Cybertext is the organization of text in order to analyze the influence of the medium as an integral part of the literary dynamic, as defined by Espen Aarseth in 1997. Aarseth defined it as a type of ergodic literature.
The term cybertext was coined by speculative fiction poetry author Bruce Boston. It is derived from the word cybernetics, which was coined by Norbert Wiener in his book Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (1948), which in turn comes from the Greek word kybernetes -helmsman. Cybertexts are pieces of literature where the medium matters. Each user obtains a different outcome based on the choices they make. Cybertexts may be equated to the transition between a linear piece of literature, such as a novel, and a game. In a novel the reader has no choice, the plot and the characters are all chosen by the author, there is no 'user,' just a 'reader,' this is important because it entails that the person working their way through the novel is not an active participant. In a game, the person makes decisions and decides what to do, what punches to punch, or when to jump. The difference between a game and a cybertext is that cybertexts usually have more depth, there is a method to the madness, the piece usually has a point, or message that is translated to the reader as they work their way through the piece.
Cybertext is based on the idea that getting to the message is just as important as the message itself. In order to obtain the message work on the part of the user is required. This may also be referred to as nontrivial work on the part of the user.
The fundamental idea in the development of the theory of cybernetics is the concept of feedback: a portion of information produced by the system that is taken, total or partially, as input. Cybernetics is the science that studies control and regulation in systems in which there exists flow and feedback of information. Though first used by science fiction poet Bruce Boston, the term cybertext was brought to the literary world’s attention by Espen Aarseth in 1997.
Aarseth's concept of cybertext focuses on the organization of the text in order to analyze the influence of the medium as an integral part of the literary dynamic. According to Aarseth, cybertext is not a genre in itself; in order to classify traditions, literary genres and aesthetic value, we should inspect texts at a much more local level.
The concept of cybertext offers a way to expand the reach of literary studies to include phenomena that are perceived today as foreign or marginal. In Aarseth’s work, cybertext denotes the general set of text machines which, operated by readers, yield different texts for reading.
For example, with a book like Raymond Queneau’s Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, each reader will encounter not just poems arranged in a different order, but different poems depending on the precise way in which they turn the sections of page.
An example of a cybertext is 12 Blue by Michael Joyce. Depending on what link you choose or what portion of the diagram on the side you pick you will be transferred to a different portion of the text. So in the end, you do not really finish reading the entire story or 'novel' you go through random pages and try piecing the story together yourself. You may never really 'finish' the story. But, because it is a cybertext the 'finishing' of the story is not as important as its impact on the reader, or on the conveyance. Stir Fry Texts, by Jim Andrews, is a cybertext where there are many layers of text, and as you move your mouse over the words, the layers beneath them are 'dug' through. The House is another example of a cybertext where one might assume a description of the piece as follows: It is an unruly text, the words don’t listen, you are not supreme. You are guided through the piece. This is a cybertext with minimal control. You watch as something unfolds before you, “a crumbling mania,” you must be able to go with the flow, to read texts upside down, to piece together a reflection of words, to be okay with texts half read disappearing or moving so far away so continuously that you can not make out those very important words.
- Aarseth, Espen (1997). Ergodic Literature. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-5579-9.
- ,Eskelinen, Markuu and Koskimaa, Raine,(January, 2010) Retrieved from Cybertext Yearbook Database website: http://cybertext.hum.jyu.fi/search.php
- Bolter,Jay David, Degrees of Freedom, retrieved from http://www.uv.es/~fores/programa/bolter_freedom.html
- Rosenburg, Jim. Article on: Navigating Nowhere / Hypertext Infrawhere retrieved from: http://www.well.com/user/jer/NNHI.html
- "Queneau's Poems". Retrieved 2016-06-03.
- Joyce,Michael. 12 Blue Retrieved from: http://collection.eliterature.org/1/works/joyce__twelve_blue.html
- Andrews,Jim. Article on Stir Fry Texts retrieved from: http://collection.eliterature.org/1/works/andrews__stir_fry_texts/index.html
- Flanagan,Mary. The House, retrieved from: http://collection.eliterature.org/1/works/flanagan__thehouse/index.html