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What Some People Said About Hypertext Fiction/Digital lit

George Landow’s HYPERTEXT 2.0

“Electronic text processing marks the next major shift in information technology after the development of the printed book. It promises (or threatens) to produce effects on our culture, particularly on our literature, education, criticism, and scholarship, just as radical as those produced by Gutenberg’s movable type.”

Hypertext systems, just like printed books, dramatically change the roles of student, teacher, assignment, evaluation, reading list, as well as relations among individual instructors, courses, departments, and disciplines. No wonder so many faculty find so many “reasons” not to look at hypertext. Perhaps scariest of all for the teacher, hypertext answers teachers’ sincere prayers for active, independent-minded students who take more responsibility for their education and are not afraid to challenge and disagree. The problem with answered prayers is that one may get that for which one asked, and then . . . What more terrifying for professors of English, who have for decades called for creativity, independent mindedness, and all those other good

The first edition of Hypertext makes three central arguments:

Reconfiguring the Text – Although in some distant, or not-so-distant, future all individual texts will be electronically linked to one another, thus creating metatexts and metametatexts of a kind only partly imaginable at present, less far-reaching forms of hypertextuality have already appeared.

Hypertext linking, reader control, and variation not only militate against the modes of argumentation to which we have become accustomed but have other, far more general effects, one of which is to add what may be seen as a kind of randomness to the reader’s text. Another is that the writer, as we shall see, loses certain basic controls over his text, particularly over its edges and borders. Yet a third is that the text appears to fragment, to atomize, into constituent elements (into lexias or blocks of text), and these reading units take on a life of their own as they become more selfcontained, because they become less dependent on what comes before
or after in a linear succession.

  • Hypertextual Translation of Scribal Culture; or,The Electronic Manuscript :Hypertext fragments, disperses, or atomizes text in two related ways. First, by removing the linearity of print, it frees the individual passages from one ordering principle — sequence — and threatens to transform the text into chaos. Second, hyper-text destroys the notion of a fixed unitary text. Considering the “entire” text in relation to its component parts produces the first form of fragmentation; considering it in relation to its variant readings and versions produces the second. Loss of a belief in unitary textuality could produce many changes in Western culture, many of them quite costly, when judged from our present print-based attitudes. Not all these changes are necessarily costly or damaging, however, particularly to the world of scholarship, where this conceptual change would permit us to redress some of the distortions of naturalizing print culture.

Reconfiguring the Author – Like contemporary critical theory, hypertext reconfigures — rewrites — the author in several obvious ways. First of all, the figure of the hyper-text author approaches, even if it does not entirely merge with, that of the reader; the functions of reader and writer become more deeply entwined with each other than ever before. … Today when we consider reading and writing, we probably think of them as serial processes or as procedures carried out intermittently by the same person: first one reads, then one writes, and then one reads some more. Hypertext, which creates an active, even intrusive reader, carries this convergence of activities one step closer to completion; but in so doing, it infringes upon the power of the writer, removing some of it and granting it to the reader.

Reconfiguring Narrative – Hypertext, which challenges narrative and all literary form based on linearity, calls into question ideas of plot and story current since Aristotle. Looking at the Poetics in the context of a discussion of hypertext suggests one of two things: either one simply cannot write hypertext fiction (and the Poetics show why that could be the case) or else Aristotelian definitions and descriptions of plot do not apply to stories read and written within a hypertext environment.

Michael Joyce, a hypertext author, is suspicious of closure. In Joyce’s Afternoon, a hypertext fiction in 538 lexias, the section appropriately entitled “work in progress” advises readers: “Closure is, as in any fiction, a suspect quality, although here it is made manifest. When the story no longer progresses, or when it cycles, or when you tire of the paths, the experience of reading it ends.” In other words, Joyce makes the responsibility for closure, for stopping, entirely the reader’s. When the reader has had enough and decides to stop reading, why then the story is over. Joyce continues, however: “Even so, there are likely to be more opportunities than you think there are at first. A word which doesn’t yield the first time you read a section may take you elsewhere if you choose it when you encounter the section again; and what sometimes seems a loop, like memory, heads off in another direction.” Reading the highly allusive Afternoon, which has so many points of departure within each lexia as well as continually changing points of linkage, one sees what Joyce means.

