Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hypertext: The Garden of Forking Clicks.

(Image is an interpretation of The Garden of Forking Paths.)

The fact that you're reading this on the internet, specifically on a blog, means that digital writing has won. The fact that you've clicked links, traversed what Jay Bolter calls "hot" text in Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print is more than enough proof of the New World Order. I knew this before I read chapter 3 of his book. A book published in 2001, which means in the world of hypertext and the digital age that is far past being a dinosaur and quickly approaching petroleum. That's why I signed up for this chapter, why I ventured to blather about it on the internet and in the classroom. I'm a believer. In fact what I found in Bolter's book wasn't sage-like insight or futurism, it was an adorable relic of the past. For while there is no doubt that hypertext is involved with the remediation of print, I would argue that hypertext is actually the remediation of text, or more specifically the possibilities of it. So what I'm proposing through these words, translated into bits and bytes, translated into a Blogger document, translated into meaning via your eyes and into your brain is that what Bolter predicted was the paradigm shift in print text, and what it has been swept up in is the hypertextual shift in our own collective consciousness. And since we're dutiful teachers and future teachers, the question should become how do we use this?, since as I've already indicated it's too late to try and fight it.

Read these words on your computer. It's already won.

Bolter and the Remediation of Print.
Chapter Three of Bolter's book is concerned with the remediation of print in the world of hypertext. As I've already lamented, the chapter itself is part of a relic from an age where the iPad wasn't dreamt of, and the Kindle wasn't giving book dealers anxiety attacks. So it's hard to take it entirely seriously, but it does make some good points, though it never seems to take that next daring step and predict what it all means. Perhaps that's coming in a later chapter. A good portion of the chapter is spent trying to serve as a mediator between two warring factions: the Luddites who swear off the notion of digital writing. Imagine them, if you will. Phone jack ripped out of the wall, chests heaving swearing at their Compaq laptop from 1998. On the other hand are the techno fetishests who even back in 2001 were worshiping their copy of Neuromancer and proclaiming something like the "cumbersome nature of the flesh."

I would know, I'm one of them.


The gist behind Bolter's chapter is that digital writing and hypertext is not some new creation walking onto the scene. Shiny, fancy, new. Instead Bolter ties it into his narrative of the remediation of print going on throughout the centuries. In his words, electronic writing with its multiple forms of representation is actually reminiscent of hieroglyphics because the computer "welcomes elements that we in the West have long come to regard as inappropriate to writing; it constitutes...a continuum in which many systems of representation can happily coexist" (37). Fair enough. Remediation is essential not only to the point of the chapter, but also the book. So Bolter is pushing hard. Can you hear him laboriously grunting in an effort to corroborate his thesis?

For what it's worth, I buy into what he's selling. Nothing new under the sun! No sir. What Bolter wants to argue is that the "newness" of digital text is predicated on how it differs from that which it pays homage to. Digital writing can only be a new form of writing by simultaneously paying homage to the older forms that it is breaking out from. So while it sloughs off the printed page, it also reflects that page and also goes beyond it. Under this conceit digital writing strikes me as the kid who goes off to college and totally acts up, but only because Daddy and Mommy are footing the bill. It may not be the most accurate depiction but it's late and it's making me laugh while I labor under my own efforts.

Hypertext(ual): What It Means, Where We're Going.
The sexier segments of Bolter's chapter are those in which he begins to dip his toe into theoretical water. I was disappointed that he spent more time defending the middle ground between print and digital and less time asking what does this all mean? Digital writing is becoming prominent, hypertext is vomiting up all over the place whether the scholars and fogies want it to. So what does this mean? Bolter briefly begins to address this when he comments that "some supporters of hypertext may even argue that hypertext reflects the nature of the human mind itself -- that because we think associatively and not linearly hypertext allows us to write as we think" (42). Yes Bolter!, I proclaimed. Tell me more. Where do you think this will take us? Being freed to dabble in a world that more accurately reflects our consciousness? The slipstream of our thought process. That's where he stops though, daring not to ask where we're going (again within this chapter) but rather simply that hypertext is the remediation of print.

