George P. Landow


in Geoffrey Nunberg, ed., The Future of the Book (Berkeley; University of California Press, 1997), pp. 209-237. [Figures to be added]

1. Already there


Predicting how we might move beyond the book requires, first, that we recognize ways we already find ourselves there. Most readers of a phrase like "beyond the book" might assume that since books define much that seems most precious about our intellectual culture, such "beyondness" could refer only to some fearful state that lies far ahead in the future. Glancing before ourselves now, however, reveals not an impossibly distant prospect but one waiting for us -- as Max Headroom, the science-fiction TV series, puts it -- "twenty minutes into the future."


Until recently such a possibility meant exclusively moving into the analogue world of television and video and not, as it has increasingly happened, into the world of digital words and images - into, that is, an information technology comprising computerized text, images, sound, and video stored and read on geographically dispersed computers joined to form networks. In many ways, we have, for better or worse, already moved beyond the book. Even on the crudest, most materialist standard involving financial returns, we no longer find it at the center of our culture as the primary means of recording and disseminating information and entertainment. The sales of books and other printed matter, for centuries the center of our technology of cultural memory, now have fallen to fourth position behind the sales of television, cinema, and video games. Video games, that child of the digital world, only recently displaced the book in third place on this list.


Since I have raised the crude, materialist factor of economics, let me point out another material instance of the way we find ourselves already beyond the book. As I have pointed out elsewhere (Landow 1995: 3- 6), when many people first encounter the notion of electronic textuality and electronic books, they point out that reading on a computer screen - itself a transitory means of reading e- text - lacks many of the pleasures offered by the printed book. Certainly, no one who has

page 209


experienced the comparatively coarse resolution offered by most computer monitors would disagree with the obvious shortcomings of present- day computer technology, but many people who make this point do not stop here but proceed in such a way to make clear that their standard of comparison is not the books they actually encounter but rather some ideal utopian book, which in practice they never read and most contemporary students have never even handled.


A characteristic example of such illusions about present relation to the printed book presented itself at "Beyond Gutenberg," a conference held et Yale University in the spring of 1994. There Edward Tufte, the famous graphic and information designer, reminded his audience how many sensual pleasures books offer that computers do not. To make his point, he lovingly displayed Ben Jonson's own copy of Euclid, and his remarks made quite clear that he presented this leather- bound volume from his own collection as the standard against which reading on computer screens should be judged. Upon the briefest consideration, using this exquisite, association- laden object to represent our experience of books appears intensely problematic. First, as everyone in the audience immediately recognized, this book, unlike most we use, is a unique object, an object quite unlike almost all we encounter in our daily experience of reading.


Taking the experience of American undergraduates today, a group of readers who read surrounded by analogue and digital information technologies of radio, cinema, television, video, and computing, we have to ask, "What kind of books do they experience?" and the answer has to be not the kind of books I did when, more than three decades ago, I was an undergraduate. Going to my college bookstore, I encountered hardcover anthologies, paperbound books, and inexpensive hardbound editions, such as those issued by Modern Library, Everyman, and the Oxford Classics. Today students still encounter comparatively expensive hardcover textbooks and anthologies, to be sure, and many of these, particularly in the physical and biological sciences, seem better illustrated and designed than those of my day. Many of the texts I assign, however, are paperbounds characterized by narrow margins, typographical errors, and tiny type. Anyone who has used such paperbacks can testify to the fact that many of them begin to collapse, break apart, and drop pages during the week in which they are assigned. In ascertaining the present and future position of the book in our culture, one must recognize the way most students today actually encounter the

page 210


printed book as object. For them it offers not the sensual pleasures of the well- designed, well- printed, well- bound morocco volume of our ideal. Even more important, rather than embodying the relative permanence and sheer solidity so apparent in Jonson's Euclid (or, not to reach as high for an example, in clothbound Knopf editions of Wallace Stevens), books embody ill- designed, fragile, short- lived objects.


A good bit of undergraduate reading in America, moreover, does not involve books at all. Since the invention of xerography, instructors, by necessity, have increasingly cobbled together their own anthologies of reading materials, often driven by the fact that long- used texts and anthologies have gone out of print. Ironically, at the very time that computer- based design tools have placed elegant book design within reach of the smallest publishers and book producers, the rise of these nonbooks offers ugly, undesigned, heterogeneous assemblages as a model for the reading- object. These cobbled- together nonbooks assemble collections of texts in different typefaces, design, reference conventions, and even page orientation. Such on- demand compilations play an increasingly important role in the reading experiences of many young adults today, and to them the book has lost both most of its aesthetic stature and its sense of solidity and permanence. Many of our students, in other words, have already found themselves somewhere beyond the book as solacing object and cultural paradigm. Which is not to say that they have moved beyond it to something better, to something that in any way surpasses Tufte's leather- bound volume. Instead, they have lost much of the experience of the book as we recall - and occasionally idealize - it.


We have also moved beyond the book in yet another way, for if by book we mean an object composed of printed pages of alphanumeric text between hard or soft covers, then many works until recently found only in this codex form have indeed moved "beyond" this form. Diffficult as it is for those of us who professionally work with books, whether as student, teacher, researcher, or writer, a great many - perhaps most - books do not contain literature, the arts, history, or even the sciences and social sciences. An enormous number of codex publications take the form of railroad and other schedules, regulations, parts and price lists, repair manuals, and the like. Even library catalogs, which in the Bodleian and British Museum still take the form of books, in most libraries long ago metamorphosed into file drawers of written and printed cards and have now increasingly moved into

page 211



the digital world. All the strengths of electronic text, including adaptability, infinite duplicability, and speed of transport, make these changes ultimately a means of saving time, energy, and other resources, particularly paper.


