Neil Hennessy’s Jabberwocky Engine is a piece of electronic literature that starts with a black background and white text that gives a set of “instructions.” The Jabberwocky makes use of the different colored words by explaining that each color represents something different, either a word fragment or compound word and so forth. The words sound similar to current English words but are not completely understandable or correctly spelled. Once you enter this interactive text, the words float about the screen in no particular order but rather randomly overlap one another and float on the screen once once you select the output option. The screen is organized without order and leaves the control to the “readers” of the text but only once they have selected the output button. Not only does the reader gain control over the organization of the text, but also the “story” as well. Since the reader is able to create words by choosing from the list of output words, the interpretation is completely in the hands of the reader. The generator creates a list of “words” that are created by the available words floating around in the background of the text.
The organization of the text initially seems to be non-existent. However, it can be left to the reader to choose the form the text takes. The reader has to, in a sense, construct the pieces of letters and phrases in order to complete a whole coherent form. Hennessy’s text plays on the name of the text itself. The name jabberwocky literally means an invented nonsense language. The name is a reference to Lewis Carroll’s famous poem Jabberwocky in his Alice books. Every time it appears in these books, either in the poem or as a character, the term plays with notions of complete nonsense and incoherent language. Throughout the poem and the novel by Lewis Carroll the Jabberwocky represents a mystical entity that we could not place in reality outside of its given definition and linguistic syntax. It becomes definition of chaos in itself. Hennessy uses this term as a base for the chaotic experience of this interactive electronic text. By dubbing the interactive literature “Jabberwocky” the participant is already primed for the lack of organization and nonsensical verbiage used.
The style of verbiage used in the electronic text gives more power to the interactive participant in the sense that since the words do not fit into the typical English language, there are no boundaries for the words and sentences to conform to. The style of the text and the words in the text give the reader a vast and open area of interpretation. Hennessy’s style gives a sense of freedom and imagination to the reader that may differ from a typical piece of literature. Once you select the output button, you are presented with a list of “words” that have no definition or even exist in any known language; ordering this confusing list requires personal interpretation.
Since the style is open to interpretation and lacks a certain sense of structure, the text can take on any form that the participant chooses. For instance, the words and sentences being created can be considered a poem, story, game, and a variety of other forms of literature. The text allows the reader to enter into this game and drop all previous connotations of the word “poem,” “book,” or “story,” and even the definition of a “word” because in this game there are neither rules nor boundaries that force the reader to choose what to create.
I find that at first the text can be frustrating and confusing but once you drop all expectations of what words mean and what a coherent piece of text entails, you are able to enjoy the freedom and creativity that emerges from the interactive text. I find that this game (text) mirrors the imagination of a person reading a classic form of text. The mind interprets words differently based on experiences, teachings, and life in general. Often when reading a classic piece of text people find vastly different meanings than another person reading the same text. This piece of electronic text exemplifies this same notion. People are able to create and interpret meanings for themselves through the electronic text, the same as if they were reading a classic work of literature, but instead are free from the rules of classic literature.
This form of literature is just an evolution of classic literature. Different forms of text evolve over time and gradually morph to fit into the current time. With the rapid increase of technology, and especially the use of computers and other electronic devices, this form of literature is able to appeal to the new type of consumer. With this said, I find that this form of literature mimics aspects of a reader response style of criticism. Since this text relies greatly on the interpretation and participation of the reader, the text tis subject to a reader’s response of criticism. Reader response relies heavily on the reader and is completely open to interpretation. Since the words in the text aren’t part of any known language, the reader can create and interpret the words in any fashion that the reader would like. There are no rules binding the reader to come to the same conclusion of a word that another person would.