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Electronic Literature — Curating Ambiguity | Scott Rettberg
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Scott Rettberg

Space in Scott’s writerly story is also very important. I would like to talk a little bit about it, because although is not my chosen topic, I consider it is very interesting and it can help you to understand the story better.

At the beginning of the hypertext, we are told to be in a weird place, but there is no reference to any real place. We do know where the character, the narrator, is. In fact, the only thing we know is that he is in a murder scene.

Here you have the evolution. I have highlighted the word “going”, for you to see the frequency it appears in the text with. Because they are always “going” to… anywhere. The narrator is constantly making this question to the reader/author, because he wants him to participate in the story.

XXVI. Weren’t we going somewhere? You never take me anywhere. Where are we going? Are we in the car yet? Let’s go to the beach. Jan n’ Dean. The Beach Boys. Elvis. That woman from the Skippy Commercials. Ocean City? Not Ocean City. Tedious. You’re always going there, you never get there.

XXVII. Are we there yet?

XXIX. Is this your first time on this flight?

32. Where were we?

Mexico? Canada? What? Where? Have you ever been to Canada? It’s sort of like you take Ohio and roll it into Minnesota then tell a quarter of them that they’re French. That’s Canada. Great fishing. Are we going there? I haven’t been to Canada in years. The beach, then? Are we going to the beach?

34. It sure is a long ride, wherever we’re going.

37. It sure is hard to breathe in here. What is this? Is this the trunk? Did you throw me in the trunk, you bastard?

38. A trunk on a train? To nowhere? Right train, wrong track? The A-train? The midnight train to Georgia? The City of New Orleans? Can we go there?

43. Ah, at last. Thank you very much. You have no idea what those people were doing to . . . my fare? Of course I’ve paid my fare. That is, yes, I’m sure they paid my fare. My ticket? Look, I’ve been cooped up in this damn box, and I don’t know where I’ve put my ticket. No, I’m not a stowaway. You think I climbed into that little death chamber just so I could steal the privilege of this ride to . . . where are we going?

44. Oh, you. Very funny, very funny little trick you played there. I want to go home, or to the beach at least, you know?

50. The white salty froth of the sea hangs on the waves like spittle on Charles Manson’s beard. We are everywhere and we are nowhere. We are everything and we are nothing. When will this journey end? This little craft is cramped, and I can feel it sinking. A beach, a beach. My ocean for a beach-head.

51. I haven’t tried to wear you down, you know. I have tried to be accommodating. Why you must so scorn me at times, I cannot understand. Are we finally here?

58. In the imminent conclusion, I hope that we can avoid this miasma that is hanging in the air, this effluvium of winter virtues. Just because we’re taking a trip together doesn’t mean that we need to be totally unfriendly towards each other, you know. Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Texas, North Carolina, Maryland, South Dakota, California, Kansas, Nebraska, Arizona, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Florida and there goes an Alabama plate. That’s seventeen. How many you got? Haven’t you been playing? You don’t care? Well, well, well, aren’t you special? Do you want to play I Spy? Well, we have to do something. This is boring, you know. Sure, you get to drive. I just sit here. Well, it’s boring. Do you have any tapes? No? Why would you drive a car for hours and hours and hours, and take me along as your passenger, without any tapes in the car? I would not step into a vehicle without music. Not if I was just — driving, for days on end. When do you sleep? You drive all night. You don’t know where you’re going, do you? I sure don’t know where you’re going, you know? To tell you the truth, I sure would like to have that information, if you would tell me, please. Are we going to end up at a beach? With a gigantic igloo cooler filled with frosty cans of ice cold Coca-Cola by our side? It seems to me that wherever we’ve been going, we should be there by now.

59. We’re here? Well, where exactly is this alleged place? We’re still in the vehicle, we haven’t stopped. If we stopped, at one place, and just sat there, then we would be there. We could say, “We are here.” And we would actually physically be there. We would have arrived. This is where we’re going? Nowhere is not the same as somewhere.

