Hypertextual Ultrastructures:
Movement and Containment in Texts and Hypertexts

Welcome to the companion Web site for my dissertation (2009, English, Texas A&M University). This site is always under construction.

The full text of my dissertation is available here, in a 5.59MB .PDF file. It might take several minutes for the file to download.
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Hypertextual Ultrastructures:  Movement and Containment Among Texts and Hypertexts

I am in the process of developing interactive demonstrations of some the ideas introduced in my richly-illustrated dissertation; as they are ready, I will add them here. Meanwhile, please enjoy some free samples:

The surface-level experience of hypertextuality as formless and unbounded, blurring boundaries among texts and between readers and writers, is created by a deep structure which is not normally presented to readers and which, like the ultrastructure of living cells, defines and controls texts’ nature and functions. Most readers, restricted to surface-level interaction with texts, have little access to the deep structure of any hypertext. In this dissertation, I argue that digital hypertexts differ essentially from paper texts in that hypertexts are constructed in multiple layers, with surface-level appearance and behavior controlled by sub-surface ultrastructure, and that these multiple layers of structure enable and necessitate new methods of textual study designed for digital texts.

Using participant-observation from within my own practice as a webmaster, I closely examine the sub-surface structural layers that create several kinds of Web-based digital hypertexts: blogs, forums, static Web pages, and dynamic Web pages. With these hypertexts as the primary models, along with their enabling software and additional digital texts—wikis, news aggregators, word processing documents, digital photographs, electronic mail, electronic forms—available to me as a reader/author rather than a webmaster, I demonstrate methods of investigating and describing the development of digital texts. These methods, like methods already established within textual studies to trace the development of printed texts, can answer questions about accidental and intentional textual change, the roles of collaborators, and the ways texts are shaped by production processes and mediating technologies. As a step toward a formalist criticism of hypertext, I propose concrete ways of categorizing, describing, and comparing hypertexts and their components. I also demonstrate techniques for visualizing the structures, histories, and interrelationships of hypertexts and explore methods of using self-descriptive surface elements in paper-like texts as partial substitutes for the sub-surface self-description available in software-like texts. By identifying digitization as a gateway to cooperation between human and artificial intelligences rather than an end in itself, I suggest natural areas of expansion for the humanities computing collaboration as well as new methodologies by which originally-printed texts can be studied in their digital forms alongside originally-digital texts.



1: Introduction

  • Why the Most-Used Parts of the Web Are Studied Least
  • Layers and Ultrastructure: Hypertextuality, Inside-Out
  • What Are Printed Texts Made of, and Who Studies Ink?
  • Paper Is to Screen as Ink Is to Software
  • What Are Digital Texts Made of?
  • Paper Is (Relatively) Stable, but the Web Rots: Web Pages Require Caretakers
  • The Task of the Webmaster: Ultrastructure from the Perspective of the Participant-Observer
  • Hypertexts as Real Texts
  • Text, Hypertext, Move, Contain: Terminology and Notation
  • Ultrastructure Creates the Hyper- Attributes of Hypertext
  • Toward a Formalist Criticism of Hypertext

2: "Click Here to Agree"—Error and Validation, Claims and Disclaimers

  • Boundaries, Membranes, Bindings
  • Texts Wrapped in Claims
  • Texts Inconsistent with Claims: Error
  • Types of Error
  • Types of Containment Error
  • Claims of Internal Unreliability: This Made Sense to a Computer
  • Claims of Impermanence and Limitation
  • Claims of Loss: This May Not Be the Best Copy
  • Claims of Passivity: “Powered by”
  • Reliable Texts, Valid Software, Contextual Errors
  • Managing Errors in Hypertexts: Proofreaders, Testers, Engineers, Editors

3: "README"—Versioning and Comparison

  • Textual Permutations in Blog Publication: Locating Non-Authorial Participants
  • Software Creates by Describing
  • Software Is Language Designed to Change: Versioning, About, README
  • Software Is Language Surrounded by Language
  • Software Is Made of Words but Explained by Pictures
  • Describing Intentional Change in Informational Works
  • Visualizing Revisions of Procedural Information: All Versions Influence All Versions
  • Visualizing Versioning of Paper-Like Texts
  • Hypothesizing Versions

4: "View Page Source"—Text, Tools, Code, and Metacode

  • Stage Directions: Watching Versus Reading the Play
  • What the Designer Saw: Three Ways to Build a Blue Box
  • Alterity: Actively Seeking Internal Variation
  • Namespace: Exposure, Disambiguation, Containment, Contextuality
  • Stray Marks: Meaninglessness in the Ultrastructures of Hypertexts
  • What the Webmaster Saw: Three Things to Do with a Copy
  • Layered Perspectives: Reader, Writer, Designer, Publisher, Webmaster

5: "Edit This Page"—Collaboration and Control

  • Models of Collaborative Authorship: Fifteen Ways of Looking at a Hypertext
  • Hierarchies of Collaboration: Multiple Models, One Text
  • Layers of Control
  • Directions of Movement
  • Persistent Access to Components
  • The Narrator’s Voice in Dynamic Web Pages: Personalization, Localization, Visible Seams
  • Various Kinds of Variability: How Dynamic Is This Page?
  • Uncontrollable Collaborators: Reader-Induced Variability in “Constant” Components
  • Uncontrollable Collaborators: External Components “Within” a Dynamic Web Page
  • Toward Meaningful Descriptions of Hypertextual Collaborations
  • Can a Hypertext Be a Solo Project?
  • Hypertextuality Requires Precision: The Limits of Simulation

6: "Save As"—Repackaging, Repurposing, and Responsibility

7: Conclusion

Hypertextual Ultrastructures:  Movement and Containment Among Texts and Hypertexts