Given that musical references are common in the critical literature about hypertext, I begin with Jacques Attali, 1 whose criticism poses a challenge not only for music and musicians but for other artists as well, including writers working in hypertextual mediums. Considering sound as a cultural phenomenon, Attali argues that relations of power are located on the shifting boundary between “music” and “noise.” Music is a code that defines the ordering of positions of power and difference that are located in the aural landscape of sound; noise, on the other hand, because it falls outside of a dominant musical code, transgresses this ordering of difference. For Attali, then, music is tamed noise.
By many accounts, hypertextual witing aspires to the condition of noise, not music. It means to jam the normal literary frequencies, create a disruption, some useful static. Said in a rawer, more openly political way, it “overthrows” “all kinds of hierarchies of status and power”; it is “radical,” “revolutionary”—or so the best-known arguments go.2 But how radical is hypertextual writing in our current Age of the Web? How committed is any of it, to borrow Attali’s terms, to producing an appreciation of noise (as opposed to music) that transgresses the dominant order of difference?
Why “review” Eastgate? Because we only know Eastgate through its representations of its aesthetic and intellectual enterprise—the way it has conjured itself discursively. The way it has conjured itself as a text. In this brief review, I want to offer in impressionistic fashion (and with the support of a few hypertext links) some observations about Eastgate, a pioneering publishing company which has managed to create a kind of “local” scene for hypertext writers. Of course, as is often the case now with the wide-spread use of e-mail, news groups, and Web pages, locality here is less a place than a space: a network that brings people and their ideas together. In particular, I want to pose some questions about the evolving discourse surrounding literary hypertext, including certain conflicts and contradictions at work in the field of hypertextual production and promotion. At Eastgate, this discourse finally positions the company and its authors as both advocates of noise (meant to overthrow the literary mainstream) and music (meant to enter the mainstream.)
Based in Watertown, Massachusetts, Eastgate specializes in “serious hypertext.” That last phrase, used in the company catalog, Web site, ads, and other promotional materials, appears to mean something like “academic” hypertext as opposed to, I suppose, much of the hypertext one finds these days on the Web: “The Dickens Web” as opposed to “Mike’s Cool Links.” I don’t know how big the market is yet for hypertextual criticism, fiction, and poetry—my own order for Eastgate’s fiction was a first for my university library. Judging from the number and increasing frequency of hypertexts that Eastgate publishes, however, the news must be fairly good. If it is, I suppose Eastgate is in an enviable position: it practically owns the franchise. Its stable of writers includes such influential authors and critics as George Landow, Michael Joyce, Carolyn Guyer, and Stuart Moulthrop.
In the area of hypertext and—is it too early to use the phrase?—“hypertextual studies,” Eastgate resembles certain other “niche” publishers of avant-garde work. Like City Lights Books in the 1950s, which provided the Beat writers an early home, or Roof Press, which still provides a publishing outlet for “language poetry,” Eastgate appears to offer hypertext writers close attention, good company, and (for a small organization) sophisticated marketing. Using the tag line “serious hypertext,” for example, is a clever marketing move as it marks out a “high” literary space for everything Eastgate publishes. Thus Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” and Clark Humphrey’s “The Perfect Couple” (described in the Eastgate catalog as “A New Age couple discovers the secret of perfect love”) get to travel together under the same umbrella, although they reflect—to say the least—different literary values and practices. But claiming for your authors’ work a certain (if undefined) seriousness seems mostly a pre-emptive strike on Eastgate’s part, an attempt...