Renko Heuer (Berlin)
Pierre, the Lucky Avatar:
Stories have endings. He doesn't need endings. Ceaseless flow, that's the ticket. Even if of nothing but emptiness. (Coover 2002: 390)|
Like pearls on a necklace, they join together to create a narrative that, by the nature of its construction, is fragmented and connected rather than related. (Andersen 1981: 84)
"We're trying to create something like literature," Mr. Coover said. (Mirapaul: n.p.)
Long before The Public Burning (1977) established his prominence in contemporary American fiction, Robert Coover had achieved a reputation for originality and versatility.2
Even when he first started publishing his writings in the sixties, equipped with a seemingly endless amout of ideas, his ever-present intention was to retell stories already in circulation and thereby reshape traditional forms as well as ironically manipulate them into a metaficional parody of narrative conventions. Being aware of the fact, that one can "say exactly the same thing twice and yet get something so different out of it each time," (LP: 0) Coover explored the relevance of fictions, and the danger of believing in these "artificial creations" as if they were truth, which, in Coover's opinion leads to becoming "entrapped within his own patterns and designs" (Viereck 1980: 19). Developing on "the Borgesian claim that both literature and the world are equally fictive realities" (O'Donnell 1989: 4), Coover "[has been presenting] not only what 'does happen' (which by itself is in conventional literature a screaming ambiguity, considering that even the most traditional fiction is completely made up) but all the things which could happen." (Klinkowitz 1975: 17) Thus, he has always been a man of vast possiblities (or better: of unused links).
Coover has chosen genres and styles as manifold as Western (Ghost Town), biblical stories (The Origins of the Brunists), old fairy tales ("The Gingerbread House"), fables, children's stories, or went as far as to apply Cubist methods to his writing ("The Babysitter"). Accordingly, fragmentation, montage and multiplicity of viewpoints made most of his fictions appear like an entropic universe (or "reservoir") of narrative possiblities that existed mainly to highlight man's need to order through fictions the chaos of his/her world. "[Man's] tendency to believe as truth the fictions he has created, the stultifying effects of such dogmatic fictions as religion, history, science, and mathematics, and how these subjects reveal humanity's inner desire to self-destruct," (Andersen 1981: 10) were presented in order to stress that – according to Coover – there are no larger patterns to life, no underlying meanings to be extracted. All we ever do (and all we ever can do,) is tell stories. For Coover, any myth/story is a sham, which people adopt in their need to give life meaning, having arisen from our natural desire for order, from our longing to categorize everything surrounding us into pairs of binary oppositions.
To Coover, fiction has always been "a form of recreation," (Andersen 1981: 15) but with the emergence of new technical possiblities his recreational occupation has changed over the years. In 1980, Coover joined Brown's creative writing department as an adjunct lecturer and was named the T. B. Stowell University Professor in 1990. While at Brown, he began to focus on an emerging way of writing literature: hyperfiction.
The simplest definition of hypertext is Theodore Nelson's, "nonsequential writing." (McGann: n.p.)
As one moves through a hypertext, making one's choices, one has the sensation that just below the surface of the text there is an almost inexhaustible reservoir of half-hidden story material waiting to be explored. (Coover 1993: 1)
PhiN 34/2005: 30
[H]yperfiction is the successor to surfiction–where surfiction was inventive, hyperfiction is interventive, hyperfiction like hypertext is interactive–hyperfiction projects itself into the world by, to put it crudely, making something happen, making somebody react and act on others, not simply adding to reality as with surfiction, but changing reality, hyperfiction is activist fiction [ ] (Sukenik 1995: 50)
The age we live in is full of hypertexts – we use them on a daily basis, without even taking notice:
|When you type 'http' at the beginning of a Web address, that's short for 'hypertext transfer protocol,' and what you are telling the computer is that hypertext is the language and space within which the things you want to see lie. [ ] So, using hypertext, instead of turning to a new page based on a number, a new page is chosen by clicking on hotlinks – a highlighted word or button on-screen. Often thought of as a mere resource for fact-finding, the Web is fast becoming a place where cutting-edge authors and poets can create literature using hypertext as a whole new set of tools – with a whole new set of problems. (Dorr 1999, n.p)|
Devoting much of his time and energy to this set of problems, Robert Coover eventually wrote "The End of Books" in 1992. In this essay he discusses the promising future of hypertext and the apparently inescapable death of books. Coover offers an extreme view why "the novel, too, as we know it, has come to its end" (Coover 1992). Well before the breakthrough of the Internet, Coover also claimed that hypertext dominates our society (as opposed to books). But what are the advantages of hypertext?