However! Hypertext isn't merely the remediation of print. As we've discussed in class, text itself is much more than words on a page. A variety of things can be looked at as text: books, movies, advertisements, pictures, posters, television shows. Only willing and waiting to be read. Another trope we've discussed in class. Hypertext is more than a way of looking at a print, or digital writing. Instead it's a concept that has writhed its way into our collective psyche, being reflected in much more than the way we write. We are living in a hypertextual world where reference is everything, where non-linearity is king. A time that may be staggering to someone from even a hundred years ago.

Consider the short stories that we had to read this week. Michael Joyce's Twelve Blue and afternoon.They hop, skip, and jump around the page. Frankly, I think they're unsatisfying and gimmicky and not in the same way that led me to build and altar to Mark Z. Danielewski. They're effect in demonstrating hypertextual storytelling. In digital print. If you're me, you blindly clicked around a couple of times, felt unsatisfied, and left. What I want to push is the idea that this sort of non-linear narrative has bled its way into other avenues of text. I can think of no bigger example of the pop-culture take over by hypertext than that Frankenstein's Monster that JJ Abrams, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse gave birth to.

Everybody is LOST In Hypertext.
LOST isn't just the source of the greatest let down in recent television history. It is also a testament to both the power and the pitfalls of hypertextuality. It began with simple non-linear narratives interspersed through the main storyline. One simple click of the "hot" story text to someone's flashback and then they returned. As the show continued it sprawled out. Further and further into the madness of hyper referentiality. Those wooshes took the viewers not just into a character's past. It took the viewers into the past, and into the future, and into different dimensions. The show was hypertext at its finest. Unfortunately it was hypertext at its worst, as the show became an untenable mess. By the end of the series the writers were lost in their own sea of diversions, gobbled up a pantheon of questions never answered. Bolter describes hypertext as being "extremely malleable" and it "can be fashioned into one tree or a forest of hierarchical trees" (32). Unfortunately for the writers, they built themselves a labyrinth they could never escape from.

Man, it sucked.

The point is that hypertext has far exceeded being merely a question of print living or dying. It's a concept we live and breathe. It's spread to movies. It's spread to music. Genre-smashing artists such as Between the Buried & Me start off annihilating ear drums only to segue into a western dance-off in Ants of the Sky. (If you're meek, it's around eleven minutes in.) It seems at this point that hypertext has won. Or if you're not a sadly testosterone soaked male and you don't need to measure everything in terms of wins and losses: it's here, it's arrived.

As teachers, now what?

Pedagogy In The Era of Forking Paths.
All of these forking paths in my diatribe converge if momentarily on this important fact: we're all aspiring teachers and professors here. So the salient question is: what does preparing to teach the Children of the Hypertext (not to be confused with the Children of the Atom) mean? The students we inherit will be used to a world where everything forks and diverges at almost imperceptible speeds. How much thought goes into clicking that link? It's pointless to consider this mutation good or bad, but rather all our energy should be directed towards figuring out how we can harness hypertext for our benefit. Dry texts by old dead white guys may be important to us, and they can be important to our students. The question becomes how we convey this importance.

It makes sense to me to begin to bring the hypertext into the classroom, our own class functioning within the same mechanisms as the internet and our developing world. An introduction to Macbeth could be a student reading aloud the opening scene. Whoosh! Click! Then we're onto watching a video of a performance of the opening scene. Whoosh! Click! Now we're back to a classroom discussion regarding this scene. If nothing else, hypertextual existence should demand dynamism out of the classroom. Static presentations and top-down instruction were never the most fun. Don't let your Mom and Dad wax nostalgic about the "good old days", I'm sure they were bored as Hell too. They're certainly not fun in the world of instant gratification. At its core, hypertext is dynamic, and our pedagogy should reflect a desire to meet these dynamic expectations of our students.

Things To Consider:
- Do you believe that hypertext is merely the remediation of print? Is it possible for new modes of writing to not bare vestiges of the old?
- For that matter, do you view hypertextuality as anything more than gimmick?
- Who is faster, Batman or Superman?
- Is there room for old, longer texts in a world of constant diversion and fragmenting attention? How do you teach them?
- How do you approach classroom dynamics in the age of the immediate and hypertext?


