Technology As Imitation (Part 1)

Aristotle, in the very first chapter of his Poetics, observes that certain forms of artistic expression -- various genres of poetry, music and dance during his time -- are in fact conventions of mimesis, or imitation; and moves on later to consider the imitation of "men in action" as a basic element of poetry (Halliwell 31-2). In conceptualising Fast City, I spent some time considering the role of technology in contributing to the success of artistic mimesis in a digital age: not merely as a delivery mechanism for inter-linked lexias and media elements, but rather the experience of technology as a form of mimesis itself. If art is imitation, what is being imitated by various technological experiences? How might this imitation work to structure the unfolding of hypermedia narrative?

Reading a hypermedia narrative, it might be argued, calls to mind the use of digital technology to imitate and transcend the reading of a printed book. This perspective is indeed a very popular one, constantly qualified with the acknowledgement that hypertext and hypermedia inevitably challenge and escape traditional narrative conventions.

Another form of technological imitation commonly considered would perhaps be the journey: hypermedia systems as conveying or transporting the user across a narrative terrain. This particular aspect of imitation is somewhat reinforced with terms like "reading trails", "sites", "explore a narrative" used in discussing the reading experience.

In his chapter on "Reconfiguring Narrative", Landow observes that hypertext particularly calls into question the fixed linearity of the reading experience, the definitive entry and exit points of a narrative, and the particularly fixed extent of a traditional narrative (181). Instead, a survey of early hypertext narratives suggest that in this new medium, narratives might be better characterised by "multilinearity" or "multivocality" (183); reader contribution (184); a suspicion of closures (192); and a "meaning-on-the-run" quality (196).

Hypertext narratives thus clearly do not conform to Aristotle's firm conception of a "beginning, middle and end", and the necessary explication of probability and necessity between episodes (Halliwell 39; 41-42); principles which have remained pretty much paramount in the formulation of mainstream narratives in print fiction, theatre, film, comics, and other narrative genres. In fact, most hypertext rather propose a basic starting point, and provide the reader with interactive resources to construct his or her own middles and ends. [>]


Halliwell, Stephen. The Poetics of Aristotle: Translation and Commentary. London: Duckworth, 1987.

Landow, George P.. Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997.