Quick Book Search  

  Site Search

Main Search Page Our Books / About Us Ordering Contact Information Quick Links Shopping Cart
University of Michigan Press University of Michigan Press University of Michigan Press University of Michigan Press University of Michigan Press

Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics

by Michael Joyce

Copyright © by the University of Michigan 1995. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher.

Introduction: The Comfort of Knowing We Are Not Lost

A story is told about two elderly sisters who made a pact that the first to die would, as her death approached, begin talking to the other sister at her bedside. The dying sister was to tell everything she heard and saw, attempting to talk without ceasing up to and, if at all possible, past the point of death. The sisters did not dare to hope that they could penetrate the dark edge of existence. Rather, they wished to offer the comfort of knowing they were not lost to each other at the end of time. Their pact was thwarted, however, when the first sister choked to death on a clump of ice accidentally aspirated as she drank ice water. Wide eyed with dismay at the unexpectedness of it all, facing both her sister and her death, and of course unable to speak, she was nonetheless bemused at suffocating on something in the process of disappearing.

This comic parable, which occurs in a twenty-some-year-old (and a twenty-some-year-old's) unpublished novel of mine, seems now to bear upon the situation we face in what Jay Bolter calls "the late age of print." We too are late at the end of something and unable to speak. It is too much to hope for an orderly enough end to accomplish our hopes of transcendence. Yet what chokes and thwarts us is so transitory that to hope for justice seems foolish. In a young man's novel such a parable serves to illuminate the absurdity of a young man's world; in the adult's collection of essays it is offered as an expression of belief in the comfort of knowing we are not lost to one another. This is called a change of perspective.

Much of what follows is about changed perspectives, or what my mentor, Sherman Paul, terms perspectivalization, a primary postmodern virtue. In 1982 I bought a microcomputer, a decision that proceeded from my interests and identity as a writer-teacher. Immediately, as in the most naive visions of pulp science fiction—and despite my claims that this perspectivalizing machine was only a tool, a way of knowing—the computer began to change me. Possessed of two minds, my own and its augmented silicon, I began the slow process of learning to see this not so newly doubled self as one; to see, as Carolyn Guyer has put it, that "dualities must be in tensional opposition to each other in order for the central paradox of existence to work."

Slowly I came to recognize myself veering toward becoming something of a cyborg, in Donna Haraway's sense, a creature whose life is no longer bounded by the horizon line that slashes between too comfortable dualisms such as "self/other, mind/body, culture/nature, male/female, civilized/primitive, reality/appearance, whole/part, agent/resource, maker/made...." Previously stable horizons across my psychic landscape gave way to dizzying patterns of successive contours, each of which was most assuredly real, each of which did not last. Because previous landmarks would not stand still, I have had to learn to measure my progress differently, becoming in the process an example of my mother's distinctive version of the cyborg: "Those dizzy bastards who claim that just because they're spinning the world has changed."

Spinning, the world does change. "Bound in a spiral dance," in Haraway's phrase, we are left dizzied and wondering how to use what we know in order to make our way. So shaken, we suddenly are able "to see," as Don Byrd characterizes the vision of the poet Charles Olson, "that the content of the world has uses inside the skin." A pirouetting dancer "spots" a point in space to avoid dizziness; a pilot uses a horizon indicator to turn a barrel roll. Yet it is the body that not only knows the change but literally makes the way.

This is to say that change is the only true destination, the only reliable occupation in a world that, as Haraway says, "make[s] problematic the statuses of man or women, human, artifact, member of race, individual identity, or body." Olson uses the word proprioception to account for the uses of the content of the world inside the skin. Proprioception is the body's knowledge of its own depth and location, its internalized perspective of "how to use oneself and on what," in Olson's phrase. Yet graphical computer interfaces, hypertexts, virtual realities, and other instances of what Haraway calls the "couplings between organism and machine conceived as coded devices" serve to externalize the internal. Such varieties of technological experience insist upon the permeability of the "self" and the "what" and the uses made of each. Cyborg consciousness invites us to turn proprioception outward beyond Haraway's "crucial boundary breakdown" of organism-machine to a place where we take "pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and responsibility in their construction."

The essays collected here talk sometimes confusingly, although, I hope, also pleasurably and permeably, about teaching and writing—hypertext pedagogy and poetics—from the vantage of internalized perspectives about each. Much of this collection takes the form of what, aware of the ambiguity, I call theoretical narratives, i.e., essays that are both theoretically in narrative form and also narratives of theory. These narratives are made up in the way that a bed is, a day-to-day process of billowing, shaking, refitting. Many of them were talks before they became essays, not so unusual an occurrence for such a collection. That they stay "talks" here should also not seem unusual in an age of virtual realities and telepresences.

What is unusual (but increasingly characteristic of the late age of print) is that, before, during, and after they were talks or essays, these narratives were often e-mail [electronic mail] messages, hypertext "nodes," and other kinds of electronic text that, as will be seen, moved nomadically and iteratively from one talk to another, one draft to another, one occasion or perspective to another. The nomadic movement of ideas is made effortless by the electronic medium that makes it easy to cross borders (or erase them) with the swipe of a mouse, carrying as much of the world as you will on the etched arrow of light that makes up a cursor. At each crossing a world of possibility can be spewed out in whole or in kernel, like the cosmogonic dragon's teeth of myth. Each iteration "breathes life into a narrative of possibilities," as Jane Yellowlees Douglas says of hypertext fiction, so that, in the "third or fourth encounter with the same place, the immediate encounter remains the same as the first, [but] what changes is [our] understanding." The text becomes a present tense palimpsest where what shines through are not past versions but potential, alternate views.

I have not attempted to yield design to these alternate views and to fashion the organization of this text into a hypertextual analogue in the manner of texts like S/Z or Glas or the more recent Telephone Book. Partly this is because I am by now used to readers who insist that my prose is so polyvocal that I speak or write hypertext, even (or especially) each time that I am certain I have finally, like a line upon water, written a clear version. Also, there is a certain joy to the sedimentary evidence of the equivalence between seeing and knowing which years of text in all its soarings and its failings nonetheless at some times the book best represents. Last, there is a pleasure in writing a book about their end(s), which, like Haraway's cyborg, "skips the original unity" and is "resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity."

It seems perversely right that a book titled Of Two Minds should have three parts, though I have an anonymous publisher's reviewer to thank for leading me to see the obvious virtues of pairing introductory essays within their own section contextualizing the major concerns of this collection. Setting two tonal essays in harmonic juxtaposition makes it easy, if not to skip, at least to subvert the original unity duality represents. Dual channels give way to something more like the permeable flow of meaning between sometimes veering, sometimes nearing, banks of a single river. "Within the analytic tradition that parses complex flow as combinations of separate factors," as
N. Katherine Hayles observes, "it is difficult to think complexity. . . practitioners forget that in reality there is always only the interactive environment as a whole."

Yet, since a certain parsing into separate factors is inevitable and even useful in plumbing a book of this sort, it seemed best to follow the same anonymous reviewer's suggestions for occasionally reminding the reader of the interactive environment as a whole by throwing the river into contrary eddies. Thus, the two major sections here are interspersed with "interstitial" documents, a name borrowed from my own term (in "A Feel for Prose," chap. 14) for the capillary flow of interaction. To say that these interstitials are documents probably gives them more historical weight than they should have (at least one such section is, however, an attempt at herstory). Dispatches, apologia, meditations, are all closer to the mark; fretwork summons the right kind of troubled ambiguity. More occasional than the longer occasional pieces collected here, the interstitials are in fact public statements requested for various settings, a few inward and about my work, a few outward and about others; some poetical, some didactic, some antic. Pedagogic interstitials are plopped down with poetic essays, and vice versa, with one set of both placed on the cusp between major sections of the book. They are set here like stones dragged from opposite streams, meant to weave the water, turning it more complex in its course.

