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The Unknown  10/4/04 - Hypertext by The Unknown

The Unknown is fabulous and hilarious. I've been looking for it for a while. It's awesome enough that I think I can entrust you to it before this review. You might get a kick out of reading it first, because it'll grab you.

Still here? Okay. It's hard to describe it because it's founded on a sleight of hand: it's the blog-like journal of a publicity tour for a book of essays about an anthology that never existed in either our world or the world of the story. The authors know it doesn't exist, but that doesn't stop them from writing about it, publicizing it, handing it out, or linking to it. The entire work swirls around so well that eventually it doesn't matter that the supposed subject never appeared; the real subject is the journey, the self-examination or lack thereof, and the ... aw-hell fun of it. Along the way they discuss hypertext, writing, spoof the publishing industry, parody themselves and what they're doing. It's House of Leaves, but funny instead of frightening.

It's the book tour my friends (known here as "the dudes") would take, and it's how they would record it, with a mix of cold-shower insight, riotous braggadocio, and disturbingly true hyperbole. It's written like it doesn't need to go anywhere, win any awards, be translated or made into a movie because the authors have already imagined it.

Structure so clear you can really lose yourself in it

The structure is well formed and well-communicated. At the bottom of each page is a distinct footer with a host of text links to boilerplate stuff: contact, press items, etc. But then there are six colored links for "lines"... basically threads or trails through the enormous number of lexia. The pages, one per lexia, are color-coded according to which thread they are on, which makes it possible for the reader to catalogue the entries and (in theory) read them exhaustively. Since you always have a couple of places to ground yourself and get your bearings, following links is a little less scary-- there's less at stake, you're not going to get lost. And if you feel like a change of pace, you can switch to another thread that feels better without the risk of not being lost once you get there, because the thread indices are still pretty opaque.

Nice Interstices, there

The Unknown takes the space between lexia to shift gears-- some lexia have a marathon feel to them, exhausting you in their decadence so that by the time you're ready to get off their drunken, debauched or just exhilirated ride (trying with half a mind to avert the hangover or its hypertext analogue lostness), there's a lexia on the other side of a link with a different pace-- perhaps a calmer, more meditative pace. Because it's an actual email, or just 'metafictional bullshit.'

Following links fits with the feel and rhythm of the story because the way the authors write is so fragmented to begin with. Many paragraphs or sentences feel like they might as well have a link between them. The excuse in the story might be that the writer is drunk and sitting in a loud bar, or that it's an excerpt of an email in reply to a message you haven't seen. Either way, it helps give the whole thing a consistent feel even while you move between authors, presented media, fiction, and fact. The Unknown escapes being dadaist cyberart despite the fragmentation.

Still getting the hang of this

It has been a long time since I wrote about a work. And even longer since I wrote in an even slightly unpretentious or non-academic way about something. I feel like I could sit down and write an entire paper about this one piece, but, man, it's a blog. There's so much out there. *shakes it out*