The Four Zoas
Using Blake's Poetry as a Model for Hypertext Design
If argumentative logic and the linear outline are the primary characteristics of the print paradigm, associative logic
and the "link" are the hypertext equivalents. "HyperText provides the means for establishing an
indefinite number of 'centers'," Jerome McGann observes; "One is encouraged not so much to find as to
make order--and then to make it again and again, as established orderings expose their limits."
In attempting to design academic discourse for the Web, one is essentially seeking a
decentered organization in which the link will perform the function served by the outline in the
print medium. The challenge for our profession in this regard is one of theorization and design: How do we tailor a set of academic
practices that are inextricably linked to the book to the space of the screen?
In considering this question, it is important to remember, as Gregory Ulmer suggests,
that "the scholarly practices of our discipline evolved as part of an apparatus consisting of a
language technology (alphabet and print), institutionalization (school), and subject formation
(selfhood)." In this light, we can understand that "the shift in our language technology from the
page to the screen is part of the emergence of a new apparatus that includes not only a new
technology but also new institutional practices and new personal behaviors (subjectivation)."
In this example of transformation, we will suggest how some of these new practices and behaviors might be actualized on the web. We will put into performance a provisional theory of hypertext design based on William
Blake's The Four Zoas and offer some scenes from a longer experimental hypertext adducing this theory.