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Chapter One Hypertext and the Memex ( continued)

Thus, ‘hypertext’ denotes the networking of blocks of text, words and images through open-ended electronic chains or trails which are navigated by non-linear means. Academic print media places linked or referenced materials at a spatial distance to the main body of text, either at the bottom of the page as footnotes, or at the back of the text in the form of an appendix, making migration from and back to these annotations somewhat difficult. Conversely, hypertext makes the entire web of interconnecting references simple to navigate through and beyond. Thus, as George Landow states “the article exists as part of a much larger totality” (Landow, 1997, p.4) indicating a wider bibliography of texts to the next reader.

Intermedia is the forerunner in hypertext system. As part of its network, not only can the user access the main text plus segments of relative articles, they may also affix their own thoughts, interpretations or subsequent links to the entire web of texts on screen, just as Bush envisaged in ‘the Memex’, “Occasionally he inserts a comment of his own, either linking it into the main trail or joining it by a side trail to a particular item” (Bush, 1945, section 7). In this way the reader becomes far more active in their encounter with the text and in so doing develops a form of two-way dialogue between system and user; “this changes not only the experience of reading, but the nature of that which is being read” (Landow, 1997 p.4). The text within this system becomes almost an organic compound, shifting position and growing with each new interaction. I would go further to say that the hypertext system mimics us as organic entities, not only acting as a “supplement to our memory” (Bush, 1945, section 7) but also by matching the way that our thought processes access information, through means of association. The discursive nature of the interaction in/with hypertextual works means that not only is the text itself revolutionised but also the states we classify as reader and writer. The reader can revise the text, even appending comments or corresponding texts, further enlarging the hypertextual web. In this way the model for hypertext instantiates the ideas of the influential French literary critic of the 1960s, Roland Barthes. In his post-structuralist statements on ‘The Death Of The Author’ (1977) and ‘The Structural Analysis Of Narrative’ (1977), Barthes documents his approximations on the ideal text, declaring that literature should not be characterised through the boundary between reader and writer, where the former must receive the text and either accept or reject it. Through this status the reader must passively consume the text at the hands of the “Author-God” (Barthes, 1977, p.146). Instead Barthes deems that the reader may (in an ideal text) also become an active producer, as, in their reading and interpretation of it’s meaning it has mutated into another literary form. His ideal text relates directly to what we understand as a hypertext system,

“a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from innumerable centres of culture” (Barthes, 1977, p.146).

In Barthes’ thesis on the writerly text, the emphasis bears down on the reader becoming an interactive source through which the text can be cultivated.


intro : what : works : writing