José Augusto Mourão



Text is dead

The artificial and the natural


Reconfiguring narrative

Hypertextual organisation


Hypertextual organisation

A decade or so ago, the pre-Web era of the digital revolution, a new literary art form began to emerge, made possible by the computer's ability to escape the book's linear page-turning mechanism and provide multiple links between screens of text in a nonlinear web-work of narrative or poetic elements. We understand digital technologies as a language that organizes new creative ways. This fact leads us to one of its constitutive elements, metaphors, and of narratives considered as a way of using language. Nowadays computers are mediating cognitive processes and, consequently, professional practices themselves. It is paying attention to the socio-cultural dynamics, always functioning, that we try to understand how men, together with machines, create, remake themselves and, at the same time, recreate ways of being together and, therefore, ways of acting and being in he world.

Hypertext is a system constructed upon the image of the literary system. Instead of the end of literature, it is possible to argue that literature is an unfinished signification process. Hypertext is a new way to tell stories. We know generators of new narrative structures: open, shattered, flat, unstable, multi-linear and created on the moment of reading. But the definition of what constitutes an electronic text is open to some interpretations. We are faced with not only a lack of uniform practice in electronic poetry but also an inadequate vocabulary for discussing e-poetry. Kac's "Webliography" divides the field of e-poetry into four categories: "Poetry Resources", "Hypertext Resources", "poets Site" and "History of New Media Poetry". None of these include "electronic poetry". How then do we begin to construct a frame that would define innovative practice in digital literature? Following Glazier's proposition, which is, as he says, a "first draft of a list-in-progress" (1), we systematize: Firstly, the position of "I". More than a process initiator or "an agent that exists in a problematized or multiple relation on the text", instead of author, it would be better to talk about "programmer". Secondly, we must take into account the material. The text grows from code, draws from the drama of code, and is rooted in the material of C, or HTML or Java. What's crucial about this is the friction that "warms the text", enabling new tools of intelligence. Glazier mentions that "jazz-like cacophony that sets the stage for the outburst of material properties to illuminate the site of the text" (2).

Hypertextual organization is what allows us to grasp the rhizomatic nature of any given collective intelligence. It holds, in various points, a privileged relation with the notion of collective memory, as the latter gains sense from the use (in terms of access and organization) of hypertextual functions (the links). Linking (directions in the text to another part of the text or between texts) has been with us for the longest time. Numerous pre-digital works, from the I Ching to the choose-your-own-adventures, have demonstrated this, as well as footnotes, Egyptian temple wall inscriptions, etc. Espen Aarseth called this technology "Lazy Links", because the text is making the reader do the work (3). Literature is a system that evolves from the interconnection of documents. Connection is attained by relating texts with other texts (Nelson 1992: 2-8). Hypertext is a digital system made at the image and resemblance of the literary textual system (Aarseth). Some of the most influent authors on this field (Moulthrop 1989; Bolter 1991; Landow 1992, Synder 1997, Murry 1997) consider that the narrative possibilities of a medium depend, partially, on its analogical or digital character. In digital media analysis, the analogical or digital character of text material is often considered as a factor that determines the narrative possibilities. What is a quality in hypertext? asks G. Landow. The answer is: "Since the link is the characteristic feature that defines hypertextuality, one naturally assumes that a lexis containing a larger number of valuable links is better than that that has fewer" (4). Mark Bernstein points out that sometimes hypertext might suggest the presence of a link that might not in fact exist. And he mentions the example in Forward anywhere by Stuart Moulthtrop. Allusion, reification, ellipse, might suggest a missing link. It is a strategy in the very navigability of the text (5). Behind what seems to be a problem of enunciation in a hypertextual environment we discover a double perspective: to construct the discourse, it is essential to know and control the new codes of enunciation of "piétonnière" (Clément 1995), in which the word shifts and changes axis constantly. It is also a critical function, that of constructing a text. Others besides Glazier insist that "link-node hypertetx is not the only form of hypertext; it is simply the most common. " A node-link hypertext can become a book and vice-versa, but text generators require programmatons" (6). But programatons are, for Cayley, computers. We must not turn digital literature into a link maker art. As M. Joyce has shown, there are good links and bad links. John Cayley has referred to links as "nilsk", an anagrammatic set that emphasizes their "null" value. Rich linking, plus a substantial degree of reader control, thus appear to characterize success in both informational and literary hypermedia. But the coherence criterion is, among all, the most important one.


(1) Glazier, op. cit., p. 174.

(2) Op. cit., p. 175.

(3) Espen J. Aarseth, preface to Cibertexto. Perspectivas sobre a literatura ergódica, tradução portuguesa de Maria Leonor Telles e J. A. Mourão, Lisboa, Pedra da roseta, 2005.

(4) George Landow, "Is this hypertext any good?" in

(5) Mark Bernstein, "Padrões do Hipertexto", in INTERLAB. Labirintos do pensamento contemporâneo , FAPESP, Iluminuras, org. Lúcia Leão, 2002, p. 91.

(6) Op. cit., p. 176.