Dirk Günther and Frank Klötgen’s German ludic web fiction, or "combination adventure" (Simanowski 1999), Die Aaleskorte der Ölig (AÖ) was originally created for the 1998 Pegasus Competition, organized by the German broadsheet Die Zeit, which awarded it the First Prize. For the first-time reader, AÖ may well fall under the category of cybertext (cf. Ensslin 2007) as the program appears to take over control of the "film" once the reader has chosen his or her particular point(s) of view. Upon several readings, however, the reader gradually gains control over the underlying mechanisms, becoming the director of a filmic story, in that pespective lies in the reader's hands. At the end of each "film," or rather "commented slideshow," the authors suggest revisiting the text from a different set of perspectives, as there are 6.9 billion possible versions available.
AÖ places the reader in the position of a scriptwriter, who chooses the pictures and plot for a film. 20 scenes and points of view have to be selected prior to "watching" the video clip. Every scene can be viewed from the point of view of the eel, the child-narrator, a woman called Ölig, the fishmonger Hohmann, or the neighborhood children. Readers click their way through their pre-selected plots. The story revolves around the last minutes in the life of an eel, which is about to be beheaded by Hohmann, the fishmonger, and sold to Ölig. Depending on the chosen viewpoints, more or less information about each point of view will be revealed: of the eel, who tries to think of ways of escaping death, of Hohmann, who routinely goes through the process of killing the animal, of Ölig, who buys the fish because her doctor suggested it as a healthier alternative to meat, yet is horrified by its slipperiness and her own responsibility for its death, of the neighbourhood children standing by and frolicking whenever a fish has been caught, and, not least, by the child-narrator, the most obscure of all characters, who observes the story from a quasi-neutral point of view. From him we learn about a somewhat perverse sexual relationship between the fishmonger and his female client, with the phallic, castrated (beheaded) eel representing, in a psychoanalytical reading, the male penis and the female clitoris. After all, the Romans tellingly referred to the animal, which was considered the epitome of culinary (and, by the same token, oral sexual) pleasure, as rex voluptatis, "king of pleasure."
AÖ follows an aesthetic of disgust and revulsion. The story is kept at a mundane level, and the largely symbolically-employed, photographic images often display revolting scenes such as rotten food, blood, distorted faces, genitals, and slippery fish. The language is similarly mundane and colloquial. Upon re-reading the narrative, however, a more profound subtext is revealed. Continuing a psychoanalytical reading, the Ölig character represents the motif of the Electra complex. According to Simanowski (1999), the female protagonist sees in the eel the phallic desire for her lost father, symbolizing a postponed marriage. What seems more plausible to me, however, is her neurotic need to compensate for having been sexually abused as a child. Her inability to withdraw her order, along with her sadistic pleasure in watching the "dance" of the fishmonger’s penis and the moribund eel, conveys her yet un-assimilated aggression towards and revenge for male sexual violence. Her fear of repeated abuse by the phallic eel becomes evident in her insistence upon company on her way home.
From a meta-medial perspective, AÖ celebrates the re-incarnation of the linear in hypertext. In offering a plethora of different sequentially organized plots, it defies the usual craze surrounding non-closure and anti-linearity, thus reminding the reader about hypertext’s actual reception-oriented quintessence: "What makes hypertext hypertext is not non-linearity but choice, the interaction of the reader to determine which of several or many paths through the available information is the one taken at a certain moment in time" (Deemer 1994).
In addition to emphasizing the element of choice as pointed out by Deemer, AÖ lays bare the affinity between hypermedia and film, adding the element of reader control. The similarity with "Choose-your-own-adventure" stories is intended. However, the authors undermine the "willing suspension of disbelief" experienced in such projects by ways of disillusioning images, perverse imagery, and the banality of everyday life.
This entry has been adapted from A. Ensslin (2007), Canonizing Hypertext: Explorations and Constructions. London: Continuum, pp. 94-5.
- Deemer, C. (1994), ‘What is hypertext?’. Available at: www.ibiblio.org/cdeemer/hypertxt.htm [Accessed 18 May 2010].
- Simanowski, R. (1999), ‘Dirk Günthers und Frank Klötgens “Die Aaleskorte der Ölig”’. dichtung-digital. Available at: http://www.brown.edu/Research/dichtung-digital/Simanowski/18-Aug-99/inde... [Accessed 18 May 2010].