Posts Tagged ‘Hypermedia Theory’

Cinematic Paradigms for Hypertext

A Possible Anthology

Mark is considering an anthology on reading and writing hypertext. Something like this is sorely needed, as the literature has not been collected, and most outside of the very specific hypertext literary community seem to have very poor models for how to read hypertext. So, as Mark’s asking for proposals, if you have something, get in touch with him.

I think we need an anthology of articles about writing (and reading) hypertext. Have favorites? Email me, even if they’re obvious. Have something in your drawer? Email me, too
[From Greco on Hypertext]

An Archaeologist of the Book

What sort of thing is a book? Imagine if an archaeologist from another time (or planet) arrived and wanted to know what it was. What are the sorts of things that you could and would need to describe and explain? What are its qualities or properties? How would you describe its use: what would a manual for a book have to include?

Here’s a preliminary list:
Pages. Bound. Cover. Title page. ISBN number (they’re all registered). Serial. Page numbers. Index. Table of Contents. Has an author/s. Fixed. Margins. Sentences, paragraphs. Header, footers. Footnotes and references, which point to things that live outside of this book and you have to usually visit special buildings to find them. Can’t change its size. Can’t be edited. Can be marked. Gets worn, a patina. Can be found in a book store, a library (where special people classify, store, and retrieve them, a whole priesthood). If you borrow them there are various protocols you have to follow (return them, don’t mark them). Certain legal property rights are attached to them.

Then I suggested that many, if not most, of the same things apply to a record, a roll of film, a video tape. They’re linear, sequential, fixed, can’t be edited or added to, and so on.

Now, think about all the qualities of a blog. If you use the same list that we used for a book which are the same and which are different? (This gets very interesting because virtually everything is now changed). A simple example. We can use common sense to say that there is writing in a book. It is physically in the book. But writing in a blog. It is not physically on the screen, certainly not like a book, everything on the screen is transitory. Any post can be edited, at any time, even after publication. What appears on the ‘cover’ of the blog changes, a lot. Readers can leave notes that other readers (all other readers) can actually see. There is no ‘one copy’. It is stored in a database (in the case of wordpress) and so each page only ever exists if and when it is requested by a browser. The pages have variable dimensions (so they’re not really pages at all, not sure why we even call them pages…). And so on. Finally, they are made up of short bits (posts) so that each post pretty much makes sense by itself. While a book is made up of short bits (sentences) and each sentence makes sense by itself, there is a very strong sense that it gets most of its meaning from what came earlier, and even what comes later. Yet I can read a blog post without having to read the entire blog, which is why it is possible for me here to pull in posts from 70 other blogs and things still pretty much still make sense. Imagine grabbing paragraphs from 70 different books and then expecting the parts, and the whole, to still make sense?

Now, the problem for you all, and you should blog this, is what would have to happen to video and or audio to move from being more or less book like to being more or less blog like? In other words if we claimed that most of our video and audio online is, at the moment, closer to a book than a blog, what would have to be different for it to become more like a blog?

Small Pieces

This is self quotation or possibly self plagiarism. In drafting a post (not published yet) about the sort of media practice my students, Seth, and I will be exploring this semester I wrote:

In this media stories happen not in the individual works, but between them, by the relations we can establish, create and compose between them.

Decided it was worth repeating all by itself.

Storyspace for MacOS X

Mark Bernstein wonders out aloud in his blog about my earlier comments on Storyspace for OS X:

Tinderbox does give you more export options, though, and the presence of those export options might in fact be a hurdle. Knowing that you might be destined for HTML can lead to to start working on graphic design too early, before you really get down to writing, perhaps before you’re certain that there’s something to be written. More than once, I’ve been left with a nice design for a project that didn’t pan ou

I don’t actually have a real answer. I know perfectly well what Mark means, and that I could write an essay in Tinderbox just as easily as in Storyspace. I’m not sure if I prefer Storyspace because that is where I started, and familiarity breeds comfort (and ease), or if it is that very close to the surface in Tinderbox there are lots (and I mean lots) of things that you could do. Add user attributes, color the nodes, write an agent, decide you should add some attributes to help structure things. Before I know it I’m writing a Tinderbox document not an essay. In Storyspace I don’t have this problem. There are links, there are guard fields. If I’m using Storyspace to get to the web then the guard fields don’t even come into it. So it isn’t that I start designing in Tinderbox for HTML presentation but that I start fiddling inside Tinderbox itself. Why? Because it is so close to the surface, I know it is there, I now how to ‘turn them on’. I guess in my hypertext text tool box I have two key tools, Storyspace and Tinderbox, and I keep using them as two separate tools (as any good tradesperson ought).

