Individual Work
Shandean Ambles, Drunken boat

Deena Larsen’s Shandean Rambles (2004) is a hypertext adaptation of the famous eighteenth-century novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent. (1760-1767), by Laurence Sterne. Larsen sets her narrative in Shandy Hall, Coxwold, England, Sterne’s place of residence, where the narrator and protagonist has been invited “to play” and “write something” in the span of twenty-four hours. She asks, “What should I write?” and thereby begins, as the title anticipates through the homophone "amble," to ramble. Using a deceptively simple design that resembles early web pages and consists primarily of text, hyperlinks, and photos, Larsen recreates the form and experience of reading Sterne’s novel, which is a response to eighteenth-century novelistic concerns about verisimilitude, linearity, authority, and materiality, and was delivered in nine volumes across seven years. The volumes are represented in the hypertext’s path of nine nodes. In turn, the path recreates the experience of reading Sterne’s lengthy narrative of digressions by way of hyperlinks that lead to other nodes. Each node has a central concern which is announced in the tabs of each page, such as “Of space and time” or “Of penetrating morality” and while these might be lined up on a browser in an attempt at linearity, Shandean Ambles like Tristram Shandy denies the reader linearity and completion. Digression is inevitable for it shapes the narration and is bound to happen with the click of a hyperlink. The reading of the text mirrors the narrator’s wandering path through Shandy Hall, as she comments on seemingly random topics which are hyperlinked, from the taste of black currants to the color and texture of an copy of Tristram Shandy. Thus the reader is gently led into a wandering reading practice. In fact, Larsen’s piece comments upon the act of reading not only by eluding linearity and completion, but also by embedding surprises for careful readers that call on them to be actively involved in the creation of their reading experience. For instance, if a reader is diligent about clicking through the hyperlinks, she will find that Larsen included an error in a link so that it leads to an error page. This, in turn, is an invitation for the reader to carefully ponder the work’s digital nature, consider if this is a sincere mistake, and thereby, turn her attention to the code that shapes the hypertext. Upon careful examination, the reader can realize that this error page was intentionally created by the author—she added an extra period to the link rendering it useless. By directly interacting with the link and correcting the error, the reader then continues on the path. This is one of many staged errors in the text, which speak back to the obsession with error correction in print that preoccupied Sterne’s contemporaries. Ultimately, in Larsen’s work, these mistakes bring attention to the nature of reading electronic literature, where volumes are tabs, pages are nodes, where readers must use their hands to type, click, and make choices that at times even place them in the role of the programmer. All of these aspects of Shandean Ambles are announced through the header, which is a remediation of the famous life lines of Tristram Shandy. Each curve in the line is a hyperlink. But the header is not static. Letters drop and rise to interact with “Ambles” in the work’s title. As “sh” rises up from white space, the word “amble” becomes “shamble,” an “r” turns it into “rambles,” and with a “g” it becomes “gambles.” “Shamble” and “amble” both describe an uneven, easy gait or pace, which corresponds to the rambling nature of the hypertext’s path. Crucially, “gambles” announces the choices the reader makes in clicking certain hyperlinks and not others, thereby associating the act of reading with a game of chance.