Paper can be seen as a means to trap a text in a prison-like confinement. The linear organization of paper bound text not only presents an unchangeable beginning and end, since every part of the text is fixed. Moreover, in so called "flatland text," all the choices have already been made: the story, its mode, register, characters, scenes and details are arranged in a certain order: "The reader has to accept the choices the writer made, like a visitor in an art gallery has to accept the painters' choices of color, tone, perspective, motive, etc." (Fauth 1995: 34)
In contrast, computers can 'free' the text, and lead to a pluralism of voices and meanings, thereby relieving the text of its (false) stability. Furthermore, a hypertext no longer has hierarchies and thus offers a rather democratic kind of reading. (Rau 2000) Accordingly, the traditional authority of the author can finally be diminished, if not fully overcome. Predetermined structure and coherence are broken into a non-linear, labyrinthine, pluralistic, multicentered, fluid, rhizomatic and polyvoiced network or 'database of lex.' In Coover's essay, we find a definition which highlights these aspects:
|"Hypertext" is not a system but a generic term, coined a quarter of a century ago by a computer populist named Ted Nelson to describe the writing done in the nonlinear or nonsequential space made possible by the computer. Moreover, unlike print text, hypertext provides multiple paths between text segments, now often called "lexias" in a borrowing from the pre-hypertextual but prescient Roland Barthes. With its webs of linked lexias, its networks of alternate routes (as opposed to print's fixed unidirectional page-turning) hypertext presents a radically divergent technology, interactive and polyvocal, favoring a plurality of discourses over definitive utterance and freeing the reader from domination by the author. Hypertext reader and writer are said to become co-learners or co-writers, as it were, fellow-travelers in the mapping and remapping of textual (and visual, kinetic and aural) components, not all of which are provided by what used to be called the author. (Coover 1992: n.p.)|
In the following sections of my essay I am going to 'enter' Lucky Pierre, thereby keeping the above mentioned notions in mind. Before 'mapping and remapping' the printed body of the novel, however, I am going to introduce Lucky Pierre himself, as well as his surroundings: the world of movies.
Coover's fascination with this new (hypertextual) set of opportunities is obvious, but not surprising regarding the fact that he has been trying to incorporate other media (especially film) into his writing for four decades.3 He even went as far as to state,
|I work with language because paper is cheaper than film stock. And because it's easier to work with a committee of one. But storytelling doesn't have to be done with words on a printed page, or even with spoken words: we all learned that as kids at our Saturday morning religious experience in the local ten-cent cinemas. Probably, if I had absolute freedom to do what I want, I'd prefer film. (Coover/McCaffery 1981: 53)|
On the other hand, Coover also saw the dangers of film/television when he called it "man's greatest and most dangerous invention of all time, give or take a bomb or two." (Viereck 1980: 76) The "person" who has to cope with these dangers is Lucky Pierre (L.P.), the protagonist of Coover's latest novel and larger-than-life porn-celebrity of Cinecity, a place where the only available reality is to be found in the movies. His nine directors/muses produce porn movies, the only available genre in the closed system of Cinecity. Accordingly, the unknown masses of people with "failed imaginations" find themselves either in a theater seat, jerking off, or they become part of "the rain of suicides from above." (LP: 32) In contrast to this, L.P. is "the man of the moment, the lord of the leg-over, the star, the one and only: Lucky Pierre." (LP: 4) There might be "other lives to live, other genres" (LP: 394) to explore, but not here, not in this environment, and definitely not in this book. To sum up one can say that Lucky Pierre is first and foremost a novel on sexuality and violence, two themes that Coover has often treated since the beginning of his career. 4
Being one of Coover's typical anti-heros, L.P. is constantly falling, being beaten up and has to stumble around with bruises all over his wretched body. This image of a loser with pants (constantly) down represents the notion that "every man is unique, alone, poised over chaos." (Scholes 1967: 172) or as Kathryn Hume concludes:
|To Coover, man is quintessentially vulnerable – through his fears, through his inability to feel comfortable with a meaningless cosmos, and through his dying flesh. (Hume 1979, qtd. in Viereck 1980: 63)|
In order to present this notion, Coover had invented L.P. in the seventies, when he wrote "Lucky Pierre and the Cunt Auction." (Andersen 1981: 139) Coover's image of pornography and the pornographer, "that great moviemaker / aging star Lucky Pierre" (Cope 1986: 54) is a blurred one. Lucky Pierre, who is "watching the pictures and being in them at the same time" (Cope 1986: 147) can never be sure of his surroundings, his 'reality.' He represents a severe case of 'not-knowing,' or being thrown into a perverted world that bears no stability: He has no life outside his films (which he mostly does not even remember).
Thus, Coover plays with the belief that writing, or in L.P.'s case producing a film, is a means of recording reality, which, in turn, is a means of implanting meaning and order in an otherwise meaningless universe. In its most extreme manifestation the need for structure and pattern leads to a kind of mania that accepts as fact only what is recorded, registered, and chronicled, and thus certified as reality.
Yet, L.P., like any other quest novel protagonist, has to cope with surroundings "no more coherent than the random throw of dice." (Harris 1971: 133) There is no way that he will find a straight line in the movies which are "directed upon him" by the nine friends/lovers/muses/bosses. From initial C's to C-words, the novel revolves around an abyss and never (not even in the end) comes to a full stop.
In my opinion, an explanation for this "circulating chaos" can be found in the structure of the novel, which consists of endless layers and shifts, like a hypertext. The instability and fluidity of the surroundings L.P. finds himself thrown into, make it impossible for him to establish a pattern he can live by. He is constantly being thrown back and forth, in and out, "fort and dada," in a constant whir of (e)motion.
