We have seen that hypertext can be a tool for control, a system whereby look and feel can be deceiving. But we must deal with the fact that there is much about hypertext which is liberating, both for reader and writer. If we see writing as an extension of reading, an extended form of annotation, then we may see that hypertext, as an aid to research, has been with us for a very long time. Readers in centuries past have used similar ideas of textual exploration to escape both from traditional narrative constraints, and in some cases, from the very physical bounds of their known world.
This part of the essay is initially going to jump back and forth, on the timeline of writing, a great deal. In order to begin "at the beginning," in this case, working back from the current state of the text to an earlier view, we must start with a contemporary view of hypertext. Hypertext in its popularly understood form is synonymous with HTML, the hypertext markup language on which the web and its text are based. To be successful, HTML requires several technological advances that have occurred in the past decade. First, computers themselves have become fast enough and achieved the display resolution necessary to render linked text and media in an acceptable format and in a reasonable amount of time. Second, computer networking has become sophisticated enough to handle large amounts of data transfer quickly. Third and most important, someone became motivated to implement the ideas of Ted Nelson and Vannevar Bush. This person was Tim Berners-Lee of the European physics consortium, CERN, in Switzerland (Wright). Berners-Lee wrote the original code on which the Web is based as a means for physicists to share their publications and link their footnotes in an organized but quickly accessible way. Landow notes the similarity of Hypertext to academic publications, "The standard scholarly article in the humanities or physical sciences perfectly embodies the underlying notions of hypertext as multisequentially read text." (4) The similarity between hypertext and scholarly publication is not coincidence- the multitextual nature of academic publication was the impetus which led to the realization of modern hypertext.
Hypertext seems to have been developed because both the need to handle large amounts of interrelated text and the means to do so in an orderly fashion were present. However, the late 20th Century is not alone in its use of hypertext systems to handle a great synthesis of information. There are other periods in history when new technology has allowed the synthesis of large stores of information into a textual form which resembles (both functionally and conceptually) modern hypertext. The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, written in the late 14th Century, present us with a text which contains many of the features of a modern hypertext document. Mandeville's text is multisequential, compiled from a lengthy list of sources (Moseley, 19) which are integrated smoothly and are traceable along generic lines throughout the text. It contains links, which integrate extratextual information into the body of the text. Finally, the story is nonlinear- in reading Mandeville, one is frequently left with a feeling of confusion about where the author has been and where he is going. Mandeville makes attempts to deal with this nonlinearity by employing links.
In order to consider Mandeville as hypertext, we must first understand what it means for Mandeville to be a "text." For Roland Barthes, text is seen as a network of relationships, from which the author becomes excluded, and into which the reader is included. A text contains irreducible plurality, in which the reader travels through the meanings, finding her own path. Barthes notes, "Etymologically, the text is a cloth; textus, from which text derives, means "woven." (76) Certainly, Mandeville's book is a prime example of irreducible plurality. It contains travel accounts reminiscent of Marco Polo, "You must know that I and my companions were living with the Great Khan ... as soldiers ... we greatly desired to see his great nobleness ... to know if what we had heard before was true." (144); As well as pilgrimage and Biblical lore such as the tale of the dry tree and the origin of roses, (74-5); strange accounts of Jerusalem and the crucifixion which seem to transcend time (78-80); a huge synthesis of ethnographic work from the study of other cultures' alphabets (67, 110, 116) to insights on the religious practices of peoples in and around India (121). These are intermixed with mythological tales which Mandeville frequently manages to link with Biblical tradition, such as the fountain of youth. (123) Mandeville notes "Some men ... say this water comes from the Earthly Paradise." Contained within these stories are geography lessons, itineraries, metallurgical explanations, social commentary (and other types) as well as Mandeville's own deep psychological fears and prejudices, mixed with a seemingly contradictory impulse towards social relativism. This text, then, is plural and can be thought of as a complex web of genres and meanings which are derived from many sources, by both Mandeville and the reader.
