Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hypertext, Barthes, Memory

After reading Shelly Jackson's "Stitch Bitch" and her description of hypertext, I was left wondering how Barthes would respond to hypertext given the values of readerly and writerly. On the one hand, hypertext is read and consumed like any other text (readerly). But on the other hand, the introduction of choice allows the reader to play more than a passive role: the reader selects links as s/he progresses through the text, creating an original text through the link selection. A linear text is predetermined but "Hypertext doesn't know where it's going" (Jackson). The act of reading becomes a mode of production (writerly). However, the reading-product of hypertext does not exist externally to the reader (e.g. a book), but internally as a product of memory.

I was especially aware of the place of memory during the Patchwork Girl lab tonight. As I was clicking through the links and exploring all the boxes, I noted that the Patchwork Girl I was constructing could not be easily shared with another as the sequence of text and images existed only in my memory as a blurred recollection. If my moves has been recorded and a history collected, I could have replayed the text as I experienced it, but at that point it would cease to be a hypertext and merely a linear text produced from one.

The Memex functions in this way: first an experience of free association and then a recorded linear experience that can be replayed at will. Drawing on a present day example, web browsers also have this feature, allowing the user to freely move about the Web but recording each move as part of a linear history. This recording allows users to "pleasurably forget" where they have been as this burden is passed on to the machine.

By contrast, the experience of Patchwork Girl is not a pleasurable forgetting: it is an anxious forgetting. With no recorded history, the user is disoriented. S/he is not sure where s/he has been or if s/he has been here before.

No comments: