by drew davidson
Discuss how the emergent methodology you envision might converse with, of fit in with, or oppose, existing critical methodologies of audience response, and what advantages you expect it to have over (e.g.) reception theory (or choose another existing methodology).
In this age of the post- and the neo- (post-structuralism, neo-classicism, post-modernism, post-punk, neo-retro, etc.) many theories have been trotted up and run around about how we get meaning out of this world, both individually and collectively (if there's a difference). Academics and philosophers (there's definitely a difference) have pondered the way(s) in which we communicate with each other and how meaning is created and shared. As of now, nothing is certain, and theories are being reworked, rewritten, reread and remembered. This interviewer must ask; how does one go about discussing the meaning(s) of our words as conveyed in the telling, showing, listening, watching, interacting, and participating. In an attempt (perhaps futile) to gain a better understanding of how meaning is communicated I have interviewed together two methodologies over a period of about a week. These sessions lasted several hours and often had the participation of both methodologies in each conversation, but I had the chance to have intimate talks with each methodology separately. Now, for those of you who don't know a methodology is "a body of practices, procedures, and rules used in a discipline or an inquiry" (American Heritage Dictionary, 858). It is how one would go about looking for meaning. More on that later in the body of the interview sessions.
The two methodologies in question are- Reader-Response Criticism (RRC), and- Hypertextual-Performance (HP). Both of these methodologies are interested in looking at the process of meaning: RRC looks at how the readers shape the meanings of a text in each and every reading, HP explores the intimate connection between reader/writers and the ever-developing performance of (hyper)textual meanings. What is interesting is that both methodologies have much in common and some subtle and important differences. What is also interesting is that RRC has been around for quite some time now, while HP is merely in the beginning stages of its career. Part of the purpose for this interview is to give HP one of its first public forums. Throughout the week, we all sat together around the desk and computer screen, thoughts and feelings and meanings emerged through our interactions as our conversations ebbed and flowed . . .
So, for starters, let's have you two introduce yourselves.
RRC: Me first? OK, Reader-Response Criticism is an attempt to understand a text through its results (Thompkins, ix). In opposition to New Criticism, Reader-Response critics are deeply interested in the audience's response to a text. In looking at the various responses to a text, "the objectivity of the text is the concept" that gets destroyed by thus method (x). Indeed, "reading and writing join hands, change places and finally become indistinguishable only as two names for the same activity" (x). Reader-Response looks at the creative process of reading.
HP: Well, Hypertextual Performance is also interested in the process of meaning creation. A process that does not necessarily have a beginning or an end. Like Reader-Response Criticism, there is the belief that readers and writes both contribute to the meaning of a text. But Hypertextual Performance is the manifestation of these ideas. It practices as it preaches by making hypertextual documents that are inherently performative in the creation of their meaning. And somewhat fittingly, it is also a method in progress. I'm still figuring out how to best describe myself. And I have to admit I have been strongly influenced by Reader-Response Criticism.
RRC: Thank you.
Well then HP, can you define performance for me?
HP: Absolutely, Stern and Henderson define performance as an act that is "interactional in nature and involving symbolic forms and live bodies" (3). It can be an act that involves the interactions between a performer and a text, an audience and a performer, and/or two people talking. The symbolism occurs at the "intersection between text and context," with the text being anything ranging from a script to a social norm for interaction (17). This is where and how the page is brought to life on the stage through the performed gestures and actions, and where a conversation comes to life through the interaction of the two participants. The context of these occurrences is the "social, political, historical, psychological and aesthetic factors that shape the way we understand the text" (17). It is the culture in which we, the audience, are influenced. A performance is thus positioned within the cultural discourse of its place and time (Auslander 8). So, when and where it occurs influences how and what occurs. The context shapes and limits the possible meanings of a performance that the performers and the audience can interpret. So, whether is be a conversation or a stage play, it occurs within its context of time and space.
RRC: Reader-Response Criticism is also interested in ideas of performance. You see, the phenomenon of a text is not simply the message, the text, the author and the readers, but the whole act of communication (Riffaterre, 37). The responses of the readers are just as crucial as the input of the writers. To explore this act more fully for its meanings, one needs to perform it over and over again (38). You must consider the different readings through each performance to try to better understand the text itself. So, the performance of the reading experience plays a big part in our exploration of a text.
