Hypertext and Intertextuality

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

[Pages 10-11 in print version. © the Johns Hopkins University Press 1992].

Hypertext, which is a fundamentally intertextual system, has the capacity to emphasize intertextuality in a way that page-bound text in books cannot. As we have already observed, scholarly articles and books offer an obvious example of explicit hypertextuality in nonelectronic form. Conversely, any work of literature -- which for the sake of argument and economy I shall here confine in a most arbitrary way to mean "high" literature of the sort we read and teach in universities -- offers an instance of implicit hypertext in nonelectronic form. Again, take Joyce's Ulysses for an example. If one looks, say, at the Nausicaa section, in which Bloom watches Gerty McDowell on the beach, one notes that Joyce's text here "alludes" or "refers" (the terms we usually employ) to many other texts or phenomena that one can treat as texts, including the Nausicaa section of the Odyssey, the advertisements and articles in the women's magazines that suffuse and inform Gerty's thoughts, facts about contemporary Dublin and the Catholic Church, and material that relates to other passages within the novel. Again, a hypertext presentation of the novel links this section not only to the kinds of materials mentioned but also to other works in Joyce's career, critical commentary, and textual variants. Hypertext here permits one to make explicit, though not necessarily intrusive, the linked materials that an educated reader perceives surrounding it.

Tha&ium;s Morgan suggests that intertextuality, "as a structural analysis of texts in relation to the larger system of signifying practices or uses of signs in culture," shifts attention from the triad constituted by author/work/tradition to another constituted by text/discourse/culture. In so doing, "intertextuality replaces the evolutionary model of literary history with a structural or synchronic model of literature as a sign system. The most salient effect of this strategic change is to free the literary text from psychological, sociological, and historical determinisms, opening it up to an apparently infinite play of relationships" (1-2). Morgan well describes a major implication of hypertext (and hypermedia) intertextuality: such opening up, such freeing one to create and perceive interconnections, obviously occurs. Nonetheless, although hypertext intertextuality would seem to devalue any historic or other reductionism, it in no way prevents those interested in reading in terms of author and tradition from doing so. Experiments thus far with Intermedia, HyperCard, and other hypertext systems suggest that hypertext does not necessarily turn one's attention away from such approaches. What is perhaps most interesting about hypertext, though, is not that it may fulfill certain claims of structuralist and poststructuralist criticism but that it provides a rich means of testing them.


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