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date: 26 January 2021

Hypertext Theorylocked

  • Astrid EnsslinAstrid EnsslinDepartment of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, University of Alberta


In a generic, medium-nonspecific sense, hypertext refers to a compositional format characterized by nodes, links, and networks that allow readers multiple choices and different pathways through textual and/or multimodal components. The largest informational hypertext network is the World Wide Web. Within literary studies, hypertext theory relates to literary in the sense of primarily narrative and poetic uses of hypertext as a composition technique and metatextual principle aided by specific technologies such as hypertext editing software and HTML (Hypertext Mark-Up Language). In its contemporary, medium-specific meaning, hypertext refers to interactive networks of digital documents and media connected by hyperlinks that give rise to multilinear readerly pathways through texts and, thus, highly versatile and personalized narrative and poetic experiences. Literary hypertext theorists have traced the beginnings of hypertext in the nonlinear proto-hypertexts of medieval scripture and early scientific texts displaying numerous glosses and footnotes, thus affording multilinear reading trajectories. While hypertext theory first emerged against the backdrop of late poststructuralist thought and early, pre-web, standalone hypertexts produced by the so-called Storyspace School from the late 1980s onward, more recent, early-21st-century waves of electronic literature and digital fiction scholarship have established the field of hypertext criticism and related areas of digital fiction and poetry research through a large corpus of systematic close analyses, as well as empirical reader-response studies, applied socio-psychological research, and educational uses. Aided by the growth in popular hypertext and game design platforms such as Twine in the second decade of the 21st century, hypertextual writing has become a mainstream form of literary game production and interaction, which has moved hypertext and its theorization from a scholarly-elitist niche to a mainstream form of creative and critical engagement.

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