  1. Part I
    Firstly – thank you for posting early. I don’t know if your promptness is appreciated by others, but for me, I have limited windows of time Mon-Wed and I saw this is prime opportunity to get a few things done earlier than usual this week. For this, you rock. Also – great post on hypertextuality. I love how you brought in Bolter, gave your two cents worth regarding afternoon and Twelve Blue, AND further referred to both LOST and teaching. All great and multi-faceted items to discuss.

    Secondly, it was interesting for me how you followed up the question posed near the end of your first paragraph regarding how we use the hypertextual shift (since we can’t fight it) with: “Read these words on your computer.” I’d printed out the post to make comments in my margins and therefore craft a response to the post. However, this time around the toner on my printer ran out and I sort of thought to myself ‘Maybe I should just start reading these on the computer and see what sort of raw response it fosters without me taking copious notes on my classmates’ posts.’ If I ever started doing that – well – then I would know for sure that I’d embraced the shift with my own reading and thinking within the digital space vs. the printed space. Trippy.

    It’s clear that you went digging for clues for anything having to do with Bolter’s addressing What does this all mean? I’m not sure they are there, but I, like you, got a little excited when he alluded to hypertext working in parallel to how the brain works – associatively not linearly. This reminded me of a book called Radical Evolution (2005), by Joel Garreau. In this book, Garraeu discussed the exponential growth of information- and nano-technology and how in the “Curve Scenario” that he proposes, this growth has major impacts on society, culture and values (80). This exponential change IS affecting how we find, use and process the information that exists. The culture of reading and writing (and, therefore, thinking) has changed drastically for some. And it could be that, yes, because of the hypertextual shift, we are able to processes it more fully, or rather for some of us, accept it so wholeheartedly, because our response to it mimics how our brains respond and behave. Furthermore, though, what really got me digging into my home library to find this book is something else, something even more pungent, that he claimed about our growing attached to ‘machines’ (MP3 players, computers, keyboards, email): “The machines have not only changed you, they’ve become you” (65). Perhaps the same is true, like Bolter comments, of hypertext. Is it possible that hypertexts, or hypertextuality, in general, is created based on how we function in the first place? Thus it would only be natural for users to be unable to resist its appeal. I shouldn’t assume, but I’m going to anyway, that some naysayers have to make a rather conscious effort to fight back. What might this tell us about hypertext’s relationship, per se, with the way humans process information to begin with?

  2. Part II (sorry - comment was too long for just one post)

    I think it appropriate here to use Bolter’s Chapter 7: Interactive Fiction to start thinking about how can use a combination of hypertext and ‘dry text by old white guys’ to teach. Granted, while I was reading this chapter I cringed at the thought of “we must be careful about our answers at the end of each episode in order to stay with the narrative strand” (128) in regard to ‘afternoon’. However, I do think the concept of interactive fiction as the “breakdown or rather then refashioning of traditional forms” (122) to be a beneficial, not to mention fascinating, conversation to bring into a college classroom. For me – ‘afternoon’?– NO. Something like an interactive version of ‘Ulysses’?– sure (though I’ve been away from it for a decade). The idea of my own incorrect answer/click determining an interactive story is not appealing whatsoever. It’s like the anxiety of the GRE interrupting an act that’s enjoyable or thought provoking. It’s riddle-like. How can I get into that unconscious reading and thinking space if I have to be concerned about which word to click or not to click next? No thanks! I am an advocate, however, of bringing anything out of the ordinary into the sanctum of the classroom. Especially, if somehow, you can add the element of instant gratification you mentioned. With all of our lacking attention spans, we need this movement. I imagine blog posts by students who’re required to respond within the point of view of different characters, perhaps fostering new and creative versions of something written by a dead white guy. Even taking multiple scenes of a play, perhaps, having students record voices, maybe create digital stories like we did, or even film their own versions…and then requiring students to “become literary detectives” (Bolter 149) to figure out what order or sequence makes the most sense might be helpful in deepening their understanding, or their meaning-making processes. You’re right though, brainstorming ideas like these, and furthermore bringing them to fruition may be our only hope in meeting students’ dynamic expectations.

    Oh – and P.S.: I hadn’t clicked on the hyperlink labeled “goes into clicking that link,” until after I wrote out my response. I wanted to make sure though that if it included something worthy to connect to our readings, I (in an after thought), thought I better look at it. How do people find these things? Thanks for giving me and my fiancĂ© endless entertainment for the day!! ☺

    Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print. New York: Routeledge, 2001. Print.

