November 5, 2012

The Book as Hierarchy, Hypertext as Anarchy.

While reading Landow's Hypertext, I found myself focusing most prominently on the multidimensional relationships between the book and hierarchy, hypertext and anarchy, and the radical analogy that can be drawn between the two. Through this scope, text forms can be seen as microcosms of societal structures. A Marxist lens facilitates this approach as the analogous relationships are compared. I will continue to apply this lens to my unpacking of this concept. By understanding that the conditions and constraints of textual mediums (specifically, the book and hypertext) are based on their fundamental constructs, and the impact this has on the way information is received and interpreted, we can also understand the conditions and constraints of hierarchical and consensus-based anarchist societies and the impact they have on information processing in much the same way.

According to Bakhtin, "in the novel itself, nonparticipating 'third persons' are not represented in any way. There is no place for them, compositionally or in the larger meaning of the work" (36). This can be read as 'Othering', a concept prevalent in hierarchical society where those who do not possess power in society ('third persons') are silenced while those in power dictate and maintain political affairs as per their own ideas and interests. Whereas the book allows an author a "tyrannical, univocal voice" (36) with a "central executive authority that oversees the system" (44)--and whereas hierarchy allows a person to do much the same--hypertext decentralizes the point of view and instead provides a consensual representation of ideas, with a great deal of agency for all participating persons. "Anyone who uses hypertext makes his or her own interests the de facto organizing principle (or center) for the investigation at the moment" (37). By using hypertext, "the reader is not locked into any kind of particular organization or hierarchy", the reader assumes an active role in gathering and processing information with a great deal of agency. Similarly, in consensus-based anarchist societies, every community member assumes an active role in society and has a represented voice without exclusion. Alternatively, when reading a book, the reader assumes a passive role imposed upon them by the hierarchical constructs of the book (chapters, introduction, conclusion, etc) much like a Capitalist hierarchical society where a person becomes a consumer, a passive user of goods, services, tools, and resources, imposed upon them by the hierarchical constructs of that society (class distinctions, privately owned institutions and modes of production, etc). By providing vocal multiplicities that create a network of relationships between points, hypertext "embodies something closer to anarchy than to hierarchy" (40) In this way, hypertext (and anarchy) run counter to and allow us to break free from the constraints imposed by paradigms and ideology.

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