Artifice is the Engine

I'm glad Dave decided to present "First Draft of the Revolution" by Emily Short and Liza Daly; I was intrigued by this piece earlier in the semester when I was browsing through Volume 3.  The combination of an 18th century setting, with all the worries of a noble European family, and magical elements reminded me a little of the novel "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell," despite the fact that said novel was set in the 19th century (if I remember correctly).  The woodcut images, elegant font, and book framing device all accentuate the period piece aspect, as does the period-appropriate language.  I also think it's interesting to have a piece of electronic literature mimic the publishing traditions of an earlier era; it draws the reader's attention to the artificiality of it.  This artifice is, I believe, a driving theme in "First Draft."

The metafictional elements (if you could call it that since the letters being sent aren't fiction to the characters; maybe metacompositional would be more appropriate?  Metaepistolary?) in the piece contrast with the magical elements to make the reader engage more fully its theme of artifice.  It creates a kind of irony, and I think it's metaphorical for the power of writing in general.  Because humans instinctively organize their thoughts and experiences through narration, when one writes, one has the power to alter reality; this is especially true if they're writing about history or experiences.  Like the magic in the piece, however, that power is tempered by societal norms.  Each time a character changes a piece of what they have written, whether the character is male or female, magic-user or not, they are giving away a little bit of their power, and they have made their communication more artificial.  The fact that the piece won't move forward until the reader has rewritten or erased certain parts of the letters emphasizes the fact that the authors wanted their readers to see how each writer is altering their words due to the expectations/possible reactions of others.  It's fascinating to see the different writing processes of each character (for example, Henri makes a list of the points he wants to address), and the limited choices for revisions also raise a number of questions about gender and society, both historical and modern. 

It's also worth noting that by involving the reader in multiple characters' writing processes, "First Draft" blurs the line between reader, writer, and fictional entity.  In this case, all three interact to create meaning, or to dilute it.  This feature is all the more powerful because the reader is seeing the true thoughts of multiple characters, so the reader is omniscient, and dramatic irony is infused into everything.  The reader is asked to act as every character, though, as if they don't know the truth of the other characters' thoughts.  This ties into what I was saying earlier about the surrender of power and the triumph of artifice over truth.  The reader must pretend they don't know all they do know in order to make revision choices and move the story forward.  Artifice is the engine, but is it only the engine driving the story, or is it driving all our lives?