Hypertext and the Aristotelian Conception of Plot

Hypertext, which challenges narrative and all literary form based on linearity, calls into question ideas of plot and story current since Aristotle. Looking at the Poetics in the context of a discussion of hypertext suggests one of two things: either one simply cannot write hypertext fiction (and the Poetics show why that could be the case) or else Aristotelian definitions and descriptions of plot do not apply to stories read and written within a hypertext environment.

In the seventh chapter of Poetics, Aristotle offers a definition of plot in which fixed sequence plays a central role:

Now a whole is that which has beginning, middle, and end. A beginning is that which is not itself necessarily after anything else, and which has naturally something else after it; an end is that which is naturally after something itself either as its necessary or usual consequent, and with nothing else after it; and a middle, that which is by nature after one thing and also has another after it. (1462)

Furthermore, Aristotle concludes, "a well-constructed Plot, therefore, cannot either begin or end at any point one likes; beginning and end in it must be of the forms just described. Again: to be beautiful, a living creature, and every whole made up of parts, must not only present a certain order in its arrangement of parts, but also be of a certain definite magnitude" (1462). Hypertext therefore calls into question qualities associated with all these other concepts.

Aristotle's very notion of limits, of shape, of fashioning goes to central component and effect of narrative.

In hypertext fiction, therefore, one can expect individual forms, such as plot, characterization, and setting, to change, as will genres or literary kinds.

Selves conceived both inside and outside the text will change, too.

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Last updated: 25 September 2000