I’m not of two minds about Michael Joyce’s recent book but of many and of one. They intersect circuitously and are positively charged. For me the text marks the advent of a new spirit, a different sort of academic vision, a different way of seeing ourselves, a refusal of the old categories. This is evident from the beginning, even in his acknowledgments —“Finally, there is salt for the barefoot girl in her forest castle, chocolate for the mad girl in her books, spices for the woman by the frozen lake”—not what you would expect in a book about technology. In his introduction, “The Comfort of Knowing We Are Not Lost,” Joyce writes: “Much of this collection takes the form of what, aware of the ambiguity, I call theoretical narratives, that is, essays that are both theoretical in narrative form and also narratives of theory. These narratives are made up in the way that a bed is, a day-to-day process of billowing, shaking, refitting.” In Michael Joyce we have a writer who embodies many perspectives at once—poetic, academic, technical, pedagogical, personal. In his book we have “essays” that embody narratives, chapters that are poems, hypertexts that are fictions. There is a new spirit in academe “resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity,” and his work (among others) embodies it.
Of Two Minds has three parts—another gesture toward thinking complexly and avoiding the old weary binarisms that have so enthralled us in our analytic moments. Joyce describes the essays within them as “dispatches, apologia, meditations . . . fretwork.” They are “set like stones dragged from opposite streams, meant to weave the water, turning it more complex in its course.” Hypertext is the governing phrase and the parts are “parsed” as “contexts,” “pedagogy,” and “poetics.” The first two essays “contextualize” the concerns of the volume [End Page 938] and provide “a litmus test” for weary readers. Part 2 deals with teaching writing with hypertexts and part 3 with writing hypertextual fiction and poetry. The chapters are buffered by passages called “interstitials” which read like finely crafted email messages and provide comments on related issues.
Part 1 of Two Minds, “Hypertext Contexts,” contains two “theoretical narratives” that introduce the reader to “Hypertexts and Hypermedia,” the title of the first. This “essay” begins with a straightforward and very lucid discussion of the relations between these two forms. For Joyce, hypertext is invariantly “a visual form” and hence an incipient instance of hypermedia. The form is intrinsically interactive because the roles of reader and writer shift. Then the chapter becomes a narration that provides an historical context for the evolution of hypertextual reading/writing. It ends as a commentary on “future prospects.” The second chapter, “What I Really Wanted to Do I Thought,” is a more personal account of the path Joyce traveled from his early printed fiction to his well-known, hypertext fiction, afternoon, authored in Storyspace—the software he helped develop. This chapter is a celebration of simultaneous creativity fused—for, as Joyce aspired to write a constantly changing fiction, his colleagues (Jay Bolter and John Smith in particular) conspired to create an electronic medium in which that became possible.
Part 2 of Two Minds, “Siren Shapes,” is loosely focused on “Hypertext Pedagogy.” The title of its opening chapter, “Exploratory and Constructive Hypertexts,” answers the question: what to do with hypertexts? Exploratory hypertexts allow users to “control the transformation of a body of information to meet its needs and interests” (for example, the “Help” features of current Word Processors), and constructive hypertexts are used for “invention” and as an “analytic tool” (for example, software like Storyspace that allows you to “map” a conceptual or imaginative terrain). For Joyce the litmus test of any hypertext is whether it allows its users to look at knowledge in new ways. He is not content merely to represent what we know in the conventional ways. “Advantage of Our Awkwardness” is a thoughtful meditation on our need to surrender control and make it meaningless. It is also a plea that...