Nick Carbone's Reply to Lee Libby's Web


Feel free to ignore this.

Nick Carbone

I found myself resisting the argument. In authority.html, you write:

One reason paralogic hermeneutics appears to be compatible with hypertext theory has to do with definitions of the process of communication and control of discourse. For hypertext and paralogic hermeneutics, control is negotiated between the author and reader.

I'm not sure what you mean by control. In speech, the goal is usually to connect, to get across meaning. There are times when one person may want to subvert that (Groucho Marx, for example, or someone with 'selective' hearing), but I'm thinking of how hard people work to communicate when there are extra barriers--a language difference, a deaf person communicating with a hearing person who does not know sign language. I've seen the dynamic you described as paralogic--struggling to get something across and not knowing quite what will work (it happens all the time in teaching)--but in many cases there's a tacit agreement between the people attempting the communication that they will come together and try to understand, share meaning (not absolutely identical, but close enough).

I'm also reminded of that old joke where someone says to a famous writer, 'there are all these interpretations of your work, there is x, y, and z. Which one did you intend?' and the writer smiles and says, 'all of them.'

I don't think control is always the issue, and one of the problems I have with some hypertext theory is that it's presented in terms of power and author as AUTHORITY. I don't think that's always the case, though of course some authors act that way. So I'm more comfortable with this:

According to paralogy, the author can not readily predict a path that will communicate an idea to another person, because the system is dynamic and it is understood that the two parties participating in the act of attempting communication (author and reader) will each employ their own sequence of interpretations toward a common goal. Hypertext theory, according to Landow, also sees the process of communication as flexible.

It doesn't talk in terms of control. It echos some of the recognitions gained from reader-response theory as well.

You also write:

Theories which assume that one partner in the communicative act can predict the path of understanding for the other by instituting a set of hierarchical moves, will have problems with both paralogic hermeneutics and hypertextuality.
I think there's more nuance to this than meets the eye. The only theory I know of that says one cannot predict the path doesn't really use predict, it says instead that the author set down a path and it's the readers job to follow it. But New Criticism always based this premise on the myth of the perfect reader. That said, we can predict a range choices many readers are likely to make. Mick's comments about reactions to menu links that are for the page one is on is a good example, as is his aside about animated gifs.***

We can give advice on context, on how to frame an argument (acknowledge that this old ground, but that your are going over to break new ground), and so on. In other words, I can't see that we're simply guessing all the time. We start with little discursive and communicative experience, but as we grow into the world and into discourse communities, we grow more savvy about what will work. We're not always write (serendipitous typo I've decided to leave--n.c.) for all members at all times, but we can usually do reasonably well.

But how does paralogic hermeneutics deal with the fact that unlike spoken discourse, a written text is static? Kent sees a written text as a small part of a much larger conversation. Again hypertext theory is in total accord as the following from Kent and Landow demonstrates.

Because paralogic hermeneutics sees any specific written text as only one comment in a much larger "conversation", then breaking down barriers to publishing become less of a concern.

Yes, just my point. So it is possible to learn enough about the conversation and to come to some understanding of where a particular text fits in a conversation. Hypertext isn't freed from this and in fact relies on it. But I'm not sure what knowing the conversation has to do with barriers to publishing. There are lots of reasons some pieces get published and others don't. One of the chief ones in academics has precisely to do with conversation. Peer review serves in part to judge the worth of publishing a text. A submission (and consider all the connotations of that word) goes to peers, colleagues in the field, who read it to see whether it does at least two things. One, sets a context for its entrance into the conversation of the field, and two, adds to the conversation.

So while publishing's bottle neck, the need of potential speakers to submit to the demands of editors and peers, is a point where control comes to the fore, it is not the same kind of control as the word seems to imply above. Really it's about the control of two expensive resources--the mechanics of publishing (printing, shipping, paper, etc.) and the time of others in the field who would read the paper. People subscribe to journals, again giving up some control, because it's more efficient than reading every submission. In that sense, the loss of control is not so much about power, although that's in the mix, but is about efficiency and the limits of attention. A conversation can't be about everything and it helps if only one voice is heard at a time.

Electronic discourse, of which hyeprtext is a variant, stretches that truth. In a class discussion in a MOO, voices fly over the screen as fast as the software can que them in. Voices that if heard in a room face to face at the same time they were being composed on a keyboard would be a cacophony.

