Hypertexting ‘Constructing a body of hypertext over time—such as with blogs or wikis—with an emphasis on the strengths of linking (within and without the text) and rich formatting.’ ‘Constructing a body of hypertext over time—such as with blogs or wikis—with an emphasis on the strengths of linking (within and without the text) and rich formatting.’ A superset of blogging and wiki…

I’m thinking about this in relation to the Syntopicon. An index to the Great Books collection, it attempted with great hubris to let you trace ideas and themes through 51 cloth-bound volumes of the writings of the usual dead white male suspects. The originator, Mortimer Adler, never really got his due for it, but you can see what it was doing pretty clearly from the wiki description:

The outline of topics broke each idea down further, into as many as 15 sub-ideas. For instance, the first idea “Angel” is broken down into “Inferior deities or demi-gods in polytheistic religion,” “the philosophical consideration of pure intelligences, spiritual substances, supra-human persons” and seven other subtopics. After this is the references section (for instance, “inferior deities or demi-gods in polytheistic religion” can be found in Homer, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Milton, Bacon, Locke, Hegel, Goethe and more). Cross-references follow, where similar ideas are listed. Last is the additional readings, in which one could seek out more on the subject of “Angel.”

These references weren’t clickable links, but they were highly navigable relative to the tech: since you were meant to be reading this all from your set of volumes of this known edition, you could get to the specific page indicated by the reference pretty quickly. More importantly, the goal of the references feels very hypertextual: enable a non-linear approach to linear forms.

The last thing we should note is that the hypertextual nature was imposed upon previously non-hyper texts through curation, assemblage, indexing, and augmentation. When I’m trying to sort out all the links I want on my website, I’m acting as a sort of guerrilla librarian with a corpus too vast to comprehend. I too am taping my bit on the side of the existing Internet in the way that Adler stuck his index at the front of the set of previously existing books.

Think of those callout posts that enumerate their subject’s history of problematic acts, with links and embedded receipts: non-consensual hypertexting1. It’s not my cup of tea, but it speaks to how I don’t need anyone’s permission to shove their work into my context with a link, and I can do weird and transformative stuff with that. (In Adler’s case, this was fortunate, since his most important collaborators were dead.)

One of the things that I love about the Syntopicon is that you can get such a read on Western Thought™️ just by scanning through the indexed topics–what was included, and what wasn’t. We’re all advanced enough now to know no taxonomy is objective or neutral. The internet lets each of us with a website set up our own personal taxonomy around our own indices, in which our quirks and tastes are encoded. I hope I’m managing that!

  1. Arguably even dunking on bad takes in quote tweets would count.