- The Expressive Shapes of Arguments and Artifacts
Forum on Hypertext Scholarship
AQ as Web-Zine: Responses to AQ’s Experimental Online Issue
In the section of their hypertext essay “Dreaming Arnold Schwarzenegger” entitled “How did you get here?” authors Louise Krasniwiecz and Michael Blitz explain “why, in a very real sense, you should not read this the way you probably want to read this.” Invoking the work of cyber-age philosopher Mark Taylor, Krasniwiecz and Blitz imply that only if the essay is “read wrong” can it be read right. “It should not be read as an argument that is trying to coerce or seduce you into seeing it our way. It is simply (or not) an effort to show you how to see things differently.” For Krasniwiecz and Blitz, the features intrinsic to a hypertext writing environment—such as indirection, juxtaposition, recursiveness, and association—are all part of “reading wrong,” and integral to their use of “dreaming” as a way of appropriating and understanding Arnold Schwarzenegger as a “template” for postmodern cultures of information. Although the least traditional of the four essays in the American Quarterly project on hypertext scholarship, “Dreaming Arnold Schwarzenegger” shares with the three other essays a fundamental resistance that seems unavoidable when we join the words hypertext and scholarship. All four of these essays attempt—each in a different way—to experiment with making an argument that depends on the simultaneity of interpretive threads, as well as the multiplication of archival and evidentiary materials.
So, why begin here with the scholarly essay? We know that hypertextual and digital environments can be used to create malleable archives; we know they can be a productive space for creating [End Page 276] something like serious exhibitions and for doing digital public history. We also know that digital environments can be a place of extravagant play, of theory embodied in multimedia surfaces. But to look at the problem of hypertext scholarship is to take one more step toward understanding the potential for using digital spaces to express disciplinary and interdisciplinary methodologies.
By beginning here, with the scholarly essay—ground zero of academic expression—these four projects collectively draw attention to the fundamental resistance implied by “reading wrong”: can you make an argument in hypertext? Can you create something that moves forward toward an overarching idea (or set of ideas) in an environment that intrinsically lends itself to digression, juxtaposition, dissolution, interconnection, and supplantation? If you can make an argument what would it look like? Surely it would not—and need not—look like an argument in print.
“Print stays itself; electronic text replaces itself,” says Michael Joyce, one of the early practitioners of hypertext fiction and pedagogy.
To the filmaker, the visual dissolve signifies the ellipsis of the historical present, the shift of tense to time passing. Electronic text is, instead, the constantly replaced present tense, the interwovenness, the interstitial, which the dissolve, rather than signifying, enacts.(240)
The question I have tried to ask in looking at these four projects is not “can they do the scholarly essay better in an electronic environment?” Instead, I have asked what do they suggest—not just individually but collectively—about the ways that digital environments might facilitate, even instigate, new modes of argument? What do these essays do, and do differently, to promote modes of inquiry central to American studies? In this brief space I’m going to look only at one dimension of scholarly writing: the relationship between argument and artifact (I’m using artifact in the broad sense of primary evidence). What I’ve found most suggestive across these four essays is the ways they have built upon and expanded the traditional rhetorical model where artifactual evidence is subordinated to the argument, and subsidiary arguments subordinated to a single overarching thesis. In various ways (and to varying degrees of practical success) these essays make a promising beginning for using hypermedia to alter the nature of the essay in large part by shifting the relationship between argument and artifact.
Of the four essays, James Castonguay’s “The Spanish-American War in U.S. Media Culture” most utilizes the hypertext (hypermedia) [End Page...