64. Man, some of that stuff back there was cheap, I’ll admit it. But what was I supposed to do? What ground do I have to stand on? Got to keep moving, don’t I? The ground is constantly shaking beneath me. Keep on dancing. The show must go on, right? Thanks, bucko. Retire. Where am I supposed to go? Florida? What am I supposed to do? I got nothing here. I have you, and that’s all I have.

69. Here it comes. I can feel it. Be a dear and pass me that prune juice, will you? What is this? Motor oil? I’m going. I’m down. I can feel it. Here comes Topeka. Mount Vesuvius. Is that what? Where the hell am I? Is this what it really feels like?

Here you can see the evolution through the story. It is supposed that they travel by plane, train, car, craft, but they really do not get to arrive to any place. The narrator asks for the beach in many occasions, but never ever is clear where they’ re going, because the narrator does not receive an answer from the author (reader). He even does not know where they are the most of time. He just make reference to the means of transport the use, nothing else.

Obviously the reader is looking for an author’s answer, he is expecting him to give you the information, to tell him where they are, to build the rest of the story, but this information is created by each narrator.

So when he says “Where the hell I am?” he is expecting an answer. This sentence has ambiguous meaning. However he knows that the situation goes to nowhere. For instance, on page 59 “This is where we’re going? Nowhere is not the same as somewhere” or page 50 “We are everywhere and we are nowhere”.

Towards the end of the story we realize that that the verb “to go” does not appear with the same frequency, and this is maybe because the narrator has convinced himself that they go to nowhere and that there is no point on insist so much.



The first difficulty I found was the fact of having to choose a hypertext, it can be sound stupid, but it really was for me.  Which one was better for me to read?? It took me a lot of time to find the one I really wanted to read, and I even had to read some more hypertext,  Some of the really did not like me, others were too complicated for me to understand even with the author’s guideline, or simply too boring.

In fact I was very worried because I though it would be a very difficult task, because it was the fist time I was doing it. To be honest before taking this subject I even did not know the existence of this kind of literature. But finally I had no problems, on the contrary, it was very easy. I have also to say that following “The meddlesome passenger” is not difficult at all, the structure is very simple.  I have really enjoyed it and now I can even say that it has been very useful. It started being a paper, but know is more than it, because I have enjoy doing it, and I think this is also very important, because if you enjoy what you are doing, it is shown in the final result.

I am also very happy with my choice. It really gripped me, I could not stop reading it. When you start reading you expect to discover the murder, when actually the murder is you, but at the beginning you have no idea of what is going on. “The meddlesome passenger” is a great job. I really recommend reading it!



Fist of all,  I am going to talk about the general appearance of the “Meddlesome passenger”, what we can notice at first sight when reading  it: the design of the pages, length of the text, the colours used, and the effect it causes on the story. Then, I will explain how the hypertext is structured by his author, the links he makes, the way he presents the information, the relationship between both, reader and narrator, and so on.

The meddlesome passenger” is structured in a very simple way, and it contains a simple design. Every single page has the same layout we find at the very beginning in the initial page. The mentioned design consists on black text written over a white background in the middle of the page. This white background is surrounded by a black background, like drawing or making an “L” form.

In the left margin we can find the face of a corpse, which is supposed to be author’s. Under the face there is like a calendar where the number of the 70  pages the story contains is written in red colour. The numbers are written in Roman letters until reaching the  page 30. Each time you press or click on the author’s face, besides of moving and opening his eyes, it drives you randomly to any of the 70 pages, and also you can choose the page you want to go by clicking on that page. But if what you want is to follow the proper order, then, when you finish reading the text, at the bottom of the screen you will see the number linked to the next page.

This is the patter design used by the author in his story. He changes the text when we click on the next page, but the calendar and the corpse’s face are always there jut in order to let you change the page whenever you want.

Why have I talked before about the colour of the words in the text? Well, there is a simple answer. I have talked about it because the use of the colours is not arbitrary, but the author uses the black background to represent “death”, because this is what the story is about. It talks about the murder of an author, and I think this is what Scott wants to represent. Black is often a colour which implies itself negative connotations, it symbolises darkness, or death in this case, and the numbers of the pages in the calendar are written in red, imitating blood’s colour. I think here the author wants to recreate the scene of a murder to put us in situation. Red is also a primary colour, and I think Scoot perhaps chose it because it catches our attention. This colours confers the text a sinister appearance, and just by taking a look to the fist page, you realise what the text is going to be about.

