Individual Work
In Small & Large Pieces

Published in issue 1:3 of the Eastgate Quarterly Review of Hypertext, Kathryn Cramer’s short poetic hypertext fiction, “In Small & Large Pieces” (“ISLP”) came bundled with Kathy Mac’s “Unnatural Habitats”, first as two 3.5-inch floppy disks for Macintosh and PC, and later on a single CD-ROM requiring 2 MB RAM and a hard disk drive. The work was originally “produced with Storyspace 1.08 and used 875K” (Grigar et al. 2019; Ensslin 2022). A “dark fantasy” and “postmodern Through the Looking Glass” (folio back cover), Cramer’s work aligns with numerous remediations of Alice in Wonderland in contemporary history of art, narrative, and digital culture (Salter 2015). The titular broken looking glass becomes a metaphor of “obsessive fragmentation” (blurb) throughout the text, and of how readers move between different types of texts, such as poems, hand-written notes, and captioned images “illuminates this moment of shattered self” (ibid).

ISLP consists of two main, interlacing parts: a narrative section that breaks into six chapters and can be read consecutively, by pressing the return key, and a poetry collection titled “The Mona Lisa Has Been Raped: Collected Poems.” The chapters in the narrative part are titled “Chapter 1: The Effect of Living Backwards,” “Chapter 2: Injury & Breakage,” “Chapter 3: Anna, Phantomwise,” “Chapter 4: The Unified Parent,” Chapter 5: Scrambled Eggs,” and “Chapter 6: The Mirror Shattered.” As suggested by the title page (fig. 3.6), readers are encouraged to “hit return to continue,” which will take them to the prefatory material and then on to the six chapters sequentially. The humorously named “poetry basement,” then, alludes to the basement in the story, where mysterious, “awful” events happen. The poetry collection comprises 13 short, lyrical poems, individual verses of which are interspersed into the narrative part.

Immediately following the title page is an epigraph, taken from E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel (1927). It programmatically introduces the work’s major structuring principle, which is the disruption of “sequence in chronology” and repeats in large fonts in the lexia, “That was the effect of living backwards.” This reversion might reflect the materiality of reading via the return key, which paradoxically leads onwards in the narrative whilst suggesting a reverse trajectory.

The default path introduces the protagonist Anna Miller, her twin sister Annabelle, her brother Martin, their parents, Norma and Martin, and Karl, “a man her father worked with” and presumably had a pedophilic love relationship with Anna. The first and sixth chapter jointly frame an embedded memory of parental neglect, drug abuse, suicidality, and a potentially drug-induced fantasy of Anna’s. The frame narrative centers on a broken mirror, smashed in what turns out to be one of many fights between Anna and her “opponent” brother Martin.

The idea of breaking and sewing together is programmatic throughout ISLP, and in centering broken and mended body parts, Cramer foreshadows Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, Or A Modern Monster, which appeared in 1995. The Frankensteinian motif materializes in a series of grotesquely rendered family crises, which cause the parents’ bodies to break apart whenever they are facing a crisis, and which lead to Martin severing one of Annabelle’s toes with a pair of pruning shears. In all instances, Anna becomes the mending force, taking care of sewing body parts back together and developing semantic-surgical strategies that end up re-uniting her ruptured parents into a “parental unit” of complementary identity that ends up “skuttl[ing] spider-like into the kitchen and made itself cups of tea” [You will.] This surrealism is backed up with actual quotes from Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, which Anna reads to her sister after the unified parent has closed the door behind themself.

References:

  • Ensslin, Astrid (2022) Pre-Web Digital Publishing and the Lore of Electronic Literature. Cambridge: C.U.P. Forthcoming
  • Grigar, Dene, Nicholas Schiller, Holly Slocum, Mariah Gwin, Andrew Nevue, Kathleen Zoller, and Moneca Roath (2019) Rebooting Electronic Literature: Documenting Pre-Web Born Digital Media, Volume 2. https://scalar.usc.edu/works/rebooting-electronic-literature-volume-2/index.