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Hypertext and the human factor. Narrativity after Modernism.
Jan-Hendrik Bakker in conversation with Michael Joyce

Introduction
The following text is the result of an interview and conversation with the American hypertext-author and -theorist Michael Joyce, one of the leading writers in this field. Although the subject at stake lingers between philosophy and literature, the issue concerns both disciplines, I think: how is hypertextual narrativity going to influence our Selves. I had this conversation which Joyce during last winter (2000-2001), by e-mail. The text will be used as a separate chapter in a book on (the future of ) literary culture, with the provisional title "The poet's body". As such it is part of the research material, I gathered for this much broader study. Readers of this conversation should know that Michael Joyce is the author of the famous hypertext-novel "afternoon, a story". In this interactive, non-illustrated narrative the reader is invited to explore life and emotions of Peter, a man who desperately wants to know if he indeed witnessed the death of his own son. (more about Michael Joyce)



Elasticity
Your first novel 'The War Outside Ireland' was a conventional, linear one. It was pretty successful and even brought you a literary prize. What made you move into the non-linear direction, which is, by the way, almost a contradictio in terminis?


M.J
It isn't that simple a progression. My print novel was very much concerned with the interwoven stories of family, neighbourhood, and clan (insofar as an immigrant group, such as American-Irish maintain a sense of themselves as clan), what I have sometimes called the oral tradition of mothers and aunts, the kind of discourse Cixous speaks of as the "staggering vision of the construction we are, the tiny and great lies, the small nontruths we must have incessantly woven to be able to prepare our brothers' dinner and cook for our children." These stories have multiple beginnings and negotiable endings, that is their protagonists and tellers are often interchangeable and as they change roles they bring different perspectives, these often coloured by overlays of other tellings. In the quotidian we lead our lives in ways whose linearity is unclear, moving in patterns of literal recursion, the arabesques of time. That said, when I began to appreciate the textual elasticity of electronic space it seemed very much the right medium for the kinds of stories which interested me, whose own elasticity was the story they told as much as the events they purported to account.


This is most interesting. The adequacy of the story's elasticity with the way we tell and read, and maybe even with the world itself, as far as there is such a 'thing', is an exiting and, maybe, a crucial idea. But let's return to this issue later on. First I would like to know about you, Jay David Bolter and the others who designed Storyspace. After all you were one of the first who enabled authors to write fiction in a hypertext-environment.


M.J.
There were obvious examples, we were just not good enough researchers to know which they were (Nelson for instance had long since published Literary Machines, but we had a working system before we read it). The first ACM Hypertext meetings in 1987 were a revelation to many researchers such as we were. The organizers expected a small crowd of interested parties and were overwhelmed by the number of active researchers, working systems, already complexly designed works. Apple 'introduced' HyperCard to an audience which was on the edge of being hostile, many of whom (like our publisher Mark Bernstein at Eastgate in 1982) had already published hypertext titles. My afternoon was first distributed then from a card table outside the main hall where Bolter and I personally demoed Storyspace on a small first-generation Mac the size of a block of ice. By the way Bolter and I designed it ourselves, the others listed were people whose research groups influenced us (Smith) or who later made revisions (Bernstein).

(Note: The ACM is the professional organization of computer scientists in the US. It has several special interest groups (SIGs), the best known perhaps is SIGGRAPH, the graphics group whose annual meeting draws 30-50K participants from academies and industry. The hypertext group SIGWEB, formerly SIGLINK, held its first meeting in 1987.)


How did you work on afternoon? Did you have a complete story in advance, which you later cut up in pieces, the procedure, more of less, followed by Julio Cortazar in Rayuela? I guess this was not the way you wrote afternoon, because of the enormous amount of sublines. If you compare the work you did for The War Outside Ireland with that of afternoon, what were the main differences?


