Thursday, January 7, 2010

George Landow & Hypertext Evaluation

I’ve spent the past two years working on novels that contain visual media, arguing that they can be considered hypertexts existing in print rather than electronic form, and thus can be analyzed using tools developed for hypertext. In fact, I maintain that the definition of hypertextuality must be expanded to include such works, for analyzing them with the traditional literary techniques can leave the new possibilities for literary creation unseen. In making this argument, I relied heavily on the work of George P. Landow, specifically the four axes he developed for determining whether a text could be considered hypertextual in nature or not.

In examining hyperlink cinema, the supposed new genre of movies influenced by the Internet that contain a playfulness with time and interwoven storylines, I think it is important to use some of the same techniques in order to determine if one can actually see the remediation of the digital within these films, and to
attempt to determine if their existence is confined to a certain genre or a precursor for a coming revolution in film and film studies.

The first axis of hypertext that Landow identifies is the most vexing in terms of evaluating hyperlink cinema: does the text involve reader choice, intervention, and empowerment? By its very nature, a film possesses none of these traits. Films exist on large reels, meant to be fed one after another at a constant pace while the viewer merely watches; it is a passive experience in many ways. And while one might say that as films are created and produced digitally more and more often, we might begin to see efforts that allow for an audience to affect the narrative as it progresses, the films that have been categorized as hyperlink cinema retain the traditional approach of passive viewership. Yet even as we realize that the medium of film limits the hypertextual nature of a narrative, we begin to see how the hypertext has influenced these films despite the medium’s restrictive nature.

Landow’s second axis maintains that hypertexts include extralinguistic texts. While in the novels I mentioned before extralinguistic texts can refer to the visual media included (among other things), the way one goes about defining extralinguistic texts in a film is a bit trickier. In fact, while I know what devices I have categorized as extralinguistic in films, I am a bit of a loss as to understand why they exist outside the language of film. More research is in order.

I didn’t post this for a couple of days because I wanted it to be a fully formed thought, but then I realized that such missteps are the heart of research, and if I intend to research and write this paper through a sequence of blog posts, such missteps should be visible. And, this is the sort of time that the community here could suggest possible ways to interpret the extralinguistic in film. Thoughts?

Meanwhile, I am going to do some more research into new media and revisit this in the coming days.


Steve said...

We have to read a bit of Landow's Hypertext 2.0 for our exams. It struck me as being a little out of date (a lot of what he was theorizing about would seem to have been put into place by things like Wikipedia), but apparently there's been a version 3.0. Which is weird, since our theory reader came out after it.

If you're looking at "choice" in cinema, what about Clue? Or even crazier, the old Star Trek VCR board games? (I think these existed for other franchises as well.) Actually, I think there are several board games that do this sort of thing now.

If you want to go extralinguistic, the other thing that occurs to me are films that use outside materials: your viewing of Star Trek, for example, can be enhanced by your reading of Countdown. (Well, maybe that's a bad example.) Star Wars might be a better example of this-- the prequels are arguably unintelligible without other texts!

There's some interesting audio dramas you might consider hyperlink (or maybe just gimmicky): Chain Gang by Rob Shearman, a 13-part weekly series where the plot of each episode was determined by the listeners. And Doctor Who: Flip Flop, where you can listen to its two discs in whatever order you want.

Jonathan Polk said...

I've been working with 3.0, but it's still out of date. Hazards of writing about technology.

I'd have to go research it, but weren't the three endings of Clue selected randomly? It's the sort of thing that gives the impression that one has control, but in reality that option is nonexistent.

That's an interesting take w/ the supplementary materials; I hadn't considered that. (Perhaps there is a post on that in the near future.) My inclination was to use things that are nonnative to cinema, but split-screens or captions arguably have their base in film. I'll figure something out.

If you keep reading these posts, you'll have no reason to listen to me present this paper in St. Louis.