Potential Solutions

The shift in the balance of power between writer and reader in the hypertext essay demands several things which many literary critics are unaccustomed to considering. First, the hypercritic must cultivate an awareness of technological availability and utility and willingly ride the wave of an unending learning curve. Since coping with technological glitches and learning new software takes time and energy, the virtual scholar must balance the demands of research and argument against the requirements of actually reproducing those arguments on the Web.

More disturbingly, perhaps, we webbed critics must consider both the visual impact and spatial dimensions of our published work as we write it. Even with the helpful tool of an HTML editor, there are two layers to every webpage in progress--what you see and what you write. And your readers' responses--and willingness to follow from page to page--can depend as much on visual appeal as on developing content.

The different process of writing, with its components of programming, spatial relationships and artistic deign, yields a product which may defy easy evaluation. The intellectual usefulness of a web essay depends on how well the form fits the content; the evaluations of the work may rely on a combination of utility and currency or on an elaborate balance of hits and web citations.

But the more important question is what such a structure offers scholarship. Although web work may sacrifice the comforting historical record of a career's progress, piled up in a heap of offprints and books, it promises to offer an openendedness to ongoing scholarship which should be as satisfying to the literary critic as it is to the textual editors of Shakespeare. The problems may be many, but the rewards are potentially great. The conclusions we draw about this new form will likely depend on the examples we encounter.

breaking out of the text