text/hypertext 4981

What remains to be invented is the electrate
equivalent of logic, rhetoric, and poetics that
allows people to be native users of a docuverse.
The issue is foregrounded in Michael Joyces
Afternoon (1987), the first and still one of the
most important examples of hypertext fiction.
Composed in StorySpace, a hypertext authoring
program developed by Joyce with Jay David
Bolter and John B. Smith, Afternoon is a detec
tive story in which the reader attempts to figure
out the plot by navigating a complex set of
nodes and links. The feeling of being lost in a
maze reported by many readers of Afternoon
may be extended to hypertext in general, in
which reading is the exploration of an informa
tion space, whether in the mode of fiction,
game, or encyclopedia. In this regard Espen
Aarseth proposed as the two primary rhetorical
figures of hypertext the tropes of aporia
(impasse) and epiphany (revelation). The plea
sure of navigation involves a eureka moment
in which the user discovers how to continue
the path productively. Aarseth also proposes
the term ergodic to replace narrative to
describe cybertexts in which the sequence
through the lexias is different at each reading.
The labyrinth effect of hypertext makes
explicit what was always implicit in the literate
archive. Umberto Ecos study of semiotics
clarifies that what hypertext embodies and ren
ders tangible is nothing less than the dynamic,
open, and infinite operation of meaning in
process. Eco describes semiotics as a transition
away from the logical categories of literate con
cepts generated by definition (semantics), to a
new kind of category functioning through
inference, having more to do with pragmatics.
Since the meanings involved are interpretants,
including the subjectivity of the individual,
they take the form collectively of a labyrinth
of the network or rhizomatic type, lacking both
center and outside.
What are the practices that enable reading
and writing in a labyrinthine docuverse? This is
the fundamental active question of hypertext.
Within the unifying framework of electracy it is
possible to recognize that hypertext is being
invented across the apparatus. The fact that
hypertextual features are found in certain lit
erary works such as Tristram Shandy (digres
sion) or Wuthering Heights (nested points of
view), not to mention Finnegans Wake (trace)
and other experimental works, is explained by
the fact that the genealogy of hypermedia is
social and cultural as well as technological.
Afternoon is described as modernist in its aes
thetics and postmodernist in its use of technical
devices. Lev Manovich has shown that the
practices of collage montage invented by the
vanguard arts across the media, especially con
centrated in the movements of the 1920s, have
been designed into the interface controls of the
software used to author in new media. Unfor
tunately, many artists experimenting with new
media complain that the public have yet to
internalize the equivalent rhetoric in their
worldview, and continue to use as their default
model of intelligibility the pop forms of mass
The institutional practices appropriate for
hypertext have at least been theorized, begin
ning in the same decade of the 1960s that pro
duced the Xanadu project and the GUI tools,
when a group of critics working in France for
mulated the poststructural theory of text.
When commentators claim that hypertext
makes poststructuralism seem obvious, or that
the Web is the laboratory for testing poststruc
tural principles, they are referring to the writ
ings of such figures as Roland Barthes, Julia
Kristeva, and Jacques Derrida. The new mean
ing of text appearing in the 1960s was the
culmination of the linguistic turn in the arts
and letters disciplines going back to the begin
nings of modernism in the nineteenth century.
Meaning based on reference to an objective
reality was replaced by signification emerging
from the relationships among the elements of a
system. Structuralism was the science of such
systems. Poststructuralism took up the question
of pragmatics, concerned with the experience of
people within discourse.
Structuralism treated everything in culture
as a language, thus doing for theory what the
convergence of media in digital technology did
for the equipment. The way was prepared for
theorizing reading and writing as the traversal
of a virtual world designed as a discourse.
Roland Barthes (who introduced the term lexia
to describe a unit of reading) devoted his entry
on text for the Encyclopaedie Universalis to an
exposition of Julia Kristevas semanalysis,
which he said created an epistemological muta
tion by integrating linguistics and semiotics