Hypertext and Multivocality

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

[Pages 11 in print version. © the Johns Hopkins University Press 1992.]

In attempting to imagine the experience of reading and writing with (or within) this new form of text, one would do well to pay heed to what Mikhail Bakhtin has written about the dialogic, polyphonic, multivocal novel, which he claims "is constructed not as the whole of a single consciousness, absorbing other consciousnesses as objects into itself, but as a whole formed by the interaction of several consciousnesses, none of which entirely becomes an object for the other" (18). Bakhtin's description of the polyphonic literary form presents the Dostoevskian novel as a hypertextual fiction in which the individual voices take the form of lexias.

If Derrida illuminates hypertextuality from the vantage point of the "bite"or "bit," Bakhtin illuminates it from the vantage point of its own life and force -- its incarnation or instantiation of a voice, a point of view, a Rortyian conversation. Thus, according to Bakhtin, "In the novel itself, nonparticipating 'third persons' are not represented in any way. There is no place for them, compositionally or in the larger meaning of the work" ( Problems, 18). In terms of hypertextuality this points to an important quality of this information medium: hypertext does not permit a tyrannical, univocal voice. Rather the voice is always that distilled from the combined experience of the momentary focus, the lexia one presently reads, and the continually forming narrative of one's reading path.

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