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 Abstract for Hypertext Performances/Hypertext Communities

(A Dissertation in Progress by Richard Higgason)

Hypertext has been cast as a liberating medium--one that provides a unique performance for each reader. Yet, the question arises, how can readers come together and share their individual readings. Will they have anything interesting to offer to fellow readers? Will there be enough common ground or is each reading so divergent, so unique, so indeterminate that reading it can only be an individual experience?

What we find is that the nature of hypertext contains many controlling aspects, often overlooked by critics, as well as liberatory ones. These controlling aspects serve as constraints to the text--boundaries within which readers are contained. It is these controlling aspects that make it possible for readers to share their readings with others. While each reader will have an individual experience and performance of the text, there is enough commonality between readings to ensure that readers have some common ground (even the fact that individual pieces of hyperfiction are contained under a title for the work is enough to provide readers with a basis for common discussion). Moreso, hypertexts have controlled pathways and hidden spaces (these are the new controls that the hypertext author has gained over the traditional author) that limit and direct the reader's experience with the text. Yet, by sharing their readings, readers can mollify such limits.

Naturally, other readers will have experienced different pathways and different spaces. By sharing tales of their journeys, readers will have a greater sense of the richness of the text. More importantly, the roles of readers who form a community to discuss a hypertext have the potential to be radically different from those of traditional texts. Since no one can claim to exhaust a hypertext, one cannot enter the community with the "definitive" reading. Instead, hypertext communities, in order to function, must celebrate the diversity of readings that individuals bring. It is this celebration of diversity that makes hypertext so crucial to our contemporary, multicultural society.