The nature of hypertext challenges many underlying assumptions for traditional literary critics. Literary critics frequently like to think that they have objectively looked at the lexias of the work, thoughtfully considered them, and constructed a solid interpretation or analysis of the work based on those lexia. Hypertext, however, presents the possibility that two critics who are reading the same work may have differing sets of lexia from which to work. Thus, even if critics objectively consider the lexia before them, they cannot free themselves from the subjectivity of the reading performance that made those lexia (and not others) appear. This raises the concern that, if hypertext critics can only present subjective views of the text, there may be little or no benefit to reading or writing those critiques.
Since this is going to be a wild ride across a some disciplines that don’t normally talk to each other, let me start with a short, structural overview to get everyone situated. I’m going to begin by defining some terms. They’re all relatively simple, common terms, but I’m going to attempt to bring them together in a particular configuration; in order for that configuration to make sense, I need to settle on some loose definitions and, at the same time, make the terms relevant to our discussion. Next--and this is probably the bulk of the talk--I’ll be outlining a geneaology of work, particularly as it relates to interface design. In this history, I’m interested in understanding, from a critical perspective, what happens to work as it increasingly takes place within the computer interface. I’ll say here that the end of this history is where the terms “postmodernism,” “work,” and “interface” come together. Finally, I’ll offer some suggestions—and examples—of ways that we -- as teachers, researchers, designers, communicators -- can begin to deal productively with some of the problems I see with how interfaces are currently being designed and used.