Besides views that there has always been a challenge to linear text, another view expands on the work of Barthes, Foucault, and Derrida, in celebrating hypertext as a ‘technological embodiment’ of the poststructural literary theory (Lister, 2003: 28). The analogy, model, and paradigm of the open and non-linear network ‘so central to hypertext’ can be traced throughout poststructuralist theoretical writings (Landow, 1997: 43).
In The Death of the Author, Roland Barthes challenges conventional notions of modern literature by claiming that it is the writing that exceeds the author, rather than being exceeded by the author. He argues:
The image of literature to be found in ordinary culture is tyrannically centred on the author… The explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it…it is language which speaks, not the author… to write is to reach that point where only language acts, ‘performs’, and not ‘me’.(1977: 143)
Here a conventional notion of reading and understanding a book that the author controls the meaning of what he wrote has been attacked. As all texts have an intertextual character, text can only be comprehensible to the reader in relation to other texts, images, and content (Landow, 1997: 35-6). Neither can the author control how the text could be interpreted by different readers, nor could the sequence to navigate the book be pre-designated. What can be implied is that once the writing begins the author would enter into his own death.
The ‘removal of the Author’, in other words, ‘the Author’s diminishing’ at ‘the far end of the literary stage’ utterly transforms the modern text (Barthes, 1977: 145). A literary text seems to be shaped by the reader and appears associative, rather than author-given and linear. This implies that the signified meaning of the signifier is variable rather than fixed. Therefore, hypertext, which enables multiple understandings beyond, outside and above the text itself, for Barthes, may be interpreted as refusing the ‘theological meaning’ of a text (1997: 146-7). In this sense, writing is released from authorization of the Author and God. Hypertext can be identified as what Barthes describes as ‘ideal text’, which ‘precisely matches that which in computing has come to be called hypertext-text composed of blocks of words (or images)’ linked electronically by multiple paths in an ‘open-ended’ textual network (Landow, 1997: 3). An ‘ideal text’ is ‘a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds’, within which ‘the networks are many and interact’ (Barthes, 1973: 5).
Comparing Barthes, who particularly stresses the writerly text and its nonlinearity, Jacques Derrida emphasizes ‘textual openness, intertextuality, and the irrelevance of distinctions between inside and outside a particular text’ (Landow, 1997: 33).
Barthes, R. (1973) S/Z, Trans. Richard Miller, Blackwell.
Landow, G. (1997) Hypertext 2.0: the Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology, 1-95, Johns Hopkins University Press.
Lister, M., Dovey, J. Giddings, S., Grant, I., and Kelly, K., (2003) New Media: A Critical Introduction, 1-96, Routledge.