Hypertext fiction: A Recombination of Literary Database

Tia Sun

Video or image recombination of the database can generate a new narrative, then how about the reorganization of literature? In 1962, a book called Composition No.1 by Marc Saporta broke the traditional storytelling of narrative and opened the door to the internal reorganization of literary works through unbound pages and shuffling to get different stories. In 1987, Michael Joyce wrote a novel Afternoon, a Story in a similar way, and then applied the book on the CD-Rom, allowing readers to select multiple directions in the plot development by clicking the hyperlink button at the bottom of each page. Thus, literary recombination that was called “hypertext fiction” was born. Hypertext fiction has unleashed an unprecedented amount of energy in traditional literature because it has the fragmentation of postmodernism, the possibility of multiple combinations, and the interaction that readers can become creators. These features also provide the basis for the subsequent cross-media recombination of literature and other forms of data.

  • The possibility of multiple combinations

There is no specific storyline in Hypertext works. The trend and development of the story depend on which order or path the reader chooses to read. In the case of Composition No. 1, all pages of the book are placed in a box which can be regarded as a small “database”, and each page is a data. Then the recombination of different data creates infinite possibilities for narration. When I read the Chinese version, there were 157 pages. I scattered the pages on the bed optionally, and gather them together again by the chance of no reason, and here was the story I read: “The protagonist is a stealthy man who engages with three women. He forced his talented wife into a mental hospital for the adultery. His mistress Dagmar was a young and beautiful painter, who began to wake up after being deceived and fooled by this men for a long time. Then she met a third woman, Elga, at the hospital. Next plot was the memory of the man as a child when he was a little depressed and not very close to his mother. In flashback, He took part in some student movements when he was in college. Later, he began to have an affair. Then he was hurt by the German army in the historical background. Then he began to have a married life, cheating and raping Elga. He also gambled and took the risk of stealing, but fall into the river with the car finally…” Later, I saw other readers share the story they combined on the “Douban Forum” and drew a conclusion: The author sets the story background during the German fascist occupied France. What kind of man is the protagonist in the novel? It is necessary to get the answer based on the difference of page number sequence after shuffling. Sometimes he is a market scoundrel, who steals information between companies. Sometimes he plays with women and rapes young girls and become a rapist; Some saw him as a peripheral member of the French resistance who had bad habits though did not lose his patriotism. Others thought he was simply a hero against fascist aggression. “A hero may sadly become a thief, or on the contrary, a thief can suddenly become a hero,” author Saporta said in an interview. “Moreover, a disappointed lover may end up marrying another woman; but if the pages are disrupted, things may turn out to be: a married man in a violent conflict after marriage, He was not obsessed with his wife but with another woman. Such a book can make a similar change because the reader can displace the page order at will, or leave it to chance to write the story. “

  • The interaction that readers can become creators

Although in the aspect of story narration, the hypertext literature has not reached the standard that a thousand readers have a thousand stories, it does significantly increase the readers’ interactive creation at least. Hypertext novels are conceived and sprouted in traditional texts. In my opinion, the germination of hypertext literature is related to “annotation”. In the library collection, many people add simple or complex commentaries to interpret some important points of the text. Because of the limitation of the traditional paper text space and the need to deeply interpret some words or events, people will attach specific words at the bottom of the page or the end of the text. Readers may pay attention to or ignore the commentary. This already lets us see the bud of hypertext. However, the reader can only be a reader or a selective reader at most at that time. They are only able to understand what the author wants to express according to the author’s narrative order. In Hypertext Fiction, As Hart Cohen mentioned in Data Documentary: From Authorship to Authoring in Remediated/Remixed Documentary,” the boundary between producer and consumer is blurred.” In other words, readers can become authors to some extent. It breaks the writer’s monopoly on the narrative right and transfers the right to the reader in a limited way. Readers can decide the development direction of the plot to a certain extent and participate in the creative activities of writers. It fully respects the reader’s freedom to read novels and even invites readers to participate in the construction of content. It’s just a random choice. In the process of shuffling Composition No.1, readers have acquired the identity of writers: they are no longer only passively accepted, but partly involved in the creation of the novel; they no longer follow a single narrative possibility but construct a variety of ones. Cohen also mentioned, “Unlike interacting with old media, in digital media practices, there is an emphasis on producing within the interaction.” This is also because the literary value of hypertext needs readers’ choice to release it truly. Without the participation of readers, hypertext works would not exist and its literature would be of no value. Moreover, because the combination of actions can be infinite, the value of the work exists in an endless extension space.


