Hypertext is Xanadu: an Interplay of Organic and Mechanical Metaphors in Scientific Conceptualization



Year of publication 2015
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description Defined as a nonlinear text with links containing references to other pieces of information, hypertext presents an extension of the concept of text. We presuppose that hypertext is conceptualised metaphorically. We want to show the relations between this conceptualisation and the implementation of hypertext into our culture. We shall provide a Blumenbergian analysis of this scientific conceptualisation. Our aim is to interpret it as a pragmatically determined dialectical interplay of organic and mechanical “absolute metaphors” (metaphors that cannot be fully paraphrased in a literal language). Blumenberg's theory (which is in our view a forerunner of cognitive linguistics) gives a historical dimension to our inquiry. Max Black's interaction theory provides us with a rigorous logical analysis of absolute metaphors and their associative complexes. We shall focus on the Ted Nelson absolute metaphor “hypertext is Xanadu”. Nelson expanded a metaphor of Vannevar Bush. Bush conceived of text linking in terms of the mechanization of the organic associative memory in his mechanical metaphor “association is a trail”. Bush imagined hypertext as a mechanical aid for our memory. Douglas Engelbart made Bush's concept more organic in terms of the human-computer interaction. Nelson conceptualized his Xanadu hypertextual system as an organic system which imitates the functions of the human mind. Nelson imagined his Xanadu as a place of literary memory. He referred to Coleridge's Xanadu, as the never-ending and the active finding of a magical place. Nelson's hypertextual system Xanadu functions, after forty years of development, in a restricted version. It is still a dream as in Kubla Khan's Xanadu. The dialectical interplay of these metaphors indicates that a more mechanical medium (WWW) is more vital than an organic one. Xanadu, however, has the chance to inspire a more specialised system for scientists and teachers who are able to conceptualize in a more complex way.
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