The Contingencies of the Hypertext Link

Critical Writing
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This negative disposition of hypertext travel language is a subsidiary effect of its function as metaphor. The resemblance of the activity of threading through a complex document to that of forecasting a ship's route, or guiding its rudder, is based on a process of approximation common to both processes. (It's a critical cliché, but perhaps not unproductive to point out here that the root meaning of "metaphor" is grounded in shift, displacement, movement, etc.: "metaphor," from Latin, metaphora, Greek, metapherein, to transfer, to carry [pherein] something from one place to another.) "Navigation" implies movement and a changing proximity to a destination. The movement should be, as I mentioned before, intentional, and the proximity should, ideally, increase, but navigation as a strategy undertaken to bring you closer to a goal happens only during the journey, not once you get to where you were going. Each moment of the journey-as-navigation is conditioned by the deferral that shapes its entire trajectory. Movement qualifies as navigation, not because it's undertaken with a goal in mind, or because it brings you closer to your destination (though it is always measured against an end that progresses logically—teleologically—from the point of departure), but because you're not there yet.

To read the link as purely a directional or associative structure is, I would argue, to miss—to disavow—the divisions between the threads in a hypertext. "Missing" the divisions is how the intentionality of hypertext navigation is realized: the directedness of the movement across the link constitutes a kind of defense against the spiraling turn that the link obscures (Harpold, 1991, 181, n6). What you see is the link as link, but what you miss is the link as gap.

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Scott Rettberg