    Garreau, Joel. Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies – and What It Means to Be Human. New York: Broadway Books, 2005. Print.

  3. I agree with you Ian, there is something ‘unsatisfying’ about the hypertextual stories we read for today. Theoretically, this kind of narrative should appeal to the masses considering one, it delivers the story in a fashion that mirrors the thinking processes of the brain and two, it allows the reader the delicious, dangling carrot of choice. However this kind of story is not fulfilling nor has it taken off as the new fad. I think the reason why is that this kind of story does not provide a definitive ending and the random pathways we do wander down are not always directly related to the story nor do they answer all our questions. A reader learns to trust the writer, that whatever labyrinth they are being led down will eventually get somewhere, and they will not be left inside but eventually find a way out. The stories we read this week, in my opinion, seemed to be leading nowhere, which made me not care. This is not to say that all hypertextual narratives lack a desired ending. Satisfying this desire is what distinguishes ‘good’ or ‘popular’ works of hypertext from the ‘bad’. In House of Leaves it is possible to take many different paths through the work, but when you get to the end, whatever story you followed will sufficiently conclude itself. (Unlike Lost where it ends and you realize you just wasted 6 years of your life.) Many of these hypertextual stories have so many possible pathways that you could read an infinite amount of irrelevant words and never actually know what happens. As much as people may enjoy the interrelated stories, nonlinear plot, and appearance of choice, at the end there has to be a point.

    I’ve been thinking about your question, as to how we can utilize this tool in the classroom and I keep coming back to some of the early oral narratives. Many of them are nonlinear, moving from character to character and even back and forth in time. These stories also held the element of choice as the listeners could often pick which story they wanted to hear and it was even possible that the person housing the bard would become a part of the story. Also the stories themselves had the ability of change depending upon who was doing the telling. Perhaps it is here that we, as teachers, should start. We could reintroduce some of these oral epics using the tools of hypertext to reflect the web of interconnected stories. Often times these texts are hard for students to get into because they are so long, contain many characters, and some sections seem to be nothing more than tangents. But if we transplanted it into digital form, it would be easier to navigate, thus allowing students a way in.

  4. Ian,
    Great post. I appreciate your acknowledgement that hypertext is becoming a part of the present and that it cannot be ignored by educators. Your connection to the readings is insightful, especially as you make connections to pop culture. We seem to still be in the questioning phase of the argument- as in, yes- we accept that hypertext is prevalent. But we still are not answering questions. How do we teach English with this technology? We acknowledge it exists, we acknowledge it can be wonderful (or not), but we can't seem to pinpoint how to use this in our classrooms. Melody, your suggestion is great because it takes what we are doing in classrooms and applies it to a modern framework to benefit student understanding. We can bemoan or praise hypertext to no end and yet we still have to come up with a solution. For me, I teach middle school students. They need highly structured assignments, with clear organizational patterns to help them clarify their writing. They are still in such a beginning process of their writing that the use of hypertext concerns me for what it would take from my students, rather than what it would add.

  5. I don't think I can match your enthusiasm about hypertext, Ian, but I completely agree that hypertext is forcing our hand. Maybe I wouldn't say that it has "won" (even though it most certainly has on some level), but I think more precisely it has emerged as an appropriate representation of associative textuality that has always been with us in some way. Excellent use of hypertext in your post, by the way.

    Also, I want to respond to points made by Melody and Kellie. First, I agree with Melody that these hypertext fictions are "unsatisfying" and I think they are so frustrating because they are, as Bolter suggests, about the "problem" (128) of their own reading. That is, many of us find reading a novel satisfying because we forget about the book as a technology that must be negotiated before we can immerse ourselves in the story. With these hypertext fictions, this is impossible because reading them requires constant attention to "how" we read them. This is irritating, but I think it highlights a fundamental problem that faces us as teachers of text these days. Even if we assign a printed text, our students will network these readings, seeking information online to supplement their own physical turning of pages. This is hypertextual reading and I would argue that most if not almost all read this way. In many cases, the web commentary displaces the text itself.

