banks are like cathedrals, Since casinos took their place."
really know what the above lyric means, but it sounds so good. Did
the casinos replace the banks, or did the casinos replace the cathedrals?
It's not really clear. Maybe casinos replaced cathedrals in that
people are now worshiping money, gambling on fate rather than trusting
God. If so, then why are the banks now like cathedrals? The banks
house money, so there is some connection between casinos and banks.
That's about as far as I can take that interpretation. Or maybe
the lyric is saying that casinos replaced banking, so gambling is
now considered as conservative as investing, and investing is so
conservative that it is considered medieval worship, and cathedrals
are so conservative they don't even exist anymore. What we have
here is a great pop lyric that makes a lousy meaningful sentence.
hypertext literature is a wonderful subject for discourse, theory,
and intellectual hobnobbing; but in the final analysis, there's
really not that much to it. Insofar as hypertext binds the Web together,
it's wonderful. Insofar as hypertext allows multimedia Web art to
function, it's great glue. Insofar as hypertext comprises a new
literary genre, it's about as riveting as those "write your own
story" books that came out when I was a kid ("If you choose to fight
the dragon, turn to page 72. If you choose to elope with the maiden,
turn to page 287").
Dadaism, some things are better in theory than in execution. The
iconoclastic idea of Duchamp's urinal as art is much more impressive
than the urinal itself. And of course, that was Duchamp's point.
Likewise, the elaborate theories expounded on interactive novels
and stream-of-consciousness-enabled poetry make much better reading
than the hypertext poems and novels themselves. Jorge Louis Borges
foretold interactive literature in his 1941 short story, "Examen
de la Obra de Herbert Quain" from the collection Ficciones
. The story itself is not interactive literature; instead, it
is faux criticism of a piece of non-existent interactive literature.
Even back then Borges must have known what I've recently come to
suspect: Critical theory of non-linear text is much more fun to
write and read than non-linear text itself!
many a progressive online literary magazine might not agree with
me, but I have two good objections: 1) Text yes, but why hyper?
and 2) Hyper yes, but why text? Catchy, concise, and very, very
linear. I'll present these two objections later down the line, but
exactly is hypertext?
Web has inundated our culture with reams of new technologies and
communication paradigms over the last five years. Consequently we're
so overwhelmed with buzzwords, we can't tell a neo-media environment
from an interactive literary community. (Or was it net banking,
or did online casinos take their place?) So what exactly is hypertext?
is just text that links. OK? That's it.
has been written about the wondrous paradigm-shifting nature of
"the linking event." For example, isn't it interesting how the human
mind interprets the Web as a place? We feel we are hopping from
site to site, when in reality, we are merely requesting different
documents from different machines, and those documents are being
sent to our machine while we don't move at all.
See how tempting it is to expound on the depths of the interactive
Web experience? Here I am writing an article trying to debunk our
overblown fascination with hypertext, and even now I am succumbing
to the temptation. Theorize on, dear friends. I won't cast stones.
without the Web and its resources is really nothing much. Tim Berners-Lee
originally invented HTML to allow physics researchers to communicate
with each other via the Internet in a way beyond mere e-mail and
file transfer protocol. Tim's purpose for adding the hypertext element
to his markup language was twofold:
I have a table of contents at the beginning of my long physics paper,
I no longer have to say "Chapter 5: Non-linear experiments in fluid
dynamics (p. 45)." I can merely link all that text straight to page
45, and leave out the reference to page 45. So hypertext was originally
meant to save its readers the trouble of having to "flip through"
the digital pages of their digital documents.
in my physics paper I want to refer to another physics paper, and
I know the location on the Internet of that other paper, I can send
my readers straight to that other paper via hypertext. Let's liken
this function to using the yellow pages, except instead of reading
a number from the Yellow Pages and dialing it into a phone manually
(the old ftp method), you simply press the number right there in
the directory itself, and the phone number is dialed for you (the
new HTML method). Sure, a great time saving device, but an advancement
know what Berners-Lee's Hypertext Markup Language spawned, namely
Ye Olde Web. But note, Berners-Lee wrote his markup language for
research papers and physics databases. Is there a difference between
reading an instructional manual and reading a novel? You bet. The
former is non-linear, and the latter is linear. And necessarily
#1: Text yes, but why hyper?
subscribed to a theory of organic poetry which I find instructive.
It's been a while since college, and I'm grossly oversimplifying,
but basically Wordsworth says that every piece of a poem should
be essential, adding to the whole. A poem should be constructed
so that if any bit were added or removed, it wouldn't work. Furthermore,
a poem should be organic like a flower is organic. A poem should
begin as a seed and proceed into full blossom so that each part
rightly relates to the parts which precede and follow it in sequence.
