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Annotated Bibliography 3

Ess, Charles. "Modernity and Postmodernism in 'Hypertext Notes': A Call for Theoretical Consistency and Completeness." EJournal 6(3), 1996. (

(Note from the Webmaster: The above link was functional at the time of completion of this assignment. I regret to say that this link is now broken and I have not yet been able to trace the site to where it has been shifted.)


In this essay, Charles Ess gives an account of how modernity and postmodernity can be reconciled in hypertexts i.e. the existence of one does not necessitate the exclusion of the other. In fact, he says:

  • "My large point is that instead of accepting the either/or between modernism and postmodernism enjoined upon us by many postmodern enthusiasts -- we as theorists, authors, and readers of hypertext will be better served by a theory of hypertext which explicitly acknowledges the role of both paradigms."
  • He starts off by expounding his primary model for hypertext: authors do have a clear idea of the message they want to convey to the readers. This is in contrast to the poststructuralist argument that it is up to the reader to construct meaning in a text (a process which is termed 'decentering'). He argues that the point is not whether to say which one is the correct theory but rather to reconcile both theories into hypertext. He uses Hypertext Notes to illustrate what he means. Hypertext Notes is an author's attempt to "exploit the medium of hypertext in a way that is only rarely done, especially on the web". While the author did write his essay in a way so as to avoid imposing his own order onto the text, Ess argues that " this effort…is only partial" because the author "has chosen for his readers a limited set of lexia, linked in specific ways, accompanied by an opening set of instructions which tell us the overarching meaning of this hypertext".

    Subsequently, he attacks the author's argument that "discursive texts do not need the structure of an argument". Ess critiques that the author is appealing to authority by linking his argument to Bolter's Writing Space, and hence it is a fallacious argument. He concludes by emphasizing the importance of conjoining modernist notions with postmodernist ones in order that we will "make progress towards a more complete, consistent, and useful theory of hypertext".


    I had a really hard time trying to find relevant materials for my essay when I stumbled upon this one by Charles Ess. As I skimmed through the contents, I became really excited about what he has to say because this is the first time I've ever seen hypertext theory presented in this light! Even though this essay is not typical of the kind of academic works one would normally find (this is more like a personal account), it comes across as more reader-friendly to me.

    Using only simple language, he delivers his point in just a thousand words or so. Not only that, he has successfully capture my attention throughout the whole of his essay, and got me thinking about the issues raised too. I am convinced, at the end of the essay, that it is not only the responsibility of authors but also those of the readers to know what the issues surrounding hypertext theories are, especially with regards to developing a more critical attitude towards postmodernist arguments.

    Although it seems apparent that hypertext is 'limitless', 'shifting' and 'decentered', it is not definitely the case upon some reflection. This is exactly the point I feel Burbules is making when he says that hyperlinks are not neutral in their signification. He seems to be suggesting that there is more to it than meets the eye, and therefore we must develop a critical attitude towards hyperreading and hyperwriting. In the process of urging his audience to consider uniting both modernist and postmodernist notions of hypertext theory, Ess seems to be echoing the need for a critical attitude towards postmodernism in order "to enhance our understanding of both the possibilities and limits of hypertext".

    Summarized and reviewed by Tan Lee Peng

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