The Living Signifier

"Indeed, any concrete discourse (utterance) finds the object at which it was directed already as it were overlain with qualifications, open to dispute, charged with value, already enveloped in an obscuring mist‹or, on the contrary, by the "light" of alien words that have already been spoken about. It is entangled, shot through with shared thoughts, points of view, alien value judgments and accents, weaves in and out of complex interrelationships, merges with some, recoils from others, intersects with yet a third group: and all this may crucially shape discourse, may leave a trace in all its semantic layers, may complicate its expression and influence its entire stylistic profile (The Dialogic Imagination 276)."

Bahktin proposes an alternate way to multiply the signifiers. Indeed, he leaves far less to be speculated than his counterparts do on this issue. Where Barthes emphasizes the structure of the text as a means to animate connotative meaning, Bahktin focuses more on content, leading him to propose the dialogized utterance. That is, in the collisions occurring between a diversity of discourses which inhabit the written prose, meaning becomes an object of controversy. Or actually a result of it. To elaborate, consider the "object" (signified) when used to the effect of denotation. Signification attempts to be straightforward, pinned down, centered. Supposedly, no ambiguity should result. Now, in the spoken event of the utterance, meaning is never secure, especially in a dialogic situation. The parties involved throw meaning into doubt, use it to their own conflicting ends; essentially, the object is up for grabs, never issued in singularity. Thus, even the internal concept that the signifier refers to finds itself being mutated. The object cannot be expressed without some social determination because, to be sure, the object is at once conceived and called into beingby the interactive circumstances it is placed in. In the heteroglot text, connotations diffuse right before the reader's eyes. When Bahktin argues for prose that more closely accords to social communication, he acknowledges the word as a fundamentally living entity.

Hypertext, quite frankly, is the ideal medium to house interactive prose in. Different voices may inhabit separate lexias, and interrupt, question, and call out to each other across the myriad thresholds of electronic links. The placement of a link signifies a swift interpolation of another's discourse. In other words, a reading trail can be cut and redirected toward another voice that puts a different spin on the subject in question. Print text moves always move unidirectionally: even in dialogic texts, the reader arrives at a new voice through the linear progression of reading down the page; she has to finish "listening" to the one at hand before moving on. Not so in hypertext. In digital space, the text can dialogize at any moment, and the reader can survey all interruptions with a click of a button.

Cyberspace Web Main screen critical theory