Non-Linearity (an example)
This is a piece from an unpublished novel, which I’m presenting as an example of what non-linear writing might mean in reference to the raging debate on the post “The Schlock of the New” elsewhere on the Year Zero site.
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I did chance on one Net encounter that yanked me up short. Or long. Why he had appointed it iterative enough to bookmark, was beyond me. Maybe for some light relief between all the hyper-spaced, hyper-texted, hyperantipathy. Not that a site offering refuge for battered women is a cause for relief to anyone, other than those who find sanctuary behind its actual walls. Maybe he was being ironic, though I think that will always remain beyond him. I know I could be a bit of a cow at times, but I don’t think his treatment at my hands could ever be said to diminish him. Not to such a level where he felt it worthwhile to check out the equality of opportunity for spousal asylum. More like he was identifying with the bad guys, getting off on the abuse recollections of the victims. Not that I could really find any first hand, fist, or blunt object reports. I was in the process of perusing the founder’s mission statement, when the words started to deliquesce and welter in front of my eyes. Oh well, that was that then. Some glitch in the programming or so I thought. Salvador Dali might have twizzled his moustache approvingly at the visual liquefaction I was being presented with. Think I was up a blind alley anyway. The nudge-nudge, wink-wink nature of our computer setup, cadged invariably after some software had fallen very hard from the backs of lorries, on to elasticated pre-stressed concrete, meant that even if I credited him with the nerd nous to wipe his tracks clean, the computer configuration simply was not up to it.
As I listlessly watched the digital decomposition in front of me, I could not determine whether the letter sewage was being flushed out into the blue reservoir at the foot of the screen, or if the cobalt tide was actually advancing so as to wash over the alphabet shingle. The frame speed and resolution quality of the pixels was so low as to jounce, er rather, to slink one back to the happy daze of Space Invaders. The ziggurat of stunted motion was enough to make you travel sick.
I was about to disembark from my excursion into the yonder, when the blue swathe was suddenly (relatively speaking) stopped in its hobbled tracks. And after a tension-laden incipience, in which I wondered whether the whole gestation had done for the computer’s circuits, the aquamarine draggled wearily back into recession. Good, there was life in the old mongrel yet. More than that, something now seemed to be roiling the grizzled blank scarp of the screen. Indeterminate squiggles and strands, protruded their wormlike nodules from beyond the opaque bilge and began to enjoy and flex their animation. I wasn’t certain that it was them incarnate, rather than their liquid crystal trails across the screen, that I was following. But gradually, due to my unprimed perception rather than software sag this time, I realised that they were ever so slowly shaking off their saturation and coagulating into new anatomies. Eat your heart out David Attenborough! They were reforming into letters. The dismembered characters were reconvening themselves. Hooray for her! She’s back on the airwaves and refuses to be silenced! The mission’s back on track. Her oeuvre will out.
I tried to pick up the thread of where I’d been cut off from her impassioned appeal, but could not quite relocate myself. The text had changed ever so slightly. She must be live and online here and now! With her fingers airily caressing the keyboard, she had planted her feet in the blue nowhere and turned back the tide. Cocking a snook at King Canute and all other bloated male egos!
A frisson of profane delight started its vertiginous roll down the cresta run of my vertebrae. Until the screen shuddered and trepanned my pleasure, leaving me unhinged. While I slumped, each letter was turning tail on its axis, as if scalded. Here and there, one might shear off into the soothing cold plunge of the void. The arrayed red-coated monograms around them buckling a little, as if to suture the breach of missing vowel or diphthong. Now detachments of surds were silently giving up the ghost and scuttling off into oblivion. Next a syllable topples, denting the lineament like a gap-tooth. Before it was gradually excised into full root canal surgery as whole phalanxes of words cave in. It was swingeing and all-pervasive. Seems like she had been successfully gagged after all.
Or overwritten. Since clearly, even hyperspace abhors a vacuum. For filtering down the screen on fibre optic grappling irons and gossamer rope ladders, column after column of letters marched in. Leapfrogging over one another in their glee, as if racing to be first to occupy the vacated matrix. Was this a service provider reclaiming a squatted URL address? If so to what end, other than a point to point of proto-colic principle? For these new characters spelt out nothing but nonsense. The dead letter drivel of programming speak. Cold and metallic grey, unlike the spectacular livery of her florid prose. I had a virtual tear in my eye.
I prepared to bring down the curtain on the whole non-affair. Partly to dismiss the long engaged streetlamp, rubbernecking directly through my window. Poking its flaring nostrils into my rubber stamped and silicon verified state of idle loneliness. But foremost in my mind, I was determined to pull the plug for good on this dissolute bazaar. Despite what I always steeled myself with in reference to the girls, clearly there was such a thing as too much information. Too much access. Too much disclosure. What used to remain in his cups down at the pub, he had been able to carry out home with him. A marketplace to trade spite, into more far reaching corners than mere spit and sawdust could reach. A whole brewery of hate in the still of this bedroom. Time to ditch the Red Hand veined Feng Shui.
