Hypertext is rhetorically unpredictable

If we consider the act of writing a hypertextual document from a rhetorical perspective, the author faces the classic issue of definition of purpose, but must align the new potential for contextualization or decontextualization due to the capabilities of hypertext technology. The ways to move through data are essentially similar to what they have always been, but the speed and ease at which connections or digressions may occur, cause renewed consideration of the intent of the author and the power the author is able to exercise in trying to communicate a particular conclusion to an audience by using traditional forms of hierarchical thought.

In fact, the word "digression" which means to depart from, often carries the connotation of an unfortunate move to a less important topic. I prefer to use the term sidegression, particularly when referring to hypertextual moves, because they often provide important contextual clues or may bring to the reader information which is pertinent in light of that reader's path. If an author cannot always predict what group of information will be sufficient for a particular reader to "get" a concept, then the tendency toward hierarchical arrangement of information can be relaxed. After all, is one part of the information really more important than another? It is most likely that an author, in the course of exploring a topic, takes many paths, u-turns, sidegressions, to come to a conclusion. In an effort to facilitate the journey for others, an author (authority) tries to organize information so that a reader can reach the same destination more easily. But, it is likely that despite the efforts of the author, the reader must still negotiate their own perfectly imperfect path.

Exploration of a topic on the Web clearly demonstrates the perfectly imperfect paths that readers take. When teaching freshman composition, I have in-class exercises where I tell my students to locate information about a topic by surfing the Web. Rarely do two students make the same series of moves, but often they end up at the same sites regardless of their level of surfing experience.

Some hypertext theorists take an extreme view of the notion that readers should be expected to move by example or paradigm. A group of theorists calling themselves only "The Critical Art Ensemble" argue,

the tyranny of paradigms may have some useful consequences (such as greater efficiency within the paradigm), but the repressive costs to the individual (excluding other modes of thinking and reducing the possibility of invention) are too high. Rather than being led by sequences of signs, one should instead drift through them, choosing the interpretation best suited to the social conditions of a given situation . 8

Again, paralogic hermeneutics is remarkably prepared to agree. Kent states that the piece of communication (icon, sentence, utterance) is forever separated from the consequence of its existence. Kent revisits Derrida on this subject:

Our inability to reduce every use of language to one hermeneutic strategy come about because of the iterability of the sign or sentence; as Derrida phrases it, 'the sign possesses the characteristic of being readable even if the moment of its production is irrevocably lost and even if I do not know what its alleged author-scriptor consciously intended to say at the moment he wrote it, i.e., abandoned it to its essential drift'. 9

In refusing to predict the inventive accommodation that allows for communication, proponents of paralogic hermeneutics do accommodate the nebulous nature of hypertextual movement. When I surf the web, I rarely end in a predictable spot. Therefore, I find myself paying closer attention to my path and the connections between seemingly disparate web texts. This attention to the connections often helps me to recognize patterns that would otherwise go unnoticed. More traditional texts, in attempting to control "drift", may try to keep readers moving along a certain track, but if an individual traces her own path toward understanding a concept, there are inevitably twists and turns that create a road to knowledge that no other mind would, or could re-create.

While the challenge of hypertextual drift may prove too much for some literary theories, paralogy and, in particular, paralogic hermeneutics seems well equipped to deal with the phenomenon. There are differences between the old way and the new, but Kent shows that a theory which informs paper-based technology helps to accurately describe the reality of matching author, text, and reader in the world of hypertext as well.