Why don’t we read hypertext novels? – Anne Mangen, Adriaan van der Weel

During the 1990s, claims were emerging about a new kind of literature, hypertext fiction (or novels), which were expected to radically alter the appreciation of literary reading. Hypertext and new media theorists claimed that ‘hypertext fiction has become the most convincing [ . . . ] expression of the idea of hypertext’ (Bolter, 1991: 121); that hypertext challenges us to reconsider fundamental assumptions about the social space of writing and may ‘open the way to a new textual order with a new politics of knowledge and expression’ (Moulthrop, 1991: n.p.); and that it ‘will become an increasingly important part of literature in the new millennium’ (Hayles, 2004: n.p.). The revolution, however, proved not to be easily won. With the benefit of hindsight, we can reasonably say that such predictions were overly optimistic. Despite the continued enthusiasm of a dedicated few (e.g. Bell, 2010; Landow, 2006, 2007; Moulthrop, 2005, 2007), hypertext novels remain a marginal contribution in the field of literature, and there are even signs that the production and appraisal of electronic literature in general, low as it always was, is beginning to fade even more (Pinder, 2004).

Early proponents of hypertext theory (Delany and Landow, 1991; Joyce, 1995; Lanham, 1993; Landow, 1994, 1991, 1997) claimed that hypertext turned the reader into an author, liberating and empowering the reader to construct the text, as well as his/her own identity, and representing an anti-hierarchical and hence democratic replacement of the hierarchical and therefore elitist linearity of print. The reading mode developed and applied to linear print reading was dismissed as outmoded (Eskelinen, 2001; Landow, 1994; Lanham, 1993), thereby needing to be replaced by revolutionary liberationist hypertext reading (Moulthrop, 1991, 1997).

A Future for Hypertext Fiction – James Pope

It is fairly easy to summarize the debate around the future of hypertext fiction because the discussion polarizes. Either hypertext narrative is the fulfilment of poststructural literary theory and practice (Landow, 1997), and is, apart from that recommendation, an exciting and dynamic new art form (Bolter, 2001; Coover, 1993; Douglas, 2000; Jackson, 1996; Kendall and Réty, 2000; Murray 1997a, 1997b) with an almost guaranteed fruitful future; or, hypertext fiction is a literary experiment doomed to failure because it confuses, and disrupts the reader’s imaginative enjoyment (Barrett, 2000; Birkerts, 1997; Blanton, 1996; Miall, 1999; Miall and Dobson, 2001; Selig, 2000).

There has been excited belief in hypertext, for example Robert Coover’s view that ‘the potential of this fascinating new reading and writing medium has scarcely been glimpsed’ (Coover, 1993). There is also quite vehement dismissal of its future as a storytelling form: ‘reading can co-exist, theoretically, with digital storytelling, but the two cannot be interbred to any productive end’ (Birkerts, 1997).

Re-thinking the Book

The advent of hypertext provides an opportunity to re-think the relationship between narrative and the physical form of the book itself. To see the book as simply the vehicle, the neutral container of the writer’s imaginative output, is to overlook the enormous impact which the very idea of the book has had on narrative from The Bible to the Postmodern Novel and even hypertext fiction itself.

Subjects of particular interest in this regard include:

The Book
The Book of Nature
The Bible
The End of the Book
Death of the Author
Readerly and Writerly Texts
The Novel
Realism and the Realist Novel
Modernism and the Modern Novel
Postmodernism and the Postmodern Novel
The Mystic Writing Pad
The Literature of Exhaustion
The New Novel
Marshall McLuhan and The Gutenberg Galaxy
Illumination and the Electronic Sign
The Rhetoric of Hypertext
Writing Space
Connections Without Centre: Infinite Hypertext

The End of the Book, like the Death of the Author, is the conceptual analogue of the End of the Printed Book. These historical shifts have been concomitant with, and indeed have paved the way for, the advent of electronic hypertext. They signal not simply the demise of the bookmark industry or relief from the dangers of papercuts, but a way of thinking about the way we organize, conceive and imagine the world in which we live. To think of the world not as a Book but as a hypertext is to conceive of it as a heterogeneous, mutable, interactive and open-ended space where meaning is inscribed between signs, between nodes, and between readers, not enclosed between the limits of a front and back cover, or anchored to some conceptual spine called the author.

