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In this essay I will argue that hypertext challenges our notions regarding the relationship between reader and writer. Hypertext gives "permission" to readers to insert themselves into the meaning construction process and "write" a text in a way that is often different from what the author foresaw. Hypertext makes us conscious of the blurring of the reader/author role. Book technology seems to fix our notion of authorship and hypertext challenges us to rethink that role and the role of the reader. Historically, however, there have been other "challenges" to these roles, which is an important consideration when discussing the role hypertext plays in the act of reading and writing.
Ilana Snyder believes that hypertext is changing our notions of authorship. She notes that the absence of textual autonomy and centeredness disperses the author. But Snyder points out that the amount of control experienced by a reader is largely dependent on hardware and software. In Storyspace, for example, a hypertext writing program published by Eastgate Systems, links can be hidden in the text and the reader must either search for the links by randomly clicking on words that might be a link, or by executing a key stroke that highlights where the links are in the lexia. She points out that computers shape the way we think, encouraging some kinds of thinking and discouraging others. She uses the example of a blackboard where text is created with the assumption that it will be erased. Paper and pen writing encourages writers to attend to grammar and spelling and to use a more controlled type of thinking. Computers invite writers to think non-linearly and cooperatively. She points out that "we organize our writing space in the way we organize our thoughts, and in the way in which we think the world itself must be organized (69).
George Landow writes that hypertext blurs the boundaries between reader and writer and claims that, because of the nature of hypertext, the fact that the reader has to make choices and acts upon those choices by clicking on a word or image, the reader becomes "active." Perhaps it is important to point out here that although I consider Landow one of the key figures in hypertext theory, I have difficulty with his use of the word "active" here. All reading, all meaning construction is active. Reading is not a passive activity. Yet Landow sometimes uses passive and active in his explanations and defense of hypertext. For example, he points out in his first Convergence text ((1992) that hypertext "provides an infinitely re-centerable system whose provisional point of focus depends upon the reader, who becomes an active reader…" (11).
Perhaps a better word to explain the role of the reader in this re-centerable system is the word "deliberate." Hypertext reading requires the reader to make deliberate decisions about which path to take within a hypertext web. And as I write this, I know that there are instances when readers of more traditional texts like dictionaries and encyclopedias, not to mention magazines, make deliberate choices regarding where and what they will read. But for the time being, until I can come up with a better word, I will describe the hypertext reader as deliberate, as one who deliberately reads a text according to his or her own interests or organizing principles.
Landow frequently mentions narratologist Gerard Genette, and Genette's ideas are particularly relevant to a discussion of the reader/writer roles. Landow, citing Genette, maintains that hypertext is a means of escaping what Genette refers to as the idolatry or idealization of the author. Hypertext, because of its openness, its fuzzy borders that are so easily permeated, makes the author's role as diffused as the boundaries of the text itself. Landow also talks about Walter Ong's theory regarding the relationship between computer technology and orality. Ong argues that computers have brought with them a "second orality" that is very similar to the participatory sense of community and a focus on the present moment in oral cultures.
And, though Ong seems to go astray when he talks about computers and sequential processing, he (and Landow) make the interesting point that books and their authors cannot be challenged in any immediate sense. Hypertext readers, however, can challenge a text immediately, or as immediately as the reader can write a response and link that response to the author's text. This placement of text within a larger domain of text places the reader and the writer in a kind of dialogue that cannot happen as easily (if at all) in the world of paper and ink.
If hypertext is challenging the role of author and reader, it is not the first textual innovation to do so. Ilana Snyder (1996) reminds us that in manuscript days scribes often altered the work they were copying. This blurred, even then, the boundaries between author and reader. French literary critic Roland Barthes, in his interesting essay "The Death of the Author," (1993) points out that a piece of text is "not a line of words releasing a single 'theological' meaning (the message of the Author-God), but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, non of them original, blend and clash" (116).