M.J

I wrote afternoon entirely within the system of Storyspace, with very little on paper (a few notes of the Boolean logic for 'guard fields'). The process was thus also quite different from Cortazar's (or, as recent criticism suggest, his girlfriend's work) in Rayuela. Afternoon was in fact much more similar to The War Outside Ireland in that its connections were discovered in the unfoldings, unfolding which exposed no 'center', but rather only other unfoldings, a surface of possibilities and events. I have a vivid sense of having to imagine the readership of this work, and how to explain the process of reading in terms of its compositional process. If you are looking for predecessor texts, you should look elsewhere, really, to the intricate unfoldings of Gertude Stein's prose or the projective verse and field composition of the American poet, Charles Olson. The method for me was most similar to that of painting or making a large drawing, where the composition is found in the whole but through the exploration of successive surfaces. Jazz is also a good comparison (it is the one Umberto Eco makes in characterizing my work as "the third possibility, the one outlined by Michael Joyce. We may conceive of hypertexts which are unlimited and infinite. Every user can add something, and you can implement a sort of jazzlike unending story".)


The fact you only had a few notes on Boolean logic for 'guard fields' on paper when starting to write afternoon, as you just said, may give support to those who criticize hypertext-fiction writers as being too manipulative. This is at least a suspicion digital leans, as me, could easily sense. Did the procedure you followed for afternoon mean that interconnecting the hundreds of lexia was above all a job of excluding the links you did not want to come in existence?


M.J
.
Not at all. A crucial point is that the boolean logic notes were not something I had beforehand but rather a sort of 'scoring' which evolved as I read the text as its first reader and, rather than seeing it as a task of excluding possibilities, it was for me, as any composer, a matter of adjusting the tonalities and rhythms such that notes appeared in their time, that is, an opening up of possibilities and flow rather than a narrowing.


How much time did the actual writing of afternoon take? How was it sold en who are your readers? Did you find acknowledgement by the literary establishment? Or are you seen as a weird academic?


M.J
.
The initial composition of afternoon took a very short time. I had been thinking about this work for a great deal of time, throughout our development of Storyspace, and so wrote it in something less than a week of solid work. Then I worked through the paths and the guard fields for a certain number of weeks thereafter, reading and rereading in the way of any reader, wandering through the hundreds of thousands of possible combinations, 'tuning' them when they were unsatisfactory, hacking through underbrush when the story was too thorny or obscure for even my tastes.
The initial acknowledgement by the literary establishment ranged from hostile to bored, and from the first it was clear that some very fine critics and scholars were fully prepared to write about the work in the subjunctive, that is, without having read it well or at all. This has continued to this day even as the critical and literary reception of hyperfictions finally grows to legitimacy. A very famous theoretician of reading wrote about Robert Coover's hypertext fictions in an essay when Coover has in fact never written a hyperfiction (although he was the first and most generous champion of them). A New York Times writer described a reading of the fiction which was clearly a fantastical invention, uninformed by experience one might say.
Although the Salon junior editor recruited to do a hit-job on hypertext for the new regime of the Times book review (this is a common strategy there, they recruit Marxist critics to defame Marxist texts, gay writers to hatchet gay literature, etc., and thus retain clean hands) characterized the audience as strictly an academic (and male!) one, the earliest and most generous critics were young readers, to be sure often graduate students, but ones who viewed themselves as feminists, subversive artists, 'experimental' writers, and so on. Carole Maso is an example.


Writing in a ICT-environment requires a different technique and a different grammar. How do you feel about this? Did you go through a stylish modulation from The war... to afternoon?


M.J
.
I felt incredibly liberated, as if the writing I was always going to have written were suddenly possible. That is, the greatest change was a feeling that I could inhabit the multiplicity of voices with which my own narrative always came to me. In just about my first speculation about the hypertext novel (for a grant request which predated Storyspace or afternoon) I suggested that 'the most compelling aspect of computer tools is that they promise fiction writers a means to resurrect and entertain multiplicities that print-bound creation models have taught them to suppress or finesse'. As I came to write afternoon, and each time I came to write hypertext fiction until the ubiquity of the web compromised if not removed the sense of spatiotemporal composition which I felt in composing hypertexts, I was literally buoyed by the freedom of writing without gravity of the linear.


While reading afternoon I was struck by the evocative power of some passages. Is this kind of very direct and compact writing a feature of the hypertext-novel?


M.J
.
I hope so, I hope it continues to be so and I would be delighted if that were seen as the legacy of my work. Yet it is too easy to inadvertently parody oneself in this kind of compactness, to write a kind of embroidered and self-consciously literary text of the sort I have characterized as 'captioning' or perhaps, better still, in my Stockholm talk, as sampling (in both the sense of the word as a young woman's sewing of figures and letters and the hip-hop sampling).


