CAP - Hammond, Chapter 7

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Summary and Commentary

"Interactivity is the most recognizably innovative, potentially revolutionary, and intellectually intriguing of the born-digital affordances. Indeed, it is arguably the only born-digital affordance to offer something genuinely unprecedented to the literary experience," Hammond (Literature in the Digital Age, p. 154).


Interactivity: Revolution and Evolution in Narrative

In this chapter Hammond discusses, again, the digital presentation of literature vs. the written text. It is noted that there is no predecessor of digital literature where the reader is asked to take on the role of the protagonist and to become an integral part in determining how the story will unfold. Interactivity offers something entirely new: the ability to act out role of protagonist, determine direction of narrative and to affect outcome. Digital has created a sense of agency for the reader and active participation/interaction in the unfolding of narrative text in that sphere. He focused on two types of text-based literature: hypertext and Interactive Fiction. These digital forms contrast with print-based forms in significant way; they eliminate the need to turn pages and direct input from reader is required to navigate lexia. Hypertext requires navigational choices and IF requires keying in textual commands. There was much debate among critics on the extent to which this technology is revolutionary.

Hypertext was part of the early advent/presentation of digital literature. It was seen as revolutionary thing because it was nonlinear and it required active participation from the reader to progress within the text. Conventional print text runs within a linear fashion because the author has determined prior to the reading the narrative and trajectory of the text. Robert Coover wrote an essay in The New York Times in June 1992 declaring that print was doomed/dead and that technology was new master of the verse. Interactivity with text and the ability to determine the direction and outcome of the story was seen a way to level the playing field between the author and the reader...in other words, it created agency for the reader and leveled the playing field between the elitist author and the powerless reader. But many have argued that hypertext was not the revolutionary tool that it was heralded as because on the surface it offered an agency to the reader that has not been present before, but in reality it offered greater effort and an continuity to the text. Laura Miller was an outstanding voice in that narrative saying, "I could just write my own book if writing is what I really want to do." She also noted that if any decision was a good decision while you reading the text, why bother?

The Rise and Fall of Hypertext

Coover suggests that HT has enjoyed an “Icarian trajectory’ -- it flew too close to the sun and therefore crashed and burned.

Now, because the transitional period is contemporary, we cannot judge significance of the digital medium because we are currently in the midst of it. But HT in this context can be regarded differently in this context because it might be regarded as dead form of presentation in the digital presentation of text. HT was largely forgotten by the dawn of millennium. Robert Coover’s essay “The End of Books,” (June, ’92) was an effusive rant dismissing the print medium, the novel in particular, patriarchal poison. Coover describes “the line, [as] that compulsory author-directed movement from the beginning of a sentence to its period, from the top of the page to the bottom, from the first page to the last." (155). He has praise for HT “because readers actively choose their path through the web of links in a hypertext and … the previously isolated figures of reader and author would become "co-learners" and "co-writers." (155)

Critic Laura Miller, in her ’98 essay “Bookend,” concludes that navigating HT is "profoundly meaningless and dull.” In stark contrast to Coover’s enthusiasm, she offers:

If any decision is as good as any other, why bother? Hypertext is sometimes said to mimic real life, with its myriad opportunities and surprising outcomes, but I already have a life, thank you very much, and it is hard enough putting that in order without the chore of organizing someone else's novel. (156)

History is on Miller’s side because these once “revolutionary” works are now unreadable or inaccessible (lost on outdated and in many cases obsolete software). The legacy of all these questions about the significance of HT is in the related the excitement over its conceptual theory.

Bolter and Landow: Hypertext and Social Transformation

The works of pioneering HT critics (Bolter, Landow, Aarseeth) still form the basis of inquiry for the student of digital-native narrative forms (i.e., videogames). There is a clear connection between HT and poststructuralist theory.

Landow suggests that Barthes’ “readerly text” and “ideal text” sound a lot like HT from a theoretical standpoint. He also brings into context Derrida’s emphasis on “openness, intertextuality and the irrelevance of distinctions between inside and outside” portends the digital text. Bolter concurs with Landow and they each saw HT as a way of promoting postsructuralist political ideology and they viewed it a way for the concept to become accessible to all and in essence, a way to make the concept 'go viral'. The HT was viewed by them as a:

-more egalitarian/democratic world
-worldview as “network of independent species and systems”
- explodes notions of authorial property and individual genius
-ideology will imbed itself in storytelling.