A good poem should grow from beginning to end. In other words, linear
cohesion is part and parcel of good poetry.
back to middle school plot diagrams, you've got your initial incident
which builds to a climax and then falls to a resolution. It's left
to right, in a sequence, in a line. It actually is a line, come
to think of it. And why is it that good poems and good stories by
their very nature tend to be linear?
answer has to do with the nature of existence, space, and time.
We exist in a sea of millions of possible future events that may
or may not happen. Every day we wake up and begin bringing into
existence a series of those possible events, turning them from the
possible into history, and stringing them together in a chronological
line. We call this activity "life." We enjoy stories and poems about
life that proceed from beginning to end, because we live life in
time from beginning to end. Tension and release are the essential
elements of pleasure. "Will such and such happen? I'm waiting...
I'm waiting, Yes! It did happen!" So great writing is writing that
presents a meaningful mediated "life experience." And since our
life experience is linear, non-linear writing is less likely to
be great writing.
have the burning desire to describe several possible linear life
experiences? Write several novels. Otherwise, your single hypertext
novel will just wind up having the dramatic impact of the end of
Wayne's World. If there's more than one ending, then there's
really no ending at all.
like Groundhog Day are amusing because they ask, "what if
life weren't linear?" But note, Groundhog Day is still a
linear movie commenting on non-linear/cyclic possibilities. If every
time you watched Groundhog Day the movie itself changed order,
how would that increase the impact of the narrative? (I dare say
the same holds true for Joyce's Portrait of the Artist, stream-of-consciousness
as it may be.) Once again, a linear analysis of a non-linear event
proves more compelling than the non-linear event itself. Was Bill
Murray's character enjoying his non-linear life in Groundhog
Day? Or was his life very disorienting and frustrating? Most
non-linear writing is just that: disorienting and frustrating to
read. Are you into near-Broadway impromptu theater where actors
throw fruit at you and verbally berate your grandmother? Do you
enjoy that kind of paradigm-shifting avant-garde experience? Then
curl up to a cozy hypertext novel and suck marrow, baby.
#2: Hyper yes, but why text?
to teach a class on Web site design at a two-year technical college.
When we got to the "make a site with whatever you want on it" phase,
everybody wanted to write about their cat. Second only to the pet-glorification
sites were the hypertext poem/essay sites. "Look, I wrote a poem
where one word in the poem links to a second page with an entirely
new poem based on that first word. And look, in the second poem
there is another word where if you click on it..."
reason my students were drawn to these hypertext poems was that
we hadn't yet gotten to graphics. Once they knew how to create and
incorporate images in their pages, the hypertext poems suddenly
seemed old-school. That's the way I feel about hypertext literature.
With so much media converging on the Web, why not use the Web's
interactivity to do something other than merely write words?
piece of interactive art (apart from the universe) is the CD-ROM
"game" "Riven." If you're going to ask me to forge the outcome of
your art, then at least make me the main character and give me some
moving objects and people to look at and listen to so I can have
some virtual fun. In other words, make a fully mediated world and
drop me in it (vis-ą-vis Nell's primer in Neil Stephenson's The
Diamond Age). Otherwise, I'll just continue to enjoy the media-rich
interactive experience that is my life, while occasionally reading
Robyn Miller, the primary creator of "Riven," has now gone into
linear filmmaking. His reason? Greater control over one's narrative
leads to the construction of a greater narrative. There's no chance
your viewer is going to wander into a corner, or go out of order,
or never arrive at the main point. You can choose the one plot that
most communicates your message, hone that plot for maximum impact,
and then present it with the assurance that if your viewer doesn't
get it, it wasn't for your lack of trying.
"Riven" rocks my world. I do get it. I also get and enjoy many interactive
multimedia Web installations. Yes, interactivity does immerse and
involve me in art by empowering me, but what exactly is it that
I'm empowered to do? Am I empowered to blend various audio loops
and in so doing create a correspondent video collage? (See Peppermint
Lounge). Am I empowered to modify a surrealistic landscape by
tweaking various controls that are themselves part of the ever-changing
landscape? (remember the old snarg.net?) Or am I merely empowered
to wander around a few discrete word chunks that I can only read
but can't rewrite or influence in any major way? The first two interactive
multimedia scenarios empower me to co-create my own unique immersible
experience, the last raw hypertext scenario empowers me to be disoriented
final analysis, hypertext literature may prove to be the deconstructivist
critic's secret fantasy realized: a literary genre better known
for its literary criticism than for its actual literature. Personally,
I'd rather pore over obscure U2 lyrics. How are banks like cathedrals?
Let me count the ways...
© 2000 Curt Cloninger. All Rights Reserved.
Cloninger lives at lab404.com
. He likes his art with a bit of beauty to it. Anything else is
just an idea.
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