Towards a Hypertext Literary Aesthetic

Dylan Kinnett

Forget about computers. Hypertext is not a new thing. It has been around since the bards took requests to tell one part of The Epic at a wedding feast, and another part in honor of a hero. Hypertext happens whenever children interact with their bedtime stories. Hypertext happens verbally every time you tell a story differently, every time you’re interrupted, when you change the subject, or go off on a tangent. In print, we use footnotes, indexes, glossaries, as hyper-textual annotations, and as readers we can take this further with underlines, highlights, and notes in the margin. You might even find a book where someone has placed a document between some pages. Yes, hypertext also happens when you use a hyperlink or scroll a feed, but those are recent developments.

Technically, Hypertext is “text that branches and allows choices to the reader”. Theodor H. Nelson put the word hypertext together. Hypertext is associative, rather than linear. Memory is associative. Even though events in time happen in a this-then-that order, much like the pages of a book, one thing can remind you of another, somehow. Your memory is a hypertext. The story of a game of make-believe is hypertext, because it is chosen, “written” and “read” all at once. Yes, those “Choose Your Own Adventure Books” are hypertext, too. They’re fun, aren’t they?

Hypertext offers a wealth of creative possibilities, and I am inspired by them in my creative work. For me it’s about more than “choose what happens next” or “alternate endings.” It’s about those associative qualities. The creative possibilities go beyond the language arts, thanks to hypermedia, but that’s a topic for another day. As a writer, choices about how to tell a story are very important. As a reader, choices about what to read are a primary concern. A branching text can open up the doors for those choices, in new ways that books and movies cannot do.

Here is a growing collection of things I have written about, and with, the idea of hypertext.


History of Hypertext & Hypertext Literary Theory

This was written in 2003 to fulfill the requirements of an undergraduate senior thesis project at Maryville College in Tennessee. The assignment had two main parts: a work of creative writing and the thesis. This is chapter one of the thesis.

Read Chapter One →


Aesthetics in a Hypertext Age

This text was written to fulfill the requirements of an undergraduate senior thesis project at Maryville College in Tennessee. The assignment had two main parts: a work of creative writing and the thesis. This is chapter two of the thesis.

Read Chapter Two →


Eastgate Hypertext Compendium of Academic Resources

While finishing my thesis work with hypertext, I travelled to Boston persue the subject further, as an intern with Eastgate Systems, a pre-eminent publisher of serious hypertexts. Part of my work there was to compile the information that began the Eastgate Hypertext Compendium of Academic Resources which is now maintained as a smaller but more up-to-date list of courses.

We hope that this compendium of hypertext resources will give students and instructors, now and in the future, a better sense of what has been done elsewhere and what might be accomplished, and to encourage communication among everyone interested in studying and teaching hypertext.

Use The Compendium →