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Hypertext, the begining…

The emergence of hypertext is kinda expected if we look at the computer history and the history of literature in general. One of the first use of hypertextual arrangements can be traced in ancient scripts in the form of comments (Derrida talks a lot about these comments) beneath the main text. They are “explaining” or referring to other texts.

Literature always knew to find it’s way through increasingly challenging audience. Stephan Mallarme wrote his  “One toss of dice will never abolish chance“, perhaps the first truly hypertextual poem.  After that 19th century experiment, not until the second half of the 20th century did the notion of hypertextual writing came to spotlight again.

Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Garden Of Forking Paths” explores the possibilities of multi-dimensional  writing and creating. To me, it represents a spiritual predecessor of modern hypertext. Borges’ occupations were always in the liminal zone of something that will later become more easily accomplishable with the development in information and computer technology in general, and that is the obscurity of words, labyrinths of meanings, mirrors and duplicates and their relation to the so called originals.

The development of new media marked the emergence of new writing technology. That change is similar to the change in the Gutenberg Galaxy, of which McLuhan speaks. Bolter detects a new economy of writing (Bolter, 1991). Just as late medieval boom of literature and literacy changed the economy and culture of Europe, the emergence of electronic literature and computer interaction in general is once again changing our reading habits. But there is much more to that. As some theorists notice, hypertext is changing cultural and political sphere (Moulthrop), and is changing our understanding of text, as our semiotics of the text more specifically (Manovich) .

Digital text is nonlinear (text in print is almost always linear) , is variable (traditional is fixed) and perhaps most importantly, it is not just replicable, but alterable, convertible. All of this traits are somewhat in debt to the computer’s algorithm. It does what human cannot. It changes text’s path, way of unfolding and linking different lexias. Lexias are standard textual units but are accessible in nonstandard way (by linking, most commonly). The development of World Wide Web enabled hypertext production to quickly gain it’s momentum through sharing and linking on the Internet. It can be seen as “upgraded” Gutenberg Galaxy, in terms of speed, distribution and accessibility.

Michael Joyce’s Afternoon, A Story (1987) is considered to be a first truly hypertext story. Many more followed, but never really gained popularity of their printed counterparts (Danielewski’s “House of Leaves”, most notably).

Lev Manovich would not stop on hypertextual research. In recent years, he began working with something very similar, yet one step further in developing human generated art.  He called it Soft Cinema, as an abbreviation for Software cinema. How does it carry on where hypertext stopped, can it be considered hypertext and what does it mean for future cinema production, I will try to answer in the next post.

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April 4, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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