“my body: a Wunderkammer” is a beautiful piece of interactive electronic literature developed by Shelley Jackson. The piece is semi-autobiographical in nature, meaning that the author lived through a number of the stories and memories shared throughout, but also that some of the text is exaggerated or even entirely fictional. “my body” offers the opportunity for any person with Internet access to explore the emotional aspects of a woman’s body through her direct remembrances, thoughts, and feelings.
When the reader first begins “my body,” he or she sees a black-and-white drawing of a female body. Most of the body parts are labeled, and each body part is connected to a hyperlink that, when clicked on, will take the reader to a passage poeticizing that specific body part. Each passage explores a memory or feeling—though possibly a fictitious one—from the author. To give an example, when one clicks the woman’s neck, several paragraphs of text appear. Part of this passage refers to how the author used to draw princesses with “necks no wider than their chins.” Each passage contains hyperlinks that are connected to words or phrases in the passage. When activated, these will lead the reader to further insights.
Because this piece is navigated via hyperlinks, there cannot be a “right” or “wrong” order in which to study it in. It is highly unlikely that all readers will begin their journeys by clicking on the same body part, and it is even less likely that readers will read every part of the body and in the exact same order. As a result of this digital structure, as well as the personal perceptions and interpretations attributed to each reader, no two people will experience “my body” the same way. Some readers may be able to directly relate to what the author is offering, while others may feel at a loss for any significant empathetic connection. The absence of a solid order of interactions in this hypertext piece is a component shared with many other examples of e-literature and hypermedia; the personal adventure offered by the digital landscape of “my body” is what makes this piece beautiful in my eyes.
For readers struggling to make sense of “my body: a Wunderkammer,” Shelley Jackson embedded inside the piece a section titled “Cabinet.” There, Jackson explains to her audience what the essence of her creation is meant to be: her body is a “cabinet of curiosities,” a Wunderkammer, and any or all are invited to peer within. Each body part in the diagram represents a drawer, and in each drawer there are stories, memories, thoughts, and feelings. In the words of Jackson, if her audience members wish to truly understand her work, they must “feel their way in.”
Writer: Molly Verostick
Editor: Patrick Stahl
Imagery: Zack Tokosh
Hypertextuals: Morgan Gleixner