e-Lit Resource
Of Two Minds: Hypertext, Pedagogy, and Poetics

A part of the Studies in Literature and Science series, hypertext pioneer Michael Joyce’s Of Two Minds marks a significant initiatory experiment in hypertext theory and digital pedagogy. The form of this volume works to engage with, and occasionally mimic, the salient features of hypertext fiction as Joyce saw them. The vast majority of the essays published in Of Two Minds had been, as the introduction neatly explains, published elsewhere as scholarly articles in literary journals and collections or entries in encyclopedias, presented as conference papers or keynote addresses, or were included as parts of email correspondences.

Joyce’s work here is, of course, dated, considering that the volume is now twenty years old, but the multiple theses in this work prove continually valuable both as a historical perspective on hypertext and digital writing and as an important link between the print culture Joyce and others saw ending in the mid-nineties and the vast world of new media poetics that would follow. As a result, much of Joyce’s work here tends to theorize hypertext against print-culture, but not uncritically. In fact, one of the primary theses of this collection is to recognize the ways that literature and literary scholarship has tended to see the traditions of print as natural, in his words “more god-given than Gutenbergian” (49). Part of the work of early hypertext writers, with Joyce at the helm, and hypertext theorists like George Landow (who is frequently cited throughout) is to reveal the extent to which the supposedly natural traditions (in both form and content) of a print-based literature are dependent on its technology and to use the digital medium to broaden those boundaries.

Joyce’s understanding of the relative freedom of the reader of hypertext fiction occasionally verges on utopian. He theorizes in the collection’s first essay proper, “Hypertext and Hypermedia,” that “[h]ypertext readers not only choose the order of what they read but, in doing so, also alter its form by their choices” (19) and that they “in a very real sense write (or rewrite) hypertexts” through this reading practice (20). While Joyce himself, and other later scholars, would temper and revise this utopian view of hypertext readership, its inclusion here is illuminating as to early hypertext scholarship’s increasing interest in audience engagement. Similarly, Joyce throughout this work identifies the utopian impulse of other hypertext theorists, most notably Landow, and works to avoid it where he identifies it. Thus, Joyce revisits this theorization of hypertext readership in “Siren Shapes: Exploratory and Constructive Hypertexts,” by reconsidering Roland Barthes’s figure of the “scriptor” (42) as a reader that makes significant interventions into a work.

In that same essay, Joyce outlines probably the clearest introduction of terminology in this work, the different categories of “exploratory” and “constructive” hypertexts. Though these are touched on in other essays—namely the aforementioned “Hypertext and Hypermedia” and “The Ends of Print Culture (a work in progress),” which was originally published in Postmodern Culture—the terms are most clearly outlined in “Siren Shapes.” For Joyce, exploratory hypertexts are navigational devices that help the reader to find and collate information. Despite the fact that the reader constructs their own reading by choosing what sources to access, they remain as an audience with some distance from the text and the jobs of reader and of author remain distinct. In constructive hypertexts, the reader can actively link between and among texts rather than simply following predetermined pathways, thus creating new links. The distinction between “exploratory” and “constructive” hypertext demonstrates, for Joyce, the pedagogical possibilities of hypertext to map more traditional, linear narratives and to construct new and variants narratives and reading practices. They also work to engage a poststructural philosophy of literature that still permeates the work, particularly via gestures to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Helene Cixous, and Julia Kristeva throughout.