Linear versus Nonlinear

Critical essays on the web are most commonly more linear than we might expect. For example, even Jerome McGann argues for the value of hypertext to editing in "The Rationale of Hypertext" and "Radiant Textuality," he offers his essays in familiar linear form, complete with footnotes. I could cite a half dozen other examples easily. At the other extreme, Clay Shirky and Nancy Kaplan choose instead to explore the range of possible constructions by using the spatial and temporal ranges available to hypertext. The result is that McGann's essays are easy to print out and have, in some cases, already reached the printed page. It is sometimes difficult to follow Kaplan's's essay and Shirky's lives up to its title--"This essay will not fit on your screen." The essays and hyperfiction which make full or interesting use of hypertext linking are often a challenge to read and can reside fully only in hyperspace. Despite the dire predictions of Birkerts, it seems to me that both linearity and non-linearity are going to coexist for quite a while. In fact, Gareth Rees's style guide advocates taking print essays as the model or even offering two versions of the electronic essay--as I have tried to do.

In this version of the essay, I adopt a compromise similar to that chosen by Henry Rusche in "Shakespeare Illustrated." I cannot claim that my web is as useful as his linkage of Shakespearean images with critical arguments about the interactions between that art and both critical and theatrical productions of Shakespeare. However, I have made several conscious decisions to forestall a strictly linear reading, especially in the section on illustrated texts. Other pages, like the slideshows and parallel texts, insist on sequence or on spatial freedom. Only the conclusion in this version is linear in the way we usually think. Also like Rusche, I am using a bibliography, rather than footnotes, to simplify the pages although my bibliography includes links out of the essay. I have tried to compromise between linear forms or nonlinear forms of Hyperessay when the more frequent response to choose one or the other. There are, of course, still more problems and more solutions.

breaking out of the text