[Seven by Nine Squares home page]

The Seven by Nine Squares and "Hypertext":


  1. Setting Things Straight
  2. Theses presented to the "Hypertext Literature" mailing list
  3. Reply by Mark Bernstein
  4. Nevertheless: "Hypertext" in the Seven by Nine Squares

Setting Things Straight

The Seven by Nine Squares hold it that "hypertext" is something thoroughly ill-defined, terminologically as well as functionally. A close inspection of both term and function - of "the super(structured) web" - leaves us just with the opposite of what its apologists like to claim. In turn, the arguments of "hypertext" enthusiasts reveal amazingly naive concepts of text, book, reading and rhetoric. There is no point in denying that the present shape of the Seven by Nine Squares is, above all, cheap convenience and clumsily at hand to readers who wish to use it as a query base - a structure that would simplify handling an "open-ended, perpetually unfinished textuality" (George P. Landow, deliberately mixing up what hermeneutic and post-structuralist models describe as a quality of every text and particular, distinct writing techniques), turning from a pseudo-"nonsequential writing" (Nelson) to "nonsequential reading."

Theses presented to the "Hypertext Literature" mailing list

In a report about the "First German Hypertext Festival" at Podewil center, Berlin

"Hypertext" as far conceived within the limits of "Storyspace" and HTML appears to be a questionable concept:
  1. The alleged "openness" of hypertext is factual closure: All links within a "hypertext" are given, every "association" is pre-defined.
  2. Convential hypertext is just the opposite of an open structure as it conceals its whole
  3. Hypertext by itself has little or nothing to do with computers. We know Diderot/d'Alembert's Encyclopedia as a "hypertext" constructed by writing; we know, for example, two millenia of Bible hermeneutics as constructing "hypertext" by reading.
  4. Conventional hypertext degrades the computer to a simple displaying machine, comparable to a slightly more sophisticated slide projector. It buries the algorithmic (combinatory) potentials of the machine.
  5. Popular notions of printed text as "linear" rely on a naive notion of text ("textum"="the web") and reading. A close reading of any text shows that language is not linear because it is rhetorical, that is, figurative.
  6. That "hypertext" as open, user-oriented information storage should less be thought from the writer's, but from the reader's side. (It is significant that such a "hypertext" system - WAIS - has been implemented in the Internet even before the World Wide Web, but never gained popularity.)

Reply by Mark Bernstein from Eastgate Systems

Date: Fri, 7 Apr 1995 09:55:39 -0400
Florian Cramer opines that

>- "hypertext" as open, user-oriented information storage should less
>be thought from the writer's, but from the reader's side. "Hypertext" thus
>could be better achieved with sophisticated search and concordance agents
>(with built-in grammatical and semantic capabilities) which could extract
>custom "links" from a deliberate amount of "conventional text" (for
>example: reading a couple of literary texts as one along motivical and
>stylistical parallels - or discrepancies).

This has been, of course, a fairly common sentiment, and a great deal of
research has been done in this area. See, for examples, the following
papers in the Proceedings of the ACM Hypertext Conferences:  H. van Dyk
Parunak (91); Salton (93); Croft (89); Crouch and Crouch (89); Bernstein et
al. (91); Gloor (92).

Cramer adopts in his critique a fundamentally functionalist view of text,
in which writing and rhetoric can be reduced to access, to the provision of
"custom links" by semantic agents. In adopting this stance, Mr. Cramer (and
others before him) has to relegate rhetoric, pedagogy, and argumentation to
mere mechanism -- a vague collection of agents -- placed in the service of
the reader. Lanham (The Electronic Word) rather demolishes the theoretical
foundations of this view; for relevant hypertext papers, see especially the
recent work of George P. Landow, Stuart Moulthrop (Hypertext 91), Joyce (Of
Two Minds, U of Michigan Press 1995), and Jones & Spiro (Hypertext ?92).

The proof, though, is in the pudding.

        Let those teach others who themselves excel,
        And censure freely who have written well. (Pope, On Criticism)

I haven't yet seen a convincing way to use the sensually immersive media
through which Mr. Cramer seeks salvation to explain aromatic nucleophilic
substitution or the incredible lightness of being. But I'd love to see it

Mark Bernstein                          Bernstein@eastgate.com
Eastgate Systems, Inc.                  voice: +1(617) 924-9044
134 Main St Watertown MA 02172 USA      fax:   +1(617) 924-9051
    WORLD WIDE WEB:     http://www.eastgate.com/~eastgate/     

Nevertheless: "Hypertext" in the Seven by Nine Squares

Text cited: