Digital Humanities Abstracts

“Towards a Rhetoric of Hypertext: A Case Study in Adaptive Literature”
Licia Calvi Technical University of Eindhoven

In hypertext poetics, great importance is assigned to the notion of a decentralization of the authorial voice [7]: the author is said to gradually loose her power and authority within the hypertextual work, whereas the reader gains more centrality and control over the text and over the ways to navigate it and ultimately to construct the narrative. By introducing a distinction between shallow text (i.e., what appears on the screen, and therefore what the reader actually reads) and deep text (the encoded text that generates what will appear on the screen), Lughi [8] ultimately reduces the space of applicability of the above-mentioned construct: the reader's freedom is heavily conditioned and determined by the author, whose space of activity lies at the level of the deep text. So the author, by acting on and controlling the deep text, eventually limits the reading possibilities offered to the reader. This is possible because (and I may add, if) the author directly acts on the code behind the shallow text. This intervention may take different forms and open up a wide space for the author's experimental efforts and creativity. In this open space, adaptive hypermedia (AH) may play a significant role. So far, adaptive hypermedia have mainly been used as a didactic tool, i.e., as a tool to develop on-line educational systems, despite the potentially wider spectrum of systems they could be applied to (see in [1]). A restriction that adaptive educational systems soon showed was their application domain: most systems were used to teach computer science related or anyway scientific disciplines. Attempts at extending this limitation have been made, for instance by using adaptive hypermedia to teach foreign languages [2]. But the results obtained were not always so promising for the intrinsic difficulty at modeling such a domain: at a linguistic level (syntax and semantics), at a domain-related level (in the perspective of a situated learning approach to language learning), and at a level that was focusing on the intersection between the previous two. What has been neglected so far is however the possibility of using AH for the humanities, again not just as a didactic device, rather as a medium to promote advances in or to be applied to humanities disciplines. Although, recently, a research trend has emerged which has pointed out the potential advantages of exploiting adaptive methodologies to the delivery of cultural information, which have a direct influence on the way in which cultural heritage information is approached, accessed and fruited, not as much has been devoted to promote the production of artistic artifacts by means of AH. At a closer look, the contamination of art and technology is historically older than what the last years of Web explosion may seem to suggest: at the end of the nineteenth century, for instance, Rimbaud's fascination for photography was influencing his poetical style in determining which words to select, how to construct sentences, and how to juxtapose them in a visually effective way (see, for instance, in [3]). In this sense, AH should be considered as the canvas whose characteristics can influence the final artistic result in a peculiar way. A first step in this direction has however already been made: it is the system developed by Kendall and Réty [6], the Connection System. This system allows to write literature, both poetry and fiction, adaptively. On the basis of the previous discussion, this paper intends to pursue a dual goal: on the one hand, it intends to analyze a number of existing digital hyperfictions to extrapolate their characteristics, to investigate the amount of experimental composition and the kind of creativity that they allow to authors, to stretch and explore the limits both in the language and in the tool (the hypertext), in order to elaborate ultimately a rhetoric of hypertext. On the other hand, on the basis of the results obtained by this analysis, the paper will present an extension of the AHA! system [5], as augmented to include these derived elements. AHA! is an application developed at the Eindhoven University of Technology to deliver adaptive Web-based courses. Up to now, it has been used to design and develop educational courses (mainly in the field of Computer Science, but also in the Humanities [3] and an experimental course in CALL) and only recently for e-commerce applications.


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