Snyder also points out that oral texts had many of the features that theorists claim are inherent in hypertexts. Oral texts could be revised at will by the speaker who altered stories depending on the prompts from an audience. But book technology provided a new framing device for narrative and other forms.
Janet Murray (1997) points out that with electronic text the "author" is procedural, like a choreographer "who supplies the rhythms, the context, and the set of steps that will be performed" (153). The reader, or as she calls him or her, the "interactor", is a "navigator, protagonist, explorer, or builder, [who] makes use of [a] repertoire of possible steps and rhythms to improvise a particular dance among the many, many possible dances the author has enabled." (153)
In this sense, Murray reminds us that each time a reader enters a hypertext web, the reader creates a "new" text, written by the choices he or she makes as she travels through the docuverse. And Landow (1992, 1997) consistently reminds us that the text an interactor reads is not necessarily the text an author planned. All this seems much like the ancient storyteller who changes the text to fit the wishes of each audience.
The audience and the storyteller collaborate to create a narrative. Collaboration is a key element in hypertext reading and writing as well. Landow adds that a hypertext reader/writer "almost inevitably works collaboratively whenever creating documents in a multi-author hypertext system" (2.0, 110) Landow (1997) reminds us that print technology has imposed a more "passive" role on readers.
Landow believes that hypertext is the instantiation of Barthes' concepts of readerly and writerly text (Convergence,1992). Indeed, Landow borrows many of Barthes' terms when talking about hypertext-terms like lexia, meaning an individual writing space or block of text that can be accessed and has links to other lexias. Barthes envisions a readerly text as one in which networks are many and interact, without any one of them being able to surpass the rest.
Certainly a hypertext reader is more than just a consumer of the text. The hypertext reader seems more akin to the ancient audience of the storyteller--a collaborator. The hypertext reader is a deliberate force within the text itself, not divorced from the text, but a partner with both the author and the text.
I am reminded of an interesting National Geographic site on the world wide web that allows readers to "become" someone accused of witch craft in Salem, Massachusetts in the seventeenth century. The background of the narrative is black.The reader "feels the power" of the text.The National Geographic site and other hypertexts, bring an interesting question into the discussion--that of agency.
Murray believes that hypertext does not diminish the author's agency, but it may make the reader more conscious of his or her agency within the narrative or other discursive form. Murray emphasizes that readers ...can only act within the possibilities that have been established by the writing and the programming. They can build simulated cities, try out combat strategies, trace a unique path through a labyrinthine web, or even prevent a murder, but unless the imaginary world is nothing more than a costume trunk of empty avatars, all of the [reader's] possible performances will have been called into being by the originating author (152)
Louise Rosenblatt believes the reader brings a text to life. In order to bring that text to life the reader must transact with the text, the reader must write the text for herself or himself. And in the reader's mind the text sifts through all of the reader's previous experiences as the reader goes through the meaning-making process. In this sense the reader is always central to the text.
Espen Aarseth, however, makes a point that transactional theory cannot adequately explain what happens when a reader engages with hypertext, or ergotic literature, as he calls it (Cybertext, 1997). The hypertext reader "also performs in an extranoematic sense" (1). This happens through the semiotic sequence of physically clicking on a hypertext link which places the reader in a physical act of meaning construction.
Foucault (1977) argues for a loosening of the author's constraint over text, and hypertext seems to be one way in which this can happen. He writes: Although, since the eighteenth century, the author has played the role of the regulator of the fictive, a role quite characteristic of our era of industrial and bourgeois society, of individualism and private property, still, given the historical modifications that are taking place, it does not seem necessary that the author-function remain constant in form, complexity, and even in existence" (159-160).
Landow and the others frequently assert that hypertext is bringing about changes in the author/reader relationship. But that relationship was already being questioned by Barthes, Foucault, and Derrida who were talking about the decentered self and about the decentered or nomadic web of knowledge where knowledge can be accessed from an impermanent nomadic center (Landow 1992).
