- This Site Under Construction
Forum on Hypertext Scholarship
AQ as Web-Zine: Responses to AQ’s Experimental Online Issue
Spending a month or so with the hypertext issue of AQ brought back memories of the penultimate movie premiere scene within Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Last Action Hero. Here, at the same moment Arnold’s fictional, cinematic hero chases down the pathological child-killer who (like him) has jumped out of the movie into realtime, Arnold the actor—the “real” (?) Arnold—arrives, oblivous to the problem, to his assembled throng. As Arnold wades glad-handing, teeth flashing, into the crowd, Maria Shriver (also playing herself) pleads with him sotto voce, never losing her photogenic grin, “Please don’t plug the restaurants . . . I hate it when you plug the restaurants.” For its sheer giddiness and cross-referencing, the moment seems positively hypertextual. In the instantaneous flicker between film viewing and synaptic communication—or upon reflection (I am prone, like most academics, to lying about which is which)—my mind builds links to related set-scenes: The Wizard of Oz’s “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”; Ronald Reagan’s advisors giving the “cut” signal at a press conference; a cocktail-party list of discussion topics a graduate school friend of mine kept in his shirt pocket. For more links, click here.
Amid the buzz and the chatter (and the crashes) of hypertext’s ongoing premiere, it isn’t easy to sort out one’s reading, one’s enthusiasm, or one’s agoraphobia. But if these contributions by Castonguay, Westbrook, Thurston, Krasniewicz and Blitz do enable us to think past the hype and more seriously about the emergent relationship between hypertext and the practice of American cultural history, they will have performed a real service to American studies. [End Page 268]
Tenured faculty, especially, have an obligation not only to recognize but to nourish experimentation of this kind, to credit it not only for the resources it makes available but for its attempts to broaden and democratize scholarly inquiry and debate. But what happens to cultural history writing, for me—a relative HTML novice—at these sites?
First of all, it won’t surprise anyone to say that the medium blurs with the message. Hypertextual presentation inevitably collaborates with the presence of Jürgen Habermas, or Walter Benjamin, or Norman Schwartzkopf, shadowing the themes raised even by the three sites on the turn of the century: about the possibilities of an alternative public sphere; about the shifts in authority produced by mechanical reproduction; about the perils of pre-Gulf War co-productions of power and representation. Quite self-reflexively, Thurston’s piece even implicitly illustrates the power of an older medium (photography) to disrupt peer review itself (which he calls “a space in which experimental, discursive, and social practices were controlled by competent members”). In fact, Thurston’s use of hypertext to unsettle the rational science of legal precedent seems to me an especially illustrative application of hypertext’s vertical and horizontal reach. Not only does it broach (in Julia Kristeva’s words) the “mosaic” of citation operative in any single legal opinion; moreover, it “links” such reasoning—albeit in diametrically opposing directions—to seemingly extralegal phenomena like the commodification of the photo and its technical progeny, the x-ray. 1
On the visual plane, meanwhile, the Westbrook site on “The Yellow Kid” capitalizes ingeniously on the schematics of “windows” and “frames” to unsettle the logic of place entailed by transformations in the fantasy space of comics. His medium helps us picture (and see pictured) the gradual evisceration of local particularity—a trend with which, again, hypertext itself is so often associated. Westbrook’s distinct yet not-necessarily-ordered threads were a provocative way to get us to think about which frame we bring to historical narrative. I liked best when these mosaics and frames were accented historically, or geographically, or in class terms—in Castonguay’s threading into regional news coverage, or when Westbrook demonstrates how the “rowdiness” of a visual space allowed publishers to cultivate a class ventriloquism that Stuart Hall once termed the “demotic populism” of tabloids. 2 Castonguay...