Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 6. Nr.

September 1998

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A new field of work for literary studies

Literature in the World Wide Web

Andrea Rosenauer (Vienna)

According to Loss Pequeño Glazier(1), writing in the "Special Hypertext Issue" of the electronic journal Postmodern Culture, "Poetry has entered the electronic landscape." He deals with more than just writing on computer and for electronic transmission in comparison to printed poetry. Glazier also analyses methods of approaches to theoretical definitions which influence writing on screen and the dissemination and reception of what is written. His final observations are valid then for "electronic poetics" and "electronic poetry".

An electronic poetics is a poetics. Like any other poetics which recognizes system -- be it breath, a controversy of texts, or a nexus of interests -- system is a determining factor. A poetics also involves a particular engagement, or set of engagements, with its issuing "authority" and its technology. The public life of a poetics has, perhaps, been nowhere more visible, with its incessant transmission, than in the electronic poetries. An electronic poetry is a public word, projected across a public world, across systems, itself as system.(2)

Glazier conceives of poetry as system, and stresses the aspect of system, - in fact independently of the medium as a determining factor.

Hypertext and Literary theory

The relation between a theoretical literary approach to text and other hypertext theories has been dealt with by George P. Landow . He demonstrates that, for example, Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault describe texts as networks and associative structures of text elements, and that their descriptions contain astonishing parallels to the theories of Theodor Nelson, who in the 1960s was the first to use the term "Hypertext". (3)

Hypertext, as the most significant characteristic of the Internet service on the World Wide Web, allows, along with the integration of graphics, images, audio and video sequences, the linking of texts or textual elements, and all the other elements mentioned, with one another via Hyperlinks. These links connect texts - regardless of which server they are present on - with one another and thus enable the creation of a worldwide network of publications. To quote Landow:

Electronic links connect lexias "external" to a work -- say, commentary on it by another author or parallel or contrasting texts -- as well as within it and thereby create text that is experienced as nonlinear, or, more properly, as multilinear or multisequential. Although conventional reading habits apply within each lexia, once one leaves the shadowy bounds of any text unit, new rules and new experience apply.(4)

Vannevar Bush, whose notion of "Memex", a kind of machine which could replicate thought structures, was first recorded in 1945 in "As we may think"(5), also wanted to escape the restrictions of linear methods of reception. Along with Landow, "Memex" can also be seen as a "poetic machine", working on the assumption that science and poetry function in fundamentally the same manner.(6)

Printed and electronic hypertexts

A literary hypertext is itself nothing new for literary studies. Texts such as Döblins "Berlin Alexanderplatz" and Joyce’s "Ulysses" were and are repeatedly interpreted as such, and there are texts such as Cortáza’s "Rayuela" and Queneau’s "Cent Mille Milliards de poèmes" which challenge the reader to break through the linear structure.

Another example should be examined somewhat more closely: Andreas Okopenko’s "Lexikonroman", which has been presented in both printed(7) and electronic versions(8) allows comparison between the two forms of presentation. Such a comparison was first done before the publication of ELEX (the ELectronischen LEXiconroman) in a thesis by Sigrid Fromm.(9) Though the printed version is seen as already "anticipating the electronic medium"(10) she does observe that book and computer create "different approaches to the Lexikonroman".(11) Alongside the difference between reading printed and electronic texts, she also observes differences in content and form: Even when the CD-ROM contains the same text as the print version, there are differences in handling of text elements and in navigating between them. As Fromm says:

"One has to turn the pages more often than usual in the Lexikonroman. In the Elexikon, however, one turns the pages only in a virtual sense, as one clicks. In this way, if one speaks of turning pages in a hypertext, the movement typical of book reading has been transposed to the computer. Page turning on the computer is no longer a description of locomotion, but a metaphor (....) as one doesn’t turn pages in a hypertext, but skips to a point, or from one piece of information to another. The connection is direct, there’s nothing in between to be "turned over" as it were. A click on "Grottenolm" leads you through the text only in relation to Grottenolm, and not, as in a book, coincidentally to the alphabetically ordered preceeding entry "Geschäftsbeziehungen" (.....) (12) (translation)

Furthermore ELEX allows a widening of function, as users are not only readers, but also viewers, listeners, (and in greater numbers) note takers and contributing writers.(13)

Fromms observations are also applicable to hypertexts offered on the World Wide Web.

