A Webliography of Discursive Hypertext

Doug Brent

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This page is intended to be part of my hypertext article "Rhetorics of the Web," to be published in Kairos. However, I am maintaining it on a separate page rather than archiving it with the rest of the material in the Kairos article so that I can update it frim time to time and link into it from other materials.

It lists examples of articles that attempt to conduct a discursive argument in what Moulthrop calls "native hypertext" format--that is, hypertext that uses frequent internal links, and often links outside the authors text to other texts on the WWWeb, to exploit the porential of this medium. It is not intended to be exhaustive but merely exemplary: I want to suggest some of the various forms that native hypertext can take.

These texts are intesting for their own sake, but I also include them to explore the question of whether this medium is really friendly to discursive rhetoric. In resisting the urge to post what are essentially long print documents in cyberspace--the "electronic library" view of the WWWeb--have these authors taken hypertext into an area in which it really does not work very well? Have they destroyed the effctiveness of their argument? Or forced the reader into an exhausting attempt to "exhaust" the text, to make sure that they have read it all and not missed an important part of the argument somewhere (thereby making the medium work against itself)?

In gathering these texts I have been struck by how few of them there actually are. Many of the most interesting examples are aesthetic rather than discursive in nature, tending to give me some confidence in my theory that hypertext is not particularly friendly to discursive argument. Many others are really not much more than what David Kolb calls "caterpillar text": text that uses hyperlinks as an elaborate footnoting technique rather than as a way to de-sequentialize an argument.

Although there are exceptions such as Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine,A lot of the discursive hypertexts that have a really interesting shape tend to appear in rhetoric/composition journals such as Computer Writing, Rhetoric and Literature and Kairos. This is not surprising given the obvious interest of rhetoricians in playing with rhetorical forms.

Some of the most interesting discursive hypertexts, such as Kolb's Socrates in the Labyrinth are available only on (somewhat costly) diskettes, almost entirely from Eastgate. I'm not quite sure what this means: perhaps it means that producing really good hypertext is so incredibly time-consuming that people are reluctant to post it on the web for free.

I'd appreciate any comments from readers on this subject. (Send them to dabrent@acs.ucalgary.ca) I will also maintain this link on my own server so that I can keep updating it (and also point to it from more than one site)..

I would also appreciate news of any web texts that should be included in this bibliography.

E-literacies: Politexts, Hypertexts, and Other Cultural Formations in the Late Age of Print by Nancy Kaplan. In one of the more web-like hypertexts on the Web, Kaplan challenges teachers of literacy to get involved in understanding the dynamics of electronic writing spaces. This example is especially interesting because of Kaplan's use of extensive passages from the authors she cites, linked as background nodes to reinforce short quotations (an idea I've obviously been influenced by myself.)

Shadow of an Informand by Stuart Moulthrop. Not surprisingly, given Moulthrop's interest in hypertext, this is one of the more challenging discursive hypertexts on the Web at the moment. A classic.

Hypertext Consciousness by Mark Amerika. This text uses a large number of very short nodes to explore the topic of hypertext, avante-guard art, and post-post-structuralism. I would call it an essay but itx style hovers on the line between essay and prose poetry. (Does hypertext push to erase this line?) Note: If you are subject to eyestrain, you may want to set "Colors" to "Always Use Mine."

Not Maimed but Malted by Daniel Anderson. This text uses a hierarchic design to refute objections to having students write in hypertext, especially objections to mixing of graphics and text. It has a clearly defined conclusion (labelled "Conclusion") to which it proceeds by a reasonably clear central path with many opportunities for sidetrips. It is more sophisticated than Kolb's "caterpillar text" but preserves a basic line of argument.

Aesthetic Approaches to the Design and Study of MUDs by Susan Warshauer. This text is also hierarchic but uses an interesting combination of brief argument and extended abstract as its stem. Some of the branches are elaborations of the main line of argument which could be followed or skipped at whim. Others are expansions of ideas that are merely pointed to in the stem.

The Usual Suspects by Virginia Anderson. This looks at first like a simple set of nodes with "page turner" links at the end of each. However, a few well-placed branches sneak up on you, and the more you read the more you realize that this text is more complex than it looks: it is truly a web rather than a hierarchy.

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