The Subject of Hypertextual Poetry: Performing Susan Howe

by Alex Goody


How do we read the work of Susan Howe? How does The Non-Conformist's Memorial,1 for example, position the reader? Does the activity required by such works necessitate a reconceptualisation of the model of textual signification?

            This paper explores Howe’s texts in an attempt to understand how they invite the reader to participate in the production of meaning. The “textology” I employ is adapted from current notions of “hypertext” and aims to model and explain the functioning of Howe’s text in terms of the role and subjectivity of the reader-position they call for. I am particularly aware of the caution that must be employed on entering into the contemporary debate about digital/electronic literature, hypertextuality and literary theory. Most obviously I am wary of reifying the notion of hypertext which has gained increasing prominence in common (literary) academic parlance since the early work of George Landow,2 and am concerned to avoid the “demon of analogy” that plagues many celebrations of the World Wide Web’s ramifications for literature as the realisation of contemporary theory. 3 I am also wary of the implication that Howe’s work should simply be transferred to the digital medium (as will be argued later, the material medium is an inextricable part of the “text” and so an electronic version of Howe would amount to a translation of her work, the production of a different but related “textual machine”).4 My intention is to establish a working, hypothetical idea of hypertext that can be deployed to understand, analyse and realise the processes of reading and writing foregrounded by experimental language or visual poetry, in whatever media (I hesitate to apply a single label to Howe’s work or to the broader types of texts I refer to).

            What then is Hypertext? Well, at the most basic level a hypertext is a text constituted by different lexia (which can be blocks of written text—words, addenda, notes, lines, sections—, sound, animation, visual images or other forms of information) linked so that readers make their own, interactive, choices as to what links or branches to follow. A hypertext thus makes the reader aware of a bodily experience (performance) of a text—the omnipresent eye/I of the reader is transformed into the embodied activity of following certain links. This activity forces a recognition of the historical location and material subjectivity of the reader/writer as a necessary part of the (making) meaning of a text.

            Hypertextual experiments, and the hypothesis of hypertextuality, have profound implications for notions of the writing subject: perhaps paradoxically (and in opposition to some naive postulations of the “virtual” or digital as a transcendence of the body), the electronic (digital, disembodied) hypertext can realise and foreground the embodiment of meaning in a text. This is not to concur with the rhetoric of the unprecedented novelty of digital textual forms, what Christopher Keep effusively describes as the “alterity of the hypertext, the unassimilable excess upon which signification depends.”5  For Keep, “[digital] hypertextuality challenges the very possibility of totality upon which the codex book depends. It demands, in short, a new body, one which finds its pleasures not in the satisfactions of completion and enclosure, nor in the stately assurances of the Cartesian cogito, but in the possibility of connectivity and openess.”6 This description, I would argue, is just as applicable to a reading of Howe’s Singularities (and perhaps more so) than to Michael Joyce’s Afternoon: in what sense, for example, does Articulation of Sound Forms in Time offer totality, completion, enclosure and the stately assurances of the Cartesian cogito?7

            I want to attempt to clarify what I intend with my references to ‘hypertext,’ taking heed of Espen Aarseth’s warning that “industrial terms appropriated by analysts of technoculture [virtual, interactive, etc.] [show] how commercial rhetoric is accepted uncritically by academics with little concern for precise definitions or implicit ideologies.”8 As with other theorists of hypertext, I am drawing on actual experiments with texts and technologies,9 on the mode of linking documents on the World Wide Web that HTML enables, and on the hypothetical notion of textuality that, as much recent criticism has discussed, may well realise the speculations of contemporary critical theory—it is this final notion of hypertextuality that I would wish to explore. Hypertext itself, realisable in the coding language of contemporary digital technology, can be traced back to Vannevar Bush’s concept of a “memex,” originating in his 1945 Atlantic Monthly articleAs we may think.10 That hypertext can be implicitly conceived, without supporting technology, suggests that what it does to texts, to textuality, is not a technological innovation, but an unearthing of an implicit feature of writing itself. Hypertext does appear to be a reality that was merely hypothesised by literary and cultural theorists in the latter half of the twentieth century. In Hypertext 2.0 George Landow considers the productive interface or “convergence” between hypertext and contemporary critical theory:

