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It is almost impossible to read Patchwork
Girl without associating it with feminist issues, but it is not only the
characters and the content of the novel which leads to such associations.
Numerous critics have connected the hypertext itself with feminist issues.
Christopher Keep, for example, connects the breaking of the mind/body divide by
hypertext to fear of the overwhelming the minds of female readers by gothic
texts. Some such as Sa´nchez-Palencia
Carazo and Almagro Jime´nez contrast hypertext with “classic (and masculine?)
forms of composition” (127). Shelley Jackson herself said that “Hypertext is everything
that for centuries has been damned by its association with the feminine”
(“Stitch Bitch”). This view itself, Hackman points out, shows a problem with
the association between hypertext and feminism. Hackman believes that as “Jackson
does not argue that hypertext represents the feminine,” in her view, hypertext
is associated with “characteristics that have historically been labeled
feminine” and “this practice does not make multiplicity a de facto critique
of patriarchy” (92). Nevertheless, Patchwork Girl does rely on ideas
from Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and
Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” In addition, considering
Astrid Ensslin’s reading of Patchwork Girl emphasizing that, “the
concept of the female is no longer pre-defined in corporeal, biological terms
but produced by female imagination itself” (212), ultimately classifying it as
a work in cyberfeminism, and Hayles’s opinion that the concept of sewing makes
this work a female and feminist production (“Flickering”), it would be quite
impossible to read the work as commenting on ungendered multiplicity. Jackson,
according to Ensslin, sees virtual space as “women writer’s ideal breeding
ground (214).

Agency is by no means an essential
quality of all hypertext fiction, neither is it distributed equally throughout
the reading of a particular work such as Twelve Blue or Patchwork
Girl, which do give reader a certain amount of agency. A game in which
participants are “busy spinning dials, moving game pieces, and exchanging
money,” Murray explains, might have a high number of interactions, but give the
players almost no agency, while a game of chess involves interactions which are
very few and far apart, but a high level of agency (128). As noted before, Patchwork
Girl presents the reader much fewer choices to affect the order of the
lexias using links within each lexia. Hackman, discussing the lexias of the “a
quilt” section of the novel (discussed earlier), calls this section an “odd
case” where “the dotted line forces a particular action every bit as specific
and repetitive as turning a page” (99). Speaking of animal behavior, Murray
Shanahan explains that “it is not always appropriate to describe a behaviour as
a response to the perception that the environment affords it something” (53).
To illustrate this point and apply it to our reading of this section of Patchwork
Girl, as there is no need for the reader’s brain to “discriminate between
means” (the now automatic clicking of a link) and “end” (going to the next
lexia), they cannot be thought as having any level of agency in the outcome of
the story. This is probably why in Writing Machines, Hayles holds the
opinion that “these first-generation works were more like books …, because
they operated by replacing one screen of text with another, much as a book goes
from one page to another” (37). But even in this most strictly linear section of
the novel, Patchwork Girl makes up for the limitation most generously by
providing access to various maps, including the tree-map discussed above,
giving the reader the ability to navigate without limitation, even to lexias
they might literally miss through following in-lexia hyperlinks. This is much
more freedom that Twelve Blue would ever be able to afford a reader who
is trying to find their way out of a loop of recurring lexias. One must not
forget that flipping randomly through the pages of a book would not produce
anything near the experience of Hypertext fiction, as in doing this, you are
tearing apart a text which has been written to be read in a linear fashion
under the impression of unity, while works of hypertext fiction are
self-consciously (and essentially) fragmented to begin with. In a rather
self-reflexive passage in the lexia “this writing” we read that “when I open a
book I know where I am, which is restful. My reading is spatial and
volumetric,” whereas while writing in an electronic space is like history, a
“haphazard hopscotch through other present moments. How I got from one to the
other is unclear. Though I could list my past moments, they would remain

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Who is the true author of Patchwork
Girl? The question of authorship has always been a controversial topic surrounding
literary works, and this chapter does not intend to go into this pervasive
topic in any depth or detail. The (mostly intended) confusion which surrounds
the creation of the monster is similar to the confusion and dismay of Greek
scholars of the 1930s, who according to Murray, had found out that “Homer (and
other epic preliterate poets) created through a process that involved fitting
stock phrases and formulaic narrative units together” (153). The opposite
confusion which according to Murray surrounds electronic composition is
“attributing authorship to interactors” or the reader/users of the electronic
work. Rejecting this view, Murray contends that the interactors are not
experiencing authorship, but the “thrill of exerting power over enticing and plastic
materials,” which she calls “agency” (ibid).

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