Another feature is the fact hat, certain words in the text are written also in red colour, and if you click on it, suddenly, at the bottom of the page appears a fragment of text. This text is like a kind of conversation between the author and the reader. Sometimes word plays, satirical sentences, jokes, descriptions or sometimes it drives you to another completely different page. At the beginning we do not know who is uttering these sentences, if author, if reader….but in the end, we can make us an idea. It is important to point out that these sentences are not static, they are changing, but if you do not have enough time to read them, you can click again on the highlighted word and the reproduction of the text starts over and over again. On the contrary, the main text does not change unless you press the next page, which I consider is more comfortable because in this way is the reader’s choice how much time he wants to spend reading each passage.

Moreover, in this hypertext the author does not use pictures or images to refer to the text. It does not contain any sound or image effect, which from my point of view could make the hypertext funnier and more dynamic.

The author gives you the chance to choose the path that you want, what means that gives you freedom to choose, unfortunately there are no many choices here, because the text is quite linear. Links are also quite easy to follow, so it is good for readers because in this way they do not get lost.

Analysing the text in depth, on page 33 you find highlighted in red colour the word “Slim Jims” (http://www.spicyside.com/), and if you click on it, instead of giving you general information like the rest in the other words highlighted, it drives you to the website of the company. Here you have a lot of options to explore, and everything without leaving the hypertext, because in the left hand side is still placed the “calendar” and you can come back to the story whenever you want. I logged in this website to ascertain if it had some more meaning, but it did not, so I came to the conclusion that actually this was an author’s strategy to give credibility to his story. I could find in Wikipedia the meaning of “Slim Jims”: “A recent campaign depicted people hunting a fictitious “Snapalope” within convenience stores using urban camouflage. The Snapalope is a deer-like puppet made from Slim Jims. In 2008 Slim Jim launched a new website: “SpicySide.com” encouraging consumers to get in touch with their “Spicy Side” by creating an avatar and fighting their friends in an online landscape called Spicy Town. Slim Jim also partnered with a well known Machinima artist to develop a World of Warcraft parody.”

Then if you click on “Doritos” in the same page, the same happens, it drives you to the company’s website where you can explore. On page 36 you also have “Cocacola”, and if you click on it is more of the same. Moreover, Scott Rettberg is constantly making reference to this company in his hypertext, like for example on page 34, 36 (” Maybe if I had a frosty mug of Coca-Cola“), 45 (“Can you imagine that, forty years without having an ice-cold Coke to quench your thirst? Well, on the seventh day, God created Coca-Cola”, 49 (“Promethean script, you will see the one thing in this miserable existence that is always good and always true. Always Coca-Cola“, 58 (“With a gigantic igloo cooler filled with frosty cans of ice cold Coca-Cola by our side?”), 59 (“Could we at least stop for a Coke, a breath of fresh air? Stretch the legs. Be somewhere, stopped, not a body in motion, just standing there, in one place, a body at rest, sipping an ice cold Coke”, 60 (“Little Timmy the crippled child has a sip of the Coke and he is healed”), (, (I wonder if they pay him for it!).

I think these are just techniques or tools that the author uses just in order to give credibility to his story, to make it more believable.

But, let’s talk about other techniques the author uses. On page 48, if you click on the word “gaming” you realise that this is not just a description, a curiosity or a play of words, but you can see this:

Adjective: Your Name: Something Smelly:
A Farm Animal: An Emotion: A Food:

(I chose the next words: thirsty, cow, Rocío, happiness, corpse, spaghetti.)

As the title of the word points out, we soon come to the conclusion that what the narrator is proposing us is playing a kind of game.

