Individual Work
Mahasukha Halo

"Mahasukha Halo" is a short, poetic-meditative Storyspace hypertext by Richard Gess, published in 1995, in issue no. 2:1 of The Eastgate Quarterly Review of Hypertext. It consists of 308 text spaces and and 759 links. “Mahasukha” refers to the “Nepalese Buddhist concept of transcendence through erotic experience” (Eastgate Systems 1995), and “Halo” designates the cloudlike structure in which the lexias and reading paths are arranged. The text implements these ideas by taking the reader through a randomly traversed sequence of lexias referencing sexual and death rituals from a foreign, otherworldly culture that remains indistinct throughout yet makes itself felt with visceral intensity.

In line with Stan Brakhage’s architectonic films, "Mahasukha Halo" reads like a “succession of images that do not tell a story but define a state of mind” (Davenport 1981: 317) and is meant as a “field of images for interactive exploration” (Gess 1993: 257). Depending on the lexias visited, this leads to a dreamlike or nightmarish experience that leaves its narrative voices unidentified and thus seemingly unmediated. As Gess (1993) explains, “[s]entences with the same speaker [such as ‘Lay Contractor,’ ‘Lost Missionary,’ and ‘Athelstan Spilhaus’] or subject [such as ‘Sky’] are linked in circular paths, as are sentences sharing images or comprising partial narratives” (257). All lexias and circular paths are equally weighted and can be mutually transitioned, and the interweaving of narratively equivalent paths, as well as the ways in which the narrative fragments, repeats, loops, and digresses, are aimed to make the reader “feel lost” (Gess 1993: 257)

Many lexias in "Mahasukha Halo" revolve around sexual organs and phallocentric, ritualistic religiousness, with a specific emphasis on different types, uses, and shapes of penises (“cat penis,” “women with pointing penis noses,” “iron weights swinging from their pricks”). Other motifs involve hallucinative drug use, death and sacrifical slaughter (“1008 animals beheaded, the executioners ankle-deep”), and imagery surrounding blue flowers (“hyacinthus amethystinus”) and blooming (“[e]xtravagant parts, their sex parts, blooming from their drugs”). This thematic and symbolical blend invokes ethnic fertility myths and ritualistic practices causing trance-like states of mind. The text's references to blue flowers inspire Western Romantic imagery, supporting the metaphysicality of the poem. The overall effect of the sexual and often faecal language used in Mahasukha is an opaque turmoil of erotic titillation and corporeal abjection, which implants in the reader’s mind the “[i]ndescribable misery” (‘Azuria’) of the otherworldly culture conveyed by the text.

References:

  • Davenport, Guy (1981) “Narrative Tone and Form,” in The Geography of the Imagination. San Francisco: North Point Press, pp. 308-318.
  • Eastgate Systems (1995) “Sea Island” and “Mahasukha Halo”, https://www.eastgate.com/catalog/q21.html.
  • Gess, Richard (1993) “Mahasukha Halo.” Leonardo, 26(3), 257-258.

Special thanks to the Electronic Literature Lab for providing access to this pre-web hypertext on a Macintosh Performa 5215CD.

Author statement: 
By exploiting ’lostness”-via fragmentation, repetition, digressions to notes and intertexts, and looping-the Halo breaks down conditioned expectations of narrative, making readers concentrate instead on individual images and their resonances in accretion. All this may sound less than reader friendly, but readers usually find the Halo more seductive than forbidding, a work that invites its necessary rereading. (Gess 1993: 257)