The Electronic Labyrinth


All texts have an end, a point at which the author stopped writing, but closure can be defined as the artistic, rhetorical and ideological means by which a "sense of an ending" is invested in the text. Born in and sustained by the connotative free play of writing, narrative is by its very nature opposed to stasis; it tends toward movement, amplification, digression. Some narrative modes, such as the romance and the new novel have foregrounded these tendencies. Others, most notably the essay and the realist novel, are more committed to the teleology of closure; they posit the end point as that which resolves the plot and produces meaning. The detective novel is an obvious example of the kind of narrative which privileges its last page over its first. As Barbara Herrnstein Smith notes, closure "may be regarded as a modification of structure that makes stasis, or the absence of further continuation, the most probable event" (Poetic Closure 34).

Closure thus looks to not only rein in the forward movement of writing, but to arrest the play of meaning itself. The traditional "happy ending" must often involve a kind of grand betrayal of the social and political issues with which the text began. For example, in Charles Dickens' Hard Times (1854), the novel's critique of poor working conditions in the new manufacturing districts and the depredations of the labouring classes is displaced by its attempt to resolve the plot in an ideologically satisfying way. Our desire for closure is such that we often do not recognize the cost at which the satisfaction of this desire is achieved.

Writerly texts attempt to frustrate the death-drive of closure (recall that for Freud each of us seeks to return to the inorganic state from which all life begins). However, even a novel which does not resolve the enigma that opens its plot (eg. Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49) still ends--even the most radical act of incompletion may invest a text with a sense of completion and wholeness.

Hypertexts provide an alternative to this dilemma. In the first place, it is difficult to tell where it physically "ends;" there is no last page one can sneak a peek of to see if she really marries the guy. The non-teleological aspect of navigation allows for readings which break away from the linearity that makes closure seem a kind of natural event. In making each reading entirely different from the previous, hypertext fiction helps underscore the limitations of traditional forms of closure and elicits new forms of pleasure, pleasure not from the inevitability of an ending, but from the multiplicity of openings.

© 1993-2000 Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, Robin Parmar.
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