Engauging the Hypertext

Engauging the Hypertext

What then is the activity that occurs when an individual interacts with a hypertext. As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED):


1 v. reproduce mentally or vocally the written or printed words of a book, author, etc. by following the symbols with the eyes or fingers.
2 tr. convert or be able to convert into the intended words or meaning
3 tr. interpret mentally
4 tr. deduce or declare an interpretation of
5 tr. find (a thing) recorded or stated in print etc.
6 tr. interpret in a certain sense
7 tr. assume as intended or deducible from a writer's words; find
8 tr. bring into a specified state by reading
The rest of the definitions within the entry continue to define the word "read" by using the word itself and, although the dictionary is hypertextual in nature, there were no direct links to a word that conveys the numerous activities involved between an individual and hypertext. The division and reduction of reading into a binary opposition of active and passive is surely just as inadequate. The activities of playing a video game, of operating a computer program, of performing a musical instrument involve the process of reading and interpreting in some aspect but also involve many more activities as the purposefully chosen verbs illustrate. Just as the infinitive "to read" cannot do justice to these activities alone a new concept must be developed for hypertext that contains the connotative specificity of verbs like playing, operating and performing but, in this case, apply more comprehensively to hypertext.

It is here that I introduce the concept of the engauger and the process of engauging. The addition of the u within the word engauge is not a spelling mistake and is rather purposeful as will be explained. In fact, the word is a homonym to the word engage. The etymology of both the word and the concept comes from the words engage and gauge(which is synonymous to the American variant of the word "gage"). The concept of engaugement is a convergence of the following verbs defined by the OED:


1 tr. employ or hire.
2 tr. employ busily; occupy.
3 tr. bind by a promise or commitment.
4 tr. interlock; cause to interlock.
5 tr. come or bring into a prolonged or difficult struggle.
6 intr. take part.

gauge or gage

1 v. measure exactly.
2 tr. determine the capacity or content.
3 tr. estimate or form a judgement of
Following a Derridean method, "the play of the word" engauge is encouraged and although one of its possible definitions would simply include "to interact with a hypertext" it is the many denotations, as well as, connotations of the words "engage" and "gauge" that add to a more inclusive concept. As seen in the definition of "gauge," the paradox of the attempt to "measure exactly" while trying to "estimate a judgment" calls attention to the protean nature of hypertext and the unsteady relationship between the text and individual. It is possible to interpret what is going on at a given instance, but that interpretation is subject to change at any moment. Though the engauger will be able to occupy himself with the text, each encounter will bring about a new experience, a new engaugement. The concept of reading is still maintained within the definition to "determine content" but no longer serves as the primary action; rather, it becomes one of many subsidiary activities that occur when a reader is gauging what is happening within a hyperwork.

As to how the definitions for the word "engage" relates to the conception of engaugement, the experience of hypertext certainly involves the engauger's occupation of, interlocking between and, at times, a struggle with the text. Much more than the word "read", these actions refer to the necessity of the engauger to interact with the hypertext on a multitude of planes, to partially merge her own consciousness into the many gaps of the hypertext, to exert a presence through the direct selection of links and to continually struggle with the often disorienting feeling of experiencing a multi-directional text rather than just following a linear progression.

The engauger brings to the text much of his own experiences, opinons and wishes as stated by Wolfgang Iser. These are the engauger's personal possessions which are united to the reader, for better of for worse, in a relationship that is not altogether different from marriage. These experiences and desires are intimately paired with the engauger; any attempt to either deny the relationship or dissolve it can lead to a limited view of hypertextual engaugements or, at the very least, a misiformed belief in the divorcing of reader from experience. On the otherhand, acknowledgement of such extra-textual influences involved within the interaction of the hypertext allows for a greater appreciation of what goes on in the processing of a hypertext. This marriage of the reader to his ideologies and to the text is essential to the understanding of engaugement

...The more committed the reader is to an ideological position, the less inclined he will be to accept the basic theme-and-horizon structure of comprehension which regulates the text-reader interaction. He will not allow his norms to become a theme, because as such they are automatically open to the critical view inherent in the virtualized position that form the background. And if he is induced to participate in the events of the text, only to find that he is then supposed to adopt a negative attitude toward values he does not wish to question, the result will often be open rejection of the book and its author...-- (Iser, The Act of Reading, 202)

One can see from the above quote, that the marriage analogy can be taken even further. Once an engauger is confronted with the possibility of questioning her ideological position, she may at once opt for the "open rejection of the book." With hypertext, however, rejection of a may simply manifest itself within the choices taken within a hypertext, rather than the rejection of the hypertext altogether. Now that the engauger has the power to alter the progression of a hypertext, she need not reject the hypertext. Instead, the interaction with hypertext simultaneously conforms to the engauger's preconceptions while continually modifying them.

The question then remains, "Does writing define what an author does when he creates a hypertext?" Ultimately, the concept of engaugement may lead to the eliding of the distinction between reading and writing hypertextually, but perhaps that should be left for another discussion.