Centre
In general, it is said that non-linear fiction does not have a narrative centre. I have read 'afternoon', which is a beautiful story, I think, for quite a couple of times, maybe not in the way an experienced path-finder in hypertext should have done it, but nevertheless, your story has left its impressions. It is remarkable however that the sum of these impressions do reflect a narrative totality. This is not the outcome of a long reading process, but it happened to be there right from the first readings. Each time I started reading, I saw this Peter scared to death his son has been killed in an accident and having vague, sometimes strong feelings of quilt, a sort existentialistic regret that he is not were he should be. Thus, for me 'afternoon' is a very concrete portrait of the postmodern and postpatriarchal male (the father who feels superfluous and guilty about that too). I don't mean this story is a moralistic, anti-divorce piece, not at all, but it is moral in this sense that it sketches the very state of mind most males will recognise. Your one-liner 'I want to say I may have seen my son die this morning' is rather strong, its echo sounds in all sentences and lexias that are still to come, what ever they may be. So although your hypertext is a jazzy kind of collage, and there may be no, to quote Nietzsche, original text, there is for sure an original appeal. Phenomenologically speaking this story has a very, very strong (emotional) centre.


M.J
.
I am obviously quite pleased by this reading, which is a sense of the text I recognize. You are right, I think, about it being a portrait of a postmodern (post-Strindberg) father and the sentence with its awful core of unwanted wanting, which is a longing for control or at least influence over even the most unthinkable events—where one is literally found wanting, i.e., found & wanting in the sense that English allows as a sort of temporal punning. Not to stretch this episode of self-appreciation much farther (I first mistyped 'father'!) than I would wish, I'd also agree that the strong centre is a characteristic of the best jazz which, to gently disagree with Eco, is not simply a matter of improvisation and jamming but an evocation (elegiac, wanting) of a (lost) melodic centre.


It is often said that the (conventional) author is never in full control of his own story. In a way he has to 'listen' to the logic of the narrative in order to write down that narrative. In this sense he is led by his own story. Is this an experience you also had while working on afternoon?
After all it is called afternoon, a story.


M.J
.
Absolutely. This makes an important point by the way. These hypertext fictions (and indeed the technology which enables them) emerge from almost a century of modernist artworks concerned with following composition in this way, whether in serial music, in oulipo texts, in cubism, collage, surrealism, constructivism, etc.. The dot.com generation's blindly infantile insistence on its self-generative nature cannot obscure the fact that the technology of cyberculture is a creation of modernist (and this post-modernist, even Romantic) sensibility. Neither this generation of technologists nor its increasingly derivative and dully self-referential creations sprang parthenogenetically from the machine. The machine was imagined first and in some senses, even economic ones, it remains a work of imagination.


Of course we externalize, by making machines, what already is in our minds and imagination. But once it is there in the outside world, machines can take over. They use to loose their serving function as merely instruments and want to be served in stead. So does the computer, I suppose, as a machine of storytelling. Like the printed book once - and still does - generated certain kinds of literature (out of which modernism wanted to escape). I am a bit suspicious towards the argument that hypertext is the carriage (the modernist's dream of non-linearity) without the horse (the printed book). How powerful is the autonomy of the computer is, as a machine of nonlinear storytelling? Has it led you somewhere, or do you expect to be led, to possibilities you otherwise should never have arrived?


M.J.
I share your suspicions of the carriageless horse (if you will allow that inversion), the muscularity without the burden, the span without the experience of/or passage. And, to be sure, I have engaged with those who too easily warn us against technological determinism, Richard Grusian for instance, as if the computer were mere Machenschaft, an agent-participant in a universe of social constructions with separate orbits. Technology does change us, the tool at hand becomes (or forms into its own becoming) the hand. Your sense that the computer wants to be told a story is in a sense what I meant about technology as a work of imagination (long ago someone said to me that Storyspace itself was a collaborative fiction, Jay Bolter's and my story of the nature of storytelling, guised as a computer program—a very satisfying trope). All that said, I can't share your alarmist tone completely, or at least its exclusivity. The computer wants to be told a story, it is ours to give and to withhold as well. But the same was (is, media linger like comet trails) of the film, television, telephone, electric light, all of which want to be served beyond their instrumentality, and are or are not as conscious artistic choices. I am fond of a questionnaire which the late, American poet Robert Duncan used to distribute to his poetry writing students, one question which asked: "Where is the sun in relation to your page when you write a poem?" It is a profound sense of agency, situation, and 'teknè'.


