Segmentation / Alternative paths

Silvio Gaggi, From Text to Hypertext

Metonymy and Metaphor in the Fiction of Forking Paths:


Silvio Gaggi, From Text to Hypertext - Ch.4: "Hyperrealities and Hypertexts"

Postmodern hyperspace is so ubiquitous that it cannot be escaped; one is always in it, disoriented by its organization and by the "logic of the simulacrum." One cannot find a place from which one might be able to evaluate or analyze, from which one might engage in an "old-fashioned ideological critique" that would make political judgment and effective action possible (99. Quoted from Jameson)

Simulacra -- divorced from all connection with the referent -- dominate our landscape and replace representations, which might have been judged on the basis of how accurately they reflect political and social truth. The profusion of simulacra and the absence of reference produce a sense of groundlessness. The subject cannot orient itself inside this space. Clear coordinates are lost or ambiguous, so that the position of the subject is always unclear, and dominant axes, which might clarify the direction of the subject's movement, do not exist. The subject moves from point to point along various channels, from node to- node through various links. There may be plenty of choices available, but the subject acts without knowing where it is and without sufficient basis for determining where it should or might want to go.(100)

Because there is no possibility of ever reading the entire hyper text (it is far too vast), a pragmatic consequence is that the temporal as well as the textual beginning and end of the reading experience is determined solely by the reader. In the most utopian scenario, all texts will be linked hypertextually, so that readers will be able to travel through world literature in diverse ways according to complex and labyrinthine paths chosen only by themselves.(102)

In the near future, hypertextual systems‹especially those that integrate multiple works --[will] become our dominant textual vehicle, both the way we read and what we understand literature to be will be altered. Books, stories, poems, essays, or articles may no longer be conceived of as primary units, more or less complete and self-sufficient statements of one kind or another. Instead there will simply be a textual network that one enters, through which one moves, and from which one exits, after pursuing whatever purposes one has or learning whatever one is trying to learn. As the system grows and as individuals become more habituated to working with hypertext, the sense of centrality of certain primary texts within the network will be weakened. The distinction between text and context will dissolve and intertextuality will cease to be regarded as such because there will be, in fact, only one text, one intertext, one hypertext.

The empowerment of the reader is a potential of hypertextuality. In hypertext, as Landow and others describe it, readers can append their own comments and responses, add new nodes or lexias, to any parts of the text that they are interested in, and they can create new links among the various lexias. Thus, the distinction between reader and writer is attenuated, perhaps even dissolved entirely. The text is no longer a one-way communication system in which information and ideas proceed only from author to reader, but a communication system in which all participants can contribute to and affect the content and direction of the conversation. (103)

However, in spite of the reader's seeming control and empowerment, the structure of movement in and about a hypertextual system suggests a decentering analogous to the kind of decentering that can occur in other kinds of visual and verbal texts. There is no center of the text, no vanishing point, no primary axis, no clear unitary authorial voice that, like a vanishing point,implies a clear subject to which the text speaks. Heim writes: The new publishing resembles more the modern megapolis, which is often described as a concrete jungle, a maze of activities and hidden byways, with no apparent center or guiding steeple. This is the architectural equivalent of the absence of the philosophical and religious absolute. (105)

Hypertext -- like a conversation -- encourages a value system that emphasizes the solving of problems and the growth of learning by and for the good of the community as a whole.(107)

There is a polyphony of voices, and the authority of each of them is continually qualified by their mutually commenting on one another.

Electronic networks create a horizonless conceptual space that speaks almost to itself. Texts that are closed, coherent, and focused, whether visual or verbal, tend to elicit mirroring subjects that recognize -- or misrecognize -- themselves as separate, unified, and centered. Autonomous texts reflect and are reflected by subjects that conceive of themselves as autonomous. Conversely, the conceptual dispersal of textuality that occurs in hypertext may be reflected by a decentered subject that engages that decentered textuality. The lack of a clearly delineated autonomous text in hypertextual systems may he reflected by a subject that is less autonomous.(111)

Word processing, more fluid than writing on paper, embodies a sense of thought as an "ideational flow" (Heim, 152), as a continual process that is not necessarily centered around static and transcendental ideas.

