Haraway hypothesizes that writing is "pre-eminently the technology of cyborgs." [Simians, Cyborgs and Women, p.176] It is a natural jump; language is the first information technology, and humanity has been cyborgic since our first word. It is this that motivates Haraway to reject "Paradise Lost" style mythology.

Cyborg writing must not be about the Fall, the imagination of a once-upon-a-time wholeness before language, before writing, before Man. Cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other. [p.175]

Humankind only became human when they acquired information technology, undermining all mythology centered around humanity's former "innocence" or paradise. We should instead look forward, building the world into a new kind of paradise. It is a struggle "for language and...against perfect communication," reveling in the destruction of boundaries, the merging of polar opposites, and the interplay and dialogue between individuals and cultures. Society is built into a boundary-spanning entity as well, an era of global interdependence and connectivity created in its makers' image.

Component Parts

A chimaeric being like a cyborg is more than the sum of its parts, as its essence transcends both the flesh and mechanical/informational components it is built from. In a similar way a hypermedia project is much more expansive than any single page; works like Patchwork Girl are composed by the creation of many different pages, but it is the experience of going through some subset of them as a collective whole that creates the sense of a complete work. This does not free the cyborg or the author from caring for their individual components; quite the opposite, as neglect for the body in favor of the digital can leave a cyborg stranded, burned out, as Gibson's character Case is at the beginning of Neuromancer.

Hypertext is no different. Particularly with web media, a document might be entered at any one of its many pages. A Google search does not always land on the front page, and readers are as likely to start at the end as at the beginning. In linear works this would be a problem, but hypermedia should embrace it as a defining feature and strength.

William Dickey, who has written hypertext poetry using Apple's HyperCard, finds it a good or useful quality of hypertext poetry that it 'may begin with any one of its parts, stanzas, images, to which any other part of the poem may succeed. This system of organization requires that that part of the poem represented on any one card must be a sufficiently independent statement to be able to generate a sense of poetic meaning as it follows or is followed by any other statement the poem contains. [Hypertext 2.0, p.190. Emphasis added]

What Genre, Then?

Component parts must each be strong enough to serve this function, but also be tied together in a way that leaves the reader with some closure at the end. What is the result, then? What kind of literature is this? "After all, each age of information technology... has had its characteristic literary genres."

The age of orality had the epic, heroic elegy, and tragedy, the age of manuscript had the romance, and that of print the novel... hypertext might turn out to be more a poetic than a narrative form...the way links reconfigure narrative leads to a defamiliarization that parallels the effects of characteristically poetic departures from word order, common usage, and the like.
...the link, the element that hypertext adds to writing, bridges gaps between text—bits of text—and thereby produces effects similar to analogy, metaphor, and other forms of thought, other figures, that we take to define poetry and poetic thought. [Hypertext 2.0, p.190. Emphasis added]

Hypertext, then, appears as a sort of inverted haiku. Haiku are simple, elegantly crafted poems meant to capture a moment in time. Hypermedia celebrates transition and change, reveling in the constant motion of cyberspace. The joy of hypertext is the constant re-evaluation of the text, the blur of change represented by a link followed by the contemplation of the new material. Renga, a form of haiku created through the cooperation of several poets, is more in line with hypermedia. Each poet creates their few lines on the spot, a response to what has already been said; the end result is a completed work, but it only exists as such because the poets sat together. Any stanza is still a valid poem, and were they not grouped by their proximity they would fragment into individual, disjointed works.

Web Media Explored

If the literary goal and appropriate genre of cyborg writing has been established, the only remaining step is the creation and dissemination of the resulting work. The next section is an investigation of techniques that can be used to expand XHTML into a valid environment for hypertext expression, equal if different to Storyspace and HyperCard. Through CSS and JavaScript, XHTML can even take on many of the functional qualities of these other hypermedia environments.

>>> Continue to Part Two, "Hypertext Expanded" >>>

Off-Site Links

Other Works Cited:
Haraway, Donna J. Simians, Cyborgs and Women. New York: Routledge, 1991.
Landow, George P. Hypertext 2.0. Baltimore: John's Hopkins University Press, 1997.
Mitchell, William J. Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.

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