But there is a group of hypertext theorists who are, in their own way, trying to maintain the structure of a given piece of knowledge, a given piece of hypertext, not because they are necessarily alarmed by the postmodern condition and the increased agency of a reader, but because they see a disoriented reader. These are the cognitivists who approach the role of the hypertext reader and author from a different perspective. In order to understand the cognitivist approach to hypertext reading, it is important to first look at the reading theory that many of the cognitivists use as the foundation for their stance on the roles of readers and writers.
When discussing reading comprehension, many of the cognitivists use what is known as the Kintsch model of reading comprehension 1 2 3. This is a more linear process that only considers the cognitive processes in meaning construction. Certainly the cognitivists have brought some valuable ideas to reading theory. But in considering the role of the reader and writer, the cognitivists do not look at the social transactions involved in meaning construction.
The cognitivists tend to deal with the ways in which current readers make use of hypertext. The cognitivists are concerned about a reader's disorientation within a hypertext web, and indeed, that can be a concern, especially in a test preparation situation. But the writer of a hypertext goes into the task knowing the reader will not progress through the text in any given sequence or at least has the option of taking multiple possible paths. It may be that a hypertext writer will have to envision different readers who have different purposes.
John Slatin (1992) actually identifies three different types of hypertext readers: the browser, the user, and the co-author (158). The browser reads for no particular purpose other than to find something interesting with which to engage. The user is looking for specific information and uses the hypertext to find that information. The co-author collaborates deliberately with the hypertext, inserting his or her own lexias in response, or incorporating existing lexias into a new hypertext web or docuverse. It is impossible, actually, to predetermine whether a hypertext will serve the needs of the browser, the user, or the co-author, so a writer cannot always create a hypertext web with any particular audience in mind. And that is why the cognitivists have some important ideas in terms of hypertext reading, at least during a time when we may be experiencing a transition between two information technologies.
Where the cognitivists seem to have difficulty is in the fact that readers, when they get used to the new text spaces of hypertext, will develop new reading strategies. The cognitivists call for hierarchical overviews and more "ordered" progressions through hypertext webs seems much like the calls for order that were heard when the printing press began making an impact on how people thought about readers and writers.
But hypertext, whether it is literary or pragmatic, whether it is Stuart Moulthrop's novel or a new version of Excel, is here. We will adapt to hypertext with as much ease or as much difficulty as we adapt to a changing larger culture. Because essentially it is the culture that is changing. Hypertext is merely a symptom of that change.
Aarseth, Espen J. Cybertext: Perspectives on ergotic literature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.
Barthes, Roland. "The Death of the Author." Modern Litarary Theory: A Reader, 2nd edition. Ed. Rice and Waugh. London: Edward Arnold, 1993.
Birkerts, Sven. The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in the Elecronic Age. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1994.
Bolter, David Jay. Writing space: The computer, hypertext, and the history of writing. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 1991.
Charnay, Davida. "The Effect of Hypertext on Processes of Reading and Writing." Literacy and computers: The complications of teaching and learning with technology. Ed. Cynthia Selfe and Susan Hilligoss. New York: MLA, 1994.
Dee-Lucas, Diane. "Effects of Overview Structure on Study Strategies and Text Representations for Instructional Hypertext." Hypertext and Cognition. Ed. Jarmo J. Levonen Jean-Francois Rouet, Andrew Dillon, Rand J. Sprio. New York: Erlbaum, 1996. 73-107.
Foucault, Michel. "What Is An Author." Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault. Ed. Donald F. Bouchard. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977.
Landow, George P. Hypertext 2.0: The convergence of contemporary critical theory and technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.
Landow, George P. Hypertext: The convergence of contemporary critical theory and technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
Murray, Janet H. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. New York: The Free Press, 1997.
