Reviewed by
Douglas Eyman

       WATE cover image

Writing at the Edge: Student Webs from Brown University.
Ed. George Landow.
Eastgate Systems, 1995.  $49.95

      In Writing at the Edge,  George Landow, author of the widely acclaimed Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology,  has provided a hypertext that is both in and about hypertext. Writing at the Edge  makes explicit the connections between the critical theories of such postmodern/poststructural thinkers as Derrida, Barthes, and Bakhtin by enacting those theories.

       Landow's hypertext not only explores hypertext as a medium, but also shows the development of several different hypertexts created by his students at Brown University. Landow introduces the student texts as "a sample of experimental hypertexts [that] shows the ways they illuminate issues ranging from reader disorientation and authorial property to the nature of hypertext genres and the rules of electronic writing." In addition to the student texts included in their entirety (see Contents below) Landow uses excerpts from other student texts.

      In Writing at the Edge,  Landow postulates four "proposals" about hypertext:

  1. all elements in a hypertext system that can be manipulated are potentially signifying elements;
  2. writing is now visual as well as alphanumeric;
  3. disorientation is not always a bad thing; and
  4. experimental fiction is ABOUT hypertext (i.e. hypertext fiction is a metanarrative including both the fiction and a self-reflexive consideration of its medium).
To illustrate the first proposal, Landow considers the various forms of linking as signifying elements; for example, Maggie Skodon's "Rhizome" uses the link path as a document form in itself. Navigational aids such as maps and overviews can be used to convey (and hide) information, and the use of layout or "screen real estate" are also considered as signifying elements.

      I found the discussions of link forms, visual elements, and disorientation particularly valuable for a writer and researcher of hypertext. Some of the hypertext structures examined in this hypertext are only available to users of Storyspace, Eastgate's remarkable hypertext engine.

      Although Landow's hypertext (whose full title is Writing at the Edge: What Experimental Writing Has to Offer Hypertext Designers and Authors ) is useful, I was much more intrigued by--and ultimately impressed by--the student hypertexts which have been included as part of the larger hypertext essay. Each of these texts can (and should) be read as indepent works. Exploring the texts engages the user in the active reading process dictated by hypertext; and as the user navigates these texts, he or she will learn, discover, and hopefully be inspired to appropriate and to extend the hypertexts. Users who own the full version of Storyspace may annotate, add to, or link together the texts--thus fulfilling the requirements of Nelson's open hypertext structure. In the links below, I offer a glimpse into each of the 16 student hypertexts--and I hope that readers of Writing at the Edge  will take time to savor each work--visiting and revisiting each one to create new readings--and perhaps to create new texts.

Writing at the Edge  is an expanded and hypertexualized version of the web used by Landow at Hypertext '93  in Seattle, Washington on November 17, 1993. It is currently available for the Macintosh platform; a Windows version is forthcoming.

Link to Eastgate Systemsfor more information about this and other available hypertexts.

  • Food forThought
    Jane Park

  • An Evening at Roy's
    Roy Perlis

  • Bodily Writing
    Anne Pycha

  • The Hero's Face
    Joshua Rappaport

  • Rhizome
    Maggie Skodon

  • Freud Web
    David B. Stevenson

  • LBJ
    Timothy Taylor

  • Adam's Bookstore
    Adam Wenger

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