At the bottom of the page, once the options have been filled out, here you have two options “Start over” and “Tell story”. I have checked both options. If you press the first one, absolutely nothing happens, but if you choose the second one the next text appears on screen:

The Author is Dead Game

It was a thirsty day. An author was quietly at work, pitching a phrase to and fro when along came a nasty reader by the name of Rocío who, using only eyes and the turning of pages, stabbed the author through and through, leaving the equivalent of rotting corpse in the wake. Its wake. His wake. Her Wake. Oh bloody hell. The reader later felt hapiness but it was simply too late for the author who left only these scribblings behind. The end had come. Only the ink remains as the reader dines on spaghetti in the lap of luxury. Rocío hath muttered that poor doodler with no more guilt than if’d slain a cow.

Here it is happening what it is supposed that the main goal of an hypertext is. Scott here is making the reader to take part in the story. He allows you to be also the author of the story.

On page 68 if we click on the word “Games” once more time we are linked to a page with this kind of structure:

Adjective: Your Name: A Body Part:
Where You Live: A Sickness: Article of Clothing:

And again two option appears at the end of the page: “Start over” and “Tell the story”.

If we choose the second one, the next happen:

You Are So Guilty

Rocío spent a whole day in staring the mirror. Poor Sad soul, Rocío is feeling down about ripping the head from the body of a former best friend Rocío had once loved. Before. And Rocío couldn’t find that looked for thing. Rocío has extinguished hours wearing a skirt spattered with blood, staring in a mirror. How do you feel Rocío? like cancer is eating away at you? The most regretful words lay thick and silent on your tongue, the saddest one in Teruel searching for meaning inside a one-way screen

On the contrary if we choose the first one, again nothing happens.

We can say at this point that the author pays more attention to the structure of the text than the text itself, because actually the text does not tell us any relevant story. We are always at the same point. The narrator even does not provide us with a real plot. The reader is told to be also the author by the reader at the very beginning (since the reader killed the author).  The plot of the story consists basically on an in fictitious dialogue between narrator and reader (author now), which actually is just a monologue, because there is just one person (narrator) talking. What narrator wants is the reader to reinvent the rest of the story which cannot be told anymore because of the death of the author. In order to get this, he makes use of “question tags”. For example, on page 53 “So it’s better to forget. Could we?”, page 59 “I sure don’t know where you’re going, you know?”, page 61 “You can tell something bad is going to happen to old Scrooge, can’t you?”, etc, etc.

This is the tool Scott Rettberg uses to make the reader to take part in the story or hypertext, by means of killing the author he involves the reader and tries to make him to create the story and imaging the rest of dialogue which is not included. For instance, on page 43 (“Ah, at last. Thank you very much. You have no idea what those people were doing to . . . my fare? Of course I’ve paid my fare. That is, yes, I’m sure they paid my fare. My ticket? Look, I’ve been cooped up in this damn box, and I don’t know where I’ve put my ticket. No, I’m not a stowaway. You think I climbed into that little death chamber just so I could steal the privilege of this ride to . . . where are we going? No, I’m not trying to change the subject. Look, I’ll pay you double the fare whenever we get there. You see, I have no money on me. I’ve been kidnapped, held against my will, and there was an author back there and. . .”)

In addition, almost at the end of the story, in case we still have some doubts about his intention, Scott makes us the “game” I have talked about before, just for the reader to know that he is the protagonist, that he is the author.

About the short fragments of text which appear on screen when clicking on the red highlighted words, we can say that, at the beginning of the story it is a little bit confusing because you do not who is uttering this words, who is teasing us, but, as the story develops, we come to the conclusion that it is the death author, who is still in this way taking part in the story, he is not completely gone. For example on page 53 “Somewhere there is a blind oracle who knows everything that will happen. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us. He is in a hospital somewhere, or a morgue. He is beyond our help. Come, let’s forget about him. He is just a memory, and memories are but representations, and representations are only things that we never really knew. So it’s better to forget. Could we?” With oracle, the narrator makes reference to the death author, and, if we press “oracle”, the next text appears on screen: “give me back my fucking eyes.” So clearly, here we can identify that the person who creates those links is the death author.




