Hypertextual

In a marvelous hypertext essay Adrian Miles both elucidates and models the hypertextual.

His reflections dance around the rhetoric of the link . He argues that use value and realism have over-determined our understanding of the way the link works or should work in hypertext writing. Miles points to a more open way of conceiving links and hypertextaulity:

Links are moments of risk in writing and reading.

When writing in a manner that we might characterise as ‘hypertextual’, that is, a writing in which the materiality of hypertext is not confused with the convenience of electronic dissemination, the link always remains open as a point of possibility….

The link does not require, need, or even recognise a codified set of rules for what may or may not be linked, either in terms of origins or destinations. To this extent the link always presents itself as a virtual outside to the codified norms of language, that is to grammar, syntactic organisation, and rhetoric.

For the reader, the link is also a moment of risk. This risk is that of comprehension and of readerly control. To follow a link is to surrender, in that moment of choice, control to a system whose logic of operation and connection remain unknown. A link is, then, in such a system, little more than a roll of the dice, and just as the dice may have a small set of outcomes (let’s say one in six), the particular outcome remains unknown in each instantiation. A link always operates like this, and for the reader this excess is a bet made with, and for, each link followed. That its force has been colonised by an existing model of writing [realism] is not surprising, as these qualities of the link move it outside of the system and processes of writing as we have ordinarily conceived them to be and so remain largely invisible to such systems.

Miles argues that hypertext works by analogy not traditional argument and negation; that it is more akin to a visual language than to traditional forms of writing.

This is a fascinating paper and is well crafted to show the delightful risks and gifts that hyperlinking can produce. It points to a different way of doing academic writing and warns that if we must just import our existing models of writing and criticism into online/digital environments then we are missing a great opportunity.

Miles work is much more developed than the type of structure that you would produce in a blog however it provides an interesting theoretical background for thinking about academic blogging as both a writing and research space. For one hypertext essays tend to link within whereas blogs tend to link out to other sites. However if we conceive of a research blog as a continuing hypertext essay we might work to thoughtfully linking backwards and forwards to our own as well as other’s posts.

Part of the freedom of blogging is its currency and its security as a space where anything from brief notes, first thoughts and links, to more worked-up essay style postings can live together. However we can also actively mine this archive and draw it together in the way that an artist gradually shapes a collage through the addition of other elements that juxtapose in some meaningful or surprising way with the forms that are already present.

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