Saturday, November 5, 2011


In "Hypertext and Critical Theory," one of the points concerning hypertext on which Landow chooses to quote the pervasive Derrida is the status of the book: "The form of the 'book' is now going through a period of general upheaval" (Derrida in Landow 47). Hypertext, Derrida (and by association, Landow) claims is the rising star of the textual world, due to its fewer limitations.

Looking at how the publishing industry (and a number of others) is being swiftly dominated by electronic media, I would say that the E-book is doing for print what a timely meteor shower did the dinosaurs, only more slowly and with less mercy. Although bookshops are still to be found (for now), I'm already grieving for this dying format. One day books will make kids do double-takes of the kind inspired by the record in the mp3 age.

"Hypertexts," Landow writes, "relate directly to performance, to interaction" (41). The E-book does offer more interactive advantages than the book; Project Gutenberg, for example, allows for a range of text connection, whether you want to find a collection based on their topic, publication year, authors, or even language. The same would be true for any quality E-bookstore. In a traditional library, you are obliged to wander adventurously on your own or get help from a Dewey Decimal-savvy librarian.


  1. I'm wondering how one could relate the discussion of genre to what you are saying about E-books. How are literary genres changing (if at all) as books are changing to fit a digital format? If genre is an "aspect of social action" (Miller 153), then what social action is being shown by the advent of E-books? I don't know if I can really answer these questions, or even if they are the right ones, but it does seem as though text is already changing to fit new digital media. When a book is not in paper, it can link directly to the entire virtual world. Knowing this, authors of E-books will perhaps be inclined to use this relationship to encourage their readers to look beyond the boundaries of their own writing, and explore more connections in the virtual world. And it is this virtual world that has contributed to the existence of E-books in the first place. Thus, the way that text is created affects both writers and readers, causing a shift in the dynamics of genre.

  2. Miranda, the point you make about the age of E-books and iPads creating a digital genre is a great example of the evolution of Miller's "conventionalized social exigence". Miller talks about the different levels of motives that drives genre, noting how "motive becomes a conventionalized social purpose within the recurrent situation" (162).

    The direction we are heading as humankind is created by what Burke describes as "motives and relationships generic to all mankind" (162). As human intelligence pursues further technological breakthroughs, it changes boundaries and illuminates connections.

    Take for instance Daniels' project, "Public Secrets." By presenting the piece in an online format with interactive, visual, and vocal features, Daniels can seek out a specific transaction that enhances how the audience perceives the content.

    So to lend some thoughts to your question about what the advent of E-books symbolizes, I think it's the evolution of another hierarchy of genre. More and more people everyday are getting "mac-ed" up (having the Mac brand in all equipment such as iphones, macbooks, ipads etc). The Apple corporation has transformed from computer software designers to the top sellers in phone gadgets. This is a development through social action. Similarly, the E-book will change the interface between readers and text. As we enter a highly technology-driven age, so too will our methods of communication.

  3. Vanessa, Miranda, and Gabe: what an interesting and fruitful exchange so far, precisely because of the critical demand it places on "evolution" and "genre."

    I'll jump in only a bit to refocus on a passage that Vanessa pulls from Landow's essay, which seems important as I reread it: hypertexts relate to performance and interaction. It seems as if Landow might be describing hypertexts as resonant of reader-response theory, or, as changing and change-able according to the responses they elicit and the uses to which they are put. This describes a slightly different model of change than just temporal, chronological, material, etc. I'm very interested in how this model of change works. That may be one reason why Landow doesn't seem to make the argument that technologies alone always change our texts, although he does explicitly discuss ways that texts, genres, and users are impacted by the technologies they use.

    It would be interesting to scan his essay again and determine how much that idea is reinforced (if it is), so that we have a clearer idea of what Landow means when he writes that hypertexts have the potential to inspire literary historical models that function based on synchronicity and structural interactions (as opposed to simple evolution).

    I would also have to consider whether Landow's claim aligns with, or intersects, or contradicts the very mechanisms by which Miller says genres change. It doesn't seem difficult for us to accept that a text affects its users and that in turn shifts genre. But is this Miller's entire claim? To simply say that one causes the other, and to simply say the more gadgets we have, the more we change our habits seems to undercut the potential for agency that Miller sees in genre. So this is where I'm hoping to unpack both texts with a bit more depth.

    Could it also be possible that genres (and the values they promote) in turn affect our need to create, circulate, and theorize texts at all? I would covet anyone's help in answering this question.

    -Prof. Graban


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