Blazing Saddles

Riding High in the Reading Saddle

If there is such a thing as a pseudo-hypertextual text, Italo Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveler must certainly be considered among the possible candidates. Although Calvino repeatedly uses the authorial technique of cutting within an essentially linear narrative, the multiple story lines, albeit incomplete narratives, contained within the work is reminiscent of the multilinearity of hypertext fiction. Within the first page of his novel, Calvino offers an invaluable insight into the possibility of progression for the reader into a new seat or saddle of power:

Of course, the ideal position for reading is something you can never find. In the old days they used to read standing up, at a lectern. People were accustomed to standing on their feet, without moving. They rested like that when they were tired of horseback riding. Nobody ever thought of reading on horseback; and yet now, the idea of sitting in the saddle, the book propped against the horse's man, or maybe tied to the horse's ear with a special harness, seems attractive to you. With your feet in the stirrups, you should feel quite comfortable for reading; having your feet up is the first condition for enjoying a read. -- (Calvino, 3)

The notion of never being able to find "the ideal position for reading" plays upon both the reader's physical position, as well as, the reader's ideological position. The first situation Calvino delineates, is that of the reader standing "without moving." The indicated lack of movement signifies a passive and unidirectional type of reading devoid of hypertext's capability for flexibility and active participation. The image of a lectern and its association with a linear transfer of information from speaker to audience further enforces a preferred stance of multilinearity and openness in discourse. In addition, Calvino clearly describes this position as an uncomfortable one in comparison to riding high and "sitting in the saddle." In the latter example, the reader now takes his or her place as a driver rather than as a passenger - an interactive jockey as opposed to an adsorptive spectator. Although such an active reader position may appear exhausting at times, the option of more participation, more interaction and, essentially, more power within the text at the very least, delimitizes a text from a singular and centered reading to a labyrinth of readings as described in Borges The Garden of Forking Paths.