The parallels between computer hypertext and critical theory are of interest at many points, the most important of which, perhaps, is that critical theory promises to theorize hypertext and hypertext promises to embody and thereby test aspects of theory, particularly those concerning textuality, narrative, and the roles or functions of reader and writer.11

However a more accurate and productive idea to emerge from an analysis of cybertextuality that refuses to maintain the artificial distinction between the codex and the digital, is Aarseth’s model of the “textual machine.” In place of the (linear) notion of author/sender, text/message, and reader/receiver, Aarseth postulates a triangular symbiosis of “(verbal) sign,” “operator” and “medium.”12 This model is certainly inspired by Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto” and the cyborg, as Haraway conceptualises it from a distinctive feminist perspective, involves a blurring of boundaries between animal and human, between self-controlled machine (automaton) and human (ideal of autonomy), and an undermining of totalisation and organic integrity.13 Particularly pertinent here, as Aarseth acknowledges, is Haraway’s suggestion that Writing “is pre-eminently the technology of cyborgs.”

            The importance of Aarseth’s textual machine (and I will avoid, for the purposes of this discussion, engaging with the full complexities of the idea of “cybertext” itself) is twofold. Firstly it foregrounds the place of the “reader” (or “operator”), distinct from Barthes’s somewhat nebulous assertion of the active reader (“The Death of the Author”), as a symbiotic part of the production of textual meaning, not as supremely privileged subject. Secondly the importance of “medium” highlights the fact that physical medium itself is part of the production of textual meaning (this undermines the notion of the a reader engaging with “verbal signs” in a vacuum). The previous “taken-for-grantedness” of “medium” as Aarseth notes “is hardly strange, since it is only after we have started to notice the ‘medium’ and its recent shifting appearances that we can begin to observe the effect this instability has on the rest of the triangle.”14  This becomes crucial because understanding that the material existence of a text is not just “signs” but a group of physical (historical, located) manifestations that the reader interacts with as a physical (historical, located) subject, forces a recognition of material location of meaning—this means x for me here and now if I do this (turn this page, read this section), if I take it somewhere else and do something else it may mean y. This might almost be a banal revelation (If I read Moby Dick on the deck of a ship on the Atlantic it might well mean something different when I read it in the reference section of a University library), if it did not serve to undermine some still persistent notions of where textual meaning originates.

            The notion of the hypertextual I am deploying, then, is a way of conceptualising disrupted texts that are open to contingent and divergent readings; textual machines that require active participation. Crucially, a text understood in this way escapes what Gérard Genette describes as “a sort of idolatry…the fetishism of the work—conceived of as a closed, complete, absolute object.”15  This is not to say that the meaning of a hypertext is a random effect. As Jerome McGann points out, hypertext is decentralised and non-hierarchical, providing “the means for establishing an indefinite number of ‘centres,’ and for expanding their number as well as altering their relationships.” So, although not centrally organised, a hypertext does have “governing order(s)” and it “need never be complete.”16 

            Within the context of hypertext, the idea of “performance” is radically redescribed as the text itself is performed through the act of reading/using.17 The “reader” actively participates in the act(ion) of meaning, rather than consuming a reified fetishised text. The implications of hypertext are particularly pertinent to understanding how the paradoxes of the poetry of Susan Howe can, rather than be resolved, or read as an uneasy straddling of “the lines between modern and postmodern poetries,”18 actually productively co-exist. Howe’s poetry—which strives for both an avant-garde interrogation of referentiality and for a feminist (cultural materialist) critique—will be used to exemplify how a hypertextual “performance” necessitates embodiment and agency, overcoming the infinite regress of postmodern subjectivity without reproducing the privileged lyric subject of modernist poetics.

