Approaching digitalized texts can be stressful for regular readers of codex. However, when a text embraces all the potential of digitalization as opposed to trying to stretch a codex into a web, it is clear that perhaps digital texts liberate the reading process. I believe that “88 Constellations of Wittgenstein” does this very thing.
To begin reading “88 Constellations of Wittgenstein,” the reader must select a constellation from the night sky. This moment creates anxiety for the reader, because, naturally, we want to begin a text from the “beginning” and follow it through to the “end.” We have the desire, based on years of conditioning, to follow a story linearly. The fact that most digital texts, namely “Wittgenstein,” presents no clear beginning causes stress. Being that I am a human and desire some rhyme and reason to where and why I start things, I decided that I would begin with my personal zodiac constellation – Taurus. However, being not able to easily locate my zodiac sign, I decided to pick “Sex and Character,” because, well, I figured it would be an interesting place to start. It became clear through reading that it did not matter where I began; it only mattered that I began somewhere.
Once the reader enters a constellation, more stars become accessible. The reader may choose to enter any of the named stars within the constellation. Once one star is explored and information is learned, it is easy to get hooked onto threads. For example, one can move associatively from “2001: A Space Odyssey” to “Sept. 11, 2001,” to “Twin Towers,” to “Doubles,” to “88,” and so on and so forth for what seems like a very interesting eternity. This is why this is a compelling and “readable” digital text. According to theorist J. Yellowlees Douglas, readers create connections in texts, because we have a natural tendency to create “causal or intentional states” between two things. For Douglas, we readers create stories because we are able to piece fragments together. In “Wittgenstein,” the reader is navigating through the realm of the text based on the causal/intentional connections that he or she is creating within the gaps in the text. That is also what makes the formatting of this text so brilliant: there is nothing explicitly stated that connects all the lexia in the way they are connected – just as there is nothing explicit that connects all the stars in a constellation.
It is also admittedly difficult to know when to stop reading a text that provides no linearity. It would take a great deal of commitment and time to sit down and read all of “Wittgenstein.” Not knowing where and when to stop reading most digital texts causes enough stress for many to not even begin. However, it seemed to me that “Wittgenstein” was not a digital story that had to be followed, but more of a map of events, facts, personalities, and ideas that was to be digested. For this reason, I believe that stopping, “Wittgenstein” was only difficult because I wanted to map more, not because I the map I had already pieced together was insufficient.
The way that “Wittgenstein” opens up the way we read and allows the reader freedom in creating the shape of his/her story or constellation, is proof that digitalized texts have the capability to reshape texts and the reading process.
.J. Yellowlees Douglas Gaps, Maps and Perception: What Hypertext Readers (Don't) Do