Robin Petterd,
Songs of Chaos, 1997,
digital image
    In pieces
(write by violent fragments, by splinters.)
  hélène cixous
The following piece of hypertext is a 'quotation' from an e-collaboration assembled by Robin Petterd and Diane Caney. The fiction is that the narrator is imagining the future, textually, for her newborn child -- a child born while she was embroiled in the enormous undertaking of writing her PhD thesis about reading intertextually across media. Assembling the writing and images in a hard-copy production posed difficulties that do not exist when making an assemblage that will be displayed upon computer screen with software that can make texts move and merge and interact with their imagic counterparts.



Countless strands will coalesce and fly away.

She will work at chiselling them into brain tissue -- and then filling the furrows with water she'll watch it funnel down the textual tracks eroding everything as it goes ...

There are strands in this essay: readers; (inter)texts; the child; text-as-room or cell; prisoners; textual & intertextual fields; enmeshments...
They are assembled here, outside your sensation of self, of identity, but how quickly they merge, become familiar, begin to entwine, to infect your own authoring practices. Various ways through this essay/web-site are made available: more linear or paths that are off-beat ...

Readers have always known how to thread together various strands of text and image; thought and dreamscape; imagination and intertextual remembrance. Assembling splinters, fragments, pieces, snippets of cultural artefact: quoting from the world in which we live and out of which today has evolved: ALL this is greatly facilitated by computer software, by learning not only to write, or to paint, but to "author". In the 1990s there has been a great degree of freedom on the web, but as both hard and software advances are made, the next decade will open up new arenas to those wishing to push the boundaries of language.

New technologies will explode the possibilities of authoring. Already the various processes of reading are beginning to dissolve into assembling, editing, filtering, interrogating, desiring, requiring more or less of texts ... the reader-as-author arrives with myriad indenti-kits.

Hélène Cixous proposes that:

Each (word of) sentence of a text has survived the shipwreck of two hundred pages. The process of writing is to circulate, to caress, to paint all the phenomena before they are assembled, crystallized in a word. ... [A]t times what writing does well is this meticulous work that one does not have the time to do, one does not take the time to do when one is not writing. Such that in the end we will not have lived these innumerable intimate events that constitute us because we will not have recognized them. In a book [or on a screen], sometimes, all of a sudden, we see the portrait of a palpitation pass, the portrait of an instant of which we ourselves have been the lead character, without being able to detain it. This is what the ... [text] gives: this (re)cognition that had escaped us. (rootprints 18-19)

The text, then, writes us, even as we assemble, distill, embroider an (inter)textual entity from the array of signifiers ever confronting the immense expanse, both inside and outside our various sensations of self.

The copyright laws that surround ownership of texts continue to be a legal dilemma for those involved in the production of material intertextual works, then, but they cannot really affect the virtual texts created by reader/viewers. Roland Barthes proposes that texts are re-written on readers during the reading process. He writes,

a text is ... a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writing, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture ... The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text's unity lies not in its origin but in its destination. Yet this destination cannot any longer be personal: the reader is without history, biography, psychology; ... [s/he] is simply that someone who holds together in a single field all the traces by which the written text is constituted (156-57 [emphasis added]).
Language could not be understood if readers did not inter-relate phrases read with other phrases read, and those intertextualities with the myriad (inter)texts that are apprehended throughout readers' lives. It would be almost impossible for any reader, however, except those with flawless memories (the mythical 'ideal reader' who exists only in theoretical texts), to hold together every single thing that constitutes a material text, 'all the traces.'

Readers' minds will vary in their abilities to interact with texts, and in their abilities to remember texts. These factors will necessarily affect the degree of intertextual blurring that will take place as readers create virtual texts. Virtual intertextual readings created during any process of reading may differ vastly from the material texts from which they derive. A text's unity cannot be guaranteed when it arrives at its destination. A reader is a vast repository of virtual intertextual readings with which any material text, and any of its traces, may intertext at any time after its inscription upon the space of any reader, thus mutating even at the moment of being read, and continuing to do so thereafter.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari postulate that, '[a] book is an assemblage ... [l]iterature is an assemblage ... A rhizome [rhizomic text] has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things' (4, 25). Deleuze and Guattari want metaphors for writing that allow written works to be described as maps, not tracings:

[t]he map is open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification. It can be torn, reversed, adapted to any kind of mounting, reworked by an individual, group or social formation. It can be drawn on a wall, conceived of as a work of art, constructed as a political action or as a meditation ... A map has multiple entryways, as opposed to the tracing, which always comes 'back to the same.' The map has to do with performance, whereas the tracing always involves an alleged 'competence' (12-13).
Maps are well-suited to describing the intertextualities between written text and written text; image and image; and image and written text; and the relationships of all those artificially-produced material signifiers with the material world that is not 'artificially' produced; as all these (inter)texts are perceived, in varying ways, by different reader-viewers.5.

Intertextualities cannot be traced. They cannot even be mapped for long, as they are always in states of process, flux and motion. Video or computer graphics might represent/metaphorise these (inter)textual processes far more effectively than the comparatively limited medium of black words on paper. Undoubtedly multi-media electronic journal articles will greatly facilitate discussions about intertextuality, especially explorations of readerly intertextual productions that result from reading/viewing intertextually and inter-imagically across textual media.

Accompanying every debate about intertextuality, however, even those produced in multi-media formats, there will always be a vast repository of other intertextualities over which assemblers of material (inter)texts have no control: the unknown myriad virtual-intertextual-collages stored within every reader. Every reader's various notions of identity (and the ways in which those entities are evolving alongside the 'new technology (inter)textual revolution') will inevitably affect the assemblage of her/his intertextual realities.

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Diane Caney, 1998
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  • Barthes, Roland. "The Death of the Author." Twentieth Century Literary Theory. Ed. K. M. Newton. London: MacMillan, 1988.
  • Cixous, Hélène. rootprints: Memory and life writing.Routledge: London, 1997.
  • Deleuze, Gilles & Félix Guattari. "Rhizome." A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Ed. & trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987. 3-25.

  • Robin Petterd, Songs of Chaos, 1997, digital image.
  • 2. Robin Petterd's 'field' forms part of a collaborative work assembled by he and Caney: 'travels towards'. The image is ambiguous and shifting.
  • OED).
  • 4.By new text (or primary text) I mean to infer any text that is being considered as the focus for intertextual exploration. The category of new text is always arbitrary and shifting, depending upon which text has been chosen as the new text (either by a reader, or by a textual analyst). With chronology of production being inconsequential to readers an older text can feasibly be the focus (or the new text) for an intertextual reading with intertexts that chronologically post-date the (older) text's production.
  • 5. I have chosen the semiotic graphic TM to designate transient meanings or transient moments in readerly interaction with texts and their intertexts because of its official meaning, 'Trademark,' which conveniently alludes to the uniqueness of each of these sets, and the personal ownership of the sets. Because meanings, perceptions, contents and surfaces are in continual flux, I prefer to use this symbol to mean transient moments (rather than transient meanings) so as not to delimit what sort of readerly interaction is taking place.
  • 6. The material world, that is not artificially produced (including entities such as trees) is of course 'produced' by readers when they intertext with that world during the reading process. An actual material tree becomes a virtual intertextual reading of a tree in readerly space. My distinction is artificial, but necessary as an intertextual reading strategy.

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