V: Vniverse is the web-based component of V which also consists of the invertible book: V: Losing L’una / WaveSon.nets (Penguin 2002). Stephanie Strickland has collaborated on Vniverse with Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo. Vniverse consists of the “WaveSon.nets” section from the printed book in a digital composition. The online work constitutes an interactive poetic space which facilitates different modes of reading, and is created using Director (Shockwave player is required). When the reader launches the work a black screen with bright spots, resembling stars, appears. The center of the starred sky image rotates and then comes to rest. Nothing happens from this point on if the reader does not engage in some way with the work. In order to read the poems, which are hidden among the stars, the reader needs to interact with the surface. As the reader moves her cursor across the bright star images, a series of constellations appear. Lines connect stars into patterns: a bull’s head, a dragonfly, a bird, an infinity symbol etc. These images form Vniverse’s ten constellations, nameless in the work, but given names by the authors in the companion essay, and they function as visual placeholders for the “WaveSon.nets.” Each star holds a “WaveSon.net,” each star constellation a set of poems.
In Vniverse, the different mouse movements (mouse-over, clicking, and double-clicking) or typing in numbers generate a number of different textual combinations. When the reader holds the mouse cursor over a star, a triplet poem appears in timed sequence letter by letter, with a title and a number. Clicking once holds the constellation outline on the screen while simultaneously allowing the reader to move the cursor to tease out other triplets. Double-clicking brings out the full “WaveSon.net.” The reader can leave an entire “WaveSon.net” on the screen while sliding the cursor to another star in the same or another constellation. This results in a juxtaposition of the previously read sonnet and a new triplet. These juxtapositions rely on the reader’s choice of reading order, but their visual simultaneity is different from the reading order by replacement invoked in most hypertexts.
The sonnets explore philosophical ideas along with mythical, mathematical, and pop cultural meditations about knowledge, time, and memory. Strickland and Lawson explain that the “WaveSon.nets” explore “many knowledge-sources, named and anonymous, collaborative and communal, that charted alternative courses for their time” (“Making the Vniverse” 2). Among these “knowledge-sources” one finds historical persons: mathematicians, scientists, writers, and, centrally, the French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil, who signals Strickland’s interest in embodiment and epistemologies as gendered. Weil is not the only female figure in the poems; there are numerous references to women’s lives and their bodies (virginity, menstruation, childrearing). Mythological female figures (Procne, Penelope), Haitian goddesses (Erzulie), Celtic mythic female figures (Medb, Finnabair), and female literary characters (Blanche from A Streetcar Named Desire , Guinevere) populate the “WaveSon.nets.” Female archetypes, most prominently the mother and the witch, repeatedly appear in the stanzas as keepers of knowledge, of time, and of memories. Although Strickland calls them sonnets, the poems do not adhere to the fourteen-line poetic form written in iambic pentameter. Instead, Strickland transforms the sonnet into fifteen-line poems in open, unrhymed verse. The lines of the poems are often enjambed; topics continue from one “WaveSon.net” to another. The poetic form signals that the sonnets are formally and thematically intertwined, braided in “wave motions,” to use Strickland’s own description.
There is paratextual material and help information linked to Vniverse. In their essay, “Making the Vniverse,” Strickland and Lawson go into great detail about the ideas behind the different readings structures of Vniverse: juxtaposing and differentiating an ancient exploration and use of nature by the “Ice Age nomad,” particularly the night sky with its stars, to interpret and navigate the environment, and the “21st century reader,” who is “looking to establish a sequence, and/or the structure of a database” (3). It is the relationship between the reader and the work in its material instantiation—the reading, viewing, moving, and engaging with the work—that generates poetic meaning. As the triplets and sonnets appear, step by step, one letter or mark at a time, the reader can only follow the pace of the computer. This staccato rendering of the triplets makes the reader concentrate on the particular motion. The gradual emergence of the poem and the lack of overview of the whole at this point make the reading a peculiar oscillation between reading and looking, engaging and waiting. In the digital Vniverse, temporal registers are bound partly by the computer, and are partly prompted by the reader/user’s actions and movements within the work.
Vniverse constantly negotiates temporal and spatial signification on thematic, formal, and paratextual levels. Thematically, Vniverse revolves around ways of measuring and understanding time and space in different cultures and historical moments. Exploration and manipulation of the spatiotemporal constructions of Vniverse are part of the meaning the reader makes of the work. Formally, spatiality is invoked in the work’s visual appearance, and temporality is central to the timed sequences of the work and the ways of exploration that are offered to the reader. As the paratextual material to Vniverse makes clear, the sonnets interrogate the possibilities of reading patterns across media forms, while they at the same time emphasize the specificity of the experience in each medium—print or digital. The seemingly identical construction of triplets and sonnets in print and online is undercut by the differences in the production of temporality and movement in the two media.
Strickland, Stephanie and Cynthia Lawson. “Making the Vniverse.” http://www.vniverse.com/