Aarseth, Espen. “Nonlinearity and Literary Theory.”

Hyper/Text/Theory. Ed. George Landow. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

This article considers the influence that nonlinear texts might exert over more traditional literary analysis.

Agrippa: A Book of the Dead (1992) displays its script at a fixed scrolling pace on the screen and then encrypts it by a technique cryptically knowns as RSA, rendering it effectively unreadable after that one projection…I must admit to a curious feeling of unease here. Agrippa perversely obeys the logic of cultural capitalism beyond the wildest dreams of publishers: it is the non-reusable book. At the same time it obviously subverts the metaphysics of textual mass production. How? By being a copy that destroys its text, or a text which destroys its copy? Agrippa is a unique lession in textual ontology, a linear text that seems to flirt with nonlinearity, not through its convention or mechanism but through the difference between its used and unused copies. The individual copy-as-text is linear, because there is only one sequence: first, the decrypted scripton once, then the reencrypted on for ever after; but the text-as-copy may turn out to be either of the scriptons and is therefore nonlinear. Rather than accept that this paradoxical result undermines my linear-nonlinear distinction, I contend that by destroying its traversal function it exposes the inherent instability of the metaphysical concept of “the text itself.” thus Agrippa becomes nonlinear only if we choose to accept the “text-behind-the-text” as more real than the physical object that can refuse to be read. As for the rest of our categories, Agrippa ia a rather unusual combination of a static, determinate, and transient text with completely controlled access to scriptons.”