"a thoroughly beguiling
piece of fiction..."

Nancy Princenthal,
Print Collector's

"[Malloy is] one of the
most fascinating hypertext
stylists ... The experiment
with randomization is
bold and surprisingly
effective. As a result,
Penelope can be read
through multiple
times ... each reading
creating overlapping,
but never matching,

Alvin Lu, The Bay Guardian

"Malloy uses the
fluidity of the
hypertextual medium to
create a poetic text,
which, in spite of its
fragmentation and discontinuity, leads
to a reading experience
that is very satisfying
because it allows the
reader greater creativity
as to the form the
reading will take....In
Malloy's text, the
visual is transformed
into the verbal. The
border between text
and image dissolves,
and image becomes the text."

Jaishree K. Odin,
Modern Fiction Studies

Judy Malloy
Notes on the Creation of
its name was Penelope

its name was Penelope (Eastgate, 1993; Narrabase Press, 1990; exhibition version 1989) is a collection of memories in which a woman photographer recollects the details of her life. Published by Eastgate, and considered one of the classic works of electronic literature, its name was Penelope invites the reader to explore an artist's life -- from "Dawn", the Homeric sunrise, the beginning of life; to the details of the narrator's photography-based artwork in "Fine Work and Wide Across"; to the troubles related in "Rock and Hard Place"; to a concluding "Song" of love and a shared life.

Like a photos in a photo album, each lexia represents an image from Anne's memory -- so that the work is the equivalent of a pack of small paintings or photographs that the computer continuously shuffles. The reader sees things as she sees them, observes her memories come and go in a natural, yet nonsequential manner that creates a constantly changing order -- like the weaving and reweaving of Penelopeia's web.

Crafted like poetry, the cadence and tone of each paragraph/stanza in this hypernarrative were carefully constructed so that in whatever order they were seen the reading experience would appear natural, and in the same process, I created a radically innovative computer-mediated interface that seamlessly immersed the reader in a work of literature where you might be reading a poetry chapbook, yet the "pages" are magically brought up at the will of the computer and the seductive repetition situates you in a place of remembered narrative. Poetic narrative is shuffled, continuously changes order, submerges, resurfaces, repeats, and the reader is like a traveler on the merging and diverging paths of a densely wooded forest.

"Now the spirits gathered....

Weeping together, the souls of warriors killed in the prime of life thronged to that place from every side..."

The work is set in the California art world of the 1980's. The section titled "A Gathering of Spirits" [1] references Book XI of The Odyssey where Odysseus enters the dwelling of the dead, and it alludes to the San Francisco art world of the 1980's, a darker world in that time with the constant AIDS-dying of friends and fellow artists.

The Narrator

In later works I desired some sequence in the narrative and returned to the hypertextual structures I had pioneered in the first two "files" of Uncle Roger.[2] But in 1988, when I began its name was Penelope, it was my vision to create an entire work that the reader would experience in an unpredictable manner. I thought of this in terms of approximating memory -- particularly early memories which surface in one's mind when keyed by certain events but are not sequential. With this in mind I decided to fictionally retell childhood memories and to intertwine them with memories of the California alternative art world in the era of classic performance art and conceptual art. As is the practice of many writers, I began with my own memories, but usually I changed them; the work is fiction not autobiography. Furthermore, these fictionalized memories were sometimes selected and/or differently retold for their challenging nature.

To a certain extent I was thinking of James Joyce's Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and The Dubliners when I began this work about an artist's memories and the looking at life through past memories and seemingly small incidents that are formative. In the tradition of visual writing -- such as Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage that strove to be the writing equivalent of impressionist painting -- I selected a photographer as the narrator. She is a contemporary, conceptual photographer, whose memories are often photographically precise but sometimes incorporate elements of magical realism. Because my composition process was based on the creation of a series of word pictures that could be combined in many different ways, the narrator's very visual way of expressing her memories was important in shaping the work as a whole.

