Rhetoric on the Internet:
The Screen as Rhetorical Space

A Summary


Hans Bergmann (English), member of the Editorial Board for the online journal English Matters, raised the issue of the internet as "a new medium for text for serious, literary text" and called for new rhetorical devices to enhance the reading of this text. Noting the obvious book-like feature of the web in its division into pages, Bergmann asserted that on the web a page tends to be devoted graphically to the display of other places to go via links, instantiated by the characteristic blue ink or an image, which we assume to be a link (and may continue to click on--even when it's not). Links resemble aspects of literary text, e. g., the footnote, the allusion, the reference, the quotation, and the metaphor. As such links seem to identify with the literary goal of seeing all texts as intertextual, in "the sense that the text we read is infinitely related to all texts" and that the "educated reader" knows and can recall enough of these other texts to "imagine the other texts" as s/he reads the current one.

Ted Nelson, who conceived hypertext, envisioned this vast intertextuality on the web in a project he called Xanadu, in which he imagined a hypertext system of all documents accessible via links from one to another. However, construing links as a way to yet another link, readers often tend to slip through what Bergmann referred to as Alice in Wonderland's "rabbit hole," in which a reader falls into unknown worlds, finding it hard to make her way back home. "ėThe danger," asserted Bergmann, "is that the link doesnít improve the text or educate; [rather it] makes the text thinner and more disposable." Bergmann contended that we can either "accept the new reality and write literature with the new medium in mind, skimming the surface of the text like a waterstrider over the surface of the water. Or we can adapt the ėwaterstrider reality by creating rhetorical devices that will promote lingering with a text, both within the text and its display that ėsignal a different attitude toward the text." A site called Plumbdesign was given as an example that separates links from text in ways that support such lingering.


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