The image to select Andy Campbell’s “The Rut” is what grabbed my attention. I think it is a well-chosen and useful image with which the text can be discussed. The image suggests to me that the artist identifies with the man that has been drawn. That, in a metaphorical sense, the white space of the paper is something that fills both of them. Both the posture of exaltation and the blotches of ink that fly up from the bottom of the paper seem to suggest an idea of rebirth. Or, in directly relation to the text, a fresh start.
Structurally, the text relies on hyperlinks that allow the reader to become part of the author’s creative process, as the author posits what to include or not include on the title page of his book. Compared to other electronic texts, “The Rut” feels very navigable. For example, the reader only flips between the title page of the book and the back cover. Although the links are different each time, there is not a great deal of reorientation that occurs as the reader tries to adapt to a new background or image. What does change with each hyperlink is the content on the page. As the navigator, you are allowed to decide the path the title page and back cover are going to take. (Spend some time in there and play around with the options and you’ll find things like: “Written by, Maximus Pennis”). Another aspect that distinguishes “The Rut” from other pieces of electronic literature is the number of links. At any given ‘deciding point’ the navigator of the text never has more than four options on where to go next. This is infinitely more comforting than starting a text like “Twelve Blue” where you’ll find a literal line graph of all the hyperlinks in the story.
That said, the comparison should not be taken further than there: “The Rut” and “Twelve Blue” are not trying to accomplish the same goal.
‘The Rut” is a story about writer’s block—or more accurately the decisions that pile up around an author that he or she may have no experience making. The first image the reader is presented is a brown, worn book. From there, the navigator of the text flips back and forth between the back cover and the title page. While the navigator does have control of the story’s path, it is significant to note that the navigator cannot select anything inside of the book; all of the links are outside of the pages or cover, with arrows communicating the direction and aim of the various possible futures of the story. But it isn’t really the future of the story; it is just another option for this character’s book: the character being the one the navigator sees making the changes. Andy Campbell packs this story full of humor, and seems to be taking a shot at traditional publishing practices with “The Rut”. There is the question of ego inside of the question of how big the author should print their name—and whether it should be above or below the title. Another option the navigator may click to reveals the title page covered in pictures of other books the author has written, like an ad, but the author admits to not having written any other books. Well, none really, since they don’t seem to get this one finished either.
Just because Andy Campbell’s work succeeds in being humorous and comments on the state of publishing does not exempt it from the traditional literary elements people are drawn to (which can, and should, be lumped under Good Writing.) A particularly favorite line goes: “and your eyes are the colour of water falling through the lock gates of my heart” which is written under a drawing done by a kid on the title page. It should be said that the title is under contemplation the entire time the navigator is clicking through the links, ranging from “The Colour of Water” to “Lepidoptera”. Personally, I found “The Rut” to be a very rewarding read in that it reflected a lot of my own creative writing process. Often times people get frustrated that they are in this creative rut, but I feel that Andy Campbell’s story is telling writers and artists to revel in that moment because what doesn’t work can still lead to something worth the effort.