Filling in the Iserian gap

Filling in the Iserian

For the hypertextual reader, reading a series of lexias may just as often produce groups of apparently organized confluence as often as they produce seemingly random juxtapositions; however, the fact that one lexia links to another signifies a connection nonetheless, no matter how tenuous the connection may at first seem. Along the same vein, what may appear completely related to one reader may exist as complete cacophony to another; not to mention the variegations of relationships and differences in themselves. The point being, that the reader must make sense, in some way, the connection among lexias despite the de facto following of one lexia to another. Often times, within a hypertextual work, the connection between lexias is not explicit and the reader is forced to overcome the lack of information with her own experience and imagination.

Even in the simplest story there is bound to be some kind of blockage, if only for the fact that no tale can ever be told in its entirety. Indeed, it is only through inevitable omissions that a story will gain its dynamism. Thus whenever the flow is interrupted and we are led off in unexpected direction, the opportunity is given to us to bring into play our own faculty for establishing connections - for filling in the gaps left by the text itself. -- (Iser, The Reading Process, 216)

Even with the presence of connective links within a lexia, the potential of "inevitable omissions" or "gaps" of information is potentially even greater within a hypertext work. Choosing one link over the other is the same as filling in one gap while ignoring another and the reader will most likely still have the opportunity to go back to the ignored gap or perhaps find it later on in her navigation of the hypertext. Due to the segmentalized structure of lexias, the notion of a smooth transition has shifted away from the model of a steady and logical progression of events to a model in which the click of a button can land the reader anywhere within the hypertext's realm - any pertinent lexia within the "docuverse" no matter how obscure the connection. The effect of such jagged reading is that not only is the reader's input required, but her use of imagination to fill in the gaps has the potential to be taxed more frequently and to a greater degree. The literary conventions of the hypertext is that there are no literary conventions -- there is no linearity, there is no one dÈnouement or singular peak of catharsis. Proto-hypertextual works such as Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler utilize authorial techniques that produce a gap; however, these techniques are quite different from the physical gaps opened by links between connecting lexias. Though this may at first feel disorienting to a reader socialized within the linear norm, a hypertextual reading encourages the reader to think everywhere within the present/future/past simultaneously rather than remaining in one time frame and one locus for too long.

These gaps have a different effect on the process of anticipation and retrospection, and thus on the 'gestalt' of the virtual dimension, for they may be filled in different ways. For this reason, one text is potentially capable of several different realizations, and no reading can ever exhaust the full potential, for each individual will fill in the gaps in his own way, thereby excluding the various other possibilities; as he reads, he will make his own decision as to how the gap is to be filled. In this very act the dynamics of reading are revealed. By making his decision he implicitly acknowledges the inexhaustibility of the text; at the same time it is this very inexhaustibility that forces him to make his decision. -- (Iser, The Reading Process, 216)

Due to the inexhaustibility of the hypertext, the critical analysis of a hypertext may at first appear problematic. There is no right or best way to read a hypertext; there are merely different ways of reading. While there are certainly readings that seem richer, the fullness of the reading is most likely proportionate to the amount of time spent within a hypertext and/or even due to the imagination of the reader herself. Whereas, in a linear book, a professor can simply assign the book and be fully acquainted with the text in its entirety, a hypertext must be treated more as an invested experience that may be completely different from one reader to the next. Different readers may have visited different lexias at different times piecing together a different overall narrative. This brings a different slant to the notion, "the more you put into it, the more you get out of it." This phrase applies literally to the hypertext in that more time invested within a hypertext results in the greater possibility of getting into more lexias. And yet the beauty of a hypertext is that there one can never finish a hypertext. While anyone can say that they have read all the lexias, the real investigation of a hypertext involves more than the critical evaluation of the text itself - hypertext necessitates an investigation of the reader herself. Discussion of a hypertext revolves around the ambiguity of what is happening in and around the hypertext rather than what did happen in the story.

If the reader were given the whole story, and there were nothing left for him to do,his imagination would never enter the field, the result would be the boredom which inevitably arises when everything is laid out cut and dried before us. A literary text must therefore be conceived in such a way that it will engage (emphasis mine) the reader's imagination in the task of working things out for himself... -- (Iser, The Reading Process, 213)

The introduction of physical links within a hypertext that encourages extra-textual input serves as even more impetus to further examine reader-response theory within the context of hypertext. Because of these changes, the process of engaging a hypertext alters the process of reading to such an extent that reading a hypertext can no longer simply be called reading.