Unheard Music: Twine and Its Priority

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When he created Twine, Kris Klimas apparently did not think he was building a hypertext platform, rather an intervention into the broader, perhaps distinct tradition of interactive fiction. By 2009 the hypertext moment may have completely passed, leaving Twine within a different dispensation. Reinforcing this impression, some prominent Twine users have disclaimed any links between their work and that of earlier digital writers, notably the Storyspace contingent, decrying their elders’ commercial publishing model and noting that pay barriers have made turn-of-the-century work inaccessible to them. In thinking about how Twine fits into software culture, we thus face a continuity gap. In technical and (perhaps more arguably) aesthetic dimensions, Twine inherits from and extends the hypertextual experiment; yet there are no formal or institutional connections. Twine works may be in some respects a second coming of hypertext fiction (and many other things as well), but without awareness of prior art.

To some extent, this apparent gap is an illusion, and the paper will consider some of the hidden or implicit continuities between pre- and post-millennial work. Even if it is largely invented or figural, however, the continuity gap demands attention as a signature of disruptive culture. I will consider several factors in this phenomenon: the constrained historicity of platform culture and knowledge work; the ludic turn that seems implicit in the ergodic; and the fundamental disjunctiveness of link-based discourse itself.

I am ultimately interested in what the orthodoxy of disruption means for the human enterprise of literature. Is “the literary” post-literary, in a sense of being beyond or at odds with systems of preservation and memory? Or can we imagine instead an anti-disruptionist heresy in which histories must be extended across gaps, not to appropriate work properly understood as distinct, but to value these efforts in their difference? The larger question here is something like, what is the future of literary history? -- a much more complicated subject than a short paper can address, but one that seems particularly important to ask from the perspective of electronic literature.

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U. Wisconsin-Milwaukee
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