The word 'hypertextual' implies a text that refers to more than itself. It's prefix 'hyper' comes from the Greek, meaning 'above, beyond or outside.' Hypertextuality has a long history in literature with it's roots in many of the art movements emerging at the beginning of the 20th century. One of these movements, Dadaism, came about, in part, to subvert the cultural and artistic normalities of literature as an expression of protest. They did this by attacking literature with new and experimental techniques. Jean Arp, a Dadaist sculptor, wrote of one of his poems: 'I tore apart sentences, words, syllables. I tried to break down the language into atoms, in order to approach the creative' (Bolter 138). Many of their work attempted to deconstruct the role of the narrator and the fabric of narration itself. Jay David Bolter, in his book Writing Space, writes that their techniques 'called into question premodern traditions of narrative organization, the stability of narrative identity, and so on' (Bolter 139).
At the same time, modernist writers such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, were writing novels that routinely refracted and dissolved their narrative structures. Multiple linearities and perspectives were inserted into the text, referencing thoughts, ideas and story lines situated outside of the text. Bolter cities the modernists as writers who 'participated in the breakdown of traditions of narrative prose' and 'devised new ways of structuring their works based on [...] multiple layers of topical and mythical organization' (Bolter 139). Previously, stories had been seen as undivided linearities with events unfolding in a single dimensionality through time. Modernist writers attempted to break this dimensionality and expand the narrative space-time of their work. They were refashioning the space and voice of the text into something multi-linear and increasingly hypertextual. George P Landlow, in his book Hypertext 2.0 , quotes Derrida as saying that this expansion 'engenders an infinity of new context in a manner which is absolutely illimitable' (Landlow 34).
In a more populist understanding, hypertext refers to a work of text that is connected to similar works through interconnecting hyperlinks. These hyperlinks, commonly referred to as links, are connections available to a reader through their engagement with a hypertext. Espen J. Aarseth, in his book Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, calls the system of interaction between the reader and the text ergodic. Appropriating the term from physics, he defines ergodic literature as literature where 'nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text' (Aarseth 1). When a reader decides to follow or not follow a link embedded within a text, they are making a consequential action that affects their understanding of the text's narrative structure. These decisions are nontrivial and are required to complete the reading of the text that they are part of.
The world wide web is the best known hypertext, interconnecting billions of individual web pages in a massive text-based network. When a user engages with the world wide web, they are using hyperlinks to move between pages. On the web, this takes the form of text-based, navigation pointers to other pages. By clicking on a hyperlink, users redirect themselves down a different path through the web. This redirection creates a new narrative strand for the user altering the meaning of the text as generated by the reading.
Landlow, quoting Faucault this time, says that any chunk of hypertext 'is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network...[a] network of references' (Landlow 3). Seeing the text as a network model rejects the notion of centre or organisational focus. The single linearity is no longer central, with multi-linearity or anti-linearity the new structural basis. Landlow likens the anti-linearity of the web to 'a matrix of independent but cross-referential discourses which the reader is invited to enter more or less at random' (Landlow 38).
N. Katherine Hayles, in her book Writing Machines, writes that hypertexts have three main characteristics - multiple reading paths, chunked text and a linking mechanism (Hayles 26). If you were to take these characteristics and apply them to alternative forms of media you would create what is called 'hypermedia.' Landlow defines hypermedia as simply extending 'the notion of the text in hypertext by including visual information, sound, animation, and other forms of data' (Landlow 3). Building on this definition of hypermedia, I started on what would become Labyrinths.