Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hypertext and Personhood

As I read Shelley Jackson's Stitch Bitch, I was most fascinated by the analogy of hypertext to the self, which we also discussed a little in class. In addition to the comparisons Jackson makes between the physical body and hypertext (the body not experienced as a whole, the body as a patchwork), Jackson addresses the mind, with its "almost catatonic obsession with stasis, centrality, and unity." Just as Stuart Moulthrop posits the ways in which hypertext (Xanadu) can bring about social change with a form of Nelson's "new populitism", Jackson seems to envision a new form of the self closely related to/based on hypertext. Jackson says that she would like to “invent a new kind of self which doesn't fetishize so much, grounding itself in the dearly-loved signs and stuff of personhood, but has poise and a sense of humor, changes new directions easily, sheds parts and assimilates new ones.” At this point I’d like to make a little digression and think through my use of “personhood” in the title of this post, which I did not realize might not have been the most apt choice until now. I don’t think that Jackson is saying that “personhood” isn’t valid, however… Perhaps what she is challenging are the ways in which we construct ourselves as people. I would really like to explore this concept of inventing ourselves in the vision of hypertext, if this is indeed what Jackson is calling for.

Jackson’s hypertext is liberating. “In the no-place of hypertext,” she writes, “there’s finally room to move around…” Her hypertext novel allowed her to write the way that she thinks; it is a novel “shaped a little more like [her own] thoughts.” Jackson draws an analogy between the confining nature of the traditional novel and life with this anecdote:

I can’t help seeing an analogy between the editorial advice I have often received to weed out the inessentials and lop off the divergent story lines, and the life advice I’ve received just as often to focus, choose specialize.

The hypertext novel is divergent. It is filled with what inessentials. Jackson implies that the editorial advice and the life advice are somehow confining; if we accept the inclusive no-space expanse of hypertext, which allows for those inessentials, is it also okay to live the life of “roving focus”?

How can hypertext reconsider our valuation of individuality? Hypertext is about connection; Jackson is interested in “relationships, juxtapositions, apparitions and interpolations.” If hypertext becomes life, will we begin to value ourselves more as dividuals, made up of our relationships to others?

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