Most important changes resulting from HT

-interactive engagement of reader
-elimination of linear plot
-author and reader on same level plane
-reader is now both consumer and producer of text

The Frustrations and Limitations of HT Interactivity

Other critics were not sure that Bolter and Landow’s ideas were grounded in narrative theory. H. Porter Abbott – nothing new about HT; readerly choice is evident in: (1)Julio Cortazar’s ’63 novel, Hopscotch and (2)Marc Saporta’s Composition no. 1(’62).

Abbott points out that Homer’s Iliad is nonlinear (in medias res); skipping forward and backward in time. It does not need to be presented linearly to be understand the narrative of the work. HT can be seen as a new twist on old concept. Some critics argue that print literature is already interactive. The reader is not a passive interloper in the consumption of the text. While the writer conceptualizes the narrative, the reader plays an active part to, "bring the literary work into existence" (Hammond, pg. 160). The meaning-making work of the reader brings literature into existence. HT cannot transform readers into producers because reading has always been a creative activity.

The critic Aarseth counters that HT is a more integrated activity than mere reader response suggests because because it requires activity outside of the mind (extranoematic). Hammond notes more back and forth between Bolter and Miller’s essays before beginning a discussion of HT and the 21st Century

Twenty-First-Century Hypertext: Stephen Marche's Lucy Hardin's Missing Period

Today, HT is less ambitiously understood as “ a narrative form that shares much in common with older forms, …[and] allow[s] skilled writers to achieve poignant artistic effects not possible in print.” (163) Hammond uses the example of Stephen Marche’s Lucy Hardin’s Missing Period; referring to it as “toned-down twenty-first century hypertext. Published on a website in 2010. The work owes more to CYOA (Choose Your Own Adventure) novels than to Barthes and Derrida -- although the CYOA printed text allowed you to move forward and backwards within the text as you saw fit if you did not like the trajectory of your initial choice.

Marche avoids the term “hypertext’ in favor of “an interactive novel”. Hammond notes that while a print version of the work might achieve similar effects, digital affordances serve to emphasize the theme in ways print cannot. Disappearing choices is the most effective affordance in Lucy Hardin and would be unachievable in print because you can always flip back within the printed text medium.

This simple, restrained devices heralds the potential of a “second wave of hypertext to …use digital affordances to tell good stories better”

How to Talk to Machines: Interactive Fiction and Emily Short's Galatea

One of Emily Short's goals in creating this text is to release the reader from the constraints of given narrative text. Meaning, her intention was to allow the reader a choice in how Galatea's story would play out. The issue with this work and others like it is that is still held captive to the narratives provided by the "main author" of the text -- that is to say, the choices that are able to make to move the story along are all provided the by the author and allows for some agency, but no autonomy. There is still an ideal that has yet to be realized: A narrative able to develop in direct response to the desires and inputs of its readers. The genre of IF approaches this idea but is not yet able to accomplish the task. Human in-put is always a factor. The machine/technology and the human aspect/interaction are equally important and have interdependent roles.

While Lucy Hardin and Galatea were successful artistically and in satisfying enthusiasts of the genre, Hammond concludes:

These texts achieve their effects not by granting their readers perfect freedom but by deliberately frustrating their ability to choose. (173)
and
The most fascinating interactive fiction being written today… finds new ways to bring readers more directly in contact with what it means to be alive in their place and time. (174)

Questions

The word innovate means: (1) the introduction of something new; (2) a new idea, method, or device. Do you think that the literary world's quest to remain relevant in this ever changing and rapidly technologically advancing world has played and continues to play a key role in perception of the role digital-text in the medium??

Will digital text, in the form of the IF experience, ever provide the same enjoyment and sense of tangible experience as print?

Is the active of external interaction with the text more important than the internal interaction with a text? Meaning, is the cerebral interaction and participation/connection with a text less important than the external/physical /direct interaction with a text