- The Edge of Difference: Negotiations Between the Hypertextual and the Postcolonial
The story never stops beginning or ending. It appears headless and bottomless for it is built on differences. Its (in)finitude subverts every notion of completeness and its frame remains a non-totalizable one. The differences it brings about are differences not only in structure, in the play of structures and of surfaces, but also in timbre and in silence. We—you and me, she and he, we and they—we differ . . . in the choice and mixing of utterances, the ethos, the tones, the paces, the cuts, the pauses. The story circulates like a gift; an empty gift which anybody can lay claim to by filling it to taste, yet can never truly possess. A gift built on multiplicity. One that stays inexhaustible within its own limits. Its departures and arrivals. Its quietness.—Trinh T. Minh-Ha, Woman, Native, Other
Postcolonial perspectives aptly represent the reality of the fin de siècle, since they incorporate disjunctions and differences that were suppressed under Western metanarratives of progress or social justice. In postmodern times, the comfort and stability of first principles of any [End Page 598] kind is slipping away, while national boundaries are increasingly becoming porous. Humans and capital flow in myriad patterns in a network of relations that span the globe. As nation-states loosen their hold on the imagination of people in a world of transnational capitalism, the role of information technologies is crucial indeed. These technologies are having a profound impact on our literary as well as artistic practices, creating a new space that demands its own aesthetic. This new aesthetic, which I term “hypertext” or “Net” aesthetic, represents the need to switch from the linear, univocal, closed, authoritative aesthetic involving passive encounters to that of the nonlinear, multivocal, open, nonhierarchical aesthetic involving active encounters. The intertextual and interactive hypertext or Net aesthetic is most suited for representing postcolonial cultural experience since it embodies our changed conception of language, space, and time. Language and place are here no longer seen as existing in abstract space and time, but are seen as existing in a dynamic interaction of history, politics, and culture. Time is no longer the linear historical time of traditional historiography, a historical time that ignored the question “Whose time is it that is being recounted?,” a time that muted minority voices in a discourse based on the othering of the world. In order to escape the homogenizing and unversalizing tendency of linear time, time in both postcolonial and hypertextual experience is represented as discontinuous and spatialized.
The hypertextual and the postcolonial are thus part of the changing topology that maps the constantly shifting, interpenetrating, and folding relations that bodies and texts experience in information culture. Both discourses are characterized by multivocality, multilinearity, open-endedness, active encounter, and traversal. In this essay, I focus on the one hand on representational modes—fragmentation/discontinuity, multiplicity/multilinearity, active traversal/active encounter in the hypertextual environment, both computer and cinematically generated. And on the other hand, I explore the threads of the social, the political, and the historical that interweave the subject of representation. Techno-enthusiasts have imagined computer-human interaction in cyberspace resulting in disembodiment. It can, however, be seen as a new mode of embodiment marked by moments of instantiation as well as desubstantiation. This contemporary topology is composed of cracks, in-between spaces, or gaps that do not fracture reality into this or that, but instead provide multiple points of articulation with a [End Page 599] potential for incorporating contradictions and ambiguities. Also, the in-between spaces themselves become the object of discourse as well as artistic representation. Artists, of both visual and verbal media, have felt compelled to reconfigure and rearticulate this new orientation that bodies and texts have assumed in the information culture. Judy Malloy’s its name was Penelope, a fictional hypertext in the computer medium, and Trinh Minh-Ha’s films Reassemblage and Naked Spaces—Living is Round, in the cinematic medium, use surprisingly similar strategies to open up new ways of seeing beyond the glass surfaces of normal vision. The technologized media, therefore, do not flatten the...