Jennifer McDonald writes about Ander Monson’s Vanishing Point:
“This is a book,” Monson writes on his first page. “It is fixed in time, in space, in print, an artifact.” His brain, however, represents “flux, motion, … thinking exploding everywhere.” So he is not satisfied with the book’s limitations, with the way its “fixed” nature implies that here, in the book, is where the thinking ends. He seeks to find a way to take the reader beyond the book. And so he has employed daggers (†).
“OK,” he writes. “Each dagger indicates an instance of redirect, a bubbling-over instance, where, for one of many reasons, I have more information, a further reflection, more thinking on the subject that has either gone on past the boundaries of the object, the fixity of the book. … The daggers sometimes lead to things that exceed the capacity of footnotes. Some of them have video. Some images. Some evolving text.” The daggers lead to Monson’s Web site.
As you read, then, you find daggers appended to words and phrases like “the memory of vanilla” (as in ice cream), “mother” (as in Monson’s), or “diversity of the city” (as in Grand Rapids, Mich.). I happened to be reading his book while riding subway, and I have to say, it was an odd feeling. Each time I saw a dagger, I had the impulse to go explore; I found myself wishing I were reading with my laptop at the ready, so I could stop and see where these daggers wanted me to go. I imagined a picture of Monson’s mother, a chart showing the racial breakdown of Grand Rapids. And “the memory of vanilla”? I wasn’t sure. Would it be a poem? A photograph? A video of Monson enjoying an ice cream cone? (In the future, would the technology exist in which an e-reader might shoot a whiff of vanilla at my face, like some shopping-mall perfume spritzer?)
This makes me wonder what would be the best way to experience Monson’s book. Should it be read online, so that the daggers become real followable links? Should the reader hold the book next to a laptop, so that the page and the screen can be consulted in rapid sequence? Or is McDonald’s experience — knowing that there are links, but being unable to follow them while reading — really the best one? After all, as the poet says, hyperlinks clicked are sweet, but those unclicked are sweeter.