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    hypertext as form vs. hypertext as technique

    There's an interesting debate on the topic of hypertext happening at if: book right now, in which Ben Vershbow, the author of the post, makes the claim that hypertext is not viable as a literary form. Something about the post got my hackles up, and I began to feel like it hinged on a too-rigid definition of what "hypertext" is. I kicked the idea around for a bit, and came up with this as a response:

    Hypertext may not be a viable literary form, but "hyperlinking" as a navigational technique is enormously successful, so much so that we take it for granted in our daily use of the Web, and forget how much of a debt it owes to the thinking of the "inner circle of [hypertext] devotees."

    It is possible to say that any work of fiction or nonfiction that invites non-linear access, has hypertextual elements. When viewed this way, it's easier to see that there's no shortage of "viable" examples of enormously successful "hypertextual"-style works. Dan V. starts on this approach when he brings up Khazars or The Unfortunates, but I'd go further, including key texts of human civilization like the dictionary, the World Almanac, Mao's Little Red Book, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, and the Koran, Bible, and (especially!) the Torah. (It's possible to read any of these books in linear order, but I'm going to argue that most people don't.)

    (Full disclosure: if I overreach, it is possibly because I spent five years of my life working on a piece of serialized Web fiction that is essentially a linear narrative, but which contains hypertextual navigational elements, so the distinction between "hypertext as form" and "hypertext as technique" feels pretty deeply-grained to me.)

    It doesn't yet get at the question of hypertext's viability as an explicitly literary form, but I'm working on that next.

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    Thursday, March 06, 2008
    8:47 AM


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