Talking simulacra, and promiscuous superficiality, in which
Talking in a predominantly derogative note, JeanBauldrillard describes postmodernity as “a culture of fragmentary sensations,eclectic nostalgia, disposable simulacra, and promiscuous superficiality, inwhich the traditionally valued qualities of depth, coherence, meaning,originality, and authenticity are evacuated or dissolved amid the random swirlof empty signals” (112). If the postmodern world is really such a dystopia ofmeaninglessness and fragmentation, it is no wonder that modern man is caught upin a crisis of identity. There are those, on the other hand, who maintain thatthere has never been anything such as a single coherent self, and moderntheories of the self are merely demystifying the self and bringing man to termswith a true model of his subjectivity. Daniel C. Dennett rejects what hecharacterizes as the “Cartesian Theatre” model of consciousness in ConsciousnessExplained, and defines consciousness as “interacting brain processes,operating with varying temporal dynamics and different neural/perceptionalinputs” (Hayles, Electronic 80).
Cognition and Narrativity Why, one might ask, is this fragmentation causing so much commotion? Whycan people not accept this type of literature as another literary style, as wehave on numerous occasions in the past, in the case of other unconventionalliterary styles? The reason for such sensitivity may lie in the fact thatissues brought up by electronic literature, and by cybernetics in general, aremuch deeper than they seem at first glance, and touch issues that might forceus to rethink the nature of humanness and the world as we know it. Just astheoretical issues brought about by post-modern thinkers and only immaturelyplayed with by print literature have come alive in electronic literature inways that would astonish even their theoretical forefathers; issues concerningour identity and our understanding of the world are taking an unnerving turn withthe introduction of modern media. Therefore, an examination of the impact ofthe linked architecture of hypertext fiction on human cognition is in order.Such questions have a profound impact on the present discussion as theycenter on the idea that the unity and coherence we see in the world is createdby a certain use of language; a use that is not necessarily intrinsic nornatural to language itself. Media such as printed books are therefore notreflections of such a unity, but artifacts using a certain type of languagetrying to reinforce a unified view of language and of the real world. The ideaof beginning, middle, and end, therefore is not natural to the world, butimposed by a certain ideology, and the fragmentation that has begun with theSaussurian fragmentation of the sign, and has culminated in the fragmentationof time and space in hypertext fiction, is far from being an anomaly.
The significance of the structuralist and post-structuralist view oflanguage is that claims made about language are in fact claims made aboutreality, as signs do not merely belong to the field of pure language. In fact,as Ryan points out, a strong belief of the proponents of post-structuralism isthat “Saussure’s doctrine of the arbitrary nature of language has dealt a fatalblow to the idea that language can speak objective truth about the world,”which leads to the constructivist views of Roland Barthes, claiming thatlanguage not so much represents reality as it creates it (Avatars 46-48),or the historiographical theories of Hayden White. Commenting on Northrop Fry’sarchetypal plot patterns, White asks “Does the world really present itself toperception in the form of well-made stories, with central subjects, properbeginnings, middles and ends …? Or does it present itself more in the formthat the annals and chronicles suggest?” (91-92).