Aesthetics in a Hypertext Age

Dylan Kinnett

Since the development of modernity and its accouterments there has been the question of whether any of it has cultural meaning. Hypertext literature is a form of cultural expression built upon some of those accouterments. It is a bridge between literary expression in “high culture” and the media preferences of “low” culture. What does this do for the question of whether hypertext literature has any potential for meaning?

At a time when the modernity we know was in development, a variety of thinkers have approached the question of meaning in the context of a modern world. Their conclusions are diverse, and all of them are partial, but in general they examine the coming of modernity and its relationship with all of culture thus far. Some, like T.S. Eliot fear that modernity will make our actions in the world devoid of meaning, compared to the meaning that our lives once had. Other thinkers, like the German philosopher Max Weber, examine the development of modernity and define its meaning in terms of its parent ideas: Protestant work ethic and Capitalism. Such ideas may have been sufficient for their time, but modernity is no longer in development. It is here. Modernity is culture, now, and to a growing extent.

In 1919, T.S. Eliot, proposed a literary aesthetic that is especially relevant to the consideration of hypertext literature. It embodies many of the critical attitudes toward its development. Modernism, as a style of artistic expression, was characterized by experimentation. Eliot considered this in relation to tradition, and the handing down of forms. He stressed that all art should be regarded as a part of its history, with an eye toward its tradition.

This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal, is what makes a writer traditional. An understanding of historical location is what makes a writer most acutely aware of his place in time, of his own contremporaneity. “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. . . you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead” (Eliot 1369).

It is Eliot’s contention in the essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” that, first of all, there is an aesthetic responsibility to be mindful of whatever expression has come in the past, and secondly, that art “is an expression of significant emotion, emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet” (1374). A contention like this would not find much quality in the vast majority of what passes for cultural expression in the modern world: television, pop music, homepages, etc. These things are all too new to have a tradition, too removed from aesthetic thought to be in keeping with its standards, too product-driven to be more expressive than communicative, and these things are too focused on innovation to share Eliot’s regard for tradition.

These things exist separately from anything in our culture that has a regard for aesthetics. They are products of our culture’s capitalism and are only incidentally artistic. Max Weber in “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” describes the growth of capital culture (which includes television and the Internet as modes of discourse). He shows how it is the cultural outgrowth of the Protestant Work Ethic. This ethic is, in short, that material gain demonstrates favor from God. (Weber).

In one sense, Eliot’s sense of reference is very similar to the newer notion of inter-linked or hyper-textuality. (Eliot himself made extensive use of references to other texts). On the other hand, Eliot’s sense of tradition prohibits many thinkers from seeing non-traditional modes of creation from an aesthetic point of view.

A useful approach to the ideas posited by thinkers like Weber and Eliot can be informed particularly by the idea posited by Heidegger that we are thrust into a meaningless world, and it is there that we must find the tools to make meaning out of the chaos. Heidegger explains our being as a being-in-the-world, which means there is a relationship between the world we are in and our being. The meaning we make out of the world depends upon the world from which we make it (Heidegger 79-81). Rather than disregard the majority of what passes for culture around us as worthless, it would be better to look, as Heidegger, at the meaningless world into which we are thrown as a world full of things that are potentially useful to us (Heidegger 75).

Consider the people born in 1980. For them, adolescence coincided with the Internet’s introduction to our culture. Many of them have read more words on a screen than on a page. For them, there is no personal memory of a time before television, space walks, fax machines, urban sprawl, shopping malls, MTV, any of the other accouterments of modernity, or their accompanying ideas. One of the most prevalent of those ideas is the assumption that the meaning or purpose of actions in life is to be found in profit, as it once indicated favor from God (Weber). This assumption is one of the largest ideas we’re thrust upon and forced to deal with. All these things that surround us: materialism, social structures, work ethics, modernity in general, they all exist for profit, which, if no longer regarded as a valid God-given meaning, lends nothing to the meaning of the world around us. Thus, we are thrown into this world full of meaningless things. This is the world into which entire generations have now been thrown. This is the world in which they must find meaning.

It does not make sense to tell those people to disregard the culture of the very world in which they must endeavor to make meaning. That world is the embodiment of their tools for meaning. It does not make sense to say, since “low” culture is meaningless in comparison to “high” culture, that it should be ignored. To ignore it would be to deny it the opportunity to be used for any meaningful purpose, if all those in search of meaning were to look the other way. It would be a huge mistake to ignore a huge supply of potential tools for meaning and expression.