Hypertext involves a paradoxical relationship to the subject. In the most obvious respect, it suggests the potential for empowerment; but that potential for empowerment coexists with a psychological decentering that results from engagement with electronic networks. Individuals can access a horizonless textual space, forge their own paths and links within it, and contribute to it just as they might contribute to a nonvirtual conversation. But in that space there are no clear axes or established directions, no vanishing points to help the subject position his or her self. (114)

Bonnie Mitchell: "Living in the electrons of cyberspace, we have no gender, we have no race, we are neither old nor young, intelligent nor naive, we have only an e-mail address to identify us. Our writing style and smileys reveal our virtual personalities. We are not alone. Yet we sit in physical isolation. Our machines satisfy our quest for social acknowledgment. We speak with our fingers and the machine replies.... Nonphysical intimacy. Security and privacy. Suppressed expression. Electrically altered ego. We have no need for faces. Don't show me yours. We have no need for bodies. They deteriorate anyway. We have no need for voice. We speak through thought. We have no need for any of these things. We have fingers, words, and images. We have an Internet connection. We have our virtual selves."

Jay David Bolter sees contemporary culture as organized as a network rather than a hierarchy; traditional institutions no longer have the authority they once had, and individuals form voluntary, nonhierarchical affiliations instead. (115)

For a text to he excluded from hypertext is likely to be even more crippling than its being excluded from the "canon" as presently constituted. The ease and speed of navigating among texts embedded in hypertextual networks has as its flip side a tendency to ignore texts that are not included, as if they did not exist at all.(117)


Brooks Concept of Plot Vs. Hypertext

Brooks - The Functions of Plot


A. Organizing

1. Plot is the organizing line -- the thread of design -- that makes narrative possible. The armature of the story; its support [p.11]


1. Readers determine path

2. Barthes: Reading = Structuration

[Levi Strauss and Propp: A-temporal matrix structure]

Writable text = requires greater construction effort on the part of the reader.

"Overcoding of the logic of action (proairetic) by the interpretative (hermeneutic)" - reading supplies an understanding as to the ordering of actions, by investigating their goal and function.

Plot is a system of codes the reader organizes, weaves and decodes (always partial) [Barthes never makes the next step into recognizing the role of temporality in reading]

[Deja lu - the already read - our experience in deciphering brought into action -- the focus is shifted to the reading]

2. No structure / flexible open structure



3. Fabula (events) vs. Sjuzet (window onto events)

Sjuzet - making events (succession) into a story (representation).

Plot according to Brooks = the way we use the one (Sjuzet) against the other (Fabula) within the interpretative activity.

Cutting across the distinction between the two categories: emphasis on interpretive activity of the reader.

3. Options for relations between event/s and telling/s:

Multiple events (branching)

Multiple tellings (a circle of points of view around a single event)

Lexia (puzzle)


B. Finite Meaning

Without Plot the narrative is incomprehensible. Plot provides the text with a finite meaning.


Finite meaning as a goal is contested.

"Lost in hyperspace"

C. Intention

Plot supplies the principle of intention. Movement forward.

Plot is a concerted plan for the accomplishment of some purpose (realization of desire; goal)



Cyclical, looping motion.

No variation is privileged: the reader is empowered to choose one of several outcomes

Erasure (diary)

D. Interconnectedness

Plot provides Interconnectedness [linear]


Webs; nodes and links

E. Explanatory

Plot answers the need for an explanatory narrative: a retracing of origin, of coherent source.

Narrative = a form of explanation and thought.


Merging/ overlapping/ contrasting narratives

Fragments, Cuts

Identity can be thought of only in terms of narrative / plot.

Forming links between elements (Antonioni's "Blowup") - they lack meaning without plotting.


