The End of Books

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Abstract (in English): 

Coover's "The End of Books" essay in the New York Times significantly introduced hypertext fiction to a wider literary audience. The essay describes that ways that hypertext poses challenges for writers and readers accustomed to coventional narrative forms, including assumptions about linearity, closure, and the division of agency between the writer and reader.

Pull Quotes: 

Much of the novel's alleged power is embedded in the line, that compulsory author-directed movement from the beginning of a sentence to its period, from the top of the page to the bottom, from the first page to the last. Of course, through print's long history, there have been countless strategies to counter the line's power, from marginalia and footnotes to the creative innovations of novelists like Laurence Sterne, James Joyce, Raymond Queneau, Julio Cortazar, Italo Calvino and Milorad Pavic, not to exclude the form's father, Cervantes himself. But true freedom from the tyranny of the line is perceived as only really possible now at last with the advent of hypertext, written and read on the computer, where the line in fact does not exist unless one invents and implants it in the text.

Although hypertext's champions often assail the arrogance of the novel, their own claims are hardly modest.

With hypertext we focus, both as writers and as readers, on structure as much as on prose, for we are made aware suddenly of the shapes of narratives that are often hidden in print stories. The most radical new element that comes to the fore in hypertext is the system of multidirectional and often labyrinthine linkages we are invited or obliged to create.

How does one resolve the conflict between the reader's desire for coherence and closure and the text's desire for continuance, its fear of death? Indeed, what is closure in such an environment? If everything is middle, how do you know when you are done, either as reader or writer? If the author is free to take a story anywhere at any time and in as many directions as she or he wishes, does that not become the obligation to do so?

Critical writing that references this:

Title Author Publisher Yearsort descending
Pushing Back: Living and Writing in Broken Space Stuart Moulthrop MFS Modern Fiction Studies 1997
Bookend; www.claptrap.com Laura Miller The New York Times 1998
Hyperfiktion und interaktive Narration Beat Suter update verlag 2000
Creating Screen-Based Multiple State Environments: Investigating Systems of Confutation Donna Leishman 2004
Expressive Processing: On Process-Intensive Literature and Digital Media Noah Wardrip-Fruin 2006
On Reading 300 Works of Electronic Literature: Preliminary Reflections Joseph Tabbi On the Human, Transcript 2009
Techno-historical Limits of the Interface: The Performance of Interactive Narrative Experiences Andrew Hutchison 2009
Remediating Stretchtext Mark Bernstein 2010
Digital Literature: Theoretical and Aesthetic Reflections Luciana Gattass 2011
Generating Books: Paradoxical Print Snapshots of Digital Literary Processes J. R. Carpenter 2011
Electronic Literature Seen from a Distance: The Beginnings of a Field Jill Walker Rettberg Dichtung Digital 2012
E-Borges: Stuart Moulthrop’s Victory Garden Álvaro Seiça Op. Cit.: Revista de Estudos Anglo-Americanos/A Journal of Anglo-American Studies 2012
Theorizing Digital Narrative: Beginnings, Endings, and Authorship Jennifer Roudabush 2012
A Literatura Factorial [l!] Álvaro Seiça Edições UFP 2013
The Politics of Plasticity: Neoliberalism and the Digital Text Davin Heckman Electronic Book Review (ebr) 2013
Writing Coastlines: Locating Narrative Resonance in Transatlantic Communications Networks J. R. Carpenter 2014
Autorschaft und digitale Literatur: Geschichte, Medienpraxis und Theoriebildung Heiko Zimmermann WVT - Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier 2015
The American Hypertext Novel, and Whatever Became of It? Scott Rettberg Routledge 2015
Aurature and the End(s) of Electronic Literature John Cayley 2015
First Half-Century of Electronic Literature at Brown Robert Coover, Robert Arellano 2019

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Jill Walker Rettberg