[Colonial & Postcolonial Theory]

The Performative and Processual: A Study of Hypertext/Postcolonial Aesthetic

Unitary and Unilinear Text/Networked or Multilinear Text

Part One: Shifting Textual Boundaries

Jaishree K. Odin, University of Hawaii at Manoa

A print text exists in isolation as a bound volume. Even on a bookshelf its existence is solitary, since it defines its own space separate from other texts. Print text is associated with permanence, durability, and authorship. The society based on print culture relies on individual acts of writing as well as reading which has promoted notions of individuality, originality, and creativity. The distinction that we make now between the original and the copy came into existence with the rise of print culture. Printing made it possible for the mass production of identical copies which could be distributed widely amongst people separated geographically as well as historically. Since thousands of copies of the same text could be available to people geographically or historically separated, it gave rise to a mode of scholarship that valued original texts in their purity (Eisenstein 1993). In the earlier scribal and partially oral cultures, the concept of authorship was very different and did not have the same meaning that it has nowadays. In the East, for example, authors of preprint era attributed their work either to their teachers or they described them as a revelation. In the commentaries of the ancient texts, too, the focus is on the tradition rather than on the authors who wrote these works. The origin of these ancient traditions is usually associated with nebulous historical or mythical figures. When one studies any corpus of such texts along with the commentaries, one tends to think more in terms of collective authorship than an individual author.

Unlike a print text, a hypertext is a networked text where each text is connected to every other text directly or indirectly. As George Landow points out the links connecting different texts shift "the boundaries between one text and another as well as between the author and the reader" (33), which leads to the disappearance of any fixed central text. In fact the center is continually reconfigured with the transforming narrative trajectory. Hence, the notion of authorship changes in electronic media. The boundary that separates the writer and the reader in print media are not as sharply defined in the hypertextual media where the reader is actively involved in the act of reading and presented with a variety of options as to the direction the reading can take. While reading a print book, the reader has no choice but to follow the linear development of narrative where the secondary sources remain what they are --as supplementary material to support the main narrative. The print media thus makes it easy to maintain as well as perpetuate the illusion of a separate and self-contained main text. The same text when transferred to the electronic media where secondary sources appear as linked documents would not only exist as dispersed into other texts, but it would also continually find its primary text status being threatened as the reader jumps into the linked documents with the potential for new narrative trajectories which would momentarily or permanently displace the original text or the text from which the reader started. In electronic media, therefore, "(l)ack of textual autonomy, like lack of textual centeredness, immediately reverberates through conceptions of authorship" and "the unboundedness of the new textuality disperses the author as well" (Landow 74).

The fluidity of the electronic media allows the texts to be "in a perpetual state of reorganization. They form patterns, constellations, which are in constant danger of breaking down and combining into new patterns. This tension leads to a new definition of unity in writing, one that may replace or supplement our traditional notions of the unity of voice and of analytic argument" (Bolter 9). As Michael Joyce rightly points out, in our experience of interactive arts we create structures that are "transitory, evocable, multiple, and generative They are, in short, what happens as we go, the essential communication between the artist who gave way and the viewer who now gives ways to see" (207). Contours, marking the multiple trajectories in the open text, involve both "interaction and enaction" which is realized through relationships that various textual units or lexias forge with one another as the reader navigates through the body of texts. Thus, "contour is ground as the mode of spatialization, the manner of being both in space and for space. A contour is the space of inscription for a reader, the emerging surface of the constructive text as it is shaped by its reading" (239).

Postcolonial OV PoCo Theory Themes