In the following sections of the essay I am going to reveal how interconnectedness and malleability (which we can also find in hypertext fiction) are a way of explaining the lack of order and coherence.
|That's true. In fact, the director's original idea was to include every conceivable combination and order, but the variations were so numerous it actually would not be possible to witness them all in one lifetime, even if watched twenty-four hours a day on fast forward, much less to film them all or to do that much fucking. (LP: 30)|
In Lucky Pierre the nine muses/directors use "entropy's special effects" (LP: 121) in order to install "weird experiments in digital uncertainty, making works of no fixed form, but so made as to cause each showing to be a complete reassembling of all the parts." (LP: 127) Additionally, the author (be it Coover or one of his invented muses) and ("co-")reader also find themselves in the above mentioned process of deconstruction and reassemblage. Any link (=word?) can be "a timeshift, a flashback," (Joyce 1997, n.p.) disrupting any form of expected coherence or straight development.5
Lucky Pierre, whose only form of memory is to be found in the movies he stars in, is thrown into a fluid universe that is devoid of continuity of time. Subtitles are the only hints Coover gives, for example when the message "YEARS PASS" appears "quivering at the tip of his penis" (LP: 140). Very much like a projection, L.P. 'lives' a 'life' within disrupted time and space. He is a man, "the shadow of a man, caught in an empty white triangle, a three-sided barrenness, walking alone in a lifelike parable of empty triads, between a pair of dotted lines, defined as it were by his own purpose: forever to walk between these lines, snow or no snow, taking his risks." (LP: 3) Accordingly, he is falling (or being thrown by Coovers muses, who seem to be doing part of the co-reading/editing with us) from frame to frame, from link to link.
In hyperfiction the reader/user can always go back to the starting point: Lucky Pierre appears to live through this introductory scene for a second time when
|an image begins to appear, blurrily indistinct at first, then slowly revealing itself to be a man walking in a snowstorm. Or perhaps not walking; the snow is moving but the man, fixed and solitary as the figure in a pedestrian crossing sign, is not. (LP: 86)|
The way Coover applies recurring scenes and motifs seems to be a way of linking separate sections of the novel. These linked passages add to the feeling that the text is a floating reservoir and give way to either forward or backward motion within the body of the book. Additionally, the motif of movement (or being moved) constantly reappears in Coover's writing, so that the reader can never be sure whether the persons or the surroundings are in the process of moving:
|But Cassie's film no longer coincides precisely with his felt experience, for he believes himself still to be plunging away from above, while the bodies in the film seem to be slowly rolling across the wooden floor, or else the room is rolling around the bodies, the floor appearing and disappearing between the knotted cheeks of Cassie's flawless ass [ ]. (LP: 140)|
This constant flux is a characteristic one can also find in hypertext fiction. A place devoid of rules (and time), Cinecity's cinematographic pseudo-realities couldn't possibly work according to the rules of cause and effect: "Something happens, and then – crack! – something else happens. In those days, she says now, time was measured with one-way mechanical clocks rather than multifocal densimeters and it could not yet be stored. Has she said this before?" (LP: 60) She probably has, since Coover's novel is "stuffed" with repetitions.6 Of course, Coover also returns to the phrase quoted above: "something happens and then something else happens, and all he can do is accept what comes and savor the best of it." (LP: 137)
An environment like Cinecity (as well as hypertext or Coover's entire novel) can't possibly have a predetermined or fixed center – here, as in hyperfiction,7 everything can become center for a span of time but will not remain so for long. Cleo's "life-in-a-day-of-film" (LP: 67) in Reel 2 reveals how everything that happens is a mix that always remains in the middle, never comes to an end but endlessly circulates around the unstable: "It's all middle. No shape." (LP: 68) Furthermore, the "circuit space"8 of the novel with its manifold temporary centers (or "truths") is mirrored in "circular words" such as "METROMORTEM" (LP: 173) that Cassie is obsessed with.
The opening section of Reel 3 serves as a good example for both the non-existent continuity (and center) and circular arrangements (like the ones a user can co-produce in hypertexts). In this scene Lucky Pierre is a victim of Clara's going back and forth: rewinding and slow motion. From "sliding upward:/ – What-the-fuck-is-t-h-a-t-t-h-i-n-g-D-O-I-N-G-?!!" (LP: 92) he is moved backwards after flying through the air until he finally "finds the desk again -/-G-N-I-O-D-g-n-i-httahtsikcufehttahw!" (LP:93) and "hippety-hops back through a high-pitched gibberish of reversed greetings into the elevator [ ]." (LP: 93) Coover, playing with the possiblities of film once more reveals the fact that there is no fixed direction to be found.
When shifting from one part of this intratextual 'middle' to another, L.P. always comes across "snowy intersection[s]" (LP: 69) which are comparable to static which can be seen when a TV station is not tuned in properly. In these moments, L.P. is in between links and not part of any story: In the very moment no one tells a story about him, his existence fades into the nothingness of static, which leads us back to Coover's obsession with the retelling of stories: If nothing is told, nothing remains (but static).9
Comparable to re-telling, the reader always has the option of going back and forth within the reservoir of linked sub-stories, and will indeed be obliged to do so; the intratextually interwoven (hypertextual) character of the novel forces the reader to constantly think back, or possibly even reread certain parts of the book. Thus, a reader of Coover's fiction is constantly reminded of the necessity of retelling. This obligation is also verbalized in the novel, when Coover writes that
"[a]nnouncements appear on the pale rippling travelers: warning viewers of the heavy penalties for leaving the theater before the program is concluded, interfering with the orgasms of other patrons, booing and whistling and other felonies." (LP: 80) Accordingly, in the perverted world of Cinecity, the faceless masses are forced to consume stories. And so is the reader of Lucky Pierre.
Finally, Coover sums up every aspect of discontinuity/rupture when he has Cissy say that "[t]here's no more past, no more future, all those patently false assumptions we used to cling to about time and memory, all those old gimmicks we used to use to simulate continuity – the medium shot followed by the close-up, the mystique of moral decisions, the plotline with its so-called developments, the unacknowledged back projection – were past all that now, L.P., like you yourself have always said. Remember?" (LP: 117)
Of course, he doesn't remember. He never does. It's not him who is aware of what's going on, he's too busy saving his sorry 'self' (and 'prick'). But if it's not him, it's at least the reader of the novel who can get a glimpse of Coover's hypertextual aesthetics, although Coover is enough of a trickster to interrupt the muses in midsentence:
|It's a whole new metalanguage, L.P. It's all about permutations and syncretism and the unpredictable, played out in omnidirectional circuit space [my italics, R.H.], in which time is spread out in a kind of freeform geography. It's where we're going, into new serial experiences of the essential randomness and ever-present newness of the –" (LP: 117)|
Coover interrupts the flow of the sentence ("Everything is interruptus." [LP: 402]) not only in this case, but does so several times throughout the novel. Another example for these 'brokeback explanations'10 is the reflection about Lucky Pierre who supposedly
|knows he must turn away from abstractions and – foo! – fantasies toward the concrete, knows he must cope more directly with – ungh! – with disorientation and – ah!oh! oh, this is beautiful; this is very good! – with disorientation and entropy, yet he achieves this – hah!uf! – through a new respect for – oh! – for symbolic systems – hah! – and purely conceptualized – WOW!" (LP: 104)|
Since Clara in the passage quoted first does not finish her sentence either, L.P. cannot possibly know. Again, this conversation can be understood as linked to the approach of another director: Cassie. When it's her turn to communicate with L.P. through one of her "talking massages" she begins to explain that there "is anything beyond or within the .But then it's gone again" (LP: 394).
This episode is linked directly to another at the end in which it becomes obvious that the question about the "meaning of it all" is not the "main thing": "Euterpe wrote a short scene where we all asked each other who we thought he was, behind all his names and self-contradictions, but I asked her to take it out. [ ] All that's left, dear Urania, is love." (LP: 399)
Coover may have left out and cut away parts of these passages but the reader can still see that these statements could have possibly ended with an explanation of the novel and the bottomline to all hypertexts: "there are no [fixed] meanings. Only encounters." (LP: 158) There are only symbolic systems that might lead to severe disorientation, only linked possiblities.
Coover plays with link-like passages not only in the cases mentioned above but does so from his first to last sentence: the reader can understand the multiplicity of possibilities in Lucky Pierre as a rejection of the "objective paradigm of reality as the great 'either/or'" and is rather asked "to embrac[e], instead, the 'and/and/and'" (Douglas 1991, qtd. in Joyce 1995: 162).
Unfortunately, L.P. himself is not able to embrace this indeterminate series and experiences these links more like an "or/or/or": "Or /Or are those dreams, after all? Is it Cleo's cunt?/Or is this, rather, some kind of strange damp theater, he the sputtering bulb of a magic lantern [ ]?" (LP: 52) Indeed, the lexical field of the story does turn like a magic lantern, and Lucky Pierre is nowhere to be found, yet everpresent. At one point, Coover even goes as far as to split L.P. into several persons when he writes that there are "[i]n fact [ ] two of them out in front of him – no, three! Four! – like a rising and falling chorus of selves" (LP: 144).
Furthermore, his encounter with the old lady is one of the most obvious passages in which L.P. seems to come across the same links. Here, the old lady can function as a link because she is always found in the same position (and possibly at the same time, even if more than hundred pages 'later.') As early as on the fourth page of the novel he "glissandos right into the old lady's humped-over backside, bowling her heels over head into the street with a jab of his stiff penis." (LP: 4) This encounter is replayed when he runs her over again in the third reel: "a little old lady gets in his way, oops, too bad" (LP: 119), and in the seventh reel, in which "[s]he's standing half in him, half out" (LP: 93) so that "he has a woman in his cock." (LP: 94) Of course, she is killed again.
All the intratextual links I have mentioned so far lead to L.P.'s uncertainty "whether he has actually [experienced things] or is only contemplating them" (LP: 33). Accordingly, through this "chain of many links, which by a beautiful gradation, conduct us from one to the other," (LP: 52) not only give L.P. a taste of chaos but also the reader. Yet, not only intratextual links can be found in Lucky Pierre.
