The Electronic Labyrinth

Mahasukha Halo

Everything left me through all my holes

Mahasukha Halo was composed using the Storyspace authoring system. It eschews the use of multiple, but internally consistent narrative paths which characterizes many hyperfictions, preferring instead to create a disorienting, even hallucinogenic state of mind.

Most research-oriented hypertext systems provide an elaborate array of navigational tools to offset the perils of being "lost in hyperspace:" devices which allow the reader to retrace his or her path, to access a "history" of lexia already read, or to easily return to the opening page attest to the inherent tendency of electronic texts to disrupt the reader's proprioceptive sense of being in place. Such devices are, in effect, an attempt to control the anarchic nature of the electronic sign.

Gess' text, by contrast, embraces this anarchic energy. In place of the usual instructions on how to orient oneself, the "Preliminaries" screen of Halo provides directions for "Getting lost." The "compass points" of this text are oriented not to some virtual equivalent of magnetic north, but to the following list:

  1. Fragmentation, repetition, digression, looping.
  2. The "action" may consist of happenings never seen.
  3. No direction is ever privileged.
  4. Separation from the world, floating.
  5. A cloud, a zone of the indistinct, a debris field, a place to disappear.
  6. You will get lost; this should be illuminating

The revelatory possibilities of "getting lost" are precisely those of "Mahasukha," the Nepalese Buddhist concept of transcendence through orgasm. The text presents itself as something other than a space through which one "navigates;" it is a halo, a cloud of diffuse matter, "a place to disappear."

The imagery of this "debris field," however, suggests that it is only through a massive reformation of the monadic body that these possibilities may be realized. In his account of the writing of Halo, Gess records his growing sense of the "liveliness" of his text:

Then came a fierce period, diving in every night, writing it up, [...] and the thrill growing the thing, watching it behave like a life-form. Stitched and spliced into busy systems, lit with current, the inert lines of text became sentient, reacting to stimuli, changing their shape, growing. ("Magister Macintosh" 39)

The 120 short passages which comprise the "core" of Halo capture not only the strange "sentience" of hypertextuality but its apparent threat to the human body. They are full of images of genetic chaos, gender confusion and somatic interference: "Everything left me through all my holes;" "Men blistered with gesturing vulvas, women with erect penis noses;" "Neighbor genetics of gender mutate cyclically." The normative human body has been invaded, taken over, and translated into something multiform, and transgressive.

The tendency of hypertextuality to disorder the ego's sense of embodiment is imaged here as a kind of linguistic virus coiling itself into the DNA of the reader, subtly altering his or her genetic code. "That was what I thought I'd get if I made the Halo a hypertext," writes Gess. "I wanted to make a mind, feverishly free-associating, that would use that illusion to invade that dark space in each reader's skull and take it over. Something alive" ("Magister Macintosh" 41).

This invasion, however, is a liberation, not an occupation. "Mutators," we are told, "liberate memory;" there is a cathartic release of pent-up libidinal energy as the lines between past and present, human and machines, and men and women all collapse in a joyful confounding of language. The ecstasy of Halo, its dizzying evocation of frenzied couplings and transformations, recalls the Greek root of the word, ekstasis, meaning to stand outside oneself, to feel your sense of self projected to a point outside that occupied by your body. Its narrative bricolage delivers us to a world in which the body is no longer a fixed totality, but a mutable site of connection and change, consumption and production, being and non-being.

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