The essays in this book are meant to weave two minds, hypertext pedagogy and poetics, into proprioceptive soundings, the momentary wholeness of changing understandings. Like the sisters of the young man's story, both pedagogy and poetics—teaching and writing—have come almost simultaneously to the end of very long strands of their development. As George Landow suggests, hypertext, with "[i]ts emphasis upon the active, empowered reader, which fundamentally calls into question general assumptions about reading, writing, and texts, similarly calls into question our assumptions about the literary education and its institutions that so depend upon these texts."

I have had the good fortune to work and write (separated in space by geographic distance though linked in time by networks, both computer and telephone) with a group of teaching writers and thinkers, the most of whom are (iteratively) cited throughout these essays. Together we have had the necessary pleasure of successively—not to say incessantly—questioning our assumptions. Marginalized, uncertain, ironic, paradoxical, playful, perverse, and lost, we have been fortunate in our opportunity (to adopt the postmodern typographical graphi-lect) to consider hypertext pedagogy and/as poetics in the process of re(de)fining each. Hypertext pedagogy and poetics alike form what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari call "complex differences; the de facto mixes, and the passages from one to the other; the principles of the mixture, which are not at all symmetrical, sometimes causing a passage from the smooth to the striated, sometimes from the striated to the smooth."

Thus, these essays and/or narratives are less a collection than a concoction; shaped largely in what Carolyn Guyer calls the "buzz daze" of space-time and committed to what Jane Yellowlees Douglas calls "rejecting the objective paradigm of reality as the great `either/or' and embracing, instead, the `and/and/and.'" As a perspectivalizing machine (variously embodied as synchronous computer conferencing, collaborative networking, database searching, desktop publishing and presentation, hypertext, hypermedia, simulation and virtual reality), the computer not only extends the text to encompass the world but also likewise extends the fundamental questions about education and institutions that Landow raises. Our genuine culture, which is to say our experience of living in a place over time, is increasingly enacted not just in the manipulation of symbolic information but also in our increasing willingness to see our own existence as both constituted by and constituting symbolic information.

Outline of Part 1: Of Two Minds: Hypertext Contexts

The essay introducing hypertext pedagogy in "Hypertext and Hypermedia" was a commissioned entry for the Encyclopedia on English Studies and Language Arts, "Hypertext and Hypermedia." Not surprisingly, it is perhaps the most cogent, even traditional, essay here. As such it may serve as a litmus test for the wary reader, although the truth is, as the persistent reader will discover, that the stylistic calm of the encyclopedia gives strategic cover for some rather radical claims for hypertext, beginning with the first sentence, "Hypertext is, before anything else, a visual form." In any case this brief chapter introduces the issues, definitions, history, and contexts for hypertext.

"What I Really Wanted to Do I Thought," the essay introducing hypertext poetics, was gathered for Jon Lanestedt—the brilliant, young Norwegian hypertext theorist, programmer, and author—as background for an article he was preparing regarding Jay Bolter's and my hypertext program Storyspace. In some sense it transcribes a set of formulaic anecdotes I was used to telling in talks and readings, interviews and classes, but that I had never quite pulled together into any rigid sequence. It means to describe, as best I can, the befuddling process of coming to terms with the fact that one is supposed to have had a vision when it only seemed one did what one thought (which is three ones too many and so doesn't add up). This is to say, it attempts to answer the frequently asked, and characteristically American, question "How'd you ever think up something like that, anyway?"

Outline of Part 2: Siren Shapes: Hypertext Pedagogy

The essays regarding hypertext pedagogy begin in "Siren Shapes: Exploratory and Constructive Hypertext" with what is happily among the most frequently cited essays regarding hypertext pedagogy (so frequently cited that computer and composition doyenne—and self-styled "feminist cyborg guerilla"—Cindy Selfe once accused it, one hopes humorously, of being "canonical"). Unhappily, it appeared in a journal that is now defunct and so generally unavailable, at least in print. The definitions of exploratory and constructive hypertext that first emerge there make iterative appearances in later essays as, like in others, I struggle to understand their implications. This essay also reports some of the earliest work done with hypertext and developmental writing.

