Whitney Anne Trettien

Whitney Anne Trettien presents her Masters thesis for MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Program on early modern text-generating poems as a hypertext card-linking piece. The work “forces the reader to participate in the process of making meaning” by presenting nodes linked to adjacent nodes on a map. As the reader traverses these nodes, a master document is created under the heading “Your Text,” which successively adds the text of each node as it is visited.

Though the work raises the much-debated questions of authorship—does the reader really have as much authoring power as she’s lead to believe through the implications of “Your Text” and “You” placed next to Trettien’s name?—the recombinatory practice employed by this work was of particular interest. It has become modern practice to serialize, remix, link, tear apart, and piece together. This thesis views 17th-century poetry through the lens of a culture accustomed to this way of thinking.

At first, the approach seemed ill-suited. After-all, isn’t the attempt toward cultural relativism—including contemporary cultural relativism—one of the first things we learn as scholars? However, Trettien makes a good argument that narrative history tends to oversimplify the complex, and the work proves that even 17th century works were experimenting with the complexity and intricacy we often credit to the emergence of digital work. The medial form of the thesis is appropriate; the hypertext platform is well- (though as she notes, not perfectly-) suited as a platform for expression of complicated similarities and linked ideas.