Hypertext and Electronic Literature

Welcome back. I hope you all enjoyed your holidays despite our current travel limitations. In my last blog I briefly touched on the choice to navigate hypertext and make the reading experience a little more interactive. This week I’ll expand on that.

According to Astrid Ensslin and Lyle Skains hypertext is a term that encompasses a kind of electronic document structure containing digital media, files, and documents, in an interactive network that can be navigated through hyperlinks (296). As we all know now, hypertext is written in Hyper Text Mark-Up Language, or HTML (Ensslin and Skains 296). This enables the reader to access works in a distinctive way to encourage greater interactivity. As the story unfolds the reader chooses what will be read next by opening a new ‘lexia’ or text screen.

“Map of Hypertext Criticism” by Stacey Mason is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0  and can be accessed at https://ccsearch.creativecommons.org/photos/69f1be53-73ca-4a88-9214-366252a99d27
“Branches” by kevin dooley is licensed under CC BY 2.0 and can be accessed at https://ccsearch.creativecommons.org/photos/c9320db2-0f72-4414-945a-f654d6745144

In creating my Twine narrative, I encountered the non-linear aspects of hypertext and contemplated the advantages and obstacles presented. My original narrative was structured in the straightforward linear way of stories with a beginning, middle and an end. However, I had to change direction when working with Twine. Thus, I opted for a game-like number of dead ends where the reader is required to return to earlier texts to find alternate pathways. However, this interrupted the flow of the narrative. Perhaps a longer story would solve the issue.

Electronic literature, or E-lit, might be defined as works that offer a literary facet and are created using the resources and environment offered by the computer. According to Jessica Pressman in her article Navigating Electronic Literature hypertext is an example of a navigational structure and one of the earliest and most prevalent forms of E-lit. It stems from early texts in print such as Tristram Shandy created by Laurence Sterne (1759). ‘Literature,’ in the case of E-lit, is distinct from ‘literary’ as texts included may be without the written word. However, these texts do allude to language or literature in some way (Rettberg 171).

Pressman notes that the frustration involved in navigating hypertext along with the exploration of electronic literature can highlight differences between the non-digital and digital worlds to engender questions. This brings us back to Belinda Barnet’s In the Garden of Forking Paths: Contingency, Interactivity and Play in Hypertext where it is noted that, although artists might view the computer as created in conflict, hypermedia offers an opportunity for marginal senses to explore embodied ways of reading. This might be a form of human to computer interactivity and participation as the reader clicks on various hyperlinks to engage with the work. One of the works I particularly enjoyed looking at this week was my body – a Wunderkammer by Shelley Jackson which gives voice to difference through procedural storytelling in an altered space

The large slabs of writing tell a story about the artist’s body through clicking on hyperlinks and body parts. The text is formatted strategically around illustration to incorporate a spatial aspect along with the sound of breathing as you enter. Thus, the text is multimodal as well as non-linear. The engagement of multiple senses here may offer greater opportunity for involvement and immersion. Although a reader is never literally transported to the story realm, the representation of an alternate world can be constructed within the reader’s mind (Thon 271).

For those of us who are keen to explore outside of tradition, we might reflect on hypertext and the way it is different to traditional literature and art. Is the text a disruption to convention? Is there really any way to step away from the conventional in a historically and culturally coded language system? When artists explore these ideas, does this diversion encompass a move away from what we have known into a place where the marginalised can be seen and heard as a recognition of our human differences? This brings us full circle to reflect on last week’s blog and the work of Anna Anthropy which addressed the lack of diverse experience in the gaming world. Perhaps we can only continue to try.

Ensslin, Astrid, and Lyle Skains. “Hypertext: Storyspace to Twine.” The Bloomsbury Handbook of Electronic Literature. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.

Rettberg, Scott. “Electronic Literature.” The John Hopkins Guide to Digital Media, edited by Marie-Laure Ryan, et al., Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.federation.edu.au/lib/ballarat/detail.action?docID=3318802.

Tabbi, Joseph, ed. The Bloomsbury Handbook of Electronic Literature. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017. https://web-b-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.federation.edu.au/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=16f0bb20-a3a1-4c87-850c-52f710e60869%40pdc-v-sessmgr01&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=1619242&db=nlebk

Thon, Jan-Noel. “Immersion.” The Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media, edited by Marie-Laure Ryan, et al., Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.federation.edu.au/lib/ballarat/detail.action?docID=3318802.


4 thoughts on “Hypertext and Electronic Literature

  1. You clearly have an understanding of the modern pundits’ attempts to differentiate e-lit from more traditional forms. Barret’s article excepted, these writers seem to want e-lit to be a new and radical form of expression, but actual experience of the e-lit itself shows that it s a new and radical form of plotting, but each lexia within the lit itself sticks to the same rules of quality literature that we’ve come to know and love, and to a lesser extent analyse.

    You clearly understood more of Barret’s article than I did. Still find it barely intelligible and think it’s major problem is that it makes a didactic statement without supporting it. It’s been opined that it’s written in the same style as an e-lit piece but then printed in conventional style, but it still should able to make a coherent point. It seems that it has to you.

    ‘Lexia’ is a convenient and useful term. I’ve been using ‘screen’ and ‘passage’ to refer to people’s games, but I’m still up against the difficulty of citing a particular lexia when I want to refer to something. I en dup having to give them a context, as in ‘the bit where the monkey reeals that he is the detective’ or something like that.

    Are all these terms just aids to further clogging the maelstrom of literary criticism out there, or could they be used practically to improve the quality of e-lit itself?


  2. Your discussion on electronic literature is very informative! I appreciate how you’ve really meditated on the ideas looked at in class and applied them to your own experiences with Twine. Perhaps your narrative doesn’t need dead ends to work as a Twine game? There are many non-linear stories out there, did you ever read a book as a kid that had the little comments on the bottom of certain pages, that read ‘to go left, turn to page 103, to go right and eat a watermelon, turn to page 2’? The title and author escape me right now, but I’m sure a quick Google search would unveil a multitude of examples! I played a Twine game called ‘The Temple Of No’, it doesn’t have any dead ends but is non-linear. If you haven’t already, maybe check it out? It could give you some new ideas!


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