Friday, March 18, 2005

Virtual Text Object 1886

In 1886 Henry Rider Haggard asked his sister-in-law to make a ceramic vessel, break it in half and then fix it together again using metal thongs. He also asked his former school headmaster to translate a passage from English to Ancient Greek. Haggard then inscribed this translated passage onto the vessel his sister-in law had made as well as adding names in Greek, Latin and Middle and Modern English with dates stretching over thousands of years. He then included images of this creation in the opening pages of his next novel.

This object then became the departure point and central referent to the best selling novel She. By today's standards it is a very dated work in many ways, being imperialistic, sexist, racist and anti-Semitic. But it is an important text as it is an early embodiment of several modernist principles. Among these is the ceramic piece, the so called 'Sherd of Amenartas' which manifests as a sort of virtual text object. Information is attached to the object which is central to the narrative of She, and indeed the subsequent volumes Haggard produced using the same resurrected character (such as Wisdoms Daughter from 1922). The object actually existed in real life as a three dimensional narrative construction, unlike in the contemporary text The Picture of Dorian Grey (1881)by Wilde where the decaying picture was a trope and nothing more.

This is an interesting early example of a mixed reality narrative and the presence of a virtual object existing in the diegetic field of the narrative and in a spatial form renders She a very early proto-hypertext.

 The actual 'Sherd of Amenartas' on display in Norwich Castle Museum.

No comments: