|Realism and a General Economy of the Link
This essay first appeared in Currents in Electronic Literacy Spring 2001 (4), <http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/currents/fall01/
While there is a certain self-reflexivity within a hypertext essay on hypertext, this reflexivity is not any more substantial than what is common in academic writing. Processes of connection and sequence are problematised and exploited within this essay so that each node is more or less intelligible by itself, yet also exists in (usually) a series of possible locations in an argument and reading trail.
Throughout this essay links appear within the field of writing, as part of the space of writing, and not as navigational or serialised cues for the reader-as-Pavlov's-dog (i.e., 'click here'). This inevitably leads to repetition, though as Mark Bernstein (in "More Than Legible") is fond of reminding us, repetition is not a vice in hypertext. This repetition allows the reader to realise that link choices represent decision points in reading and that these decisions have significance for what the text becomes.
The structure of this essay in terms of links is dense and is divided into three major spheres: an introduction to usability, realism as ideology, and link force. There is only a single link connecting each sphere to the next, and they form a linear series.
From within the final sphere, "force", there is only one link to the space that provides the conclusion of this essay. Given the common academic desire to read "exhaustively" an indexical image has been provided which represents the screens within each sphere. Link density provides the cue for colour so that darker colours equals greater link density. This image can be used for navigation, although it won't tell you where you have, or haven't, been.
Why write like this? In hypertext? Three simple answers. The first is that to write academically in hypertext is more than publishing academically in hypertext. In a hypertext writing environment problems and questions of clarity and usability, while important, are only part of the larger problem of composing in, and writing for, the screen. Hence, this essay forms part of an ongoing experimental critical practice (see also Kaplan "One Beginning"; Kolb "Discourse," "Socrates"; Miles "Hyperweb," "Foreword," "Cinematic Paradigms," "Hypertext Syntagmas") that explores the possibilities afforded by an engaged electronic writing. The second reason is simply that as a tenured academic I am in a position to test these ideas with the security that tenure provides. Hypertext writing, particularly from within the academy, is in a position to define itself beyond its use value as an efficient publication medium and so can approach hypertext as a problem in literacy which incorporates novel reading and writing practices (Kaplan One Beginning, Beyond Books). Finally, Diane Greco has called for a critical practice in hypertext that engages with political and ideological problems of representation, that looks inside of (or behind) our assumptions about why hypertext appears in the forms that it does. This essay is a preliminary beginning along the path she described. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. . .