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Response: The Garden of One Path – Print vs. Hypertexts

In the article “What Interactive Narratives Do That Print Narratives Cannot,” Jane Yellowlees-Douglas argues that hypertexts are, in effect, all interactive because one cannot unfold and participate in the story unless they have made certain decisions. She compelling asserts that hypertexts can do far more than printed texts due to the fact that the former do not have definitive starting and ending points, and that the story is partly written by the reader who chooses which path to follow. Though there are many good examples of such hypertexts in this article, Yellowlees-Douglas seems to dismiss printed texts on the grounds that the author ultimately decides how a reader must navigate through the story and thus how the story will unfold. This argument does not account for poststructuralist theories of reader-response criticism, such as those that Ilana Snyder addresses in her article. Yellowlees-Douglas insists that there is “only one path through all but the most experimental of print narratives” (44), yet this is not the case.

On the one hand, Yellowlees-Douglas argues that reading is no longer a passive activity, but rather, that readers are seen as “breathing life into the texts, reifying, or concretizing their possibilities” (42). She states that readers can create the text by receiving it, but only seems to equate this phenomenon to hypertexts, or interactive narratives (two terms she sees as synonymous). She defines “interactivity” as “mutual and simultaneous activity on the part of two participants” (42), presumably the reader and the author of the text, yet argues from the standpoint that only hypertexts can make this possible.

The issue with her overall argument, for me, is that she generalizes hypertexts as mediums that allow the creation of endless pathways of the reader’s choosing. She states, metaphorically, that print texts are a flowchart, while hypertexts are webs that can spread infinitely depending on the reader’s choices and decisions throughout. She does not take into account that a writer has already written all of the possible scenarios and endings, and that the only creative aspect available is the journey or order in which the reader arrives at any of those conclusions. The way in which each reader will arrive at their ending is completely unique, yet their creative participation is limited by the confines of the available pathways the author has already written. Simply put, they cannot choose to click on a link that is not there.

That being said, I argue that while hypertext readers are indeed involved in how the narrative unfolds, the same can be said for printed texts (i.e. Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire). This article wonderfully addresses many characteristics that could define hypertexts, but it treats printed texts exclusively as linear stories that offer no opportunities for the readers to participate in the construction of the narrative.

Works Cited: Yellowlees-Douglas, Jane. “What Interactive Narratives Do That Print Narratives Cannot.” The End of Books – Or Books Without End? Reading Interactive Narratives. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2001. 37-62. Print.

http://www.press.umich.edu/pdf/0472111140.pdf

About Judy

I am a digital media and posthumanism scholar researching how technology affects our conception of the body and helps us to redefine the physical and digital spaces we occupy. I am currently completing my Ph.D at the University of Waterloo.

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