straight up

Nelson's insights were paralleled by experiments in the literary avant-garde that challenged traditional notions of linear narrative. In his book, he refers to Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire and Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch as two novels that use unconventional branching structures to encourage the reader's active collaboration in the construction of the story. As we have already seen, experimental performances inspired by John Cage including Happenings, interactive installations, and performance art -- also gave rise to a variety of non-linear narrative strategies. But perhaps the most prescient explorer of this terrain was the novelist William S. Burroughs.

Like Ted Nelson, Burroughs was deeply suspicious of established hierarchies. He was especially interested in writing techniques that suggest the spontaneous, moment-by-moment movement of the mind, and how non-linear writing might expand the reader's perception of reality. Through his use of the cut-up and fold-in techniques, which he described in his 1964 essay, "The Future of the Novel," Burroughs treated the reading experience as one of entering into a multi-directional web of different voices, ideas, perceptions, and periods of time. He saw the cut-up as a tool that let the writer discover previously undetected connections between things, with potentially enlightening and subversive results. With the cut-up, Burroughs prefigured the essential narrative strategy of hypertext and its ability to allow readers to leap across boundaries in time and space.