Travels in Decalcomania and Hypertextuality

Reading Landow’s seminal work brought me crashing back to 1997, when I was tentatively experimenting with web pages and got all hot and flustered when I discovered a new literary form called HyperFiction. The world wide web was so new, shiny and unsullied – an undiscovered country waiting to be explored.

…hypermedia is an enabling technology rather than a directive one, offering high levels of user control. Learners can construct their own knowledge by browsing hyperdocuments according to the association in their own cognitive structures. As with access, however, control requires responsibility and decision making.

Gary Machionini (cited in Landow, 1997) words could have been written with Wikis in mind. It is quite strange how much alike Landow’s “hyperdocuments” can be compared to wiki documents. Indeed, the Hyperwords Project (see YouTube video below) has the potential to take hypertext and wiki documents to a whole new level of interactivity and exploration; but it will take a careful navigator to traverse Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome (courtesy of the Opte Project).

As Burnett (1993) suggests:

If we accept the rhizome as a metaphor for electronically mediated exchange, then hypertext is its apparent fulfillment … principles of connection, heterogeneity, multiplicity, assignifying rupture, and cartography and decalcomania may be seen as the principles of hypertextual design.

Burnett (1993) goes on to say: “its power derives from its flexibity and variability; from its ability to incorporate, transmute and transcend any traditional tool or structure.” Given this “flexibility” and “variability” makes hypertext a frightening and amorphous labyrinth of nightmares and enlightenment, but at the sametime the journey is as unique and individual as it’s traveller. Miller (1995) feels that accessing this labyrinth may well have a “fragile, fleeting, and insubstanial existence“; and that the “ethics of hypertext” is based on taking “responsibility for our choices” within this domain.

The authors of hypertext documents have the luxury of creating documents that are not constrained by “page length, of possible illustrations, of short and non-descriptive footnotes” (Smulyan, 1999). Indeed, Smulyan estimates that a “hypertext article would take fives times the work needed for publishing a conventional print article” (take a look at some of the examples she is referring to). The finished product could be presented in a rich tapestry of multiple mediums that cannot possibly be afforded by paper-based text. Not only does hypertext allow the author to potentially write more, but also opens up the possibility that it could benefit the author more than the reader, especially if the article contained a range of research materials (Smulyan, 1999).

If Miller believes that readers of hypertext should be responsible for the choices they make, then Tietz (2004), like Landow (1997) before him, espouses that authors need to take “care about the connection“. It is simply not enough to link a word, a phrase, a sentence, or even an image to another – it needs purpose, meaning or even contextualising – this in turn could make our journey a richer and rewarding one.


Burnett, K., (1993). Toward a Theory of Hypertext Design. Postmodern Culture, 3(2).

Landow, G.P., (1997). Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Miller, J.H., (1995). The Ethics in Hypertext. Diacritics, 51(2), pp. 27-39.

Smulyan, S., (1999). Everyone a Reviewer?  Problems and Possibilities in Hypertext Scholarship. American Quarterly, 51(2), pp. 263-267.

Tietz, W., (2004). Linking and Care in Connection. New Literary History, 35, pp. 507-522.

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