New (Social) Structures for New (Networked) Texts


1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 1 Some part of that naïveté arises from the indication that we have not yet found the net-native structure that will be as flexible and inviting to individual readers as the codex has been. The absence that the “e-book” highlights is not the means of moving from imprinting ink on paper to arranging pixels on screens, but the means of organizing and presenting digital texts in a structural sense, in a way that produces the greatest possible readerly and writerly engagement, that enables both the intensive development of an idea within the bounds of the electronic text and the extensive situation of that idea within a network of other such ideas and texts. Developing this format is of vital importance, not simply because the pleasure it can produce for readers will facilitate its adoption, but because it promises to have a dramatic impact on a wide range of our interactions with texts. As Roger Chartier has argued,

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 If texts are emancipated from the form that has conveyed them since the first centuries of the Christian era — the codex, the book composed of signatures from which all printed objects with which we are familiar derive — by the same token all intellectual technologies and all operations working to produce meaning become similarly modified…. When it passes from the codex to the monitor screen the ‘same’ text is no longer truly the same because the new formal mechanisms that deliver it to the reader modify the conditions of its reception and its comprehension (48-49).

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Those conditions of reception and comprehension, and the intellectual technologies that will be put to use in the production of further, future texts, are the true stakes of imagining new structures within which new kinds of digital texts can be published.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Hypertext is one of the few modes of radical experiment in textual form to which the digital has thus far given birth. This networked data structure, the invention of which is generally credited to Ted Nelson and Douglas Englebart, created the possibility of dramatically reorganizing text in net-native ways, de-linearizing and interlinking the text both within its own boundaries and in relation to other such texts. Numerous literary authors and critics saw the future in early hypertext publishing, envisioning a means of creating a new, more active relationship between the reader and the text. On the one hand, such thinkers pointed out the ways that hypertext’s technologies succeeded in making manifest what had always been latent in the reader’s encounter with print: “Hypertext only more consciously than other texts implicates the reader in writing at least its sequences by her choices” (Joyce 131).[5] In this, hypertext became the fulfillment of the ideal form of the codex. On the other hand, however, hypertext also promised a radical restructuring of worldview, of “intellectual technologies,” as Chartier suggests, by lending its readers a new set of metaphors through which to build a whole new epistemology. Thus, J. David Bolter suggested early on that hypertext’s structure might affect not just the ways we understand texts, but the ways we understand the world in its entirety:

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 There is nothing in an electronic book that quite corresponds to the printed table of contents…. In this sense, the electronic book reflects a different natural world, in which relationships are multiple and evolving: there is no great chain of being in an electronic world-book. For that very reason, an electronic book is a better analogy for contemporary views of nature, since nature today is often not regarded as a hierarchy, but rather as a network of interdependent species and systems (105).

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 2 In leaving behind the codex, in eliminating the “great chain of being” enforced by the book, such critics suggested, hypertext would enable a new enlightenment to dawn, resulting in, among other things, the leveling of the previously hierarchical relationship between author and reader, elevating the reader to full participation in the production of the text’s meaning.

  • [5] See as well George Landow’s argument that “hypertext promises to embody and test aspects of theory, particularly those concerning textuality, narrative, and the roles or functions of reader and writer” (2), suggesting hypertext’s more thorough fulfillment of earlier arguments about print-based texts.
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    Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/cpfinal/hypertext/