  • The fragmentation of postmodernism

The emergence of hypertext literature realized the postmodern theory of deconstruction put forward by Derrida and Bart, which means hypertext literature is a combination of science technology and postmodernist literary theory. Hypertext literature replaces the traditional linear narrative with a nonlinear writing system, and the reason and result of the plot are no longer closely corresponding. The internal structure of the text is loose, and its semantic meaning is broken, but it also presents the characteristics of interrelation and collusion. A writer can interrupt, tear apart and open up a new narrative path anywhere in the text, or he can sew and continue anywhere in the text to maintain the narrative integrity of the work. Even if some postmodernist works desalinate the plot and dissolve the plot with more uncertainty, it provides a broad space for artistic imagination. However, they still belong to the flat, static structure and lack of thickness and three-dimensional ductility. Also, take Composition No.1 as an example, If we use geometry to solve 157 pages, it is necessary to calculate the factorial of 157, I can not show it with a calculator. In other words, we can’t figure out how many stories this book has written. Nevertheless, in fact, this does not mean that there are so many new stories, but merely subtle differences in the direction of each story. In the reader’s summary of the forum, reading in whatever order can be just summed up into four stories: the story of the wife, mistress Dagmar, the raped girl Elga, and the resistance to fascism occupier. All you do is make the story happen in a different order so that you will have different feelings and different themes, and if you just change two pages of content at will, it probably doesn’t affect the direction of the story as a whole, because some pages just describe a picture like a single shot. Besides, the fragmentation of postmodernism allows that hypertext narration is not limited to recombination of pure text. In the era of the authoritative database, hypertext presents a new trend of text-based and multi-media fusion. It includes not only text, pictures, and sound media, but also animation and video. Compared with the connotation of traditional literature, it is a modern form of synaesthesia and a holographic expression of intention.

Martha Kinder of the University of Southern California’s Department of Cinema and Television believes that the emergence of new media provides an opportunity to deepen the understanding of narrative. Narrative and image database are not mutually exclusive. She wrote that “…a database narrative may have no clear-cut beginning or ending, no three-act classical structure or even a coherent chain of causality, it still presents a narrative field with story elements arousing a user’s curiosity and desire…” Indeed, this is a narrative field full of story factors, and the completion of narration must depend on the interaction between readers and story factors. Because of the different angles that the reader cuts into each time and the difference of culture, personality, and ideology, the narration of the database will be individual, which shows the constructiveness of narration. For example, an electronic novel from her Labyrinth project, Bleeding Through: Layers of Los Angeles, tries to tell a classic crime story: an old woman, Moray, may have been the murderer of her mysterious missing second husband, Watt. However, in the end, the novel does not answer whether Moray has killed her husband or not, but to a large extent, helps readers deepen their understanding of the city of Los Angeles. Bleeding Through: Layers of Los Angeles not only reflects the open structure of the original novel and pays more attention to space than the character of the story, but it also shows the advantages of new media in multi-narration and interactive narration. Because the linear character of the traditional narrative and the single discourse based on the three-act structure are not enough to refer to the city. Especially to Los Angeles, such a “no center”, “no subject”, “no essence” city, the limitations of traditional narration are particularly prominent. This fragmented narrative will decompose the excessive attention to “important” historical events and characters, thus making up for the aesthetic shortcomings of the traditional narration in the presenting of the city.


  • Conclude

A final thought: The development of hypertext literature in the world is still in the ascendant, and its broad prospect will be very attractive and unpredictable. However, from receptivity to interactivity, from plane structure to three-dimensional network, from single medium to multimedia, from limited narration to database narrative, readers can get a glimpse of information what traditional narratives cannot provide or deliberately avoid to express. These are the general characteristics of the reorganization of the literature database and the general development trend of the hypertext literature marketing in the future.



Work cited

Hart, Cohen: “Data Documentary: From Authorship to Authoring in Remediated/ Remixed Documentary,” Culture Unbound, Volume 4, 2012:327-346. Linkoping University

Marsha, Kinder: “Designing a Database cinema.”

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