In this section of my paper, I am going to analyse the main characters of “The meddlesome passenger”. Actually, every single character in the story is important, but do not worry, there are just three characters here.  We can differentiate between: narrator, reader and author.

To begin with, it is necessary to say that I have mentioned them in this way because in the hyperfiction, Scott Rettberg calls them like that. They are referred with these names.

1. NARRATOR: we do not know if this character is a woman or a man, but what I can undoubtedly point out is that he/she is the main character of the story. He narrates in fist person the whole story, and establishes a kind of dialogue with the reader.I say a “kind of dialogue” because actually it is not. By means of questions and question tags, asserting, denying his or her own statements and conclusions, he/she establishes a conversation with the reader.

2. READER/AUTHOR: The reader of course is very important is this story, without him the story would not be possible, and the reader is OURSELVES. As we start to read the hypertext, we realize little by little that we are part of the plot. The person who the narrator is talking to is ourselves, although there is not a explicit answer in the text, is like if we were answering the narrator, as if we were maintaining a dialogue. He (we) becomes the author when he kills the real author. After that, the narrator gives the reader (to us)  tracks for him to know that since that moment the story is in his (our) hands. For instance, by means of asking him”What’s next?”, “Where are we going?”, “Where do you get off acting like this?”, “Haven’t you been playing? You don’t care?”, “This is where we’re going? Nowhere is not the same as somewhere”.

The narrator asks him “what’s next?” “What I am doing here?”, because he is expecting him to continue with the story. The same happens with the rest of the questions, he tells him if he has been playing because it is doing nothing, and he feels like a toy in the reader’s hands. The last sentence appears more frequently at the end of the story, because the narrator is expecting to reach to some point in the story (which represented as if they were to some place), and he is constantly asking “Where are we going?, but actually they do not reach any point and. They do not arrive to anywhere.

3. AUTHOR: At the very beginning of the story, the reader is told to have killed the Author, the real one. Because of the references the reader makes, we can know that is a man. Then, automatically the reader, without be aware of it, assumes his position and his task is to go ahead with the story. However, he does not know this, until more or less the middle of the story. in spite of his death, the author is still part of the fiction and he takes part in the story whit short interventions, clarifying words. You just have to click on the red highlighted words in the text.



My research is focused on the hypertext “The meddlesome passenger” where I am going to analyse the section of Tools, which the author, Scott, has used to build it. First of all, I will talk about the “Physical appearance” of the hypertext, and then I will analyse the strategies or tools he uses in the content. At the same time, I would like to talk a little bit about space in the story, because I consider is also very important here.

I have analysed the main characters of the story and the relationship they share with each other, moreover, and I have posted the plot of the story.

In order to make you easier and to let you understand my research, I would like to give you some definitions:

hypertext: “A computer-based text retrieval system that enables a user to access particular locations in web pages or other electronic documents by clicking on links within specific web pages or documents”.

Hypertext fiction: “Hypertext fiction is a collective effort between reader and writer, where the writer provides interlaced web pages of text and the reader decides what order to read the pages. In some hypertext works, readers can even add their own work to the fiction and change the plot.

“The meddlesome passenger” is a writerly text: “The writerly text is a perpetual present, upon which no consequent language (which would inevitably make it past) can be superimposed; the writerly text is ourselves writing, before the infinite play of the world (the world as function) is traversed, intersected, stopped, plasticized by some singular system (Ideology, Genus, Criticism) which reduces the plurality of entrances, the opening of networks, the infinity of languages.”

When reading a hypertext, it is also useful and advisable to start by reading the author’s biography, because it provides interesting information about him or her and may help you to understand much better the story you are going to read. Unfortunately Scott Rettberg does not have his own website and the information we can find about him on internet is not as much as I would like  it was. when clicking on his biography,  ta the right hand side of the page, you can see an author’s brief biography and if you click on it, you have also access to his CV.

*More links devoted to the author



 1. The Mother of Feminism: A Contemporary Wollstonecraft?

Mary Wollstonecraft, The Vindications: The Rights of Men, The  Rights of Woman. Eds. D. L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1997.