Interestingly enough, at least according to the reference-media "Germanistik" and "MLA - Bibliography", to date there has been very little analysis of texts in this medium in German-speaking philology. When those working in literary studies do address the matter this appears at the moment not to be happening in publications viewed as literary studies publications.(14)

Hypertext Literature in the World Wide Web

Martin Auer’s Lyrikmaschine(15) among other works, shows what fascinating worlds open up through scientific inquiry into and interpretation of hypertexts in the WWW. In this work, the author has linked 50 poems as a lyric network, which, depending on where the reader starts and in what order he reads, suggests various interpretations and triggers a range of different associations. As I have already dealt extensively elsewhere(16) with this work, three further examples of literature in the World Wide Web will be presented here.

Jana A. Czipin and Alfons Neubauer: Kuku-Elegie(17)

The "Kuku-Elegie" by Jana A. Czipin(18) was entered as her contribution to "Pegasus 1998", an Internet literary competition put on by " Die Zeit" and IBM. The work, which is called "Dicht.kunst - Dichte Kunst - DichterInnen Kunst", was created by the author and Alfons Neubauer, and is made up of a miniature cosmos of components: a database of aphorisms, some texts such as "Anleitung für SelbstmörderInnen" - in English, "Instructions for Suicides", - poems, in which the lyric I is female, such as "Die Große Reise" - in English, "The Big Journey", or "Märchen", "Fairytales", and a poem which invites readers to compose alongside or continue the text. The work is a multimedia space containing images, sound and text. The view is also adhered to in "Statement", that a theoretic substructure is conferred not only by the work, but through links to single letters, to which qualities are attributed.

This is the context of the "Kuku-Elegie", which I would like to examine more closely as an example of the opportunities the electronic medium offers in presentation of texts.

The first page of the poem appears on screen after clicking "DichtE Kunst" (the terms appear when the mouse cursor travels over the three poets). It is composed of an image, into which the character kuku-ELEGIE has been worked. If the mouse cursor travels over the word "kuku", the command "click me" appears, which is the invitation to enter "Einsteig", the entrance to "Elegie", a table of contents without underlying metrical system. The text begins with an image. Hands are offered as an aid to navigation, the index finger of which can point left or right enabling forward and backwards movement. One can also return to the homepage of the entire work, visit the aphorism data base, or contact the designer via e-mail. The usual navigation border on a browser disappears once one moves beyond the first page. If the mouse cursor moves from the navigation border provided by the authors to the scroll ledge, so that one may view the rest of the text by "rolling" the excerpt on screen, it is almost impossible for the cursor to avoid touching the picture showing a fallen chess figure, the king. By touching it, this then disappears off screen, so that another portion of the text appears:

In Rauchschwaden
vom Barhocker
den König gekippt.
Er stand sowieso schon


Amidst clouds of smoke
from the bar stool
the king fell.
He was already anyway

(Engl. translation)

This word picture concealed under the actual picture already reflects the atmosphere and place within the poem. Clouds of smoke, a bar stool. We’re in a bar. The atmosphere is anything but exuberant, as is apparent not only through the fallen chess figure (in the picture, and in the picture under the picture) but also through the resignation and fatalism in the line "he was already anyway/checkmated". The rest of the text on this screen page sketches more of the atmosphere, describing the bar as created "only for the night", as a cellar bar. The following page describes it as a place where mostly regular customers meet each other. On the 6th screen page the composition of the guests is described: 

Ein bunt gemischter Haufen,
die Klosprüche zeigen,
daß sie sich wenigstens in der grundlegenden
politischen Richtung einig sind.


A motley mixed gang
who’s toilet humour show
that they’re in agreement
at least
on basic political views

(Engl. translation)

As this "basic political view" is later described more closely, there arises another possibile interpretation of the fallen king as a symbol of power, which is invalidated on this particular night, and has anyway already been "checkmated" in this bar. The protagonists journey through the night is described; by the 15th screen page it’s already 4 in the morning. The spectator to the "Kuku-Elegie" stares into a full glass, under which can be read

Schwarzer Whisky,
zwischen Eiswürfeln,
denkt auch nicht daran,
mich zum Lachen zu bringen.


Black Whisky
clamped fast
between ice cubes,
also doesn’t think
of getting me to smile

(Engl. translation)

It’s the time and place in which dreams shatter, the night is drawing to a close. And thus the poem ends too on the 16th screen page with "Zahlen der Zeche", "Paying the Bill", the departure from the bar as morning breaks. It ends with a picture showing a distorted face, a picture in which the chess metaphor as the framework of the poem is taken up again:

In Rauchschwaden
die Dame
unterm Barhocker
Sie siegt
oder stirbt einen ehrenvollen Tod.