It wasn’t through him spending so much time wedded to the Net, that had made me feel neglected. It’s more like when he finally decamped of an evening and sat in our non-chat room downstairs, quietly smouldering, that alarm bells clanged. My internal fume detector was tripped. Whether his nightly hate-in ratcheted up his animosity towards me; or that he already bore such pent up malice that he disgorged it into virtual violence, in order to head off the real thing, I wasn’t certain. But I wasn’t going to hang around to sift forensically through the ashes of a conflagration. That’s when I asked him to leave. I might well be constantly infuriated with life, but I couldn’t risk being around someone who was positively incendiary about it. After all, there were the the girls to think about too.
So now we’re under new management. And it’s time for a ritual incineration of a different sort –
But – she was back! Her lexical dragoons effortlessly retaking the high ground of the screen. Sliding down and sideswiping the incumbents. Rattling over letter for letter, like a train destination board flittering a new imminence. I almost applauded. The show was back on the road. A differing version yet of what had gone before. It had the thinness commensurate with being re-keyed in real time, but some of the constructions were also reedier, suggesting an earlier, less honed draft. Maybe we were going backwards in time. Why not, this is virtual reality after all?
Now some more personal stuff was drilling across my screen. Material I hadn’t seen before. She certainly came across as one wild, old bird. I’d first hand evidence, twice removed, as to her tenacity that’s for sure. And then once more, without warning, the countercharge. Her words started to wither. But I knew I only had to abide an intermission. She’d assuredly return unsullied and unabashed. For I tumbled that this was smart bombs and virus protection; firewalls, Trojan backdoors and catflaps. Digitised interdiction. With both parties probably absent. Off having a well-earned cup of tea while they waited to see the effects of their latest thrust or parry. I brewed myself a sustaining coffee and toasted our imagined triune in this spellbinding war of censorship. All texts should be written like this. Then the reader could be truly interactive. Our up- or down- turned thumb, would in actuality bear critical import. Authors would truly earn their corn. The lading of their words directly transmittable. Delivered through the reader’s white-knuckled joy sticking.
The night proceeded to unfold in this fashion. Sometimes the purge and reinstatement would be in monotype, others by linotype, as the varying strategies were employed. But each occasion afforded me more and more detail about her past life. I was hooked. I felt I was privy to an immune system repulsing an invading bug. Found myself rooting for a benign diagnosis. Some of the things I found positively upsetting; she’d obviously had an awfully blighted life and was determined to publish it. They couldn’t break her.
By the break of day it dawned on me that this war was somewhat internecine and wholly nasty. Each occasion that they managed to score away another layer of her fabric, she’d exhibit further pentimento upon pentimento. Each palimpsest they impressed, she managed to copperplate her monograph over the top. It was as if they were trying to eradicate every last vestige of her existence, through to that egg in her mother’s womb, back to her very conception. (Freud would have had an orgasm!) This would go to the bitter end. Or some vicious eternal loop. I sent an e-mail to her website expressing my support. I didn’t expect her to have the time to open it.
Since I was filled with the presentiment that this was somebody else’s life flashing before my eyes, it also occurred to me, that perhaps I should do something to preserve it as a record. However, on each occasion that I managed to squirt some paper between the rollers of the printer, the text had decomposed its legibility and the printer peeled off what appeared to be a laboured test run. Even when prepared, with paper in place, waiting for the next manifest, the resultant synchronised print-off was still garbled gibberish. Had the forces of darkness secured the printer outpost? Or was the printer garrison still holding out, desperately broadcasting its coded warning as to the original errata? Or had it gone native and veered off into its own hallucinatory discourse? The period for her words to re-establish their cursive flow, was now becoming longer and longer. I decided to write some of them down. Contracted wrist giving way to longhand, as I reflexively moved for the weight of my journal. Albeit according her a fresh page at the back.
As I launched into amanuensis mode, I would be holed each time by the gobbledegook guillotine. Shredding meaning. Splintering intelligibility. I made myself memorise more for the record. Then dictate to myself from the afterglow imprinted upon my side of the retinal wall, once the image had faded from in front of me. Thus I knew my transcription would not be a pure one. More of a cross-hybridization. So be it. Amy’s plaintive greet-the-day mewl brought a natural end to my assignment. I rose to confront the day chock-full with purpose, stale from having spent a night under the tiles and pressed against the eaves. This time the monitor screen was wiped clear at my hand, rather than that of any second or third party.
I returned to my journal that night. Re-read my latest (borrowed) entry, anticipating it to be an annotation of the rest of the entire preceding contents. A foreword or afterword. A dedication. An acknowledgement of something or other. An imprimatur. But it failed to read that well or interestingly even. More akin to some dream you noted down before returning to sleep, only to read it through stupefied the next morning. It was no dream though and I’ll have the dial up bill to prove it right enough. I guess you had to have been there. Which neither of us ever were really I suppose. The e-mail bounced back to me as undeliverable.