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.