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From: "Jim Henley" <jlhenley@erols.com>
Subject: RE: (urth) Readerly and writerly texts
Date: Sat, 11 Dec 1999 01:10:21 

Hey, Jeremy:

> -----Original Message-----
> From: urth-errors@lists.best.com [mailto:urth-errors@lists.best.com]On
> Behalf Of Jeremy W. Crampton
> I've had some disturbing thoughts lately...

Let me try to alleviate those for you!

> Writerly text: is ourselves writing (eg., surfing the Web, the narrative
> that is created). Self-consciously aware of its own artifice and its
> (failed) attempts at realism.
> Readerly text: meaning is stable, transmitted to the reader, dominating

First off, repeat after me:

	"Il y a _beaucoup_ de merde dehors le texte."

Second, "dominating" is precisely what we readers want a lot of the time.
As Dana Gioia once said introducing the poet Nina Cassian, "What we really
want to do when we read a new poet is _surrender_."

If there were not an enormous kick in being "dominated" by an author, I
doubt we'd read much.

> If we approach a text as a writerly text it is not
> possible or desirable to start identifying fixed
> meanings or metanarratives ("Wolfe just does track
> the gospels"). In a writerly text, the reader is
> in control.
> --Is it possible to achieve the writerly text or is
> it dependent on the prevailing social relations?
> Barthes is supposed to have identified the
> readerly text as the dominant mode under capital.

Cause readerly texts are bad and capital(ism) is bad. If one comes out of
the Stalin-besotted milieu that gave us Barthes' generation of French
intellectuals, that is. But I think the real problem with this particular
theory is that poststructuralists don't really get the texture of pleasure.
To wit:

Wolfe compares the writer/reader relationship to the torturer/client
relationship, perhaps somewhat tongue in cheek. I would offer a different
comparison: bondage of the sexual kind. Meaning the consensual practices
that dominants and submissives get up to when they find each other,
including the whole apparatus of safe words and trust-building measures
that take place before and/or outside "the game." The dominant is
certainly, um, dominant. And the submissive is dominated. That's what the
submissive wants. That is what the submissive _permits_. It is, moreover,
the dominant's _duty_.

In other words, the relation of dominant to submissive is not simple. When
Gioia says he wants to _surrender_ to Nina Cassian, that he _has_
surrendered to Nina Cassian, he means he does so in what we all understand
are circumscribed and delimited - if thrilling - ways.

What poststructuralists decry as the "authority" of a text is precisely
what most of us want most of the time. We want a sense that the writer
knows what the hell he or she is talking about. Indeed, textual authority
tends to vary inversely as the number of books thrown across the room in
disgust. ("CHRIST! No one can get around the Washington DC Beltway in _half
an hour_!")

> --Is this list itself a writerly text?


Is this list a unitary text at all? If this list is a "writerly" collection
of texts in a way that TBOTNS itself is not, which is "better?" Is it
relevant that this list could not exist without TBOTNS but TBOTNS could do
quite nicely without this list?

[See, I criticize PoMos, but that don't mean I can't litter my text with
scare quotes!(Parentheticals too.)]

> According to Foucault ("The death of the author," 1969):
> ..implies that the notion of the author is a historical
> construct (prior, we looked at heroes, presumably actors
> in Greek myth and tragedy)

The prizes at the Athenian dramatic festivals went to the - well, they went
to the authors. They venerated "blind Homer" too. And whether one believes
that Homer existed or composed either of the works that bear his name, it
was precisely as an author that they venerated him.

BTW, in a trivial sense, the notion of the author _is_ a historical
construct - used to be there were no authors (no writing frex), then there
were. But what have we really said when we say something is a historical
construct? I think the answer is, Sometimes a lot; Sometimes not much. In
the case of the notion of the author, I favor the latter.

> ..efforts to contain a text are problematic..

Efforts to contain a weasel are also problematic. Doesn't mean it can't be
done. By the same token, it doesn't mean it should be. I'm not trying to be
(merely) flip; I think texts may be a lot like weasels - it's not a trivial
matter to contain them, nor is it necessarily a good idea in any given
case. But it might be. And you might want to switch containers now and then
too. Stick TBOTNS in the hard sf cage today, the Christian apologist cage
tomorrow and the worldly-messiah critique cage next week.

Weasels can even give us a handle on the textual property of multiplicity -
there may be a bunch of cages suitable for any given weasel. But there will
be a lot more where the weasel doesn't fit, or fits poorly, or gets lost in
all that room.

> what is a work? is a work that authored? and when
> is an author accepted as such? a text is not unitary but
> can escape into notes, appendices, and commentaries (cf
> Sev. explaining this, or even our disagreement over Vol 5
> as being part of BoTNS or not).

There's an interesting discussion along these lines in the intro to the
Gregg Press edition of DHALGREN. The writer points out that the "texts" of
sf (and other) books do not come to us pure. There's cover art and dust
jacket matter. (Unless you have the _Gregg Press_ edition, but the very
austerity of those plain green bindings was its own metamessage.) There may
be reviews and word of mouth. All of these things (e.g. the irrelevant
cover copy on the Bantam edition of DHALGREN) influence a reader's approach
to a text.

It was a pretty interesting intro. But it was not more interesting than
what Delany said years later in a completely different forum: The more
traditional sectors of SF readership pitched a fit at DHALGREN'S difficulty
and outre sexuality, but the book sold extremely well. Why? Delany quotes a
young woman who told him "I like it because it's about people like me and
my friends."

> ..historically, authors emerged as a category when
> they became subject to punishment for their work.

Maybe. One might ask Aeschylos and Hesiod about this one. But I'm not sure
Foucault doesn't have this one backward in any case. It might be possible
that coopers emerge as a category when they become subject to punishment
for their work too - the law and the state will interest themselves in
every sphere of activity, so if you do something you are probably subject
to punishment for what you do. ("Bad barrel!") If no one was making texts
or barrels before and now they are, then they weren't punishable before and
now they are.

> ..relevant to today's efforts at erasing the author
> (double blind peer review) which is actually just an
> acknowledgement of the power of the author (and
> the author always sneaks back in anyway).

Hey, good point! But if the author sneaks back in, does that mean the
author isn't dead after all?

> For Foucault, neither texts (discourses) nor authors
> are "unitary"--neither the subject nor discourse is stable.
> Does any of this apply to Wolfe/us?




"There will always be        Costello/
 a little larceny            Bacharach,
   in everyone"              "My Thief"

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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