Media Paucity

Once upon a time there was broadcast media. Broadcast media owned access to a very scarce resource called spectrum, or sometimes cable. This resource was scarce because you could only send one thing at a time – so to be successful you needed to saturate that channel with continuous broadcasting. This was further developed so that programming mirrored (and constructed) a diurnal pattern of content delivery that wove itself into familial, domestic schedules. As a consequence of this access to these channels is extremely valuable. If I am a television maker then I require access to this highly constrained channel, without it I have no product.

(This is much like supermarket shelves, which are also highly constrained and notoriously expensive – if your product can’t get access to those shelves, it’s dead. It is very simply a retail model of product.)

Access to this channel defines commercial practice. Prime time earns more than midnight, and there is the corresponding assumption that producing for prime time will cost more than producing for after midnight. This is an economy media paucity, not because there is not a lot of media being made, but because the possibilities for publication are so highly limited (movie screens, television stations).

These days are now gone. With the rise of networked delivered media this economy of scarcity is erased. This has enormous implications for professional media practice because now media consumers (you and I) experience an excess of media – in exactly the same way that we now have an excess of information. Because of this access to excess, of an any-media-whatever-whenever media professionals are now in a media field that is saturated by all comers. In this environment, what is it that professionals have that ensures that their material would be viewed before or instead of anyone elses? If you don’t have an answer to that I’d be worried.

Storyspace For OS X.

Mark has announced the release of Storyspace 2.5 for OS X. This is very good news, this is the first real hypertext program I used, quite a few years ago now, and is what I used to teach hypertext theory with in my first full time years. It is software that I am very fond of. I find it very easy to write in, much easier than Tinderbox (which I tend to use to collect information in, but not for writing longer pieces). I’m looking forward to getting this, and once again writing hypertext, hypertextually. (That is, writing in a purely hypertext environment where my practice is concerned with writing, and writing as hypertext. Design, which is what happens when I write in html, can come later. In Storyspace things get pared down, words, links, nodes, link structures, maps.) A return to basics for me, but also to get back into a writing that embraces the nitty gritty materiality of thought and an embedded or embodied hypertextual practice. Where structure emerges through writing, and where the rowdy complexity jostling of my thought is given permission to be rowdily jostled.)

infLect 3

That Moment Might Do

This long post refers to a draft experimental interactive text movie, 40MB at moment to download and play locally (url will be available shortly). The post is published since there is a link from inside the text movie to here…

A post on method. I often find myself needing to write them to contextualise the sort of academic things I make (1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2005). This year I have been writing interactive QuickTime essays. In fact been doing this in lieu of ‘videoblogging’. I have written two so far, both need a bit more work before they’re properly finished, and both are not quite all there. The first one was written for the Learning Technologies conference I participated in late last year, while the second was in response to the Artifact issue on soft design. Now I’m working on a third, “That Moment Might Do”, hopefully for an issue of an international peer reviewed journal, which is going to try to think about Deleuze’s description of the pose and the any-instant-whatever from Cinema One in relation to videoblogging. Now this is experimental work, in several ways.

I would think it obvious that the form of the essay falls into the experimental. It is to be peer reviewed as an interactive QuickTime vog essay, and if it passes muster, published as same. This aspect of the experimental looks towards my continuing (and slow) interest and exploration of new genres that utilise the affordances of new media to express knowldege in other ways. This is in the spirit of Ulmer’s general electracy and includes his interest and use of what, in a moment of academic shorthand, we could characterise as other ways of writing. Here ‘other’ does not (though it does include) only mean writing with things that are not words, for instance voice, image and video (and remember that the more significant consequence of this other writing is not the ability to use a variety of media, but is the intertwingling intersection of these various media into a common -though distributed – discursive space that really matters, not video or voice, but what happens when you have video alongside text, still image embedded into video) but it also means other forms of logic.

