understanding texts

understanding texts

Simon Browne

see also human writing, machine writing, producing texts, technologising the word

What makes up a text depends on perspective and overlapping dimensions of text; editorial, technical and social.

The editorial dimension; a sequence. A line of characters and spaces, the particular order that the writer sets these in. Text becomes an object, a carrier of thoughts and feelings, something that can be sent back and forth between participants in a conversation.

The technical dimension; a process. Cybertexts and “ergodic literature” require non-trivial effort to read1. Examples of this are MUDs (multi-user dungeons/domains/dimensions), which are real-time virtual worlds in which the players construct the story on-the-fly, and Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves2, a printed novel that defies a linear narrative structure through its cybertextual materiality.

The social dimension; a framework, a network of texts that elicit further texts.

The library is a collection of texts; not just books, but also files, metadata, scripts and the processes that determine how they are used, and the readers who use them.


Image: A spread from Danielewski’s House of Leaves


  1. Aarseth, E.J. (1997) Cybertext: perspectives on ergodic literature. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press. 

  2. Danielewski, M.Z. (2000) Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of leaves. 2nd ed. New York: Pantheon Books.