PUBLICATION: Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire: the lost ’father of all hypertext demos’?

June 8th, 2011 § 0 comments

Abstract: In the mid-sixties, Ted Nelson worked at Brown University on an early hypertext system. In 1969, IBM wanted to show the system at a conference, and Nelson gained permission to use Vladimir Nabokov’s highly unconventional and hypertextual novel, Pale Fire (1962) as a technical demonstration of hypertext’s potential. Unfortunately, the idea was dismissed in favor of a more technical-looking presentation, and thus was never demonstrated publicly. This paper re-considers Pale Fire’s position in hypertext history, and posits that if it was used in this early hypertext demonstration, it would have been the ‘father of all hypertext demonstrations’ to complement Douglas Engelbart’s ‘Mother of All Demos’ in 1968. In order to demonstrate the significance of Pale Fire’s hypertextuality and Nelson’s ambitions to use it, this paper will explore its hypertextual structure, the implication thereof for the novel and evaluate its success as a hypertext compared to electronic systems.

Simon Rowberry (2011), “Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire: the lost ’father of all hypertext demos’?” in Proceedings of the 22nd ACM conference on Hypertext and hypermedia., 319-324. HT ’11. New York, NY, USA: ACM, 2011.

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