(Poetic tropes, for example in how Bachelard may think about a phenomenologically inspired reading of childhood, the home, or each of the four elements. Ulmer’s mystory and its recipes, even Paul Carter’s recent book. Barbara Maria Stafford’s work on the logic of images and their disavowal in print literacy should also be flagged, and perhaps even a nod to Ron Burnett’s recent “How Images Think” too. A good introduction to poetic research and metaphor is through Rosenberg’s “The Reservoir” paper.)

So a vog essay is going to try to utilise poetic metaphors, or at least other-than-print-logic forms of association, relation, argument and idea, and I’ll call them poetic only because at this point I’m not sure what else they ought to be called without turning something elegant into the unnecessarily belaboured (for example it could be a rhizomatic logic, except the poetic can be a possible rhizomatic flow but it doesn’t follow that all rhizomatic flows are therefore poetic, that’s just silly). If this works then it would be analogous to Chris Marker’s essay films rather than Attenborough – or current affairs for that matter. If it doesn’t work then, like podcasting and most videoblogging, it will be not much more than monolingual documentary by other means.

The work is experimental in terms of a process where the work is a thinking through in situ, where this process is a making and where this activity is to cast not so much its shadow as a light over or within the ‘finished’ artefact. (Note to self, slow down here.)

In most humanities academic practice the journal essay is the canonical form. This is sometimes (and commonly) extended into the detailed treatment of the book – though even here books are regularly previously published essays that have been repurposed for the book – and so of necessity expresses all of the key qualities of print logic and literacy. This is not a criticism. One of the consequences of this general practice (yes, there are always exceptions) is that the ‘good’ essay tends to be a closed object. It is closed to ideas that fall outside of its orbit (an orbit that, like royal reason, it gets to define for itself), closed or at least mute in relation to other logics (for example of sound, music, moving image and even the pictorial) and of course, as it wends its way towards its conclusion, is generally closed to other possibilities. After all a ‘good’ essay, if nothing else, is supremely teleological (introduction, body and conclusion, woe betide the student who misses understanding the intimate mirror of introduction to conclusion and its inevitable domestic opportunity for closure) and as a consequence narrows its fields of possibilities through the time of writing and reading.

This work does not follow this particular economy of closure. It is all over the place, quite literally as it turns out with this part here in a blog, the video existing elsewhere, and the video in turn ‘calling in’ or linking to other distributed objects. It is not so much messy as just distributed, more like what your desktop (your real desk, not the faux one on screen in front of you) actually looks like while engaged in writing as a doing. The clutter of opened books, scribbled notes, things pinned, bluetacked or otherwise stuck around your peripheral vision.

As a form it is also open in the contrary sense to the closure of the good essay. It traverses some ideas, probes some possibilities to see what comes of them, more like the sketch book than the monumental canvas, and like the sketch it is as much about experiencing and documenting the élan of the line as it is trying to be complete. So the conclusions are less about closure than in their turn offered as further points of departure, exploration and criticism. They might even be in error.

The work itself is written in, and as, an interactive networked based interactive video. Just as this reflection is written in my blog, using my blog software. It isn’t written in Word and then copied and pasted elsewhere becoming that sort of faux blog which misunderstands the networked aspect of networked practice. Similarly the interactive work that forms this minor project is all written in the medium, from the ground up as it were – after all, you don’t sketch elsewhere to then translate your sketch into your sketch book!