    This leads me to my response to Kellie. I understand that middle school students need structure and I don't think you should stop teaching it. However, the textual world they inhabit is now masssively hypertextual and I believe they need ways [maybe structures] to analyze and read it critically. Our curricula do not address hypertext in they way they should - after all, how can we teach without a common text?

  6. I must add a quotation from Espen Aarseth in his book, Cybertext (Johns Hopkins, 1997) that captures my feelings about hypertext fiction: "Some might reject a text like Michael Joyce's Afternoon as a matter of taste, but when it is rejected as a matter of principle, the suspicion arises that Afternoon is telling us something we do not like to hear and that, therefore, might be well worth listening to" (82).

  7. Ian, I like your passionate blog posting about the use of hypertext and your reinforcing question, “What does this all mean?” Even though Bolter’s book is already ten years old, I don’t know if we have an answer today as to what this all means, but what we can say is that hypertext is an unavoidable presence in our daily lives. From searching the web to checking emails, we are faced with links redirecting us to other sites and causing us to question, “What was I trying to do?” I do agree with Bolter that hypertext best represents human consciousness and our need to make associations rather than think in a linear fashion. However, there needs to be some stable ground in thinking about reading and thinking about thinking. While reading Michael Joyce’s afternoon and Twelfth Blue, I also found myself clicking through a series of links and not feeling any attachment to what I was reading. Similar to what Bolter described the reading experience to be like, I felt as if every move I made affected the next, making it more of a game than a stimulating reading experience. I did not leave the readings wondering about the characters, setting, or plot like I would a “standard” text. At times, I felt a bit confused and frustrated, much like a student for whom English is not his/her first language may feel attempting a foreign text.
    Bolter explains how hypertexts are formed, stating, “A hypertext is like a printed book that the author has attacked with a pair of scissors and cut into convenient verbal sizes” (35). Two things bother me about Bolter’s word choice to describe hypertext. First off, the word “attacked” makes hypertext seem less like a remediation of print and more of a destruction of print that presents something showy, or as Ian, you state, “gimmicky.” Second, Bolter describes this process as “convenient” as if the Joyce’s selections that we read were designed to help us better understand the text. If anything, I felt as if Joyce was playing mind games with the readers, maybe laughing to himself over whether readers could crack some reading code or whether they could endure it long enough to finish reading. While reading his interactive fictions, I kept asking myself, “When will I know this reading experience is over?.” I do think much of what I felt is similar to what students who struggle with reading feel, finding themselves wanting to forgo wanting to read and comprehend rather than seeing their reading as a source of help.

  8. (Continued...)
    But with all this somewhat negativity being said, I do think there is a place for hypertext in the classroom; it can be used as an instructional strategy to aid reading comprehension rather than as a way to “lure” students into the reading. I explored the hypertext version of T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland and found myself getting lost with all of the links that explained parts of the text, but I found this more informative and beneficial than a printed copy of this work. The endnotes, which sometimes confuse me, became more concrete in a sense; I understood where the references were coming from and made my own associations between them. I think that hypertext can be incorporated into the classroom to teach the old and longer texts that you mention Ian. Shakespeare comes to mind when I think of a text that could use some added links to describe particulars and set the context of the work. Students may have copies of the “cliff note” editions of Shakespeare’s works that include descriptions of vocabulary words and places, but a hypertext version of such works would allow students to click on links that interest them or that they are struggling with. In a way, hypertext allows people the freedom to pick and choose what they would like to read more about, giving the reader the power to make the text his/her own.
    As a side note, I read over my post and apologize that some of my thoughts may not follow in a linear fashion. I’m blaming it on all the talk about hypertext and the desire to bounce from one idea to the next.

  9. Ian,
    I am overwhelmed by your defense of digital text via hypertext. In particular, I’m interested in what you say about the role of hypertext in the classroom. Although Bolter seems a bit behind, it’s interesting to see how his theory holds up in the post-Jobs era (can I say that now?). Since so many young people are growing up in a world that takes instant communication for granted, it only makes sense that text should follow suit. I think we often forget that speech, text, and language are only extensions of people’s psychological states. HOW could people restrict their speech to yesterday’s standards? I would think it’s merely impossible. Thus, isn’t hypertext only a remediated form in that it advances the things people are doing already? I also feel that the role of digital text and hypertext will gradually lapse into the next ‘big thing’. However, universities, employers, and the government will always need linear features in text. I found myself getting lost in this week’s readings and couldn’t tell you what I read afterwards. The unique (or old, according Bolter) remediation of text seems only to satisfy those who need a remediation. I guess I’m a bit pessimistic that it will change things drastically for our students too.