            A recent attempt to translate poetry to the computer screen is Penny Florence and Jason Whittaker’s CD-Rom of Mallarmé’s Un Coup de des,19 a text that clearly explores the signifying possibilities of the page (visual and semantic) through its use of typography, spacing, layout and so on. As Whittaker comments, “the computer intrinsically dramatises text, inviting interaction and imagination by refusing to fix it.”20 Thus, Mallarmé’s poem is animated (in this case through the use of sound, different speeds for following the text, the ability to manoeuvre or highlight words or sections, and so on) and is released from the stasis of art object into a realm of dynamic reading. This is not to say that the piece is radically altered or “modernised,” as “transposing this poem into virtual space actually facilitates the kind of reading it formally demands, but which paper renders obscure and difficult to realise.”21 The change in medium, therefore, is not fundamental, but demonstrates the characteristics that are shared across the supposed codex-electronic divide.

            Pieces like Un Coup de des not only make the reader active (it is obviously the type of text whose “unity lies not in its origin but in its destination”) but they also actually resist closure, certainty, a single, pre-set unity that the knowing reader can activate. Any unity that is achieved by the reader of such texts, no matter what claims might be made by critical exegesis, is particular, contingent, local and liable to instant disturbance or reconfiguration. The reader (producer/writer) plays a fully active role in creating the text, but it is only a temporary text, a one-off trajectory of reading/writing, a performance which might be reiterated, but is not fixed, solidified, in/by any script. The “voice,” which speaks/performs the words and sounds of such hypertext poetry is not a privileged authorial subject, nor a simulacrum of subjective expression, but the localised agency of an actual individual physically constructing a pathway between lexia (activating sounds or images—stills or animation—linking to a dictionary definition, highlighting a single word, over viewing a whole page as pattern, rotating it, viewing 2,3 4…pages/sections simultaneously, linking to addenda, manuscripts, and so on) making the text. The performance of hypertext thus suggests a radical revisioning of what performativity might be—the actions of a unique subject in forming meaning, rather than the acting out of a pre-existing form.

            It is clear that the hypothetical hypertext performance I am invoking is not an exact reflection of the reality of current experiments with poetry in the digital realm. In practice the hard-coding of an interactive poetry site or CD-Rom text creates a closed unit, as Whittaker comments on their Un Coup de des text:

Our version of Un Coup de Des is not, strictly speaking hypertext, certainly not in the same form as is found on the World Wide Web: in particularly it is a fairly closed system (a CD-Rom), although one virtue of using Director [the application used to convert Un Coup de des] is that it is a standard that is supported on the Web.22

 Indeed, the programmer or converter of a poetic text into multimedia by coding a finite number of links or possible lines of navigation, can be seen as acting, if not as an implicit “author,” then as a critical exegesist coding in all the possible paths of reading. However, the technological restrictions on the actual production of an unbounded hypertext do not detract from the theoretical importance of this idea for the understanding of texts. Crucially, the experience of navigating a hypertext is the experience of producing a unique and personal trajectory of reading, one which is, in practice, one of a very large number of possible pathways. In addition the experience of following hyperlinks on the Web, or accessing a hypermedia text, illustrates how a personal trajectory of reading may be one of an infinite number of possibilities which continually change, rearrange and reconfigure.23

            Understood through such an experience of reading, which leaves the static page far behind, certain types of poetry can be seen to be fundamentally challenging the authority of meaning, the logic of reason, the order of production. At the same time, in moving away from the page as the tabula rasa receptor for the divine inspiration of authorial subjectivity, hypertext escapes from the specular economy which is also the commodification of meaning (I can own that author’s words). Not only does the pre-eminence of parole collapse into the ever-presence of langue, but also language and meaning become fully implicated in a tactile network of production:

Touch is the sense of multi-media, the immersive simulations of cyberspace, and the connections, switches and links of all nets […] If sight was the dominant and organizing sense of the patriarchal economy, tactility is McLuhan’s “integral sense,” putting itself and all the others in touch and becoming the sense of hypermedia.24

As many critics have argued “There is no loss of body in and through virtual reality technologies” and clearly the navigation of a hypertext leaves those “memory traces, called up by the body, parts of the body themselves” which “allow us to experience with our physical selves and all the other multiple layers that constitute us in ways that do not require us to be in the flesh.”25

            What hypertext realises, then, is the necessary role of the reader in the production of meaning—not simply through some abstract Barthesian notion of the writerly text—but as an integral part of the textual machine, as the actual, only and firmly embodied place where meaning can be engendered.

