The Electronic Labyrinth

Izme Pass

When a woman tells, oh veiled voice, a story.
Carolyn Guyer & Martha Petry, Izme Pass

Carolyn Guyer and Martha Petry's Izme Pass (written in Storyspace) begins with an allusion to Scheherazade, the woman in Tales of a Thousand and One Arabian Nights, whose tales divert Shahryar from his practice of bedding and then executing the daughters of his people:

When a woman tells a story it is to save. To husband the world, you might say. Thinking first to save her mother, her daughter, her sisters. Scheherazade tells, her voice enchanting, saving him in the bargain.

In the context of a non-linear hyperbook, the allusion at first appears ironic. The tangled web of narratives found in Arabian Nights, the multiple hierarchies of stories and tales within tales, depends very much on a linear reading order for its success. Scheherazade succeeds in saving both her own life and that of the women of the kingdom through the power of linear narrative. By telling a tale which still held the promise of conclusion at the break of day, the king spared her life out of curiosity. The next night the tale would continue where the previous tale stopped. By constantly deferring the closure of her stories she deferred the closure of her life.

The respect for linear order in Arabian Nights is clear, for example, in the fact that the king does not transcend the narrative by asking for a summary or a quick ending (as if the tale could not exist before its telling). The narrative tradition exists above the king's authority to question. Likewise, he does not accomplish his dour ends by sparing Scheherazade and executing other women, for this also would be to transcend the strictures of linearity.

But this mechanism of linearity only works within the text. When reading Arabian Nights, the reader is free to read out of sequence, relate tales separately (such as is often done with Sinbad the Sailor), or recall the stories as old Arabic folk tales, most of which long preceded their collection under Scheherazade's voice. The reader can transcend the text at any point because he or she can transcend the world the characters live in.

In a similar way, the reader of Izme Pass (perhaps with fewer scruples than the book reader) can jump out of the current path, read the map, and then jump back in on a whim. The text contains narrative threads from three works--Carolyn Guyer's Quibbling, Martha Petry's Rosary, and Michael Joyce's WOE--woven into a diverse tapestry. In "Notes for Izme Pass Exposé," Guyer and Petry describe the process of writing as follows:

We placed fragments from the three "outside" texts within our own Izme Pass (pronounced is-may) as representative anchors for those works. Almost immediately we began to see how this process of tinkering with existing texts by intentionally sculpting their inchoate connections had the ironic effect of making everything more fluid. (82)

Although the three separate sources exist as clusters, the links transcend this arrangement. There is a lot of play among the source texts; for example, Joyce has subtitled WOE, "a memory of what will be," while in the initial node of Izme Pass we find:

When a woman tells a story she is remembering what will be. What symmetry or asymmetry the story possesses passes through the orifice directly beneath the wide spread antlers, curved horns of ritual at her head, just as it passes through the orifice between her open legs. Labrys. How could she not know.

Izme Pass and WOE are bound by more than allusion and reference as they appear together in Writing on the Edge.

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