hypertext should....?

Hypertext theory, certainly in its earlier first rosy blushes, strongly argues that hypertext can, and ought to, include the following:

multiple narratives

writing and dialog

multiple pathways

marginalia

the plurivocal

These have strong implications for academic writing, including screen studies.

multiple narratives

multiple narratives

Traditionally texts are understood to have attempted to be singular in their approach to narrative. This might be understood as simply embodying a singular narrative line, or a single set of events that constitute the narrative of the text (and narrative here is being used in its broadest sense, as the linear and causal structure that all discourse requires).

However, because hypertext is digitally based it is able to be randomnly accessed, and so a strict form of linearity becomes unnecessary. In addition it becomes feasible to offer several narratives, several stories or versions, of whatever the text is about, and these versions may simply provide different ways of characterising the material, or could in fact offer contesting versions or opinions on, or around, the material.

For hypertext theory the point is very simple the effort in many forms of critical practice (and fiction) to embody these various possibilities has always been stymied by the linearity of the page, but can now be realised in this medium.

writing and dialog

writing and dialog

Some modes of critical theory have emphasised the way in which all writing performs a dialogue:

with the texts that surround and contextualise the individual work

in the writing itself (between writer and text, and between text and writer I write this, this writes me)

This dialog, it is argued, is something that the specific forms of writing in print culture conceal, or even actively disavow, yet remain fundamental to what it is to write.

Hypertext is understood to provide a formal system that does in fact allow such a dialog, this is by virtue of the link (perhaps the fundamental structural unit of hypertext) which allows a dialog within the work itself, but more significantly allows any work to no longer be discrete as we link across documents and eventually networks.

multiple pathways

multiple pathways

The page, which ever way we look at it, has quite strict dimensions.

Words and sentences, which ever way we look at them, also need a rather strict formal linearity.

Combined, we develop books that privilege a beginning, middle and end. Our dominant forms of fiction, and academic writing, strongly support this model.

On the other hand many of our works also provide mechanisms to counter this linearity tables of contents, indexes and footnotes are all various ways to provide alternative pathways through a text.

Hypertext is able to make these alternative (and apparently lesser) pathways central to the text itself, so no longer does a work require a single and dominant centre, but can actively allow the reader to meander through a field of work.

plurivocal

plurivocal

Traditional forms of writing have tended to emphasise a consistency of tone and writing style that is a product of print technology. At its heart, there is a certain protestant suspicion of textuality in our development of black print on white paper arranged in highly regular patterns across consecutive pages.

This singularity of writing style or voice is the exception, rather than the rule, of our communicative competencies. In any given day I speak as father, son, husband, teacher and student, to name a few, and each requires, often literally, a different voice and style.

Hypertext writing, through all of its formal properties, is able to utilise and incorporate these different voices, these different ways of writing. Hypertext theory seeks to validate the inclusion of these diverse tones (or tongues) so that the document becomes not only a palimpsest of what has gone before or into the writing but becomes a plural arena of all those writings that are implicit but excluded in all writing.

marginalia

marginalia

From the use of an erudite note on an illuminated manuscript to the modern footnote, marginalia have a very long history in their relation to the written word.

These marginal notes, almost asides, of course can contain extremely important material, and regularly point to other references that the particular work is citing in some manner.

Without the page a hypertext has no visible hierarchy that inevitably produces the relation of margin to centre that is the footnote. It allows for what is apparently minor to have an authority that is otherwise excluded, and also allows these parts of the text to develop their own links through a work.

Furthermore a hypertext can, in theory, link into the very work that the footnote otherwise merely indicates , in the process not so much softening the role of the marginal but dissolving it altogether. Here the relation between a principal text and the footnote disappears as the link performs an action that has the effect of producing an object that is neither one or the other, and privileges neither.