Writerly texts attempt to frustrate the death-drive of closure (recall that for Freud each of us seeks to return to the inorganic state from which all life begins). However, even a novel which does not resolve the enigma that opens its plot (eg. Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49) still ends–even the most radical act of incompletion may invest a text with a sense of completion and wholeness.


Hypertexts provide an alternative to this dilemma. In the first place, it is difficult to tell where it physically “ends;” there is no last page one can sneak a peek of to see if she really marries the guy. The non-teleological aspect of navigation allows for readings which break away from the linearity that makes closure seem a kind of natural event. In making each reading entirely different from the previous, hypertext fiction helps underscore the limitations of traditional forms of closure and elicits new forms of pleasure, pleasure not from the inevitability of an ending, but from the multiplicity of openings.

Jay Bolter – Writing Space (First Edition)

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Jay Bolter – Writing Space (Second Edition)

Illumination and the Electronic Sign

The concept of illumination as a light shining through the text has an interesting parallel for the age of the electronic text. The electronic sign, too, illumined on the screen of the computer monitor, shines through the text. The word no longer requires, as the printed word did, that a light be cast upon it to make it visible. Glowing in its own phosphene splendour, the electronic word takes on an altogether different aspect; it does not require us to reveal it but reveals itself. Emanating from a space beyond the writer, from the space of writing itself, the electronic sign has a kind of assuredness and autonomy from the author, from the source of its utterance, that fascinates even as it frightens. It is perhaps to the self-illuminated quality of the electronic sign that the writer of hypertext fictions must attend, and to discover there the secret of its light.

See also: William Blake and the Illuminated Book, John Ruskin, William Morris and the Gothic Revival, Manuscript Circulation, Marshall McLuhan and the Gutenberg Galaxy and Judy Malloy.


Hypertext fiction (hyperfiction) uses hypertext authoring environments to create “interactive” and “non-linear” fictive texts, which were said to offer the reader an unheard of power over the unfolding of the story. The fact that hypertext, a medium mostly targeted to educational and technical writers, also thrilled fiction authors is not a surprise – what is surprising is that it took so long for fiction authors to get interested in a tool which, according to its founder, Ted Nelson, was to transform computers into “literary machines”[1].

A lot of expectations has been put upon hypertext fiction, with its capability to empower readers’ interaction with the text, because of the new kind of spatial writing it makes possible, and because of the possibility to integrate text with audio-visual materials, thus creating a new kind of “Gesamtdatenwerk”[4].

N. Katherine Hayles’ Writing machines

She left the conference thinking she would have to learn more about why her audience had been so resistant to media specificity. She recalled a computerphobic colleague who complained to Kaye about various outrages to which the computer subjected her. Kaye could sympathize to an extent; she had spent too many hours dealing with software glitches and hardware problems not to understand the woman’s frustration. But she had no more power to stop the transformation of literary studies by information technology than her colleague—even if she wanted to, which she didn’t. For literary people like her colleague, the computer was threatening because it demanded new skills and made traditional ones obsolete at an alarming rate. “I’m glad I am retiring soon,” another colleague had
remarked to her, “because now I won’t have to deal with these changes.”