What implications does such a shift from physical to digital have for the culture of the book? Will it essentially leave unchanged the way readers consider novels, poetry, and nonfiction, or will the fact that such works no longer always, or most conveniently, exist in book form in some way make the book as a form, as a means of reading, and as a destination for writing seem a trifle archaic, a bit, well, self- consciously high culture? Each form of physically recording a text has its peculiar strengths and weaknesses, to be sure. What, then, are those associated with the new digital technologies of cultural memory?


An indication of some of these costs and benefits appears if we consider Tufte's warnings about the shortcomings of digitization. From his point of view, one of the chief problems in computing lies in the coarse resolution available on contemporary computer screens. Holding up an exquisitely printed map from the eighteenth or nineteenth century, he claimed that such printed sources of information have a resolution thousands of times finer than that available on standard monitors. Tufte is correct: at present inadequate screen technology means that information on computer monitors cannot come close to providing the resolution or aesthetic pleasure provided by such (albeit rare) printed documents.


Of course, this matter of resolution is not the entire story, and to Tufte's fine- grained map I would like to juxtapose an example of an electronic one that more than makes up for its comparatively poor resolution by offering interactivity, adaptability, and ease of obtaining the information required by individual users. My example comes from the Berlin U- Bahn, or subway system, which now offers travelers a touchscreen guide that exemplifies the strengths of computerized information. The traveler in need of information encounters a first screen with images of different kinds of public transportation and directions in three languages to begin. Touching the first screen produces another that permits one to choose Dutch, English, French, German, Polish, Spanish, or Turkish versions (fig. 1). At this point one can request information about U- Bahn stations, stations plus bus stops, street addresses, or special destinations. Choosing "Special Destinations", one receives a choice of embassies and consulates, museums, places of

page 212



Figure 1. The adaptability of materials created with electronic media appears in this hypertext travel planner in the Berlin U- Bahn, which permits users to monfigure the system to use one of several languages offered.


interest, theaters, concerts and events, hotels, universities, hospitals, and so on. Touching "Museums" produces a screen divided alphabetically; choosing B produces a list of which the first six entries are "Bauhaus Archiv, Berlin- Museum, Berliner Handwerkersmuseum, Berliner Kinomuseum, Berlinische Galerie," and "Bodemuseum." Pressing one's intended destination brings up a series of screens that permit one to indicate the date and time of day one wishes to travel. At this point, one receives a simple diagram indicating the station from which one departs, any necessary changes, and the scheduled times of arrival and departure of all trains involved. If dissatisfied with the resulting plan, one can request alternate routes; if satisfied, one prints out one's route and schedule (fig. 2).


Figure 2. Combining paper and electronic media, the Berlin U- Bahn Kiosk permits the traveler to print out a paper copy of an agreed- upon route.


page 213



One can also use the U- Bahn Kiosk to plan one's travel to individual street addresses.


As this example shows, a computerized information source, which forms the digital analogue to a set of street maps, subway and bus schedules, and so forth, offers ample gains to make up for its obvious losses. Although attractively designed, it does not have, and does not need, the printed map's fine- grained detail, which it trades for vastly greater ease of use and increased information. The comparison of the printed map to the digital travel planner reminds us of several key matters, the first of which is that translating such information resources into computer form produces something quite new. The digital resource boasts speed, ease of use, and adaptability, and where these are crucial factors, they will allow it to displace the printed reference. Returning to Tufte's comparison, one also realizes that fine- grained detail does not always equate either to more information or to more easily usable information.


For the reasons displayed by the Berlin U- Bahn Kiosk, electronic text seems certain to displace certain kinds of printed matter, even that in books, though not, to be sure, those upon which most at this conference have directed their attention. Nonetheless, we must recognize the changes that take place, both because they remind us more fully what is included in the notions of "book" (and moving "beyond" it), and because they suggest the extent to which people will increasingly turn to nonbooklike objects for their textual information.


2. Printed books are technology, too


As these last remarks indicate, we have already moved far enough beyond the book that we find ourselves, for the first time in centuries, able to see the book as unnatural, as a near- miraculous technological innovation and not as something intrinsically and inevitably human. We can, to use Derridean terms, decenter the book. We find ourselves in the position, in other words, of perceiving the book as technology. I think it no mere coincidence that it is at precisely this period in human history that we have acquired crucial intellectual distance from the book as object and as cultural product. First came the distant hearing - the telephone - then the cinema and then the distant seeing of television. It is only with the added possibilities created by these new infor-

page 214



mation media and computing that Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Jack Goody, Elizabeth Eisenstein, Alvin Kernan, Roger Chartier, and the European scholars of Lesengeschichte could arise.