"Interstitial: Networks of Woven Water" and "The Dangers of Trans-parency." The first of these two statements was solicited as a contribution to a multiply authored manifesto culminating an electronic salon (conducted over the TechnoCulture [TNC] computer network mail list) preceding a seminar on cyberculture, coordinated by Ann Balsamo and Stuart Moulthrop at Georgia Tech. It means to recognize the formative importance of a female genealogy, in Luce Irigaray's Foucauldian phrase, for hypertext poetics. It is a weave, a blur, a ripple, a stream of successive, mutable fields, and, like teaching itself, a practical work.

The second statement was a contribution to what was meant to be a face-to-face (FTF, in "net" parlance) version of an electronic salon, a Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) thinktank regarding computer intensive instruction (San Diego, 1993). It talks about when "the mirror metaphor fails and gives way to one of intervening, aqueous lenses whose translucence shifts from moment-to-moment between glass and mirror."

Also out of water comes by far the most curious, even awkward, essay here, "What the Fish Lady Saw: Patterns Out of Disjointedness in Two Hypertext Writing Communities." This essay is part of a continuing effort to address the "two cultures" problem in hypertext studies through a process of collision rather than conversation. Like its companion pieces (coauthored with Mark Bernstein and others for the Proceedings of the Association of Computing Machinery [ACM] but not collected here), it may represent the as yet unhappy marriage of bad science with bad literary-pedagogical theory. Like many bad marriages, however, its intent is earnest, even heroic: to find a way for the disparate concerns of scientist and humanist to meld together without sacrificing their particularity. The essay was prepared for a CCCC workshop on research into computers and composition. Writers in two community college classes—a first-term composition class and a creative writing class—were invited to consider their experiences in networked, collaborative, hypertext writing environments by participating in synchronous conferences with other members of their learning community. Transcripts of the two computer conferences were organized into a Storyspace hypertext web then analyzed both through a narrative ethnography and with graphical representations derived from computer science, in order to characterize the instructor's view (i.e., mine) of writing communities and the issues that engaged them.

"Interstitial: Everyone's Story Seems to Go on Without Us" includes two short texts about hypertext fictions. The first was published as the introduction to Stuart Moulthrop's epic hypertext fiction, Victory Garden, and looks toward the work being done by Moulthrop and others establishing a hypertext literature and culture. The second, an introduction to Carolyn Guyer's undulant hyperfiction, Quibbling, remains unpublished. For whatever reason (perhaps on a theory about the epic and the undulant) Eastgate Systems issued her text in a jewel box, unadorned by frontmatter. Both these statements, in their concerns with multiple stories and what in another essay I call ongoingness, seem to fit nicely between the attempts to measure and represent ongoingness in the previous essay and the ongoingness of the multiple stories in the theoretical narratives of following chapters.

The concluding series of three essays in this section, "`So Much Time, so Little to Do': Empowering Silence and the Electric Book"; "A Memphite Topography"; and "New Teaching: Toward a Pedagogy for a New Cosmology," are examples of the bed-making theoretical narratives and iterative movements of nomadic ideas discussed earlier. The first two were keynote addresses, and the third ought to have been one instead of being published in a journal, at least according to the dissenting referee for Computers and Composition, the journal that did publish it as a lead essay. Consciously polemical, narrative, and meditative in style, these essays traced for me a movement from reciprocal silence to a city of text, from Willie Wonka to Wim Wenders, from marginal to multiple.

The three essays are nomadic in the sense of Deleuze and Guattari, in which "every point is a relay and exists only as a relay... [in which] the in-between has taken on all the consistency and enjoys both an autonomy and a direction of its own... [and the] life of the nomad is the intermezzo." The essays and their ideas remain in movement for me. With each iteration of them I believed I had come closer to, even achieved, a clear telling, a true story, a direct statement, and each time to my great dismay hearers and readers greeted (nay, even heralded) me with huzzahs for my hypertextual complexities. In lieu of the music of the spheres, I came to become fond of the poet Charles Bernstein's notion of "the music of contrasting characterizations." Although I have trimmed those cadenzas that are shared whole scale among the three pieces, enough of their pure repetition, iterative symmetry, and intermezzo remains either to annoy the reader or to make the movement clear depending on her ear for sarabandes and other spiral dances.

