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Metatextual Print Fiction in the Age of Digital Fiction

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posted on 2021-12-08, 11:06 authored by Sedaghat Payam, Mehdy

This thesis argues that the future envisaged for the novel by the early hypertext theorists, that the digital medium would displace print and open up a variety of new possibilities for novelistic fiction, can now be differently understood by exploring the materiality of the medium in works of print, hypertext and web-fiction composed in the past fifty years. Michael Kaufmann‘s analysis of modernist experimental print fiction in his book Textual Bodies: Modernism, Postmodernism, and Print and his use of the term 'metatextual' to locate the distinguishing feature of novels in this tradition will be extended to the works of hypertext and web-fiction in the new media, demonstrating that works of hypertext and web-fiction can be regarded as continuous with experimental print fiction. This analysis, which is also grounded on the concepts of the graphic surface and the materiality of the text, is further confirmed by considering the use of metatextual features of works composed in digital media in experimental novels published in the digital era which continue the tradition by publishing in print.  There are four chapters in this thesis. In the first one, metatextuality of the print novels in the pre-digital era is explored through the theory and practice of William Gass who has insisted on the materiality of language and the medium in almost all of his theoretical works. Moreover, the first chapter establishes a point of reference for the discussion of the shift from print to digital media in novel writing by discussing an experimental print novel, William Gass's Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife. Each of the following chapters identify significant issues in the development of hypertext and print for the phase investigated in the chapter, and present two or more case studies of specific texts.  The second chapter explores the development of the novel through the electronic textuality of the early computers. This chapter analyses the first hypertext novel, afternoon, written by Michael Joyce, and how and in what ways it took advantage of the capabilities of the computer and in what ways it tried to remediate print. In order to show how the print novel has been becoming more media-conscious, the second chapter ends with an analysis of a print novel, Fax Messages From a Near Future by Jorge Wilheim which highlights the role of medium in its narrative.  The third chapter follows the line of argument of the previous chapters by exploring the relationship of the multimedia capabilities of the World Wide Web and analyzing the trends which appear through the way the Internet has been used to write novels. The case study section of this chapter includes two novels; 10.01 by Lance Olsen, and Chemical Landscapes Digital Tales by Edward Falco.  The final chapter brings the whole line of inquiry back into print in order to examine what effects the arrival of digital media has had on experimental print fiction and how these novels push the boundaries of the print medium even further. There are three novels in the case study of this chapter, each of which provides a unique insight into the potentials of print and how they bring the materiality of the print to the foreground. The Forgetting Room by Nick Bantock makes the book a multimodal work of art by incorporating the painting and the words. Mark Z. Danielewski‘s The Fifty Year Sword and House of Leaves make us see the book as a physical object which can be read in a variety of different ways.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970120 Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Opie, Brian; Williams, Mark