Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hypertext and Narrative: The Death of the Author?

Conventionally, one thinks of the author as a creator of text. The driving force behind a literary work, and in particular the narrative, is the author. The traditional narrative utilizes a linear structure, and the author writes in the order that he percieves the reader to follow the text. While we have discussed agency extensively in class, it is undeniable that the the narrative empowers the author as the dictator of fiction. The writer determines structure and form, and the writer leads the reader through the text. While the reader may be responsible for taking away meaning from the text, the groundwork is layed by the author. As we enter the age of digital technology, however, we must start to think about the function of the writer that produces digital texts. As we saw in Daniel's "Public Secrets," the linear model of the typical narrative all but dissapeared, and the author was reduced to an organizer. The author simply serves as the individual that compiles the relevant substance of the work, and the reader is the one that determines how to navigate the intricate web of information. Of course, "Public Secrets" is not a typical narrative, but it is indeed an example of hypertext.

Landrows "Hypertext and Critical Theory" discusses the role of the author quite extensively in relation to hypertext. Borrowing the term from Barthe, I would like to propose that hypertext, especially in the digital realm, may indeed by the death of the traditional author. Hypertext is the end of the hiearchial and linear organization of text, the depletion traditional frames and even inviting in endless possibilities of influence within. Derrida's influence in hypertext theory is of importance, as Landrow states that he "understands that electronic computing and other changes in media have eroded the power of the linear model and the book as related culturally dominant paradigms" (pg. 470). But what does this mean for the author, and his function within the narrative? More and more, it seems to point to the direction that digital media is heading...No longer are narratives bound to the physical limitations of pages, reliant on the author for structure. Digital media and computing can empower the reader with this task.

While it is somewhat of a stretch, I would like to use videogames as an illustration. Today, many games follow storylines. The videogame designers (the authors) construct the story line and provide the arena for the players to follow the story through gameplay, but the player (the reader!)is ultimately the individual that decides how to navigate the game. The game is not bound by a linear structure. I use this analogy because I feel that the role of the author in hypertext merely works to organize and produce a loose structure of narrative, but ultimately has little to no say in how the reader interprets or navigates the text.


  1. I find the example of video games intriguing although, unlike Daniel's "Pubic Secrets," the reader is going to reach the author's intended conclusion despite taking detours in the game play. Foe example, "Dead Island" is an open world game that allows the player to navigate an island pretty much on their own terms; however, this navigation is strictly guided along by a set narrative and in order to progress key things have to be done. This is the author (or authors) directing what the player must do in order to extend the plot, which usually (note: not always) leads to a set conclusion.
    With Daniel's "Public Secrets," the reader is in control and depending on a reader's motives, what is taken away from the project can vary. The type of reader is important. Is it a student trying to get a taste of what hyper text is or someone keenly interested in the project itself. The reader does not have to navigate the entire project to understand what Daniel's goal is. It becomes rather obvious early on as the frames of the hypertext shift from 'inside' to 'outside,' and as you point out, it is the reader that assumes control over the process, generally focusing on the things that draw attention.

  2. Daniel, I don't think the video game is a stretch. It's a good way to think of an audience in a new way. It's actually quite interesting, because video games tend to try to put the player in another world and let them do what they never could do in real life. The player feels like the honest-to-goodness author, because doesn't the author get to control the characters? And yet, I didn't feel much like the author as I scanned through "Public Secrets." I even had more freedom within the work, but I didn't feel like I had more power.

    When I say freedom, I'm talking about a lot of what Ricky said about the reader eventually doing what the author intended.There's nothing that you can "miss," really. When you play a video game you can run in circles and hit the "a" button for half an hour and be just fine, but you're not going to get anywhere and you're definitely not going to win the game that way. When the creator of a game sits down to come up with the "story" concept, I doubt if he says, "Let's make it so this guy can run around like an idiot for 30 minutes." You didn't do what the author wanted you to, and in turn you don't get to the outcome that the author intended.

    This is interesting because "Public Secrets" gives me that freedom while allowing me to get something out of it. I could sit and stare at "Public Secrets" for half an hour without touching my computer and be able to have a productive experience that I imagine the author intended. I don't feel like I have the power of deciding what to do because I know that, just by clicking on "Public Secrets," the author intended for me to have my own experience. There is no other power to overthrow. The author of "Public Secrets" handed me that freedom on a silver platter, and that might be why I feel little of the power I feel when I play a video game. I don't control anything. I just see what I want to see.

  3. I agree that hypertext plays seriously into the "death" of the traditional author. I took a pop culture class last spring, and we frequently used comments posted on blogs, Youtube, hulu, etc. What is significance of this is that it open up discussion of concepts beyond those writing in academia. While the value of some statements made in these hypertext may not have been as high... (well I guess it would be how you defined value)

    anyway, what hypertext in our society has done is level the playing field on discourse. On the internet, my comments on youtube go up with that of people of all different backgrounds (culturally and academically) but if I posted something next to Prof. Graban, there would be nothing to distinguish it, at least at first, until the person actually read it.

    It actually happens on the blog sometimes, I'll be reading a comment the whole time thinking it belongs to a classmate only to see that its from Prof.

    There seems to be something about reading text online that disarms us. I'm guessing it's because we dont take the same expectations towards how we are supposed to read the words we see as we do when you open a difficult novel or something


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