Influential as these scholars have been, not all scholars willingly recognize the power of information technologies upon culture. This resistance appears in two characteristic reactions to the proposition that information technology constitutes a crucial cultural force. First, one encounters a tendency among many humanists contemplating the possibility that information technology influences culture to assume that before now, before computing, our intellectual culture existed in some pastoral nontechnological realm. Technology, in the lexicon of many humanists, generally means "only that technology of which I am frightened." In fact, I have frequently heard humanists use the word technology to mean "some intrusive, alien force like computing," as if pencils, paper, typewriters, and printing presses were in some way natural. Digital technology may be new, but technology, particularly information technology, has permeated all known culture since the beginnings of human history. If we hope to discern the ways in which we might move beyond the book, we must not treat all previous information technologies of language, rhetoric, writing, and printing as nontechnological.


A second form of resistance to recognizing the role of information technology in culture appears in implicit claims that technology, particularly information technology, can never have cultural effects. Almost always presented by speakers and writers as evidence of their own sophistication and sensitivity, this strategy of denial has an unintended effect: denying that Gutenberg's invention or television can exist in a causal connection to any other aspect of culture immediately transforms technology - whatever the author means by that term - into a kind of intellectual monster, something so taboo that civilized people cannot discuss it in public. In other words, it takes technology, which is both an agent and an effect of our continually changing culture(s), and denies its existence as an element of human culture. One result appears in the strategies of historical or predictive studies that relate cultural phenomena to all sorts of economic, cultural, and ideological factors but avert their eyes from any technological causation, as if it, and only it, were in some way reductive. The effect, of course, finally is to deny that this particular form of cultural product can have any effect.

page 215



We have to remind ourselves that if, how, and whenever we move beyond the book, that movement will not embody a movement from something natural or human to something art)ficial - from nature to technology - since writing and printing and books are about as technological as one can be. Books, after all, are teaching and communicating machines.


3. From physical mark to code


These new digital information technologies involve fundamental changes in the way we read and write, and these radical differences, in turn, derive from a single fact, the shift from the physical to the virtual. As I have explained elsewhere:


Text- based computing provides us with electronic rather than physical texts, and this shift from ink to electronic code - what Jean Baudrillard calls the shift from the "tactile" to the "digital" - produces an information technology that simultaneously combines fixity and flexibility, order and accessibility - but at a cost. Since electronic text- processing is a matter of manipulating computer- manipulated codes, all texts that the writer encounters on the screen are virtual texts. Using an analogy to optics, computer scientists speak of "virtual machines" created by an operating system that provides individual users with the experience of working on their own individual machines when they in fact share a system with as many as several hundred others. Similarly, all texts the reader and the writer encounter on a computer screen exist as a version created specifically for them while an electronic primary version resides in the computer's memory. One therefore works on an electronic copy until such time as both versions converge when the writer commands the computer to "save" her version of the text by placing it in memory. At this point the text on screen and in the computer's memory briefly coincide, but the reader always encounters a virtual image of the stored text and not the original version itself; in fact, when one describes electronic word processing, such terms and such distinctions no longer make much sense. (Landow 1992: xx)l


All such moving beyond the book derives directly from a single defining characteristic of the digital word. Unlike all previous forms of textuality, the digital word is virtual, not physical. Earlier kinds of text required physical marks on physical surfaces. The image, sign, letter, or number was scratched into a physical surface, such as stone or clay, or written upon a surface with some sort of pigment. These marks, which so obviously created a visible physical record of invisible sounds, provided a technology of cultural memory that, as Plato and

page 216



many others since have pointed out, has had defining effects on human culture. However fragile the written record, it nonetheless marks a wonderful freezing of something otherwise evanescent, and from the time of the ancient Eygptians, authors have often believed that written records of speech conferred a kind of permanence and immortality upon the writer of those words.


Many other technological inventions mark the history of information technology from the development of writing to that of the printing press. These include the inventions of the alphabet, scrolls, the codex, and inexpensive writing surfaces. Printing, the appearance of which marks a great dividing line in human history, represents the next great landmark in information technology. Printing adds two major qualities to the written, physically existing text - multiplicity and fixity - that have enormous consequences for the way we conceive of ourselves and our culture. The printing press creates large numbers of copies of essentially the same text. As McLuhan, Eisenstein, and others have argued, these effects range through fundamental conceptions about education, scholarship, intellectual property, and the self. To take a simple example, the availability of many copies of the same text not only, as Benjamin realized, removed the aura of the unique object, it also fundamentally changed the way people think about preserving information. The keeper of manuscripts tries to slow their inevitable degradation (which is caused by being read) and the consequent errors introduced by copyists. The person who would preserve information in a manuscript age does so by preventing readers from having access to the text, since such readers inevitably lead to its destruction. In an age of printing, the person who would preserve a text does so, in contrast, by disseminating it as widely as possible.


Each form of physically recording a text has its peculiar qualities, qualities that often have far greater cultural effect than might at first appear. Even something as apparently trivial as the availability of relatively inexpensive writing materials can have unexpected, and unexpectedly great, effects. The great cost of writing surfaces led scribes to cram in as many letters as possible, so that written text omitted spaces between words. This economic factor made reading an act of decipherment, a craft skill generally available only to a few. The introduction of inexpensive writing surfaces led, around the year 1000, to interword spacing, and that crucial invention permitted reading silently, which, in turn, led to our modern notions of a private, interior self.

page 217


What are crucial, defining qualities, then, of the new digital technologies of cultural memory? One, above all, stands out: whereas all previous forms of writing involve physical marks on a physical surface, in digital information technology writing takes the form of a series of codes. The resulting textuality is virtual, fluid, adaptable, open, capable of being processed, capable of being infinitely duplicated, capable of being moved about rapidly, capable, finally, of being networkable - of being joined with other texts.


