Gracious Living

Why do we write like this?
December 6, 2010, 08:20
Filed under: Literature, personal | Tags: , , , ,

Up way too late but…

I notice when I write that I wind up branching out in lots of different directions at once.  I use parentheses and footnotes to calm the struggle but sometimes it just isn’t enough.  Maybe good writing just involves cutting out parenthetical thoughts and arranging everything in a linear order such that ideas flow directly from the ones before them.

Or maybe tosets aren’t the best model for writing? Why shouldn’t our paragraph structure be modeled on a general poset, that is, a tree structure?  This would give the writer considerably more freedom — they could branch out in one numerous directions at once, make different paths for different sequences of thought, and let the paths meet up when the sequences converged.  Footnoting is a very shallow version of this, and perhaps on a scale like Infinite Jest‘s it begins to approximate what I’m talking about.  There’s the possibility of directly arranging the text on the page in a tree-structure, which looks like concrete poetry, but I’m looking at a book about Dadaist and Futurist typography right now and honestly, most of their poetry is still totally ordered, just rearranged, with maybe one or two instances of the piecewise function thingy.

Hypertext is one example of what I’m talking about.  I’m sure there have been tons of hypertext manifestos since the dawn of programming, but seriously — where are our great hypertext novels?  The only good one I can think of is Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavic.  I also feel like I should count interactive fiction, which is often more game-y and less novel-y, especially in the way that it holds hidden information and doesn’t allow the “reader” to go back in time.  But Emily Short’s work, for example, does stand out as highly literary.  I also seem to recall a webpage I found in middle school that was an array of randomly-generated nonsense paragraphs on brightly colored backgrounds, and when you clicked any of the links, it would send you to another copy of the webpage, but with more frames, a few pop-up boxes, and more randomly-generated text.  Same if you tried to close it, which is something I think most modern browsers prevent.  If anyone could direct me to this page, I’d be eternally grateful.

But is there not a single good book that’s written as a hyperlinked webpage and that excels because of this structure?  Hell, using AJAX or Javascript, you could even have links between individual paragraphs and have the results spool out all smooth-like, like this math website.  Is there such a thing?  Anyone?