Mandeville integrates the vast array of genres and meanings together through use of links. As stated earlier, one example is the cross-genre link, as seen in the story of the fountain of youth. Here, a mythological text item is linked with the Biblical story of Genesis. This type of link is subtle but functions to hold the entire text together. The reader cannot rely on a linear, synchronous plot line for guidance, she must find her own path, according to her own interests, through the links. The text also uses links to solve some of its larger problems. One such problem is the sudden transition from the first half of the book to the second. The first section of the Travels, pages 43-110, deals with the Holy Land and its environs, which were considered the center of the world, "In the middle of the choir of [the Dome of the Rock] is a circle, in which Joseph of Arimathea laid the body of Our Lord when he had taken Him off the Cross; and men say that that circle is at the mid-point of the world." (79) In the second half, Mandeville travels to the rim of the world, to India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Java, into the land of Cathay and the Great Khan. There are many thematic and generic links between the two parts of the text, but there is one explicit link created by Mandeville in an attempt to make the transition from the Holy Land to the Orient more concrete. After Mandeville talks with the Sultan of Egypt about Islam and its relation to Christianity (a discussion which is remarkable in its cross-cultural understanding) he establishes a Biblical link between the Holy Land and the lands of the East. "Now I have told you about the Holy Land ... I shall pass on and speak of different lands and countries that are beyond the Holy Land ... Those countries are divided by the four rivers that flow out of the Terrestrial Paradise." (111) Recall that this Biblical link is shared with the previous example of the fountain of youth. In many ways religion is the nexus through which the text links. What makes the text hypertext, however, is Barthes' notion of irreducible plurality. Mandeville's links cannot be reduced- in any part of the text, one can find almost any link one chooses to follow. It is these links, which the writer may create intentionally or unintentionally, and which the reader follows (or even creates) of her own will which make Mandeville's work a text in Barthes' terms and, ultimately, a hypertext.
There are other features of this text which make it a hypertext as well. Landow cites Barthes in his introduction, "Barthes describes an ideal textuality that precisely matches ... hypertext ... 'In this ideal text,' says Barthes, 'the networks are many and interact, without any one of them being able to surpass the rest; ... it has no beginning; it is reversible.'" (3) Here Barthes (and Landow) note the importance of a non-linear narrative and the interaction of the reader. Certainly Mandeville has a very fluid, non-temporal narrative. It is tied together thematically, not chronologically, with the reader's interest following her own path, not a path set in stone by the author or his character in the Travels. The text's non-linear nature and the device of linking are secondary functions of the most important similarity between Mandeville's text and modern hypertext. Interaction with the text by the reader is the key to any hypertext system. The reader must be allowed to choose her own path. As Barthes notes, once the author has finished the work and a reader picks it up, it becomes a text and the author loses dominion over it. The reader becomes an author. This is interesting when considering Mandeville's text because it was written at a time when writing and textual production were very one-sided practices. Few had the time or skills necessary to produce a widely read text, whereas today we can simply pay an Internet Service Provider a small fee and produce our own web page which can be accessed by millions of on-line readers all over the world. In Mandeville's world, text was inaccessible to most people. Perhaps this was one reason why the author shaped his text so inclusively. After all, the introduction to the text by Moseley notes that Mandeville himself was a reader who followed the Medieval tradition of borrowing from many auctorites. (12) Mandeville seems to have written this text for other readers like himself to assimilate. This assimilation was not easy- access to the text was an issue then just as access to the web is an issue today. Just as with any new technology, some members of society will not have the ability or the means to access its power. Walter Ong notes that modern society does not consider writing to be a technological function, because we have internalized it almost completely. (81-2) But one needs specially developed tools and skills to write with pen and paper and to read the written word just as one needs a computer to work with or read hypertext.
Technology plays a pivotal role in textual change. By looking more closely at the effects of contemporary hypertext on literature, we can see ways in which the introduction of new sets of information and the technologies for dealing with them have influenced literary work in the past. Once writing is learned, we rarely think of it as an artificial, conscious construct, but it is writing's artificiality which allows it to be so adaptable. Writing is the concrete record of the human language, a system so complex that it allows a person to say something never before said in human history with only a few words. (Searchinger) Any writer who develops a consistent, well-planned system for dealing with the subject of her writing will inevitably arrive at a new way of arranging the information. It is the artificial nature of writing which allows the writer to put language into the conscious realm, and thus handle it creatively but at the same time efficiently. When a writer is confronted with a great deal of information that must be integrated into a text, a new system for arranging this information must be developed. Mandeville was certainly faced with a vast amount of information on the orient from the many writers who came before him, but he also attempted to integrate Biblical and pagan mythology, geography and other genres into his text, from an untold number of sources. Mandeville's means of integrating these sources seems to have been to create a vast mental map of the Holy Land and the fringes of the globe surrounding it and to place bits of fact and fiction from his many sources into this rough mental topography. Thus, the textual links are formed by human mental processes, not a forced arrangement of the narrative according to time, but to locations as they exist inside the writer's mind. These places, obviously, need not fit neatly into any real geography. The linking process, based on human imagination, allows the reader to enter the text.
Today, hypertext allows readers an incredible degree of freedom in annotating and creating their own paths through text, as well as in creating text. How will hypertext affect our writing? An understanding of hypertext in Mandeville's Travels is a good place to start when looking for the answer. Although this text did not singlehandedly revolutionize writing, readers such as Columbus in turn wrote their own travel accounts at the dawn of the modern era. In order to understand our own writing, we must look back and examine earlier periods in history where technology has affected the creative process.