This entry was drafted at the University of Coimbra, Portugal, during the Winter 2013-14 term, as part of the author's PhD in "Materialities of Literature" funded by The Foundation of Science and Technology (FCT)
Proposed as a sequence of enigmas to be solved, this piece is a hybrid between a game and a detective story. La disparue (2012), a hyperfiction according to the team responsible for this collective work (Cécile Iran, Médéric Lulin and Sophie Séguin), challenges the reader to impersonate Harry, a detective who is determined to investigate two apparently connected events: Elisabeth Monohan’s disappearance and Kacey Harnois’ death. The unfolding of the narrative (and the solution to the mystery) depends on the reader’s exploratory journey through the different spaces of La disparue.
In this whodunit detective story, the goal of discovering the truth about Elisabeth Monohan’s disappearance and Kacey Harnois’ murder keeps us struggling in order to reach an ultimate goal. La disparue might seem a linear story (a detective gathers clues to find a murderer), but the reader has to follow multiple paths before solving the mystery. A single clue might lead this make-believe investigation to a blind alley and the reader might have to return to a previous stage of the game/story. This search for truth is not comparable to the urge toward closure that is often associated with detective stories in print.
Closure is connected to a feeling of completeness. At the end of the story everything falls into place and order is restored. In Orality and Literacy: the technologizing of the word (1982) Ong claimed that print encouraged a sense of closure (129). Because the writer had an inscriptional surface where the text could be revised and manipulated, Ong considered that print, unlike oral literature, had given the author the opportunity to gain full control over the plot. However, the author had a limited space to deliver a story, which means that he was pressured to reach a final version of the text. Space limitations and increased control over the text contributed to the emergence of "tighter climatic structures" (145). According to Ong, detective stories were a perfect example of a “climatic linear plot” (142). Freytag, a German novelist and playwright, created a model which was later named Freytag’s Pyramid. Based on Aristotle's division of plot into beginning, middle and end, Freytag identified five parts of drama (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution). Ong described detective stories by referring to Freytag’s model: “In the ideal detective story, ascending action builds relentlessly to all but unbearable tension, the climactic recognition and reversal releases the tension with explosive suddenness, and the dénouement disentangles everything totally” (147).
Detective stories are particularly dependent on closure because they imply or suggest a mystery (normally related to the identification of a murder or burglar) which is unraveled at the end. La disparue, however, subverts the idea of linearity and escalating tension commonly associated to detective stories. Schäfer and Gendolla claimed that reading a detective story from a multimedia device results in an entirely different experience: "the imaginary tension between expectation and disappointment is disturbed or disrupted by the game features" (Schäfer and Gendolla, 2010: 100).La disparue is an ergodic text as described by Espen Aarseth, in which “non-trivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text" (Aarseth, 1997: 1). After all, the reader is the investigator in charge. Therefore he (or “l’inspecteur Harry”) has to explore several hypotheses, make choices and, at the same time, assemble the text. Aside from finding the truth or reading the story, the reader of La disparue has to accept several challenges; explore the architecture of this piece and test several strategies to win a quest. Besides that, La disparue offers two possible outcomes which depend on the reader’s failure or success. More than using suspense to engage the reader, La disparue challenges the reader’s attention to detail. There are several clues carefully planted by the creators of this piece. Those clues are like a pile of puzzle pieces waiting to be put together.
The story unfolds as a result of the reader’s actions in the fictional world. We will be asked to log in to (or create) a Facebook account in order to visit a page titled En mémoire de Kacey Harnois. We will also enter one of the girls' Twitter page. This means that we must intrude into the victims' personal lives so that we are able to solve the mystery. The reader will also be redirected to Google Maps to find a location. In so doing, new ontological borders are transgressed. La disparue not only implicates us in the fictional world but also uses our devices to meet us at an extradiegetic level.
AARSETH, Espen (1997). Cybertext. Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
ONG, Walter J. (1982). Orality and Literacy: the technologizing of the word. New York: Methuen & Co.
SCHÄFER, Jörgen , and Peter Gendolla (2010). "Reading (in) the net", in Reading Moving Letters: Digital Literature in Research and Teaching, A Handbook. Eds. Simanowski, Roberto, Jörgen Schäfer, and Peter Gendolla. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag.