Monday, March 2, 2015

Teaching with Multiplicity

The Gist

In Chapter 3 of Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print, Bolter explains the complicated relationship between text and hypertext. Even though the two forms can be considered separately, it is difficult to completely sever the two since hypertext is in actuality “the remediation of printed forms” (45). Just as an author is the architect of a text, the computer-programming author helps determine what links are contained within a hypertext, regulating the additional information or narrative. Bolter shows that hypertext is a natural progression, combining tech and writing, when he says, “Hypertext shows how programming and conventional prose writing can come together in the space provided by the computer, by putting at the disposal of writers data structures that programmers have used for decades” (38). While there are affordances and constraints with both forms, including the control of authorship and the redefinition of word and image, Bolter concludes that at this cultural moment, print may seem more “natural” and “simple” to most people; however, he does hint that it might seem more natural for hypertext to eventually take over (46). I guess we’ll see.

Additionally in Chapter 3, Bolter creates the analogy of hypertext and the work of avant-garde writers. He says, “In its emphasis on process and on the reader’s awareness of the medium, hypertext seems to belong to the literary tradition of modernism, and indeed modernist writers such as James Joyce can be regarded as forerunners of hypertextual writers…” (44). In Chapter 7 he elaborates this analogy, showing how some printed texts attempt to act like digital hypertext stories and how early hypertexts were very much like printed works. He goes on to lend some thoughts about how people can deal with the complex structures in hypertext, specifically narratives. He suggests that rather than trying to create completely new strategies to tackle the complex structures usually found in hypertexts, we should try to take advantage of the techniques that we may use when we try to make sense of complex or avant-garde works. Now, doesn’t this sound like something we could teach?

Dealing with Hyperbaton in Narrative

So, let’s start with memory. Bolter illustrates why writers use non-linear storytelling by saying, “Memory is not univocal, and the multiple narrative paths of this fiction (afternoon) are offered to us as a means of capturing the authentic multiplicity of memory” (127). Therefore, when we participate in a hypertext story like afternoon or read a work of fiction like Composition No. 1 we are coming to terms with multiplicity, which Bolter is associating with how memory works. The problem with this is that the many narrative paths make it confusing for people to create one linear narrative. In general, it is easier for us to create linear stories out of evidence and facts supplied in a linear stream. However, the mentioned narratives do not operate as so and cause displacement. There is so much displacement happening in these and similar works that Bolter calls it the “customary rhetorical strategy,” drawing the reader away from any illusion of narrative (137). Bolter goes on to say that “In electronic writing we may interpret everything as a palinode; the hard task is to achieve fixity” (137). So, even though we may be simulating the experience of actually being in the story by making conscious decisions, we still have to play “literary detective” to make sense of the narrative. The key is mediating the tension between linear narrative and associated thought in order to make meaning (141). But how can we help students do this?

Hopefully you remember some of the skills you used when you read “The Garden of Forking Paths”. You don’t? Well, better get digging. The problems we had when reading this work come from hyperbaton, meaning “the violation of expected order” (129). As the piece starts we were thrown off because there is a violation in what many of us expected to be a historical retelling of some sort. However, we soon realize that it is fiction in the form of a retelling. Bolter suggests that we can help students recognize hyperbaton and how to deal with it through suspension of details. He says, “The technique (hyperbaton) requires suspension: the reader must hold the displaced unit in mind while waiting for the rest of the syntax. Hyperbaton calls on the reader to make a special effort at understanding and indeed threatens her faith that there is any conventional meaning to be gotten out of a text” (130). In order to help the student navigate the text, it will be our task to show students how to deal with this hyperbaton, create associations and not give up. We have to show students how to interpret the design of a semi-simulation narrative, like we see in Bolter’s illustrated examples. The idea is that students can identify valuable information, store it somewhere, and recall or retrieve it when necessary. When specifically talking about afternoon and Composition No. 1 Bolter says, “the reader works to make narrative sense of the episodes as they present themselves: to construct from these disordered episodes a story in which characters act with reasonable and explicit motives” (150). Much like a video game, readers use the knowledge they gain in order to make critical choices to move the narrative. If you make the wrong choice, you could end up in a pit with crocodiles. If you make the right choice, you could save the princess and live happily ever after. The simulation within the narrative is a good motive for students to complete tasks and create meaning. However, is it enough? Can we get students to truly “buy in” to mediums like narrative hypertext? Is it worth the time to focus on hypertext narrative or are their other better forms of simulation? Are there other ways that you can think of teaching students to piece together a narrative? Maybe we should all just play “Clue” in class and see how that goes.

Towards Hypermedia and Everything Else

Other forms of simulation? Here they come.

Bolter ends Chapter 7 briefly mentioning how hypermedia (sound, videos, animations, etc.) will soon come to be integrated with hypertext (158). As we’ve seen in our lives, hypermedia has been integrated with hypertext (just look at “The Wasteland” example from this week) and simulation is in the social media we use, the video games we play, and even in the projects we can develop for our students. The problem now, like in the stories illustrated by Bolter, is deciding what we should use to make meaning.

Showing a high school student “The Wasteland” text would be overwhelming. In fact, I am when I look at it. Is it necessary for us to know all these facts about this poem? Does it help us to have so many? What critical skills can we use when evaluating all this info? Either way, hypermedia is here and we must synthesize with digital and print texts to help our students create meaning. It is not the easiest to create simulation projects for our students but from my experience it does seem that when students walk in the shoes of someone else, they are genuinely invested more in the work. While the simulations I have students do may not look like the ones Bolter describes, I still think that the skills students can learn from deciphering hypertext simulations is worthwhile. However, I assume they take a really long time to create.


  1. You get at quite a few interesting problems with hypertext here, Brian. I want to start with your question about teaching "The Wasteland." The hypertext Wasteland makes a complicated poem immensely more complicated. In my opinion, the commentary clarifies nothing. In fact, the added pop-ups (which are relatively new, by the way - didn't exist the last time I taught this) create even another layer of obfuscation, as if we weren't already sufficiently obfuscated. And as you note, students could get easily overwhelmed by the sheer amount of commentary, which might discourage them from even attempting a reading. If I were teaching this to high school students, I would start with the poem unadorned with notes. Then, after the students had read and discussed the poem, I would introduce the notes, as a kind of additional "reader" to see if they offer any productive challenges to their "innocent" readings.

    As for teaching hypertext, I've had little to no success with it. Students generally hate Joyce's "afternoon" and "Twelve Blue." I have not taught Moulthrop's "Victory Garden," but I think it would be interesting to pair with Borges' story. One aspect of hypertext that students hate is its linearity! They actual feel constrained by the step-by-step nature of navigating a hypertext. As Espen Aarseth has shown in his book "Cybertext" (, hypertext is not less linear than a printed book. And in many ways it provides more limitations on the ways that readers can navigate a text.

    That said, we have come a long way from the 90s. Hypertext is no longer as limited to a discrete set of reading paths - the network of links on the Web is immensely larger. Plus, the breakout of the visual, pace Drucker, has revolutionized the way we think about text and image, moving away from a logical relationship and transcending mere representation.

  2. Brian,
    Well done! You do a great job of summing up some of Bolter's key ideas and exploring their implications.

    You write that "Bolter concludes that at this cultural moment, print may seem more 'natural' and 'simple' to most people," and I think that in many ways this is true. I think that most people still may consider the print paradigm to be what constitutes "true" reading -- a linear progression within a discrete, manageable text. Even when articles, for instance, link to other pages, we often wait until finishing up the first piece before moving onto another.

    With that being said, we need to consider Alex's assertion that "we have come a long way from the 90s...the network of links on the Web is immensely larger." In other words, hypertext is no longer relegated to series of linked nodes, like a "choose-your-adventure" on Red Bull. Instead, the hypertextual nature of the Web provides for a virtually infinite number of connections, one which I see as seeping into far more regions than those contained on hard drives and servers.

    Bolter ends his third chapter by contemplating whether or not print and electronic writing need each other (he thinks they do), declaring that it "seems increasingly natural to represent all forms of information as hypertext on the World Wide Web" (46).This is certainly true, but is it also possible that hypertextual (or, at least, hypertextually-styled) representations are found outside of the Web? Perhaps I'm thinking about the concept in liberal terms, but I can't help but think that we are living hypertextual lives. Could the ubiquity of instant access, reference, and connection be seeping into our lives without our realizing it?

    After all, many popular bits of entertainment seem to resist traditional linearity/containment. For instance, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a fictional universe composed of film and television franchises of a vast array. Although each entry in the MCU is discrete and linear, the expansive interconnectivity speaks of an audience that is always looking to "click" onto a related "page." Or, consider the popularity of mashup music, which sees preexisting songs repurposed, thus defying the original intention and allowing for the listener to continuously move through different "texts."

    Well, that was a bit of a ramble -- apologies!

  3. Interesting questions Brian! I do want to start out with admitting though that I essentially never use hypertext at all for anything unless I’m reading a TMZ online article (or something historical on Wikipedia) and I want more dirt/info on a certain character that popped up in what I was reading about. When I read texts like “The Wasteland” I prefer to just read and absorb what I’m reading and reread where I have to for a certain idea to sink in. In reading literary texts sometimes background information is helpful, but I prefer to be introduced to this information before I encounter the text. With literary texts I like to just focus on what I think the author is saying and what the text means to me, and I love to hear other’s same thoughts but I don’t really like reading about them simultaneously while I am attempting to “unpack” the text myself. Maybe I am a little primitive in how I prefer to read. I did like how interactive “The Girl and The Wolf” was. I’m actually not quite certain that hypertext uses need to be taught. I feel as if today, since children really grow up using the Internet or at least computers, the idea of clicking on a highlighted word to bring up more information on that word or even media related to that word is self-evident.

    Like DeVoss said from our reading last week, it is important to have teachers who are digitally fluent and who blend technology into lesson plans and assignments. But I also think it is good to use discretion in what you spend your valuable class time teaching, and how to use hypertext might be a little too rudimentary for the classroom at a 5-12 level. I did think it was interesting how Bolter describes electronic writing, and hypertext specifically as inclusive writing because a writer can construct and build new elements from traditional ones. This is undoubtedly true, but I had never given it any thought until this reading. However Bolter does point out a glaring problem with hypertext in that there is a problem if someone thinks B explains A, simply because A is linked to B. The reader must use critical analysis skills to decipher his or her own meaning of the relationship between A linking to B. How do we help students do this? I believe it is merely teaching the skill of generalization in combination with deduction and critical thinking skills, which are useful skills across all content areas.

    In another class I took at UMass Boston, New literacies, which was essentially a teaching with technology class, I made an ELA simulation for prospective middle school students. Creating the simulation took me HOURS, however I find that this would be much more useful in a classroom than hypertext. But it is worth noting that in my simulation hypertext was incorporated. My hypertext combined, images, video, and links to other websites with historical and literary information. We do need to help students mediate the tension between linear narrative and associated thought. One way to do this is to guide them through a simulation by giving them choice on which path to go about studying something but providing them with appropriate associated media to help them make meaning of the knowledge we are trying to bestow on them through linear text. This can be done through teacher created simulations about certain subjects, and the advantage to creating original content specific simulations is that you can collaborate and share them with other educators at the same grade level in your school and/or build on previous lessons or other content area lessons to reinforce knowledge across the curricular spectrum. Hypertext is useful, but not something worth teaching specifically. Hypertext enhances knowledge you are trying to convey.

  4. Thanks for the post, Brian! You’ve highlighted many of the positive and negative critiques that Bolter makes about hypertext. I also found it interesting that Bolter seems to imply that hypertext may eventually become more natural for people to read than print is. Although I’m still unsure of this notion, he does make a few valid points. He notes that “electronic writing by contrast is inclusive and for that reason resonates with and reminds us of the earliest forms of writing. The computer welcomes elements that we in the West have long come to regard as inappropriate to writing; it constitutes electronic writing as a continuum in which many supreme of representation can happily coexist.” Although I have never given much thought, at least at length, to which form of writing more closely resembles earlier writing, such as hieroglyphics, my first reaction would be that alphabetic writing is far more similar. I’ve never worked much with hypertext before, but after reading Bolter I have to agree that it seems a “natural progression;” a 21st century evolution of the romantic notion that the act of writing “could itself release a flood of thoughts.”

    Bolter notes that “in the electronic writing space, hierarchical and associative thinking may coexist in the structure of a text, because the computer can take care of the mechanics of maintaining and presenting both networks and trees.” This is evident in The Wasteland as hypertext, a poem that lends itself well to this type of representation. When I saw this on the syllabus, I remember thinking that I wish I had stumbled on this website years ago, when I was first introduced to this poem. Finally, all of Eliot’s references and allusions I've never understood would be clarified without having to open up another browser. After reading this, however, I agree with Alex- this “makes a complicated poem, immensely more complicated,” and I think the best way to introduce this poem is as is. The notes may be helpful for a second read, but in a world where we are “overwhelmed from without rather than from within” it seems like this could add fuel to the fire. As you point out, “even though we may be simulating the experience of actually being in the story by making conscious decisions, we still have to play “literary detective” to make sense of the narrative.” Hypertext such as this provides the explanations necessary to understand much of the poem- but even with the notes, it is up to the reader to put it all together. The Wasteland is a text that one could spend a lot of time with, and still not thoroughly understand. But, the fact that Hypertext provides us with a different way to read a poem gives us the opportunity to get creative (if time allows.) We could assign each student one of the references from Eliot's poem, and ask that they present a discussion on it to make the poem even more interactive. This is just an idea, but I guess my point is that, at least in this example, hypertext will not stand on its own with many students, especially those in high school.

  5. Asking the question, does this or that technology change the way we read, write, or think, is almost a cliché. And yet, looking at Marisa’s admission that hypertext is fundamental to the way she reads TMZ, I cannot help but realize that the way I read about any subject on Wikipedia is unavoidably different than the way I read printed material. On Wikipedia, I will scroll around, jumping from section to section, and clicking on one link after another, trying to fill in contextual holes. Sometimes I will return to the original article and sometimes not, so hypertexts have certainly, or at least seem to, have changed the way I read. Now the question is, if it is the case that hypertexts change the way we read and write, how can this information change the way we teach?

    One benefit may come in the way students learn to view texts. If a linear text suggests, at least to an inexperienced reader, that there is a single reading of a text, Bolter writes that “the electronic writing space can represent any relationships that can be defined as the interplay of points and elements” (32). This will make more real to the student the fact that all reading has endless possible interpretations, which will, in turn, make critical reading more intuitive.

    Another element of hypertext that seems important to education—more broadly than just composition—is the idea that, as Bolter writes, “the computer welcomes elements that we in the West have long come to regard as inappropriate to writing,” which are other mediums of communication. Hypermedia allows the ability to ‘read’ and understand something of a text that might otherwise be impossible due to a disability.

    The last, and somewhat unrelated, point I’d like to bring up is a response to Brian’s questioning of how ‘natural’ hypertexts will become. I think this will, if it has not already, become a natural way to read. As evidence of this, I point to “The Wasteland” as hypertext. It is not that old, and yet the ads, the re-routing, and the broken links, are unexpected and frustrating. It is a far cry from the ease and intuitiveness of a site like Wikipedia. This shows how ‘natural’ such reading has become, and also shows that hypertexts are not, in themselves, an end. Rather they are a way of reading that will continue to change and improve as technologies advance.

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  7. Thanks for posting, Brian! It’s really helpful to read your post as a supplementary reading to Bolter’s. Through my reading of this week, there was always a question lingering in my mind: How should we do with this hypertext in class? I feel like it’s a most complicated machine with links to each part. Wherever I cut in, I may cause malfunction in the machine. But in your post, you suggest many interesting points of penetration.

    I agree that you mention that “print may seem more ‘natural’ and ‘simple’ to most people”, but actually it is not printed books but the reading and thinking habits associated with print, namely the linear way, make us feel secure and comfortable. I share the same feeling with Marisa that I may be one of the people who benefit from hypertext the least, because most of the time I find the notes or the pop-up information annoying, especially during my first reading of a material. That’s why I feel reading “Wasteland as a hypertext” overwhelming. But later I realize that hypertext does not only exist in such complicated forms. Some websites provides online dictionary to facilitate your reading in your second language, for example, English. When I select a word on the web page, its translated meaning will pop up, and it does help a lot. So I guess it’s not hypertext itself that scares people off. Instead, it’s the evolvement of its usage that baffles people.

    Another question I’m concerned about is how the hypertext thing is coming into being. Bolter does mention that “Hypertext shows how programming and conventional prose writing can come together in the space provided by the computer” (38). But I assume the emergence of hypertext is in a way a simulation to our mind. Yes, we all agree that we are more ready to accept facts that are presented linear, but our mind is obviously not so simple. The thought can be circular, forficate, and even interwoven. So hypertext can be seen as a visualization of our thoughts. But it’s not a imitation of one person, but many people’s thinking paths, thus it seems more complex than our own. Just as when Bolter introduces the hypertext stories, he points out that although hypertext stories involves more participation of the readers, the writer still remain dominant, because he has generated different possibilities that readers may react. See? To be a hypertext writer is a demanding job, because he/she should think with multiplicity. Though I’m not sure whether it is a reasonable analogy, at least it makes sense to me.

    In all, one of the convenience that hypertext could bring to our class is that it presents students with many possibilities, thus make meaning through multiplicities. They could read the stories more than once, each following a different path. And after several times of reading, they could compare the sameness and differences, and generate a kind of plot web, which in turn helps them to create their own narrative.

    (Sorry that I made a mistake in the previous comment, so I removed it.)

  8. Thank you so much for your analysis, Brian. In terms of teaching hypertext and learning through it, I think these end up being two very different things in which the processes for how to use it end up being very very different. I would tend to agree that visiting the Eliot is immediately overwhelming and problem-some for many reasons but they seem to me to be aesthetic and functional more than because of the information that may actually lie on the page, which brings the discussion back to user interface, as we have previously discussed. And while your experience with programming specific user interface need be as necessary as one may think in order to have one of these projects or assignments have the most educational impact, I think it speaks to the preparation and thought that has to go into these things in order for them to be effective.

    Before I transferred and finished my undergrad at UMass-Boston, I was an undergrad at UMass-Lowell and one of the most effective and impactful assignments for me was a hypertext assignment our professor gave us. My interest in English mostly lie in contemporary and popular literature, so Milton's "Paradise Lost" was not a text I was particularly enthusiastic about diving into as an undergrad, and quite frankly I dreaded it. But our professor created a hypertext assignment for us that really engaged me in the text in a way that I'm not sure traditional teaching could have done. (The link can be found here: The lines i was responsible for were Book II lines 209-309) In doing the work for this project, I not only was deeply engaged in the specific lines I was responsible for, but by the nature of the project and the literary detective work I had to do to try to connect my section to the rest of the work, I was also fully engaged in the poem at large, something I seriously doubt as an undergrad I would have been had I not been taught the work this way.

    Sadly it appears Dr. Archibald did not continue with this project with other classes as had appeared to be her intention after our class, but I think when looking at it from the experience I had, I can;t see it as being anything but helpful in creating a way for students to be involved with the text in a way they might not be otherwise. I think as far as teaching the finished project as a text or adding to the project in the same capacity (for instance what to do once all the lines have been hypertexted) certainly creates some points of discussion as to where this project can go and what it's limits are, but I do believe there is value there to be found in the idea of using hypertext in the classroom, especially in creating it.

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  10. Brian,
    Thanks for your post! I like the way that you've found a connection to teaching in Bolter's suggestion to use "the techniques that we may use when we try to make sense of complex or avant-garde works," when we encounter interactive fiction and hypertext. I do think that is indeed something we can teach and that it is quite useful. It's interesting to think that student interactions with hypertext could prime them to read some of the more difficult modernist novels!

    I was particularity interested in the connection that Bolter draws between modernism and interactive fiction. He then goes back even further to Sterne and the 18th century, but his emphasis seems to be on the experimentation and fragmentation inherent in the modernist aesthetic. Bolter focuses on a few points of envisioned connection: the inclination to deconstruct (as in the Dadaists), modernism’s push back against the linearity of the realist novel, and a tendency towards “fragmented anecdotes and classical allusions” (139). I think these parallels are spot on, but I was struck by another aspect of modernism that seems to be an important presence in hypertext (I’m also thinking and reading a lot about modernism currently because I’m in Eve’s British modernism class! So that has undoubtedly informed my thinking here).

    Anyhow, an article I was reading for that class (“Novelty, Modernity, Adjacency” by Michael Levenson) describes the trajectory of modernism which began with an infatuation with the acontextual moment or utterance. However, later in the modernist era, writers pushed back against this infatuation with a pure, acontextual artistic experience and insisted instead that all meaning-making is subject to context. Author’s like Forster complicated the poles of Benjamin’s distinction between concentration and distraction which suggesting that total “absorption is always contaminated” (Levenson 674). The distraction inherent in concentration is partially due to the very physicality of intense concentration – the “kinetics of attention” and also “an awareness of all that lies around or within the work” (Levenson 674). As I was reading about this modernist conflation of concentration and distraction in light of context, I was struck by the strong parallel to questions raised by hypertext and interactive fiction. In Bolter’s insistence that “for hypertext writers and readers, the single narrative line is no longer adequate to capture the reality that they wish to pursue” seems to be the assertion that hypertext can more adequately, and perhaps naturally, express the complicated thought processes of the human mind (129). There seems to be something ironic about technology, or the computer, with its rigid codes and processes becoming the medium most adequate to relay the reality of our human experiment but the connections that Bolter points out are quite compelling.

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  12. Finally, some quick thoughts on the experience of reading the hypertext Eliot and Monfort:
    I found the Eliot completely overwhelming, a literal TMI. Part of that seemed to be about the inconsistency of the annotations right down the visual disorganization of the screen. “The Wasteland” is an intimidating text to begin with but that presentation with the pop-up ads and multi-colored annotations AND links (especially the ones that take you out of the page and have no clear bearing on the text) made the experience almost impossible. I really enjoyed the Monfort -- what an interesting project to think about the narrative correlations between sex and violence! I was left wondering what his intention was with this because the writing is kind of darkly comedic but there are some compelling implications of these relationships. Most interestingly to me, was the fact that the two lowest sex, highest violence scenarios are the only ones in which the girl is the heroine and rescues herself (vs. being rescued by the woodsman), which seems to suggest that less sex = more power/ autonomy for women. Conversely, the more sex there is, the likelier it is that the girl in the story is rescued or killed. I found this fascinating.

  13. Thank you for posting, Brian!

    I, like Marisa, very rarely use hypertext unless I'm reading something on Wikipedia or BuzzFeed; and even then, I read the entire article linearly before I hop over to a different article. I'm a very easily distracted reader, so I myself, so like having a lot of different things to click through when I'm trying to read an article. Reading "The Waste Land" was difficult for me because I would get through part of, like many have said, a very difficult poem and then I would have to read the additional annotations. Plus having pop ups and ALL those links was very overwhelming.

    At first, I really didn't agree that hypertext is will eventually be a more natural way of writing/reading than print. But, now that I'm thinking about it more, it does make sense that we would naturally progress to that. Even if you're reading on a Kindle, you can tap a word to get a definition. So, I guess hypertext being the preferred form of writing/reading may not be as far off a notion as I original thought. I'm not sure teaching what hypertext is will be entirely necessary, though. Kids today are growing up in a time where they are always online. They read things on BuzzFeed, Wikipedia, Reddit, etc. I think they know that clicking on a link within an article will bring them to a new one. However, I do think we need to teach students how to read them. Should they read the article more linearly? Or, if Article 2 helps explain a portion of Article 1, should they stop and read Article 2 before finishing Article 1? Is one way of reading any better than the other?

    A quick thought on "The Girl and The Wolf," I really liked the interactive reading it was. It was like the choose your own adventure books from when we were kids. I thought it was interesting that you could read the same story so many times but there were always different elements and different endings.

  14. Brian, your discussion of Bolter’s text immediately sent me to thinking about the ways in which this hypertextual approach to absorbing information has seeped into other facets of life, and then I saw Allen’s comment and realized he has already addressed something quite similar to what I’m thinking. So Allen: I’m going to stretch your idea even further.
    Allen, you ask: “Could the ubiquity of instant access, reference, and connection be seeping into our lives without our realizing it?” So, although, yes, I think you’re probably seeing something here, I’m wondering if we can really call it ‘seeping’ and not simply new and faster ways of expressing a time-honored tradition in information access.
    What I mean by this is that yes, digital UIs allow us an unprecedented depth and breadth of creating hypertext, maybe so much so that it deserves a new term, but the impulse behind creating hypertexts I don’t believe is anything new. I know this point is brought up both in class and in our readings, but is there so much difference between a hypertext and a printed book with footnotes/endnotes? It still causes the same act of disruption/access of additional or supplementary materials/return to original text.
    My immediate counter to this argument is that while the same drive might be behind both forms, it’s really tough to compare flipping to a footnote to “going down the wiki hole” because digital formats allow for not only hypertext, but also hyperlinking. You can be scooted off to a completely different source, ne’er to return, just by a few casual clicks. But one of the most common foot/endnotes are references and recommendations to other works, essentially creating the same web of information. You just need to do the footwork itself. Another, different example would be House of Leaves that we discussed last week. The footnotes and appendices of that novel are so sprawling and intertwined that it certainly feels like getting lost on Wikipedia (maybe there’s some analogous symbolism between the labyrinth in the House and getting lost on Wikipedia)
    And I’d also like to add on to your last point about the MCU that I think included in that web should be the Internet’s worth of pixels spilled on reviewing, analyzing, promoting, harpooning etc. the films, as well as the sundry tie-in apps and games. Not to mention the decades of source comics, as well as those comics’ sources…

    Holy shit. Is hypertext Intertextuality in the flesh?