The artist
You just mentioned Romanticism as one of the predecessors of cyberculture. This is quite interesting, because Romanticism still has a very strong influence on our perception of art and reality. It were the Romantic poets and philosophers who taught us that creating a work of art is a way of giving birth. Thus, the genius of the artist brings something in existence, which has not been there before. I do not know if you have any sympathy with this conception of art. As far as I am concerned, I think the least we can say is that such a view is not easy to overcome, even in postmodern theory, which is after all only theory. In our daily life there is still an enormous desire for wholeness. Art can compensate for the incompleteness of ordinary life, we feel. Telling stories is a way of making sense of the senseless. Has non-linear hypertext literature here a role to play? In other words, can such a literature mean more than a sophisticated playfulness?

M.J

It will seem obvious that I have great sympathy with the notion of art work as birthing, yet this does not necessarily mean that I subscribe to theories of genius or wholeness. What is given birth in the natural world is processual, a whole only in a potentiated sense, and--not to play too much within the language of your question-- nonetheless a 'wholeness' whose first expressions quite literally come from play (the mirror stage for a real parent accounts an actual event of any childhood). The longing for 'compensation for the incompleteness of ordinary life' can give rise to fascism as often as art, including the fascism of an infotainment culture which commodifies wholenesses in successive product lives. Life itself is its own compensation, its incompleteness is its joy and its nature.We find our solace in giving ourselves over in our own incompleteness to the incompleteness of others. This is the essence of every kind of lovemaking, including the one known as art. Your phrase 'a sophisticated playfulness' suggests a dandyism which anyone would find unsatisfactory, i.e., the play of sophisticates. Perhaps it might be better to speak of the play of complexity, the complexity of play in the sense that contemporary sciences understand it, a morphogenetic play, form-making forms, in the way a child's play opens actual spaces for being (the Lacanian insight).


Non-linearity weakens the sovereignty of the author, but in a way it strengthens it as well. The author becomes a creator of a narrative space in stead of narrative time.


M.J.

I agree with the ambiguity (Blake's contraries at play) your question exposes. There is a new kind of reactionary literary critique (the old one argued that the codex and print novel already held all the possibilities of electronic textuality) which retreats to a position of critique which suggests that the hypertext novel is more controlling, that it excludes the reader's reverie, forecloses subconscious space, etc. I think the situation is rather the one you describe in which the author's role is put into oscillation. It is exactly this which Carolyn Guyer characterizes as the 'buzz-daze' of hypertext, wherein "the process of creating ourselves always involves two polar events: Acceptance and Control, that is, occupying without counting, and counting in order to occupy. One is not preferable to the other; rather, neither exists without the other, which means that the only thing we can truly be interested in is the complex mixtures of the two, how they proportion themselves as they move through each other".


All writing, we know now, is situated in a network (which does not make all writing equal in quality, of course )Is writing in a hypertextual environment, like storytelling in orality, more conform the essence of what literature and even life, as the quote of Guyer suggests, is all about?


M.J
.
There is some truth to this and I will ever recall the audible gasp which went through the crowd at a lecture by hypertext writer and theorist Jane Douglas when a student of mine rose to ask whether in its fragmentation and multiplicity hypertext literature may represent a 'new realism'. Perhaps characteristically of all the arguments for hypertext literature, this is the one which most affronts a certain kind of traditional literary or cultural critic.


The reader
You often speak of 'two minds' and of 'othermindedness', also titles of two of your essay-books. What is in this respect the role of the reader? Is he 'the other' of the author?


M.J
.
I've written explicitly that mine is 'less a focus on the other than upon our mindedness', the ability we have to maintain ambiguities, contraries, possibilities, multiplicities, which I see network culture and hypertextuality as potentially (but not at all inevitably) serving. But, yes, the reader stands for such an other to a certain extent, in the way of Gertrude Stein's dictum that 'I write for myself and for strangers' in which the cupola covers a mystery, how the deepest self and the most alien otherness are often more closely allied than the proximate and familiar.