Besides the intratextual links described the reader can also find manifold intertextual ones. Lucky's name can be understood as an allusion to Melville's Pierre, who is also in search of his own identity. In addition to this, John Barth's Lost in the Funhouse becomes "Lust in the Fun House" (LP: 97) and William Gass's William Master's Lonesome Wife is played with when Coover mentions L.P.'s film "Feeling Blue: The Traveling Salesman and the Lonesome Wife" (LP: 366) in which L.P. has taken on one of his manifold names: Wee Willie.
Intertextuality, "most directly informed by semiotics and derived from the work of structuralism, defines a text as always in process, continually changing its shape." (O'Donnell 1989: x) This changing is manifested as well in hyperfiction.
Finally, one can even go as far as to say that Lucky Pierre himself is the link. He links every possible story that is told in the novel as well as everything that seems to happen in Cinecity. Possible narrative pathways and "spread thighs are as numerous and anonymous as the stars, dear friends, and lead only to that black abyss where nothing is revealed." (LP: 87) Accordingly, the Mayor "cannot offer him [(L.P.)] the key to the city, [ ] because he is the key to the city!" (LP: 87) Lucky Pierre might be the key, but nevertheless he has no key that enables him to leave Cinecity (and his wretched body): Every time he tries to escape, he has to face the "fact" that this task is an impossible one, an "Impossible Journey" (LP: 73) Yet, the plot he is entrapped in is not only created by the nine muses but also by an inanimate fellow story creator: the plot bot. Again, a phenomenon we also find in the discourse on hypertext.
Computers can not only be applied to show text fragments which a reader/user can put into order but they are also used for generating order by themselves. Anja Rau, who calls this application "Textgeneratoren" even goes so far as to say that this feature could make an author completely obsolete. (Rau 2000: 67) Coover places his knowledge about "Chatterbot[s]" (Kamphusmann 1997: 151) in Lucky Pierre when Catherine/Kate and Cora also invent a text-generating machine: the plot bot.
|The robotic apparatus [ ] is called a plot bot, [and] has been programmed with all known epic plots, as well as elements from romance and other genres. One moves through this vast database by making choices, the results of which will be visible to everyone up on the video wall. They are not rational choices but purely gestural; one moves or is moved and the story changes. Or, in this case, two move, and multiple simultaneous choices are made, which more often than not conflict with each other. (LP: 310)11|
It is this "conflict with each other" that makes the reading of Lucky Pierre so disturbingly anti-linear. Cissy, another director involved in this project, is the one "providing the content and the links," (LP: 340) which are combined in "no particular order." (LP: 393) Yet, what exactly happens to L.P. in the novel? L.P. might not "understand [what] happens, but he supposes he soon will." (LP: 310) He can only suppose, because, again, it's not that easy: it's not only the plot bot but the users of it, who make the moves to which the robotic apparatus merely reacts. Keeping this in mind, one can even go so far as to say that Lucky Pierre might be a character in a videogame.
|BUT: now there's more to communication, more to language, more to text production, than the book. There are all manner of videos, graphic novels, dissident comix, CD-ROMS, computer hypertexts, earplays, and, soon, in a universally-accessible location near you, a small black box that will sit on top of your reconstructed soon-to-be-a-computer TV that will bring into your private space all kinds of fireworks created by (yep, it's true) writers. Electronic writers. Which, it ends up, most of us already are. (Amerika/Olson 1995: 2)|
Keeping in mind that videogames may be considered hyperfictions, one may also consider Lucky Pierre the protagonist of a videogame that the nine muses/directors play with. This would also explain his constant feeling of "falling, falling, falling, – !" (LP: 133) He "has no free will[,]" (LP: 13) whether he is attached to the plot bot or not. All in all, "he is submerged wholly in his antagonist's fantasies" (LP: 316). Consequently, Lucky Pierre is nothing beyond the visual (in the reader's case verbalized) possibilities the nine muses have created for him. "He is [their] creation, an embodied trajectory that [they] have seen through from beginning to end." (LP: 386)
Like a character that is moved across the computer screen, all nine of Lucky Pierre's muses try to master certain levels of the game, in the process wrecking his virtual body. The encounter with the old lady (as mentioned earlier) is probably one of the first levels, since it appears to be rather simple to get beyond, and they (the muses!) even manage to 'kill' her every time.