(In the same vein when writing music you write music, you may even play an instrument, or when designing architecture you sketch, build models, draw sections, and so on. In each case there is a language of the discipline that is embedded within the very practice of the discipline (see Downton for a useful example and discussion), and which is also understood to make relevant and appropriate knowledge claims for that discipline (quick glance over shoulder to check if Foucault here yet). This has not, to make a generalisation, been the case in much of own practice – for legitimate and not so legitimate reasons. We don’t generally make paintings about paintings (well we do, all the time, but they’re recognised in the academy as ‘knowledge’), or films about films (ditto) and so on. We write about them. Writing makes a lot of things possible – for example it is very hard to make an image that says “not” (for example how would an image say “this is not a gun”?), yet on the other hand the act of translation that the turn to print entails is necessarily at some loss (always excessive and always other to the economy of print) to the object ostensibly being written of. This simple ability to negate, perhaps the founding act of what it means to be print literate, could be used to explain a great deal about our particular tribe’s habits, since we do spend inordinate amounts of time demonstrating the falsity of this and that, of building by destruction (note to postgraduate authors, begin with a survey to show you are a member, move to demonstrate why particular theoretical father has made a mistake to show that you know better and that you’ve gained admission, then, and only then, attempt to say something new) and of being deeply suspicious of anything that is not expressed in the very specific argots of our printerly gods.) Phew.

That Moment Might Do is a working with the materiality of distributed, networked rich media. To make a very preliminary, and no doubt naive, step towards what it might be to turn such works from mere representations to becoming knowledge objects in their own right. Of course this might not happen, may never happen, it may emerge that the form simply is not suited to argument, though my inclination and intuition very strongly suggests otherwise (and as Kolb’s example in hypertext provides) and that the point is much more likely that the form of argument is sufficiently distinct and distant from that which has been canonised by print to be difficult to identify, let alone endorse from within existing standards. It is not that other literacies are better, it is that they are different. It may be that such literacies are more appropriate, and will gain more purchase, for those places where writing slides away from text on a page, even text on a screen, into the possibilities of video, text, sound and image as distinct media bought into sufficient proximity that each bleeds into the other and in that breach establishes their distance from each other.

References, well, more allusions and partners in Thinking as a Doing

Bachelard, Gaston. Air and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement. Trans. Edith R. Farrell and C. Frederick Farrell. Dallas: Dallas Institute Publications
Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, 1988.

Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos. Trans. Daniel Russell. Boston: Beacon Press, 1971.

Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Trans. Maria Jolas. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969.

Burnett, Ron. How Images Think. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004.

Carter, Paul. Material Thinking.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema One: The Movement–Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

Downton, Peter. Design Research. Melbourne: RMIT Publishing, 2004.

Downton, Peter. Studies in Design Research: Ten Epistemological Pavilions. Melbourne: RMIT Publishing, 2004.

Kolb, David. Socrates in the Labyrinth. Computer software. Eastgate Systems, 1994, Macintosh Software.

Rosenberg, Terence. “‘The Reservoir’: Towards a Poetic Model of Research in Design.” Proceedings of the Research into Practice Conference: Selected Papers Volume One, 2000. Vol. 1.

Stafford, Barbara Maria. Good Looking: Essays on the Virtue of Images. Cambridge (MA): The MIT Press, 1998.

Stafford, Barbara Maria. Visual Analogy: Consciousness as the Art of Connecting. Cambridge (MA): The MIT Press, 1999.

Ulmer, Gregory. Teletheory: Grammatology in the Age of Video. New York: Routledge, 1989.

Ulmer, Gregory L. Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. New York: Longman, 2003.


I’m burning up too many neurones on what is supposed to be a holiday trying to write a book chapter. The book is about time and the internet, or things thereabouts, and I am not sure what I said I’d exactly write, but am currently writing about the temporality of hypertext. It is Deleuze and Bergson inserted in the link, via the sensory motor schema and the link as a Bergsonian interval. It is hard work. Rich with possibilities which will only get sketched since each does appear to be quite dense with possibilities, and my writing style really does suffer from me thinking that showing the connection is enough.

But that’s not the point of this post. In Deleuze there is an idea of the ‘any instant whatever’, from Cinema One. I think I might appropriate this into the near-at-hand which is in some way equivalent to any instant whatever. Any destination, any possible destination (real or imagined, now or in the future) of a link (real or imagined, now or in the future) is, like the any instant whatever, always near-at-hand.

Because: the mouse (insertion literally into the sensory motor schema), because the only distance that matters is temporal (“how long will it take?” not “how far away is it?”), size which might be in bytes is actually translated into bandwidth where again I suspect time is key, so all points are equidistant.

Ok, that’s enough brain splurt for today. Off to the British Art and the 60s show at the NGV.