The Reader in Question: The Process of Text Engagement

The Reader in Question:
The Process of Text Engagement

by Rodney CaŅete

Thinking back to middle school, at the peak of pubescent sexual curiosity, one of the more educational outlets to the repressed hormonal chaos permeating through the ranks of seemingly all 6th to 8th grade boys had to have been Mad-Libs. I remember vividly the wonderful textual creations of the many burgeoning writers who avidly sought to fill in the blank spaces, that asked for any noun (common or proper!), verb, adjective or adverb, with the extensive "curse-word" vocab my comrades in perverted publishing had picked up in our Catholic School Yard, during recess of course. At the time, we claimed authorship of our works with adolescent confidence; however, I have now gone on to other creative endeavors; however, in retrospect the complex combination of prefabricated sentences merged with our choice of words brings to light the following questions: Were we the authors for completing the fragments of sentences already partially constructed with our own words? Was it the author who originally composed the complete paragraph or, perhaps, was it the editor who selected which words were to be omitted? In essence, Who or What is the author?

An even more intriguing question is to ask whether or not our placing of words into the Mad-Lib was a form of writing or was it a method of active reading - a manifestation of words we already visualized or wanted to see within the context of the incomplete medium. The differentiation of writing from reading may seem academic but, with the advent of the hypertext environment, that clear-cut polarity between the writer and reader begins to degenerate. George Landow begins his chapter on Reconfiguring the Author in his book Hypertext by stating that,

...hypertext reconfigures - rewrites - the author in several obvious ways. First of all, the figure of the hypertext author approaches, even if it does not entirely merge with, that of the reader; the functions of reader and writer become more deeply entwined with each other than ever before. This transformation and near merging of roles is but the latest stage in the convergence of what had once been two very different activities... Hypertext, which creates an active, even intrusive reader, carries this convergence of activities one step closer to completion; but in so doing, it infringes upon the power of the writer, removing some of it and granting it to the reader. -- (Landow 76)
Not only is a theoretical power of access established into a text's panoply of discourses but on a greater level entrance into a national language also remains a possibility. In addition, this Foucaultian notion of language's equivalence to power is even more extant within the realm of hypertextuality because the reader simultaneously exerts a presence and asserts a personal direction through the actual decision making opportunities afforded within hypertextual literature. Whereas the sovereignty of the author within linear literature further establishes the distinction between writer and reader, the advent of hypertext does something quite different. While calling for the death of an author hypertext invites the author's reincarnation, reinvention and/or rebirth. Perhaps, it is not so much the "entwinement" of author and reader as Landow suggests, as it is the genesis of an entirely new literary entity. Through hypertext, the concept of the reader evolves into a new creation that utilizes a new type of power rather than simply infringing upon the power of the author.