Kate's mantra also reveals that Lucky Pierre is a toon, a character: "What ain't toon, ain't real. More radically, she is attempting to reverse the direction by infecting the real world, so-called, with cartoon motion." (LP: 336) Kate being somewhat "unreal" herself (having been assembled by L.P. when he received her as "Cunt of The Month" [LP: 113]) treats him the nicest and shows the most respect. Nevertheless, L.P., the soulless character ("he's got a soul now, can't remember if he had one befor" [LP: 66]) only manages to escape the power of the plot bot once, when it is reported that there has been "damage inside the bot, [along with all kinds of] deletions and broken links and file corruptions" (LP: 325) The result is chaos:
|Cyberterrorists have hacked into the city's computer circuit, inserting interactive erotica so powerfully disturbing it can pop and blister hard drives! And now their notorious crazyleg virus, named after the rebel's mysterious leader, is spreading through the network like a kind of venereal disease, causing computers, in effect, to fall in love, creating a consuming desire in them to obliterate the past and fall headlong into the present, exhilaratingly free of programmed restrictions and keyboard commands! Users who log on are told to fuck off! Chaos reigns! (LP: 67)|
Yet, this is only an exception. Generally speaking, it's due to the fact that the programmer limits the set of possibilities within the "story-reservoir" of a videogame, that L.P. is constantly "longing desperately for something different to happen." (LP: 34) But there is no way to escape this situation, even though "[h]e need only find the magic threshold; but as yet nothing but misleading signs and false avatars: a doorkeeper, a parlor maid, an administrative assistant, a cook, a masseuse [ ]." (LP: 315) All of which he has killed, as if he was part of a shoot-and-run game. One word mentioned in this passage – "avatar" – is another proof of Coover's hypertextual/computer knowledge: The World of Avatars.
Lev Manovich begins his essay "The Aesthetics of Virtual Worlds" with the following words: "Welcome to a Virtual World! Strap on your avatar! Don't have the programming skills or time to build your own? No problem. We provide a complete library of pre-assembled characters; one of them is bound to fit you perfectly." (Manovich 1996: n.p.) An Avatar is "a graphical representation of yourself in 3-D Web environment[s] like meta-worlds" (Saila 2005: n.p.) Another definition found on the internet describes an avatar as a "special user who is given the authority to access all file directories and files under the root directory," and also provides the following definition: "In 3D or virtual reality games and in some chat forums on the Web, your avatar is the visual 'handle' or display appearance you use to represent yourself. On Worlds Chat and similar sites, you can be a unicorn, a bluebird, or any kind of creature or object that seems right." (searchwebservices.com 2005: n.p.)
The object that seemed right to Coover (and the nine muses) is Lucky Pierre, also known as the "AVATAR OF THE SELF-SEEKING SELF" (LP: 143). Throughout the novel, the one who produces avatars, is the one who has sufficient powers to "disrupt the continuity" or "change the rules." (LP: 316) Yet, L.P. is both result and victim of this. The Avatars, along with the "Extars" in more than one instance turn out to be Lucky Pierre's opponents in the episodes he is entrapped in: "They are all around him: the Extars: some of them wearing masks and costumes, others naked, some dressed in newspapers or sashes and ribbons or black garbage bags with decorative labels" (LP: 36). Furthermore, the blurring of fact and fiction, playground and reality is stressed when Coover writes: "one is the avatar of the other, but he is reluctant to speculate on which is which " (LP: 332). In the end, the line between real character and avatar becomes totally shattered when merchandise robots (of Wee Willies, Peter Pricks, Lucky Pierres, Badboys, and Old Crazy Legs) hit the market.
To sum up, one can say that Coover's text offers a wide range of hypertextual/computer terms that are incorporated as the story unfolds.
However, to make matters a little easier, Coover has also provided a prominent feature of most hypertexts (and all videogames, which are also hyperfictions): music.
In general, multimedia hypertext is a medium in which the contents are entrusted mostly to text and images, whereas the music is often used only to create an agreeable background. The goal of this research is to examine all the possible uses of music in a hypertext to implement a new conception of multimedia language, so as to make music a real carrier of information and knowledge, at the same level of textual and visual codes. (Chiocci 2005: n.p.)
Numbers imply certain linkages, but again they may only be time signatures, the whole thing a musical score. (LP:108)
The central letter "C" is not only the initial of all the muses' names or the name of a programming language for computers – it is also a note, in musical terms. Often, music is used to create a kind of "background-flow" when a user/reader is surfing the web or plays an animated hyperfiction as videogames. Music, being a carrier of information and emotion at the same time functions like a meta-language. Furthermore, Chiocci claims that music is influential on a semiotic, syntactic and pragmatic level. In her opinion, it can
|serve as a guide for the 'wanderer' and enable him to do an oriented navigation; this is useful in a hypertext with a great deal of links at all levels. That means, for instance, using music so as to point out similarities or oppositions between different sections of the hypertext; in this way, the reader can draw in his mind a semantic map of the hypertext not only related to text contents." (Chiocci 2005: n.p.)|
Thus, music helps create (temporary) coherence between the disparate sections. The reader of Lucky Pierre will find it all over the novel: The first word is "(Cantus.)" Followed by a "whisper becom[es] a tone, the echo of a tone" until we hear "an emergence from C" (LP: 1) foreshadowing "rising and falling intervals" that always end with the same note: "C to C and F again" (LP: 2). Throughout the entire four hundred pages of the novel we encounter a wide range of sounds, including a "grinding basso profundo," (LP: 12) "melodies derived from anagrams of the scale," (LP: 40) "flügelhorns and quint-fagotts," (LP: 41) and sensational "percussive effects" (LP: 166). Lucky Pierre seems to be constantly accompanied by sound that is (very much like his 'existence') always in flux: "The music, too, changes with each crossing of a threshold, here a thumping rock beat, there a minuet or jig, then jazz or ribald party songs. He hums along." (LP: 167) Furthermore, the first letter of any given chapter is a musical note,12 and the novel is entirely structured according to the rules of the scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, until it ends with another F in the last 'reel.'