Slatin, John. "Reading Hypertext: Order and Coherence in a New Medium." Hypermedia and Literary Studies. Ed. Paul Delaney and George P. Landow. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1992. 153-169.
Snyder, Ilana. Hypertext: The electronic labyrinth. New York: New York University Press, 1996.
In the 1960s, Ted Nelson conceived of a huge electronic network to connect all the information in the world by means of cross-referenced documents (a ‘docuverse’). He coined the word ‘hypertext’ to name a tool which would create a non-sequential linking of texts. In the same decade, both literary theory and computer science were interested in the systematisation of textual forms that cited other texts – what Gérard Genette (1962) referred to as ‘palimpsests’. For Genette, hypertextuality is the relationship that links text B (the hypertext) to a previous text A (the hypotext) in a way which is not a mere commentary. In this sense, all texts can be said to be potentially hypertextual.
The increasing access to personal computers, the development of interactive technology and the advent of the internet and the World Wide Web have made Nelson’s docuverse and his notion of hypertext a reality. In Literary Machines (1981), Nelson was then able to write: ‘By hypertext I mean non-sequential writing – text that branches and allows choices to the reader, best read at an interactive screen. As popularly conceived, this is a series of text chunks connected by links which offer the reader different pathways.’
In 1992, George P. Landow, a pioneer in the use of hypertext in higher education, wrote a book whose title reveals the impact of hypertext within a cultural context informed by new technologies: Hypertext: the Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. In this book, computer hypertext is defined as ‘text composed of blocks of words (or images) linked electronically by multiple paths, chains or trails in an open-ended, perpetually unfinished textuality described by the terms link, node, network, web and path’ (p. 3).
Attracted by the challenge offered by electronic links, the American writer Michael Joyce experimented with hypertext to write original fiction. He then conceived of a virtual story that would never be read the same way twice: the result was afternoon, a story. Hypertext fiction (or hyperfiction) had been born.
As George Melrod (1994, p. 162) defines it, hyperfiction is ‘non-linear interactive electronic literature. Potentially, the next stage of evolution for storytelling, where text is made of light instead of ink, where you help the author shape the story, and where you never read he same novel the same way twice’. Hyperfiction can only be read on a computer screen. Readers decide where to go next by consulting the titles of linked passages or may let the links between windows or ‘lexias’ (a term used by Roland Barthes, applied in Landow, 1992) take them to an unknown place in the textual geography. They can choose whether to click on a word, on an arrow that takes them backwards or forwards, on YES and NO buttons… or simply press ‘ENTER’, which is just like ‘turning the page’. ‘The result is a kind of narrative collage, a textual kaleidoscope in which the story is cut into fragments and is constantly changing. If it’s a bit disorienting, that’s part of the idea. Instead of laying out a straight path, hyperfictions set you down in a maze, give you a compass, then let you decide where to go next’ (Melrod, 1994, p. 163).
By definition, hyperfiction is strikingly open-ended. This empowers the reader, who is not only able to make decisions such as where to go next or when to ‘put an end to the story’ but is in control of the process of appropriation (the interaction with the text that leads the reader to ‘own’ a certain reading of the text) in ways which are hard to achieve within print technology.
Michael Joyce reflects on this in an introductory lexia in his afternoon, a story:
‘WORK IN PROGRESS
Closure is, as in any fiction, a suspect quality, although here it is made manifest. When a story no longer progresses, or when it cycles, or when you tire of the paths, the experience of reading it ends. Even so, there are likely to be more opportunities than you think there are at first. A word which doesn’t yield the first time you read a section may take you elsewhere if you choose it when you encounter the section again; and sometimes what seems a loop, like memory, heads off again in another direction.
There is no simple way to say this.’
Where and how to put an end to a story must always have been one of the main preoccupations of a writer, and it is certainly the focus of the metaliterary concern which pervades the self-referential novel of the last few decades. Hypertext unveils the artificiality of closure, revealing not only the writer’s but the reader’s role in the creation of that artifice, as well as the arbitrary nature of the paths that may lead to it.