Amidst clouds of smoke
the Queen
under the bar stool.
She conquers
or dies an honourable death

(Engl. translation)

The ambivalence of this verse allows a variety of interpretations of course. As my lecture is designed only to present examples of literature on the WWW, I will not attempt any full interpretation of the poem here. However the following medium-specific elements should be mentioned:

Judy Malloy and Sonya Rapoport: Objective Connections

Judy Malloy has numerous works online.(20) She designed, together with Sonya Rapoport, "Objective Connections" for "Generations: The Lineage of Influence in Bay Area Art. A celebration of the Richmond Art Center’s 60th Anniversary"(21) The work begins with Rapaport’s presentation "Objects on my dresser" and the "Instructions":

Readers (called players in this environment) enter the story when they enter the room. The story unfolds as they discover and examine the output and input devices that are contained in objects in Brown House Kitchen.(translation)

Although the instructions suggest that the observer has entered an interactive world which allows the texts to be played with, the play occurs primarily in the mind in this network of texts and graphic objects. As in the "Kuku-Elegie", "free roaming" is possible within portions of the text, but is allowed between portions of the text only as permitted by the authors.

By clicking the word "house" the observer sees the outline of a house. It can be entered by clicking on it. The following text appears on the monitor:

blue shirt..........Mining my memories
soft a miner crouched by Cripple Creek
warm milk..........or a 15 year old boy
the sound of water....seeking images of underdressed women cyberspace
cold water............ while Mom and Dad lie sleeping
blood stains.........and the other computers in the house
brown grass on the hills... silently charge their batteries.
a flowered dress......... a glass of beer...........
sleep................. background noise......... low flying
planes.......... intermittent pain............ the smell of green
grass.... warm sun................. a red front door........ cold
cereal................ a white shirt............... the children
laughing........ potato soup..............
footprints.................. the pine trees overhead......

while Mom and Dad lie sleeping

A poem (in bold type) is woven into the text, surrounded by a sequence of meditative impressions. If I click the "signature", I return to the image with which I first entered the poem. However the option to click here isn't offered this time. Beneath the image is a portion of the text of the poem already read, with a reference to "underdressed" - whether as a word taken from the text or an indication of what's coming; one discovers by clicking. And so the journey goes through ten objects and texts, while the construction doesn't change: an image on which one can click, leading to a text, whose signature indicates a combined text-image. The signature found there leads to the next image.

The work offers an array of expositions of computers, gender relations, research and universities and objects, which by way of text and image objects are linked to form "Objective Connections".  It's possible to exit from the work to the individual contributions of Malloy and Rapoport, from which objects for "Objective Connections" were taken. The "End" (the text "Small Things" and a detail of the object "Biorhythm") is linked to the beginning, ("objects"), and transforms the text into an endless loop from which one can leap only to the already mentioned points. However viewers always have - as with any reading material in the WWW - the possiblity, to end "browsing", rummaging about in text, with the help of the browser to end the programme, or, by entering manually another WWW address to change to another website.

PooL Processing: the imaginary library

For this application, if I use the WWW address (URL), then a project by Heiko Idensen, "The Imaginary Library", appears on the monitor.(22) It contains literary experiments, electronic essays, documentation on PooL Processing and annotated navigation aids to literary, art and theoretical projects in the WWW.(23) Not only are a variety of approaches to this network possible, (because the project enjoys a high level of recognition, numerous exterior links direct one to various pages), it also offers through its exterior links and its extensive internal network an entire cosmos of transitions to, from and between elements. The "Imaginary Library" is also an example of the production of a text and image archive, although in this case as a "continuation of pure ‘information processing’ by other means."

Navigation processes in hypertext become burdened with poetic fragments of book culture. The reader as traveler/navigator/user becomes the new hero, who is engaged in a lonely futile battle against the stupid domination of fixed design in the visual media. It would be truly wonderful if one could assist the creation of thought in the weaving of a hypertext structure - and this, what’s more, as communal-cooperative- on-screen thinking.(24) (translation)


The consequences of interactive literature for literary studies

This last example presents a special challenge to interpreters and interpretations because of the complete break with linearity. However, precisely this example shows that more than just a wide range of possible readings have been introduced. Additionally, - by employing a technique used often in literature in the WWW - the reader or navigator is afforded a creative relation with the text. A relation in which possible variants must be taken into account in any literary studies treatment of the text.