    That brings me to a great point you brought up earlier. You said, “It makes sense to me to begin to bring the hypertext into the classroom, our own class functioning within the same mechanisms as the internet and our developing world. An introduction to Macbeth could be a student reading aloud the opening scene. Whoosh! Click! Then we're onto watching a video of a performance of the opening scene. Whoosh! Click! Now we're back to a classroom discussion regarding this scene. If nothing else, hypertextual existence should demand dynamism out of the classroom.” While this pleasant fiction seems ideal, it circumvents standardized testing and the ‘dumbing down’ of today’s curriculum. MCAS bears more resemblance to a job application than a hypertext and information text seems to be on the rise in public schools. Many students might also be overwhelmed with the idea of hypertext drama because of learning disabilities (also on the rise) and other reading comprehension difficulties. While the use of hypertext in the classroom could lead to many great things for learning, I’m not sure that administrators could begin to understand the value of non-linear reading practices.

  10. Ian, awesome post! I first want to say that I love the quote you used from page 42 that hypertext reflects the human mind because we think by association not linearly. This stuck out to me because I do agree that most people think this way and our thoughts tend to flow from one thing to the next or from one topic to the next. However, I too, felt "unsatisfied" with the hypertext stories for today, so how well do they really mirror our thoughts? When we read, we want to be saturated in the text and to know more--we keep reading to find out what happens next. I especially didn't like clicking certain links to enter a new path--I wanted one path...the one the story should follow. So, is this idea of hypertext in the classroom effective? Even though it's a cool idea that it follows our frame of mind how well does it work in reading? With reluctant readers in particular? Will they have the patience to get through a story like this?

    This idea of an associative process reminds me the writing process, which also is not linear. It's a recursive process where students learn to write freely getting their thoughts out, exploring ideas, or jumping from one topic to the next to get to some main point or answer some question. Our writing mirrors our thinking clearly because it's the act of moving our thoughts onto paper. Our paths can change too just like hypertext in that we can start a paper in one direction and after writing for awhile, it can end up in a totally different place. Ideas change, evolve, and stem off one another. Can we link this non-linear process of reading and writing with hypertext? What would this look like in a classroom where students don't understand this non-linear process to begin with? How do we get them to understand? Could we use hypertext to do this? I think that in order to effectively use hypertext in the classroom, teachers and students need to become more comfortable with non-linear reading and writing in general.

  11. Ian and the others who were unsatisfied with the Joyce readings, I'm glad to hear I am not alone. Stories are not so fun when you cannot get lost in them! However, it can be hard to read critically when you are lost in a story. I wonder what would happen if you broke up enormous Victorian novel's like Middlemarch or Our Mutual Friend and let students make their own path through them? Would it allow the students and us to look at passages more closely with out being overwhelmed by the mass of the novel? What if Beowulf was Hyptertext? or The Iliad?

    Your connection to lost was great! It really was a big mess of not linear stories all mixed up in a very hypertext way, and in the end, when you found out what it all meant, it was pretty disappointing. Perhaps that is why Bolter stayed away from the what does it mean and what happens next. We don't really know and will probably be disappointing when the result is not as revolutionary or as life changing as we wanted it to be.

  12. Just a quick response to Sara, which is something I wanted to mention to Ian's post as well: If you check out Bolter's first edition of Writing Space, you'll find that he makes grander claims and prophecies of what might happen in the future. He was lambasted for this because many of his predictions did not materialize. He says in the preface to our edition, "I have also shortened this second edition by eliminating many prophetic claims that either did not come true or were simply made irrelevant by the development of hypertext in directions that I had not foreseen" (xii).