2.  The Mother of Feminism: overview of the life and work of England's early feminist

3. The Mother of Feminism: Mary Wollstonecraft and her voice in a male-dominated society

4. Why is Mary considered a feminist model?


Here you can find more information about the author, information I consider could be important if you want to know more about Mary Wollstonecraft:

who was Mary Wollstonecraft? what did her book say? what were woman’s rights in Wollstonecraft’s time? What about education? How did equal pay come about?

Articles about the author: [1] [2] [3]

Essays on Mary Wollstonecraft

Infuence of Mary Wollstonecraft on her daughter Mary Shelley, the Frankenstein’s creator

Roles for readers in Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A vindication of The Rights of Woman

Mary Wollstonecraft on education

Books written or related to Mary

More useful links: pages from philosophy, articles on Mary, works available online, etc.

The author and the work

Biographical essays, notes, etc

Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798) is William Godwin’s biography of his wife Mary Wollstonecraft, the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).

Godwin felt it was his duty to edit and publish Wollstonecraft’s unfinished works after her death. A week after her funeral, he had started on this project and a memoir of her life. In order to prepare to write the biography, he reread all of her works, spoke with her friends, and ordered and numbered their correspondence. After four months of hard work, he had completed both projects. According to William St Clair, who has written a biography of the Godwins and the Shelleys, Wollstonecraft was so famous by this time that Godwin did not have to mention her name in the title of the memoir.

Published in January 1798, Godwin’s account of Wollstonecraft’s life is wracked with sorrow and, inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, unusually frank for its time. He did not shrink from presenting the parts of Wollstonecraft’s life that late eighteenth-century British society would judge either immoral or in bad taste, such as her close friendship with a woman, her love affairs, her illegitimate child, her suicide attempts and her agonizing death.   In the “Preface” Godwin explains:

I cannot easily prevail on myself to doubt, that the more fully we are presented with the picture and story of such persons as the subject of the following narrative, the more generally shall we feel in ourselves an attachment to their fate and a sympathy in their excellencies. There are not many individuals with whose character the public welfare and improvement are more intimately connected than the author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

Godwin’s openness was not always appreciated by the people he named or by Wollstonecraft’s sisters. Everina and Eliza ran a school in Ireland and they lost students as a result of the Memoir.

Joseph Johnson, Wollstonecraft’s life-long friend and the book’s publisher, tried to dissuade Godwin from including explicit details regarding her life, but he refused.  However, the book was heavily criticized and Godwin was forced to revise it for a second edition in August of the same year. Rarely published in the nineteenth century and sparingly even today, Memoirs is most often viewed as a source for information on Wollstonecraft. However, with the rise of interest in biography and autobiography as important genres in and of themselves, scholars are increasingly studying it for its own sake.

Claudia Johnson has written that “Godwin’s Memoirs appeared virtually to celebrate Wollstonecraft’s suicidal tendencies as somehow appropriate in a heroine of her exquisite sensibility”.

The Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine pilloried the book, writing that “if it does not shew what it is wise to pursue, it manifests what it is wise to avoid. It illustrates both the sentiments and conduct resulting from such principles as those of Mrs. Wollstonecroft [sic] and Mr. Godwin. It also in some degree accounts for the formation of such visionary theories and pernicious doctrines.”[The review surveys Wollstonecraft’s entire life and indicts almost every element of it, from her efforts to care for Fanny Blood, her close friend, to her writings. Of her two Vindications in particular, it criticizes her “extravagance” and lack of logic. However, when the review comes to discuss her relationship with Gilbert Imlay, it tips over into outright slander, accusing her of being a “concubine” and a “kept mistress” and writing “the biographer does not mention many of her amours. Indeed it was unnecessary: two or three instances of action often decide a character as well as a thousand.”Rising to a fever pitch at the end, the review claims that “the moral sentiments and moral conduct of Mrs. Wollstonecroft [sic], resulting from their principles and theories, exemplify and illustrate JACOBIN MORALITY” and warns parents against raising their children using her advice.


URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memoirs_of_the_Author_of_A_Vindication_of_the_Rights_of_Woman



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