F. Contained

The text must be of a certain length to be taken in by memory, the key faculty in the capacity to perceive relations of beginnings, middles and end through time, the shaping power of narrative.(p.11)

F. "Encyclopedic"

G. Linear/ Directional Plotting (linking)




G. Links as cuts ("knots); asides

Garden of Forking Paths: The options for reading (according to Albert) were:

1. Mirror (the title=book=story=Chinese man's story)

2. Circle (opening and ending with a murder of a maze maker by a stranger)

3. Multiple authors

4. Branching (before/after - in last news paper the cause and the effect occur simultaneously)

5. Reversibility

6. Entering the text at any point

H. Dynamic/ temporal

Plot = an evolving structure

Dynamic logic in transformation between start and finish [p.10]
vs. A-temporal structure

Plot = the organizing dynamic of a specific mode of human understanding.

"Plot is the logic and dynamic of narrative; and narrative is a form of understanding "[p.10]

Genette - The pseudo time of the text.
The text is spatial but its realization depends on having gone through sequence; Metonymically borrows a temporality from the time of its reading. Narrative depends on meaning delayed, partially filled in, stretched out.

Process of reading vs. procession of events: The tension between them (suspense; stretch; jump; elasticity of plot).


Illogical Movement; Deconstructive

How is meaning produced within a branching structure?

- Moulthorp: the students were not reading for the plot. They had given up hope that the metonymic flow of language would take them coherently to a conclusion.

The alternative is a spatial (left-right) navigable space - not temporal; not continuous.

What is the meaning of the process of reading in Hypertext?

How is it supervised?

How do you create the tension between process of reading and procession of events?


I. Ending - Closure as premise

Benjamin - Death writes finis to life and therefore confers on it its meaning [metaphor - x is y]

Only the end can determine meaning

At the moment of death life becomes transmissible/ readable/ fixed

The end writes the beginning and the middle.

Ending enables closure/ meaning.

Anticipation of retrospection.

Narrative proceeds in the reverse.

If the past is to be read as present, it is a curious present, that we know to be past in relation to a future we know to be already in place.

Plot provides dynamic but ultimately final ordering [from metaphor through metonymy back to transmissible metaphor]

The metaphor of transmission must be unpacked as metonymy.

Narrative is this acting out of the implications of metaphor [in time] (p.22)

The end = same but different; arrived at via a transformation (a middle, a metonym; action) (p.26)

Retrospective selection - sifting through details for what is necessary to recreate the chain of events.

The poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice

Contradictory logic: events chosen to justify their organization

I. End as one node among others.

Events (lexia) are reshufflable

















J. Fix

1. Plotting attempts to fix; define (p.33)

Work (Barthes)

In the physical presence of the book is implicit closure and design.

Poetry- simultaneity of meaning; grasping of whole.



1. Elastic

Text (Barthes)

Writing space - expandable: every metonym leads to a metaphor revealed as metonym etc.

2. Plot (Oxford 1) = demarcation / differentiation / frame.
Measured area of land (p.12)

Allocates finite slots for phases in the story - proportion fixed: 1 min discourse for 1 year story

2. What is the measuring unit in a flexible space?

Time zones are expandable [PAD]

K. Hierarchy of narrators:

The hierarchy or differentiation is implicit from the concept of transmission.

Hierarchy and difference enables communication (tellers/told).




K. Collaborative authoring

Lack of hierarchy : everyone is potentially an author

Authorship: diversity of voices, varying styles

No closure in time: on going / people add in (and erase) information constantly

L. Repetition

Constructive role of repetition (enabling detection, deciphering)

The function of plot as the active repetition and reworking of story in and by discourse.

Unpacking of metaphor as metonym:
Start and finish stand in a relation of the same (metaphor) but different (time) transformation**

Reenactment produces transformation (Freud)

Repetition as solution and symptom.

Every retracing creates a new narrative.

Plot=Reworking of story in and by discourse. - active repetition (detective story) [Deja Lu]



L. Spatial repetition: the many POVs of a Rashomon.

Simultaneity of plot lines




course plan