Do you agree with me that non-linearity always becomes linearity the very moment someone starts trying to make sense, i.e. starts reading? What I mean is that the non-linearity of the medium is not the non-linearity of the reader, who by definition tries 'to collect sense' and to compose a story.


M.J.

This does get down to a kind of atomism, doesn't it? A struggle along the beachhead of the neurons, looking to see whether we fire synapses in order and, if so, what order, and once identified, whether this can best be described or mapped linearly... 'Collect sense' is nice, it has a sense of netting or condensation (not, I meant to say, in the Freudian sense but now as I set out to collect my own sense I think better of the disavowal); and your isolation of the moment of someone starting to read or to make sense adds a further margin, a Heisenbergian stop-time, a moment of intentional collection and making, one step in front of another like Beckett's Malloy. I've gotten rather fond of Michael Oakeshott's 'The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind' and its post-Burkean, Rortyesque sense. His notion of conversation as a time when
"'facts' appear only to be resolved once more into the possibilities from which they were made; 'certainties' are shown to be combustible, not by being brought in contact with other 'certainties' or with doubts, but by being kindled by the presence of ideas of another order; approximations are revealed between notions normally remote from one another. Thoughts of different species take wing and play round one another, responding to each other's movements and provoking one another to fresh exertions. Nobody asks where they have come from or on what authority they are present"
seems quite applicable to most peoples'--or at least to my--experience of reading, especially that part where one attempts to 'compose a story'. Is this linear? I suppose it is, or at least sequential. But whether the experience is essentially one of a line of thought I am not certain.


I fully agree. In the critical and most creative phase reading is very diverse, intuitive and pluriform. But there is a second phase in which we form a string of events, for instance the chronology of David Copperfield being born, etcetera. This is sequential, you are right, not linear in a rational sense. But, and this is my point, all reading seeks a form in which it can be stored as a more or less fixed narrative line, at least that's what I suppose. It's the way the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur is used to see narrativity, as a way to organize what is in the world outside the story a complete disjunct chaos of contingencies.


M.J

Your comment here reminds me of Kundera's claims that "… what is formless cannot be grasped, cannot be committed to memory.' If waiting was fleeting and light, it would be something else: perhaps more of a feeling than a form" Whether that form is "more or less fixed narrative line," or better still whether narrative line can only be fixed in time (rather than in space, as in the memory place, or the body itself, as in Olsonian proprioception) is open to question, I think, the constant question of fiction after modernity (as opposed to the more restrictive sense of post-modernity).


There is this article of J.Yellowlees Douglas "'How do I stop this thing': closure and indeterminacy in interactive narratives" (In Landow: Hyper/text/theory, 1994). Do you sympathize with her point or do you criticize her? I am very curious.


M.J
.
I'm predictably fascinated by her argument and a little wary both. While I never assign my own work to my hypertext theory students, I do have them read this essay in conjunction with Terry Harpold's engagement with it in his essay "Conclusions." Douglas' sense of closure as the exhaustion of curiosity, if not possibility, sure echoes my own cautionary note to the reader in the preface to afternoon but, like Harpold, I'm a bit suspicious of what seems an implicit straightening out of the bends in the road, especially in Jane's reliance on the 'I call Lolly' episode as a sort of switch-point, something which surely functions as such in a narratological sense, but whether it is her or my invention, I cannot say.


In his article Harpold writes: "The reading of a hypertext (any kind of text) is guided by a will to take sense of the text, no matter what confusing or contradictory turn it may appear to take...." Let's go back to Aristotle, who thought that the necessity of a story was based on the contingency of life (what happened yesterday purely by coincidence is today a necessary condition for my story about what happened yesterday). Closure as exhaustion thus means the extinction of the reader's will to make sense, which is a form of accepting fate. Old fashioned novels we stop to read if we find them boring. Boredom also extincts the will to make sense. And we are bored if we don't expect satisfaction of the story, if our curiosity is not raised or if we do not feel involved enough in story. This is tantamount to saying: we don't feel the necessity of the story. So the difference between a hypertext as an art form and the linear book as literary art is not so great. Do we agree?


M.J
.
I cannot help but agree, and in fact from the first intended less to establish differences than continuities, albeit resistant ones, between hypertext and the book (thus afternoon did not offer menu-like choice or anything else meant to interrupt the flow and reverie). What your comment explores is the whole question of desire for form and its relation to our mortal existence. This, too, has been my subject, always.