ROBERT COOVER – The End of Books

Although hypertext’s champions often assail the arrogance of the novel, their own claims are hardly modest. You will often hear them proclaim, quite seriously, that there have been three great events in the history of literacy: the invention of writing, the invention of movable type and the invention of hypertext. As hyperspace-walker George P. Landow puts it in his recent book surveying the field, “Hypertext”: “Electronic text processing marks the next major shift in information technology after the development of the printed book. It promises (or threatens) to produce effects on our culture, particularly on our literature, education, criticism and scholarship, just as radical as those produced by Gutenberg’s movable type.” Noting that the “movement from the tactile to the digital is the primary fact about the contemporary world,” Mr. Landow observes that, whereas most writings of print-bound critics working in an exhausted technology are “models of scholarly solemnity, records of disillusionment and brave sacrifice of humanistic positions,” writers in and on hypertext “are downright celebratory. . . . Most poststructuralists write from within the twilight of a wished-for coming day; most writers of hypertext write of many of the same things from within the dawn.” Noting that the “movement from the tactile to the digital is the primary fact about the contemporary world,” Mr. Landow observes that, whereas most writings of print-bound critics working in an exhausted technology are “models of scholarly solemnity, records of disillusionment and brave sacrifice of humanistic positions,” writers in and on hypertext “are downright celebratory. . . . Most poststructuralists write from within the twilight of a wished-for coming day; most writers of hypertext write of many of the same things from within the dawn.”

Jessica Pressman – Digital Modernism: Making It New in New Media

Eastgate’s tagline, “serious hypertext,” described not only individual works but also an ambition shared by the publisher, writers, and readers alike—to gain serious attention for the emerging field of electronic literature. Eastgate’s tagline also had the effect of aligning all electronic literature that took itself seriously with hypertext. Academic advocates supported this endeavor by taking hypertexts very seriously and strenuously vocalizing this claim. Victorian scholar George P. Landow hailed hypertext as the culmination of poststructuralism’s decentered and writerly text.13 Postmodern fiction writer Robert Coover’s infamous article “The End of Books” (New York Times Book Review, 1992) brought hypertext to the public eye with death threats to a favorite reading technology. A few of the first generation hypertexts so vociferously lauded comprise the emerging canon of electronic literature ….

See Steven Johnson’s Why No One Clicked on the Great Hypertext Story

Multiple print tomes appeared evangelizing hypertext storytelling, and a few even warned of the threat it posed to traditional narrative. The literary/philosophical world had been musing about the death of the author and fragmented, reader-centric text since the late 1960s, but suddenly all those abstract ideas were grounded in technological reality.

Hamlet on the Holodeck new edition

‘…everything made out of bits belongs to a single new medium, with its own affordances that can be used for creating new forms of narrative, just as film was a new medium with its own expressive affordances rather than just an extension of live theater.’ ( page 90)

… … … … … … …

A linear story, no matter how complex, moves toward a single encompassing version of a complex human event. Even those multiform stories that offer multiple retellings of the same event often resolve into a single “true” version—the viewpoint of the uninvolved eyewitness or the actual reality the protagonists wind up in after the alternate realities have collapsed. A linear story has to end in some one place: the last shot of a movie is never a split screen. But a multithreaded story can offer many voices at once without giving any one of them the last word. This is a reassuring format for encountering a traumatic event because it allows plenty of room for conflicting emotions. It lets us disperse complex, intense reactions into many derivative streams so that we do not have to feel the full flood of sorrow all at once. The multithreaded web story achieves coherent dramatic form by shaping our terror into a pattern of exploration and discovery.

… … …

The second kind of digital labyrinth, which has arisen from the academic literary
community, is the postmodern hypertext narrative described in chapter 2. Full of
wordplay and indeterminate events, these labyrinths derive not from Greek
rationalism but from poststructuralist literary theory and are unheroic and solutionless. Like a set of index cards that have been scattered on the floor and
then connected with multiple segments of tangled twine, they offer no end point and no way out. Their aesthetic vision is often identified with philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s “rhizome,” a tuber root system in which any point may be connected to any other point.1 Deleuze used the rhizome root system as a model of connectivity in systems of ideas; critics have applied this notion to allusive text systems that are not linear like a book but boundaryless and without closure. Stuart Moulthrop, a theorist and electronic fiction writer, states it this way:

Seen from the viewpoint of textual theory, hypertext systems appear as the practical implementation of a conceptual movement that … rejects authoritarian, “logocentric” (i.e. truth affirming) hierarchies of language, whose modes of operation are linear and deductive, and seeks instead systems of discourse that admit a plurality of meanings where the operative modes are hypothesis and interpretive play.2

The postmodern hypertext tradition celebrates the indeterminate text as a liberation from the tyranny of the author and an affirmation of the reader’s freedom of interpretation. But the navigational software designed specifically for this purpose and celebrated by many proponents of literary hypertext is anything but empowering to the reader, even in comparison to the earliest Web browsers.

