Materiality (medium)  

The materiality of the text, any text, has an impact, whether we’re aware of it or not. Certain choices made by author or publisher can change the reader experience. The cover art, the font, the headers and footers, every aspect of design is included in the medium of expression. In postmodern print and electronic literature the materiality of the text is often highlighted, where, as Marshall McLuhan says, “the medium is the message” (19), or at least a significant contributor to the message.
            Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch is considered a print hypertext, or, at the very least, a precursor to hypertext, as it contains a linear novel in the first half of the book and nonlinear supplemental chapters in the second half. The reader must “hopscotch” back and forth between the linear and supplemental texts, the supplemental being numbered but not read in order (at the end of a supplemental section, the reader is told where to return to in the linear chapters. In Hopscotch, materiality contributes to the message, adds a layer of metaphor, while giving the reader options (two ways of reading the text), and making the reader a co-conspirator in the development of meaning. The “hopscotching” between sections of text also gives the reader reflection time, to contemplate the supplemental sections, often intertexual or ambiguous in point of view, in relation to the narrative.
            This time factor is also a contributing issue in hypertext and new media texts. “Murmuring Insects,” written by Otagaki Rengetsu and designed by Ingrid Ankerson, deals with the tragedy of 9/11, but makes the sound bytes and news clips bearable by adding a space where the reader can pause, catch their breath, listen to the calming sounds of crickets, with only the words, “earth, air” and “water.” Other “play and go” new media poems, where the reader begins and cannot pause the reading, is more linear, but the reader feels obligated to an indeterminate amount of time to finish reading the piece, unlike a print text they can put down at intervals.
            The materiality of hypertext influences other aspects of meaning based on interactivity, sound, visuals, movement. The pure fact that the reader is reading from a computer screen changes the text. Then to add links and interaction, perhaps scrolling or mouse-over effects, audio, pulls the reader/viewer inside the frame, makes them a participant, as they are in a print text like Hopscotch or Robert Coover’s “Heart Suit,” a story in a deck of cards, shuffled and read in any order by the reader, the physicality of the deck of cards emphasizing the story within it. Another text that creates meaning by emphasizing its materiality is House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski—it accomplishes a disorientation, a mystery with text, font, images, that could not be accomplished in an electronic medium. Additionally, in a print text, that brings with it certain reader expectations, defying these expectations in the very materiality of the text both draws attention to the materiality of the book, but also surprises the reader, encouraging them to perhaps reform certain beliefs about texts.