None of this is to argue, as Heidegger did during an era of Nazi rise to power, that the best way to be, to really be, is to join the culture of “the they” wholeheartedly, do what the masses do, and find real meaning there (Heidegger 74). However, it should be argued that to do the reverse is also a mistake. To disregard the culture of the masses completely when it comes to meaning is to disregard its potential for meaning, which is to allow it to continue growing without any value except for the value of pure profit.

The realm of aesthetics is one of the playing fields for the ongoing question of meaning in the modern world. For example, the new modern generation uses hip-hop as a form of discourse, often as an expression of anger. By comparison, The Iliad is a similar expression of anger. Both are long and lyrical. Both use death, violence and the possession of women as central themes. Now, bring both forms of discourse to your typical literary pundit and he or she will call one of them art, extolling its universal themes and virtues. The other item will be largely ignored, except perhaps to be passed onto a sociologist. The Iliad, being an immaculately crafted example of the oral tradition epic formula at its best, does deserve its reputation as a beautiful work of art. Any given hip-hop song might even deserve to be dismissed, on the grounds that it doesn’t say anything that every other song in the rather formulaic genre hasn’t already said. However, it should be noted that the genre is new, still formulaic, and while the formula may have some serious problems, there is an undeniable potential there for unrivaled lyrical beauty. Nevertheless, the genre gets largely ignored by the critical eye.

Thinking like this, in situations like these, leaves many “real” artists and thinkers discouraged or excluded from any realm of discourse that is a product of the modern age. (Perhaps the only exception to this rule is in the visual arts, where the commercial success, and upper-class acceptance of pop art opened the eyes of the associated thinkers to the potential for meaning in the imagery of modern life.)

As a result of prevalent intellectual attitudes, skilled speakers are denied proven tools for speaking. Any idea that asks today’s thinkers to avoid modernity, with its lack of culture, is an idea that denies them the freedom to move about in the world into which they’re born. If they are only relegated to what gets called culture/meaningful by those in the know when it comes to culture/meaning, then they are resigned not to communicate with the majority of modern culture because they are alienated from its forms of discourse. Deny the world in which you live, and you deny your chance to make meaning from it.

Furthermore, the continued critical assumption that the modern world and its creative products are void of meaning and therefore to be ignored is perhaps the most dangerous idea a thinker could have. So long as this idea is propagated, it is true. If the thinkers of the world dismiss as meaningless the growing realm of modern communication, then so long as they are ignoring it they are denying it the addition of their thoughts, their meaning – and so while it grows, it grows thoughtlessly and wanting meaning.

More people choose to watch television and listen to hip-hop in our culture, where once the preferred forms of discourse were theater and traditional poetry. Low culture has supplanted high culture. Some, like Eliot would say this is a rather unfortunate turn of events, on the grounds that high culture is more meaningful, more expressive than the brute spectacle and communication of low culture, but this is not necessarily the case.

The masses aren’t right by number, but there might be something significant in their mass preference. When faced with the question of meaning in the world we are in, a common response is to communicate. Look at the vast realm of communication (if not expression) that has grown out of the modern world. Communication cannot exist without an audience. The larger the audience, the more the communication. The more people there are to share meaning with, the more the contribution to the dialectic of history. Therefore, the more potential a medium has for reaching an audience, the more potential it has for expressing meaning. It is dangerous to relegate the expression of meaning to methods with a shrinking audience. To do so would relegate the expression of meaning to a shrinking audience. It is dangerous to regard only the old methods as having any validity. To do so denies the chance that new methods may become valid. The mere communication of mass media is actually a fertile ground for new expression. After all, expression doesn’t work without communication. The foundation already exists for expression on a colossal scale. We already have communication on such a scale.

The critical dismissal of low culture exists for noble purposes, though. It cries out against the meaninglessness of our modern surroundings. Maybe it will go away. If all of us go to the theater instead of the television, perhaps the television will wither and die. Perhaps it is only television as we know it now that should die. Even if all the paintings ever made were hideous, it would be awful to throw out the paints and brushes because of the beauty that could be made with them. However, if everyone listens to hip-hop, and not to epic poetry, then epic poetry is not communicating, so it expresses nothing; it is rendered meaningless. Then, when it comes to epic poetry, the fear that modernity will supplant previous culture has been realized.