Carolyn Guyer and Martha Petry’s opening “directions” to their hypertext fiction Izme Pass

“This is a new kind of fiction, and a new kind of reading. The form of the text is rhythmic, looping on itself in patterns and layers that gradually accrete meaning, just as the passage of time and events does in one’s lifetime. Trying the textlinks embedded within the work will bring the narrative together in new configurations, fluid constellations formed by the path of your interest. The difference between reading hyperfiction and reading traditional printed fiction may be the difference between sailing the islands and standing on the dock watching the sea. One is not necessarily better than the other.”

Espen J Aarseth Cybertext-Perspectives on Ergodic Literature W

David Bolter, who chooses to see computer technology as the catalyst whereby the old structures and rituals of reading and writing are replaced by new ones, claims that “electronic writing defines a new level of creativity, indeed a myriad of levels that fall between the apparent originality of the Romantic artist and apparent passivityof the traditional reader” (1991, 158-59).

Why No One Clicked on the Great Hypertext Story

During these years, I was a graduate student in English who divided his time between reading literary theory and exploring the emerging network culture—with online services like CompuServe, bulletin boards like Echo and the Well, and nascent protocols like Gopher. When word began to trickle out about a new platform called the World Wide Web, built from the ground up as a hypertext universe, it seemed like the logical confluence of all of my disparate interests. Nonlinear storytelling, I realized, would finally have its medium. In 1995, within a few months of first experiencing the web, I left grad school behind and started (with Stefanie Syman) the online magazine Feed, dedicated to exploring the transformative potential of journalism in a hypertext world.  

This was the strange mix of myopia and farsightedness that some of us experienced in the early 1990s. We had an intense hunch that words linked electronically to other words—links that would allow you to jump suddenly to different textual locations—were about to become a central mode of communication. And of course this turned out to be entirely true. But many of us thought the primary impact of hypertext would be on storytelling. At Feed, we originally imagined that contributors would compose stories built out of small blocks of text—roughly the length of a blog post—that readers would navigate according to their own whims. Like Michael Joyce’s fiction, each reading would be a unique configuration. People would explore the story, not read it.

HYPERTEXT Julia Keller, Tribune Staff Writer

“There are exciting changes going on — a new set of rules for writing,” said Rob Wittig, a Chicago author who believes that hypertext is the next great leap forward for communication.

“The more you know about the history of literature, the less scary this becomes.”

Michael Joyce, a respected hypertext author, has said, (8) “Hypertext is the revenge of the word on television.”

(12) “If anything, I think it has too much academic standing now,” said Ed Barrett, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who teaches and writes hypertext. “Academics have encrusted it with so much critical theory.”

For (13) Rob Wittig, hypertext isn’t a replacement for traditional novels but an enhancement. “They both have their pleasures,” he said. “Progressive thinkers believe the characteristic of our age is that everything is possible.”

Rettberg, however, sees hypertext as much more than mere wired wordplay. It’s a life preserver flung at literature.

“If you go into a classroom of college freshmen and ask them their five favorite books, you’ll get blank looks,” he said. “Ask them their five favorite Web sites, though, and they’ll rattle them off.

“What we’re really concerned about is the survival of (17) literature in the digital age. We’re trying to create a whole new arena for literature.”

5) Hypertext, according to a link in “The Unknown,” is “a mapping of a text onto a four-dimensional `space.’ Normal grammars, then, do not apply, and become branching structures anew. Fragments, branches, links . . . The text coils in on itself.” If this makes your head hurt, relax: You are normal. But it get easier with repeated use.

Connections without Centre: Infinite Hypertext

The sense of infinite possibilities offered by hypertext is an illusion.