All fundamental characteristics of the world of digital information derive directly from this shift of modes - a shift made apparent, one realizes, by the fact that one never reads the text "itself," since that record resides invisibly in the computer's memory. Instead, one reads a virtual version of that text on a screen or other display device. By removing the text one step from its physical instantiation, a number of changes occur, the most obvious of which is that the difference between the text and object on which it appears becomes starkly clear. As literary theorists have emphasized for decades, one must distinguish between the text itself and its physical embodiment in a particular delivery vehicle, reading site, or machine. Digital information technology permits us to perceive that books, printed books, are machines just as are computers that handle or present text.


Once textuality abandons the simply physical form of earlier writing, it also abandons some of its relations to economy and scale. For example, one can reproduce a digitally stored text an indefinite number of times without in any way affecting it, lessening it, wearing away at it. Duplicating a manuscript requires that one expend an amount of time and energy similar to that expended in the creation of the text one wishes to copy. Duplicating a text by printing it with metal type or cast plates offers far greater economies of scale, but eventually the metal begins to wear - a fact readily apparent to students of engraved images. Duplicating a text stored electronically, however, has no such effect and therefore permits - and even encourages - an enormously larger number of copies.


Digital textuality also permits far greater ease of manipulatibilty and reconfigurabilty. As anyone who has used a word processor quickly perceives, one can easily search through a text or reconfigure its appearance.2 One result of recording all text in the form of electronic codes, rather than in that of physical marks, permits the creation of socalled markup languages that permit the appearance of entire texts to

page 218



Figure 3. Dyna Text, an SGML- based electronic book system. Electronic coding permits not only nearinstant full- text searches but also a dynamic table of contents in Landow (1992). Touching upon the symbol at the left of any entry in the table of contents instantly reveals the titles of subsections; touching upon any one of these brings up that secffon in the right window.


be reconfigured rapidly (fig. 3). Recording a text by handwriting, typewriter, or typesetting device involves performative - as opposed to descriptive - markup. In other words, when one begins a new paragraph while writing with a typewriter (or a computer used inappropriately as one), one either skips a line or indents a specific number of spaces or employs some other convention. When using a so- called markup language (or markup for short), one simply marks the beginning and ending of that unit of text with standard symbols, such as <p> and </p>, which permit readers and writers (depending on the system) to reconfigure the appearance of paragraphs. Such an approach to textuality allows economical reuse of texts, since one can automatically reconfigure the same text, say, for a personal printer, typesetting device, or electronic display simply by redefining the value of each symbol. Such markup, for example, also permits readers to reconfigure the appearance of a scholarly text, so that one could toggle back and forth between a modern annotated edition of a eighteenth- century text and its original appearance upon its publication, including typeface, font size, and color of paper.


Connecting computers together in networks adds another series of qualities to digital textuality. Digitizing text permits one to reproduce,

page 219



manipulate, and reconfigure it with great ease and rapidity. Connecting computers together in the form of digital networks enables one to move such text from one storage and reading site to another. Until the world of networked digital information technology, disseminating a text required physically moving it from one place to another. Unnetworked digital technology still has the same limitations, and today an enormous amount of digital information is still stored and moved on tapes, floppy disks, Syquest cartridges, CDROMs, and so on. But as electronic bulletin boards, discussion lists, and the World Wide Web make clear, many readers and writers have already moved beyond the book into such essentially location- independent texts and text- bases.3


4. Moving text


One of the most interesting, as well as most daunting, ways to begin our examination of that future- text that has already begun to appear involves looking at some materials created in Macromedia Director, a widely used multimedia environment. At the Rhode Island School of Design, Professor Kryztoff Lenk's courses in digital typography have used this software to create new versions of poetry. Because Director permits one to move text within a reading area as well as to create cinematic fades and other transitions, it has produced a kind of text that calls into question some of our notions of text and interpretation.


At the beginning of Maxine Fung's adaptation or re- creation of Brecht's My Brother Was a Pilot, the reader encounters a white screen, shading in the lower fifth part to increasingly dark shades of gray. Moving from right to left of this screen appears in turn each line of the first stanza of Brecht's elegy for his brother who died fighting in the Spanish civil war:


My brother was a pilot,

He received a card one day,

He packed his belongings in a box,

And southward took his way.


The first three lines appear in reddish brown nonserif font, the second line a third larger than the other two. The last line, in red, emerges at screen right, and then, decreasing in size, moves toward the center,

page 220



thus appearing to move away from the viewer. At this point, the screen darkens to black, returns to white, and the next stanza appears:


My brother is a conqueror. Our people is short of space, And to conquer more territory is An ancient dream of the race.


This time the lines slide across the screen in opposite directions, the first, "My brother is a conqueror," appearing in reddish brown at the bottom third of the screen, moves from right to left. When half of this line has moved on screen, "Our people is short of space" appears in black at upper screen left and moves right until both are present at the same time. Above these two, the last lines of the quatrain move from left to right (fig. 4).


Figure 4. Moving text in Maxine Fung's animation of Berthold Bmht's poem My Brother Was a Pilot.


