Shelley Jackson’s “my body – a Wunderkammer”

Like others who have already posted I have little experience with Electronic Literature, so I picked a work from the Electronic Literature Collection (Volume 1).  The stark black and white woodcut icon for Shelley Jackson’s my body – a Wunderkammer appealed to me aesthetically, so I decided to explore her work.

Title screen of "my body - a Wunderkammer"

The title page of Jackson’s works contains links to the work and a section of notes, a short piece of ambient music also plays. The notes section reveals my body was created with StorySpace and publsihed by EastGate Systems, like the works we read by Robert Kendall. Unsurprisingly, my body is very similar in format to Penetration and Disposession. All three works start with a map of words to pick from and links to other parts of the work are incorporated into the text. In Kendall’s work the links are outside of the text of his poems and the different screens are headed by different words. Jackson embeds her links within the text of her “semi-autobiographical” reflections and each new screen corresponds to a specific body part and Jackson’s memories and/or thoughts pertaining to every body part, many screens also contain woodcuts of the body part in question. As one explores Jackson’s body the links already accessed turn from blue to purple.

Text map for “my body”

The text seems mostly to be nonfiction based on Jackson’s own life, but some content is undoubtedly fictitious. For example, on this screen Jackson tells a story of deciding to become a writer after rewriting Joyce by putting pages of his work inside of her. Jackson comments on her own mixture of fact and fiction throughout the work, even saying “Realism lay slightly short of the exact copy” when recounting the process of learning to draw teeth.

As a piece of nonfiction my body is interesting because it brings up the issue of mixing fiction in with the truth. Some would say the two should be kept separate, but I think that  fictive elements can be used to bolster the impact of the author’s story. In creative nonfiction it is common for authors to take a non-chronological approach to story-telling, oftentimes bringing together anecdotes without strict chronology. However, a text-only nonfiction essay still must be read in the order the author decided. The use of an electronic form, StorySpace, mirrors the non-chronological and kaleidoscopic content common in nonfiction.

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