  13. I also appreciated the connection to Lost, as well as Alex's Aarseth quote from yesterday. Much like the shortcomings of the television show, linking two unrelated things, because you merely want the audience to feel like they're working on a puzzle--it's ultimately flattens your characters and angers your audience. I don't think that's the case with afternoon. If structural disorientation distracts your reader from your sucky characters and generic plot, then you're a hack. As Sara correctly mentions right above, it's harder to read critically in hypertext fiction. That's probably why so many pretentious jerks like the style.
    But done well, man! Non-linear narration, or changing the ground rules of narratology speaks to our human foothold on reality, how we foolishly define sanity, perception, reality, and literature as a culture.
    Afternoon was a pain in the ass to read, sure. I had an intense emotional connection to the details surrounding the car crash. The structure served the purpose, because like the main character, the reader is also confused about who was killed, and it heightens the empathy. However, there are many tired old elements of a short story at work here, which is one of the risks when you don't name your main character, don't give him space to breathe in your story.
    Also, holy crap duh Superman is faster. :)

  14. Ian,

    We know you love hypertext from your enthusiasm during last week's discussion. I never really distingusihed digital text from hypertexts prior to this class because we're past dial-up days (remember when it took five minutes to load a page). One of the articles we read the first week discuss this frenzy to click on other links to gain more information. Our attention span has wanned. I hate to admit it, but whenever I see online text without hyperlinks I'm disappointed. I feel like I need to suck in everything about a particular subject in one sitting in order to be an expert on it. Why can't we attempt to accept the fact that the internet can't provide us with everything?

    I don't particularly like the idea of literature as a hypertext. All, and any, interpretation goes down the drain. What bothered me about House of Leaves was that I felt like an investigator looking for answers that might not exist. The reasons we enjoy texts: they're stories, it's an escape, they provide us with a space to connect, or interpret our own feelings. If the author's provided links and such it can enhance the expereince, but it can also ruin it. I feel as if their thoughts are best expressed in their writing.

    That being said, it seems inevitable.

  15. Coming in kind of late here on a comment, so I apologize in advance for the last-minute response.

    I don't think that digital writing has "won." It certainly has a presence in our world because of the prevalence of the Internet, but digital writing is just as much a part of our lives as Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts. Does the DD "win" because it's on every street corner? Does it rule my life just because it's prevalent? I'd say not.

    (As a diversion, I think the main problem I have with the arguments most technophiles make is that we assume everything we have to do with technology is passive. I'd disagree. I get on the Internet when I want to get on the Internet. I play with my phone when I'm expecting a phone call or want to play Brickbreaker to pass the time if I don't have something to read for class. When I'm tired of the Internet or other media-related devices, I go take a ballet class at Harvard Square and get away from it. There are still classical expressions in this world that are completely unrelated to media and technology.)

    And that diversion got me thinking. I think the only way something technological can be useful in a classroom is if it has an active purpose. Using your example, having a Macbeth hypertext is only useful if the students would actually benefit from the momentary diversions that you've created. These momentary diversions should ONLY be there if students can learn something from it, otherwise you're buying into a gimmick (there, I said it; I think hypertext stories like we read for class today are a gimmick) and you're confusing the poor kids in this hypothetical classroom even more by breaking whatever of their focus is left.

    I have a problem in general of jumping on the technology train just because it's what we thinking we SHOULD be doing. There needs to be a pedagogical purpose behind it. Handing a 12-grader a hypertext-laden website and telling him he's going to learn ZOMG, SO MANY COOL THINGS! just because there's a bunch of links and videos seems irresponsible and misguided.

  16. Ian--Awesome.

    And I have to agree with most of you--Ian, Melody, Sara. The anticipation of reading something in the form of afternoon, and Twelve Blue far outweighed the enjoyment of the actual reading experience. This doesn't mean the right content couldn't stir me--Danielewski, for example, would have made for a better read. But then again, House of Leaves is richer and more complex in it's content than Joyce's pieces.

    Now, to get into things: Ian, I am going to use one of your quotes to dig at Bolter a little.

    Ian said, "The gist behind Bolter's chapter is that digital writing and hypertext is not some new creation walking onto the scene. Shiny, fancy, new. "

    This is a good point. Not only is this type of reading not entirely new, either is writing this way. To think of the group of turn-of-the-century-writers as Modernists--whom Bolter more or less describes as the precursor for modern hypertext--in the terms we know it is a relatively new phenomena. So we know Bolter doesn't live in a vacuum--he's keeping up. So why he bypasses decades of composition theory to write this chapter is mystifying. He's taking us right out of 1950's theme writing and plopping us into the digital age without advances in literacy cognition.