Next, the black at the bottom of the screen moves up until it covers the lower three- quarters of the screen, the remaining area dividing equally between shaded gray and, at the very top, white. The final stanza, now all in black letters, appears as the first line, "The space my brother conquered," moves from right to left slightly above center, and the next line - "Lies in the Guadarrama massif'' - moves in smaller type from left to right. At this point, the third line appears, moving

page 221



from right to left, and halts at center screen: "Its length is six feet, two inches." Then, as the first two lines recede, individual words of the final line - "Its depth four feet and a half" - appear at the bottom center of the screen, which is black, and move upward, bringing blackness with them as together with the previous line, white against black, they appear as a cruciform grave marker.




Its length is six feet, two inches




a half


Black then covers the entire screen, after which the cross- shaped text recedes and finally vanishes.


Almost everyone to whom I have shown Fung's work has found it an effective, moving piece, but none of us have been equally sure about how to classify it. Should we consider her version of My Brother Was a Pilot primarily a new form of criticism and interpretation, a performance of Brecht's poem, a new art form, or all of the preceding? Whether or not the problem of properly classifying this work intrigues one matters less than that it demonstrates with particular clarity that digital media have already created new possibilities for text, new ways of writing, new genres.


5. Simulation, visualization, and text


Another form of the new digital textuality results when one combines alphanumeric text with simulation and visualization programs. Like the Fung project with its moving images and sound, these new

page 222



forms exemplify a Derridean extension of language to include a greater proportion of images and other forms of information (or forms of text) that written and printed books by their nature cannot contain. I have elsewhere described at length several projects, both experimental and commercially available, such as the electronic guide to the National Gallery of London created by Ben Rubinstein of Cognitive Resources in Brighton, England, that embody this kind of combination of simulation with text. I shall just point out that this exemplary project, which has recently been published as a CD- ROM by Microsoft, uses simple, if effective, animations to explain composition, perspective, and related issues, such as the nature of the camera obscure.


Three other texts, two already available on CD- ROM, carry this kind of extended textuality even farther. The courseware for multi


Figure 5. Visualizing mathematical data in Thomas Banchoff's multidimensional mathematics materials. In the original image (whose markers for the x and y axes I have enlarged for the sake of clarity) this interactive graphic presentation of the equation x,y ~ - x**4 + 2xx - yy, appears in the bright blue (left center and lower right), lime green (right top and top left center), rose (left bottom and right center, bottom), and deep red (outer top left and right center, top) against a gray background. Changing elements of the equation or providing different values for x and y immediately produces changes in the graphical representation.

page 223



dimensional mathematics that Thomas Banchoff, professor of mathematics, Brown University, has created combines simulation with the main text. While reading about certain kinds of equations, the student reader can examine the graphic presentation of them, much as one can in an ordinary printed textbook. Here, however, the student can add different values or otherwise reconfigure the variables, thus making immediately clear the effect of such action by visualizing data (fig. 5).


Electronic texts that similarly intend to develop nonverbal skills have also been created in relation to the arts. For example, Kristin Hooper Woolsey, Scott Kim, and Gayle Curtis's ~z.Abili~, which MetaDesign West created for PWS Publishing, takes the form of a CDROM version of a textbook originally created to develop visual thinking skills. Divided into subjects, such as imagining, seeing, drawing, diagramming, and environment, this electronic textbook is designed with the expectation that its users will work both on- screen and offscreen with a pencil and sketching pad. The on- screen materials consist of introductions to a subject, such as contour drawing and perspec


Figure 6. Vi zAbility Combining a simulation environment with text and images to develop nonverbal skills and knowledge.

page 224



five, demonstrations in the form of QuickTime movies that contain sound and motion, and examples that the user can consult. In addition, this amplified textbook uses animation and simulation to do things a printed text cannot. For instance, after an introduction to creating multiple- point perspective and off- screen exercises, the user can develop both seeing and drawing skills by trying to move a cube to a particular location on three perspective guidelines (fig. 6). If the reader places the cube incorrectly, it simply moves back to its starting point on the screen; if he or she places it correctly, it clicks into place and a tone sounds indicating success. Many of these exercises, like those for visualizing the hidden surfaces of various three- dimensional objects, show that the major value of such technology lies in developing skills or conveying information that the printed book cannot.


6. Linking texts


Hypertext offers another way of going beyond the book as we known it in its print form. The term, which Theodor H. Nelson introduced in the late 1960s, refers to a form of digital textuality in which electronic links join lexias, or chunks of text, which can take the form of words, images, sounds, video, and so on. The electronic link, the defining factor in this new information technology, produces multilinear or multisequential - not nonlinear - reading. By permitting readers to choose their ways through a particular set of lexias, hypertext in essence shifts some of the author's power to readers. Hypertext, which demands new forms of reading and writing, has the promise radically to reconceive our conceptions of text, author, intellectual property, and a host of other issues ranging from the nature of the self to education.


The hypertext link- in transforms the printed work, when translated into this new form, into a kind of open- ended, permeable, Velcro text in which Bakhtinian multivocality seems more appropriate than does the univocal voice characteristic of much print work. Many of these differences became apparent when I produced an electronic version of my hypertext. First, linking encouraged one not only to link together various relevant portions of the book, say, mentions of individual critical theorists or issues, but also to open up the text. The hypertext version grew to more than double the size of the print one as we added (1) texts by Derrida and Gregory L. Ulmer there discussed, (2) entries

page 225



Figure 7. Linking across the borders of books produces electronic libraries, not electronic books. This example shows linked materials.


from Michael Groden and Martin Kreiswirth's Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism (fig. 7), (3) reviews we could locate and secure permission to include (all), (4) a few of Malcom Bradbury's parodies of literary theory, and (5) more than fifty student interventions that often carried the book in different directions than I had originally intended. For example, whereas my discussion of Barthes concentrated largely on his descriptions of a hypertext- like writerly text and his reconfigurations of what we mean by authorship, my students placed more emphasis upon his comments on narrative, particularly upon his discussions of unveiling in Balzac's Sarrasine, a text that some students compared to Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale and other embodiments of similar themes.


