loved Moby Dick. She embraced the novel as a miracle of creativity
and originality. She especially loved the way Melville managed to
weave references from other texts into a unified fabric. Determined
to trace the origins of every reference embodied in the book and
further prove Melville's genius, Kathleen started with the opening
line's reference to Ishmael derived from the Genesis account of
Abraham's rejected son and worked page by page and line by line.
A thousand references later, she had finished her preliminary work
on the first chapter.
before her were notes and passages from hundreds of texts. Kathleen
felt like she had pulled at one small thread and had unraveled the
entire fabric of the first chapter. She couldn't make any sense
out of the independent threads, and she could no longer read the
first chapter as a unified whole. All she could see were the threads.
What's more, Kathleen could no longer read any text without either
noticing or suspecting that they, too, were nothing but the loose
threads of a thousand references woven carelessly together. Then
she began noticing threads in the spoken language of those around
her. Her quick and agile mind made instant connections in casual
conversations to television shows like Friends, The Simpsons
and Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. The lack of creativity, the lack
of originality weighed on her heart, plagued her mind, troubled
now lives on a small farm in Iowa that she tends herself. She never
speaks aloud and never entertains guests. She used to have a number
of farm animals on the place, but now she's sold them off as well.
She began suspecting that the animals were endlessly referencing
the powerful implications of a Text created by an Author and specifically
designed to transfer knowledge deeply and directly to a Reader.
What an incredible communication device! Once the Text is crafted
it can communicate for centuries to any Reader who picks it up.
The Author becomes immortal through the Text, and the Reader inherits
the wealth of all recorded human thought.
view of the text is founded on several assumptions. First, there
is the assumption that the author who wrote the text is conveying
a level of truth or revelation that cannot be conveyed by anyone
else. The author is the authority on the matter. Second, there is
the assumption that a text can contain the exact representation
of the author's thought in a form that can be easily transferred
to others. Third, there is the assumption that a reader takes no
active role in the communication process other than trying to understand
the author's exact meaning. All three of these assumptions are flawed.
Theuth, the whole Theuth and nothing but the Theuth
Phaedrus, Plato identifies Theuth as the father of writing. Theuth
claims that his invention will make people wiser and improve their
memories. Plato argues that writing will do the exact opposite.
It will make people think they're wise when they're not, and it
will encourage forgetfulness.
also warns that a text apart from its author is problematic. A text
may seem to communicate as if it were the author speaking, but if
you ask a text a question it can't answer. It just goes on saying
the same thing over and over forever. What's more, a text without
its author is subject to the interpretation of the reader. Ten different
people can interpret the same text ten different ways. Without the
author to defend it, a text is at the mercy of its readers. Plato's
arguments address the second and third assumptions implicit in the
linear communication model of author to text to reader. The text
cannot be an exact representation of the author's thought, and the
reader has power over the meaning of the text. But what about the
first assumption? Is an author, any author, no matter how intelligent
or learned, the final and single authority for any given text?
idea that a single author can produce an original and definitive
work is relatively new in the annals of human history. For thousands
of years before the invention of writing, stories were considered
the possession of a community not an individual. Oral cultures passed
stories from person to person and embellished here and there over
time. The "author" of such stories was unimportant. A story took
form and dimension as it was shared many times by many people. Stories
that struck a chord with the community were passed to the next generation.
Stories that didn't quite hit the mark or did not embody some bit
of tribal wisdom were forgotten.
were made between individual stories within a community, and these
linkages created a web of meaning that through generations became
the foundation of the community's religion, philosophy and history.
Oral cultures understood that stories were collaborative works,
fabrics woven by the community over time into one seamless garment.
Oral cultures understood the hypertext before hypertext existed.
Internet is built on hypertext. One document links to another via
a single word or thought. If you surf the texts of the web, you
start with a single passage or page and click to a hundred different
web sites with a hundred different but related thoughts. On the
Internet the idea of a single definitive statement on any given
subject doesn't have meaning. Experienced users understand that
there is an entire web of related ideas, positions, thoughts, arguments,
and theories that contradict, support, deny, and defy each other.
No one has the final word. There is no single author with the single
answer on any topic.
maybe it's always been this way. Consider the possibility that every
written work is a hypertext, a fabric of many works woven together.
Despite how original, unique or authoritative any text might appear
to be, it's really a hypertext with links into hundreds or thousands
of other works. If we could see the complete dimensions of a Shakespeare
play, we would see the links to all the works that influenced Shakespeare,
whether these works were written or spoken, cultural or experiential.
we could see the hypertext dimensions of a single sentence and could
diagram that sentence not based on grammar but based on meaning,
we would follow the words in that sentence to other words in other
sentences and words in those sentences on to other words in yet
other sentences. We would see the great and fearful truth that all
texts are hypertexts. Nothing is original. Everything is built on
what about you? What are you? Are you an original, unique human
being? Or are you a hypertext? Are you free of the influences that
have shaped your life or are you an intertextual amalgamation of
your parents, friends, teachers, books you've read, shows you've
watched, religions you've believed in, things you've experienced?
Can you speak an original thought or are your words linked to the
words of others which are linked to the words of yet others?
my part, I've accepted my fate. I am a hypertext, and this article
is not one, unified article. It's a hypertext incorporating what
I've heard, learned, feared, and experienced. I'm okay with that.
I feel a deep and abiding connection with the texts I'm part of.
With the words of the past and present. And it won't end there.
My words are also woven into the fabric now, and they will remain
a part of this great and powerful garment of humanity both now and
in the future.
© 2000 Kevin Giovanetto All Rights Reserved
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