The lament: there is art, which is a lot of work, and then there is television for example, which is wasted work, for it is not art, and it is not art from a modernist-critical perspective because it does not express a universal truth, so we are urged to ignore it, because the majority of us don’t ignore it. Ideas of objectivity and universality are still pervasive in the aesthetic discourse, more than they should be in light of what Heidegger had to say.

There is an assumption that in order to be real art, there must be some objective truth expressed. This assumption is coming into question. Art is experienced, as life is experienced. Heidegger has to say about the experience of life (and perhaps vicariously on the subject of art) that it is not built upon universals.

There is no objective truth for us to glean from the experience of life. We’re supposed to get what we can from it, and we can no longer go around calling what it is that we do get a “universal.” Change is too much of a universal for that to be true, especially in the modern world in which we find our being. Universality isn’t what makes validity.

This emphasis on objectivity is, however, well-grounded in the nature of the book, which is a permanent medium. Oral traditions have no objective way of being. They change with each teller, and their meanings grow, shift and deepen over the course of generations. With the advent of printed literature, the expression of meaning became a one-shot endeavor. Books have one author, and since they are printed they have one unchanging text, even though they also have the course of generations as an audience. A book keeps existing, and in order for it to keep existing with any meaning, it must contain something recognizable as truth that supersedes time and place. Since a book must endure by its nature, its meaning must also endure or else it is untrue to its nature, and worthless.

The problem, with art, though, is that it is communicative as much as it is experiential. The emphasis on objective universals exists as part of that larger desire to communicate a thing to humanity. Even if this is successful, even if something is communicated such that it is objective and everyone can see the thing in the message, every single member of the audience will interpret that single thing differently. With this in mind, its safe to assume that the thing being communicated could validly be “just a situation,” and situations change. Validity in the present situation is still validity.

This is not to propose an aesthetic of spectacle. Art, like life as Heidegger describes it, has the power to thrust human beings into a situation, and leave them to make what they can of it. The artist does not need to act like god and plant trees of objective universal knowledge within the creation. It might be nicer to have a fruitful garden with a plethora of delicacies, ripe for the choosing.

There is a better distinction to make. There’s no point searching for the objective universal in a situation like the experience of art, which won’t work any more than Heidegger has shown it to fail with the experience of life (certainly not if art is to last in a millennium begun in the midst of rapid and complete change). Instead of a distinction between objective truth and meaninglessness, there should be a distinction between communication and expression, and these should be the new criteria for meaning, when it comes to the products of our being-in-the-world.

As we enter the new millennium, we no longer have the luxury of denying our being-in-the-modern-world. Mass media, popular culture, etc.– these aren’t coming. It’s all here. The fears are now realities.

The time is now that the modern-artist’s spirit of experimentation could be taken more seriously and further. Modernism could have embraced cultural developments, and could have added meaning to them, rather than blasting them as a “waste land”. Of course they were a cultural wasteland. They were brand-new, and those in control of the flow of culture we too busy lamenting these new things to contribute any legitimate expression to them.

What if Picasso had drawn Saturday morning cartoons? What if a comic book deserved the Pulitzer by the same old standards? What if the poet laureate was an eloquent rapper?

If any of these were possible, perhaps the modern predicament would not exist. The problem seems to be that the culture of most people is devoid of the meaning inherent in “real” art. However, that very culture is overloaded with things that are almost art, like the Saturday morning cartoon. There is something that separates a cartoon from a “real” work of art, and that something could very easily be nothing more than a prejudice. Remove the prejudice that separates them, and suddenly someone like Picasso can contribute to humanity with a cartoon as easily as with a canvas. Perhaps the Saturday morning cartoon could even offer an improvement to what we now think of as art. A Picasso costs more money than most of us will ever see, so art has become something that is not a basic human commodity. The insistence upon universality borders on a contradiction. It does no good for Picasso to express a universal human truth, if his paintings are on display largely on the private walls of the select few who can afford them. Television, on the other hand, which has the potential to become a real work of art, hung on the wall so to speak with the flip of a switch, television is different. Television, the Internet, mass-media in general: these are on display for everyone, and they make money on the basis of the size of their audiences. Nevertheless, it is the scholarly critique of them that they do not express a universal truth. There is nothing about them that portrays something for everyone, yet everyone seems to be consuming them. Something is wrong here.

If thinkers like Eliot had made the point that we should have genuine expression and thought-provocation, while at the same time accepting our inevitable being-in-the-world, a world too colossal to stop and not all of it bad, perhaps we wouldn’t be in the predicament we are in now. Then, perhaps the cultural wasteland we are thrown into would not be as bad, if the nature of its mediums had been defined by something other than a creative power vacuum. We can fix the bad; we can even use most of it as tools. We can keep the good. There’s no need to ignore it all.