All these newly linked texts made crucial qualities of hypertext immediately obvious. First of all, hypertextualizing a work originally created for print necessarily reconfigures it by underlining relations among subsections of the text both to other portions of the "same" text and to materials originally outside its boundaries, such as the works by Derrida and Ulmer later included. Second, thus opening up the text necessarily introduces other voices, other points of view, and the entire text now embodies multiple points of view. Third, as the inclusion of reviews and student work shows, electronic linking almost inevitably tends to lead to blending and mixing of genres and modes, a fact of more importance, perhaps, in both education and fictional hypertexts. Fourth, hypertextualizing a

page 226



text produces not an electronic book but a miniature electronic library.4


7. Linking text on the Internet: The World Wide Web


All the materials at which we have looked thus far work on separate, or so- called stand- alone, computers. But Nelson's vision of hypertext, which still inspires many workers in the field, requires something more - that all the texts in the world link into one metatext dispersed throughout a gigantic world- encompassing computer network. Some important research systems, such as Intermedia and Sepia, work over local or wide- area networks, but until the development of the World Wide Web (WWW) no system attempted so completely to furfill this aspect of Nelson's conception of hypertext. WWW, or the Web, as it is known, is a very simple hypertext system residing on the Internet, the international network composed of interlinked computers, and it is based upon a simple markup language originally developed by highenergy physicists at CERN to enable different kind of computers to communicate with one another. Researchers at the National Supercomputing Center at the University of Illinois then created Mosaic, a viewer that transformed this hypertext markup language, html, into a hypertext system.


Html consists of a few basic formatting commands and a means of creating links between documents on different machines. For example, if I wished to link an electronic version of this document to one stored at the University of Southampton, I include a link that tells my WWW viewer program (Netscape or Mosiac) to send a command to that other location to open a specified document that resides in a specific folder on a specific machine. The resulting links produce a wonderfully free, even anarchic hypertext sprawled across the globe, as those enamored by the Web set up servers - machines on which to store and disperse html documents - in every country of the world.


The Web shares many important qualities with Hypercard. Like this Apple product, it is experienced by readers and writers as free - that is, they use it without any apparent economic cost to themselves and also like Hypercard, the Web makes reading and writing for it relatively easy. Like Hypercard, the WWW has therefore won enormous numbers of converts in an extremely short time and introduced a great number of people to ideas of hypertext and the Internet. Unfortunately,

page 227

Figure 8. The Scholarly Technology Group home page as seen using Netscape.


like its predecessor, the Web represents an extremely limited, primitive form of hypertext incapable of more than simple point- to- point links. Nonetheless, despite all its limitations, it has the important effect of educating people about hypertext and whetting their appetites for better versions of it on the Internet.


And there are already a lot of wonderful things out there on the Web! As anyone who has looked at the Web or seen mentions of it in newspapers and popular magazines knows, one can obtain access on the Web to discussion groups on almost any topic, from texts of Jane Austen's novels, to all kinds of commercial and cultural announcements, to art exhibitions, to scholarly periodicals and other publications, and to countless individual directories (or home pages) added by individuals. For example, starting at Brown University's home page, I can go to those of individual departments or groups, and if we choose that, for the Scholarly Technology Group (STG) created by Geoffrey

page 228



Figure 9. Graffiff in Amsterdam (from Susan Farrell's Art Crimes home page).


Bilder of Computing and Information Services, we arrive at crossroads document (fig. 8) that directs one to information about the STG and related faculty projects. Following a link to projects produces another list, and from here one can explore materials about hypertext at Brown, including an elaborate directory of hypertext fiction and educational materials available on servers, or obtain materials about various authors and branch out from there. One can also return to the STG home page and use it to gain access to interesting WWW materials throughout the world.


The relative ease of creating WWW materials has led to new forms of scholarly discourse. At the Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, Susan Farrell has created the Art Crimes home page, which has quickly become a focus for interest in graff~ti as contributors from throughout the world send photographs of materials they have recorded. Farrell has then arranged these by geographical area, so that one can obtain images of graffiti in Atlanta, Amsterdam, and so on (fig. 9). Such a collection provides an electronic archive of materials that anyone with a specialized interest can consult and to which they can contribute. If graff~ti does not interest one, one can consult collec

page 229



tions of materials on high- energy physics, literary theory, declassified CIA photographs, or meteorological data and satellite photographs.


These examples suggest that, in an amazingly short time, the Web has prompted the development of new forms of intellectual and cultural interchange. For those of us concerned about moving beyond the book, the truly interesting fact about this latest intonation of writing technology lies not in the large amount of poorly conceived, egotistical, or simply boring materials created by all these people with access to a form of instant publication but, instead, the way so much interesting material has appeared so quickly and the way new forms of intellectual exchange come about as a result. Of course the Web often looks crude. But when one recalls that it took hundred years after the appearance of the printed book to invent the title page, one realizes it doesn't seem that bad.


