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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 25 | volume V | March-April, 2002



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 25March-April, 2002

Sprouting the Line

How Hypertext and Philosophy meet in David Kolb's Socrates in the Labyrinth

p. 1
Sean Fenty

    In his hypertext Socrates in the Labyrinth, and in the much shorter essay version of his argument[1] with the same name found in George Landow's Hyper/Text/Theory, David Kolb begins by asking the simple and straightforward question, “Can we do philosophy using hypertext?” (Kolb 323). As the reader moves on into both versions of Kolb's text, however, it becomes clear that the issue is not whether philosophy can be done in hypertext, or even if doing philosophy in hypertext would not in many cases be beneficial, but whether or not hypertext “will make a new kind of philosophical writing possible,” or if it will merely be “an expository device or an informational tool for philosophical texts, unable to offer a brave world of new philosophical textual strategies” (Kolb 325-26). Central to Kolb's contention that hypertext can indeed offer “a brave world of new philosophical strategies” is his reconciliation of the seemingly fundamental incompatibility between hypertext and philosophy, which in the hypertext version of his work he not only effectively argues is possible, but illustrates by presenting several possible organizational strategies–or intermediate forms as he calls them–within hypertext that could bring to philosophy a richer understanding of the complex structures surrounding the typical linear philosophical argument and a truer sense of context and process of philosophical discourse.
    Hypertext, as Kolb points out in a related essay ”Scholarly Hypertext: Self-Represented Complexity,” is most widely used as a means of organizing information for easier and more efficient access and manipulation. Applied in this way, the technology of hypertext could certainly benefit philosophical writing, as well as scholarly writing in general, however, the benefit would amount merely to an “informational convenience.” Kolb argues that philosophy can use hypertext as more than an expository device, however, and that philosophy could benefit from being written in hypertext, because it would allow philosophy to break free of the false pretense of a clearly bounded totality: “hypertext looks like a natural for the attempt to show that any presumed overall structure, narrative or philosophical, argumentative or dialectical, works within a larger field that it does not control” (Kolb 334).
    But the idea of going beyond using hypertext as anything more than “fancy footnoting,” and really taking advantage of hypertext's complex linking structures between non-sequential nodes in philosophy, brings us to a seemingly fundamental incompatibility between hypertext and philosophy–an issue that Kolb admirably addresses head on, rather than skirting around–which


1. The hypertext version of Socrates in the Labyrinth grew out of the shorter essay version that appears in Landow's Hyper/Text/Theory. Although the hypertext includes all of the text of the shorter linear essay and is significantly more complex and extensive–consisting of about 25,000 words compared to 9,000 words in the linear essay–I cite the essay version of the text whenever possible, because of interface problems I had with the hypertext version. I could not use many of the powerful features available in Storyspace, like saving my reading, that would have made citation of the hypertext easier. I also would often have to close and restart the program, because text would turn into meaningless lines of boxes and shapes. These problems did little to strengthen Kolb's claim that hypertext could be useful to philosophy, but I tried to ignore these technical problems in evaluating the implementation of his ideas.

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