Jody Zellen’s web-based hypertext, “Random Paths” (2001), is a travelogue that combines photographs and poetic text toward representing a traveler’s experience in Rome. As the title suggests, “Random Paths” evokes the de-sequencing effects of memory, which generate visual associations among places and incidents; as one line of text indicates, “the eye does not see things, but images of things.” Here, Zellen indicates that experience of the physical world takes place in the mind, where sensory information is gathered and interpreted. A mixture of textual and visual depictions of city cityscapes, “Random Paths” is a literary-pictographic hybrid. Zellen’s focus on the city’s architecture and her consciousness of space and time suggest a modernist impulse.
“Random Paths” is made up of nineteen lines; each section of the work contains six images in the form of a grid surrounding one line of poetry. The lines are split up into two sections so that the reader may click the above or below text; this arrangement makes it seem as though the reader is picking a particular path and thus determining the progress of the narrative. Whichever link she chooses, however, the reader ends up in the same place.
The hypertextual structure of “Random Paths” reflects the geographical movement of the traveler, who traverses space in the same way that the reader navigates through the narrative. The reader experiences the narrative as a random path, but only part of the formal potential for randomness is exploited; while not linear, “Random Paths” does unfold in a fixed sequence that corresponds to the reader’s successive clicks on links.
Ashley Wong was a student of Dr. Kiki Benzon for a course in Contemporary Fiction taught at the University of Lethbridge, Canada during the Winter term of 2011.