8. Hypertext fiction, or patching together narrative


Since I have discussed elsewhere at length some of the educational and political implications of this new information technology, I would like to close my brief discussion of it by looking at a recent work of hypertext fiction, Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl. Opening this Web, the reader encounters a drawing of a nude woman whose body is traversed by fine lines; the next screen produces a mock phrenological diagram, and the third a drawing of a chimera- an appropriate image or icon of a work whose subject and occasional protagonist is the female monster whom Victor Frankenstein assembled for his creation in Mary Shelley's novel. In the original version, the scientist destroys her out of his disgust; in this version, she survives. Moving to the fourth screen, one comes upon the Web's equivalent of a title page, which tells us that we have come to Patchwork Girl. or, a Modern Monster, by Mary/Shelley, and Herself.


At this point, one can choose one of the three paths reentitled, respectively, "graveyard," "journal," and "broken accents." Following the path to the graveyard produces a rearranged version of the first screen to which fragments of text have been attached, and from there one obtains the following instructions:


I am buried here. You can resurrect me, but only piecemeal. If you want to see the whole, you will have to sew me together yourself. (In time, you may find append ed a pattern and instructions - for now, you will have to put it together any which page 230



way, as the scientist Frankenstein was forced to do.) Like him, you will make use of a machine of mysterious complexity to animate these parts. (You may want to keep your windows open when working in the graveyard.)


Eventually one reaches "The Headstone," which indicates the sources and identities of each of the Patchwork Girl's body parts. Most come from women, a few from men, and one from a cow. Here, for example, we learn about her left leg, which


belonged to Jane, a nanny who harbored under her durable grey dresses and sensible undergarments a remembrance of a less sensible time: a tattoo of a ship and the legend, Come Back To Me. Nanny knew some stories that astonished her charges, and though the ship on her thigh blurred and grew faint and blue with distance, until it seemed that the currents must have long ago finished their work undoing its planks one by one with unfailing patience, she always took the children to the wharf when word came that a ship was docking, and many a sailor greeted her by name.


My leg is always twitching, jumping, joggling. It wants to go places. It has had enough of waiting.


As we trace the history of the Patchwork Girl in the stories told by these characters, each of whom has a distinctive voice, we gradually piece together not only the girl herself but also a picture of women's lives at the beginning of the nineteenth century.


If at any point one returns to the title screen, we can choose to read through the journal instead. On this path, or set of reading paths, the multivocality changes, for rather than encountering a congeries of clearly identified and individuated speakers, one encounters lexias in which the speaker might be Mary Shelley, Shelley Jackson, Victor Frankenstein, the Monster Herself, or, in certain lexias, her lover (of indeterminable gender). Making their ways through this fascinating Web, readers encounter a rich assemblage of stories, discussions of narrative, drawings, electronic collage, and scholarly analyses until one realizes that Jackson is showing us the way we always thus stitch together narrative, notions of gender, and the identities of ourselves and others. In the light cast by this hyperfiction, we all turn out to be assembled monsters, Patchwork Girls.


9. Inside the text - cyberspace and virtual reality


As my discussion of Patchwork Gcrl should suggest, I do not think

page 231



that reading and writing fiction in this new environment in any way represent the death of fiction. In fact, just as the cinema and television, which to some extent have displaced print- based fiction, both draw from it and influence it in turn, so, too, one can expect that e- fiction, particularly hypertext fiction, will exist in such a rich relationship with that created for the print world.


In contrast, Virtual Reality (or VR), which relies on nonverbal text, represents a far more radical movement away from the written word and hence a far greater challenge to the culture of the book than do the other forms of digital information we have examined. As Michael A. Gigante explains, virtual reality is characterized by


the illusion of participation in a synthetic environment rather than external observation of such an environment. VR relies on three- dimensional (3D) stereoscopic, head- tracked displays, hand/body tracking and binaural sound. VR is an immersive, multisensory experience. (Gigante 1993: 3)


Michael Benedikt, who prefers the term cyberspace, explains:


Cyberspace is a globally networked, computer- sustained, computer- accessed, and computer- generated, multidimensional, art)ficial, or"virtual" reality. In this reality, to which every computer is a window, seen or heard objects are neither physical nor, necessarily, representations of physical objects but are, rather, in form character, and action, made up of data, of pure information. (Benedikt 1991: 122- 23)


Like both the digital word and hypertext, VR derives from the fundamentally semiotic nature of electronic information technology, which allows it to manipulate and reconfigure text. From one point of view, it takes its place at the extreme end of digital reconceptions of textuality, which extend it from alphanumeric text to include visual materials, sound, and movement. Even VR's fundamental, characteristic, defining quality - the user's experience of being inside the data rather than standing apart from it and looking at it on a page or screen - turns out to be an extension of the way that all computing creates a surrogate on- screen representation of the user in the form of the cursor that indicates his or her presence amid the text.


VR, which permits the simulation of dangerous, diff~cult activities, such as flying planes and performing trauma surgery, has obvious practical applications in education, and Fung's examples of moving text and Banchoff's simulations are steps toward VR. Its advocates, however, find its broader cultural implications even more interesting.

page 232



Figure 10. Miller (1993) popular CD- ROM adventure game.


Benedikt, for example, argues that "cyberspace can be seen as an extension, some might say, an inevitable extension, of our age- old capacity and need to dwell in fiction, to dwell enlightened and empowered on other, mythic planes" (Benedikt 1991: 6). Others, like Marcos Novak, see VR as essentially poetic ("Liquid Architectures in Cyberspace," in Benedikt 1991: 225- 54).


At the moment, this developing technology, which is fundamentally "just" a means of visually representing information, is even farther from anything like full realization than is hypertext, yet at least some of its cultural implications seem clear. Already new kinds of immersive narrative have begun to appear in which the "reader" interacts in new ways with a fictional environment. Michael Nash, the president of Inscape, a company that develops multimedia CD- ROMs, calls this new narrative form that combines exploratory games and interactive narrative storyworlds. Successful examples include Myst (fig. 10) and Voyager's Freak Show, which Nash helped produce. These CD- ROMs contain narrative worlds whose stories unfold only to an active, even aggressively intrusive reader willing to explore independently, solve problems, and even, in the case of Freak Show, disobey instructions.


Although one can envisage narratives that demand the kind of activity of the professional, skeptical reader of print, one has to recog

page 233



nize that such a shift from alphanumeric text has as many costs as benefits. The risks are obvious, since any representation necessarily omits something, and that which is omitted always bears the marks of someone's conception of reality - someone else's ideology. Less obvious risks also appear inevitable: since the great strength of language, after all, lies in its abstractness, its ability econom~cally to stand in for something else, our notions of education, good writing, and even intelligence itself relate closely to an ability to formulate and manipulate such counters. What will happen, then, when children (and adults) find introducing a three- dimensional video with the sound of, say, a rhinoceros, into a discussion so easy that they increasingly lose the ability to formulate abstract or physical descriptions? McLuhan has persuasively argued that wntten language had to exist before logical, causal thinking could become widespread. If so, what will happen when we increasingly abandon alphanumeric text, if that ever happens, when we would truly find ourselves beyond the book?




1 See Baudrillard (1983: 115).


2 Heim (1987) and Lanharn (1993) both eloquently describe the nature and implications of word- processing.


3 For the notion of location- independent text- bases, see Christinger Tomer, "Emerging electronic library services and the idea of location independence" in Delany and Landow (1994: 139- 62).


4 See Nichole Yankelovich, "From electronic books to electronic libraries" in Delany and Landow (1991: 133- 42).



BAUDRILLARD, J. 1983 Simulation, New York: Semiotext.
BENEDIKT, M. (ED.) 1991 Cyberspace: First Steps, Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press.
1984 Turing's Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age, Chapel Hill, N.C.
1990 Space: The Computer in the History of Literacy, Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.
1945 "As we may think ' Atlantic Monthly 176: 101- 8.
1967 "Memex revisited ' Science Is Not Enough, New York: William Morrow: 75- 101.
1987 The Cultural Uses of Print in Early Modern France, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
1987 The Culture of Print: Power and the Uses of Print in Early Modern Europe, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
1992 "The end of books ' New York Times Book Review (June 21), 1: 33- 35.
1993 "Hyperfiction: Novels for the computer ' New York Times Book Review (August 19), 1: 8- 12.
1991 Hypermedia and Literary Studies, Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press.
1994 The Digital Word, Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press.
1993 Virtual Reality Systems, London: Academic Press.
1980 The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early- Modern Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
1993 "Virtual reality: Definitions, history and applications 'in Earnshaw, Gigante, and Jones (eds.) (1993).
1987 Electric Language: A Philosophical Study of Word Processing, New Haven: Yale University Press.
1988 "Siren shapes: Exploratory and constructive hypertexts ' Academic Computing, 3: 10- 14, 37- 42.
1993 The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality, New York: Oxford University Press.
1987 Printing Technology, Letters & Samuel Johnson, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
1992 Hypertext in Hypertext, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
1992 Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
1995 HyperIText/Theory, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
1993 The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and theArts, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McLuhan, M.
1962 The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
1991 "Beyond the electronic book: A critique of hypertext rhetoric ' in Hypertext '91, New York: Association of Computing Machinery.
1989 "Hypertext and 'the hyperTeal,"' in Hypertext '89: Proceedings, New York: Association of Computing Machinery.
1987 Computer Lib/Dream Machines, Seattle: Microsoft Press.
1981 Literary Machines, Swarthmore: Self- published.
1993 Virtual Reality Applications and Explorations, Boston: Academic Press Professional.
1985 "Reading and writing the electronic book ' IEEE Computer, 18: 15- 30.
Electronic materials
1995 Patchwork Girl, Cambridge: Eastgate Systems. Environment: Storyspace.
1991 Afternoon, Cambridge: Eastgate Systems. Environment: Storyspace.
1992 Hypertext in Hypertext, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Environment: DynaText.
1993 The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Environment: Voyager Expanded Book.
1993 Microsoft Art Gallery: The Collection of the National Gallery, London, N.p. Microsoft, CD- ROM. Environment; Cognitive Resources.
1993 Myst, Novato, California: Broderbund, CD- ROM using QuickTime and Sound Manager.
1991 Victory Garden, Cambridge: Eastgate Systems. Environment: Storyspace.
1993 Who Built America ? From the Centennial Celebration of 1876 to the Great War of 1914, Santa Monica, California: Voyager, CD- ROM. Environment: Voyager Multimedia.