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Slatin, "Reading Hypertext" (abstract)

  • John Slatin. "Reading Hypertext: Order and Coherence in a New Medium." In George Landow and Paul Delany, eds., Hypermedia and Literary Studies. Cambridge: MIT, 1991. 153-69.
Terming hypertext the "first verbal medium, after programming languages, to emerge from the computer revolution," Slatin, a Professor of English at the University of Texas--Austin, attempts to describe a rhetoric for the reading of hypertexts. Juxtaposing readings of print text with those of hypertext, Slatin characterizes the cognitive moves of reading at levels both microtextual (graphic, phonemic, syntactic, discursive) and metatextual (contextual, inferential). These latter--the metatextual levels of reading--are, Slatin argues, inherently more integral to hypertext than to print-text. The crucial difference between the two, however, is the fact that hypertext can exist only in an online environment. In describing the discontinuous, nonlinear, associative reading processes he characterizes as indicative of hypertext, Slatin categorizes three types of such readers: "browsers" who wander aimlessly through the text; "users" who seek fulfillment of a clear purpose; and "co-authors" who use their means of reading as a collaboration in the structure and contents of the hypertexts nodes and links. All hypertext readers, however, Slatin writes, are engaged in the cognitive activities of prediction in their paths; each hypertext system will need to develop its own conventions for assisting readers in their predictions. The article does not make good on its promise to address coherence in this new medium: Slatin suggests only that the perception of coherence in hypertext "is more problematic" than in print. This article, then, as Slatin intends, offers only some introductory notes towards a rhetoric of reading hypertext; readers may wish to investigate subsequent claims made by Stuart Moulthrop, J. Yellowlees Douglas, Johnsdan Johnson-Eilola, Davida Charney, and others. (J Paul Johnson.)
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Michael Hancher

Department of English, University of Minnesota

URL: http://umn.edu/home/mh/ebibjpj1.html

Comments to: mh@umn.edu

Created 29 April 1995

Last revised 17 September 1996