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    nonlinear fictions

    As promised, here's the second half of what I'm thinking of as my Well-Intentioned Hypertext Rant, in which I argue that even literary / narrative works that aren't traditional hypertext as such are often nevertheless designed to be rewardingly navigated in non-linear fashion (hypernavigated?). Ready? Here goes:

    "[M]y [earlier] examples are all non-fictional, a little bit of a cheat on my part given that this whole thread got started discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of hypertext as a literary / fictional form. I'll grant that most fiction is designed to be read sequentially, although I'd point to the existence of a "scene selection" menu on nearly every DVD out there as evidence that people value and appreciate non-linear ways of navigating narrative as well. (I can only think of one filmmaker who has successfully resisted the popular pressure to segment the DVD release of their movies this way: David Lynch.)

    This also gets a little trickier when moving out from the level of the individual text into a "mega-corpus" of related stories, or a storytelling ecology. If we were Star Wars fans, we might read Star Wars tie-in novels in the order of their publication, or in the chronological order that continuity prescribes, or just randomly: each contributes another puzzle-piece to the overall Star Wars mega-corpus in a way that traditional hypertext theory very tidily provides a framework for describing. Comics continuity works similarly: only the most hard-core X-Men collector(s) can even begin to make an attempt to read the overall "story" of the X-Men in the order in which it occurred: the vast majority of readers are instead navigating the mega-corpus in partial, fragmentary ways, assembling the logic of it as they go. Again, hypertext theory provides a very handy way of thinking about this kind of reading.

    Mythic narrative systems work similarly: Dan [another commenter on the thread] observes that "[r]eligious texts can be read for narrative or as fiction, but that kind of reading generally doesn't involve skipping around." That's definitely true for the Old and New Testament, but less true for the heavily-annotated Torah, and even less true for pre-book mythic systems like the Greek, Egyptian, or African myths, which can be appreciated as fiction or narrative but have no coherent sequential order.

    Thanks for putting up with me while I indulged my need to be this guy.

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    Friday, March 07, 2008
    2:00 PM


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