hypertext dissertation - by Robyn Stuart


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QUOTES from:
'Writing with Images' (2005?)Course from University of Washington. Available from:, Accessed on 3/05/05.

Hypertext as rhizome, collage, and montage
This section will be relatively light on images, despite being about visual images for "hypertext"--that is to say, hypertext in general. Two such images have enjoyed wide currency in the last decade, namely hypertext as rhizome and hypertext as collage, even though the visual particulars of either term have never been spelled out (or shown). In a certain way, they are instances of the elusive generalized image mentioned in the introduction, and both have been pressed into service to characterize what is different about hypertext as a way of organizing information. A third, somewhat more abstract metaphor for textual and hypertextual structure, namely linkage as cinematic montage, is nearly as old as montage itself but has had a revival with the advent of hypertext.
rhizome "The Rhizome" opens one of the pivotal texts of Post Modernism, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus. The rhizome is contrasted to the tree and tree-like structures as master images of the "books" specifying the relation and connectedness of things. A tree has both root and shape, but the rhizome has no center and ramifies (potentially) in various directions without limit. First published in 1980, "The Rhizome" was not offered as a figure for hypertext or the Web, but the traits they highlight are salient ones of webs and the Web and were quickly applied to hypertext by Kathleen Burnett among others. It gave its name to, a major site and archive of from 1996 on, and a section "Hypertext as Rhizome" was added to George Landow's Hypertext in edition 2.0. It is now very established as a way of thinking about the Web, although it is also recognised that it is a much more comprehensive term as used by Deleuze and Guattari. (See for example the logo-and-explanation page for the CHID program <> at the University of Washington.)

Strangely enough, although A Thousand Plateaus has illustrations, it does not include one of a rhizome, and the CHID page is to be congratulated for having a go at it, since as has been noted by Darryl Laferte among others, unbounded things cannot be imaged. (They also say rats and ants are rhizomes.) The image at the left illustrates the point, since it depicts just a little fragment of the World Wide Quackgrass rhizome. The particular botanical properties of rhizomes do not seem of much interest to Deleuze and Guattari--as for example that they are not roots but stem-like bodies growing underground with scales and nodes that can sprout roots--but they do say enough to indicate that it is an impossible object or, as Landow says, "a counter paradigm, not something realizable in any time or culture" (42). There are a number of discussions of the adequacy of the analogy of Web to rhizome (and to its sister concept, smooth space) (e.g. by Stuart Moulthrop (1994) and Martin E. Rosenberg (1994), but this discussion has nothing to do with the visual representation of the rhizome, of which there is little or none, but with the concept and growth habit. The rhizome hypertext metaphor appears to be what is sometimes called a verbal image (as opposed to a mental image and to a visual one--this last being what we mean by image here). W.J.T. Mitchell discusses verbal image as a very broad and loose category, suggesting that we would all be better off without it (1994: 19-21). We seem very close to tree in the graph theory sense that has severed its connection to the plant world-i.e., it is a term for a rather abstract morphological form.

Hypertext as collage Deleuze and Guattari also describe a third figure, the radicle-system or fascicular root, which is intermediate between the tree/root and the rhizome. Its representation is multiple and fragmented--in short, radicle-system is found in collage (and in Hegel, Joyce, and Nietzsche). It is not all the way to rhizome, they say, for it frequently reveals a higher unity behind the apparent multiplicity of fragments, just as, we might say, a collage is in fact a bounded work and a composition and one may talk about the whole, although the whole is no longer one based on representation. Not surprisingly then, if one thinks of hypertext not in terms of the totality but in terms of individual works, the analogy with collage springs to mind. In the Electronic Word, speaking of digital replication and repetition, Richard Lanham declares: The same aesthetic operates at the heart of electronic text, though we seldom notice it for what it is--an aesthetic of collage, the central technique of twentieth-century visual art. (40) (Visual art here is apparently restricted to the static kind.) As we have seen, a case can be made for at least sharing the center with montage, or generalizing them to the notion of multiple, usually mixed-mode images. Lanham is speaking immediately of Andy Warhol's Thirty Are Better Than One (silk-screened images of Marilyn Monroe) which is certainly multiple, though not exactly your classic collage. Replication, juxtaposition, and differences of scale are the main traits he ascribes to collage, as well as an oscillation between looking at and looking through the fragments (i.e., Bolter and Grusin's hypermediation-38-41). Landow develops the point by deriving the traits of "textual collage" from the hypertext link. Because it joins different things, the link "inevitably produces juxtaposition, concatenation, and assemblage." And then a step farther: If part of the pleasure of juxtaposition inevitably tends towards catachresis and difference for their own ends and for the effect of surprise, sometimes surprised pleasure, that they produce. (171) Since catachresis is the yoking together of disparate things, an "extravagant, unexpected, far-fetched metaphor" (Lanham, Handlist, 31), and these are the hallmarks of metaphysical poetry, all hypertext links aspire to the condition of the metaphysical conceit. This passage catches a certain possibility for witty play with the hypertext link, but as a deductive argument, it has problems. Hypertext links don't always produce juxtaposition, which I take to be an abrupt placing together with no connection or transition. A link can be quite explicit about the connection it makes--in fact, Mark Bernstein argues, too explicit. There seems to be a quiet equivocation with the senses of different, moving from "nonidentical" ("Try a different card.") to "disparat want to follow" (talk at Hypertext 2000); HT00.html <>"
(the Monty Python pseudo-transition "And now for something completely different"). Hypertext links can join one section of an argument to the next one: no great leap or witty yoking together there. One suspects that Landow is trying to pass off a kind of hypertext linking that he likes as the inner telos of links. To be fair to Landow, however, we should note that he elsewhere in the book maintains that: Hypermedia as a medium conveys the strong impression that its links signify coherent, purposeful, and above all useful relationships, from which it follows that the very existence of links conditions the reader to expect purposeful, important relationships between linked materials. (1997: 126) pointing out that users who cannot bridge or integrate the material at the target of the link will experience the text as incoherent and confusing. We might resolve the matter this way: a page appears juxtaposed to the first if the viewer cannot predict what the relation of the page will be to what she has been viewing; if after viewing the second page, she is still unable to see the relationship of the second page to the first, she may treat the link as an unresolved enigma, a Deleuzian nonsignifying discontinuity, or an annoying bit of user unfriendliness or authorial flakiness.

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