            I choose the word engendered deliberately because I want to bring into play the gendered implications of hypertextual performance and hypertext poetry, specifically how they can serve to undo textual hierarchies, challenge the ownership of meaning and allow for the “redaction” of unauthorised histories.26 I intend to demonstrate this effect by turning to the work of Susan Howe and exploring how her poetry opens up a space for denied voices, repressed meanings and marginalised histories. Howe’s poetry re-presents the corporeality and fluidity of meaning which has been trapped by the normalising (and transcendent) effects of a blindness to the materiality of the printed book. It is not simply that her poetry endows the reader with a sense of agency, the cultural and historical locatedness of readers forming part of the meaning of their (Howe) text (although this is of course of vital importance), but that language itself is realised as tactile and physical, as material marks that the reader engages with and manipulates. Thus, rather than being read as “puzzles with answers” motivated by “modernist” intentions that belie the “distinctly avant-garde surfaces,”27 Howe’s poetry (and other texts) require that the reader navigate their own path through the physical marks of meaning.

            In Howe’s ongoing interaction with Emily Dickinson it seems clear that she is exploring a sense of (hyper)textuality that applies far beyond Dickinson’s own work:

Words are only frames. No comfortable conclusions. Letters are scrawls, turnabouts, astonishments, strokes, cuts, masks.
These poems are representations. These manuscripts should be understood as visual productions
Spaces between letters, dashes, apostrophes, commas, crosses, form networks of signs and discontinuities. 228

In discussing Dickinson’s “My Life had Stood—a Loaded Gun” Howe generates a list of possibilities that are clearly a version of possible hypertextual links;29 not simply alternate ways of interpreting the title but trajectories of reading that could be followed in and out of the text, in and out of history, culture, knowledge, and none of which are privileged. As James McCorkle observes “this list subverts the dominance of any single theory or interpretation: reading becomes inclusive; there is no authoritative reading.”30

            It is with Melville’s Marginalia (published in The Nonconformist’s Memorial, 1993), that we are clearly offered a “poem” that is generated out of a hypertextual interface between texts, histories, biographies, notes, memories. Melville’s Marginalia takes as its starting point an incidental encounter which recalls Vannevar Bush’s notion of the memex as a system of bibliographic information retrieval:

During the Spring of 1991 I was teaching Billy Budd for a graduate seminar in Philadelphia. One day while searching through Melville criticism at the Temple University Library I noticed two maroon dictionary-size volumes, lying haphazardly, out of reach, almost out of sight on the topmost shelf. That’s how I found Melville’s Marginalia or Melville’s Marginalia found me.31

Only the pages Melville marked in each book are included so there is little forward trajectory to whatever novel, narrative, or poem. Each marked passage is a literal transcription from the particular edition Melville used. Because Cowen used each original’s type-set line-lengths, prose often looks like poetry. Texts in the Marginalia are alphabetically arranged by an author’s name so authors and writers meet by letter (Marginalia, 90).

Howe’s poem then creates multiple trajectories from this already multiple, disrupted text, tracing lines through memories and histories, coming, for example, to the allusive figure of James Clarence Mangan through a variety of paths and creating a text that enables the reader to “browse” as Mangan does as a librarian (“Instead of classifying / he browsed and dreamed / he didn’t even browse / regularly”)(Marginalia, 127; my emphasis).