Jay David Bolter, Writing Space

The necessity of forging links in hypertext is also the necessity of connecting ideas. This task is not without its aesthetic implications. Stan Dragland, in his introduction to AirWave DreamScapes, has tried to reconcile two opposed literary attitudes toward connection:

In E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End, Margaret Schlegal has a sort of motto, “Only connect,” which she lives by. Her pleasure, her human function, is to build a “rainbow bridge” of meaning between scattered, contrary things. In Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers, F. proselytizes for a non- interventionist approach to what is. “Connect nothing,” he says. I think F.’s approach and Margaret Schlegal’s are complementary rather than contradictory. You might make of the two a reasonably inclusive approach to life and literature. (8)

The two attitudes are indicative of the distinction between two literary milieux, the modern and the postmodern. Forster anticipates T.S. Eliot’s despair at the possibility of ever being able to connect anything again. Eliot writes, in “The Waste Land:”

On Margate Sands.
I can connect nothing with nothing.
The broken fingers of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
Nothing. (300-304)

This despair sits in the ruins of the will-to-connect, itself another manifestation of Nietzsche’s will-to-power, the violent yoking together of disparate objects born of the rage for order. The ruins were already evident in the hard sciences: in mathematics Kurt Gödel overturned David Hilbert’s program (which held that every mathematical problem could be answered, either by furnishing the solution or proving its insolubility); in physics Einstein announced the loss of space and time as independent absolutes which led to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle for sub-atomic particles.

As more connections are made, the possibility for contradiction increases. This is the paradox of all self-engulfing and centreless systems. It achieves its most acute formulation and hence its most ardent dilemmas in transfinite number theory (does the set containing all things contain itself?). The centre finally disappears when connecting everything and connecting nothing produce the same result.

Unlike the modernists who mourned the loss of meaning, Cohen’s F is thoroughly postmodern, rejoicing in the loss of the centre. In Borges’ infinite “Library of Babel” (which contains all books), the pathways of unmeaning and meaning are hopelessly intertwined for, taken as a totality, these volumes express:

all that it is given to express, in all languages. Everything: the minutely detailed history of the future, the archangels’ autobiographies, the faithful catalogue of the library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of those catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of the true catalogue, the Gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary on that gospel, the true story of your death, the translation of every book in all languages, the interpolation of every book in all books. (54)

The implication of infinite connection may be infinite implication. The attitude toward hypertext which suggests it as a way of avoiding the tyranny of the centre, perhaps in the hope that somehow the books of Hermes Trismegistus (in which are written all things) may be recreated, brings with it the liberations and the terror of the infinite. As Borges points out the result may be “a fearful sphere, whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere” (“The Sphere of Pascal” 192). The fear mentioned is Pascal’s, the connections are Borges’.

© 1993-2000 Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, Robin Parmar.
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The Contingencies of the Hypertext Link – Terry Harpold

In hypertexts, this principle of deferral sustains polyform narrative structures that are much less common (and in some cases, impossible) in more linear texts.[4] In “Reading from the Map: Metonymy and Metaphor in the Fiction of Forking Paths,” Stuart Moulthrop has observed that, unlike traditional texts, where the metonymic structure of syntax enables the metaphoric closure of narrative meaning (“We negotiate the perplexities of the middle in order to reach the promised revelation of the end; metonymy precedes and enables metaphor” (127)), hypertexts are consumed in ways that subvert the relation of syntax to closure:

To conceive of a text as a navigable space is not the same thing as seeing it in terms of a single, predetermined course of reading. The early intimations of wholeness provided by conventional fiction necessitate and authorize the chain of particulars out of which the telling is constituted; but in hypertext the metaphor of the map does not prefer any one metonymic system. Rather, it enables the reader to construct a large number of such systems, even when … these constructions have not been foreseen by the text’s designer … Metonymy does not simply serve metaphor in hypertextual fiction, rather it coexists with metaphor in a complex dialectical relationship. The reader discovers pathways through the textual labyrinth, and these pathways may constitute coherent and closural narrative lines. But each of these traversals from metonymy to metaphor is itself contained within the larger structure of the hypertext, and cannot itself exhaust that structure’s possibilities. (129)

