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Discussions/Comments/Critiques

From Michael Best

:

I find the idea of counting "hits" as scholarly value highly problematic (as the equivalent citation indexes in the Sciences are). More so on the Web, I would say. My solution is to look to places like EMLS where refereeing provides the scholarly currency.

The slide shows are tricky, but my personal feeling is that they actually go counter to what I see as the greatest power of the electronic text on the computer -- the power of control and choice. I have to read fast, have no time to think, can't check back to remind myself what I just saw. All the disadvantages of a tape recorder, in fact.

Osborne:

I agree with both points and find the suggestion about EMLS a useful one. However, where does that leave those who choose not to go through some refereed process? Their institutions can probably assess the pedgogical value of their sites, if those sites are linked to courses. Would solicited evaluations of criticism on the Web be simply too unwieldy?

As to the slideshows, they demonstrate to me that the electronic text can have its own rigidity--are we getting the illusion of a freedom to move around in the electronic essay when in fact certain pathways are blocked or tracked for us?

Randall Robinson comments:

I started to imagine an innovative electronic essay in which I freely and boldly mix responses that develop from my different psychic levels and different thought processes. The elements of a single essay might include, for example, original dialogue, traditional critical argument, a highly associative monologue, images, a piece of script with directions for blocking added, and a dream report. Each reader (using links) could arrange and value the elements as he or she pleased. The essay, like a script (or like software), would fully come into existence only though the activities of its interpreters. Stephen Cohen's essay led me in the same direction. And I enjoyed my fantasies even though I realized that no salary committee is likely to take such an irregular essay seriously before the year 2020.

Osborne:

The practical problems of getting "institutional credit" for the work and scholarship are enormous, exacerbated by lack of access for some colleges and universities and by resistence in some higher ed cultures (as noted by Lanham).

Steve Cohen comments:

Something . . . that interested me: your three examples of applications of hypertext to criticism (illustrations, slideshows, electronic space) all strike me as very valuable; but while your essay illustrates each of them, it primarily *employs* another hypertext application: the linking of blocks of text in non-linear ways. The advantages of the first three are plain; something we might talk about as a group in LA is the advantages of the last. What rhetorical (to use Lanham's term) effects were you trying for hypertextually that you couldn't get (or couldn't get as well) linearly? Are they simply illustrative of hypertext's capabilities for the purposes of your essay, or do you see them having a function in criticism in general, as the first three applications clearly do?

Osborne:

I wrote two versions of this paper, starting with the hypertext version and then trying to construct a linear version. My worry about the nonlinear version was that people would get lost in links or find the argument inpenetrable because they could not get back to something they wanted to see. I had to think about constructing the hyperessay differently which doubtless influenced what the essay could say. Although the section on linear versus nonlinear reading addressed the issue you raise generally, I did not stop to think about what MY nonlinear structure enabled -- or blocked.

The major distinction in terms of text between the long and short versions lies the frameworks that the reader can choose to access the "meat" of the hyperessay: you can either choose to approach the problems or the solutions. Both of those frameworks link into the individual sections on space, sequence, technological problems, etc., but they present very different entrances into the those "body paragraphs" because one framework presents the topics as problems and the other presents those same topics as solutions. My hyperessay, as a result, enables both an optimistic and a pessimistic reading of the major topics I see as part of hypertextual criticism. I doubt that a linear essay could provide the same tailored perspective. The benefit, or so it seems to me, is that the argument can be more flexible as well as more reader friendly. That doubled framework also suggests something that I have often thought about critical writing: the problems an essay explores are often dynamically connected to the solutions that it offers. Consequently, as some of students comment, critical essays often seem to circle back and repeat themselves in pointing out that dynamism. The strongest critical arguments often try to keep several related ideas in the readers' minds at the same time; perhaps the hypertext form allows that kind of juggling act without *authorial* repetition. Any repeated materials are generated by the *reader* re-examining related ideas.

By the way, at the moment, the hypertext version is getting more hits, according to my hidden counters, The long version registers 9 visits, and the nonlinear version which has experienced 19 "hits." However, those visiting the hyperversion are not necessarily getting as far as the illuminated pages, since that section has only 2 hits. All of these counts are, as Michael Best notes, deceptive. I have been working on the hypertext version more--thus more hits--and web crawlers doubtless account for some of the hits.

Please mail comments to Laurie Osborne.