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The Unknown, a local hypertext novel

June 10, 2009

Heather took Jacob & I on a date last night.  First, we hit up a reading of a classic hypertext novel written by Urbana folks; then we nommed on some coconut ice cream from the food co-op & caught a show by Trutheater Theater at the IMC.  Yay.

The Unknown, written collaboratively in the 1990’s, tells the story of a book tour that takes on the excesses of a rock tour.  I happened to find it a few years back, in connection with 20-consonant poetry, a quirky poetic form that has its writers use every consonant in order before repeating any & produces texts such as “I quit my job: a crazy wage slave, dead hunk of pox.”  When I moved to Urbana, I composed this 20-consonant poem in an email to Rob Scott:

for urbana, you doozy:

how you pique my vox kit.

joy:

i juggle la casa

I had no idea, when I got interested in constrained poetry & the work of William Gillespie, that I would eventually move to his town & hang out with his friends.  A nice little surprise, that.

So William & Scott hosted this reading (the third author, Dirk, not present), with the book projected on a screen.  The Unknown consists of several short chapters connected by hyperlinks, telling interweaved fictional stories of the three authors in no particular order.  Scott did the clicking; William dinged on a glass to accent the hyperlinks.  They both read aloud.  We, the audience, shouted out hyperlinks when we felt so inclined, & we navigated the book together.  Sometimes, we’d happen to come back to a page we’d been to before, & the authors would pick up in their reading where we left off.

Afterward, the authors fielded some questions, about “electronic fiction” in general & this book in particular.  I enjoyed a little reminder that this work exists, & surely enjoyed hearing it come to life in a group setting.  Check it out & see what you think; the whole novel is available on the web, & has been since it was first composed.

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