HP: I can see the act of reading being described as such. It has been said before that everything we do is performance. In other words, all of our interactions throughout our lives are performative; we wear our different masks depending on who, where and when we are performing. A good example is that we perform differently for our bosses than we do for our friends. This is not to suggest that there is a fakery involved in our daily interactions, but that to some degree, we are all somewhat cognizant of the various stages in which we live and perform. Yet, it rather useless to say everything is performance, instead I find it much more interesting to look at the various levels, or degrees, of performativity to be found in our lives.
RRC: I am definitely interested in degrees of performance. There are different degrees of reading to be sure. The "real reader" is lost, mysterious and sometimes irrelevant (Gibson, 1). The language of a text often does not assume us as the reader, but some prior audience from another time. The reader that fits a text is a "mock reader," to whom the author is writing during the composition of a text (2). We do not need to know about the mock reader in order to understand a text, but thinking about the intended audience does shed light on the text itself (5).
And there is a difference in degree between author and narrator and reader and narratee, the point of view the narrator addresses (7). The narratee is not the reader per se, but the person to whom the narrator is relating. We, the readers, are watching and listening over the shoulders of the narratee. The narratee is distinct from the reader, mock reader, virtual reader and ideal reader, other degrees of readership if you will (9). The narratee is a part of the text, that helps the reader to read the story. The text shapes the narratee through the assumptions in its sentences (12). It shows us how much the narratee knows and feels in relation to the story. The narratee then relays this to us, the readers (21).
Very well put RRC. So HP, can you tell us more about these degrees of performance?
HP: Here's a good example. I think we would all agree that a different level of performativity occurs during a casual conversation with a friend than that of a performance of Hamlet on a proscenium stage. The latter example falls into a theatrical category with a defined performer/audience dynamic; a dynamic that can of course be problematized ad nauseam. The former situation has more subtle performative aspects contextualized within a "real" interaction- again, this too can be problematized. Also, I think it would be unfair to say that there are no similarities between the two events above, they have some shared links that allow us to call them both performances.
I am interested in hearing more about these nauseating problems.
RRC: Hear, hear.
HP: Just remember you asked for it. I see several degrees of metonymy that can be identified that help to highlight the complexity of the spectator-performer dynamic. First, metonymy in performance itself exists. Each performance not only echoes its originating text, but the process of performance itself. Second, metonymy occurs in an audience's experience, which "involves the active role [of] the audience... in creating the emergent meanings" of the performance (Stern and Henderson 406). The viewers reinterpret a performance within each experience they have with it. In other words, they themselves are a type of performer, creating meaning in their interpretation of the aside made in a play or a conversation. Third, the viewers can become aware to some degree of this present interpretation to the performance, becoming "spectators of their own performances, becoming a kind of performer" (Phelan 161). The audience becomes introspectively aware of their response(s) to a performance. In this awareness, the performing audience members are engaging their present experience of a performance within their collected experience(s) of it (Sayre, "Performance" 103). The audience members are simultaneously representing a performance in their performative viewing as well as representing their interpretation of it. Or, more simply, the audience/listener is making meaning just as the performer/speaker is. Within this dynamic the meaning comes from the meeting of both parties, together the performer and audience create the meaning that occurs within that time and space. Without one or the other, there would be a lot less to talk about.
I see. And RRC, are there some noxious issues within your methods?
RRC: Indeed. There are several I's involved in texts. There is the I- I am reading this book now, and the I- I think in you as I write this story for you, and the I- I am involved in the lives of the story (Poulet, 46). So you have the reader, the author and a blurred position within the text itself. From the page, the texts lives its own life within the reader (47). "Books are objects," but at the same time they are not (41). They offer themselves to be opened up to take you, the reader, into their subjective worlds (42). You go inside the book, and the book is inside you. The words on the page are dependent on you to pay attention to them and bring them to life (43). You entertain the thoughts and feelings in the world of the words and create them anew (44).
