From page to screen: placing hypertext fiction in an historical and contemporary context of print and electronic literary experiments

Abstract (in English): 

Only recently has our perception of the computer, now a familiar and ubiquitous element of everyday life, changed from seeing it as a mere tool to regarding it as a medium for creative expression. Computer technologies such as multimedia and hypertext applications have sparked an active critical debate not only about the future of the book format, ("the late age of print" {Bolter} is only one term used to describe the shift away from traditional print media to new forms of electronic communication) but also about the future of literature. Hypertext Fiction is the most prominent of proposed electronic literary forms and strong claims have been made about it: it will radically alter concepts of text, author and reader, enable forms of non-linear writing closer to the associative working of the mind, and make possible reader interaction with the text on a level impossible in printed text. So far the debate that has attempted to put hypertext fiction into a historical perspective has linked it to two developments. Firstly the developments in computer technology that made hypertext not only possible but also widely accessible and secondly a tradition of postmodern theory, where characteristics attributed to hypertext echo concepts of fragmentation, multiplicity and instability that theorists like Barthes and Derrida have formulated previously and that have led to the notion of hypertext as an "authentic, yet functional postmodern form" {Roberts} A third element that is not generally subject to critical evaluation is the practice of (post)modern writing in which a number of authors consciously break with the linearity of print conventions in favour for a more fragmented narrative and presentation as well as actively inviting the reader's participation in what Barthes calls "writerly" text. There are two reasons why these "proto-hypertexts" have been widely ignored or dismissed: Hypertext is still widely define as exclusive to the electronic realm and is furthermore generally perceived in oppositional pairs in contrast to print, i.e. non-linear vs. linear and interactive vs. passive, which conceptually does not leave room for a study of an "evolution" out of existing forms of writing practice. By examining hypertext fiction in a context of print experiments (Cortazar, Borges, B.S. Johnson, Andreas Okopenko, Raymond Queneau, Miroslav Pavic, Italo Calvino) and also in a context of other forms of digital literary experimentation (collaborative projects and computer-generated writing), this thesis aims to, on a diachronic level, reincorporate hypertext fiction into an evolutionary (though radical) literary tradition and examines the manner in which concepts which originated in this tradition have been taken over often very literally and without much redefinition. On the a-historical, synchronic level, this study explores some of the possible formats for literature in the new electronic textual media: hypertext fiction, collaborative writing projects, computer-generated writing and the different challenges these present to our understanding of literature. After an introduction in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and 3 discuss two of the keywords of hypertext theory, its "grand narratives' (non-linearity and interactivity) and the appropriation of the terminology to hypertext theory and to hypertext fiction. Chapter 4 and 5 will look at alternative, though related, approaches to electronic fiction: Chapter 4 will examine aspects of collaborative writing in both a print and a digital environment while computer-generated writing stands at the centre of Chapter 5.

(Source: Author's abstract)

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Scott Rettberg