            Cowen’s “Marginalia” becomes the formal, but also ideological, prototype for Howe’s Marginalia: not just the source of inspiration but a mode of constructing a text that refuses to establish a hierarchy (between personal, subjective expression and direct secondary quotation—between authoritative statement and playful speculation, for example). We are shown Cowen’s co-option into the “authorized” “Harvard Dissertations in American and English Literature, Edited by Stephen Orgel, Stanford University, A Garland Series,” the text commenting that this seems “to emphasise the difference between dissertations and books or between graduate students and professors”(Marginalia, 91): we are posed the question “What is a parenthesis”(Marginalia, 130). At the same time as refusing hierarchy and privilege, Howe’s Marginalia resists narrative continuity, closure and certainty. The suggestion of a critical detective uncovering the “source” of Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivner is just one pathway in the text, one link that might be followed, but is no more the theme of the poem than is a childhood memory of a great-aunt’s garden beside Killiney Bay near Dublin.

            An example from another of Howe’s texts, a double-page from “Thorow” that appears at the beginning of the third section,32 demonstrates easily how the experience of reading Howe requires active participation. These pages might well be an exploration of American history and the mythical construction and appropriation of the American landscape (by Native Americans and French colonisers), the conflict of two opposed world views attempting to inhabit the same space (hence the pages’ layout), the rewriting of the America (the title “Thorow”/Thoreau), the role of language in actually creating a world (or at least signifying whose world this is), the traces of lost or marginalised histories (“hieroglyph, Picked up arrowhead”)…but the only way it can mean is if I (the reader) interact with the text and “virtually” write it. This extract from “Thorow” embodies movement and multi-layers, the reader must navigate and animate what they have before them, enter into it, not to be subsumed by any privileged lyric voice, but to engage in the construction of their own paths of meaning—we might want to invert the pages, or follow one of the columns of nouns, or explore the differences between the two pages, or look up words or fragments in a dictionary, or play around with what “c o v er y” might be doing. We perform the text, each in our own way, from our own subject position. As McCorkle observes: “Howe’s poetics underscores […] the necessity of developing a pluralistic, participatory […] modality of reading”; “Howe presents the reader with a series of choices, not meaninglessness, but a series of choices whose reading will be dependent upon the cultural and historical positioning of the individual reader.”33  We are not solving a riddle, or attempting to find the hidden rational structure under such poems (there is no grammar to learn here).

            I am not trying to assert that such pieces deliberately attempt to reproduce the effects of digital technology, or that they should simply be transposed onto the computer screen for better ease of reading. What I hope to demonstrate is the extent to which theorising such poems as “hypertext” foregrounds the necessity of interaction with an actual, situated reader.

            What I am pointing to in the work of Susan Howe clearly resonates with the statements of other critics and readers and with Howe’s own sense of textuality as “a field of free transgressive prediscovery”:34

Our sense of discursive or narrative continuity shatters, replaced with the endless Protean linkages that give language its living power. 35

Her ways of generating meaning require a change in reading habits. I can no longer expect to be told something. I have to discover it, that something, in the telling. I have to work my way through a system of relationships between words, push back their branches in order to discover their interpenetration, then allow them to bend again toward each other, or to swing away. As I look at each word anew, I think these are the parts, now what is the greater whole? ­ A living text with a life of its own, ever transforming in the mind of each reader. 36

It is not that works like Howe’s enable an endless play of meaning as Marjorie Perloff observes about the first page of Howe’s Articulation of Sound Forms in Time (which reads):

from seaweed said nor repossess rest
scape esaid

 “Obviously there are many ways of interpreting the eight words in these two lines, which is not to say that they can mean anything we want them to mean.”37 I would, in contrast, argue that they can only mean when we want them to mean (they don’t have meaning outside the presence of us). Just as the reality of the Net is not a transcendence of identity, but liberation from the rigid subjectivities underpinning the economy of exchange, poetry, like Howe’s, is not about either/or, mine/yours, subject/object, but about “networks and contacts which need no centralised organisation and evade its structures of command and control.”38 We are not, therefore, in a spiral of infinite postmodern regress (which is after all the last refuge of capitalism), but in a space outside “the control of selling-buying-consuming subjects.”39

            I want to conclude by turning to the account of the generation of Melville’s Marginalia that appears near the beginning of the text:

I began to write Melville’s Marginalia by pulling a phrase, sometimes just a word or a name, at random from Cowen’s alphabetically arranged Melville’s Marginalia and letting that lead me by free association to each separate poem in the series

Poetry is thought transference.