"Interstitial: Silicon Valley Maoists and Ohio Zen." Two lists of sixfold ways offer rules for the unruly and practical talk about impractical matters. The first, written in the late-twentieth-century poetic form called the "executive summary," offers "infotainment" merchants ways to talk to teachers and here serves to capitulate themes of the first half. The other, written in the late-twentieth-century dramatic form called "panelspeak," was meant to afford me a way to talk as if I were eloquent on the fly and off the cuff and serves to announce themes (and sometimes latterly appearing texts) of the second half. Both lists are more whispers than shouts, although here on the cusp between pedagogy and poetics they are meant to echo hither and thithering to and fro between converging shores.

Outline of Part 3: Contours: Hypertext Poetics

The essay that begins the second movement of this text, "Selfish Interaction: Subversive Texts and the Multiple Novel," was an actual first pass. I suggested above that any electronic text is a present-tense palimpsest; this one is made up of sections snatched from, among other sources, my first letters to Jay Bolter, our first grant request for Storyspace, and journal entries. It includes my earliest formulation of ideas about interactive fictions, intentionality, and author and reader relationships that are only finding their present-tense expression in recent speculations on hypertext contours. Fittingly for a palimpsest, it was promised for a collection of essays in 1986 but did not appear in print until 1991, when it had the curious fate of being reprinted in the McGraw-Hill Hypertext Hypermedia Handbook before it was printed in the Elsevier collection (which, in the way of academic texts, may now not appear at all). I still find myself challenged by its skepticism and puzzled by its claims, which often seem at variance with my more utopian mind of late.

"Interstitial: Dead White Men Also Compute" is perhaps an instance of my more utopian mind, though it too comes from rather early on, and all that is late in it are the eponymous white men of its title. It was initially prepared as a so-called white paper for an intrainstitutional, interdisciplinary grant writing team. "As a first step toward a hypertext for the humanities," it suggests that "we might imagine something very much like hyperfiction in conception or at least in its branching, convinced that the mix of seamless, default branches, yields, and patterned browsing which characterizes them is something like the right model for interactive texts in any domain, and especially for the kinds of choice-driven modules we are discussing." Its companion piece, "Network Culture (1994)," suggests that these issues persist into the Web and beyond.

"The Geography of the Word: The Textfile as Landscape" repays intellectual debts as it attempts to map ideational ground. Although it might perhaps be collected among the essays on hypertext pedagogy on account of its attention to the effect of technology upon the writing process, its concerns with artificial intelligence (AI) and the academic discipline and profession of geography each are grounded in the genealogy of a writer's consciousness. The linkage of the work of Roger Schank's group (with which I spent time as a visiting fellow at the Yale AI Lab) with the thought of the geographer Carl O. Sauer and the poet Charles Olson enacts the overt repayment. The real link, and the real debt, however, is to Sherman Paul, who still teaches me what it is to see.

"The Ends of Print Culture" appeared in the electronic journal Postmodern Culture (PMC) shrouded in a much longer title, which sandwiched its intention between cautionary pretexts and postscripts: "Notes toward an Unwritten Non-Linear Electronic Text, `The Ends of Print Culture' (a work in progress)." The sandwiching took place in response to (again) the vehemence of referees who found it more polemical than philosophical (but who must have been mystified when Robert Coover's even more polemically titled "The End of Books" appeared as the front-page essay of the New York Times Book Review). When editors Eyal Amiran and John Unsworth asked if I would mind publishing my essay as part of their proposed series of works in progress (which, to the best of my knowledge, includes only this essay, and which also, most likely, kept it out of the Oxford University Press collection of PMC essays), I was pleased, since, as will become evident, it is very much the fourth panel for the pedagogical triptych of polemical keynotes collected in the first section. As such, it gathers strands (and whole sections of nomadic text) from these three essays and uses them hypertextually to weave the helix of a new argument. Thus, I have neither edited its rather substantial borrowings, other than to italicize them (so a reader who tires of wholesale repetitions can pass them by), nor have I reformatted its text from the numbered paragraphs, which serve in lieu of pagination in internet computer network transmission.

