When Literature goes Multimedia
Three German Examples***

by Roberto Simanowski

abstract - Download (zip, 170KB)

1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

In February 2000 Robert Coover, who had once announced the arrival of hypertext to the broad audience of the New York Times Book Review, declared that the golden age of hypertext was over (Literary Hypertext: The Passing of the Golden Age). One reason according to Coover is that the web "has not been very hospitable" to serious hyperfiction but has rather supported superficial, opportunistic events: "It tends to be a noisy, restless, opportunistic, superficial, e-commerce-driven, chaotic realm, dominated by hacks, pitchmen, and pretenders, in which the quiet voice of literature cannot easily be heard or, if heard by chance, attended to for more than a moment or two. Literature is meditative and the Net is riven by ceaseless hype and chatter. Literature has a shape, and the Net is shapeless."

Concerning the multimedial web he states: "hypertext is now used more to access hypermedia as enhancements for more or less linear narratives […] the reader is commonly obliged now to enter the media-rich but ineluctable flow as directed by the author : In a sense, it's back to the movies again, that most passive and imperious of forms." Coover notes the "constant threat of hypermedia: to suck the substance out of a work of lettered art, reduce it to surface spectacle".

Coover focuses upon the threat of visualisation and employs three prejudices concerning digital writing:

  1. Digital writing has to be structured non-linearlly.
  2. The author has to give up her power to the readers, who are oblidged to complete the work and are transformed from couch potatoes into mouse commanders.
  3. Images and sound, animation and technical effects are little more than spectacle and gimmick.

Coover's message seems to be clear: When literature goes multimedia, when hypertext turns into hypermedia a shift takes place from serious aesthetics to superficial entertainment. Don't get me wrong: What Coover points out is indeed a problem of hypermedia. If the risk of hyperfiction is to link without meaning, the risk of hypermedia is to employ effects that only flex the technical muscles. Of course, it is not enough to have nice images or fancy animation. Effects are only justified insofar as they convey a message. There are hundreds of examples that fail. I will discuss three that may have succeeded.

***This paper was presented at DAC (2-4, August 2000, Bergen/Norway). For an expanded version see German Digital Literature: An Introduction [top]


1 > 2 - 3 - 4 - 5