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Useful reading: Hypertext 3.0 by George Landow

by on July 26, 2012

This is another of our occasional posts on useful reading and addresses the topic of digital research. It also prompts reflection on the process of writing – and reading – an academic blog.

The central premise of the book is to explore parallels between critical theory and computer hypertext. He argues that whilst the printed book was a landmark in human thought, it is not something natural but every much a technology as say computing. Electronic writing is the direct response to the printed form’s strengths and limitations.

Critical theory invokes abandoning ‘conceptual systems founded on the ideas of centre, margin, hierarchy, and linearity and replace them by ones of multi-linearity, nodes, links and networks’ (p 1). As such, it has the potential to theorize hypertext and the latter has the potential to test such theorizing and clarify ideas by providing a practical context for its application.

Landow analyses new forms of discursive prose made possible by hypertext. These include new academic writing such as blogs and highlights features such as the porous and provisional ‘edges’ of a blog, like the borders of any document on the web, and the way in which the genre can challenge our assumptions about what is private and public.

The book also explores how hypertext has reconfigured various aspects of the written word as well as challenging our experience of what it is to be a reader and a writer. Electronic linking provides the reader with a much more active role – for example, through selecting which links to follow and when – than is possible with a printed book. In electronic writing, the present text that we are reading is situated as central to the textual universe but this is a transient and virtual centre and is created by the reader’s act of reading it – not as a result of a printing layout. We might arrive ‘there’ as a result of using a search engine and ‘there’ may be anywhere in a planned sequence or set of documents.

Landow links this to Derrida’s notion of ‘de-centreing’, the idea of the centre as an indispensable function, not a reality. He invites us to see these shifts not as a move away from what is natural but to remind ourselves and understand how we ‘naturalize the social constructions of our world’ (p 110).

So quite useful for researchers in our field!

Landow, G. P. (2006). Hypertext 3.0: Critical theory and new media in an era of globalization (3rd ed.). Baltimore, Md.; London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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