I would like to do two related things in this post. First I would like to respond to Audre's response to my "Archeologies of the (Post-)modern Archive" post (see Literary Machine Blog, October 26, 2003). Second, I would like to suggest how these topics are tied to the issues of "hypertext" and "hypertext fiction" (that we will be discussing shortly).
In her comment, Audre asked about the idea of "internet-as-archive," and how this model suggests a move from "message" to "medium." What I had in mind in my initial post was that an archive contains historical documents (message or content), but that, from a historical perspective, the archive itself (medium or form) is an historical document. In a way, modes of classification might be more historically interesting than documents themselves.
So what does this mean for the internet as an archive? Well, my first instinct is to say that the information stored on the internet is not significantly different from information stored in a library, a research institution, or any archive. Rather, it is the medium (the winding labyrinth that is the internet) that changes with new technology. Thus, in order to study the history of technology or media, we must focus on the form in which information is stored and communincated. Furthermore, in a network where there is an overabundance of information, it becomes difficult (some, like 20th century French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, would say impossible) to make sense of those large quantities of information and convert them into meaning. Thus, we might say that the medium (of the internet) is all we have left of the message; the medium is the message.
However, this argument might oversimplify a complex situation. After all, a medium alters information or content (it does not simply overtake it). As an example, we might suggest a number of postmodern literary texts. One that comes to my mind is John Gardner's Grendel. Although the story is virtually identical to that of Beowulf, the meaning is altered (though it is not swallowed up) by the change in narrative structure and form. The same might be true of Christa Wolf's Cassandra (as a re-imagining of the Iliad and the Oresteia trilogy) and many other books.
So how does the medium of the internet affect the information that it stores? Obviously, I cannot address this question in a single post, but I hope that you all will take a stab at it. We might argue that the internet, unlike other mediums, is a true network in which everything is connected to everything else. However, I am hesitant in making this overly broad claim. I am not sure if this distinction between (for instance) the old, static print culture and the new, interconnected internet is fair and accurate. After all, a scholarly text may offer us many of those same connections even if the connections cannot be made instantaneously. A scholarly work may include footnotes, a biblography, further reading suggestions, and so on. Thus, we could start with one book that would lead us to others virtually forever (is this not what happens in Calvino's novel, If on a winter's night a traveler?). Does not a library offer similar (not identical) search features and intertextual possibilities as the web? (One possible and divergent way to answer this question: 'Absolutely not! A modern library actually incorporates the features of the web into its classification. It fuses with the new; it re-fuses to be replaced. What do we need a card catalog for if we have an online library catalog?!?').
Is there something about hypertext that constitutes a discontinuity between the world of the old-school archive and the internet (as) archive? (For a definition of "hypertext" and its connection to other words, go to the hyperdictionary). If there is not a major distinction or a historical rupture, do hyperlinks make us more conscious of our participation in a network of meaning?
Furthermore, how do hyperlinks change the way that we read and process information? I have not thought about this question enough to give a confident answer. However, speed might be one of the major ways in which the internet changes the way we read. With a plethora of hyperlinks on a page, we are less likely to read everything on that page or to linger without moving on to something new. But the interesting thing is that the internet might not simply affect how we read things on the internet. Perhaps, it also affects the way we read print fiction. Does it make us more likely to skim? Do hyperlinks affect our attention span? If hyperlinks do decrease our attention span then is "hypertext fiction" (like the work of Michael Joyce) a better way to write and read fiction in the current age of the internet? Why is hyperfiction far less popular than print fiction?
I am aware that I am throwing out more questions than answers, but I want to spur some more conversation (even though many of these questions are a bit leading). Please do not feel compelled to answer all or most of the questions. Just approach the issue in any related or digressive way that comes to mind. Thank you for the interesting question, Audre. I hope we can all discuss these questions in the coming weeks.
- PatrickPosted by pjagoda at November 2, 2003 08:47 PM