HP: In performance, issues of text are always intertwined with context and lead to thinking of a performance as an event that lives in the present, in the here and now. You see, a performance cannot be reproduced; it can be repeated, but then it is a different production (Phelan, Unmarked 146). Each production is a (re)presentation of the performance. It is a different conversation, a different play. Each performance varies from the last, each affected by the present time and place. Each performance is filled with the potential of the present. It is happening in the here and now. It is a presence "imbued in performance" through the knowledge that "it will occur this way only this time" (Heuvel 12).
And it should come as no surprise, but more than one type of presence exists in a performance. There is the enduring presence of the performance itself, and there is "the series of presents which constitutes whatever 'present' meaning" the audience has of the performance (Sayre, Object 19). In other words, the performance exists and endures along with the current meaning(s) found in the audience's responses, whether detailed or fleeting, which create and sustain a process of presents. So, every (re)presentation, every new conversation you have, takes place within the rubric of your experience of past performances and past conversations.
Ah, context. Tell me more about how context shapes a text.
RRC: Well, "the phenomenological theory of art lays full stress on the idea that, in considering a literary work, one must take into account not only the actual text but also, and in equal measure, the actions involved in responding to that text" (Iser, 50). The meaning of a text is found in reading when the text is realized. "The convergence of text and reader brings the literary work into existence" (5). The reader sets the text in motion by participating in the various perspectives, patterns and "schematized views" offered by the text (51). Reading causes a text to unfold (51). The text is the place where the contexts of the writer's and the readers' imaginations meet. Granted, the written text imposes limits on the unwritten implications to spur the readers guided participation (51-2). Sentences are the "component parts" of a text that readers "climb aboard" and put together (52). This sets in motion the process out of which the meaning of a text emerges. The meaning is constantly modified as the reading progresses and the reader makes more connections within the text (53). The activity of reading is a sort of "kaleidoscope of perspectives, preintentions, recollections" (54). The readers fill in the gaps of the text, adding their context to them (55). It is a process, a give and take between what is offered from the text and what is brought to bear from the readers. During the process of reading there is an "active interweaving of anticipation and retrospection" (57). The reality of the reading experience is that readings are inherently different from each other (56). In other words, every time you read you will bring a different perspective, a slightly different context, to the text which allows for different meanings to emerge.
I think I see. Would it be correct for me to say that the issue of text and context a metonymic issue?
HP: Possibly, let me define metonymy for you and we shall see. Metonymy is an "additive and associative" process that works on "contiguity and displacement" (Phelan 150). To borrow Peggy Phelan's excellent example, "'The kettle is boiling' is a statement that assumes water is contiguous with the kettle. The point is not that the kettle is like water," as in a metaphor, "but that the kettle is boiling because the water inside the kettle is" boiling (150). Performance is metonymic in the sense that a performance echoes that from which it springs forth and echoes the process of performing itself. A performance simultaneously represents the text on stage and itself as well. This idea is analogous to Sayre's example that "the spoken breath is identical with the event that it describes because it is the event" (Object 16). In the process of performing, both text and performance are (re)presented, as well at text and context. The embodied orality of the performance opens up its metonymic potential. You have the presence of the text and the presence of the participants in the here and now. Whether it be conversational or theatrical, these performances occur within a dynamic with warm bodies together in time and space. The context most definitely shapes the text.
So, watching a performance it a performative participation in the meaning of that performance. Would reading a text also be considered a performative act?
RRC: Reading is an activity, it is something you do (Fish, "Literature..," 70). The reading experience is indeed a temporal one (73). The concept of looking at the readers' responses to a text is to ask the question, "what does this word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, chapter, novel, play, poem, do?;" and answering this question involves "an analysis of the developing responses of the reader in relation to the words as they succeed one another in time" (73). So, you would consider the "temporal flow of the reading experience" assuming the reader is slowly building their interpretation through this performative process (74). The meaning of the text is an event, that (re)occurs with each and every reading (74). Reading a text is an "experience; it occurs; it does something; it makes us do something . . . what it does is what it means" (77). So if you were to attempt to consider a text apart from its receptions, you would "risk missing a great deal of what is going on" (80). Reading is a process of extraction (86). The readers have their contexts, but they have to get the meaning from the page. It is a performative relationship between reader and text that unfolds over the time of the reading and allows meanings to develop.
