Hypertext & The Outhouse

“It’s time for a reality check. Hypertext is not, and has never been, all that. Electronic literature is a tiny field and mostly, no one cares about it, except for a handful of endlessly bickering insiders. Maybe 200 people in the world are even marginally interested in the academic arguments….From the outside, though, it looks a bit like cursing a toilet manufacturer for providing the pot you shit in. If you felt better back in the outhouse, why not simply use that instead?” Diane Greco (no permalink; 24 Feb 2003)

Hypertext & The OuthouseDiane Greco)

I enjoyed Greco’s rant. Let me note first that she means something very specific when she refers to “electronic literature” and “hypertext” — she means what I would call “canonical literary hypertext” or “that set of commercial hypertexts that tend to be studied in graduate seminars on hypertext theory,” rather than the kinds of hypertext that millions of people encounter every day on the Web. Her conclusions suggest that critics who are unhappy with the state of literary hypertext should go back to what they were doing before hypertext came along. (This is how Mark Bernstein misreads my position, BTW.) But there are other alternatives — such as looking at other kinds of cybertext that has not been oversaturated with scholarship. I’m thinking about computer games (particularly interactive fiction) and weblogs. While Espen Aarseth’s Cybertext was written before the blogging boom, it offers a very thoughtful survey of a wide variety of different kinds of creative electronic texts. I tell my students to rent Landow’s Hypertext, but I make them buy Aarseth’s Cybertext and Killian’s Writing for the Web.