Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Friday, 5 February 2010

"Reading Network Fiction" by David Ciccoricco (Univ of Alabama Press, 2007)

p>Nowadays, digital literature includes much more than literary hypertext. After the 1st wave of mostly text-based works, the Web fueled a new wave. Some pioneers weren't too happy about this. Coover for example thought it downgraded text. Others weren't keen on the idea that everyone could publish. Lanham defended the traditional balance of power between the reader and writer of literature - "The rush we get from reading great writing comes from that sudden, almost instantaneous transfer of power. No writer's role, no transfer of power"

So we're in a more sober age now. Many traditional literary values still apply, and readers (familiar with computer games, the WWW and movies) won't be fooled by gimmicry. "[In] the long run we do electronic fiction and our critical understanding of electronic textuality no favors by romanticizing the medium through a dated discourse of play that is really only screen deep", (Kirschenbaum, 2001). Rather than focus solely on the new features of digital fiction, or only the traditional features that persist, this book tries to take a measured view - "The movement in the arts away from representation and toward simulation, away from the dynamics of reading and interpretation and toward the dynamics of interaction and play, would indeed suggest that literature as we know it has other worries beyond the power of the image" (p.4).


  • "Changing ideas about repetition accompanied changing ideas about origins, originals, and orginality" (p.19)
  • "Network fictions radically foreground repetition" (p.27).
  • "It follows from narratology that repetition complicates immersion in print narratives by destabilizing temporality and signaling textual artifice" (p.111)
  • "As print-based narrative theories demonstrate, repetition destabilizes temporality. In doing so, it also signals artifice. The signaling of artifice in a literary work invites two related connotations of artifice - 'building' and 'falsifying'" (p.48)
  • "Recurrence ... was once seen as a sign of disorientation, inefficiency, or artistic affectation. As hypertext readers gained experience, however, they came to recognize that recurrence was the way readers perceive structure; if readers never revisit a node, it is difficult for them to imagine the structure of the hypertext or the nature of the paths they have not taken" (Mark Bernstein, "Structural Patterns and Hypertext Rhetoric", 1999)


  • "Michael Joyce has sought to curb the commonplace notion that literary hypertext must occupy an exclusively postmodernist space" (p.146)
  • "Hypertext is certainly a new way of writing (with active links) [but] is it truly a new way of reading? And is all that jumping around the same as creating a new text?" (Aarseth, "Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature", 1997, p.78).
  • "Hypertext ... is seen as a move from two to three dimensions ... users 'navigate' through cyberspace and 'visit' the sites", (p.45)
  • "Post-structuralists conceive of the text (any text) as a dispersed and borderless network, a conception that was force-fed into hypertext discourse early on as an attempt to describe the material properties of hypertext structures ... In a digital text ... (material) boundaries are not erased but rather are continually maintained through a process of selection and filtering" (p.26)

Linearity, transparency

  • In "The Pleasure of the Text" Barthes says that "we do not read everything with the same intensity" skimming and skipping and re-reading. "But as Aarseth makes clear, to equate 'the discontinuous, fragmentary reading demanded by hypertext' with Barthes' tmesis would be a 'grave mistake'" (p.32)
  • "we always read linearly and sequentially even if (1) the text presents information in a non-chronological fashion, and (2) the reader chooses the order of that sequence ... readers of hypertexts process network texts in much the same way as they would a text in print; that is, they store information in hierarchies even if they are reading in a user-determined order ... Charney adds that since the mind cannot import textural structure directly into long-term memory, the resemblance of a hypertextual structure to long-term memory is irrelevant" (Charney, Johnson-Eilola) (p.55)
  • "For those who refuse to accept that a successful storytelling technology is an invisible storytelling technology, the movement away from narrative forms goes hand in hand with a resistance to medial transparency ... It is by no means apparent that medial transparency is or should be the measure of a successful narrative ... often a message is conveyed only through the interplay between a story and the story-producing mechanism" (p.118)
  • "Common to the discourse of immersion theory is the notion that the realist novelist and the virtual reality environment designer pursue the same goal - the disappearance of the medium [but this] conflates immersion in representation (as in a Victorian novel) ... with immersion in simulation (as in a VR environment)" (p.119)
  • "Ryan identifies three forms that fall under a 'poetics of immersion': spatial, where the reader develops a sense of being at the scene of narrated events; temporal, where the reader is caught up in narrative suspense; and emotional" (p.121)

Barth (John), Barthes and Barthelme (Don) all feature. The companion website is

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