Although this is not the place for an extended digression on postmodernism and post-structuralist literary criticism, the rapid assimilation of a variety of facets of this cultural and intellectual movement into the rhetoric of hypertext and hypertext theory warrants at least some brief attention. Because hypertext invites readers to immerse themselves in a mass of shifting textual and graphical objects whose relations to each other may be far from obvious, hypertext actualizes the abstract emphasis on links, networks, webs, paths, and interweavings characteristic of much poststructuralist (or, more generally, postmodern) literary theory. Thus hypertext arguably provides a material instantiation of what had been previously only ephemeral analysis, an artifact rather than an academic theory divorced from the material and social conditions of textual production.
Though postmodernism in general has received its share of criticism, many objections have been intellectual or aesthetic rather than explicitly addressing the social and institutional structures that postmodernism itself supports [See Birkerts.] More interesting criticism quarrels with postmodernism's perceived lack of a coherently articulated politics, its abandonment of explicit political engagement in favor of a cynical " blankness," and " a knowingness that dissolves feeling and commitment into irony" [Gitlin, 35-36]. With special reference to hypertext, John Palattella has argued that a wholesale appropriation of postmodern literary theory into hypertext theory implicitly supports a version of postmodernism which substitutes the idea of a " protean, priestly genius" for categories of authorship and artistic autonomy, rather than critiquing those categories themselves [Palattela, 18]. Strikingly, this appropriation threatens to undo at least one positive contribution of these theorists: because Michel Foucault's critique of authorship comes to seem not only commonplace, but positively archaic, it is easy to forget that Foucault's preoccupation was not with texts per se (rather than authors) but with the structures that produce authority (hence power) through the production of texts and authors in a system of power relations known as expertise. Since there is no reason to believe that structures of authority regarding hypertextual productions will be any different from those of print, it might be worthwhile to think more about power and less about texts. By de-emphasizing the social, historical, and economic aspects of textual production, any uncritical adoption of a postmodern framework elides the very social relations among individual actors that brought the texts into existence in the first place.
If this is the sort of theory that hypertext enacts, or better, must enact, presumably in virtue of its essential hypertextuality, then one wonders whose interests are served in this convergence. Fredric Jameson has argued for the necessary relation between expressions of psychic and textual fragmentation and a concomitant socio-economic fracturing characteristic of late capitalism: "[I]t is not the unity of the world that demands to be posited on the basis of the unity of the transcendental subject; rather, the unity or incoherence and fragmentation of the subject — that is, the inaccessability of a workable subject position or the absence of one — is itself a correlative of the unity or lack of unity of the outside world" .On a related note, some feminist anthropologists have found it more than a bit strange that postmodern theorists began to question the basis of certain truths at precisely the moment when they lost the absolute privilege to define them. [Hartsock, Marcia-Lees, Nicholson] Thus the postmodern turn may be an expression not of some absolutely true state of things, but of the decentering and fragmentation currently experienced by dominant groups and classes, experiences that are at least partly the result of women's struggle for equality in the home and the workplace in the latter half of the twentieth century.
The preceding comments are certainly too brief and impressionistic. I have brought them into the argument simply in order to sound a cautionary note: in formulating a politics of hypertext, it is urgent to consider how (or even whether) the literary-critical productions of a postmodern avant garde can inform a theory of hypertext and gender that adequately addresses the material reality of women's (and other) bodies while still acknowledging the power of textual, linguistic, and visual representations in people's lives.
- Hypertext with Consequences: Recovering a Politics of Hypertext [Introduction]
- Hypertext Has Always Been Political and about Bodies
- Cyborgs among Us: Bodies and Hypertext
- Female Writing?