It is a tenet of postmodern writing that the subject—the self—is unstable, fragmented, and decentered. One useful way to examine this principle is to look at how the subject has been treated in various media in the premodern, modern, and postmodern eras. Silvio Gaggi pursues this strategy in From Text to Hypertext, analyzing the issue of subject construction and deconstruction in selected examples of visual art, literature, film, and electronic media. Gaggi concentrates on a few paradigmatic works in each chapter; he contrasts van Eyck's Wedding of Arnolfini with the photography of Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger; examines fiction that centers on an elusive subject in works by Conrad, Faulkner, and Calvino; and explores the ability of such films as Coppola's One from the Heart and Altman's The Player to emancipate the subject through cinematography and editing.
In considering electronic media, Gaggi takes his argument to an entirely new level. He focuses on computer-controlled media, specifically examples of hypertextual fiction by Michael Joyce and Stuart Moulthrop. Besides recognizing how the computer has enabled artists to create works of fiction in which readers themselves become decentered, Gaggi also observes the impact of literature created on computer networks, where even the limitations of CD-ROM are lifted and the notion of individual authorship may for all practical purposes be lost.
"Gaggi demonstrates an unusual ability to explain postmodern theory in a clear and accessible manner as he follows the problem of the subject through painting and photography, literature, and film. Electronic media are destined to have a considerable impact on the construction of self in both popular and what is left of 'high' culture, and it is in the inclusion of hypertext in this analysis that Gaggi makes his most original contribution."—Jay David Bolter