Both critical theory and hypertext have mutually theorized and informed each other in redefining textuality, narrative, and the roles and functions of reader and writer. Ilana Snyder’s “Reconceiving Textuality” examines this convergence of hypertext and critical theory, something that both don’t seem to be aware of. Hypertext theorists and critical theorists have common interest of denouncing “center, margin, hierarchy, and linearity to replace them with multiplicity, nodes, links and networks” (in Snyder 39).
Snyder points out that postmodern theories, particularly reader-response theorists and deconstructionists, contributed to the ideas of “decentering” the author and readers as authors. Also, postmodern theory of language—that language is not a hierarchy but a web of relationships—by Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, and Fish has in common with hypertext. Their ideas move us away from “arborescent” model of order and hierarchy to “rhizomic” model of a network of relationships and nodal connectivity, the metaphors Deluge and Gauttari used to describe postmodern relations.
Unlike most printed books, which typically lead us from first page to the end progressively, electronic texts disrupt the progress, and in a way, revive the intertextual, digressive, and associational features of orality that were suppressed by the print medium (Ong). We should note, however, that hypertext “is not wholly devoid of linearity” because “intelligibility in language demands some kind of sequence” (qtd. in Snyder 46).
2. Text as Network
The network metaphor can be traced back to Barthes’ distinction of work and text. Whereas the “work” is defied body of writing bound in physicality, bearing author’s name, sanctioned by a tradition; text is a web of language which connotes distribution, expansion, development, and plurality.
3. The Open Text
Printed book continues to impose closure and coherence, and it is territorial. Hypertext has no defined borders and no center. To be in the marginal in hypertext is only provisional.
4. Dispersal of Text
Electronic text is continuously various and dynamic as it permits correction, updating and modification.
Hypertext relies on the idea of textual interdependence.
6. Multiple Beginnings and Endings
Beginning logically follows ending, later time, place and action (Said), with beginning expected to come first. In the hypertext, however, there can be multiple openings and multiple endings.
7. Decentering the Text
Hypertext disrupts the convention of using footnotes and endnotes and does not assign differential status to the “main” text and others. Barters’ S/Z, which critically questioned the power relations between text and “subsidiary” parts, was an important contribution to the evolution of hypertext.
Snyder, Ilana. “Reconceiving Textuality.” Hypertext: The Electronic Labyrinth. New York: New York UP. 1996. 39-60. Print.