Thus, I began with a photographer narrator, who would write about her life as if each lexia was a photograph, and the photographs could be combined by the reader in various ways. "The combination of reader choice and the constantly changing order (like the raveling and unraveling of Penelopeia's web) makes it highly unlikely that the same story will ever appear twice," I stated in the "Notes". [3]

It should also be noted that in my own work as an artist, I primarily created artists books and narrative performances and installations. In addition to being familiar with the work of my many friends and colleagues in the San Francisco Bay Area art world and beyond who created language photography, conceptual photography, installation art, performance art and installation art, my own work was shown in exhibitions such as Photographic Book Art in the United States, a traveling exhibition that was shown at the Institute for Contemporary Art, New Orleans, the Washington Center for Photography, The Houston Center for Photography, and SF CameraWork; among other places. Thus I wrote about what I knew. The lives of artists have long been a primary concern in my writing.

The Narrative

It was the childhood memory of my father reading The Odyssey -- how entranced I was by the story -- that began the idea of using The Odyssey as a way to give its name was Penelope some structure. Additionally, because I had been telling Uncle Roger in a Homeric town square fashion on the Internet, I had been revisiting Homer's effective storytelling devices, studied in depth with Professor William Harris at Middlebury College. The Odyssey was also significant in that a woman artist, Penelopeia, whose weaving is central to her life and the story, is a primary character.

I envisioned that The Odyssey's sophisticated ordering of poetic narrative -- so that the reader moves backwards and forwards in time -- would work well for the narrative I wished to create. Thus in its name was Penelope, the reader moves between six "files" that are loosely based on sections of The Odyssey: "Dawn", "A Gathering of Spirits", "That Far Off Island", "Fine Work and Wide Across", "Rock and Hard Place", and "Song".

I reread The Odyssey in several versions -- primarily Rouse [4] and Fitzgerald [5] -- before I began to create its name was Penelope. But I wasn't rewriting Homer's timeless story, nor did I desire to do so. The work was inspired by The Odyssey but was a different story. Consequently, the main character was named Anne, not Penelope. However, I wanted to key the work in such a way that the comparison would be made by the reader, so I used the image of a toy boat that Anne played with as a child as a primarily image, and gave this boat the name "Penelope".

In its name was Penelope, Anne's setting this toy boat sailing is a metaphor for a life in which an artist's explorations are akin to those of an explorer. As I wrote in my "Notes", "But in these times, (in most times) following the path of personal vision requires equivalent courage and resourcefulness." [6]

its name was Penelope, Eastgate, 1993

In 1993, Mark Bernstein at Eastgate, the primary publisher of literary hypertext, published its name was Penelope with an excellent introduction by Carolyn Guyer in which she wrote:

"...In this work of computer fiction, Judy Malloy has created something very akin to the mélange of snapshots most of us have shut away somewhere in a cabinet on the back shelf. Here, in this work, the reader finds these same sort of casual, almost meaningless -- and thereby potentially most meaningful -- images of people meandering in a park, of tightly knotted skate laces, plates of food, or toy sailboats at the beach. Indeed the visual imagery is strikingly vivid, as clear and lucid as one might expect from a visual artist, which Malloy is. At times the descriptions are almost cinematic, at other times, especially in the Dawn section, they are so concrete I expect to see a color illustration immediately next to the text in the manner of children's books..." [7]

Mark Bernstein retooled my original BASIC program for its name was Penelope in a Storyspace look and feel design -- placing my work in the school of the other early Eastgate classics of literary electronic fiction that included the works of Michael Joyce, Carolyn Guyer, and Stuart Moulthrop, as well as emphasizing the poetry chapbook nature of the work, so that in an experience where the nonsequential presentation of literary text is continually dynamic, the idea of the reading of poetry is more apparent.

Also implemented by Mark Bernstein, the elegant iPad version of its name was Penelope is currently in press.

Notes on the original version of its name was Penelope

Uncle Roger, my/the first electronic hyperfiction, originally appeared from 1986-1987 on Art Com Electronic Network on the WELL. The narrative was set at a series of parties that were observed by a narrator, who in telling the story intertwined elements of magic realism with Silicon Valley culture and semiconductor industry lore.

In the course of creating Uncle Roger, I began with a hypertextual structure that was based on following parallel chains of links. It had been my vision to create a work of non-sequential literature, and in fact this was something I had been trying to do for many years, initially with a series of artist books that were created using card catalog trays, so that they could be accessed at any place and later using electro-mechanical address books that accessed screen displayed pages by pushing buttons.

