Figurski at Findhorn on Acid

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Richard Holeton's Figurski at Findhorn on Acid is a hypertext novel released for Storyspace by Eastgate publishers in 2001. The story follows the main character Frank Figurski’s quest to acquire a legendary mechanical pig. As Alice Bell points out, this was one of the last major hypertext works created using Storyspace, as authors began to move to web-based tools and CD-ROM based platform became outmoded (150).

Background:

Holeton's hypertext work originated as an award-winning short story “Streleski on Findhorn on Acid" published in 1996 (Grigar et al). That same year, he took part in Robert Kendell's online writing class "Hypertext Poetry and Fiction" at the The New School for Social Research, where he reworked the print story into an electronic text. The first "canonical" draft of Figurski at Findhorn on Acid was produced as his masters thesis at San Francisco State University; it was the first electronic thesis approved by SFU (Grigar et al). The hypertext novel was released on CD-ROM by Eastgate publishers in 2001.

Holeton immediately connected with the “unbounded” format of hypertext, comparing the act of creating and exploring hypertext works to an unrestrained “animal joy”: “I created spider webs of linked and nested writing spaces and wanted to leave my scent in all the corners of the Map View” (Holeton 1998).

Holeton counts authors like Laurence Sterne, Vladimir Nabokov, Mark Leyner, and Marc Saporta among his influences. These writers flirted with the “proto-hypertextual” form in works that were “digressive, multilinear, playfully self-referential genre-shifters” (Holeton 1998). At the same time, he speculates that were these authors alive today, they might shun digital technology and return to paper-based technologies and straightforward plotlines (Holeton 1998). The implication is that the history (and future) of hypertext is itself nonlinear, continually invoking and remediating past forms.

Overview of the Novel:

The Storyspace platform allows the text to be represented in multiple ways. In Figurski at Findhorn on Acid, users can switch between the following modes:

  • The MAPVIEW is a diagrammatic representation of overall structure. The main directors are represented as folders connected by arrows.
  • The NAVIGATOR is a table of contents divided into three main sections (character, artifact, place). The user can select one or more from the sections. Various nodes link back to the main NAVIGATOR.
  • The TIMELINE presents the events chronologically. The dates range from the prehistoric to the far future, but most of the events take place during two periods: the present day from 1993-2000 and the Stardate period from 9312-0012.
  • The NOTES are a metacommentary on the main narrative. There are 147 notes in all, which are divided thematically into nine categories.
  • The DESCRIPTIONS describe elements. There are 60 descriptive spaces, which is also the number of navigational spaces.

The novel does not have a linear plotline. Instead, scenes are generated by combining 1, 2 or 3 characters with 1, 2 or 3 artifacts and 1 location. For instance, “The No-Hands Cup Flipper and Fatima Michelle Vieuchanger on the Holodeck with Spam.” There are three main characters (Frank Figurski, Nguyen Van Tho a.k.a. the No-Hands Cup Flipper, and Fatima Michelle Vieuchanger), three artifacts (acid/LSD, Spam, and Rosellini's 1737 Mechanical Pig) and three locations (Findhorn, the Holodeck, and Shower-Lourdes). These elements can be combined in 147 unique ways, each generating a different passage.

In addition to the main scenes, there are 147 footnotes and 60 descriptive passages for a total of 354 individual lexia. These passages are connected together with 2001 links. Some of the links are visible, while others are intentionally hidden. Holding down the Option + Control keys reveals these hidden links.

The novel does not have a conventional beginning or end to the text. However, users can select a “default route” that will guide them through the entire text. The opening scene in this default path is the titular node “Figurski at Findhorn on Acid” (Traversal, pt. 1). Alice Bell points out that the reader’s choices do not impact the content, only the order in which it is presented (Bell 150). In this sense, the novel is more like an archive (or a book of recipes?) than a choose-your-own adventure story. 

The encyclopedic form of the novel satirizes academic language and research culture. The scenes alternate between various genre styles, both fictional and non-fictional, including: poetry, dramatic dialogue, and email exchanges (Bell 151, Ensslin 89). Holeton appears especially fond of pedagogical rhetoric and both invites and pokes fun at practices of scholarly inquiry. One scene, for instance, is written as a conference abstract. Others are presented in the form of “Questions for Discussion” (Bell 165, Traversal, pt. 4).

In terms of the structure, the meta-commentary is just as prominent as the main storyline, with the number of notes (‘147’) being equal to the number of scenes. In this sense, the meta-world is designed as a perfect mirror of the story. The notes are embedded directly into the text, but can also be accessed through the NOTES sub-directory in the MAPVIEW. The sub-directory further categorizes the notes into nine subjects: 1) doorway/structure, 2) hallucination/dreamvision, 3) freedom/fear_o’writing, 4) pig_love, 5) automaton!, 6) meat/death, 7) devil/god/angel, 8) digestion/cannibalism, 9) time/end_o’journey.

