How to Read this Dissertation and Understand Its Dialogic Voices



Navigational Map

This may be your first exposure to the nonlinear structure of hypertext, but I hope you will not be intimidated. There are many different ways to read this interactive text, and no wrong way. It was designed to accommodate many different reading styles at the same time, linear, random, or somewhere in between. In hypertext, information is "chunked" into lexias of sorts, although there is considerable debate over the best size for a lexia, or textual chunking unit. As a Web designer, I organize my ideas into an image map of major nodes. There are many analogies for thinking of these kinds of spaces, but a map seems to be the most straightforward.


To understand the structure of this hypertextual dissertation, a user can refer to the Navigational Map. In some ways this map is little more than an outline of the major sectors. There are no "roads" on it to tell you where to go. Still, it provides a concrete way to visualize one's location in a nonlinearly-linked space. The map is provided to keep you from getting lost, and to help you get back to where you want to be, in case you get sidetracked. If you choose, you can leave the Navigational Map window open on your desktop, dragging it to one side of the desktop while placing this browser window to the other side. That way you can get anywhere in the dissertation at any time, with one click to go to a "sector," and a second click to reach any of its "nodes." Each sector on the Map has three primary nodes and a link back to the Map. The Map connection (the round Chakram icon) can be accessed from every page.






This dissertation has two introductory sectors. This one, "How To Read This Dissertation," is a metatext introducing the hypertextual artifact and its justification. The other, "Introduction," is a more traditional dissertation introduction and argument based on scholarly sources.

This dissertation also has two data sectors. "The Xenaverse in Cyberspace," provides a detailed introduction to the data I gathered in the Xenaverse. "Xenites Talk Back" gives voice to Xenites who have read a draft of this dissertation and want to make a direct contribution to it. The two buttons on the right (unlinked for demonstration purposes) show how the two types of data will be linked into the mainscreen of the dissertation.

Those two sectors will be the most intensively cross-linked into my analysis and discussion of my findings in three main analysis sectors: "Fandom Culture," "Community," and "Fan Fiction." These sectors will apply Fantasy Theme Analysis to the rhetoric of different parts of the Xenaverse.

The "Conclusion" sector brings closure to the hypertextual structure and the dissertation. The user can choose to stop reading, or return to the Map and continue navigating, or follow the end links which loop back to the opening screen of this project.






K6 Interface Design

The dissertation interface (what you are looking at right now) has been designed according to particular specifications in order to provide the reader with an interactive, dialogic, hypertextual experience and to facilitate clear communication for many different reading and navigation styles. As such, this dissertation seeks to enact in praxis current developments in hypertext theory. In some ways, then, this dissertation itself is an attempt to test of the viability of hypertext theory, to explore the rhetorical possibilities of how a dialogic kind of persuasion can happen in these cyberspaces.


Let's begin with a naming of the parts. The browser window you are looking at right now is the primary screen of this dissertation. As I said above, you can also launch and keep open the Navigational Map in a separate window in the upper left. From time to time you may take a link that launches a new browser window for other reasons as well. This strategy is predicated on the idea that the text a person is reading at any given time ought to remain stable, that the invitation to venture off the path, to follow an associative link, doesn't have to mean the user loses her or his place. Hypertextual interfaces can be designed so that the user can go off on tangents while remaining on a path of sorts. This strategy is also designed into the interface in direct response to hypertext research which shows that users often feel "lost" in cyberspace, and as a result have difficulty understanding what was intended to be communicated. Also, having off-site links launch new windows will prevent my dissertation from becoming marred by dead links over time, while still retaining the immediacy and blurring of borders with the Xenaverse and the World Wide Web at large.


All off-site links to the Xenaverse at large will launch a new browser window. You can recognize these links by the black button "Site" in the margin. (This button is unlinked for demonstration purposes.)


Other larger, tangential items will also launch new windows, such a longer quote from a bulletin board posting, chat room, or Web site, or an image, video clip, or a bibliographic reference. These windows can be launched from textual hot links or black buttons such as shown at right. When you are finished reading/viewing the new window, it is a good idea to close the window to conserve memory.


Now direct your attention back to the main browser window, the one you are reading right now. There are two marginal frames, one above this large frame and one to the left of this large frame. The interface of this dissertation is designed to call your attention at times to the margins of the margins around the Main Frame. It is extremely difficult to avoid privileging the Main Frame as the dominant part of the dissertation, just as Internet Xenites find it difficult to maintain and value their marginal status when the entertainment industry offers the competing seductions of Hollywood power and glam or. This Main Frame, like the television program itself, takes up the most bandwidth, even as the discourses of the margins assent, dissent, or launch new windows that go off in tangential directions. But beyond the metaphorical reflections of the Xenaverse in my interface, let's consider the three frames according to their most functional properties.


Main Frame

In this Main Frame is found the primary text of my dissertation. The links embedded in the text body will usually launch items out into the Banner or Sidebar Frames, or into a New Window. There will be a limited number of exceptions to this rule, however, as some links in the text of the Main Frame will function as transitions to related material in other Main Frame nodes. The bottom Icon Bar (shown below) will never change, as these icons represent a navigational constant throughout the work. They will always appear at the bottom of every Main Frame node.

K12 Four Icon Paths

The Icon Bar tracks four different paths through the material in the dissertation. The more linear user can always stick to one icon path and get a coherent perspective according to the focal point of that particular icon. A more nonlinear user can shift icons and paths at any time.


