New Possibilities

Shelley Jackson’s “Stich Bitch” reads as if Kurt Vonnegut, Lewis Carroll, and William Faulkner all sat down to simultaneously poke fun at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein while contemplating the future of what we know as ‘the book.’  The future, for writers like Vonnegut, Carroll, and Faulker, is bright.  No longer will the novel or other forms of fiction be constrained by the linear form publishing houses have forced upon their authors.  Works such as Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves will find their true form in the non-linear, undefined world of hypertext.  I can already imagine what Slaughterhouse 5 would read like when recreated as hypertext, rather than in its rigid paper-and-binding form.  Some storytelling is best told as time oriented, reader-driven work.  But some just isn’t.  The most innovative writers of history broke the rules, confused the hell out of their readers, and left a legacy for future authors to try to out-do.  So will the hypertext throw modern books out the window, leaving readers in the dust.  We will once again have to wonder, like Jackson predicts, “where am I?”, “where am I going?” and “am I thinking what I think I think?”

Beyond its possibilities for fiction, hypertext poses endless possibilities for non-fiction.  Jackson points out, “The mind becomes self-conscious, falters, forgets its way, might choose another way, might opt out of this text [the traditional paper-and-binding] into another, might ‘lose the thread of the argument,’ might be unconvinced.”  Reading a nonfiction work in the near future might be more like the Wikipedia game than reading.  In case you’ve never procrastinated by playing the Wikipedia game, it is played by trying to get from one entry to another in a certain number of ‘moves.’  Alternatively, you can see how far away from an entry you can get in a certain number of moves, which is the way I usually play.  In the Wikipedia game,  it doesn’t matter whether you’re following a logical path, because no matter where you go, you’re likely to find something new.  Likewise, hypertext “readers,” if you can even call them that, will not have to worry about following an author’s set path of logic and information, because no matter where in the book they go, there will be new information.

Maybe the hypertext world is a little scary at first, like Jackson’s article first appears.  But once readers let themselves be carries away by the anti-linear current, they may find a whole new possibility  for reading.