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Ulysses on Web 2.0: Towards a Hypermedia Parallax Engine

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 44, Number 3, Spring 2007
pp. 475-499 | 10.1353/jjq.2008.0000

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In his concluding remarks in Joyce Effects, Derek Attridge claims, "The hypertextualizing of Ulysses has diminished the force of the book." Such a claim, however, flies in the face of technological determinists and hypertext promoters for whom Ulysses has always been both the dream text and ancestor. For George P. Landow, one of literary hypertext's earliest proponents, Ulysses was not only a precursor to the contemporary hypertext but also a model work for adaptation to hypertext. Landow offers the example of Gerty MacDowell, whose perspective not only alludes to other texts, sending readers out of the text (suggesting hypertextual links) but is woven "out of the texts of her class and culture" (suggesting she is already hypertextual, the product of linked texts—91). Of course, Attridge's broader use of the term "hypertext" to refer to Ulysses proves the power of Landow's suggestion, first made in the earlier edition of his book in 1992. Landow argues, "If one put a work conventionally considered complete, such as Ulysses, into a hypertext format, it would immediately become 'incomplete'" (79). In light of the hypertextual nature of Ulysses, though, it is unclear whether the text could ever have been considered complete. Hypertext beckons with a siren song of technological promise, if not to complete, then to expand and fulfill.

Since Landow's call to action, a community of Joyce researchers has congregated around the use of digital media to examine and present Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. They have met on the pages of Hypermedia Joyce Studies and Genetic Joyce Studies, on listservs, such as the J-Joyce Internet List, and at conferences, such as the Prague James Joyce Colloquium on "Joycean Genetics and Hypertext" in 2003. That conference spawned a collection of essays, entitled joyceMedia: James Joyce, Hypermedia and Textual Genetics, edited by Louis Armand, who published Technē: James Joyce, Hypertext & Technology the same year. In Technē, developing the application of "hypertext" as a heuristic, Armand writes, "Joyce's text can be said to solicit hypertext," where solicitation is "to both call for and motivate a hypertextuality irreducible to a stable field" (xi). While Armand adapts Heidegerrian notions of enframing, his colleagues in joyceMedia use electronic media in a multitude of ways to approach genetic, intertextual, and textual analyses of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Research continues through what Mark Nunes calls the "second moment of 'new media' studies, [where] hypertext and hypermedia prove to be both useful tools for Joyce scholars and useful metaphors for understanding the text." These researchers are challenged and inspired by Jacques Derrida's claim that Ulysses and Finnegans Wake present a "hypermnesiac machine," a "1000th generation computer . . . beside which the current technology of our computers and our micro-computerified archives and our translating machines remains a bricolage of a prehistoric child's toys." Though Derrida's "joyceware" will "compute you, control you" (148, 147), these theorists speculate on ways to use electronic media to further explore the texts, their allusions, and their genetics.

Once the imaginative and ontological leap has been made from modernist work to hypertext, the practical and aesthetic questions of how to present the hyper-allusive text challenge assumptions not only of the role of annotations but also of the place of the reader and critic in relationship to the text. Attridge cautions us that efforts to turn Ulysses into an encyclopedic CD-ROM threaten to render the work "less worth our attention as critics" (183). Marlena Corcoran similarly "warns against the dangers of 'Zeno's Hypertext,' a project that splits into endlessly smaller units, and endlessly greater links, and never gets to the finish line." If Ulysses solicits hypertext, the response to the solicitation threatens to be a nightmarish gathering, an onslaught of commentary, a vortex of links, a perversion, a black hole. What is worse, such a project might stabilize, cite, and annotate the text to death.

Through their operations, interfaces mediate the interaction between the reader and this text, creating the subject position through which the reader will co-create the work. Assuming it were possible, would the creation of a system that automatically makes available all the allusions, unravels all the riddles, and translates foreign languages normalize Joyce's...

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