Teleology and hypertext, a comparison described in Monday’s lecture. This is a long post, and painful in my attempts to be philosophical. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Compare teleology – the philosophical study of design relating to purpose (i.e. design for a reason, to reach a conclusion or ending – think of the funnelling of many ideas into the one place) – to a format such as hypertext, in which the design precedes the purpose (design is open ended, there is no one conclusion, but potentially unlimited outcomes – think of one idea funnelling in the opposite direction and dispersing into many). One might call a teleologic text ‘readerly’ and hypertext ‘writerly’ in nature.
The study of readerly and writerly texts is a concept first put forward by Barthes. He argues that most texts are readerly texts – texts presented in a traditional narrative manner, linear and somewhat predictable, maintaining the status quo of style and content. For the reader, these texts are designed to negate any multiple meaning, any alternative to a structure than that which is designed with a beginning, middle and an end. There is some pleasure, some satisfaction in this closure. A readerly text keeps us constructed as users of the text – the content is realist, but it does not question the reader – it is submissive. A readerly text adheres to the commercialised values of literature – that the destination of the text is fixed and predetermined. When this destination is reached the conversation is over, and the reader becomes disposable.
A writerly text does exactly the opposite. The text dissolves boundaries between the reader and the text, exposes them to interrogation, to negotiation. A writerly text is ambigious, there is no fixed meaning, but rather interpretation, a variety of different meanings and undetermined potential endings, and in this way the reader becomes indisposable – they drive the text. The text is nothing without their input. The exchange of information is two way and ongoing; there is no satisfaction of closure in a writerly text, rather the text invites the reader to engage further and invites collaboration – what can you do with this information?? These texts are often confronting and excessive in their quest for engagement.
While no text can be purely ‘writerly’, the economy of exchange varies greatly between the two methods of readerly and writerly communication. Barthes identifies the ideal text as one that has more writerly qualities – one that blurs the distinction between reader and writer, one which contains many networks that interact, without any carrying more weight than another. This text ‘ has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one…’ These qualities can be found in hypertext, in which the presentation is non-linear. In hypertext the ‘information branches, links and connects segments that may be understood individually, or in random sequence.
Conclusion or closure are unimportant and superficial to the content. The links between the information, the direction chosen, becomes a defining feature in hypertext, surmounting the segments of information themselves.
We are naturally conditioned towards readerly texts, as Barthes points out. Narratives are present in every action humans make, as life itself is structured as such, with a beginning (birth), a middle (life) and the end (death). This innate need might explain humans desire for stories, and their need for closure and understanding within these stories to ensure enjoyment and satisfaction. Of course, life is rarely like this, but it rather more like a writerly texts – often difficult to access, without a fixed ending, multi- linear and written more for the writer themself than for the reader. Still, neither type of text is ideal. One could say the formulaic properties of a readerly text would indicate the author has the audience in mind too much, while the writerly text can mean little to anyone else aside from the writer themselves – both could be rejected by the reader as meaningless.
So, considering the qualities of readerly and ‘writerly’ texts (could also be considered as the different attributes of traditional print and hypertext) how are we able to apply writerly qualities to a currently readerly text, in this case video? The following must be considered.
There can be no predetermined ending. There can be no fixed beginning. The text must be able to begin and end indiscriminately.
Therefore, each idea, area, concept in the text must be independent, must encapsulate its own meaning, must be as important as another
The reader must be considered a producer, not just a consumer. The boundaries between idle reader and active participant (writer) will be challenged and blurred.
The reader’s interpretation becomes a key element in the narrative, and their engagement is ongoing, endless. Their choice of links, directions between information, the order in which they digest it, their intuition in navigating becomes central to the text.
In a writerly text the reader engages not just with the information, but with the medium itself. By engaging with the text itself, a writerly text inevitably draws you into the qualities of the media – the way in which it shapes and alters the text (hypertext is a perfect example of this, with the digital qualitity of the text defining our interpretation of it).
Vast difference between economy of exchange – a readerly text asks nothing of you, a writerly text demands your engagement, without which the text cannot be read
A writerly text begins with a concept from which it can develop, grow, branch into an unlimited number of narratives, conclusions and meanings. This is not about satisfying the reader, providing pleasure or constraining oneself to give an easily accessible ‘meaning’ or ‘narrative’.
Hence a writerly text is never finished. It may be read numerous times and in any direction, any order, or in parts. A video must be able to be watched backwards, an audio file listened to in reverse. The access to information must be constant, almost cyclical.
We want to create a space for interactivity – a marriage of the two, both readerly and writerly. I want to engage my audience without alienating them, demand their choices without directing them. I want them to participate in my text, making the experience one that cannot be disposed.