A large argumentative hypertext

This essay concerns a large argumentative hypertext I have been writing, which is associated with a book that presents the same argumentation. The project, with the title "Sprawling Places," discusses criticisms of contemporary places and develops a theory that might allow more creative responses to them.

The book and hypertext share material and ideas but the presentation is different in the two versions. What interests me in this (meta)essay are those differences between the two versions, and the pressure of the book on the hypertext.

The book expounds its argumentative points straightforwardly, with technical scholarly footnotes, and discusses rival views that the hypertext treats more briefly if at all. The hypertext offers outlines summarizing the argument, expands some topics that the book only mentions, and offers a set of scenes and first-person narrations about concrete places, together with many images. It tries to make the reader's dealings with the argumentation more self-conscious and more self-critical.

One motive for presenting the argument in two versions, a book and a hypertext, was to contrast the two media, and to take advantage of the strengths of each: the bounded inclusiveness and convenience of a book together with the open-ended digressiveness and multiple forms available in a hypertext.

I also intended to have the text engage in a variety of maneuvers that would turn the reader's attention to the process of reading.

Large, argumentative "single-author hypertexts that link to themselves" (Carter 2000, 86) pose compositional problems different from informational hypertexts and web sites one consults to gather bits of information. The issues of linking and of author/reader balance are similar to those in more literary hypertext, but have their own twists.

The connection with a book brings out those aspects of argumentative hypertexts that differ from informational and literary hypertexts. My text has theses to advance, polemics to mount, a view to defend. If the reader is to understand and evaluate the text's claims, then there are some paths and overviews that are more important than others. The book puts pressure on the hypertext.

Still, the hypertext is not the book. Both aim at opening up the reader to new ways of thinking about the topic. The book can do a very controlled presentation of the topic. The hypertext may do more for opening up the reader's horizons. It contains a greater variety of materials and voices, some of which do not come to any conclusion. It is open to more various types of readers and tries to offer them something wider than the book. It offers a space for wandering and reflecting without being as narrowly focused on the argumentative conclusions, yet it means to get the reader to and beyond those conclusions.

But how much should the author try to structure the reader's experience? Can the author do so? What about the interplay of authorial structure and creative reading?

The result, in any case, is a large hypertext, longer than the book version. That length raises the question: What kind of expectations can the author reasonably have for the reader of a long text?