Free association isn’t free      (Marginalia, 105)

This does not baldly claim that free association is impossible but: 1) the freedom to associate is a privilege granted to very few by the (economic/philosophical/linguistic) codes of Western culture

and; 2) association (connections between peoples, texts, objects, signs) is never devoid of multiple influences, subject position, historical location, personal experience, memory, all those realities that can be denied in the reification of the purity of the printed page and rationalised into the “coded exchange” of  “a political economy of value”:40

Printing ruins it
It is as its edge   (Marginalia, 47)

 Association is tactile, touching, just as “poetry is a gesture”(47):

I put down my thoughts
Vulturism trimmed for binding
who will be interpreter                    (Marginalia, 149)

said you know print settles it
Out of view of the rushing light
print is sentinel so sages say
Dollars he said and hoped they’d
have made a bed for him then he
would call whatever gaol a goal
Obedience we are subjects Susan
sacred millions and on he rushed    (Marginalia, 150)

As the reader, performer, of this “hyper” text we are invited, like Susan, to question the commodification of poetry as “book” and the political economy of the self-sufficient author as producer of meaning, and become active performers of our own embodied experience of making meaning.

Are these works poems? […] What labor do they require from the reader? Are new requirements engendered in a discourse uprooted by suddenness and ambiguity? There are political implications here. A reader drawn into the process of her unremitting spontaneity will find in Contradiction’s originary ebullience an end to passive consumerism. 41


1 Susan Howe, The Nonconformist’s Memorial (New York: New Directions, 1993).

2 See for example Hypermedia and Literary Studies, ed. Paul Delaney and George Landow (Cambridge: MIT, 1991); Hyper/Text/Theory ed. Landow (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1994); Landow, Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Literary Theory and Technology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997).                 

3 See the recent “Demon of Analogy” discussion on the UB Poetics listserv (Feb 2001) theoretical perspectives in this piece I am drawing from the ideas explored in Espen Aarseth’s Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature (Johns Hopkins UP, 1997). 

5 Christopher J. Keep, “The Disturbing Liveliness of Machines: Rethinking the Body in Hypertext Theory and Fiction,” in Cyberspace Textuality: Computer Technology and Literary Theory, ed. Marie-Laure Ryan (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1999), 173.

6 Ibid., 171.

7 The danger of the rhetorical celebration of hypertextuality is, as Aarseth describes, “the race […] to conquer and colonize […] new territories for our existing paradigms and theories, often in the form of ‘the theoretical perspective of <fill in your favorite theory/theoretician here> is clearly really a prediction/description of <fill in your favorite digital medium here>’” (Aarseth, Cybertext, 31): for Keep the inserts are <Deleuze and Guattari’s “assemblage” (A Thousand Plateaus)> and <the reader of hypertext fiction.>

8 Aarseth, Cybertext, 48.

9 See for example the range of hypertexts available at, or the poetry/Cybertexts by Jim Rosenberg ( and John Cayley (

11 Landow, Hypertext 2.0, 2.

12 Aarseth, Cybertext, 21.

13 See Haraway, Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (London: Verso, 1992), 139.

14 Aarseth, Cybertext, 21.

15 Gérard Genette, Figures of Literary Discourse, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Columbia UP, 1982), 147.

16 Jerome J. McGann, “The Rationale of Hypertext,” in Electronic Text: Investigations in Method and Theory, ed. Kathryn Sutherland (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997) 41.  McGann’s comments certainly resonate with Howe’s own statements; “I always think of my work in terms of separate poems in one long poem—that each page (usually it’s a page) can stand alone and together: one reason for calling my book Singularities. So although on one level I think the order can’t be broken up, on another I mean it to be able to be broken.” “Postscripts to Emily Dickinson (mediations on E.D. excerpted from recent writings),” in Dwelling in Possibility: women poets and critics on poetry eds. Yopie Prins and Meera Schreiber (Ithaca & London: Cornell UP, 1997), 82-3.