The icon of Gabrielle's Staff alludes to her writing instrument, the quill, in her role as bard. On the television show Gabrielle both writes with a quill and carries her trademark Amazon Fighting Staff. This icon represents a more expressive, narrative path: a story, often told chronologically, linearly, yet sometimes branching into parallel paths and multiple points of view. It is a narrative counterpoint to Xena's Sword as argumentative path.


The icon of Xena's Sword will be the route that most closely follows a linear argumentative or expository path, although it will still be a hypertextually-situated style of linearity, dialogically interacting with counterpoints and tangents in the outer frames and windows.


The icon of Xena's Chakram signifies the constant and consistent link to the Navigational Map for this dissertation. On the television show, Xena's Chakram flies through the air and ricochets and rebounds in all kinds of improbable directions. The round Chakram icon takes the user to the map, where she can explore the sectors in whatever order she chooses. This allows for an individually-plotted hypertextual path, rebounding from place to place on the map.


Undermining the narrative and linear paths is the icon of Xena's Breastplate. In the show the Celtic knot pattern on Xena's Breastplate represents a secret symbology, somehow related to Xena's origins and her fighting skills. Here Xena's Breastplate icon will be used to represent the story that runs between the lines, under the surface, the allusions, the subtexts. The predominant, capital "S" Subtext in the show, which has spawned by far the most online rhetoric, is the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, complexly woven and vexingly mysterious, a knot that can't be untied, though it is constantly being tested--the heart of the show which is hidden beneath Xena's Breastplate. This path will attempt to bring what is marginal, hidden, or alluded to coyly into the light, into the main text.

K17 Top Banner Frame

The light blue top frame in this interface will usually contain quotes from people in the Xenaverse or in the scholarly universe. At times requiring scrolling through slightly longer texts, this frame seeks to expand the dialogue between the various frames, to counter the monologic pull of the primary frame.


Side Column Frame

The light purple side column frame serves many of the same dialogic functions as the top banner frame, with one important exception: this frame will also contain more photographs. Otherwise it will hold shorter pull-quotes, and other kinds of intertextual commentary.


How to Cite this Research in the Absence of Page Numbers

One aspect of the online interface presented an interesting conundrum: with the equivalent of more than 300 pages of nonlinear material here, how might other researchers go about citing or referencing this work? There are URLs, but I've buried them in a complex frameset. One can right-click to break the Main Frame out of the frameset and grab the page URL, but even then, many of the HTML "pages" go on far longer than conventional book pages. To address this issue, I devised a nonlinear paragraph notation system with the letters and numbers to the left of each paragraph. Assigning numbers alone would have forced a chronological line upon the material. On the other hand, the three "breadcrumb" trails through the work do form a parallel sort of linearity, the paths of Gabrielle's Staff, Xena's Sword, and Xena's Breastplate. I assigned the letters based on those three paths, N, L, and K respectively. If another researcher chooses to cite this work, the paragraph notation will provide a guide to the section cited, and advanced coders will find I've made anchor links for many of the paragraphs as well. This paragraph, for instance, is anchor-linked "#K18a." On the opening page of this dissertation is a Table of Contents link which also contains a key and links to the paragraph notation for each node. To link directly to specific paragraphs, coders would need to right-click to break the Main Frame out of the frameset, then copy the URL, and add the anchor link at the end. In the case of this page, the link would go to Take this link to see how it works.


To reiterate, the method in this frames design, besides the theoretical value of increased dialogism and heteroglossia, is the idea that the text one is reading at any given time ought to remain stable--that taking a link should not mean interrupting what one is currently reading just to wander off on another path. The user should be able to wander off and remain on the path at the same time, at least to some degree, by having more than one window open on the screen. This may run contrary to many of the conventional assumptions of hypertext theory (Landow Hypertext 2.0, Joyce Hypertext Pedagogy) where making textual interruptions for associational linking seems to be the point. But that feature in and of itself has never been stamped for all time as an essential feature of a hypertext. If hypertext has an essential feature (McKnight 9, and Kolb "Socrates" 323 argue that such essentialism is the antithesis of hypertext), it can be traced to Vannevar Bush's initial proposal for the Memex machine, that associational links follow the way the mind works, associationally. There is nothing in the blueprint that requires that the window one is currently reading must close before a new window from an associational link can open. Hypertext theory has to grow and change with the needs of real audiences, or it risks becoming a dead form, like Latin, practiced only by a handful of idealists. To consider modifications to the interface conventions of hypertext, this dissertation will attempt to support multiple audience paths through the use of multiple windows, and a user will not be forced into non linearity completely.


So think of the Navigational Map sectors, these Three Frames, the New Windows, and the Four Icon Paths as the main variables for many different reading styles. They should accommodate a variety of audience needs. At times material from different sections will be juxtaposed in different frames or windows, creating unusual combinations of texts on the screen. These combinations are unique to that particular user and impossible for the author to anticipate. This effect is deliberate and is the desired result, as the almost infinite possibilities for combinations means that no two readers are likely to have the same experience of this dissertation. The juxtaposition of unrelated frames introduces an unforeseen element of dialogue between the windows and frames, a dialogue created interstitially by the user's choices.


The icon of Gabrielle's Staff will take you to a story that contextualizes overlapping subjectivities I bring to this study of hypertext. The icon of Xena's Sword will lead to a discussion of why I made the design decisions I did. The icon of Xena's Breastplate introduces my central argument on constructions of authority across forms of communications technologies.



The Ballad of the Internet Nutball: The Xenaverse in Cyberspace

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