Thus, Coover fulfils the outline he offers on page one when he writes "C to C and F again." (LP: 1) Lucky Pierre's falling from Computergame-level played by Cecilia, Cleo, Clara, Cassandra, Constance, Carlotta, Cora, Cathrine, and Calliope always ends with the announced F: Failed. Or more falling. Or possibly even the "Final Fuck." (LP: 371) No matter what these C's and F's actually stand for,13 Lucky Pierre is predestined to always get back to F, the subdominant, which (starting from C) is the tone that is one step below the dominant. In my opinion this is to be understood as a metaphor of his unability to ever break free from the plots planned by the nine muses: he is not the one in Control. Even though readers can find these musical (and hypertextual, and videogame-like, ) allusions, one has to acknowledge that Lucky Pierre is still a book. We are neither offered to chance to see L.P., nor are we to actually listen to the music we can find here. Accordingly, the final question is: Why didn't Coover publish it on floppy disc, or distribute his novel via Internet?
Why be nostalgic? The old body type was always OK, but the wired body with its micro-flesh, multi-media channeled ports, cybernetic fingers, and bubbling neuro-brain finely interfaced to the "standard operating system" of the Internet is infinitely better. (Kroker/Weinstein 1994: n.p.)|
The future of the book is happening now. True, the idea that books as hard or paperbound products coming back from the printer so that they can then go to the distributor who will try and convince retailers that their consumers will want to buy them is not in danger of becoming obsolete any time soon. (Amerika/Olson 1995: 22)
Of course, I come from the old school, where text still counts. (Coover in Dorr 1999: n.p.)
Although interactive electronic texts have many advantages to a printed text,14 this is exactly what you get when you purchase Coover's latest novel: a printed body. In my opinion, there are several reasons for this. When Christian Benne writes that reading hyperfiction is "like listening to music on the phone,"15 he presents a position that is comparable to an objection Fauth mentions: "You can't read hyperfiction in the bathtub." (Fauth 1995: 32)
Yet, Fauth also stresses another, more convincing fact when he states that "the result of a hypertext reading is not anything different from a linear story – the hyperstructure remains invisible to the reader, it is only in place to generate multiple linear readings, [which are] not any more than the 'frozen' flatland texts." (Fauth 1995: 34-35) I am of the opinion that Coover wanted to avoid this "loss of overview" and present the totality of possiblities (and thus overwhelm the reader.)
It is only in the printed novel that we can fully understand that the reality is not either/or, but an 'and, and, and' – and only by means of reading all the possiblities, which we are obliged to do when reading in print, will a reader be able to get this (intended) impression. William Gass described Pricksongs and Descants in a way that seems also appropriate for Lucky Pierre:
|We are constantly coming to forks [=links] in the road (always fateful), except here we take all of them [my italics, R.H.], and our simultaneous journeys are simultaneous stories, yet in different [sub-] genres, sometimes different styles, as if fantasy, romance and reality, nightmare and daydream, were fingers on the same hand." (Gass 1970: 104–105)|
In Coover's works, as it were, one can see the links (re-enter chapter three here) without having them on screen. Accordingly, with the publication as a 'flatland text,' Coover can make the reader actually feel the entire range a database really offers. In so doing, Coover also manages to avoid the "danger of failure to see important text, failure to read it at the right time, intrusion of irrelevant text and loss of integrity." (Fauth 1995: 38) The larger image of the pattern would possibly remain unseen if it had not been published in the printed form. Nevertheless, it could also be due to the fact that Coover does not consider himself "an expert navigator of hyperspace, nor am I – as I am entering my seventh decade and thus rather committed, for better or for worse, to the obsolescent print technology – likely to engage in any major hypertext fictions of my own." (Coover 1992: n.p.)
Whatever the actual reason might be, I would like to add that the novel indeed has a beginning and an end, which hypertexts don't necessarily have: the reader is reminded that human existence has two fixed points (birth and death), and it is only in between that we are able to live by all kinds of possible narratives/myths/pathways/links. The case-bound book we hold in our hands offers a multiplicity of these, thus revealing the floating character of 'reality' when "[i]nformation pours upon us, instantaneously and continuously." (McLuhan 1962: 63)
Fictions are for finding things out, and they change as the needs of sense-making change. Myths are the agents of stability, fictions the agents of change. Myths call for absolute, fictions for conditional assent. (Cope 1986: 9)|
The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full-stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network. (Foucault 1974: 3)
According to Jerome Klinkowitz, literature is "the [artform] most immediately responsive to social life" (Klinkowitz 1975: 1).
Thus, it has undergone major changes throughout the last centuries.
With the rise of Computers and the Internet, and the subsequent takeover of all areas of private life, the pace of these very changes has increased, and hyperfiction was invented.