Future
So we can consider the hypertext-novel as a variation on the old-fashioned one, even maybe on the great classics like Don Quixote (of which the chapters, up to a certain amount, can be read in a freely chosen succession), the Decamarone etc. As long as creative and fictional writing in hypertext is scriptural (using written words), in a way it materializes the non-linearity and the poly-interpretability that conventional printed literature already has in potentiality. But from the very moment the hypertext becomes multi-mediatic (pictures, videos, sounds etc.) the essence of the novel (a narrative space in words) is destroyed. What would you feel about this?


M.J
.
I tend to agree. I am not certain that I have yet seen a multimedia fiction which retains the flexibility and permeability of hypertext which primarily rely upon the written word. Hypertext publishing, as most anything having to do with the internet, is in turmoil. There are no clear cultural or commercial models, no predictable sense of audience, and meanwhile the art itself is in the midst of some seismic shift with separate streams ranging from largely textual, literary hypertext which emphasis the multiple forms of the story or poem (like afternoon, one hopes) to radical experiments, influenced by kinetic poetry and computer graphics alike, with the nature of language and image and their borders, to commercially influenced and highly mediated or convergent graphical (Flash) works with textual interludes and threads. What seems missing is a multimedia art form which, to use your phrase, 'materializes the non-linearity and the poly-interpretability'. It was this inter-operability of the written word which, of course, so troubles Plato's Socrates in the inscription on the tomb of Midas the Phrygian, wherein "it makes not the slightest difference which line comes first or last."


Let me ask an additional question: Suppose your job was that of a translator, making hypertext out of 'straightforward' novels. Which titles would have your preference? The Brothers Karamazov, Moby Dick, Ulysses, American Psycho, Romeo and Juliet (as a play), Kafka's letters, Ovid's Metamorphoses, or maybe you have other suggestions?


M.J
.
I'm sorry but I cannot play this game. I might beg the question and say that such a work wouldn't be a translation as much as a version, an echo, but then I am very fond of Pound's translations which are nothing less than this. In his first New York Times Book Review essay on hypertext Bob Coover suggested that his fiction had worked against the line and now hypertextual fiction would likely have to work against infinity. This is what the computer scientists call 'constraint based' invention, i.e., forms, whether Ovid's, Melville's or Dostoevski's (a wonderful list, by the way, and hardly 'straightforward novels') emerge from their attempts to transcend limits. If I were to play the game, I would look instead to poetry, especially lyric sequences or the great modernist attempts to reimagine epic, from Wordsworth to Whitman, Williams to Pound, but most of all she who turned the lyric and the novel in upon each other: Gertrude Stein.


Generally speaking, what are your thoughts about the novel's future? Are we
moving away from lingual imagination? In the direction of a great virtual 'Gesamt-theater', as foreseen by Janet Murray in Hamlet on the holodeck?


M.J
.
I hope not. I don't find Janet Murray's vision of the shared future of narrative terribly inviting or compelling. It's interesting that her book loses its energy when she attempts to imagine a scenario for such a procedural literature. The same is somewhat true for Espen Aarseth, whose thinking so excites people there in Europe, but whose most exciting speculations seem to fall prey to a sort of Nordic schematization. Espen imagines a future free of narrative and yet seems unaware of the self-referential narrative which this critique represents. I have been much more intrigued by the speculations of the wonderful Finnish novelist and troublemaker, Markku Eskalienen, who gives a real juice to Aarseth's schema and in fact moves beyond it as he re-imagines interactive narratives from the perspective of 'Augusto Boal's Invisible Theatre' where "participants do and can not know the boundaries separating the realms of fictive and real-life communications, or those between persons, actors and roles... [and where they] participate but they do not know for certain in what". Markku proposes not merely new media but also new post-hypertextual, and indeed post-narrative, story forms in which 'the attitudes and speech acts of our real world are given their chances to inflict the fictive world' and where 'emergent traits' and 'glider narratives' lead to 'ecologically delicate islands getting easily off balance' and are subject to 'alzheimerian filtering' and 'tel quelian... search engines' generating 'kinetic textual dance.'


If literature really becomes non-linear, will there be any position left for the critic? And what could it be?


M.J.

More than ever. The position will be an ancient one, as well as the continual one, the recounting of shared experiences of differences.