Hyperfiction is a question of texture, or, as Mary-Kim Arnold (1993) has expressed it, ‘Words that yield to the touch’. But what words will ‘yield’ if the reader clicks on them? Joyce’s explanation in afternoon, a story seems to have established the metaphor:
‘READ AT DEPTH
I haven’t indicated what words yield, but they are usually ones which have texture...’
Once again, it is the reader who decides which words ‘have texture’, which bear a tempting quality... and wherever the reader decides to click, he or she is unlikely to be disappointed. ‘The nomadic movement of ideas is made effortless by the electronic medium that makes it easy to cross borders (or erase them) with the swipe of a mouse, carrying as much of the world as you will on the etched arrow of light that makes up a cursor. [...] Each iteration “breathes life into a narrative of possibilities,” as Jane Yellowlees Douglas says of hypertext fiction, so that, in the ‘third or fourth encounter with the same place, the immediate encounter remains the same as the first, [but] what changes is [our] understanding’” (Joyce, 1995, p. 3).
The reader weaves the web of narrative possibilities, aware of the power of choice. He or she advances, down the labyrinth of ‘forking paths’ that Borges (1941) once imagined, sometimes at a loss, sometimes helped by the map, chart, tree-map or outline of links between lexias which the author may have provided. But no matter how s/he chooses to do it, the reading experience is a challenge to the stability of the traditional concepts of text, author and reader.
Delany and Landow (1991, p. 3) point out that ‘so long as text was married to a physical media [sic], readers and writers took for granted three crucial attributes: that the text was linear, bounded and fixed. Generations of scholars and authors internalized these qualities as the rules of thought, and they had pervasive social consequences. We can define hypertext as the use of the computer to transcend the linear, bounded and fixed qualities of the traditional written text.’ Devoid of paper, tablet, scroll, book... the text becomes virtual, transient. There is no stable object holding the entire text; all the reader can see is one block of text at a time and explore the electronic links that connect that lexia to others: a variable textual structure that lies behind the blocks and can be represented on screen as a tree diagram, a web, a network... There is no fixed way out of the labyrinth: you build it as you choose your way down the forking paths.
If hypertext has changed the nature of text, it has also disclosed the nature of underlying reading operations. True, the reader may apply perfectly conventional reading habits in each lexia, but, as Delany and Landow (1991, p. 4) believe, ‘[hypertext] can also provide a revelation, by making visible and explicit mental processes that have always been part of the total experience of reading. For the text as the reader imagined it – as opposed to the physical text objectified in the book – never had to be linear, bounded or fixed. A reader could jump to the last page to see how a story ended; could think of relevant passages in other works; could re-order texts by cutting and pasting. Still, the stubborn materiality of the text constrained such operations.’
Hypertext, then, is the virtual space where modern literary criticism and pedagogy meet, as the active reader in the learner-centred classroom becomes a reality rather than a desideratum. The reader as ‘producer of the text’ advocated by Barthes (1970), the active reader of Umberto Eco’s open work (1962), the Derridean emphasis upon discontinuity and decentring (Derrida, 1967), all find concrete realisation in hyperfiction. So does Bakhtin’s conception of dialogism and multivocality (1984), for ‘hypertext does not permit a tyrannical, univocal voice. Rather, the voice is always that distilled from the combined experience of the momentary focus, the lexia one presently reads, and the continually forming narrative of one’s reading path.’ (Landow, 1992, p. 11)
All this has far-reaching implications for education in general and for literary education in particular. The dialogical interaction between reader and text which allows each reader to construct ‘the meaning of the text afresh’ (Pulverness, 1996) has been (and many times still is) veiled by layers of respect for the mythical authority of writers, critics and literature teachers. Even in classrooms where the existence of multiple readings is acknowledged, there is often an underlying belief in the superiority of the teacher’s learned reading. Hyperfiction removes the veil: not only does it offer multiple readings, but multiple texts (or architectural realisations of text). This simply means that no reading (not even the teacher’s!) can be considered the ‘correct’ one, as the text itself is not fixed and it literally grows with every reading.
