About the Site

Welcome! You may have navigator here because I bothered you enough on Facebook or Twitter; or maybe you saw posters of King Arthur hanging up in coffeeshops and bookstores. Regardless, thanks for visiting! Browse around, post some stuff so that we can generate some conversation, or, if you don’t have the time currently, take this short survey about reading!

I’ve had some people come up to me and say “I looked at your site, but I don’t know what to do with it. How do I use it?”

Sorry for the confusion! I guess I have neglected the wise words of Spongebob Squarepants: “K.I.S.S.–Keep It Simple Stupid!” What I’d love to hear about from you is just what is going through your mind when you’re reading any given text. What about the physical make-up of a book is it that appeals to you so much that you feel compelled to read it? Why do you think that is? 

Hopefully this clears things about a bit; and thanks for pointing it out to me! It’s ironic that while I’m trying to spark a discussion about casual reading, I have made things anything-but-casual

 

READ ON! (Extended About)

One who writes is an author. They think about something, put a draft to paper, edit (sometimes), and create final copies. If they’re lucky, they get published to some extent. That text, in an array of different formats, is picked up by one who reads: a reader.

Easy, yes? Sure. That’s the most basic relationship between author and reader. But it doesn’t discuss the nuances and possible variations within the author-reader relationship. Most critical readers have considered the ideas of primary authorship, reader-response and deconstructionist criticism. One who writes is an author; but once that author’s product has been shared, where does the ownership of the text lie? What do we do with the text? Better yet, why do we make text? It could be to put forth an idea as a means of sharing or as a self-promoting claim. But it could also be for mere entertainment value. There are modes of writing (novels, nonfiction, poetry, journalism, etc.) and then there is writing ABOUT writing. Why this extension? Well, perhaps in part because it demonstrates our desire and ability to connect on some level of critical discussion. Today, the degree to which all writing is critical is debatable (and surely it was hundreds or thousands of years ago), but the fact remains that we write, edit, rework ideas, pass them around, comment upon each others work.

What I’m interested in aside from what’s just been stated, is the ways in which textual presentation plays a role in written communication. We usually wouldn’t call a physical line of text “art.” Typically we associate the ideas and underlying philosophy as the “art.” (Consider things like the discussions of Aristotle’s Poetics and similar works). But most texts have a deliberate format. Why? What are the considerations involved? These are amongst some of the many questions asked and addressed in my Technology of Texts class at Northeastern University; but I am curious what others–not ONLY English majors–might have to say about this. They read too! And they’re an informed group! And their group is much larger than the smaller community of English students! (And these groups are not so separate as I am making them seem).

I live in Boston, and people here are both qualified and, hopefully, interested in joining in on this discussion. So I’ve been going around to local coffee shops, libraries, and other “gathering” locations posting compelling displays to get this discussion started. The posts are mostly pictures of different copies of a work of literature of some sort with a few quick, thought-provoking questions about how the versions differ aside from just appearance. What is the “art” in each? And the posts have links to this site and the corresponding Twitter handle: @whichtextswork. My hope is that the discussion will spread, and that the site will gain a bit of popularity, generating some intriguing discussion that people can borrow when they next sit down to read, whatever their intention may be.

So, as the Twitter handle suggests: what texts work? Do the different manifestations of a single text carry different meanings? How different? Does the author have control over this? Can we “change” the author by changing the format? And why is it important to consider all this? The last is a question that I should be answering, seeing as I’ve created this project for my own curiosity; but it’s one that I think we should all keep with us while we read. Read through some of the texts I’ve suggested on the “Texts to Work With” page, post to the Blog, share with your friends, and let’s get talkin’!

5 Responses to About the Site

  1. Joe D says:

    The development of text and written communications roughly parallel human the evolution of man and history. As humans have evolved and the incident’s of history have unfolded , written text has changed alongside it, sometimes as an incident, sometimes as a coincident.

    Text is often used to include or exclude engagement. There are long periods of history where academic engagement was not openly shared and rather an exclusive activity. This is why for centuries text was a manuscript was overtly ornate in format and rather difficult to read because in fact, it was meant not to be read by anyone, but only an exclusive few.