Is the process of reading one of the degrees of performance?
RRC: Let me explain this one. One of the great joys of literary texts is that, "we can only picture things which are not there; the written part of the text gives us the knowledge, but it is the unwritten part that gives us the opportunity to picture things; indeed without the elements of indeterminacy, the gaps in the texts, we should not be able to use our imagination" (Iser, 58). It's like seeing the film of a novel, we see the characters instead of picturing all the possibilities of how they may be seen (58). The picturing of a text is one of the ways we form the "gestalt" of the text (58). The readers are participating in creating and breaking the illusion of the text. It is a process full of interruptions (62). The readers look forward, back, decide and change their minds, form expectations, are shocked by their nonfullfilment, question, muse, accept, and reject (62). This is the process of reading through which the meaning of the text emerges. The readers are entangled with and in the text and have to open themselves up to its workings in order to understand it from their perspectives (65). The text takes on its full existence in the readers (66). The performative process of reading allows us to formulate the unformulated (68).
HP: Exactly. Reading is a performative dynamic in which the meaning occurs between text and reader. In a performance, the meaning flows between performer and audience is somewhat like a conversation. There have been an umpteen gazillion theories and models developed about the development of meaning that occurs during conversations, the most basic being: sender-message-receiver. In general these theories deal with the interaction that occurs between two people in conversation. Of course there are conversations with more than just two people and there are differences to these conversations, but I believe that the dynamic is similar. Essentially, you have people talking and listening to each other within whatever context they happen to be interacting. So, it can be a performance of reading with a conversation occurring between author and readers through the text.
So, reading a book is talking to the author? That sounds a little far fetched.
HP: Well both individuals, author and reader, are contributing actively to the meaning shaped in the text. So there is some form of conversation taking place across the text. But it is not a conversation in which both parties involved are speaking to each other. The interaction occurs around, and is limited in, the text. In other forms of conversation, those involved are listening to each other and interpreting each other's remarks- creating the meaning of the conversation for themselves with which they then act on to further the conversation. So, the created meaning is much more fluid in this situation, both speakers/listeners are continually adding to the meaning of the conversation through their vocalizations and interpretations of each other's thoughts. It is a two way street with lots of traffic on it. This of course is also further complicated by non-verbal issues and the unsaid connotations that fly freely throughout conversations. A raised eyebrow, a smirk, a leaning away with the body, all add subtle (and not so subtle) meanings to the conversation taking place. All in all, the meaning comes from the interaction of the two participants in the process of the conversation. The conversation that occurs in reading does not have these types of conversational complexity, but it has its own.
RRC: Exactly, what you have to understand is that in order to read a text you have to bring to it an implicit understanding of its discourse (Culler, 102). You have to know the ins and outs of the language because reading is a process of extrapolation (109). Reading is construction, we build our readings as we engage a text (Todorov, 82). From this activity, it is up to the readers whether their readings are constructive or deconstructive (82). You have to see what is in the text, converse with what the author wrote, in order to be able to fill it out for yourself.
OK, I think I see your point, but would you mind describing this conversation?
RRC: No problem, to "talk" with the author, you need to look into the spaces between the words (Holland, 118). The spaces suggest the "mysterious openess and receptivity of literature" (118). Reading is a process of trying to bind the spaces between the words together with the words, seeing what the author is saying. You are finding the identity of the text. The identity is the unity you find in a self if you look at it as though it were a text. (121). You read yourself as you read the text, adding your context to it, it really is a metonymic process. You see, "unity and identity represent quite abstract principles drawn from the experience of text [and] self" (122). You make the conversation with the writer through your connections you make with the text. And it is a process that is constantly recreating itself (124). Each reading for each reader is different. "Different readers can gain pleasure from the same fantasy and one reader can gain pleasure from many different fantasies because all readers create from the fantasy" (126). The connection is made through the text. "Every time a human being reaches out, across, or by means of symbols to the world, s/he reenacts the principles that define that mingling of self and other, the creative and relational quality of our experience, not least the writing and reading" of texts (131-2). So, as you read a text, you are mingling with the other, with the writer of the text.
