What Does a Postanarchist Literary Theory Look Like?: Hypertext

To account for both the aesthetic and political anarchism of experimental form, and to attempt to recreate the common through engagement with reader, writer, and critic, my dissertation itself takes on an experimental form, which I will touch on briefly now, but will explain in greater detail in my treatise on the dissertation form at the end of this introduction. As both an insurrectionary tactic and as a means of navigating the potential limitations of a more traditional print-based dissertation form, my project is made up of a series of short single-author chapters linked through hypertext. According to George Landow, who stands at the forefront of critical hypertext theory in the academy, the form of the hypertext allows us, as readers and critics, to develop reading and writing practices that work towards “abandon[ing] conceptual systems founded on ideas of center, margin, hierarchy, and linearity and replac[ing] them [with] ones of multilinearity, nodes, links, and networks” (Hypertext 1). Landow stresses that “hypertext blurs the boundaries between reader and writer” (4), and engages with an “active, intrusive reader [who] can annotate a text” (11), rather than a passive reader who consumes even as s/he reads critically. And indeed, the reader of a hypertext produces the text as s/he reads. While, as I have argued, the experimental text similarly provokes the reader to produce the text as s/he reads, hypertext makes this turn to the writerly text, and its concomitant engagement with its audience, more manifest. As such, the medium is particularly well-suited for my project. Additionally, the critical theorists that inform my work are all sympathetic to the rhizomatic, technology-based structure at the heart of the hypertext form[i] . As such, the chapters of my dissertation will produce careful readings of the texts, and will include rigorous studies of the scholarship surrounding each author, but will always be informed by a sense of jouissance. Essentially, my work produces two different dissertations: the first is linked through the rhizomatic structure of the web, and takes the form of blog-like entries through which readers can engage with my own writing; the second is a static capturing of this process on paper, to be distributed and defended as a more traditional print-based dissertation would, wherein the rhizomatic structure of this project is made momentarily arborescent.

Landow’s philosophy of the hypertext is clearly linked with Hardt and Negri’s notion of the common, and with the ethical and political concerns of the postanarchists discussed above, through its new approach to the author-function, which Landow aligns with the “erosion of the self” (71). This is achieved, he notes, through the invitation of the reader into the text, an invitation he characterizes as an intrusion. He writes:

Like contemporary critical theory, hypertext reconfigures – rewrites – the author in several obvious ways. […] [T]he figure of the hypertext author approaches, even if it does not entirely merge with, that of the reader; the functions of reader and writer become more deeply entwined with each other than ever before. […] [I]t infringes upon the power of the writer, removing some of it and granting it to the reader. (71)

In this way, hypertext, in its rhizomatic structure, and through its engagement with the reader, works to complicate (though it never completely escapes) the hierarchical relationship between author and reader. By taking on a hypertext form, my work uses this complication to mimic a similar complication of authorship and readership in the experimental text, as seen throughout this introduction. Of course, the hypertext is not without its own problems; as it engages in semantic meaning and expression, it necessarily falls victim to those representative faults critiqued by postanarchists and poststructuralists alike (indeed, any attempt at normative or comprehensible communication would fall into this trap). This project instead proposes, as Landow suggests, that the hypertext is one, potentially more egalitarian, way of approaching a postanarchist reading practice, another rhizomatic node in postanarchism’s theories of reading and activism.

[i] Landow writes: “Like Barthes, Foucault, and Mikhail Bakhtin, Jacques Derrida continually uses the terms link (liasons), web (toile), network (rèseau), and interwoven (s’y tissent), which cry out for hypertextuality” (53). He could have easily appended Deleuze and Guattari, and Lyotard to this list.

5 thoughts on “What Does a Postanarchist Literary Theory Look Like?: Hypertext

  1. I do wonder if Landow didn’t slightly underestimate the “intrusive” aspect of readers’ interactions with online text. Hope the comments section of this blog-dissertation escapes what seems to be the iron law of the internet — where there be comments, there be trolls. It’s a brave experiment in so many respects!

    1. I think he might have. In a lot of ways, his ideas of hypertext are dated. I have been lucky in that most people don’t care to read about postanarchism and poetry, so I haven’t gotten many trolls. But, I also haven’t gotten many comments. So, that’s a double-edged sword.

  2. I have a question regarding the form of the dissertation; why the single-author format, given your desire to further problematize and re-define the Author-function? Also wondering why you focus on poetry rather than prose? (Just want to clarify that I’m asking these questions in the spirit of starting a dialogue, and out of curiosity about your project, which I am 110% enthused about — not trying to come off as a know-it-all, glib, or an Angry Comment Troll. Tone can be so hard to control for in print :) )

    1. No trolling assumed. No worries!

      On poetry: 1) It’s always been my baby, and I’m not ready to let it go yet. But, more importantly, 2) I am interested in the ways that authorship is disrupted through high formalization, and I rarely if ever see this enacted in a way I find useful in prose (save Danielewski, perhaps, some digital prose, occasionally Murakami who I am only now getting into).

      On the form of this diss: I imagine the sections of plateaus as single-text rather than single-author, but I take your point. I also look at a lot of interviews and poetics written by the authors themselves, so I do pay significant attention to the writer. I would say first that the writer is not the author, and to conflate the two can be a very dangerous path. But, I also think that the only way to look at how the text disrupts traditional authorship is to look precisely at the hand writing and to discuss the ways in which this writing-person gets translated to and distanced from the Author-figure and the Author-function.

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