    Differences in languages and nuances in cultural diversity also imposed almost infinite iterations of text. Bear in mind that text was embedded in materials as paparus or blocks of wood and later paper. Related to Western Culture only : The proliferation of human thought to be shared collectively by mankind did not become a widely embraced notion until the Reformation in Western Europe. It is no coincidence that a political-religious statement of dissent that swept Europe and known as the Reformation , coincided with the development of the publication and the press. This perhaps is the first revolution that was lead by text and not weapons. The thoughts carried by the printed words and widely disseminated were the weapons.

    The Industrial Revolution ushered in more widespread acceptance of the notion that ideas, philosophies and explanation of our existence and position in the universe through science could be done through the printed word and therefore books no longer were the exclusive purview of an elite educated class . Whereas, up to this point the notion that the written word was to be gazed upon and contemplated on only by an educated class, the written word now was for the masses. It is therefore no coincidence that the evolution of text and its comprehensive availability through technological means ushered in massive social change and political upheaval . Thankfully, the written word so shared, also proliferated knowledge and the evolution of the human mind to grasp the realities of its potential and limitations became a reality .

    The 19th and 20th century ushered in the fledgling beginnings of the Information Age. Text in all its variety of written and printed form , and as it became available in electronic form ( ie. Morse code) became integrated in the daily lives of most people even if there was a limited level of education applied. The expansion of the newspapers and mass dissemination of information became an integral aspect of the human condition.

    Today text has reached a crescendo of variety, from digital , to electronic, to physical forms in an astounding variety. There is virtually no barrier to entry to access the written word, read it, write it and manipulate it. This presents both opportunities and dangers to individuals who can easily create liabilities for themselves by violating laws, protocols and traditions that offend the reader.

    Today writers face a level of risk that in centuries past , only radical writers of dissenting philosophies assumed. Technologies enable writers to impose their ideas for either self-gratification , hidden agenda or to attempt to control the thoughts and behavior of others The risk therefore is created for both the writer and the reader in the form of legal liability through libel, reputation damage or imposing one’s will.

    Text, the generation of it as a writer and the acceptance of it as a reader also create marvelous opportunities to confirm the limits of our humanity and to promote well being , harmony and a sense a vision of limitless possibilities.

    Alas, the written word remains a two edged sword.

    Joe D

    • You’ve said a couple of really interesting things in this response:

      1) The “evolution” from thought to language, then from language to thought: This brings to question how necessary it was for humans to develop this communication system. We began with nonverbal communication, and graduated to types of signing and gesturing (smoke symbols, etc). When that proved inefficient and unsatisfactory, we began to move towards the spoken word, then written language. This written language, as you’ve pointed out, was great for those that had the ability to interact in this medium. But it was perhaps overly exclusive. It allowed a select group to progress at an increasingly rapid pace (the way our technology is improving at an exponential rate) while leaving the rest behind–at least for the time being. The non-readers were being governed by those with access to books, going off of SPOKEN language rather than written. Alongside this, we can begin to question whether one mode of language is preferable to the other. Is either spoken or written language more/less trustworthy, accurate, efficient, etc.? I believe any answers to this question are complicated. Written language (unless your a stream-of conscious modernist or you benefit from “strange fits of passion” like William Wordsworth) is perhaps more premeditated than spoken. Again, benefit or hinderance? At once, that allows a writer to make what they’re saying more precise; but that also means that they are prone to add more layered, complex language to a written piece. This only becomes more difficult in the digital age, where text posted online isn’t necessarily as secure–there a web editors, hackers, etc. along with vast circulation that may lead to the mixing of messages (imagine, as James Gleick does in “The Information,” children playing a game of telephone…). If I were to argue this point however, I’d say “thank goodness for cut & paste!” But I’m not sure that that suffices.

