We are moving rapidly from an age in which the tendency to treat individual texts as discrete, closed-off entities is over. We are learning to ‘delimit’ boundaries between what is to be included and what excluded. To illustrate the notion of intertextuality, Kristeva (Kristeva) refers to 2 axes: the horizontal connecting the author and the reader and the vertical which connects the text to other texts. Uniting these 2 axes are shared codes: ‘every text is from the outset under the jurisdiction of other discourses which impose a universe on it’.

Intertextuality refers to far more than the ‘influences’ of writers on each other. Traditional notions of authorship encompass originality, creativity, individual expression. However, language is a system which was there before the individual speaker so that when writers write they are also ‘written’ in the sense of being interpreted. To communicate we must deploy existing concepts and conventions. Consequently, whilst our intention to communicate and what we intend to communicate are both important to us as individuals, meaning cannot be reduced to authorial ‘intention’.

A text is… a multidimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations… The writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. His only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others, in such a way as never to rest on any one of them. (Barthes 1977, 146)

Reading and writing are not neutral acts.

Now I have studied neither English literature, nor philosophy and I think I have reached the limits of my ability to discuss linguistics and semiotics. But this is relevant as it helps me to edge towards an understanding of the way that digital technologies are altering the ways we read.

Good pedagogy allows the learner to act first and attempt to make sense later. So it is with my trial of the ‘born digital’ story, Inanimate Alice. I’ve had a shot and am now beginning to grasp more about how the reading experience of my grandchildren will differ (is already differing) so greatly from my own: I talk in order to understand; I teach in order to learn’ (Robert Frost).

I mentioned here the possibility of the screen watching us, adjusting to our perceived needs. Kevin Kelly, from whom I’ve gleaned much for this post,  describes the next generation of e-books thus:

Eventually e-ink paper will be manufactured in inexpensive flexible sheets. A hundred or so sheets can be bound into a sheaf, given a spine and wrapped with two handsome covers. Now the e-book looks very much like a book of old. One can physically turn its pages, navigate the book in 3D, and go back to an earlier place in the book by guessing where the spot was in the stack. To change the book, just tap its spine. Now the same pages show a different tome. Since using a 3D book is so sensual, it might be worth purchasing a very fine one with the most satin, thinnest sheets.

Fascinating though it is to dwell on the various containers that are likely to hold stories this is not at the heart of the changes that are happening. The article continues:

Such flexibility recalls the long expected, but never realized, dream of forking stories. Books that have multiple endings, or alternative storylines. .. there’s no reason images in digital books must remain static

or, I may add, singular. Kelly cites Wikipedia as a prime example of ‘the first networked book’, one that is ‘not only socially read, but socially written’.

The ‘deeply collaborative nature’ of scientific research has always led to joint publications, but Kelly is unsure whether fiction with its ‘self-contained story, unified narrative and closed argument’ will be constructed in a similar way: ‘ the central core of most books will probably continue to be authored by a lone author’.

Interestingly there are some writers who are breaking the mould, one of whom happens to be my son. He and a collaborator, Natasha Soobramanien, have,

recently begun work on a joint novel-length project. This will tell the story of the Chagossian islanders and their illegal expulsion from the Chagos archipelago in the 1960s at the hands of the British government, in order to expedite the leasing of the largest island, Diego Garcia, to the US government for use as a military base. …

This will be a ‘hybrid work’ which uses a variety of documents and texts both fiction and non-fiction.

Luke continues:

Apart from the Italian collective who write as Luther Blissett, I don’t know of other writers currently working this way. Collaborative practice seems to be more common in contemporary art practice.

Interesting times.

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