Saturday, September 08, 2012

Thesis Extract - Reader Agency in the Authorial Prefaces

In the prefaces, a depth model of the digital texts attempts to maintain surfaces as the site of reading. This depth model is expressed in images such as a “floating depth framework” (DreamaphageELO). The movement and change suggested by floatation, the distance that comes with depth, and the guidance that is part of any framework summarizes the function of the authorial prefaces in relation to the work. The reader is placed in a dynamic and exploratory relationship to the work, one that is architectural, while at the same time presenting an image from the author’s perspective. In architectural terms, depth is an intrinsic part of the representation of space in the prefaces, particularly because of how it implies movement. The prefatorial portrayal of depth is an attempt to monitor how the “Digital work has the capacity to explore space as a potentially semantic element and to engage with depth and surface in a more explicit and complex way” (Schaffer and Roberts 40). Due to the combined semiotic and spatial nature of the works, which are expressed in both depth and surface composition, a potential gap is filled in analysis. Depth is mainly dealt with in the prefaces in a way that maintains surfaces by referencing architecture.
In the prefaces, reader agency is most often qualified as feedback via the linking and navigational structures in the works. Agency as it is described in the prefaces can be thought of as the reader experiencing “the satisfying power to take meaningful action and seeing the results of our choices” (Murray 2000 126). Implicit in Murray’s conception of agency is a linear system of time, which results in reader feedback over a fairly short intervening period, coupled with a reliance on a clear relationship between cause and effect. Ryan states the use of feedback loops in digital narrative “enables the text to modify itself, so that the reader will encounter different sequences of signs during different reading sessions” (Ryan 2001 206). In contemporary digital works simulations have joined signs, where readers negotiate spaces resembling real places, as they venture deeper into narrative structures. In my close reading of the authorial prefaces for how reader agency is portrayed the concept of reader agency is actually depicted as compliance with the design and address of the texts. This compliance is articulated via tropes grounded in the spatial and narrative elements of the works.
According to the “Behind the Façade” authorial preface, Façade offers the reader a “global agency that is a real influence on the overall story arc, over which topics get brought up, how the characters feel about the player over time and how the story ends” (Mateas and Sterne “Behind the Façade” 2). How the characters may “feel about the player over time” introduces the narrative component of interactive character emotions into the metanarrative of the preface. It is by understanding how the emotions of the characters function in narrative that the reader can have “a real influence” over narrative development. This understanding is based on a feedback-controlled system of response-inviting structures in the work, which are outlined in the preface. How “topics get brought up” refers to the control of procedurality in the narrative of the works, something that is also described in the preface with the use of narrative elements. The use of narrative elements to explain the works reinforces the idea that agency is reader compliance with the design and narrative structures of the digital works. In this way the authorial prefaceBehind The Façade” is based on the premise that agency is a matter of depth, determined by “what’s going on inside the artificial intelligence (AI) of the characters” of Façade (“Behind the Façade” 1).  Agency, as I shall demonstrate through this study in my close readings, is acquired with depth in relation to reading.
         The authorial prefaces remediate print, in the form of the prefaces themselves and the language they use, whereby reading practices from the age of print are established in relation to the digital works. This backwards glance sets up the readings of the works as I describe in this chapter, as surface based, with an interior and exterior through which the reader moves as part of interpretation. The complexity of reading in this arrangement, with surfaces as the primary site but with multiple directions towards an imagined interior, develops Ryan’s argument that “the reader produced by the electronic reading machine will therefore be more inclined to graze [sic] at the surface of the texts than to immerse herself in a textual world or to probe the mind of an author,” (Ryan 1999 99). In the prefaces of this present study the reader is directed, even compelled to move both temporally and spatially towards an interior in the works, as narrative progression depends upon it. However, my analysis shows that the surfaces control immersion in a textual world, based on the power of navigation to hold attention. The establishment of a progression towards an interior in narrative is assisted by remediation in the prefaces, whereby a clear temporal and spatial path can be established; based on goals, quests and architecture, as they are didactically described in print.
In the prefaces remediation exists primarily in references to print. The preface is itself a grafting from print media, and was used for centuries to introduce the printed text to the reader (See de Zepetnek 5-10). The printed preface traditionally “informs the reader of such facts the author thinks pertinent” in regard to its subject text (Holman quoted in de Zepetnek 12). Writing is the sole medium of expression in the authorial prefaces and can be considered remediation in the digital context.[1] The remediation of writing in the digital, as a feature of print, is “the representation of one medium in another” (Bolter and Grusin 44). Along with the adapted form, print is remediated in the prefaces according to what Bolter and Grusin describe as “the mediation of mediation” (56). The “mediation of mediation” is based on the fact that the prefaces mediate the texts objectively, which combines with the subjectivity of the reader to formulate an understanding of the works where “there is nothing prior to or outside the act of mediation” (58). The authorial prefaces are a ‘mediation of mediation,’ both in how they use descriptive rhetoric adapted from print media to explain reading and in the material forms they take. The attribution to a single author, the references to original and copies, to pages and titles are further examples of the remediation of print by the authorial prefaces. Using the referent of print media, the prefaces define the digital work a priori to the reader finding it, and the reader must assimilate these definitions if she is to gain significant agency in reading.

Works Cited

Bolter, J. and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.

Nelson, Jason. “Dreamaphage” Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 1. N. Katherine Hayles, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg, Stephanie Strickland (Eds.) October 2006 Accessed 16 July 2011.

Mateas, Michael. & Andrew Sterne. Behind the Façade. Atlanta: Procedural Arts, 2005.

Murray, H. Janet. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. 1997. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000.

Ryan, Marie-Laure.  Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Schaffner, Anna Katharina, Andrew Michael Roberts. “Rhetorics of Surface and Depth in Digital Poetry”. Revue des Littératures de l’Union Européenne (RiLUnE), n. 5, 2006, p. 37-48.

de Zepetnek, Stevem Tötösy. The Social Dimensions of Fiction: On the Rhetoric and Function of Prefacing Novels in the Nineteenth-Century Canadas. Braunschweig: Vieweg Publishing, 1993.

[1] As I have mentioned in the previous chapter, the reliance on writing contrasts the multimodality of the preface’s subject texts, which includes the remediation of video, designed spaces and audio.

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