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Currents: An E-Journal Realism and a General Economy of the Link
signify
 

by Adrian Miles 
InterMedia UiB and RMIT 

Currents in Electronic Literacy Spring 2001 (4), <http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/ 


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"Signify": it's a single word but hardly minor. In the terms of the argument this essay makes, simply changing Landow's sentence to "Hypermedia as a medium conveys the strong impression that its links force (generate, produce) coherent, purposeful, and above all useful relationships" would significantly alter the argument and the work that links are expected to do. Once they merely 'signify', a significant thing has already happened to the link, they have become representational; they do not have any intrinsic quality but are already at the service of other things, or perhaps less harshly, the argument has moved from what appears to be an ontological claim about links to epistemological problems: From a question of what links are to wondering what they mean.

To think about the link as an ontological event requires us to continue to think of the link in itself; however, the movement from the link as link to its definition in terms of a natural usefulness is symptomatic of much theory that begins with the link but in fact treats the links as a substrate for some other event, activity, or process (Tosca "Pragmatics," "Lyrical Links" ).

Furthermore, 'signify' connotes both 'significance' and 'signification'. On the one hand this suggests an importance that links accrue because they are inherently coherent, purposeful, and useful. However, this quality exists because we use links that are purposeful and useful, not the other way around.

On the other hand 'signification' also suggests some familial connection to semiotics, but this familiarity would of course problematise the security of the term as signification would become subject to the sliding of the sign that in fact allows there to be a relationship between signifier and signified in the first place.

An argument such as this is not very far removed from Terry Harpold's work on linking in which the Lacanian bar separating signifier from signified can, in Harpold's insightful analysis, become the impossible space of the link -- and hence account for its critical and literal invisibility (Harpold).

Currents: An E-Journal