    Bolter uses language like "linear," "from point A to point B," "multilinear," "trajectory" as if we not only read in a straight line, but think that way. We certainly don't write that way--but I almost think he says we do when our writing space is on a digital plane. Hierarchical outline acts as a bona fide key term in this chapter and he treats like the marmiest of schoolmarms. A strict, authentic trajectory of a story, a real outline, can only be made after a composition has been written. To stick to such a "prewriting" technique with stringency quells the potential meaning we could convey, and, more importantly, uncover for ourselves.

    Reading, writing, and thinking is not successful when we work with meaning in a way that "moves everything away from the center of the writing space." This would mean our ideas, concepts, key terms, and anything else we want our readers to know can be discussed once, and we can move on. This would make an assumption that our ideas, concepts, and key terms are not a centrifugal force in the writing space. Our writing should not exactly push "associative" strings of thought away, but rather keep it all connected, circling the center of the writing space with a sort of gravity.

    And as far as associative thinking is concerned, Bolter again points outward, beyond, and far away. As if associative connections do not ground us, further illustrate ideas in a piece of writing. Associate reasoning does not just take us forward, it also has to take us back by definition. Associative writing on the other hand is driven forward--the connections made occur as a result of a preceding sentence. But associative reading can go in more than one direction--and at some point in the associative journey, there has to be some backing up--or else we have no way of making associations.

    Just one mention of the word recursiveness would have made me feel better about this chapter. And as I began to revisit the squiggly line/links in Twelve Blue I realized the ease at which I was able to engage in recursive reading. This is a real benefit to such textual forms. But in Bolter's chapter, it's as if this natural process doesn't exist. On paper, on the web, and even in our heads.

  17. Ian, great post! I can feel your enthusiasm for the topic. I like how you ended your post "All of these forking paths in my diatribe converge if momentarily on this important fact: we're all aspiring teachers and professors here" (Drinkwater), because I think this idea of convergence is what was missing from the Michael Joyce pieces that we read. Your post has a lot of ideas going on in it, and it branches out in many interesting ways, and yet by the end I felt like you had taken me somewhere. When I read "Twelve Blue" and "Afternoon" I never felt like there was an end in sight. I found myself questioning whether or not I would even recognize the end when I got there. I found both of the stories very unsatisfying and I finished the readings feeling like I did not know anything about what I had just read. I did not feel the same way about "House of Leaves" and I think that perhaps that was due to the fact that I could literally see the end of the book, whereas the Joyce stories just sort exist in a medium that I can't physically imagine. Joyce wrote in "Twelve Blue":

    “Everything can be read, every surface and silence, every breath and every vacancy, every eddy and current, every body and its absence, every darkness every light, each cloud and knife, each finger and tree, every backwater, every crevice and hollow, each nostril, tendril and crescent, every whisper, every whimper, each laugh and every blue feather, each stone, each nipple, every thread every color, each woman and her lover, every man and his mother, every river, each of the twelve blue oceans and the moon, every forlorn link, every hope and every ending, each coincidence, the distant call of a loon, light through the high branches of blue pines, the sigh of rain, every estuary, each gesture at parting, every kiss, each wasp's wing, every foghorn and railway whistle, every shadow, every gasp, each glowing silver screen, every web, the smear of starlight, a fingertip, rose whorl, armpit, pearl, every delight and misgiving, every unadorned wish, every daughter, every death, each woven thing, each machine, every ever after" (Joyce).

    Which I think is true, and reading should not be limited strictly to books; however, personally I want a story that actually tells me something and that is why I found his work unsatisfying, not because of the format.

    I think as far as using hypertext to teach, I really love the idea of reading literature on a computer or an ipad and having different words link to relevant articles. We live in a time when everyone wants access to information immediately, and having the links at your fingertips would be a lot more useful than having to put down your book and go looking for information. So in that regard I think this is an excellent tool for teaching, but of course the monetary costs for students must be kept in mind.

    Also, Superman is obviously faster, but Batman is way cooler.


Leadership and Technology

I’m writing this as I read Chapter 5 of BDWM, Professional Development for Digital Writing . Teaching is the next step past learning ...