Yes, I see. Now, if you will indulge me. RRC, we know you are a fairly well-established methodology. HP, on the other hand, is much newer. HP, do you mind explaining how you see yourself as a methodology?
HP: Not at all. In looking at the various degrees of performance that we find ourselves in from day to day, I hope to show the process of performance that may possibly serve as the basis for a methodology. For the sake of concision, I am going to stick with two examples (a staged play and a conversation) even though I realize that there are many more examples to be had. I believe the issues gleaned from the gaps and links between a stage production and the performance of an everyday conversation will hint at gaps and links found across these degrees of performance. This will at the very least, give us a starting point upon which to build further ideas. I also think it is important to explore the dialogic audience/performer dynamic as I see it manifesting itself across these various instances of performance. Within this dynamic, I am curious as to how both parties are contributing to the creation of meaning during a performance, whether it be a play or a conversation. With these questions in mind, I want to look at some possible methodological applications raised by the various issues discussed. I truly believe that we can apply a performance dynamic to help us further understand the world we live in.
This is a process of performances. Despite the overt differences to the experience of a conversation with a friend and the experience of a performance of say, Hamlet on stage, both exchanges contain the interaction between the two involved parties. In both cases, all the participants are actively engaged in creating the meaning that arises out of the experiences. The dynamics of the creation of meaning are blurry and shared, with everyone involved being a necessary component to the present performance and the unique meanings that arise in that here and now. It is a two way street that needs the chaotic flow of traffic from both directions in order to have an order of sorts. It is through the process of the performance, the interaction between the two parties, that shapes the experience and creates the meaning.
Meaning will be lessened (there will be less to talk about) if only one of the participants is present. An audience with no performers may make for an interesting experiment in crowd behavior, but the dialogue is lost. Performers with no audience seems analogous to the situation implicit in the question if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If there is no audience, was there a performance? I'm not sure, and even if a case can be made that yes there is a performance without an audience, again, I would say there is less to talk about, the dialogue is gone. And having a conversation with yourself may be an interesting example of intrapersonal communication and one could possibly argue for the stance that you are your own audience in such a scenario, but again, no dialogue is occurring and there is less to say.
And what about a stage production?
HP: Looking at the stage, the dynamic seems to have more defined boundaries, but these boundaries can be problematized. To start, you have the performer up on stage and the audience seated out in the theatre. A variety of stage arrangements put the audience and performers into different spatial relationships with each other that obviously influence the interaction between the two parties, an intimate little theatre with a stage in the round is vastly different from a Broadway show with three tiers of balconies. Nevertheless, the boundaries of a staged play are generally more formal than that of a casual conversation. Although many types of conversation have formal boundaries, an interview for example, and certain "staged" performances are much less formal; guerrilla theater comes to mind. Even so, like a conversation, a performance has the interaction between two participants.
The audience has some sort of spatial arrangement and interaction with the performers. Here is where the performance dynamic kicks in, you have a live audience with live performers in the here and now. It is an immediate, visceral dialogue between the two parties, the audience reacting to the performers and the performers responding to the audience's feedback. Like a conversation, it is a two way street with information flowing both ways. Not only are the performers shaping the meaning of the experience, but the audience, in their interpretations and responses to the performance, shape the experience as well. With this in mind, it is much more clear as to how two performances of the same production cannot help but be different. Each audience helps to subtly shape the experience of the performance unlike any other audience, and the same can be said for the performers. In this way, each performance definitely occurs, and only occurs, in the present here and now.
RRC: If I may interject, the reader's response to a text, is similar to the audience's response to a performance. It creates a meaning as it realizes the conditions in which it becomes possible to pick them out" (Fish, "Variorum" 176). In other words, the reader is reacting to the possibilities of the text. "The form of the reader's experience . . . and the structure of [author's] intention are one . . . they come into view simultaneously, and . . . questions of priority and independence do not arise" (177). Instead, we see that the meaning of the text is dependent on the writer's and readers' engagement with it. Together, they interpret the meaning(s) of the text. "Interpretive communities are made up of those who share interpretive strategies not for reading . . . but for writing texts" (182). Both parties help to create, to write, the meaning of the text. And "interpretive communities are no more stable than texts because interpretive strategies are . . . learned" (183). The only stability is that they are always being employed (183). There are a variety of possible meanings to be found in the different contexts of reading, and writing, strategies.
