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Article 3: Hypertext and Critical Theory (Chp. 2 of Hypertext 2.0)

Author: George P. Landow

Source: Landow, George P. Hypertext 2.0. Baltimore, Md. : Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.



This chapter essentially gives us a number of approaches to visualising the concept of ‘hypertext’. This is done by providing a few key features/descriptions of hypertext. Those features are intertextuality, multivocality, decentering, the rhizome metaphor, and the concept of a network. It starts off by introducing Derrida’s conceptualisation of a text being constituted by discrete units or ‘bites’. Landow extends this to describe hypertext as a vast assemblage of units or threads, like in a web. Intertextuality talks about the connectivity of one text to other related ones, and that this is something that is made more explicit in hypertexts. The notion of multivocality stems from Mikhail Bakhtin’s ideas about the multivocal novel. In hypertext, there is no one dominant voice or viewpoint, but rather, the voice of the reading experience is ‘distilled from the combined experience of the momentary focus, the lexia one presently reads, and the continually forming narrative of one’s reading path’. Decentering refers to the absence of a center of focus in a text. This means that the reader can be truly active, in the sense that he can use adapt his own interests as the organising principle at all points in the text as he progresses. Hence, he is able to re-center his reading experience infinitely. The rhizome metaphor explains how we can think of the ideal hypertext as a ‘rhizome made of plateaus’, where it consists of parts, in a network-like structure, that do not involve individual culmination points. This overlaps with the point regarding the model of a network in hypertext. It goes further to say that such a model implies a rejection of notions of linearity in the text. There is also a discussion of the future of the book and the linear model, with reference to how electronic media has affected these, to round off the chapter.



I chose this text because I felt that addressing the convergence of critical theory and technology in hypertext is central to my topic. I wanted to have some idea about the features of hypertext before I can try to match them with the literary notion of a writerly text, and see how the former can be a realisation of the latter. I felt that the organisation of this chapter, around those five key points, was clear and rather direct to these needs. The most useful bit of information I gathered was that regarding the rhizome metaphor described above. It gave a detailed mapping of the qualities of a rhizome/network, which I found to be very true indeed of hypertext in general. It mentioned things like a rhizome being acentered, nonhierarchical, with multiple entryways and exits, etc. This was in line with the notion of hypertext being more like a map instead of a tracing. But there was a part in the chapter that I found to be contentious and too lengthy: the discussion of the Marxists’ belief that network was representative of error. It seemed to degenerate into an argument about the Marxian or pre-Marxian concept of society. I felt that this could be good background material, but it was not very relevant to a discussion of hypertext. Overall, though, the article was still an eye-opener. After all, Hypertext 2.0 is supposed to be ground-breaking!

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