Adriene Jenik's Mauve Desert: A CD-ROM Translation is a multimedia feast of the senses. It resonates with the rumble of earthquakes, tremors of desire, the ring of gunshots and the cough of car engines. It is not so much a translation of celebrated lesbian Québécoise novelist Nicole Brossard's Le Désert Mauve as a passionate lovemaking that revisions the text in startling ways. Utilizing video plus an elaborate hypertextual interface, Jenik creates an entirely new--and personal--response to Brossard's text in four languages, English, French, Spanish and multimedia. The original novel was an examination of precisely these kinds of issues of 'translation,' being several different revisionings of the same text and series of events (all in French). It was this process that Walter Benjamin was referring to when he said:
And Jenik's hypertext always remains about Brossard's novel and cultures, as it simultaneously supplements them. It remains true to Brossard's text, but adds the voices of its translators and Jenik's vision to the electronic version. A collaborative work and a plural text, Jenik's media translation is decidely "promiscuous (in the root sense of 'seeking relations')" (Snyder 53) and, as both lesbian and hypertextual discourse, posits a "site of resistance" (Snyder 77). The project was an MFA thesis for Jenik (now a Professor of Computer and Media Arts with the University of California, San Diego), and was produced with support from The Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta. Nicole Brossard was on Jenik's examining committee. As a Canadian reader, I found the American accents of the English-speaking actors (Melanie's mother in particular) surprisingly jarring--even though Brossard's Canadian novel is set in the Arizona desert. For me, rather than proving to be a distraction though, these different accents provided a window on yet another layer of subjectivity in my reading, making me aware of my own Canadianness as I explored Jenik's text further.
In her bilingual hypertext (Korean and English), Jin-Me Yoon addresses visually the "spaces empty between languages" (Imagining Communities (bojagi)) and that is very much what is at issue in Jenik's CD-ROM. As an English-speaking video artist, she spent 5 years and "30 gigabytes" (Mauve Desert) translating Brossard's French novel into a visual reverie that incorporates the French version, as well as the English and Spanish translations. Our first introduction to Melanie (played by Lora Moran) is spoken in a triple layering of these languages, forcing the reader to sift through the voices and find the version(s) she understands to surmount the "barriers of language, age and culture." The voiceover on the opening screen tells us that this CD-ROM is about the "process of becoming" (as opposed to the villain Longman's "I am become death") and advises the reader "as you drive Mauve Desert...keep in mind where you sit and what drives you to understand." Driving, in fact, becomes a metaphor for reading and for the quest for knowledge as much of the CD-ROM is seen from the 15-year-old Melanie's perspective from behind the wheel of her mother's Mercury. (Melanie's view of the desert is superimposed on a lovingly annotated version of Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood's English translation of Brossard's novel, which includes a textual hand that follows the reader's mouse movements to trace the author/reader's reading of the printed text. This is a startling interactive effect.) As readers, we look through the windshield over Melanie's shoulder at frequently surreal landscapes. As we drive, fly or float, we are also faced with the unnerving--and ultimately erotic--effect of Melanie looking back at us as through the rear view mirror as she talks primarily about her own sexual awakening and her lesbian desire. Clicking on the rear view mirror allows us a window inside Melanie's thoughts and recent memories.
Melanie's viewpoint is not the only one that Mauve Desert puts forward. We also hear Maude Laures' perspective: the 'translator' of the fictional author Laure Angstelle's novel about Melanie's story that we are hearing/seeing. Laures' existence, much like Jenik's, is "cloistered in the time and space of a single book" as she "wrestles with the violence of words." Nicole Brossard is also present here in a series of interviews, talking about her intentions in the novel and her philosophies on experimental fiction, and so is the library of source texts that the reader can take down from a shelf to peruse. Jenik's perspective too, as 'Mapmaker,' is an integral part of the CD-ROM including shots of the filming of the filming of Mauve Desert, a storyboard, details about the actors, a still of Jenik reading Brossard's novel for the first time, her correspondence with Brossard and a discussion of what is behind Jenik's own driving concerns in her project: her realization that what is "hidden behind all these signs is a truth," her own "fears of crashing."
As we tour Jenik's map that follows Melanie's journey along the desert highways, we choose our language version(s) on the car radio, or a reader can choose to ignore the spoken text altogether and listen to AM or FM radio instead. We can exit the desert through the glove compartment--with its ever-present handgun--to journey to Montreal or behind the scenes in the making of the video. The glove compartment is probably the single most effective effect in recreating the section in the original novel called "Places and Things," just as the character section of Brossard's novel includes a file folder where we can view faceless photos of Longman, the purveyor of patriarchal violence in the text.
The representation of Longman in Jenik's CD-ROM is startlingly effective. He erupts unbidden at various points in this hypertext to pace the floor, to fret over his explosive plans for a nuclear site in the desert and finally to murder the object of Melanie's erotic fixation, the scientist Angela Parkins. The reader is irresistibly drawn back to the Red Arrow Motel again and again to see the story between Angela and Melanie and Longman unfold. His unexpected and explosive appearances are quite terrifying.
Marshall McLuhan reflected that the fragmentation of linear type in Gutenberg's printing press demonstrated:
Adriene Jenik's hypertext Mauve Desert: A CD-ROM Translation is centered in precisely such an extension of the senses. Jenik makes breathtaking use of colour, sound and music (even this is different 'in translation' for the Spanish sections), for example, as well as montage and collage. The conjunction of images and textures functions in much the same way as the cohabitation of different language versions. "As Sergei Eisenstein has pointed out, the juxtaposition of disparate images in a cinematic montage automatically creates a synthesis of meaning between them" (Frank 78). Jenik's hypertext synthesizes meaning and space through visual and textual ruptures as a literal examination of what Michael Joyce calls "a poetic of the contours" of the hypertextual form:
So it is with Jenik's CD-ROM. The erotic space it creates is both a homage to Brossard's Le Désert Mauve and a departure from it. Through its relentless insistence on the privileging of subjectivity, it troubled my own reading of the original novel, adding dimensions to it that, for me, had not previously existed. Jenik's text maps the shape of these turns, spinning a vehicle out over impossible dream landscapes, floating over mauve blooms in the desert, speaking with such a discursive intimacy that she invites the reader's desire to inform the terrain of the text. If, as Sue-Ellen Case says, to date radical technonarrative "experimentation lies in means of production, not in use" (640), it also might be said that Jenik's Mauve Desert gives us a taste of what the future holds.
Mauve Desert: A CD-ROM Translation of Nicole Brossard's novel. CD-ROM for Macintosh. IBM version forthcoming. Los Angeles: Shifting Horizon Productions, 1997.