IMAGE AND TEXT IN HYPERMEDIA LITERATURE:
THE BALLAD OF SAND AND HARRY SOOT

Jaishree K. Odin


The Ballad of Sand and Harry SootHypertext writers have written extensively on the potential of links to create a highly fluid and discontinuous text which changes with each reading. The fluid quality of the hypertext is achieved to its fullest in a hypermedia work where both text and image, and sometimes audio, are interlinked to give rise to perpetually changing constellations and arrangements which appeal to all senses. The task of assembling a hypermedia work, therefore, is complex as the writer must not only pay attention to the creation of visual and textual components, but also to the obvious or not so obvious permutations and combinations that could result through hyper-linking. In a collaborative work, finding the right graphic elements or images to accompany written elements requires a great deal of care in order for different components to work together and generate maximum artistic impact.

When hypertext linking becomes an organizing principle in a work, it dramatically affects the way the narrative unfolds. Both the context and the content morph with the choices that the reader makes as s/he reads the work. Several kinds of discourses using different media can thus be gathered together in a hypermedia work—various discourse units enhancing the multiplicity that the work projects onto the reader. Katherine Hayles proposes the term "multicourse" to describe hypertext literature that is comprised of various discourses, which can be explored by the reader in multiple ways. (1) The hypertextual breaks in the narrative create temporal and spatial dislocations, which mark the points of disruption as well as provide frames for alternative narratives whose relationship to the main narrative is parallel and extrinsic or embedded and intrinsic. In complex hypermedia works of literature, there is a dynamic relationship between form and content. Such works retain the best of print literature in their artful use of language, imagery, metaphors, as well as various literary devices, while exploiting the potential of the electronic medium to the fullest.

The hypermedia work The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot brings together a unique poetic text with images of digital artworks originating in a variety of disciplines to create a web of relations with limitless potential for diverging and converging series of readings. (2) The print version of The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot by Strickland was the winner of 1999 Boston Review Prize. (3) Reading the print version is a totally different experience from reading the hypermedia work. The linear unfolding of the ballad in the print version serves to keep the reader on the same track. The reader can still perform imaginative leaps, but only in the realm of Sand and Soot, who emerge as the central characters in the ballad. In the hypermedia work, the Sand-Soot center of the narrative is destabilized as links within the ballad and links to images, provided by various contributors from a variety of disciplines, create multiple reading tracks within the hypermedia work. Other narratives make inroads into the unfolding drama between Sand and Soot who become amorphous as they seep into images that unleash other narratives.

The Ballad is a web-based work and is published by the Word Circuits website. The gathering force of the hypermedia work is the poetic text, embedded in a rich context of images. The images move into many web spaces: algorithmic art, webcams, scale-inversion experiments, hyperbolic geometry, digital sand etchings and so on. The migration from print format to the electronic environment decenters the text and sets in motion diverging series of readings, which only exist by the return of the others. >>

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