But don't we have a serious problem? What is intersubjectivity supposed to be if subjects are not able to share the same text, read in more or less the same succession? If I have read a conventional book, I can have a conversation with my friend on the book. We can compare feelings, comments or what ever: everything rests on the silent supposition we did read more or less the same book. For ages literature has had this function of a common reference. A philosopher and literator like Martha Nussbaum uses literature as a field of research for her work on human emotions. If our narrativity is going to alter completely from linear to non-linear this richness of a shared world of fictionality, which is also the basis of the humanities, I think, could be lost.


M.J.

Obviously I care for the future of the humanities and humanity alike. I am an artist and teacher and both (or rather the singularity that they are) depend upon the commonality of our experience of texts and their performances as well as the conversations which evolve from them. Yet I must suggest that your question here truncates a history of literacy and the humanities in a curious way. The function of literature 'as a common reference' is not irrevocably wedded to a literature in which we share 'the same text, read in the same succession', nor has it been historically, as Ong and many others (beginning with Parry and Lord) have made clear. Keeping in mind Ong's reluctance to use a term like 'oral literature' (as well as Derrida's multiple insistences about literature's severing of successions), it is nonetheless arguable that the still point of succession is as much a fiction of (print) literacy as a linchpin of the human conversation. More of human history (including the most of our experiences with actual successive readings--whose readers most often recount successions which in the most fundamental sense are not temporally successive and whose indexicalities even are subject to scattered recollection, the latter pun intended) has been spent in the thrall of the rhythmic and recurrent sharing of patterns of perception which narrative and poetry alike elicit in us. I'd also question the possibility of a 'narrativity alter[ed] completely from linear to non-linear' since such a completeness argues the end of history and the loss of mortality alike. Even given some radical abruption of the human sensorium in which temporal scanning were no longer necessary for cognition, it seems difficult to imagine a world of our experience in which such episodes would not themselves be subject to successions.


Writing and reading (re-)structures our awareness of what reality is, Walter Ong has argued with respect to the transition from orality to literacy. I think he's right. If this is also your point of view, what is then 'the message of the hypertext-medium'? Will it make us other men than we were in 1800?


M.J
.
Of course it will not make us other men than were in 1800 for we cannot be made to be what we have already become as differently composed (and disposed) men and women. That is, we are already always, even beforehand, different. Yet there is some danger in seeing retrospection progressively, I think, treating the past as an incremental focusing upon the present or future it was always going to become. I am sensitive to Derrida's argument in Archive Fever that 'archival technology no longer determines, will never have determined, merely the moment of the conversational recording, but rather the very institution of the archivable event' such that 'archival technique has commanded that which in the past even instituted and constituted whatever there was as anticipation of the future'. The men of 1800 are different on account of what we have become and, in their difference, they ascribe a difference to the future they could see us within.


Michael, what I mean is this: the way we experience time corresponds perhaps with the way we experience stories. In orality time was circular, stories had this, what you beautifully called 'arabesques of time'. Christianity annihilated, at least partly, this concrete experience of the eternal coming and going. Jesus died only once, St. Augustine said. Later the printed book, especially the novel, became more and more a blueprint of human life itself, with the Bible as the metaphysical paradigma (Genesis- Middle-Armageddon). This strong awareness of a coherence between existential linearity (Heidegger: being is being-to-death) and textual linearity is eroding more and more. But that doesn't mean that the good old times of orality, will be there again. Electronic interactivity is much more detached from place, I am afraid. Don't you fear we are on the brink of migrating to cyberspace?


M.J
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Of course I do, but not because we will ever get there, rather than we will satisfy ourselves with much ruder approximation of armageddon than even do those sects who climb mountains awaiting Jesus or a spaceship. Much of my recent writing echos your concerns with ths loss of place, which of course we only mark with the witness of our mortality, a fundamental linearity which we do not, however, experience linearly. Even (especially) Heidegger's being-to-death loops through time and faces itself (as Olson has it, proprioceptively, as a dancer sees herself from her back).

 



Het CFK onderhoudt samenwerkingsverbanden met:
 
Philosophy of Information and Communication Technology International Association for Philosophy and Literature Witte de With Centrum Beeldende Kunst V2_ International Association for Aesthetics Maai Aan/Uitgevers


 
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