Hypertext Aesthetics

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

A force driving Brimmer and Death is an aesthetic that has to do with Storyspace writing spaces. I call this an aesthetic because the force has to do with effects to the reader. I’ll get into more detail in a second.

But are Storyspace writing spaces all that different from any other space in which a hypertext would be constructed: another sort of editor, for example, say Flash, Fireworks, Literatronica, or something else. Does anybody really ask about how MS Word or another word processor influences a story published in Storyquarterly? The machine, in these cases, is assumed or forgotten. It’s a hidden arbiter.

Since Storyspace generates a self-contained work, then the editor must be be considered as integral to a fiction written in Storyspace. Hypertext fiction, in this context, seems a little generic in my view. Fiction in hypertext: doesn’t this carry a little different meaning?

Aesthetics to come.


9 responses to “Hypertext Aesthetics”

  1. Mary Ellen says:

    But what I want to know, and this may be premature, is: are you writing to the schematic, or is the schematic spontaneously generated by what you are writing? You call the self-contained work a “driving force”, so which is the motivator for the creating?

  2. Interesting view. The answer to your question is: yes, many people is asking the same questions, and yes, different composition systems yield different results. Hypertext fiction, or more generically, electronic literature, requires the use of a computer. It can be argued that most pieces of electronic literature could be reproduced in paper, thus the question about essential innovation seems valid. What cannot be reproduced on paper is the processing capacity of a computer. Storyspace offers some basic processing. Literatronic offers a sophisticated IA engine for processing. There are at least three layers in a piece of electronic literature: data, rules, and presentation. The processing component can happen at the abstract layer of rules, or at the presentation layer.

  3. Steve says:

    Mary Ellen,

    I think this post will provide some context.

  4. While perhaps “it can be argued that most pieces of electronic literature could be reproduced in paper”, it seems clear that none of the important works discussed in this genre can in fact be reproduced on paper. You can’t print _afternoon_ or _Victory Garden_ or _Patchwork Girl_ or _Of Day, Of Night_. And while you can print _True North_, it’s clear that the experience of the book is quite different from the experience of the hypertext.

    Reproduction in paper is a paper tiger.

    The sophistication of the Literatronic IA (or do you mean AI) engine is, I think, beside the point; we’re talking about two related formalisms whose consequences are, at this point, unclear. (Question: do the distances in Literatonic induce a metric in mathematical terms? Does the triangle inequality hold? And, if a work has N writing spaces, does the author need to specify N*N distances?)

    It would be great to see more about Literatronic in a HT08 paper!

  5. Steve says:

    “It would be great to see more about Literatronic in a HT08 paper!” (link added)

    I agree.

    I’d also suggest that the reproduce-ability issue goes to what I would call Nelson’s First Law of Hypertext: it’s computer mediated and cannot be anything else and still be itself.

  6. Mary Ellen says:

    “…it’s computer mediated and cannot be anything else and still be itself.”

    Now that I understand! As a tentative reader (with the mind of a writer), I have been sifting through some typertext works. I worry constantly that I’m not getting the essence of the story because I don’t know how the writer crafted it. With a paper book you assume you are reading in the correct order, the way the writer wants you to learn the story. But Hypertext? What if I’m skipping ahead? I don’t want to read about the break-up while they’re still dating! How to you control pacing, plot, and structure? Or is this medium only suitable for certain stories?

  7. Mary Ellen, reading a hypertext, says that, “I worry constantly that I’m not getting the essence of the story because I don’t know how the writer crafted it.”

    But the hypertext writer added some links, and omitted others that she might have added. Just as a bard might extend some scenes and foreshorten others, the hypertext writer has (we hope) carefully arranged the links and anticipated your reading.

    You write that “I don’t want to read about the break-up while they’re still dating.” That might be true, but we have good reasons — we’ve always had good reasons — for telling stories out of the sequence in which the occur. Homer urges the muse to sing of the wrath of Achilles, but he isn’t angry yet. The first line of Love Story asks “What can you say about a girl that died?” But she hasn’t died yet, they haven’t even begun to date yet.

    Hypertext writers control pacing, plot and structure with language, and with links.

  8. Mary Ellen says:

    Thank you, Mark, you have effectively demystified this and returned me to the true point of Hypertext: telling a story. You are absolutely spot on about the writer’s control; why should links be any different? I have yet to craft something in this medium, but I’m seeing now that it’s no different (and yet totally unique) from writing on a yellow legal pad, circling a paragraph, and drawing an arrow to another place in plot. How fun to think I can do that virtually, and let the reader decide when to go and find that connection. This does also have the feel of screenwriting to it. I will keep that in mind when I get something started.

  9. Sorry to come back to this thread so late… but since some comments were directed to me, it is polite (necessary) to answer. Ellen has expressed the most important point: “the true point of Hypertext: telling a story.”

    About reproducibility, paper or screen is somewhat irrelevant in the perspective I was presenting, since the bottom line is processing; that component is what prevents certain works from being archived with current approaches… I know, I know, there are examples and counter examples, so this discussion has to be put in context.

    About IA – AI, I meant IA, since Literatronica was developed under the support of CAVIIAR (Centro Avanzado de Investigación en Inteligencia Artificial); IA is the Spanish acronym for AI… I know, I know, this is a post in English; nevertheless I allow myself the nostalgia of my mother tongue. Additionally, the model and applications of Literatronica have been shown to Spanish audiences since 2002 (and its precedents since 1996). I know these news did not make it to the English speaking community until recently.

    About the metric, yes there is a metric, yes the triangle inequality holds, no the author does not need to define a N*N network of links; about the latter, there is precisely where the IA system plays a role: building links on the fly that guarantee narrative continuity, thus reducing the topological effort from the author.

    About the HT08 paper, well, I already submitted a related paper about mathematical modeling of narrative spaces, which is related to Literatronica; we’ll see if it is accepted ;) Literatronica is not a “how to do it,” but rather a “how I did it.” I believe it is important for the diversity of the field. I will show the guts of Literatronica and an application (the GPS – Global Poetic System for the City of Barcelona, with Laura Borràs) at ELO’s Visionary Landscapes in Vancouver next May.

    Hope to see you in Vancouver… and hope to see you in Pittsburgh. I am looking forward for the opportunity of discussing all these matters in person.