An Interview with Mark Bernstein


Interview--Part I

Interview --Part II

Part III

FC: Are readers ready to embrace hypertext on a large scale? The traditional novel with a core linear narrative has been called the literary form best suited to capitalism.

MB: An odd question. First, many traditional novels don't possess a core linear narrative. They [move] through space and time, across plot and subplot, interweaving the threads of disparate stories to create an artistic unity. Second, linear narratives have flourished in pre-capitalist societies, and in societies that consciously rejected capitalism. It's a fable that there is (or can be) a promised land outside the economy, a place where art could flourish free from the taint of commerce. Marx knew better: there is no place outside the economy. The quest to free literature from money is a reactionary search for pseudo-gentility, nostalgia for an imagined past where Art was patronized by the prince and the priest. The hope of freeing art from economics is, in essence, the hope of freeing the artist from the messy businesses of life: eating, excreting, having sex. People fantasize about transcending the messiness of life, of a shimmering purity of thought.

FC: In "Hypertext Narrative and Baseball" you make a connection between the cyclical nature of baseball and that of hypertext. Readers as fans may be able to appreciate the cycles of baseball, but can they make the jump to appreciating the cycles in a text?

MB: Where's the jump? Our stories cycle and loop -- and they always have. The point of "Hypertext Narrative and Baseball" is that complex narrative patterns aren't just weird postmodern effects. People don't need to "jump" to enjoy cycles and counterpoint, mirrorworlds and montage. We enjoy them all the time: the critic's job is to figure out *why* we're having so much fun so we can do even better next time.

FC: What role do you see the new reading appliances having in the development and acceptance of hypertext? Will readership grow if readers have portable readers that have the capabilities to imitate paper, such as the ability to makes notations with a pencil now under development at Xerox with Xlibris.

MB: Who knows? Imitating paper isn't the goal; the goal is surpassing paper. XLibris is the most interesting ebook project in the world. That's because the XLibris people are anthropologists and ethnographers, not just dealmakers. One of the XLibris team, Cathy Marshall, spent a semester sitting around the used textbook section at Texas A&M, studying how kids actually use annotation in textbooks. That's tremendously valuable information. Worrying too much about artifacts and appliances, though, is a wrong turning.

FC: An Eastgate editor, Diane Greco recently said that "in the wake of the Internet, there is indeed a pressing need for a reconceptualization of publishing, along the lines of a more inclusive and democratic model" (Greco, Sticky Fingers). This appeal to broader access has been the backbone of the Internet. Users value the possibility of increased access and availability. Do you believe that the Internet and other forms of digital publishing will be allowed to continue this development?

MB: Will Mommy and Daddy take away the car keys? We're grownups now.

FC: Radio and television show us that new developments often begin heading in one direction only to have that direction violently changed when developments have proceeded far enough to prove the profit potential to big business. Is it possible that Eastgate and others are doing the preliminary work, gaining the viewers' and readers' acceptance, only to lose control once digital media's viability is established?

MB: I think this misreads history. Radio and television didn't change direction. (People may initially have misunderstood the nature of broadcast technology, making it seem as if the direction was changing) Broadcast is inherently about mass production: one transmitter, many receivers. So the question starts from a bad premise. Anyway, directions change all the time. Big business has nothing to do with it. Don't forget, bigness can be as much an effect as a cause. (Does it make sense to worry a lot about whether Eastgate will get rich, or the wealth will go into other pockets, when just a moment ago we talking about waiting for the post-capitalist reader who is 'ready' for hypertext? Let's get on with the important work and not be paralyzed by worrying that someone else might get a gold star.)

FC: How do you see the relationship between hypertext publishing and the Internet?

MB: What is the relationship between the novel and the locomotive? Between impressionism and the sale of paint in flexible metal tubes? These are essentially the same kind of question. I think it's interesting to study -- this is the sort of historical research I enjoy -- but its lessons are bound to be limited. Hypertext is an idea. The internet is a medium. They grow up beside each other, they influence each other, and their evolving relationship will probably provide a great story for future biographers.

FC: I want to end by saying thank you again for participating in this interview.