The interactive digital story “At Nightfall, the Goldfish” by Melody Mou explores the use of hypertext to tell an interconnected story of life, death, and reincarnation/afterlife. This work is made up of 5 individual first-person narratives in which the viewers can decide on the order of reading. Each story is presented in a similar layout in which only keywords of the text are visible until the reader hovers the cursor over the word and the rest of that line of text is revealed. This digital narrative was published in the 2021 issue of The New River, an online resource/platform for sharing digital literature and art.
Mou is a new media artist who specializes in combining digital tech and visual art with relation to poetic storytelling. Her work details her interest in moral philosophy, artistic vocabulary as well as the inclusion of experimental narrative strategies. Viewers can access this work through The New River website, through Mou’s personal website as well as through the link below. It is open access, and no additional programs or downloads are required to view. When accessing this piece through The New River website it is available either through a smaller screen directly on The New River website or through an additional link provided (and recommended) that opens the work in a new browser allowing for a larger viewing screen. It is also available without the animation and interactions by clicking the “About” hyperlink located within the work (or access here). Although accessible on a variety of devices (i.e., smartphone) it is most effectively viewed on a computer in which the full effect of the animation and text can be experienced. The main requirement of the viewer is to select which characters story they wish to view and within each story, continue to move, and then hover the cursor over a selected word to reveal the complete line of the text.
The main page of this work is an interactive experience with water in which the cursor creates a ripple effect when moved around on the page. As the water ripples on the main page, the faint words that are pulled from each story blur together and are unable to be read. This addition of water ripples and the blurring of words symbolizes the blurring together of each character’s lives and stories. As you continue to move through the work, each page offers this animation of rippling water. Water, which in itself is a symbol of the circle of life acts as a symbol of the overall passage through a lifetime(s) and how life, death, and even the afterlife are all part of the same story. Beyond this symbolic representation of water, this animation displays a newer form of electronic literature that has moved away from simple blocks of text (lexia) and towards more animated, graphic, and multi-modal work. As discussed in “Electronic Literature: What is it”, Hayles describes a change in electronic literature to pieces that present more creativity by combining animations, graphics, colour, sound, and/or hypertext (Hayles, NA). “At Nightfall, the Goldfish” is a prime example of a text that uses hypertext in a creative, elegant, and multi-modal way that goes beyond just a link in itself.
This work is a collection of individual stories that intertwine regardless of the order they are read and begins by offering a map where the viewer can select from 5 stories. This gives the viewer the freedom to select their preferred order of the characters’ stories, as well as open the overall piece to different interpretations. In describing this piece, Mou emphasizes the theme of metempsychosis, which by definition refers to the transmigration of the soul, or the life after death (More on Metempsychosis here). The choice given by the author to decide which order the individual narratives are read creates a feeling of interconnectedness throughout the piece that presents a theme of continuity throughout the lives of the individuals, or the life of one individual over time. I think that the author wanted to keep the story open to interpretation and to explore the concept of life, death, and beyond. In “Hypertext, the Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology” Landow defines hypertext as words that can be “linked electronically by multiple paths, chains or trails in an open-ended, perpetually unfinished textuality” (Landow, 3). I found this definition to be enlightening in relation to “At Nightfall, the Goldfish” because Mou’s use of hypertext to extend the storyline’s meaning is exactly what Landow has described its best use as, to create a chain-like story that is open-ended and thus offering multiple interpretations.
Overall, this piece was easy to access and presented a unique approach to hypertext. The authors creativity and use of hypertext through her art and poetry created an interactive, symbolic, interconnected as well as open-ended narrative that offered the viewer an accessible and beautiful experience with electronic literature.
Written for Dani Spinosa’s ENGL 4309H: Digital Adventures in English at Trent University - February 2022.
Hayles, N. Katherine. "Electronic Literature: What Is It?". Eliterature.Org, 2007, https://eliterature.org/pad/elp.html.
“Hypertext and Critical Theory (selection).” Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology, by George P. Landow, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992, pp. 2–13.
"Metempsychosis - The Art And Popular Culture Encyclopedia". Artandpopularculture.Com, http://www.artandpopularculture.com/Transmigration_of_the_soul.
Mou, Melody. Melodymou.Com, https://www.melodymou.com/.