Screens, Research and Hypertext

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In which I write a conclusion that doesn't really conclude anything.

Back in my days as an academic we used to have a saying about research.

Papers are never completed, only abandoned.

You can always make an article or a paper or a presentation better. But at some point, you have to just publish it and move on. (Or you have to do that if you have any aspirations of getting tenure, anyway.)

Reading a hypertext work is a bit like that. Sure, you're reading a thing that's called conclusion. But you may or may not have found your way to all the different passages in this project. You can stop here—abandon your reading—but you won't really have finished. (Or, more accurately, you won't know that you've finished, which may amount to the same thing.)

And, of course, even that assumes that we ever really read anything, anyway. As Pierre Bayard reminds us, all acts of reading are equally acts of starting to forget. What does it even mean to say you have read a book if you no longer remember its content? I mean, I've forgotten half the lines in this work, and I wrote them.

The lack of a defined beginning or ending is a hallmark of the radically decentered nature of hypertext.

It's the same thing that makes it possible for me to later add entirely new passages to this work. The slope from hypertext sort-of-book to digital garden is slippery.

I don't know that I'll really want to do that. I'm just old school enough to be tempted by the thought of abandoning a work to publication. But I have been known to change my mind.

So we shouldn't call this the end. But it is an ending.

I'm lucky that one person has made it this far. (I adore you, Caroline!) If I'm extremely lucky, a few others may join me in abandoning this work from here. Perhaps the planets will even align such that someone will want to soldier on. For you, brave soul, I offer this.

To the rest, I bid you thanks—and happy hypertexting.

Joe Miller

Washington, DC