So, there are different strategies of reading, what types of different performance strategies do you envision?
HP: Again, I do believe that there are performative elements to all of our interactions, and again these elements differ in degree and kind. I think that by utilizing these differences we can develop a process to further explore our creation of meaning(s). In looking at the incarnations of performance in talking and stage, I am trying to set up some notions of performance to help develop a flexible methodology. Looking at the gaps and links in the audience/performer dynamic as seen in both conversations and staged productions is only the beginning.
Using performance to explore ideas seems more evocative of how we actually create meanings in our daily interactions with, and through, various degrees of performativity. If, like I believe, this is the case, then it would seem to me that a performance dynamic would be one of the most invigorating and useful dynamics within which to explore and understand these various issues. This said, I am still not sure exactly how this could play out and fit into academia today. As it is now, we construct performances, stage them and then write papers about them. A process to be sure, but one in which the most serious attention is paid to the manuscriptive documentation and analysis of the performance. It is my firm believe that vastly different meanings can be engaged and evoked if we applied the processes found in the performances of our lives to the questions we are attempting to answer. As Vanden Heuvel notes, a performance is "in many ways a more authentic representation [of reality] because it recognizes and enforces a conception of reality as plural and parallel, indeterminate and hypothetical, the co-creation of spectators-players--in a word, potential" (7). A performative paradigm gives us the potential to further understand and evoke the plurality of meanings that we continually create together in the here and now.
RRC: Well there certainly is a degree of performativity to Reader-Response Criticism. "Neither words nor the utterances built up out of them can be made unambiguous, except by and act of reading, [and] meaning is not inherent in words or utterances but is an inference drawn by the construing mind, based upon probabilities" (Crosman, 155). We perform the various probabilities in the text as we read them.
HP: Exactly, I believe that what interests me about the dynamics involved in all of the above examples is the interconnectivity of the two parties involved throughout the process of the performance. This interconnectivity highlights how both parties are necessary to this process, you need them both, and each time you get them together there will be a difference in time and space. A difference that leads to various and potentially unique experiences of the performance, or text, in each present here and now. Both members of the conversation are needed, and both performers and audience are needed, and both writer and readers are needed as well. A "performance breaks down the illusion of rational control and power over meaning" (Heuvel 5). The meaning would not occur without one or the other, neither is in control, but both are needed. Or, at the very least, it would occur differently.
So, your methodology would inherently allow for the possibility of multiple meanings?
HP: Yes! This fascinates me in terms of how it might be applied to help explore meaning more thoroughly with more multi-faceted results. Of course, with various meanings being explored, we open a whole new can of worms in terms of evaluation and analysis that needs to be explored itself. But, it seems that performances themselves could be a way to further explore and understand how meaning is creating in the various performances of our lives. Not only could we dig into the metaphysical aspects of these issues, but we could introduce ideas into different contexts with different dynamics and see what different meanings arise out of these experiences.
Where does this leave us? And where am I going with these ideas? These are questions that I am not sure I have full, complete answers, but instead would suggest using a performative dynamic to attempt to explore them further. In other words, create performative situations in which to explore these ideas so that the dialogic dynamic of the experience would potentially give you various answers with which to ponder. So, instead of giving answers, I am suggesting a new way with which we can ask and explore questions. A way that employs the dialogic aspects of performance into its process and in fact is all about process, a continuous exploration. As meaning occurs between the participants in performance, so should it take place at the interaction of theories and applications.
It is almost time to wrap up this conversation my friends. But first, RRC how would you define yourself.