Hyperfiction readers are aware of the fact that they are opening the textual track as they advance. As they sit in front of the computer, they are encouraged to fill in ‘indeterminacy gaps’ (Iser, 1971) in the information as they read (or rather, navigate) the text. Though they cannot change the author’s work, they can discover multiple combinations and can actually type notes on a ‘notepad’ as they read, responding to the information gaps in the text. The boundaries between reader and writer are then blurred and the authority of the authorial voice is partially transferred to the reader. The reader activates procedural skills to make sense not only of discourse (Widdowson in Brumfit and Carter, 1985) but of the constructive web behind it.
Hyperfiction in the EFL class
What contributions can this kind of literature make to a learner-centred classroom where literature is integrated with the teaching of English as a foreign language? How can the reading experience be integrated with writing and oral activities that are meaningful? What materials can teachers and students develop using hypertext-writing programs and applications?
At present, no hyperfiction materials seem to be available to suit the needs of EFL students whose standard of English is not considerably advanced. Pilot experiences in the use of hyperfiction with advanced EFL students (Ferradas Moi, 1998) suggest a few preliminary conclusions:
carefully planned pre-computer activity is needed to acquaint the reader with the necessary information and skills required to approach the new textual form (especially with groups who are not yet comfortable with the use of computers)
the computer-based activity can be frustrating: this is perhaps unavoidable when a new format is encountered, but it also means the teacher may want to select a hypertext which resembles traditional stories to some extent rather than a more radically ‘avant-garde’ one
the post-computer activity can become a true negotiation between different readers as to what ‘the text’ means: the teacher or workshop co-ordinator can count on information and opinion gaps that will encourage involvement and give rise to a number of meaningful language activities
this also encourages learner autonomy: hyperfiction reading involves commitment on the part of the students. They are responsible for their own reading, as they will have to retell their version and support their views with constant references to the reading they have ‘saved’.
the lack of a ‘correct’ version may be particularly encouraging for the more insecure students, who feel free to express their views
above all, reading hyperfiction and writing comments as the reader advances contributes to the development of metacognitive strategies: the learner is encouraged to reflect upon his or her own hypotheses and interpretive procedures and this process raises awareness of the reader’s expectations, reading style, the affective factors at play in the building of the textual web and the way this compares to the procedures used by others
according to the participants, as they read hyperfiction at home, the experience became even more exciting as they thought of the next meeting with the other members of the group: it seems that coming to terms with the text involves discussing it with other readers (which ensures motivation and encourages collaborative learning).
However, further research needs to be done to corroborate the preliminary conclusions listed above and explore their implications. In particular, it is necessary to investigate whether these statements apply to the needs of EFL students at lower levels of proficiency.
Apart from its value concerning awareness-raising, hyperfiction can lead to meaningful classroom activities, such as:
role-play activities (dialogues between characters in the different ‘versions’)
the meaningful retelling of a student’s reading – asking the others to provide ‘closure’ and then comparing their suggestions to the ending the student ‘reached’
highly motivating writing tasks, such as descriptions of one character as seen by different readers, or a series of letters (or e-mails) from one character to another, where a number of misunderstandings will be produced by the fact that characters have different information in each case.
It can also prove enlightening to surf through an online hypernovel, Geoff Ryman’s 253, www.ryman-novel.com, and then compare it to its printed version. Students may then want to read Chris Mitchell’s review for Spike Magazine (1998)) available at www.spikemagazine.com/0398_253.htm, to see whether they agree with the critic’s views and then e-mail their opinions to him. What Mitchell writes may remind the reader of several observation made above:
‘253 refers to the number of passengers which a London Underground tube train can hold, including the driver. The novel follows the pattern of describing each of the passengers on board in exactly 253 words, including their outward appearance and their internal thoughts.