Is it this challenge that literary studies is disinclined to meet? Research into literary electronic hypertexts, which has as yet little secondary or primary literature, offers a broad sphere of activity for interpretation. But precisely this field offers beyond that the opportunity to working with a type of literature which is read by people who are little used to reading books, people who feel much more at ease moving between programmes and websites than between the shelves of a library. Readers who don’t look for literature between the covers of a book, but in a "Network of Exiles". (25)

Is it the practical problems of working with texts on the WWW which has created reservations? The lack of recognised rules for quotation, the unresolved problem of archiving, the possible "transitoriness" consequent upon that, the mutability of the text, and with all these a potential danger to the corroboration or verification of scientific work?

Or does evaluating the context, the variety of possible approaches, which themselves could alter in important ways the reception of the text, appear a dimension beyond mastery?

Thomas Wagenbäur says:

The consequences of hypertexts for literary studies are self evident. Literary theoreticians who would prefer to dispense with central categories such as the logic of events or time/space continuity, are given justification in doing so by writers using hypertext, as hypertext aids textual construction instead through nodes and networks.(26) (translation)

Does hypertext help the "radical aesthetes of reception" to push through their theories then? Don’t hypertext networks or parts of them also perhaps have an "intentio operis"?(27) If they don’t have, and we get as a consequence arbitrary interpretations, what problems might arise for readers and writers, for our societies, through this "lawlessness" of text and the arbitrary manner of its use, in quotations etc.

Whether the "opening of literary studies to the media" and the "reflections on methods and media involved in that" occurs on a broader basis, and - as Markus Heilmann and Thomas Wagenbäur see it - the tendency toward cultural studies which was always inherent in literary studies(28) - grows stronger, can perhaps be more fully discussed at next year’s INST conference on the theme of "International Cultural Studies".

To the call from Heilmann and Wagenbäur, that by bringing together inner and extra-academic discourse

"cultural studies philology or philological cultural studies is challenged to legitimate its scientific competence beyond the traditional horizon of text hermeneutics".(29)(translation)

I can only add my support in closing this lecture.

© Andrea Rosenauer (Vienna)
translated by Joanna King

home.gif (2030 Byte)buinst.gif (1751 Byte)        Inhalt: Nr. 6


(1) Loss Pequeno Glazier: Jumping to Occlusions. In: Postmodern Culture. Special hypertext issue 5/97. WWW: Zugriff am 1998-09-20. 

(2) Ebd.

(3) George P. Landow: The Definition of Hypertext and Its History as a Concept. (Seiten 3-4 der Printversion von: Hypertext. The convergence of contemporary critical theory & technology). WWW: und Folgeseiten.  Zugriff am 1998-09-20.

(4) Ebd. Landow benutzt hier den von Roland Barthes verwendeten Begriff "lexia" für "blocks of text", Textteile, innerhalb derer konventionelle Lesegewohnheiten gültig sind.

(5) Vannevar Bush: As we may think. HTML-Version von Denys Duchier. WWW: ff. Zugriff am 1998-09-20. (Das Original erschien in der Juliausgabe des Jahres 1945 von "The Atlantic Monthly".)

(6) Landow: Bush´s Memex as Poetic Machine (Seiten 17-18 der Printversion von Hypertext. a.a.O.). WWW: Zugriff am 1998-09-20.

(7) Andreas Okopenko: Lexikon einer sentimentalen Reise zum Exporteurtreffen nach Druden. Roman. Wien: Deuticke, 1996 (= eine Bibliothek der österreichischen zeitgenössischen Literatur).

(8)  Andreas Okopenko/Libraries of the Mind: ELEX .- auf CD-ROM für Apple Macintosh Computer.- Wien: Mediendesign, 1998. Informationen zur elektronischen Ausgabe sowie Verweise auf weitere Literatur sind der ELEX-Homepage ( zu entnehmen.

(9)  Sigrid Fromm: Lexikon und Elexikon. Ein Vergleich des Lexikon-Romans von Andreas Okopenko mit seiner Umsetzung als Hypertext. Wien: Diplomarbeit, 1996.

(10)  Ebd., S. 65ff.

(11)  Ebd., S. 80ff.

