Saturday, December 16, 2006


By Gerard Brils, of Belgium (1407 AD)
Latin Bible, Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England
Intertextual Image: First Epistle of Peter
Peter holding a book in the book of books...
...and the hypertextual key!
(Image from Wikipedia)

Scott Nokes of Unlocked Wordhoard has posted part two of a response to a question that I posed to him when he was in Seoul last November 10th and 11th:
It's been about a month now since Jeffery Hodges of Gypsy Scholar asked me about hypertext and medieval studies at a conference, and, since it was drawing close to lunch, I dodged the question and promised to answer it later. In order to get closer to answering the question, I posted an historical model to use in thinking about the development of textual technologies.
When I posed my question about the scholarly uses of hypertext (of which this blog itself is an example), I was expecting a reply along the lines of "Yeah, it's useful. You can click on a word that you don't know instead of having to tediously thumb through a dictionary," but from Scott's two-part response, I see that he'd already been doing a good deal of thinking about the issue, for he has subsumed the category "hypertextuality" under the larger category "intertextuality":
With hypertext ... the important element is intertextuality -- the connections between one hypertext and other texts. In manuscript culture this could be achieved through interlinear glosses, and in print culture this could be achieved through footnoted references....
Scott then quickly adds that "neither [gloss nor footnote] matches electronic culture for emphasis on non-linear reading," and this point is one that I'd like to see developed, though Scott also rightly notes "[t]the difficulty of speculating ... [because] it often relies on straight-line thinking that tends to obscure [the ways] that new technologies change us."

But the fact that this new technological medium changes us tempts me to quote Marshall McLuhan's mantra, "the medium is the message" -- and I guess that I just did -- which McLuhan coined in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (and which I read in Baylor University's Honors Program way back in the 70s), and ask if we're becoming the medium itself.

What do I mean by this?

Not something literally Cyborgian (though things may, through a more intimate human-machine interface, eventually come to that), but metaphorically Cyborgian ... yes, something like that.

I think that there's a difference between the learning that takes place in either manuscript or print culture. They both requires us to move through large spaces to acquire information. If I'm sitting in a library looking at a book, and some obscure word has me puzzled, I have to get up, walk over to the nearest dictionary, and take that tedious time to look the word up. Multiply that by all the times that one has to go to the shelves for additional texts -- maybe to check a footnote, maybe to learn more about some intellectual point -- and we're describing the typical day of a traditional scholar in a library. This eats up both time and energy. The intertextuality of glosses and footnotes leads one to move around a lot to look further.

The intertextuality of hypertext, however, reduces this expense of space, time, and energy to the click of a button.

This 'hyperintertextuality' -- and I emphasize the hyper -- fuses us, metaphorically speaking, to our computers, and I think that we begin to learn differently, which may be what Scott was getting at in his remark about "electronic culture['s] ... emphasis on non-linear reading," for I've noticed that I'm more willing to follow up my associative, lateral, nonlinear thinking because I know that I don't need to expend as much time and energy traversing spaces to do so (e.g., no need to go hunting among the shelves for that book that somebody may have misplaced anyway).

But maybe I'm just obscuring things with my speculations. Perhaps all that I mean to say is that a hypertext's use of intertextual linking allows me to follow up my interests faster and therefore to learn and to work more efficiently.

Any thoughts, Scott ... or others?


At 7:22 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

Someone has spent time searching through the search engines to find the right hypertext. It also takes time to figure if an unknown source is a good one. The click also prevents us from that accidental find, when we go to the shelf and see some other book we might have interest.
Although, I must say I seldom used the library, I mostly use the schools online databases.

At 7:48 AM, Blogger A.H. said...

Do you know Dennis Donoghue's "Ferocious Alphabets"? A wonderful book. It is concerned with the place of voice in modern critical cultures, how technology takes up away from the voice because it allows us to write in hi-tec sentences, like this one, which is a sentence generated by typing: one that I would never speak in a thousand years. I am not sure that "hypertextuality" does go under "intertextuality", since the latter can be incorporated into the voice of a writer whereas digital culture/the former involves changing the nature of the voice. Will have to ponder this more.

