hypertext. Hypertext refers to the use of technology to produce more text in a more immediately accessible and interactive way than is possible in the conventional reading of the printed text, in standard teaching practice, or through the use of traditional libraries. In studying a novel (or any written, audio or visual text) in hypertext one would potentially have available on screen not only an initial primary text but related texts (related novels, letters, biographies, reviews, criticism, socio-economic cultural background materials) to consult, annotate and re-order. As the student-researcher follows a particular trail in hypertext any of this 'secondary' material might become the 'primary' text or suggest another. Indeed, the concept of a 'primary' text might give way to a lateral exploration across textual surfaces.
The idea is derived from the American engineer, Vannevar Bush and was initially conceived in the mid-1940s in response to the information overload experienced by academics. Bush proposed a mechanized device called a 'memex', 'an enlarged intimate supplement' to an individual's memory, in which would be stored books, records, and communications available for speedy access (Landow 1992: 15). In the 1960s, Ted Nelson, following Bush, coined the term 'hypertext' to refer to a form of electronic text made available on an interactive screen which would consist of non-linear chunks of text with links and pathways so that it 'branches and allows choices to the reader' (Landow 1992: 4). Computer technology has, it is argued, made it possible to realize these earlier ideas. In addition, George P. Landow perceives a close connection between this material technological advance and ideas in modern literary theory. Hypertext, he argues, is consonant with Mikhail Bakhtin's notion of the 'polyvocal' text, with Roland Barthes's distinction between the 'writerly' as against the readerly text, with ideas of decentred textuality or intertextuality, and the new active role of the reader theorised by Barthes, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. This affinity is confirmed, he reasons, by a shared vocabulary of 'links', 'network', 'web', 'path', 'matrix', 'interweaving', and so on (1992: 17, 25). Hypertext, Landow concludes, emerges as the 'literal embodiment' of key poststructuralist concepts (1992: 34). [from Brooker, 1999]