J. Yellowlees Douglas – The End of Books, Or Books Without End: Reading Interactive Narratives

Much of the ink, both physical and virtual, spilled over interactivity has been focused on hypertext fiction, in part because its most prominent titles have been created by writers laboring over characters, plots, and prose in much the same way Henry James, James Joyce, and other luminaries of English fiction toiled over their stories and novels—and because the whole notion of readers making tangible decisions to experience works of fiction calls into question the roles of author and reader and, even, exactly why we read for pleasure. Digital narratives, on the other hand, hardly threaten to, as Sven Birkerts puts it in his Gutenberg Elegies, eclipse “le mot juste and . . . gradually, the idea of the author as a sovereign maker.”15 Like films, digital narratives are produced by teams; even when well-known writers like Jordan Mechner, author of the best-selling game Prince of Persia, create scripts for works like The Last Express, the origin of the story and identity of the writer is considered about as essential to the final narrative as Herman Mankiewicz’s screenplay was to Citizen Kane, a fact known mostly by the bona-fide afficionados. Moreover, digital narratives primarily follow the trajectory of Adventure, a work considered venerable only by the techies who first played it in the 1970s, cybergaming geeks, and the writers, theorists, and practitioners who deal with interactivity. Hypertext ‹ction, on the other hand, follows and furthers the trajectory of hallowed touchstones of print culture, especially the avantgarde novel. In the single article that arguably has made more readers aware of hypertext fiction and inflamed more critics than any other, Robert Coover commented on the relationship between print and hypertext in “The End of Books,” published in that bastion of print criticism, the New York Times Book Review:

In the real world nowadays . . . you will often hear it said that the print medium is a doomed and outdated technology. . . . Indeed, the very proliferation of books and other print-based media, so prevalent in this forest-harvesting, paper-wasting age, is held to be a sign of its feverish moribundity, the last futile gasp of a once vital form before it finally passes away forever, dead as God. Which would mean of course that the novel, too, as we know it, has come to its end. Not that those announcing its demise are grieving. For all its passing charm, the traditional novel . . . is perceived by its would-be executioners as the virulent carrier of the patriarchal, colonial, canonical, proprietary, hierarchical and authoritarian values of a past that is no longer with us.16

A careful reading of the piece reveals just how adroitly Coover can both suggest fiction is ready for its next evolutionary leap and describe the aesthetic potential of hypertext fiction without ever personally and explicitly pronouncing the novel’s imminent demise himself—a smart move, coming from an early champion of hypertext fiction who still turns out highly readable novels with a fair degree of regularity. “The End of Books,” nonetheless, enraged some critics, a few proving to be literal-minded readers adept at glomming onto the big picture but poor at taking in subtle details. Writing in the New York Times Book Review nearly six years later, critic Laura Miller still splutters with palpable rage as she recalls Coover’s suggestion: “Instead of following a linear story dictated by the author, the reader could now navigate at will through an ‘endless expansion’ of words.”17 In “The End of Books,” however, Coover perceived that expansion as problematic, a tendency that could turn narrative flow to slurry, making it “run the risk of being so distended and slackly driven as to lose its centripetal force.”18 When Miller tells us that “[p]roclamations about the death of the novel . . . can still get a rise out of a surprising number of people,” we know she is speaking from experience.

The fear that hypermedia is what media ecologists once called a “killer technology,” the equivalent of the Model T that ultimately supplanted the horse, accounts partly for the note of hysteria in some critical responses to hypertext. According to this view, the inclusion of Michael Joyce’s afternoon in the Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Fiction signaled not just the arrival of the barbarian at the gate, but the presence of the barbarian on the living room sofa with its feet propped up and a hand already snaking out for control of the remote.19

As we saw in chapter 1, like many readers with a slender experience of the medium, both critics assume that, if interactive narratives do not spell the Death of the Author that Roland Barthes described in his famous essay of that name, interactivity will diminish the author’s role, make it nearly irrelevant—a fear, as we discovered with the intentional network, that is as lacking in substance as it is naive.

Hypertext: The Electronic Labyrinth – Ilana Snyder

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But then we Canonised Hypertext

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