(12) Ebd., S. 83f.

(13)  Ebd., S. 85.

(14)  In der MLA-Datenbank werden als Ergebnis einer Suche nach Hypertext und verwandten Begriffen bei einer Gesamttreffermenge von 159 Zitaten genannt :

Nicht gefunden wurden in dieser Datenbank unter anderem folgende Werke, die Beiträge zu Hypertext-Literatur enthalten:

Aus dem MLA-Suchergebnis ist, englischsprachige Werke betreffend, neben den Werken Landows und Beiträgen in "Postmodern Culture" insbesondere erwähnenswert:

[zurück zum Text]

(15) Martin Auer: Lyrikmaschine. WWW: Zugriff am 1998-09-09.

(16)  Andrea Rosenauer: Österreichische Literatur im World Wide Web. Beitrag zur Konferenz: Modern Austrian Literature in Transition. New Authors - New Themes - New Trends, University of California at Riverside, 16.-18. April 1998. Vorgesehen zur Publikation in: Modern Austrian Literature. Vgl. auch: Andrea Rosenauer: Literatur per Mausklick. Lesereisen in elektronischen Netzwerken. In: Jura Soyfer. Internationale Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 7.Jg./1998, H.1. S. 3-6, hier: S. 5f.

(17) Jana A.Czipin und Alfons Neubauer: Dicht.Kunst. WWW: Zugriff am 1998-09-21.

(18) Jana A. Czipin: Homepage Jana A. Czipin. WWW: Zugriff am 1998-09-09.

(19) Im Ggs. dazu: Jana A. Czipin. E-Mail vom 1998-09-22:

Die strenge Führung ist relativ. Man/frau kann jeder Zeit aussteigen
(mit home oder close) oder aus den drei Hauptbereichen (dicht.kunst,
dichte.kunst und DicherInnenkunst) zu den Aphorismen oder
den Selbstmordtexten gehen. In den einzelnen Bereichen ist die Führung
Die sinnliche Qualität wird auch durch die Hörbarkeit der Gedicht erhöht.
Im Statement wird ja darauf extra Bezug genommen und darum sind auch dort
die Buchstaben mit sinnlicher Wahrnehmung "verziert" Mir ist die Hörbarkeit
sehr wichtig [...]

[zurück zum Text]

(20) Judy Malloy: [Collected InternetWorks]. WWW: Zugriff am 1998-09-21.

(21) Judy Malloy und Sonya Rapoport: Objective Connections. WWW: Zugriff am 1998-09-21.

(22) [Heiko Idensen / PooL Processing]: Die imaginäre Bibliothek. WWW: Zugriff am 1998-09-21.

(23) Heiko Idensen: Die Poesie soll von allen gemacht werden! Von literarischen Hypertexten zu virtuellen Schreibräumen der Netzwerkkultur. In: Matejowski/Kittler (Hgg.): Literatur im Informationszeitalter. a.a.O. S. [143]-184. Hier: S.167.

(24) Ebd., S. 156f.

(25) Vgl. Uwe Wirth: Literatur im Internet. Oder: Wen kümmert´s, wer liest? In: Münker/Roesler: Mythos Internet. a.a.O. S.319-[337]. Hier: S.319. Zum Zugangsverhalten vgl. Agata Skowron-Nalborczyk: Polnische Literatur im Internet. In: Jura Soyfer. Internationale Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. 7.Jg/1998, H.1. S.7-8. Hier: S.8.

(26) Thomas Wagenbäur: "Schreiben wie Film". Joyce, Döblin und die Anfänge interaktiver Literatur im Hypertext. In: Heilmann/Wagenbäur: Macht Text Geschichte. a.a.O. S. [128]-142. Hier S. 137.

(27) Umberto Eco: Überzogene Textinterpetation. In: ders. Zwischen Autor und Text. Interpretation und Überinterpretation. - Mit Einwürfen von Richard Rorty, Jonathan Culler, Christine Brooke-Rose und Stefan Collini. - München:dtv, 1996. S.52-74. Hier: S. 71ff.

(28) Markus Heilmann und Thomas Wagenbäur: Literaturwissenschaft als (Des-)Orientierungswissenschaft. Ein optimistischer Prospekt. In: dies. (Hgg.): Macht Text Geschichte. a.a.O. S.[7]-16. Hier: S. 10.

(29) Ebd.

Webmeister: Angelika Czipin
last change 12.07.2000