The paper bound text has assumed an elevated status in many societies. In order to publish a document, an author requires some type of constituency. Others must believe the writing is worthy, because publishing any text costs money. There are rare occasions of self-published texts, but ordinarily it is a rather grueling procedure to gain the various types of approval that are required to get a text into paper print. When an author publishes an account of something, a certain finality is granted to the subject. Books are not usually written about actions in progress because of the time and expense involved.
Well, I don't think finality is necesarrily so. Not if you hold that texts aren't really static. In our field books are cited and recalled and quoted and reviewed and reread with frequency. It's one of the contradictions of hypertext theory I see a lot. One the one hand, books are fixed, we say, the works of Author(itie)s, and we can only write in the margins. On the other hand books are hypertexts, socially constructed, linked by indexes and bibliographies and epigrams, and are meant to engage us and draw us into the web of ideas of which they are apart. I guess what I'd really like to see is a more nuanced approach to all this.

Computer users have adopted the language of paper publishing with terms such as "desktop publishing" and even "internet publishing." But there are distinct differences between publishing a paper text and a Web text, or HTML document. To publish on the Web, an author does not need a constituency. If one has an opinion, it is a fairly simple matter to present it to the world, as evidenced by the multitude of personal home pages currently in existence. When

If a tree falls in the woods and there is on one there to here it, does it make a sound? If a web page goes up in the crowded web we call cyberspace, and no stops to read it, has it been published? Is the potential to be read the same as being read? How will one ever know if they've been heard? A hit can mean simply looked and passed by, leaving the page as bereft as the one no body asks to dance. I agree on the potential to be read, but I don't think putting something up is enough. Consider people who post messages to Usenet or mail lists or class discussions that never receive acknowledgement.

performing a search under a particular topic, search engines will often list personal home pages along with PhD dissertations and on-line articles from refereed journals. This gives readers access to various points of view, not simply those approved by academia or the paper publishing bureaucracy.

Or does it? How patient are readers with those points of view. I've hit on a number of pages with the searches you outline, and I've come to dread wading through some of the hits. How varied are the points of view really, if one considers the costs of this technology and the time it takes to become proficient? Also, if there are all these points of view competing, what does happen over time is that people tend to narrow the scope down and they stop searching, they stick to their bookmarks. As push technologies and cookies get more efficient, their browsing habits will be encoded and they'll be fed more of the same old same old. Does it matter much whether you fall into the habit of an intelligent agent that mimics your most frequent browsing or whether you choose a journal because you like what it says and what the editor does with it? There are plenty of journals and print outlets to choose from, some more bureaucratic than others. I'm not convinced of the spector of academics shutting down opinion and staunching change with peer review red tape.

Publishing an on-line document can be done rapidly, in as long as it takes to type up an opinion and transmit it to a server. This allows for "in progress" commentary, much like newspapers or magazines. And changes can be made rapidly as well. This reduces

Again, print sources. I've noticed too that newspapers don't do closure too well, nor do they sustain coverage very well. A story is hot for a while and then drops, a lot of stories are random and without followup, coverage seems to be episodic and ad hoc. There is no sustained dialogue on much, just fast opinion on the news of the day.

the sense of "closure" readers may feel when reading a paper volume. An HTML document can be changed in a matter of moments, often leaving no trace of the original. This goes against the grain of academia, where documentation is crucial to building "valid" arguments.

I think this is a strawman argument: print = closed; web/hypertext = open. It can, but how often does that happen? It's a lot of work and time tending a web site. I don't see many web sites, yes there are some, that are ever expanding and that allow readers to easily add to them. And I don't see many where the site authors come back to respond to what readers have done. That is, I don't see many hypertexts that are at all interactive in the way a face to face discussion is.

So when you go into limitations.hmtl, I have some agreement there.

In a fully interactive hypertextual document, a link from a word or concept in the text immediately brings more information from some other location on the internet. It could bring an original source document in the case of a quotation or it could digress, regress, or sidegress to an account of the historical context of the writing.

Yes, but those are usually written by the hypertext author, they are his or her digressions, regressions, sidegressions. They are his or her accounts of context, his or her links to items cited. This applies whether the author is a single person or a group who act as co-author. The terms of interactivity are fixed and limited by what the author has written. Links which depart the site become evident after one's been online long enough. The url domain usually changes or there is some other cue. But all this means is that the reader's attention can shift, an act not much different than putting down a book to talk to one's wife or watch t.v., or read a different book or write a letter.

There's a different physicality involved, but similar acts. What hypertext does allow, it seems to me, is the chance for a writer to take educated guesses at multiple paths to meaning. That is, a writer can try one approach, and then another, and offer the reader links for each and for many more. The reader has more choice, more room to negotiate meaning. There's a different kind of agreement, a different acknowledgement in the meeting between hypertext and reader. It's one that is more open (not as in opposite of closure, but in terms of possibility. It comes back to the writer who acknowledges that more than one meaning is possible and who is generous enough in the presentation of the hypertext to allow for that. Yet the writer is also responsible, as part of the role in the meaning making compact, to make the choices intelligible, learnable, and on a humane scale, one that doesn't exasperate and fritter away attention.

To Lee Libby's authority.html node, to which most of this response is addressed.
Lee Libby's response to this comment