Or, how I learned to start
writing in the rhizome

Drew Davidson



Or, in other words, why have I written the primary node hypertextually? And why do I consider a textual, linear version to be a secondary artifact of the first? The answer to these questions can be found, implicitly, through the experience of this hypertextual node. It is in between all the pages. It is the hypertextual, rhizomatic linkings that weave these pages together in a diversity of layers and simultaneously open it up to the almost infinite world wide web, where there is no there there. It is in the dynamic reading/writing experience, where readers have more overt control to "read" as they choose. And the writer can continually, and performatively, update the document. It is a living document in which the process allows the content to grow and change as long as it is attended to. It never has to be completed as long as the author (and others) continue to add to it.

So, I could have attempted to write this as a more standard text. But it would most certainly not be the same critique, and it may even be lesser for the difference. Hypertext criticism can be one of two things: a discursive text critiquing some hypertext, or a hypertext itself, in the form of the object critiqued. This node is an argument for the latter through example.

"What is a critic to do? The answer, finally, must be write in hypertext itself" (Landow, 36). "The border-violating collage-writing of [hypertext] offers a form of academic discourse capable of emphasizing imagination, discovery, and unexpected crossovers" (39).

Textual discourse is a fine standard and I am not arguing for its end, but for the expansion of critical discourse into hypertext. Hypertext combines some of the characteristics of text and peformance into a new and unique experience. Like text, hypertext is a document that can be referenced and reviewed time and again. Like performance, it is dynamic and ephemeral, allowing the user to literally experience something anew each and every time. And it also exists within its own limits. You are currently confined to experience a hypertextual web page while sitting in front of your computer. Granted, there are wireless applications and other exceptions, but for the time being, if you are reading this, you are more than likely sitting at your computer.

I have chosen to create this the primary node hypertextually. I then mapped the hypertext node to a secondary, textual node. It is my belief that the text is a more static artifact of the dynamic hypertext. In the secondary version, ideas and web pages that are hypertextually linked and just a click away from each other become distanced from each other through the linear form of the text. Like text and performance, I believe that hypertext is enabling new and unique modes of exploration and knowledge for critics to struggle within and benefit from. So, while the content of my node is important, I truly believe that the form of it is important as well. This node is a minute illustration of what hypertext may be able to add to our knowledge.

The rhizome of hypertext enables unique explorations and new modes of critiquing, communicating, teaching and learning. Deleuze and Guattari note the rhizome, "has multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flight," and it, "connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states. The rhizome is reducible neither to the One nor the multiple... It is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion" (21).

The textual version is an artifact mapped from the hypertext node. In looking at them together, I think the textual version is the lesser of the two versions. I believe that this has to do with the fact I was engaging in a different type of writing that does not translate well into linear, textual discourse. The secondary version becomes a textual exquisite corpse, pieced together from a variety of perspectives and ins and outs from the rhizome of the web. The hypertextual ideas become more severed and separated from each other.

"Hypertheory is characterized by spatial metaphors" (Schmundt, 314). "If you truly believe in hypertext then you must be prepared for those who believe that we have not arrived at hypertext until we begin forming individual thoughts that are hypertext, thoughts that cannot be expressed in any other way" (314).

This is a rhizomatic node. A lot of the meaning comes in between and around. The associative linkings from words and phrases move rhetorically and performatively between pages and out into the web at large. There are meaningful and relevant logics and strategies involved with the interface and the links. There is an associative and metonymic reasoning occuring between each and every page. Every link was chosen so the word is not only relevant to the page it is on, but also to the page to which it links.

Notice the color of the links. If your browser is set to its default settings, a link to a page that has been visited will be purple. A blue link will take you to a new page (this assumes viewings in one browser on one computer). This gives you some sense of where you have been and where you are going.

Hypertext allows for nodes that can be played with by reader and writer (even simultaneously) in new and exciting ways. It can be exploratory and constructive all at once. Meaning can be interactively, and performatively, created by all involved. To engage a hypertextual node is to play with the rhizome, to explore outside of normal standards and hierarchies. The web allows for a living document.

I have come to think of this new hypertextual process of knowledge as "ludic academe." Hypertext has the capability to fundamentally expand and enhance our critical endeavors. I see it as a process that will add its own unique stamp to what and how we know. It is a rigorous and playful critical process that rhizomatically problematizes the balance of authority and allows readers and writers together in the same space at once, even if they are in different places within the conversation. For I still believe readers and writers occupy different places. They are now just doing so in a new space and in different ways - ways that we are just beginning to explore and use and play with.

There is also a temporal difference for writers in different the mediums. Text is mostly a solitary pursuit in which authors complete and publish the work. This is where authors let go of their active part of the narrative, and the rest is in the hands of the readers. In the case of a CD-ROM, hypertext also has a ending point, where the product is released to the public. But with the internet, the ending point blurs. The "final" is more ephemeral. Authors can continue to change the work, even as readers are engaging the story. In fact, with the advent of XML (Extensible Markup Language), ASP (Active Server Pages), Java and other technologies on the web, dynamic interactivity in webpages can be automatic and determined by the readers themeselves. So, this node could be automatically and dynamically (re)arranged anew everytime someone "reads" it. This can be done both individually and collectively, as the website (and the arguments therein) respond to the readers. A hypermedia document on the internet is an organic and rhizomatic experience for both readers and writers.

Writing "criticism and theory within a hypertext environment" incorporates "the medium's characteristic multivocality, open-endedness, multilinear organization, greater inclusion of nontextual information, and fundamental reconfiguration of authorship . . . and of status relations in the text" (Landow, 36).

Hypertext makes manifest a post-structural theory of reading in which the reader is just as active a creator in the meaning of the text as the author. As a reader of hypertext, you get to choose which way you want to go in the node, but those choices are constrained and determined by the author. So, it is not limitless interactivity with no structure whatsoever.

A fair question to ask of this manifestation of a theory is this: Is it better or worse that we can now do and experience what the post-structural theory describes as a reading process? Or in other words, what's the point of realizing a theory? The point is less about whether it is better or worse, and more about how to better utilize the medium of hypertext.

It is an issue of the quality of the content. The goal should be to keep exploring how to better the content and critique of this new medium so that one day we will have a masterpiece of hypertext comparable to those in literature and art, and a hypertextual critique full of ideas and insights that can only be expressed hypertextuall


Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987.

Landow, George P. "What's a Critic to Do? Critical Theory in the Age of Hypertext." Hyper/Text/Theory. ed. George P. Landow. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1994.

Schmundt, Hilmar. "Hyperfiction: the romanticism of the information revolution." Southern Humanities Review. v29, n4, Fall 1995: 309-319.