With the electronic version, the reader can choose any passenger from which to begin reading and then follow how that character interacts with the other tube travellers by clicking the links provided. It's a curiously addictive form of storytelling, relying both on the illusion that the reader is shaping the story through choosing which links to follow, and the voyeuristic joy of finding out what people really think on the tube.
However, much of this joy is lost in the printed version precisely because there are no links. … With the absence of any real character interaction, this quickly becomes tedious. As Ryman himself admits in the introduction, “Nothing exciting happens in this novel. It is ideal fare for invalids”.’
Developing critical technological literacy
Can hypertext-writing programs be used for students to develop their own stories in class? Experimentally, I observed a class of five upper intermediate EFL students in Buenos Aires give that kind of program a try. Initially, we were worried by the fact that the task of writing a short hyperfiction piece involved the use of a hypertext writing program (Eastgate Systems’ Storyspace). However, students took no time at all to learn how to use the basic functions of the program. They showed an exploratory learning mode and those with better PC skills collaborated with the others, who, in turn, paid more attention to editing, though content rather than accuracy was the focus of students’ attention.
When they evaluated the experience, students found it motivating and did not think the program was an obstacle. According to the assessment interview at the end of the project, they had found the activity ‘original’ and ‘challenging’. However, they had also found it time-consuming and the results were disappointingly simple, with very few links except for those that led the reader down parallel lines in a forking structure.
The students took the whole idea as a game and seemed to enjoy it. They even wanted to go on working outside class, which means that if we could find ways of training students to use the hypertext program and give them enough time, we could begin to throw light on some of their hyper-reading and hyper-writing operations.
In fact, simple wordprocessors can be used today to establish links from one word to another or from one text to another. This can help students write their own creative hypertextual pieces or even develop critical insights into other texts they have read by establishing intertextual relationships between texts or with their own comments. These can then be uploaded on to a class web page for other readers to share.
These are just early attempts to develop the literacies demanded by new technologies. As educators, we should bear in mind that even though we may hail the advent of forms of technology that contribute to the achievement of a more democratic, learner-centred classroom, we must be aware of the implications this may have in the particular context in which we teach and learn, so I expect further studies to consider some of the questions hyperfiction raises:
How satisfying is the reading of a permanently inconclusive work? Can the frustration of finding oneself in the same lexia again and again be overcome with considerations on how the lexia can be interpreted in its new occurrence?
To what extent is the reader free to choose where he or she is going? How much manipulation on the part of the author is there when he or she determines where links lead? Can this help us become aware of the manipulative potential of hypermedia products on the internet?
Does hyperfiction really challenge our concept of narrative? Can we do away with the narrative line, or do we put the chunks together, jigsaw-puzzle style, only to reconstruct some form of narrative line?
What possibilities does hypertext offer for the development of new pedagogical practices and the design of innovative materials?
Can hypertext help us throw light on the metacognitive processes involved in reading?
How democratic is a form that depends not only on the access to computer hardware and software but on the necessary ‘know-how’, especially in countries where access and ‘know-how’ are still the privilege of a few? Does this contribute to McLuhan’s global village or to a world whose distribution of power (and empowering knowledge) is becoming more and more unfair?
Will screens ever replace books? How will a ‘reading artefact’ look, feel, smell... in years to come? And how is that likely to change our perception of the world in general?
How will hypertext negotiate its relationship with images and audience in attractive multimedia environments such as the internet?
