September 3, 2008

Literary Machines in 1K

by Nick Montfort · , 8:47 am

Literary MachinesLiterary Machines
Theodor Holm Nelson
Mindful Press
1990
Edition 90.1 was reviewed; 93.1 is available from Eastgate Systems

An incredible multisequential volume about inventing hypertext, reforming copyright, reimagining quotation, and reworking education and reading. It extends from the viscous soup of the politics of computing to the nuts and bolts of how a hypertext system can, for instance, represent arbitrarily large integers compactly. The systems humanist is presented as an alternative to the techie “noid” and humanist “fluffy.” Nelson proposed to reshape literacy and publishing far more profoundly than Haussman altered Paris. Although he admits that a next-generation system might be needed at some point, the general approach is to think about the problem long and hard, devise a more or less flawless system, and then just implement it, never iterating. We should be glad that Xanadu was sketched, not completed. The dynamic, incisive, and continually revised and evolving writings of Ted Nelson have participated in thought and culture in a way that no crystalline, fully armed and operational literary machine could have.