Table of Contents

Glosses in Hypertext Studies

Toward a Theory of Hypertextual Design
Postmodern Culture v. 3 n. 2 (January 1993)
Kathleen Burnett

Applies a segment of the work of Deleuze and Guattari (the tree-rhizome distinction) to hypermedia.
Fails on two counts:

  1. doesn't theorize the mediating instance of browsers or display software
  2. doesn't account for relation between language (any signifying system) and natural language (verbal systems )
    [see French distinctions: language/langue/parole]

For example, Paragraph 17 reads:

Traditional hierarchical database structures are even more problematic in their support of nonverbal expression. Meaningful formation of hierarchies across media boundaries can be accomplished only through the use of language, since hierarchy is itself a creation of language, and therefore, language is the only universal tool available within an hierarchical structure.

This passage assumes that hierarchy only arises as funciton of natural language. However consider the following. Any semiotic marker can be resolved into sequences. Any sequence can be ordered along an axis (top.bottom/beginning.end). The temporal or spatial characteristics of the semiotic stuff lead the way to hierarchy.

The "universal tool" is located not in the power of verbal constructs to sort and order nonverbal expressions. One can theorize a hardwired universal tool. Hierarchies and their re-arrangements are the products of perception and cognition.

If a model sensorium or perceptual apparatus is built on cybernetic principles, if perception is a cognitive act involving both memory and sensation, then verbal expression need not be set up as all-powerful. Furthermore, working with such a model sensorium, one is more apt to regard hierarchies as porous time-based structures and thus subject to change.

Toward a Theory of Hypertextual Design seems built around the tension between the one and the many and around the management of change. Take for example the final sentence of Paragraph 21:

The principle of multiplicity is reflected in hypertextual design by the coterminous presence of varying modes of access to a single structure on the one hand, and of varying structures on the other.

This suggests "structure" is logically somewhere between the acts of reading and writing, between the making and the perceiving. If we consider browsers or display software, the record of access is itself a single phenomenon with plural structures. The principle of multiplicity operates not between the one and the many but through the singular particularity and unrepeatability of every instance: many, many, many ones.

The inductive joy of such proliferation need not lead to a deductive nightmare. Hypertext design invites careful rigorous comparison and out of constant comparison is knowledge built and maintained. For that matter this applies to any type of design work.

For Further Reading

For more on sensoria see Sorting and Storing


Consider a browser as a sensorium.
How do memory and sensation play their roles in the operation of the apparatus?
Pay close attention to time and space.

Copyright © François Lachance 1998
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