In typical postmodern fashion, Figurski at Findhorn on Acid blurs the boundaries between fiction and reality, and both the metacommentary and the main storyline incorporate real-world elements (See also: Bell 155-164). The mechanical pig is modelled after 18th century automatons, such as the Mechanical Turk. Findhorn is an actual town in Scotland. The Holodeck is a “real” fictional place from Star Trek. The three main characters are also fictionalized “extensions” (or simulated versions) of actual people. The No-Hands Cup Flipper is based on Eugene A. Zanger, who won acclaim for wowing customers with his coffee cup tricks at his roadside diner. As told in the novel, Zanger did in fact perform his cup-flipping routine on David Letterman in 1987 (“Obituary: Zanger was Casa de Fruta icon, ‘cup flipper’”). Fatima Michelle Vieuchanger was similarly inspired by Michel Vieuchange, a French explorer from the 1930s. Vieuchanger was himself greatly influenced by his love of literature and cinema, and his travel memoirs reflect his flair for the theatrical (Vieuchange 1932, Garber 2012). Figurski’s backstory is also drawn from the true crime case of Theodore Streleski, a graduate student who bludgeoned his professor to death after 19 years of trying and failing to successfully complete his PhD (Crewdson). In one scene in the novel, which takes place in the far future (‘Stardate 0012’), the simulated versions of the characters spontaneously revert into their “meat-world” counterparts. The passage comes with a “disclaimer” that suggests it is a “bug” in the system (Holeton 1998).

Figurski at Findhorn on Acid has limited design features, though even these minor additions were considered quite innovative for the time (See: Bell, Ensslin 187-188). For instance, each of the main elements (character, artifact, location, time) appears in a different colored font. The novel also incorporates visual media, embedding photographs and illustrations into the text. The description of Rosellini's 1737 Mechanical Pig, for example, includes a diagram of pork cuts (For more on ‘Visualizing Figurski’ see: Bell 175-183). The novel even has an auditory dynamic. The note on "freedom/fear_o'writing” opens up a suggested playlist. The track titles include well-known artists like sixties folk band Peter, Paul, and Mary, and certain scenes in the novel reference specific titles. Amusingly, the playlist also includes arbitrary, even unpleasant, sounds, like the “beep-beep-beep-beep of large trucks.”

 

Works Cited:

Bell, Alice. “The Colourful Worlds of Richard Holeton’s (2001) Figurski at Findhorn on Acid,” The Possible Worlds of Hypertext Fiction, Palgrave MacMillon, 2010, pp. 150-184.

Crewdson, John. “Professor’s Killer Free, Not Sorry.” Chicago Tribune, 9 Sept. 1985, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1985-09-09-8502280966-story.html. Accessed 2 November, 2019.

Ensslin, Astrid. Canonizing Hypertext: Explorations and Constructions. Bloomsbury Academic, 2007.

Garber, Marjorie. Vested Interests: Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety. Routledge, 2012.

Grigar, Dene, Nicholas Schiller, Holly Slocum, Kathleen Zoller, Moneca Roath, Mariah Gwin, and Andrew Nevue. Rebooting Electronic Literature, Volume 2. Vancouver, WA: Nouspace Publications, 2019. http://scalar.usc.edu/works/rebooting-electronic-literature-volume-2/richard-holetons-figurski-at-findhorn-on-acid.

Holeton, Richard, "Don't Eat the Yellow Hypertext: Notes on Figurski at Findhorn on Acid" Kairos, vol. 3, no. 2, 1998, http://technorhetoric.net/3.2/response/Kendall/holeton/. Accessed 29 Oct. 2019.

MOVE Lab, Washington State University. “Traversal of Richard Holeton's' "Figurski at Findhorn on Acid," Part 4.” Vimeo, commentary by Richard Holeton, 22 Feb. 2019, https://vimeo.com/326081944.

“Obituary: Zanger was Casa de Fruta icon, ‘cup flipper’.” San Benito Live, 4 April, 2019, https://sanbenitolive.com/obituary-zanger-was-casa-de-fruta-icon-cup-flipper/. Accessed 2 November, 2019.

Vieuchange, Michel. Smara, the Forbidden City: Being the Journal of Michel Vieuchange While Traveling Among the Independent Tribes of South Morocco and Rio de Oro. Ecco Press, 1932.

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Eric Dean Rasmussen