Hypertext and the Role of the Reader and Writer

Landow, citing Genette, maintains that hypertext is a means of escaping what Genette refers to as the idolatry or idealization of the author. Hypertext, because of its openness, its fuzzy borders that are so easily permeated, makes the author’s role as diffused as the boundaries of the text itself.

.. And though Ong seems to go astray when he talks about computers and sequential processing, he (and Landow) make the interesting point that books and their authors cannot be challenged in any immediate sense.

Hypertext readers, however, can challenge a text immediately, or as immediately as the reader can write a response and link that response to the author’s text.

.. Birkerts, of course, is distressed by this and blames hypertext for “delivering a mighty blow to the long-static writer-reader relationship. It changes the entire system of power upon which the literary experience has been predicated; it rewrites the contract from start to finish” (163). Birkerts warns that hypertext is ruining literacy and literature, along with killing the author. Birkerts argues that the “subjective ecology of reading” allows him to feel the power of the words on a page, and that this power cannot be felt with hypertext.

.. The cognitivists call for hierarchical overviews and more “ordered” progressions through hypertext webs seems much like the calls for order that were heard when the printing press began making an impact on how people thought about readers and writers. Landow, citing Tom McArthur, points out that, first, there is nothing natural about the book. It took four thousand years for it to come about, and that evolution disrupted the previous “elites” , the scholastics, who had worked hard to conventionalize the plots and themes, not to mention the structure and look of the books of their time. The printing press, Landow points out, presented the scholastics with a different order, a different way of organizing knowledge.

The Hut Where the Internet Began

A crucial component of the Memex was that it helped the brain’s natural “associative indexing,” so “any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another.”

.. Bush’s article went far and wide, and if I can brag for our magazine a little, is considered one of the most influential magazine articles ever published about technology, and perhaps in any field.

..Bush and Engelbart did have distinct visions. For Bush, scientific knowledge itself provided salvation, as if units of wisdom could be manufactured for the preservation of the human race. Engelbart’s view was, befitting its time, more cybernetic: people and technology fed one into the other in a spiral of improvement.

First Hypertext Story: The Garden of Forking Paths

“The concept Borges described in ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’—in several layers of the story, but most directly in the combination book and maze of Ts’ui Pên—is that of a novel that can be read in multiple ways, a hypertext novel. Borges described this in 1941, prior to the invention (or at least the public disclosure) of the electromagnetic digital computer. Not only did he arguably invent the hypertext novel—Borges went on to describe a theory of the universe based upon the structure of such a novel.”