Hypertext literature is just such an attempt to add genuine expression to modern communicative methods. It is a creative endeavor superimposed upon a medium previously intended for the mere transmission of data, which was built into its present state out of a desire for commercial profit and industrial efficiency. Hypertext literature begs the question whether such a structure could be used for more. This is a very important question.

The question of meaning is not the one that gets asked as much, in the realm of discourse regarding hypertext literature, not as much as the question of structure is discussed. Of course, there is an excess of discussion regarding the relationship between the structure of ideas and the transmission of meaning. In general, hypertext literary theory and the literature build around it posits that a linear structure of ideas or events is not necessarily the only one that can effectively convey any meaning. The literature exists as an experiment testing that hypothesis. Whether the experiment is a successful proof is up to the reader to decide.

In the spring of 2002, one such experiment was conducted at the 26th Annual Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville Kentucky . It was a short play by Alice Tuan entitled F.E.T.C.H., and billed by the author as a “small installment of Virtual Hypertext Theater” (Tuan). Called “virtual hypertext” because the play is actually a text presented orally, F.E.T.C.H. consists of five scenes, each one corresponding to one letter in the word ‘fetch’ and an introduction. In the introduction, the audience is directly addressed and told to choose, by heckling, which scene should come first. A similar heckling section follows each scene.

The scenes are each variations on a theme. In each, the players are attached by rappelling cables to a huge metal pole structure on the stage. Their actions are often abstract, the language often puns or metaphors, and the central idea is always something to do with the pole(Tuan).

In Scene ‘E’, for example, the pole represents the Earth’s Pole, and the characters are workers, deep within the Earth’s Core, who have taken it upon themselves to shift the Earth’s axis, by pulling at the pole, in order to change Earth’s climate, thereby raising the property value of previously worthless real estate (Tuan).

Scene ‘T’ portrays the pole as a telephone pole, and the characters converse with each other via headsets while tapping on the metal. They are tapping phone lines, listening for some sort of secret word. The word appears in every scene (Tuan).

Other than the word, the theme, and the people enacting them there is very little to hold the scenes together. The scenes can come in any order, which the audience can choose. The order of events is chosen arbitrarily and has little relationship with the meaning of the whole play (Tuan). After watching the entire performance, the audience is left to think about the different parts of it. The parts are not merely performed in a non-chronological order, but they do not have any chronology to them at all. Rearranging those parts into a different order does not appear to make any difference whatsoever. The point, the meaning, after any of the one-hundred and twenty possible plays that could be made from the parts, appears to be the realization of the central theme, and little more. The story of F.E.T.C.H., if you can call it that, would have been no different at all, had it been told in a pre-ordained order dictated by its author, or at least that is the impression its audience is left with.

This is not an effective hypertext story structure, and it is indicative of several of the problems with hypertext literature today. First of all, there is no point in allowing the audience to make a choice regarding the sequence of events, if that sequence in turn makes no difference in the overall meaning. Secondly, the composition of hypertexts with meaningless sequences is fuel for the fire into which a growing number of critics are tempted to throw the whole body of hypertext literature.

Hypertext literature exists in order to show that hierarchy, chronology, or the book structure are not necessarily the only structures that can give rise to meaning in literature. If this is true, then hypertext literature with meaningless structure is not valid. It only shows that order and structure are unimportant, without offering a meaningful alternative. A meaningless alternative to the old structures will only make them look more meaningful by comparison. A story with no meaningful structure at all is weakened by the loss of all the benefits afforded by the tried and true story structures.

In her article, “Hypertext/hyperhype,” Carrie McMillan nicely deconstructs the common assertions that hypertext is somehow revolutionary in the history of writing. She discusses a touted aspect of hypertext, called agency, where “writers can provide readers with … a less passive experience. A reader clicks their way through a text, choosing the direction the narrative takes.” Seeking to undermine the assertion that agency is unique to hypertexts, McMillan mentions video games, many of which also employ agency. McMillan, like so many other people, does not resist the temptation to mention those oft-cited “Choose Your Own Adventure” books in her discussion of agency in hypertexts, as these books are a perfect example of successfully non-linear stories in conventional print. They employ agency as well as any hypertext. The popularity of those oft cited story books eventually waned, and it was probably because of the obstacles to agency imposed by the stories’ confinement to print. In other words, the constant flipping through pages overtook the reading experience. Frankly, it is annoying to have to consult an index, or a footnote, or a table of contents between each small part of a story. Children especially, grew bored with it after a short while. On the other hand, children never tire of the truly interactive bedtime story, which is perhaps as timeless as bedtime itself. If such a thing could be put into print, in a way that preserves and protects its elemental agency, perhaps it could grow to be just as timeless, whether it is a new invention or not.

Aside from agency, McMillan discusses another main tenant of the argument for hypertext’s novelty, which she calls the “most often vaunted . . . potential for writers interested in non-linear or non-chronological narratives.” After all, whether a hypertextual structure aids or inhibits a reader’s agency, it is most likely a nonlinear composition of some sort. Her discussion is quick to mention a famously complex hypertext novel, “283.” This novel, she says, “was picked up by a major publisher and sold as a print novel” a transition which pundits of pure hypertext would have us know should be impossible. Then again, books are translated into movies quite often; does this mean that books can not do anything that a movie can not do? Furthermore, does it really matter whether one of these things can do anything that the others can not do? Can’t they be valid for other reasons?

McMillan correctly demonstrates that reader agency is not unique to hypertexts. Perhaps hypertext is not so novel as it was originally touted to be. Hypertext does things that are not new, so perhaps its significance lies, not in the things it does, but in the way that it does them.

The focus on what makes hypertext different, the link, is perhaps one of the largest problems with it, after all. For most of us, the kind of link that we are accustomed to is simply a hyperactive keyword, so to speak. By relying too heavily on the link, rather than upon the transition methods long established in conventional narrative, we have diminished rather than enhanced the associative properties of language. A good link must rather add to what conventional linking words can do, but those words must be present first. George Landow says in his book “Hypertext 2.0” that literary hypertexts often fail to “employ rhetorics of orientation, navigation, and departure” that we often see within conventional plots and other forms of arranged information, such as articles in a database. Landow concludes from this failure that readers “cannot make particularly informed or empowered choices.” To the extent that this problem exists within a hypertext, agency does not exist, and the body of text is reduced to a series of non-sequiturs.

The emphasis on the novelty of hypertext is dangerous, especially considering that readers of it are so familiar with well-established conventions of text. It is a problematic emphasis for any new medium, the avoidance of (or inability for) which has resulted in the “incunabula” at the beginning of the history of print, where the early books resembled their predecessors more than books as we know them, and also the early films, which resemble stage plays much more than they resemble today’s movies (Murray 28-30).

A hypertext, like any text, can only be as successful as its ability to make sense, even if it does employ new methods or old methods in new ways, to make that sense. The hypertextuality of it is only of value if it can add to that ability to make sense, or if it can make sense in a new way. Unfortunately, the latter aspect gets too much emphasis in hypertext and the theory discussing it.

It is important, then, to understand the unique opportunities for making sense with a text that are afforded by hypertext. These qualities are exhibited uniquely within a hypertext, but they are not exclusive qualities. One medium that bears a strikingly similar resemblance to hypertext is the comic book, or graphic novel.

Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” is an unlikely source for ideas that may pertain to a hypertext literary theory. It is a comic book, or “graphic novel,” in order that it may demonstrate its subject. In it, the author describes something called “sequential art” (5). The term, taken more broadly than McCloud intends, could easily apply to things ranging from a walk through a gallery to a series of television commercials, or to a series of any texts, broadly defined.

A crucial part of “Understanding Comics” is understanding sequence. To read comics is to interpret a series of images and to extrapolate continuity between them. Sequence is distinctive in the comic medium from film or animation, for example, because of the kind of sequence that separates the static images at the root of both media. The sequence we assume between the static images in a “moving picture” is brought about because the images appear in time together, and we blend them. We blend images differently when we read the comics. The sequence between the images is not so much in time, though we still must read one after another, but the one is spatially separate from the other. McCloud says, “Space does for comics what time does for film” (McCloud).

What ‘does it’ for words? Print, like images on paper in succession, does its work in space. Words are nothing without context, and the context depends largely on what is before or after the word, in time, and only spatially if they are in print. Images, unlike words, are obligated to be spatial. Movement is the only way to convey time with an image. Movement only happens in space. Words occupy time, more than space.

McCloud might add, that what “time does for film” can be different from what time does for words. Words do not need to discuss movement, necessarily, in order to show a progression of things. Words do not need to show a progression through time in order to have meaning. The experience of words has no choice but to take place within a passage of time, but it need not necessarily discuss one. An argument, for example, may discuss things that “follow” each other in a different way.