  15. Hey Brian,

    Thanks for your great post on hypertexts; you posed questions that haunt teachers and students alike, and your analysis of Bolter is quite interesting.

    I too was completely overwhelmed by "The Wasteland" with all the information to the point that I could not read all of it, or even found myself dashing around or skipping lines because of all the links. I am not sure I would ever give this to my high school students, not without having them first start their own hypertexts to a text for the class. I am not sure how doing hypertexts in a high school class will be feasible or beneficial, but perhaps that is for later thought during the summer when we can put more energy into planning for it.

    You write, "simulation is in the social media we use, the video games we play, and even in the projects we can develop for our students. The problem now, like in the stories illustrated by Bolter, is deciding what we should use to make meaning." I am not sure I can answer what we use to make meaning, but I will make an attempt (even if it is horrible). DeVoss, et al, in chapter 2 (last week's reading) advocates for a "digital fluency" that is supported by "the experience of writing in digital environments, and that experience will push us, collectively, to build new knowledge that will inform the teaching of writing" (57). Introduce students to hypertext through their own interests and research with guidance, of course. I think giving students a chance to practice hypertext for themselves may expose them to this form of writing and could help them be able to "ignore" all the things we could not ignore as we read "Wasteland" until they find something interesting. Or in the words of Lady Catherine de Bourgh to/about Elizabeth Bennet while she plays the piano in "Pride and Prejudice," "Miss Bennet would not play at all amiss if she practised more" (Chapter 31). Practice, practice, practice; I am surely and sorely in need of it before I could introduce this to my students!!

  16. Excellent post, Brian!

    I looked at Eliot’s “The Wasteland” prior to reading Bolter and this brush with confusion really set a frame for my reading. What caught my eye was Bolter’s thoughts on the effect on the flow of information, that “we are concerned not that there is too much in our minds [..] but rather that there is too much information held in electronic media for our minds to assimilate” (33). This is very clearly linked to many of our professed feelings of being overwhelmed by “The Wasteland.” There was, at a glance, a mass of information on the page that we had to parse and assign a hierarchy of importance to. Of course, the text itself is the top concern, but the links embedded in the poem act as distracting elements—at least for me—and the notes, being to the side, were less distracting but merely something to browse through after reading the main text.

    In my twitter comments I made a comment about Wikipedia and the nature of the hypertext to be found there, which is admittedly the hypertext I am most familiar with. It is very easy to get lost on Wikipedia following links, half-reading articles as you get distracted from your original purpose. This, of course, depends on the individual. Many of you managed to take yourselves by the scruff of your necks and firmly tell yourself to stay on target—I admittedly didn’t. I see a URL highlighted and tend to follow it like a dog playing fetch. This above all convinces me that hypertext is a necessary element of what teachers should cover when considering online texts. Hypertext adds a lot to a text, but there is such considerations as presentation to consider. In “The Wastelands” case, everything that thrown out at once, leading to the feeling of being overwhelmed. Bolter’s comment points out that there needs to be a consideration for how a reader experiences a text when dealing with hypertext.
    I cannot deny that it does enhance the text—context cues, meanings, relevant asides—and I would loathe to be without such things. But there is such a thing as learning to navigate hypertext in a manner that isn’t just jumping from link to link and glossing over the information that come between the links. For me hypertext becomes a distraction—and I imagine it may be the same for some student—but with enough attention paid to reading and getting used to hypertext I hope to get rid of the knee jerk reaction of pursuing links. For teachers, using hypertext comes down to both teaching the students to remain focused—finding a way to maximise their interest—but also finding an effective way to present a text. Had “The Wasteland” been presented to me as simply a page with a poem, with a link to a “next” page at the bottom, and the next page including the notes and links, my experience of it would have been enhanced.

    Many students will not be thrilled to be handling particular texts, but with the added level of hypertext, the texts and the reader experience is enhanced, it just has to be presented with care and though to how the reader will find it. So it definitely has a place in the classroom, but there needs to be consideration for presentation and reader experience, rather than just smacking everything on a page.


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I agree wholeheartedly with Bady’s cynicism of the speed, inevitability, and necessity of the MOOC movement. From 2011-2015 I direct...