Applying hyperfictional ways of writing, Coover does not necessarily tell a story in Lucky Pierre, he rather offers possiblities, camera positions, or linked frames that constitute a pulsating being, that is always turning and shifting – and never looks identical. This pulsating and floating rhizome seems to be a printout of hyperfiction and can be best described with terms like reservoir or "database".
|After the novel, and subsequently cinema privileged narrative as the key form of cultural expression of the modern age, the computer age introduces its correlate – the database. Many new media objects do not tell stories; they don't have beginning or end; in fact, they don't have any development, thematically, formally or otherwise which would organize their elements into a sequence. Instead, they are collections of individual items, where every item has the same significance as any other. (Manovich 2001: n.p.)|
Coover's novel is no "new media object." It's a novel, plain and (still not) simple. And it surely has a development, somehow. Nevertheless, Coover has finally managed (after three decades), by adding quasi-hypertextual and anti-linear qualities to LP, to partly free (at least) himself from "man's love of pattern-making." He leaves the "delight man takes in creating designs" to the reader/co-author himself. Coover, who always showed the intention to provide "his readers with the kinds of metaphors that are necessary for a healthy imagination," (Andersen 1981: 141) actually forces them to create "purpose in a purposeless world" (LP: 16) after having entered the realms of "heteroglossia, or A MULTIPLICITY OF NARRATIVE VOICES HOUSED IN A SINGLE 'FORM.'" (Amerika/Olson 1995: 9)
Instead of merely "wondering if there might not be some rewrite possible, [whether] some new themes or set of variations [could be] considered" (LP: 401), Coover decided to present the total amount of things that could happen to Lucky Pierre. The links are so numerous and seemingly inexhausible, that one could probably go on forever. Yet, since "everything is interruptus," (once again) one might as well leave it at that. The bottomline: This long, very dense work of fiction is way beyond exhaustion
(and, and, and always will be) [because it's] a space in which the "third or fourth encounter with the same place, the immediate encounter remains the same as the first, [but] what changes is [our] understanding. (Douglas 1991, qtd. in Joyce 1995: 162)|
Have a nice lay, pal. (LP: 107)
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1 Coover, who never has published hypertext fiction himself, stated in 1999 that the peak of the hypertext movement was already over (cf. Coover 1999). Nevertheless, the amount of time he devoted to the hypertext phenomenon should be reason enough for a consideration of hyperfictional elements in his novels.
2 Here, I am talking about his Pricksongs and Descants, a collection of short stories that was published in 1969 (cf. Coover 1969). This collection includes tales such as "The Elevator" and "The Babysitter."
4 Of course, there is way more to this novel. Regarding the fact that it has been a work-in-process for three decades, the reader can find manifold themes and topics: e.g. Love, Time, Reality etc.
5 Thus, hyperfiction and Lucky Pierre can be seen as examples of the "absurdist logic [ ] with its acceptance of the illogical, [and] its denial of causality and its concept of entropy" (Harris 1971: 17).
6 Another example for this is the conversation about the weather ending in the question whether they are in the process of retaking a scene. The reader can find this episode not only on page 8 but also on page 144.
7 Famously, Jay David Bolters offers a link in Writing Space that reads: "YOU have reached the center of this text. But the central point of this text is that an electronic text has no natural center." (see Porombka 2001: 339).
8 Moreover, Coover also structured his novel like a 'laterna magica' or even like a Moebius strip, offering no specific beginning or end and thereby evoking an ever-present feeling of being both inside and outside at the same time.
9 In contrast, I would like to add that Catherine/Kate comes to the conclusion that life actually is situated between the twenty-four frames the film medium offers (LP, 332-333). Applied to hyperfiction this would imply that there is indeed life – in between the links.
10 The reader may imagine Coover hitting a new link before the explanatory text can unfold completely.
11 The 'vast database' is another way of referring to the "reservoir" the term which I have used earlier. The 'video wall' as a reference to video games is discussed further below.
12 The initial letter of each chapter is always identical with the initial of the last word of the chapter before.
13 There are more possible ways to explain the C: is it Cunt? Clip? Chord? Coover-Trick? Content? Cut? Cecilia? Cleo? Clara? Cassandra? Constance? Carlotta? Cora? Catherine? Calliope? Conclusion? Chaos? And the F could be Coover's way of signalling: Falling (from frame to frame), Film, Facade, Form, Feature, Fabulation, Finality, Failure or the classic 'Fin.'
14 Especially "reluctant readers, reluctant computer users – who have difficulty interacting with computers, students with poor comprehension skills, students for whom the study of literature is a dry academic exercise in boredom, students who have difficulty connecting and structuring ideas, students for whom literature is not "involving" – specially compared to the storytelling formats of TV and movies, and reluctant touch typers" will benefit and improve their learning skills when confronted with interactive fiction. (Webscool 2002, n.p.).
15 My translation, R.H. The full original quote runs as follows:
|Lesen im Internet ist wie Musikhören übers Telephon. Während es aber gewiß niemandem einfiele, Telemann mit der Telekom ins Haus zu holen, haben sich viele Menschen von der Vorstellung einer Literatur im Internet beeindrucken lassen. Literatur im Netz ist eine Totgeburt. Sie scheitert schon als Idee, weil ihr Widersinn womöglich nur noch von Hörspielen aus dem Handy übertroffen wird. (Benne 1998: n.p.)|