As I was planning my readings notes for this week, I decided to start looking for images for inspiration to determine what to focus on since my thoughts were pretty scattered. When I typed in “hypertext” into an image search, I came across this image:
What struck me when I first saw it was that the letters in boxes reminded me of chemical element abbreviations in the periodic table. This realization actually provided me with a helpful metaphor for working through the ideas this week about both hypertext and Actor Network Theory. Elements are the fundamental units of chemistry and they are combined to produce molecules. If you change the elements included or the order or number of each element, it produces a different molecule, a different substance.
Joyce says of hypertext, “readers’ choices constitute the current state of the hypertext and, in effect, its form” (21). The reader of a hypertext decides what links to explore and in what order, constituting a particular meaning/ reading that is driven by those choices. A different combination might produce a different meaning. Similarly, the actants, both human and nonhuman, of actor-network theory, could also be compared to elements. It is the combination of specific actants that produces specific action and a different combination of actant might produce a different action. However, I think this metaphor also begins to break down when the comparison is drawn to closely, particularly with hypertext. While I kind of buy the concept of constructing different meanings through our choices about how to navigate a hypertext, I wonder if our predisposition for creating a linear, chronological, and or hierarchical patterns to make meaning can sometimes lead to simply confusion instead of new meaning when approaching a hypertext. For example, when I read Jody Shipka and Bill Chewning’s “Live Composition: Four Variations of a Telling.” as part of the CHAT readings for last week, I found myself struggling to make meaning because information seemed to be presented out of order and I felt like I was missing important contextual information to comprehend what was going on because I began with certain links. Unlike in chemistry where different combinations create different molecules, I wonder if sometimes in hypertext, certain combinations don’t produce anything at all.
Though my chemistry metaphor may not have been perfect, a s we continue through this class, I am really understanding the value of metaphors in approaching theory. Latour himself demonstrates the metaphor his theory draws on when talking about the choice of the word “actor”:
To use the word ‘actor’ means that it’s never clear who and what is acting when we act since an actor on a stage is never alone in acting. Play-acting puts us immediately into a thick imbroglio where the question of who is carrying out the action has become unfathomable” (46).
I think Latour means here that it is impossible to determine whether an action on stage originates from the character, the actor herself, the director, the playwright, the set, etc. But the action is affected by most likely all of these things. Actions off the stage function in a similar network of causation.
This discussion actually reminded me of one of my favorite plays, Noises Off, which with its depiction of a stage production coming unhinged,demonstrates how the actors, characters, costumes, props, and crew all affect the action occurring on stage. As I read further into actor-network theory next week, I will be interested to see how well this metaphor holds up in understanding this network.
Johnson-Eilola, J. (1997). Nostalgic angels: Rearticulating hypertext writing. Norwood, N.J: Ablex Pub. Corp.
Joyce, Michael. Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan, 1995. Print.
Joyce, Michael. Othermindedness: The Emergence of Network Culture. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan, 2000. Print.
Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-network-theory. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.
Prior, Paul et al. “Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity.” Kairos 11.3 (2007).