Hyperwriting can help students reflect on and assess the new technologies, thus contributing to the development of critical technological literacy. ‘The credibility of designers / authors…is continually open for question and challenge by hyperreaders… To carry out such assessments, readers should be discouraged from a simple consumer orientation to the Web, to learn to distinguish simple information from linked information, which… implies a host of other assumptions and values; and to resist and suspect the seductive character of multimedia Web design […] A crucial aspect of developing this capacity for critical hyperreading is, I suggest, to learn about the mechanics of Web design / authoring itself.’ (Burbules, 1998, p. 118)
These are, of course, early steps in the development of new forms of textuality which pose challenges to readers, writers and educators alike. We have started weaving a virtual web, but must try to remember that ‘you cannot, with the Web, go where no one has gone before’ (Tchudi, 2000). Like the Lady of Shallot, we must take our boat and sail down to Camelot ourselves if the elusive fascination of the virtual is to help us become aware of our place in the realm of the actual. Otherwise, we may get caught in a Web that others weave for us – and the postmodern curse will fall upon us.
N.B. Sections of this paper were published in the following articles:
Hyperfiction: Explorations in Textual Texture. In IATEFL Literature and Cultural Studies SIG Newsletter, spring / summer 2002
Hyper-reading: facing the challenge of electronic literature. In Folio 7.1, MATSDA, U.K., January 2003
Further considerations on hypertext and materials design, with details on the experiences described in the paper, can be found in: Hyperfiction: Explorations in Textual Texture. In Tomlinson, B. (ed.) Issues in Materials Development for Language Teaching, Continuum, UK (2002)
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Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Saturday, March 18, 2017
Just read the decade+ old not-a-memoir, not knowing about the controversy until I was a only a few pages from finishing the book.
I have trouble believing any one who read didn't see through some of the details as hyperbole. The fact that so much of it was written as dialogue would have to clue the reader that this was a story about his experience, rather than his experience.
I remember thinking that it reads like a male version of Pretty Woman. And, I qualified much of what I read with a heavy dose of authorial creative license. That was the only logical way to read it. Still, I enjoyed the story of the author's stance against AA rhetoric. I revelled in hearing his preference for the Tao te Ching over the Bible. I was happy to have the 12 steps questioned as the ONLY solution for sobriety.
I read it as fiction, with a personal message, even before learning it had been incorrectly classified as a memoir in order to get it published. And I find it amusing that the media took it at face value.
Was it well-written? It was OK. The style was interesting, but obviously not interesting enough to stand on its own literary merit and be published as a novel. But as a memoir! It was a miracle? Jeez.
Where to catalog a book makes a big difference on where it sits on a shelf in a library. And the same goes for a book store. Publishers look at who is reading. Are people more likely to pick up a story about addiction in fiction or non-fiction? Publishers look at their catalogs. They have a surfeit of novels but not much selling as memoir. So they tweak it to fit what will sell.
As a naive, unpublished author Frey just went along with the hype to get it out there.
I'm sure reviewers (including Oprah) were embarrassed to learn they had praised the book based on a lower bar having been set for a memoir than a novel. To me, this speaks to our own hungers and needs to feed on the adversity of others more than our ability to judge a book by its cover. Yes, I find this disturbing. But not anything new.
Frey wrote something timely. Wrote it from his own experience, in his own voice. And, I believe, his experience of writing was an excellent example of an exercise in bibliotherapy. His fictionalized story was his confession. His confession was a catharsis. And the catharsis was instrumental in his recovery. I applaud the semi-autobiographical novel for its cathartic success, if not its literary merit. Read it as entertainment, rather than as how-to conquer addiction.
Memoir doesn't have to be a trainwreck in order for us to not look away. The writing itself can carry us forward, can provide the impetus of not being able to put a book down.
Frey as an inexperienced, but not untalented, writer served as his own fluffer. He couldn't get it up without overstimulation. "It" being the genius of an memoirist who not only tells a story, but tells their own story, with truth and beauty.
The publishing industry has to take the fall here. In the end, Frey's book speaks to his readers on their own level and conveys his message. For Frey, the success is in being heard. For the publishing community, the failure of categorical integrity resulted in financial success.
And the whole Oprah component, well, that WAS unfortunate...