Consciousness of Structure

Kelly Maudslien. English 111, Cyberspace, VR, and Critical Theory, 1998

Theorists seem to agree that orality and hypertext, for all their similarities, have fundamentally different structures. There is some confusion, however, on which system is highly constructed and which is not. In Orality and Literacy: Technologizing of the Word, Walter J. Ong states that computer languages have consciously constructed syntax and do not resemble the unconscious syntactical structures of oral poetry. The oral poet does not memorize epics verbatim. Instead, he is familiar with the metrical forms of his language and is able to extemporaneously fill in the gaps in his memory with quasi-original verse. In fact, these poets may only recall 60% of the actual poem; the remaining 40% is unconsciously composed on the spot. (Orality and Literacy, 62) Hypertext may appear to reclaim this spontaneity, but it is only illusory. According to Ong, we have reevaluated spontaneity as good only through nonspontaneous analysis. (Orality and Literacy, 136)

By contrast, George Landow states that hypertext is non- or multisequential, allowing for a more fluid approach to reading. (Hypertext 2.0, 82) Although html and perhaps even web sites are consciously designed, the reader is not confined to any one path within these networks. The Old English scop, however, must compose in lines with four stresses, a caesura in the middle, and alliterating stressed words in both half-lines. What is the correct way to think about these two systems? Concepts, like links, both maintain and bridge separation. Orality and hypertext are linked on the concept of structure; to say that there is a charged difference between them is enough.

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