The end of linear writing is indeed the end of the book, even if, even today, it is within the form of a book that new writings -- literary or theoretical -- allow themselves to be, for better or for worse, encased. It is less a question of confiding new writings to the envelope of a book than of finally reading what wrote itself between the lines in the volumes. That is why, beginning to write without the line, one begins also to reread past writing according to a different organization of space. If today the problem of reading occupies the forefront of science, it is because of this suspense between two ages of writing. Because we are beginning to write, to write differently, we must reread differently.
Does this mean that hypertext might be best thought about not by means of images of great systems but with Derrida's deconstruction, which is an errant descendant of Hegel's dialectic that glories in incomplete wholes and interrupted necessities? Deconstruction emphasizes the lack of totality and closure in any form. The line tends to become encrusted with its preconditions and with meta-comments and amplifications. Suppose it dissolved into them? Imagine a text that became nothing but footnotes and marginalia referring to one another. (It sometimes seems that contemporary deconstructive texts aspire to this status.) This text would say many things at once without granting primacy to any of them. Could this text still be philosophy?
to Derrida, "the form of the `book' is now going through a period
of general upheaval, and while that form appears less natural, and its
history less transparent, than ever . . . the book form alone can no longer
settle . . . the case of those writing processes which, in practically
questioning that form, must also dismantle it." The problem, too,
Derrida recognizes, is that "one cannot tamper" with the form
of the book "without disturbing everything else" (Dissemination,
3 ) in Western thought. Always a tamperer, Derrida does not find that
much of a reason for not tampering with the book, and his questioning
begins in the chain of terms that appear as the more-or-less title at
the beginning pages of Dissemination: "Hors Livres: Outwork,
Hors D'oeuvre, Extratext, Foreplay, Bookend, Facing, and Prefacing."
He does so willingly because, as he announced in Of
Grammatology, "All appearances to the contrary, this
death of the book undoubtedly announces (and in a certain sense always
has announced) nothing but a death of speech (of a so-called full
speech) and a new mutation in the history of writing, in history as writing.
Announces it at a distance of a few centuries. It is on that scale that
we must reckon it here" (8).
Hypertext, an information technology consisting of individual blocks of text, or lexias, and the electronic links that join them, has much in common with recent literary and critical theory. For example, like much recent work by poststructuralists, such as Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, hypertext reconceives conventional, long-held assumptions about authors and readers and the texts they write and read. Electronic linking, which provides one of the defining features of hypertext, also embodies Julia Kristeva's notions of intertextuality, Mikhail Bakhtin's emphasis upon multiivocality, Michel Foucault's conceptions of networks of power, and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's ideas of rhizomatic, 'nomad thought.' The very idea of hypertextuality seems to have taken form at approximately the same time that poststructuralism developed, but their points of convergence have a closer relation than that of mere contingency, for both grow out of dissatisfaction with the related phenomena of the printed book and hierarchical thought.
Wittgenstein and Barthes rejected linear argument, but not the physical form, the "look and feel," of the printed book. The reader picks up their books, opens to the first page, and reads in the conventional way. Some writers have extended their attack to the typography of the book itself, creating antibooks that disrupt our notion of how a book should look and behave before our eyes. Glas (1974) by Jacques Derrida is such an antibook. Each page of Glas is divided into two columns: the left offers passages from Hegel with comments, while the right is a commentary on the French novelist Genet. Paragraphs set in and around other paragraphs and variable sizes and styles of type give the page an almost medieval appearance. There is no linear argument that spans the columns, yet the reader's eye is drawn across, down, and around the page looking for visual and verbal connections. And the connections seem to be there, as words and sentence fragments refer the reader back and forth between Hegel and Genet. Thus, an isolated passage in the right column of the first page seems to be referring both to the text and to the reader's response: "Two unequal columns, they say, each of which - envelops or encloses, incalculably reverses, returns, replaces, marks again, cross-links the other" (p. 7). In Glas Derrida lays down a textual space and challenges his reader to find a path through it. Whatever else he is doing, Derrida is certainly writing topographically, as if for a medium as fluid as the electronic.
You will have to excuse my ignorance of hypertext theory. But any theory that claimed that hypertextuality somehow realised the supposed aims of deconstruction must be mistaken. Deconstruction does not have aims in any standard sense, and even on a construal that thought it did have aims (to bring about something called 'textuality', or some such thing), hypertext could not be said to realise those aims. Hypertext exploits some features of textuality that traditional forms of writing tend to conceal (to state it quickly, a degree of non-linearity, but I don't think any hypertext is simply non-linear) or even repress (the order of the Book), but these features do not automatically make it the deconstructionist's dream come true. Indeed, hypertexts can just as well be presented as a fulfilment of a metaphysical view of writing ..., driven by the Idea of an absolutely accessible Encyclopedia of all knowledge. There's nothing to be rude about in that: there's a perfectly respectable and welcome use of hypertexts to make scholarship less like hard work, for example, and so to free up time for thought (I hope and trust there'll one day be a CD hypertext version of Derrida's work, for example).
On the other hand, hypertexts also allow possibilities for writing which can be germane to deconstruction: my own very limited experiments would stress their *interruptive* rather than their *encyclopedic' possibilities (though I suspect the two go closely together; maybe no accident that Derrida's arguably most hypertextual text, Glas is provoked by Hegel...): I like the traditionally pedagogical possibilities of hypertext, but I like more the possibility of a sort of programmed unpredictability which would go beyond the user-friendliness that hypertexts are also good at. In principle, the network-structure of hypertexts should make possible (or more tangible, perhaps, because I don't think one needs real hypertexts for this) a sort of dispersive reading which I think I've always in fact practised more or less shamefully.
P. Landow on gram and link:
Derrida on his own Of Grammatology:
". . . the moment when I wrote Of Grammatology was the moment
when I felt that something became, not clear for me, but something began
to give me an access to what a dominant interpretation of writing had
been in Western culture and philosophy. That's an event for me, in my
intellectual history: when all the texts I had been reading . . . helped
me to have, to some extent, a coherent vision of Western culture and its
relation to writing and speaking.
"... the electronic medium can demonstrate easily what Derrida could
only describe laboriously in print - or attempt to embody in the elaborate
typography of Glas." (Writing Space, 166)"