RRC: "To specify meaning is criticism's ultimate goal" (Tompkins, 201). You see, like HP, Reader-Response Criticism is not one approach to the meaning of a text, but a variety of different approaches, all sharing the similar focus on the "performance of reading, the role of feeling, the variability of individual response, the confrontation, transaction, or interrogation between texts and readers, and the nature and limits of interpretation" (Suleiman, 4). It is too continually explore the process of the meaning(s) of a text. "The author . . . makes his/her reader as s/he makes his/her second self, and the most successful reading is one in which the created selves, author and reader, can find complete agreement" (8). Readers have a "horizon of expectations" composed of "cultural, ethical, and literary (generic, stylistic, thematic)" characteristics (35). This horizon evolves with the readers across space and time (36). Each form of audience-centered criticism should look with its "own methods and in its own terms, the multiplicity of contexts, the shared horizons of belief, knowledge and expectation, that make any understanding, however fleeting, of minds or of texts, possible" (45). Do not ever forget the process and performance of reading.
Thank you RRC. And last but not least, HP. We've talked a lot about performance and reading, but have yet to hear anything about hypertext. Would you care to share this aspect of your methodology?
HP: Certainly, looking at the performance and recognizing that the creation of meaning is a processual experience, I contend that academia needs to continually (re)address and (re)explore ideas for the potential issues that may be raised. As our understanding of ways of meaning evolve, so too must our interrogation and application of them. I believe that we should incorporate performative modes of discourse together with documents with multiple media (manuscripts, web-based hypertexts, playing cards and performances) to fashion more fluid forms of exposition from which to pursue and understand meaning(s). Ideally, we should be flexible enough to allow for a continual (re)presentation and (re)exploration of ideas in the process of their performance(s).
"Hypertext redefines not only beginnings and endings of the text but also its borders - its sides, as it were" (Landow, Hypertext, 60). It is an open, performative text in and of itself. "It is not the plot, or the narrative, or any other well-known poetic units that will be our definitive agency, but the shape or structure of the text itself" (Aarseth, 52). A shape in which readers explore, inhabit and perform. Hypertextual documents naturally allow other writers and other texts into their matrix. "The virtual presence of other texts and other authors contributes importantly to the radical reconception of authorship . . . Within a hypertext environment all writing becomes collaborative writing, doubly so" (88). All parties involved are active performers in the meaning of the "text." Hypertext is a "serial form of composition" (Ulmer, 352). We all add to the meaning of the work.
The performative process of meaning is emphasized because there does not have to be strictly defined beginnings and endings to hypertextual works (122). Instead, "our sense of arriving at closure is satisfied when we manage to resolve narrative tensions and to minimize ambiguities, to explain puzzles and to incorporate as many of the narrative elements into a coherent pattern" (Douglas, 185). The reader/writer/performer actively puzzles through the meaning of the work. "The essence of hypertext is that users are entirely free to follow links wherever they please" (Landow, Hypertext, 169). Hypertext is reader controlled, it allows the readers to choose their own ways (178).
As I said earlier, I believe we should practice as we preach, performance shows us something that texts do not. So, we should perform our ideas and feelings to learn something different. Hypertext allows us to make documents that are performative in nature. So, "what is a critic to do? The answer, finally, must be Write in hypertext itself" (Landow, "What's a Critic to Do?" 36). "The border-violating collage-writing of [hypertext] offers a form of academic discourse capable of emphasizing imagination, discovery, and unexpected crossovers" (39). Writing "criticism and theory within a hypertext environment" incorporates "the medium's characteristic multivocality, open-endedness, multilinear organization, greater inclusion of nontextual information, and fundamental reconfiguration of authorship . . . and of status relations in the text" (36). It allows writers/readers/performers to actively participate and perform the meaning(s) of the "text."
Issues that I believe we can address more thoroughly through a hypertextual performance methodology are: the dispersion of information in performances- whether they are conversational or staged, dialogue happens; the embodied, ephemeral performances of ideas- opening more dialogues around the ideas in various presents; the flattening of hierarchies- leveling the playing field through the interconnected process of creating meaning; active collaborations among colleagues- actually doing work together, keeping a continuous dialogue going; a focus on the processes of study- looking at how we study and how it effects what we create and perceive; experimentations in interface- trying to interact with each other and information in different ways to evoke various experiences and dialogues; fragmentations of theories- watching ideas splinter apart on this two way street of dialogue, growing with each new addition; innovations in our methodologies- focusing on different, and potentially better, ways to explore ideas, continually (re)presenting experience.
My aim here is not to come up with answers, but instead, to find better ways in which to ask more appropriate questions.
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