The essay argues, as the whole of this collection in some sense does, that in the late age of print the topography of the text is subverted and reading is design enacted. Thus, the choices a text presents depend upon the complicity of the reader in creating and shaping meaning and narrative. As more people buy and do not read more books than have ever been published before, the book is merely a fleeting, momentarily marketable, physical instantiation of the network. Readers face the task of re-embodying reading as movement, as an action rather than a thing, network out of book.

"Interstitial: Artists' Statements—Giving Way(s) before the Touch" includes two "artist's statements" about my hyperfiction, afternoon, a story. The first statement is made up of the four screens I wrote in 1987 to provide directions for readers of this hyperfiction. The ideas of "words which have texture" and yield words attempted to describe a way of reading sensually and imagined the screen as giving way before the touch, lapsing in the rhythm of caress, rather than, as the interactive cinema artist Grahame Weinbren puts it, descending "into the pit of so-called `multi-media,' with its scenes of unpleasant `buttons,' `hot spots,' and `menus,' [that] leaves no room for the possibility of a loss of self, of desire in relation to the unfolding." Its ideas about closure and continuity seemed unremarkable to me at the time although difficult to express. Even so, six years later, when Robert Coover asked "What is it like to read fiction on a computer screen in hypertext?" in his front-page New York Times Book Review article, "Hyperfiction: Novels for the Computer," he ended up quoting from this section of afternoon "what is perhaps its most famous line "There is no simple way to say this.'"

The second statement was prepared as a contribution to one of the "Words on Works" issues pioneer electronic writer Judy Malloy edits for the Leonardo Electronic News, published by the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology. It was written at about the same time as "A Feel for Prose," which it borrows from, and in the thrall of a weekend spent partly in conversation with a wonderful young Italian art critic, whom it mentions and who gave my work contexts I had not imagined but nonetheless could see. It asks more questions than it answers. It seems to me as close as I have thus far been able to come to the truth of what, in "The Last Painting," Helene Cixous calls "the second innocence, the one that comes after knowing, the one that no longer knows, the one that knows how not to know."

"Hypertext Narrative" is another polemic and a palimpsest and, like "Selfish Interaction," lives in doubled time as more an action than a thing. Originally written as a talk for a panel "Hypertext, Narrative, and Consciousness" at the ACM Hypertext '89 meeting in Pittsburgh (where it was presented with accompanying Hypercard screens and distributed in laser-printed samizdat because panel papers were not included in proceedings); it was revised and augmented in 1992 for Perforations, the magazine-in-a-box edited by Richard Gess for the Atlanta arts collective "Public Domain." The revised essay includes a new section on virtual reality and interanthologizes the "Dryden Statement," a "minifesto" on interactive fiction written following the first meeting of TINAC, also an (interactive) arts collective founded by Nancy Kaplan, Stuart Moulthrop, John McDaid, and myself. In a nomadic argument that makes its way from Calvino to Eco to Deleuze and Guattari to Hakim Bey, the essay suggests that "the value produced by its readers is constrained by systems that refuse them the centrality of their authorship": "What is at risk is both mind and history."

"What Happens as We Go" expands on a talk I gave for the Museum of Modern Art "Technology in the 90s" series in April 1993 and points toward the victory of the text-as-read envisioned by Calvino. The four parts of its extended subtitle, "Hypertext Contour, Interactive Cinema, Virtual Reality, and the Interstitial Arts of Jeffrey Shaw and Grahame Weinbren," are not so much strands of one yarn as the quilted stuff that make up an entangled, rhythmic, and successive conversation. It is a conversation that extends through the final three chapters of inversion, subversion, and transgression (though not, of course, in that or any order) regarding polyvocal rhetorics, multiple narratives, exploratory and constructive hypertexts, and hypertext contours. This chapter includes what to my mind is my clearest formulation to date of the slippery, latter notion (a formulation, therefore, that migrates to the concluding chapter that first spawned the notion of contours), and its final section attempts to enact something like contours in an encounter with Weinbren's "interweaving multiple narrative streams." Weinbren and I first encountered each other among the AI and human interface computer scientists, film theorists, filmmakers and others brought together as part of an extraordinary multidisciplinary interactive video research project choreographed by the unsung pioneer in interactive media, Mary Milton, while she was at the Markle Foundation in 1984.

