current issue - January 2007  
Introduction to The Nicodemus Glyph
by David Herrstrom (bio)

What hypertext makes possible in “The Nicodemus Glyph” is to explore simultaneously the text/subtext, context, and pretext of the work. We encounter the texts of Nicodemus and their subtexts, counterpoint to the texts, within the context of language and history. Like a photo emerging in development solution, the context of a specific historical time and place emerges in the foreground. At the same time, we become gradually aware of the pretext of the text in the background, the cluster of motives that have given rise to the texts and subtexts themselves.

The “Nicodemus Glyph” limns the figure of Nicodemus, of course, historical and literary fact as well as fiction. This hypertext of his writings, sayings, and those about him disperses his character throughout. We know his character, that is, only by implied and imbricated stories. None is complete. The hypertext circles but does not close on Nicodemus. In short, our experience of this first century writer/teacher, constitutes a model of our encounter with any character gone from this earth.

The shape of my hypertext, then, is a weave of unclosed circles like a bird's nest, its twigs marking the circumferences of myriad overlapping circles that point to a center but never define a center-point. Nicodemus is defined by his commentary on a meeting with a man who exists for us only by word of mouth, from his mouth as well as others'; and by his commentary on another writer who has written about an encounter with this same man who has not written at all, a character that both writers have encountered. At the same time, Nicodemus is defined by the commentators on his writings and character.

These writings and commentaries are the given texts/subtexts. Products of accident and the constraints of history - their context - they are always in tension with the fact of also being products of the will, of personal motives - their pretext. This means certainty and uncertainty are braided, the encounter(s) and the account(s) of the encounter inseparable.

As readers of this hypertext, that is, we encounter a writer/scholar (perhaps an archeologist) who encounters a glyph, constructed by an unknown writer/scholar that points to an encounter by a writer/teacher (Nicodemus) with another teacher, whom a writer friend of Nicodemus (John) has also encountered. And we know these encounters only by their commentaries. There can be no certainty, yet we yearn to choose a certainty among the possibilities.

The encounter(s) that both writers share, we gather by hints and guesses, has clearly been extraordinary. If it is not the pretext of the Book of Nicodemus, it is the motive of the book that Nicodemus comments on. Out of a meeting(s) with an incandescent teacher, both writers are compelled to write. Such an encounter, whether through the words and acts of a teacher or the words on the page of a writer, cannot be evaded or put in the past.

The encounter is so powerful, in fact, that it triggers in one of these writers the process of “godding.” Rooted in love and recognition of a self-authenticating authority inherent in powerful acts and words, this process seizes certain disciples of teachers and readers of authors. As Anne Sexton remarks in a letter about one of her mentors, a towering writer/teacher of hers, “I think I will have to god him; … gods are so necessary and splendid and distant.”

And we're tempted to begin “godding” Nicodemus himself, but the form of hypertext thwarts this at every juncture. We yearn for a stable character; yet we find only a character in movement, circling and circling and never settling, all edges and no center. The text/subtext seems straightforward, the character clear, but we're not allowed a fix on the character. Hypertext prevents sacred text.

So pretext, an act of the will impelled by its context - an accident of time and place - weaves text/subtext. Another act of will, another pretext constrained by different accidents of language and place, weaves a hypertext: “The Nicodemus Glyph.” And its implicit claim of self-authentication is subverted by its own form, making impossible, in contrast to “sacred” texts, the “godding” that is the project of Nicodemus' writer friend John. For if God is the center whose circumference is everywhere; this “Glyph” is the circumference whose center is nowhere.

David Sten Herrstrom

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