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Defining hypertextual neo-katharsis

Ingrid Hoofd, National University of Singapore

From the previous set of critiques and affirmations of Aristotle's Poetics, and through the complexification into a vector model of the effects and workings of the hypertext narrative, with its multivocality, multilinearity and high emphasis on the socio-historical situatedness of the reader (hence Barthes' allusion of the 'death of the Author', we can now theorise Aristotle's idea of a story's 'definite magnitude' as being the overall meta-vector that emerges when a hypertext narrative is re-read a couple of times. Every new reading will create a new set of vectors (a differential set of 'experience gradients') that together constitute a meta-vector (the story's definite magnitude: see figure 4).

Relating this back to Lyotard's idea of differends and the Bahktinian carnivalesque, one might argue that hypertext's potential for katharsis in a postmodern era lies exactly in its excellent ability to make the reader aware of the existence of differends, multiple mini-narratives, and of a pleasurable coexistence of potentially contradictory point-of-views. A sense of neo-katharsis, that could in this context be explained as resulting in an understanding of the lack of unity in a postmodern world and the sustaining of societal differences, can then emerge out of this meta-vector. Lyotard already envivioned that this 'lack of consolidation of (false) unity involves some sense of "mourning the fact that knowledge is no longer narrative" (Hypertext 2.0, p.184). I would like to put this slightly different, namely that knowledge is no longer principally one unified narrative, but instead emerges from sustaining contradictory narratives.

Lyotard's conclusion is the more interesting for hypertext narrative, because it seems that a hypertextual format lends itself extremely well for the experience of mourning. For instance, Alfred Tenysson wrote his In Memoriam exactly because the traditional elegy involved a far too unified idea of the emotion of mourning, and In Memoriam has an obvious proto-hypertextual format where different sections echo in other parts of the poem. Furthermore, another interesting example of the way how mourning can be an affirmative, constructive value (and can thus be conceived of as 'neo-katharsis') exemplifies the excellent hypertextual narrative of Patchwork Girl where links do the metaphorical stitching together of what has been 'societally ruptured' (see also Chapter 6 of Hypertext 2.0). Here, the various point-of-views of the monster and Mary overlap and contradict into a wonderfully pleasurable collection of Lyotardian differends. Interestingly, this could lead to a sense of 'fragmentation' of the reader's identity, resulting in new notions of subjectivity as hybrid instead of falsely unified. The latter implies that hypertext, though not being "essentially female" (as Caroline Guyer, the author of Quibbling put it), but definitely potentially feminist, replacing the traditional masculine concept of unified subjectivity. The neo-katharsis is exemplified in the potential gradual understanding of the reader that apparently something is to be mourned.

figure 4

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