Uncle Roger was created on the Internet using UNIX shell scripts and for Apple computers using BASIC. In programming this work, I used database code approaches that I was familiar with, having designed and programmed early library computer databases using FORTRAN.

It was my observation that what I had created in the first two files of Uncle Roger -- "A Party in Woodside" and "The Blue Notebook" -- was not a work that was non-sequential but rather a work that was experienced in parallel sequential threads of text. However, because the reader could easily move back and forth between these threads, the effect was somewhat non-sequential. (Note that I was not seeking to create a meaningless work, but rather what I meant to achieve was an approximation of thought processes, where life is not experienced in the way the structure of the novel usually presents it.)

Although I liked the experience of reading the first two parts of Uncle Roger, I was interested in trying to create a less sequential approach. Thus in "Terminals", the third section of Uncle Roger, I used a random number generator (technically a pseudo-random number generator) to produce screen sized units of text (now called lexias) at the will of the computer.

As noted, it was my intent that the experience would be meaningful. Thus each lexia had to work well with the other lexias in whatever way it was encountered. I had already been working in somewhat this way in the first two files of Uncle Roger. I did not know how the reader would encounter each lexia, so each lexia had to have meaning by itself, as well as be an interchangeable part of a larger whole.

"Terminals", the third file of Uncle Roger, has a very fluid structure. The original version -- that ran on the WELL and was written with UNIX shell scripts -- presented the reader with a screen of text and then randomly presented the next screen. The web version does not use a random number generator, but rather approximates this by imitating the electromechanical address books that I had used to create artists books, ie the reader chooses unlabeled buttons under the screen, so the effect has random qualities.

Although the interface is somewhat different, it was the authoring software that I created for "Terminals" that I used to write the original its name was Penelope. Originally Its name was Penelope was created (on disk with BASIC) as an artists book in 1989. This original version used yellow text on a black background and had a look and feel that reflected its Greek epic origins and sweep. In the course of an installation that I did at the Richmond Art Center in 1989 -- for which each screen of text was made into a small text painting -- I extensively rewrote each lexia, and in 1990, I self-published a small press Narrabase Press version with a new cover and the edited text. This version of its name was Penelope was distributed by Art Com Software, and a copy is now housed in the Judy Malloy Papers at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University.


1. In the 1993 edition, this section was entitled "A Gathering of Shades" which in the Fitzgerald translation is the title of the Book it alludes to. In the new iPad edition (currently in press from Eastgate) it is "A Gathering of Spirits"

2. Judy Malloy, Uncle Roger, for Apple II and IBM computers, Berkeley, CA,
Bad Information, 1986-1988 (was also available as online on Art Com Electronic Network)
partially funded by the California Arts Council and Art Matters 2003 Web version -- http://www.well.com/user/jmalloy/uncleroger/unclerog.html

There is a comprehensive discussion of Uncle Roger in Judy Malloy, "Uncle Roger, an online narrabase", in Connectivity: Art and Interactive Telecommunications, eds. Roy Ascott and Carl Eugene Loeffler, Leonardo 24(2):195-202, 1991.

3. Judy Malloy, "its name was Penelope: Notes" in its name was Penelope, Eastgate Systems, Cambridge, MA, 1993. p.14

4. Homer, The Odyssey, translated by W.H.D. Rouse. New York, New American Library, 1937.

5. Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fitzgerald, New York: New Anchor Books, 1963.

6. Judy Malloy, Op. cit., p. 13

7. Carolyn Guyer, "Introduction", in its name was Penelope, Eastgate Systems,
Cambridge, MA, 1993. p.7

Judy Malloy,
its name was Penelope,
Eastgate Systems,
Cambridge, MA., 1993

Nicely evocative ... the
effect is remarkably close
to the subjective quirkiness
of memory, of past moments
floating unpredictably to
the surface"

-- Richard Grant,
Washington Post Book World

"Penelope's compounded,
disjunctive structure
corresponds with and seems
to arise from the narrator's
restless splitting off of
attention, under the
opposed attractions of
sexual and esthetic desire
.....The analogy between
the on-screen texts of
Penelope and sequences of
photographs prompts the
reader's reflection up on
the nature of each medium...
the words of a text screen
float on a motile surface,
poised for instantaneous
change into another, not
fully predictable writing."

Barbara Page,
Postmodern Culture