McCloud discusses the different kinds of following that happen between the static images in cartoons/comics/graphic novels. He outlines six different ways to imply closure between one image, or impression, and the next. These transitions could just as easily occur between texts, or pieces of the same text, to arrive at a better understanding of new ways to arrange them in meaningful ways.

The first and simplest transition between images or impressions that creates a meaning with their sequence, or closure, is called a “moment-to-moment transition.” In the example McCloud gives, a woman is drawn in one frame with her eyes open, and in the next, with her eyes closed, creating an impression that the woman had blinked, which neither image could mean on its own, or in a different order (McCloud).

The second, and by far the most commonly employed transition, says McCloud, is the “Action-to-action.” A car is shown driving. A car is shown with its fender crushed against a tree. If “action-to-action” is the standard, is it any wonder that such a thing as a superhero is the product of a comic book imagination? (McCloud) The kinds of transitions we employ effect the kinds of things we can talk about.

There are other transitions, and McCloud advocates their use in visual storytelling. These, he say, require a “degree of reader involvement necessary to render these transitions meaningful” (McCloud) If we rely too heavily upon the image to render or transmit meaning, our experience with that “degree of reader involvement” will be compromised, especially if McCloud is arguing truthfully that images are used to communicate in ways that do not engage their reader to this degree as often. With an emphasis on their ability to use other methods of transition between impressions more easily, more fluidly and more masterfully than can be done with images, words can do what pictures cannot do.

Visual art was reevaluated after the invention of the photograph and the moving picture; there was a push to do with the art what these things could not possibly do, so that the art would not seem obsolete. Verbal art must also wrestle with the implications of the new role of the images in our communication.

One kind of closure between impressions that is much more common with words than with images is the one McCloud says can be drawn from a “subject-to-subject” transition. We can show relationships between subjects quite well with language, and in fact we would have to before we could ever find meaning between, for example, a picture of a man and then a picture of a woman. Call the woman a “mother” and the man a “son,” and thereby paint a clearer picture of the relationship between these subjects. Any text with multiple paragraphs employs subject-to-subject closures.

The fourth transition, McCloud calls the “scene-to-scene” transitions, such as we see and hear in the theater. Here, both words and visual inputs create the same kind of closure in the space between them.

An aspect-to-aspect transition is one that is especially weaker when used between images than when it is used between words. One example McCloud gives is a triptych featuring: a sun in the sky, unobstructed by clouds and with radiating lines; A man wearing sunglasses, looking up; and birds above puffy clouds. It must be a nice day outside. With words, aspect-to-aspect transitions can rely so very much more than that (McCloud). Hypocrisy, idiosyncrasy, irony, analogy, these are all complex situations and relationships that we can infer with first one aspect of a thing and then another. These notions are far more complex than the simple notion of pleasant weather.

“Finally,” concludes McCloud “there’s the non-sequitur, which offers no logical relationship between panels whatsoever” (McCloud). What is most interesting about such a transition is the readers’ tendency to try to see a relationship anyway. This tendency is the whole basis for closure. If a person is presented with first one thing and then another, that person will assume some sort of relationship between them. These six transitions describe the kinds of relationships we are most likely to look for.

This last, the non sequitur, is a serious obstacle to the construction of any kind of sequentially described meaning: argument, sequence, plot, non-linear meaning, or anything else. A reader must be able to observe associations between things however they are presented, if they are to convey any meaning. To overcome this obstacle, certain transitions must be obvious. In order to create a story, these transitions must be laid bare between the descriptions of its main ideas.

McCloud’s detailed analysis of closure is particularly relevant to the study of hypertext, since it employs the presentation of one text and then the next, much in the same way that a comic book relies upon a sequence of images. Perhaps it is no surprise, given the applicability of his ideas that Scott McCloud gave the keynote address at the ACM 2000 international conference on hypertext theory and literature.

If we know for a fact that humans can process impressions in sequence in a variety of ways, how should this knowledge affect our conscious arrangement of impressions in sequence? The most prominent influence on the history of our conduct with this process, in literature, has been the classical model of plot. Aristotle stresses that people become their characters through their actions. Built by the same person, Aristotle’s conception of drama relies upon action-to-action transitions in his “poetics.” These actions tend to be those taken towards an addressing of one problem or another. What could we say, aside from conventionally plotted stories, by employing more of the other recognized methods of transition? Hypertext provides an interesting way to address this question.

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