accident, as Morelli supports such non-linear and reader-centred texts. He is a creature of the spaces between chapters and the links between words. In the linear reading, he is absent, a mere phantom of possibilities unglimpsed.

Reading the book, one had the impression for a while that Morelli had hoped that the accumulation of fragments would quickly crystallize into a total reality. Without having to invent bridges, or sew up different pieces of the tapestry, behold suddenly a city, or a tapestry, or men and women in the absolute perspective of their future, and Morelli, the author, would be the first spectator to marvel at that world that was taking on coherence. (469)

The two reading paths differ in both content and the order the reader encounters the contents. The hypertext path includes all of the chapters from the linear path but one. It adds the chapters from section three. While it is obvious that this additional information will greatly change the reading experience, the subtleties of this transformation are not easily ascertained. For example, Chapter 84 contains a lovely description of leaves:

A single situation and two versions... I keep on thinking of all the leaves I will not see, the gatherer of dry leaves, about so many things that there must be in the air and which these eyes will not see, poor bats out of novels and movies and dried flowers. There must be lamps everywhere, there must be leaves that I will never see. (405)

Coming early in the hypertext reading (it is the sixth chapter encountered), the reference to "two versions" immediately starts the reader thinking critically about the novel's structure. It is ironic that a reference to unseen leaves should come only in the hypertext reading, in which almost all the leaves of the book will be seen.

In Chapter 4, La Maga "pick[s] up a leaf from the edge of the sidewalk and [speaks] to it for a while" (25). This chapter is subsequent to Chapter 84 in the hypertext path, and hence has a significance far beyond its apparent simplicity. This line resonates with the previous passage to a greater degree than if we were reading a book with only one, linear path. The very fact we are reading a hypertext changes our interpretation of the words.

© 1993-2000 Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, Robin Parmar.
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