I feel compelled to make a brief comment on Fitzpatrick’s third chapter, “Texts” – and in a somewhat anecdotal way, which I apologize for in advance. A good chunk of the chapter is devoted to finding the right questions to ask about digital texts, about what they gain or lose of the traditional “codex”, over “how the book works“, etc. When she begins to discuss hypertext, she writes:
Developing [the format of the ebook] is of vital importance, not simply because the pleasure it can produce for readers will facilitate its adoption, but because it promises to have a dramatic impact on a wide range of our interactions with texts.
It feels important to me that she frames this question, the question of recreating a traditional “reading” experience, in terms of pleasure, as if pleasure is an integral part of “how the book works”. For she then goes on to list the ways in which hypertext is manifestly un-pleasurable – it’s alienating, it deprives the reader of agency (which is, conveniently, central to the Barthes text I allude to in my title), the typeface is jarring, etc. – in the “choose your own adventure”-style hypertextual canon.
And the anecdote: I distinctly (and fondly) remember spending months after school playing Adventure and the Zork trilogy with my best friend (this was second grade…..not last year). We’d draw maps, have hot cocoa, work out the word puzzles, get in fights…which is to say (and Fitzpatrick does liken it to D&D) that there was something pleasurable to the hypertext, but it wasn’t borne of the medium itself. I’m not really sure what to do with this beyond making the bland appeal to “play” – the tactile change from codex to screen may be a matter of changing “games”, in the sense of Wittgenstein’s “language games”. The best we can hope to do, if that’s the case, is content ourselves with describing the hypertext game.