Walking the Line

“The human mind… operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain.” –Vannevar Bush from “As We May Think”


            In the introduction to his book Hyper/text/theory, George P. Landow, one of the leading hypertext theorists, said that both poststructuralist print literature and hypertext grew “out of a dissatisfaction with the related phenomena of the printed book and hierarchical thought” (1). Similar to Dadaism, which rose from a post-WWI culture, postmodern literature developed in the post-WWII era, a response to Modernism and the Age of Enlightenment, a move towards existentialism, and a general frustration in developing original ideas—a feeling that everything had already been written. What postmodern authors sought to achieve was something new, to close the subjective gap between reader and author, and play with elements such as point of view, structure, and plot-driven narrative. They were expressing, as Heidegger says, “what beings as a whole are” (83). According to Raymond Federman, author of postmodern fiction and criticism, the postmodern text aspires to “denounce the language that continues to perpetuate lies and illusion” (Clavier 44).

In the introduction to Hyper/text/theory, Landow also states that:

Hypertext, an information technology consisting of individual blocks to text, or lexias, and the electronic links that join them, has much in common with recent literary and critical theory. For example, like much recent work by poststructuralists, such as Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, hypertext reconceives conventional, long-held assumptions about authors and readers and the texts they write and read. (1).

He also asserts that, “The very idea of hypertextuality seems to have taken form at approximately the same time that poststructuralism developed” (1). In “The End of Books”, Robert Coover, a postmodern author himself, says that “Most poststructuralists write from within the twilight of a wished-for coming day; most writers of hypertext write of many of the same things from within the dawn” (707). So although electronic texts are those composed for and to be read in an electronic medium, they share many techniques with postmodern print texts, often nonlinear, and both, as Landow says, reconceive these assumptions of authors and readers.

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