"Hypertextual Rhythms (Part 2)," the first section of the inverted two-part chapter, "The Momentary Advantage of Our Own Awkwardness," snatches surrender from the jaws of the victory of the previous chapter. Presented as a performance piece at the 1992 Modern Language Association (MLA) convention session "Hypertext, Hypermedia: Defining a Fictional Form," it offers an aesthetic of surrender in what David Porush calls "the war between passion and technology," and depends upon Helene Cixous's sense of the "third self" and the "betweenus we must take care to keep" as a way to sustain the necessary relationship in claiming for constructive hypertext a surrender of writer to reader (the writer who will be).

The second section, called part 1, was solicited as a one-page contribution to a "virtual seminar" on the "bioapparatus" sponsored and published by the Arts Studio at The Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, in the fall of 1991. Meant as a dialogue with, as much as a critique of, virtual reality, this theoretical narrative argues that "what's missing [from current virtual reality] is the interstitial link, the constant mutability and transport that the word, now electrified... is not used-to (for despite its hegemony it is not conscious as yet; rather, it is we who are used to this in it) but used-for."

The last essay of this collection, "A Feel for Prose: Interstitial Links and the Contours of Hypertext," is my most fully developed theoretical narrative thus far. Though perhaps as many texts have migrated to (and from) this essay as any, the italics here do not indicate borrowings but, rather, the interstitial murmurs of texture and contour. Fashioned more likely in homage than in the manner or intelligence of Julia Kristeva's "Toccata and Fugue for the Foreigner," its first contours are an extended meditation upon the qualities of print and electronic text ("Print stays itself; electronic text replaces itself"), interspersed with narrative-critical interstitials in which critical voices murmur and converse. The latter contours explore the shape of a new theoretical paradigm for hypertext as "a fully coextensive, truly constructive electronic text [that] will present the reader opportunities for capturing the figure of connection at its interstices".

The evolving contour must be manifest for the reader so she can recognize, resist, appropriate, possess, replace, and deploy the existing contour not just in its logic and nuance but in its plasticity. She should be able to mold and extend the existing structure at each point of replacement and to transform it to her own uses.

In this much, at least, I have been consistent in both minds (though whether consistency is a virtue in the late age of print will be seen in its fool's patterns). In 1986 my first pass statement on multiple hyperfictions in "Selfish Interactions" asked its readers to "suppose a text can anticipate unpredictable variations upon it"; likewise, the 1988 article "Siren Shapes," the first of my pedagogical theoretical narratives suggested that "transformation of knowledge... is the litmus test we should use in judging both exploratory and constructive hypertexts."

In the end, of course, it isn't for me to say whether two minds stuck for some years on a simple idea flap like the fabric of kites caught on a single pole or whether the licking undulation of their fabric in air speaks in the billow of being made up as a bed is. What I can insist is that these patterns of apparent consistency are what Carolyn Guyer calls "objects of our lives... inventions that operate somewhat like navigational devices, placemarkers if you will."

"We go on," she tells us, "like waves unsure of the shore, sometimes leaping backwards into the oncoming, but always moving in space-time, always finding someplace between the poles that we invent, shifting, transforming, making ourselves as we go." This is the language of sisters, of the betweenus at the end of time, of hypertext pedagogy and as poetics in the process of re(de)fining each, of minds that dare to hope to penetrate the dark edge of existence comforted by knowing we are not lost to one another.

Top of Page

Return to Of Two Minds Homepage

Site Map