15 September 2007

Canonizing Hypertext

I remember first coming across hypertext in the early 1990s, and feeling that it was like a glimpse of a newly discovered world. Ted Nelson, Jay Bolter, and George Landow all became my heroes overnight. There wasn't much you could do with it in those days, outside struggling with a few bits of proprietary software such as Hypercard. But as soon as we got the Web, HTML and the first browser (Mosaic: still got my copy) - we were away! Some hyperfictions had been written at that time - and more have since: stories which exploit the possibilities of non-sequential narratives, hyperlinks between pages (or lexia), multiple navigation systems, and reader-generated choices. Astrid Ensslin thinks these creations deserve more attention. Indeed, she wants to argue that they should be included in the 'canon' of literary studies - and this is a book-length explanation of why that should be... Read more >>



eastgatesystems@mac.com said...

My copy of Ensslin's book has not yet arrived, though I did have a very pleasant discussion with the author at Hypertext '07 last week and look forward to seeing it.

You mention difficulty of access to Eastgate (not Eastman!) titles. If you have access to a good university library, or to a major public library with InterLibrary loan privileges, you should find it easy to gain access to any of the titles you mention there.

There's been a lot of good criticism of these titles, secondary sources that might help you see why other critics find "something to get excited about.") See especially Robert Coover's two front-page essays for the NY Times Book Review and the monographs of N. Katherine Hayles, George P. Landow, J. Yellowlees Douglas, Silvio Gaggi, Michael Joyce, and Espen Aarseth.

On hint that there might be *something* of interest is that these hypertexts are regularly studied in university English (or Comparative. Lit, American Studies, Computer Science) courses at dozens of colleges and universities.

Your view that hypertext fiction lacks structure echoes arguments by Laura Miller (NY Times) and Sven Birkerts (Gutenberg Elegies). For a strong counter-argument, however, that hypertext fiction is structured differently (and perhaps more richly) than the codex book, see the work of Terry Harpold, Joyce, Hayles, and Stuart J. Moulthrop.

mantex said...

Thanks for the comment Eastgate.

It's true that there has been plenty of criticism of the well-known hypertexts I mention in the review - but the problem is that it tends to be written by fellow hypertext fiction writers. That suggests something of a club commenting amongst its own members.

As for the notion that hypertext fiction being structured 'differently' - once you introduce the possibility of multiple navigational paths through a work - no two readers can be discussing the same thing.