At 8:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, you're right about the time spent on finding the right search engines, the right hypertext, and evaluating the source as well as about missing out on accidental finds.

I'm thinking of an idealized situation, but that might be a flaw in my speculation.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:49 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eshuneutics, I'm not familiar with Ferocious Alphabets ... though I think that I've heard of it.

I look forward to your further thoughts...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 9:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoy both types of research (that is, online and offline) and think that each has its advantages and disadvantages. Online research is fast and convenient, but it is also plagued by a very poor signal-to-noise ratio (as Hathor mentioned). I do appreciate the ease of online research, but I also really like offline research. In addition to the advantages of a library (such as the "accidental find"--which really isn't accidental, since libraries are deliberately organized to aid in finding "proximate knowledge"--sometimes when I need information on a particular subject, I'll just head to that section of the library and start browsing), I also enjoy the physical aspect of being in a library among stacks of books. This physical aspect is notably absent in online research (the closest I can get to this is having two dozen tabs open in Firefox). I realize that this is not a practical concern, but it is an important concern for me--I like "hands on" research.

At 5:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Charles, I, too, like handling books, but I get tired on my feet browsing through shelves, so I really enjoy internet searches ... though these are getting bothersome with all of the extraneous items that surface on searches.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:49 PM, Blogger A.H. said...

Perhaps, learning modes come in here, in a very simple way: kinaesthetic, auditory, visual. Researching is a very quiet experience, I'd forgotten how quiet: a friend took me into his university library. There were all the students huddled over their books or pouring through Google, side by side...we had to tiptoe around. I just longed to shout out, "Anyone made a discovery?" The internet still doesn't hold much of an appeal to me: yes, for finding fast-food information, a date check, or something--convenience. (Another unlikely electronic sentence!) But I prefer a book in hand, the touch, the action of feeling and turning pages: the drawback is storing all the damn things! I am not a great visual learner, so all the pictures whizzing across internet sites are a real annoyance.

At 2:55 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

I just typed out a response, clicked publish, it asked me to log in to my new state-of-the-art cutting-edge freakin' blogger beta name, and after I typed it in, it just went to my blogger page, losing all that stuff I typed in. So much for technology.

At 3:05 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

and then proceeded to repeat myself..sorry for the multiple posts.

At 3:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Herr Richter, I wonder if there's a problem because I'm not using Blogger Beta. I tried to switch once but wasn't allowed to do so. Later, I heard that some people lost material in switching, so I've avoided trying until I hear more positive reports.

Your current experience leaves me thinking I'd better not switch just yet.

As a precaution, by the way, I always copy what I've typed up before trying to publish it. I'd had too many experiences losing things when I first started with Blogger.

I'll delete a couple of your multiple posts.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 3:38 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eshuneutics, I also prefer books for their physicality. I like being surrounded by shelves and shelves of my own books (well, some are my wife's).

But for research, I've really come to depend upon the internet for access to sources that I'd otherwise never find in libraries here in Korea. Without it, I'd be unable to publish articles. With it, I can do research on obscure topics in Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Piers Plowman, and Paradise Lost, among others.

Also ... I can blog.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:28 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

I would definately NOT recommend switching to beta. Every time you log on or make a post, you have to log on twice, and the first post gets lost, because it just goes to the blogger page instead of posting the comment.

At 8:00 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, HR. I had noticed this when logging onto the sites of others who have gone Beta.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:27 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

I found when you want to comment on another Bloggers blog, just click on Sign in with your Google Account. Do not sign in. This will work if you have signed in to your gmail that is linked to your blog or signed in for any other Google account.

At 3:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Hathor, I'll see if that works for me.

Jeffery Hodges

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