      2) You also talk about the written language, especially when posted online, as being somehow fragile or manipulatable as I was just gesturing towards. Consider these lines by Wallace Steven from “The Man on the Dump.” In the poem, he speaks of things being obscured by the containers they are placed in…sort of like the Shrodinger cat theory. He does this to talk about the potential infallibility of words. In the last lines of the poem, he asks why we write: “is it to eject, to pull / The day to pieces and cry stanza my stone? / Where was it one first heard of the truth? The the.” Basically, he wants to know have we begun to rely on these words too much, because they are only a container for the thing that they describe. If that’s the case, when did we first HEAR truth–the only truth of words would exist in onomatopoetic words. What we should be concerned with is “the the”, the thing itself. This extends your idea of unstable online language back to language itself!

      3) I like how you say that broader swath of writers now assume risk in writing. Is that because, across the board, we are more knowledgable in these discourses? The risk of the writer is not the same as the risk of the reader, though both are at risk. In this case, why do we continue to read and write??? Well, it’s fun. It brings you to a place that you don’t intimately know through the eyes of someone else who has been there, or invented there. It stimulates the imagination to reconcile the places you know with the places you’ve never seen. William Carlos Williams gestures towards this in “The Eyeglasses”: it seeks a “universality of things” through the interaction of reality, abstraction, and imagination. Perhaps, what we seek is that universality while we conversely try to make distinctions between the different objects around us and how they work on their own. Perhaps not?

      • Joe D'Amore says:

        Risks for writers have increased because technology enables people to assume writings without eliminating identity of writer and associate it with a thought they object too. Therefore, one can intentionally inflict reputational or situationational damage on another without taking the responsiblity of writing words to support his/her thought, by borrowing someone’s written text and weilding it as a confirming tenent to support a dissenting position. Social media and intenet based blogs are replete with this .

        STREET VERSION: : People steal written material from writers not by assuming their writings and eliminating them as the source, but assigning both the writing and the writer attached to a comment to promote the illusion that the writer agrees with the poster.

        Social Media gives everyone the opportunity to act like the determined psch patient who continunally interviews psychiatrists until he /she finds one who delivers the diagnosis he /she seeks ( aka; finds someone that agrees with him / her) {tongue & cheek}

  2. Gabby says:

    Forgive me if I am not completely answering the prompt but I will give it my best shot! What I love about reading the text in a book in particular is that as I am reading, the words serve as tangible foundations for my own imagination. When one reads a book, it is a special experience because the text itself presents ideas for the reader to expand upon in their mind. In that way, the reader is an essential element of the narrative. I think that is a big reason why so many people enjoy certain books more than their movie counterparts, and if a movie is being made from a beloved book, it is held to very high expectations. For example, the visual and audial elements are presented to the viewer in a movie, whereas these aspects of the story are up to the reader when reading a book. The text serves as a jumping board for a unique and personal experience.

    • Gabby,
      I really dig you’re statement that words serve as tangible foundations for your own imagination. With this statement, it sounds almost like your (our?) imagination is this thing that is suppressed and hidden most of the time, but that reading grants imagination the freedom to roam. I think this speaks volumes as to how we can make a book “our own”: On the one hand, there’s this book, written by this author; and in that book there is an entire imagined world–that in itself is remarkable notion. To steal from TS Eliot: “We cannot call a man’s work superficial when it is the creation of a world;
      a man cannot be accused of dealing superficially with the world which he
      himself has created; the superficies is the world.” (“Selected Essays” pg. 156). On the other hand, we have our own ideals, our own rationality or irrationality that we can justify with the world of the author. How much we choose to mesh the two worlds–allow them to interact–or to contrast them is totally our own doing, because let’s face it, no one can tell you how to read.

      What sticks out about your comment is that you call the presentation of the text a TANGIBLE foundation. It’s as if your imagination NEEDS this object (the book), a thing vested in the real world, in order to explore the imaginary. I realize that I may be taking your argument in a different direction; but if you are hinting at this in any way, I mostly agree with the idea. However, I’d like to push back by asking “What if this “tangible” story were spoken to you aloud, rather than having you read it from a book?” Is it still tangible by the same definition? You made the case that the imagination is not as free if we are watching a movie rather than reading a book. I’m wondering whether a spoken story is just as much of an intrusion/suppression.

      Thanks for your post!

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