Individual Work
Twighlight: A Symphony

Michael Joyce’s second major Storyspace hyperfiction, Twilight, a Symphony, adds elements of machine autonomy to a rich hypermedia design. It intersperses textual lexias with photographs, operating largely symbolically, i.e. independently of preceding or succeeding text spaces. Furthermore, the work contains sound files, mostly triggered by activating a new lexia, which function as brief, emotive signals of an underlying atmosphere (e.g. chirping crickets, music used as accompaniment for a number of textual lexias, and streaming video clips, which open up yet more symbolic layers of meaning to the already intricately interlaced textual and intersemiotic patterns). So do the different kinds of graphemic representation, including various font types and instances of pasted handwriting, both alphabetical and numerical. The infinity and evasiveness of meaning, which figure prominently in Twighlight, are further reinforced by a lexia entitled [Meaning], in which the author quotes from Harold Pinter’s letters to Peter Wood (1958): "Meaning begins in the words, in the action, continues in your head and ends nowhere. There is no end to meaning. Meaning which is resolved, parceled, labeled and ready for export is dead, impertinent, and meaningless."

In terms of subject matter and intertextuality, the author maps out his sociocritical and literary reference frame right from the outset. On the entry page he refers explicitly to Milorad and Jasmina Pavic, trapped in wintery Belgrade at the end of the Bosnian War. He quotes from a personal letter by Milorad Pavic, author of The Dictionary of the Khazars - one of the 20th century’s central proto-hypertexts. Pavic writes: "In this moment we live hardly, without bread and heating, so please, pray for us. But I am still publishing my books. The title of the last is ‘Forever and a Day’; it is a play. But I do not believe we could perform it here; theaters are not performing in Belgrade this winter."

Although the narrative framework does not explicitly refer to the war in the former Yugoslavia or indeed to any other war, it clearly focuses on matters of life and death, with a strong emphasis on the latter. The "Twilight" of the title is taken from a "Twilight Doctor" of the westward storyline, who provides euthanasia for those who desire it. He forms the hub around which the story revolves. The first person narrator, a former reporter called Hugh Colin Enright, reveals himself as a man who has become estranged from his wife and childnapped his infant son. In his hiding place, a holiday resort, he meets a couple of Polish refugees. In the westward storyline, Hugh reappears, ten years later, as the partner of the then terminally ill Polish woman (Magda), who seeks help from the notorious Twilight Doctor in committing suicide and thus finding relief from her pain. He decides to assist her himself, and the greater part of the text builds up the tension leading to the tragic yet redeeming moment. As it turns out, Hugh cannot bring himself to help her die, thus breaking his promise and upsetting her greatly. The reader skips between tragic episodes of last-minute togetherness and the narrator’s solitary musings, in which a wide array of seemingly incoherent philosophical concepts are revealed to the reader in a manner reminiscent of late Woolfian and Joycean stream of consciousness: "and sometimes thoughts came like thunder or there was never a disjunctive-or really only sometimes memories of flesh given over to something other than biomass once in Cambridge mass this sort of hardwired synaptic flash is called introibo ad altare if you work for it syntax generates storms […] [biomass]

The novel discontinues abruptly, with the words "out of memory" [out of memory] and "An unfinished novel" [Pleasant Lake], as though a sudden fit of amnesia had befallen the narrator, which he uses to suppress undesirable recollections. The notion of Magda’s death, however, pervades the hypertext throughout, thus building up the readers’ expectations to the tragic, albeit foreseeable event, and returns with every new reading path. The four topographically conceived story arcs, go, according to the author’s foreword, "east toward life (though in the past)," ‘west toward death (though in the future)’, south, or down, to the beginning of the story, "in something approximating the present moment of the shifting text" and north, or up, to "something like dream or mind, a set of sometimes fragmentary, sometimes speculative linkages" [our story so far]. Joyce further explains the story’s underlying macrostructural paradoxon, that the story starts at its own end, and even beyond the end of other stories contained within the hypertext. By explaining the intricacies of its macrostructure on the our story so far lexia, which every thorough reader is likely to read to obtain a general picture of the thematic background, Joyce implies that this hypertext evokes Borges’ The Garden of the Forking Paths in that it interweaves numerous layers of human consciousness and philosophical thought, such as concrete and virtual reality, historicity, metaphysics, mortality, existentialism, coincidence and temporality.

Joyce’s work uses Storyspace's ‘floating island’, as navigation tool. Appearing on the screen as a separate desktop item, it represents a separate indexical ‘space’. It contains four directional arrows, which virtually implement Bolter’s idea of topographic reading, as they help readers move through the arrangement of text spaces as outlined in the Roadmap. The Roadmap can be accessed by clicking on the question mark button on the same icon. Furthermore, a pop tool opens and closes text spaces, and a bi-directional arrow replaces the backshift key function for going backwards. Upon reading the hypertext, however, it becomes clear that the underlying structural principles as well as the seemingly transparent navigational devices are opaque than expected, as the four arrows do not reliably point in the afore-mentioned conceptual directions but operate on a highly arbitrary basis. The theme of coincidence, which permeates the whole text, is thus reflected in its structure. Mostly, only one of the four directions can be chosen, sometimes even none, which then causes the reader to fall back on other navigational means such as the bi-directional arrow (see below), which again does not necessarily lead backwards but oftentimes on to other semiotic elements like photographs, which open up new semantic dimensions. Similarly, upon having read the our story so far screen, the reader is taken to the following lexia in a randomized fashion, as the text, and not the reader, chooses different starting points.

Adapted from Astrid Ensslin's Canonizing Hypertext: Explorations and Constructions. London: Bloomsbury, 2006.

N.B.: An HTML version of the work has been created by Mariusz Pisarski et al. (2021).

Author statement: 
Eastgate's blurb: "Michael Joyce's Twilight, A Symphony is a courageous and innovative exploration of home, family, and the nostalgia that can't ever quite replace them. At the heart of Twilight is erstwhile reporter Hugh Colin Enright. Estranged from his wife, on the run, and sequestered with his infant son on the shores of Pleasant Lake, Hugh is befriended by an eccentric Polish politcal refugee and his wife, Magda. Years later, Hugh and the ailing Magda are together again, on a macabre odyssey in search of the Twilight doctor, the only person who might be willing to help Magda end her life. In its fearless exploration of death and desire, Twilight, A Symphony takes an unflinching yet deeply compassionate look at the fears and longings that haunt us all. Twilight, A Symphony is an original hypertext by a master of the form."