17A useful starting point for exploring the “performativity” of hypertext is J. Yellowlees Douglas’s analogy of the author of hypertexts as playwrights; authors of the initial conditions for the subsequent textual performance. See J .Y. Douglas, “Where the Senses Become a Stage and Reading is Direction: Performing the Texts of Virtual Reality and Interactive Fiction,” Drama Review 37.4 (1993): 18-35.

18 Susan Schultz, “Exaggerated History,” Postmodern Culture 4.2 (January 1994): 1.

19 Mallarmé on CD-Rom: Un Coup de des jamais n'abolira le hasard (Oxford: Legenda, EHRC, 2000).

20 Penny Florence and Jason Whittaker, “A 100 year old typographic experiment on CD-Rom: the case of Mallarmé’s last poem,” Point 8 (Autumn/Winter 1999/00): 29.

21 Ibid., 32.

22 Ibid., 29, 32.

23 In a different vein, Donna LeCourt and Luann Barnes (“Writing Multiplicity: Hypertext and Feminist Textual Politics,” Computers and Composition 16. 1 (1999)) highlight the difficulties in actually realising a feminist politic in the face of the “mechanisms of discursive authority” which are not simply transcended in the hypertextual environment, particularly as the “production of language forces the text to be written one word at a time”(67). This perhaps banal, but certainly crucial, point highlights the invalidity of asserting an absolute difference between the electronic hypertext and the nonlinear codex (at their point of production).

24 Sadie Plant, “On the Matrix: Cyberfeminist Simulations,” Cultures of the Internet: Virtual Spaces, Real Histories, Living Bodies ed. Rob Sheilds (London: Sage, 1996), 179.

25 Katie Argyle and Rob Sheilds, “Is There a Body in the Net?” Cultures of the Internet, 58, 69.

26 For a specific discussion of the connections between feminist textuality, politics and hypertext see: Barbara Page, “Women Writers and the Restive Text: Feminism, Experimental Writing and Hypertext,” Postmodern Culture 6. 2 (January 1996):;  Carolyn Guertin, “Gesturing Toward the Visual: Virtual Reality, Hypertext and Embodied Feminist Criticism,” in Surfaces 8 (1999):;  Laura Sullivan, “Wired Women Writing: Towards a Feminist Theorization of Hypertext,” Computers and Composition 16 (1999): 25-54.

27 Schultz, “Exaggerated History,” 2.

28 Susan Howe, “Postscripts to Emily Dickinson (mediations on E.D. excerpted from recent writings),” 80-81.

29 Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1985), 76-77.

30 James McCorkle, “Prophecy and the Figure of the Reader in Susan Howe’s Articulation of Sound Forms in Time,” Postmodern Culture 5 (1999): 8;

31 Susan Howe, Melville’s Marginalia in The Nonconformist’s Memorial, 89 (hereafter referred to as Marginalia).

32 Susan Howe, “Thorow” in Singularities (Middletown CT.: Wesleyan UP, 1990), 56-57.  These double-pages can be found at

33 McCorkle, ibid., 1,7.

34 Susan Howe, The Birth-Mark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History (Middletown CT.: Wesleyan UP, 1993), 147.

37 Marjorie Perloff, Poetic License: essays on modernist and postmodernist lyric (Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1990), 299.

38 Sadie Plant, ibid., 175

39 Luce Irigaray, This sex which is not one (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1985), 196.

40 Susan Howe, “Some Notes on Visual Intentionality in Emily Dickinson,” however 3.4 (1988):

41 Susan Howe, “Women and Their Effect in the Distance,” Ironwood 28 (Fall, 1986); extracts at

Bio: Alex Goody Lectures in English with Media Studies at Falmouth College of Arts, Cornwall, UK where she is also the Research Co-ordinator for English. She is currently writing a monograph on hypertext, Dada and modern poetry and works, more generally, on women modernists and the avant garde. She has published pieces on Mina Loy, Djuna Barnes and New York Dada.


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