Sunday, March 09, 2014

Close Reading Space in Interactive Digital Literature (Thesis Extract Chapter One - Methods and Background)

Close reading  cannot be applied equally to all media as a single method of analysis. For example, the difference between close reading a novel and a digital work can be grounded in the roles of space and interaction and how both contribute to narrative. David Ciccoricco examines this compatibility between close reading and the interactive potentials of digital literature, concluding “we are left with an inherent contradiction for close reading digital literature: one simply cannot close read digital text in the New Critical sense, for reading a text as a text does not work when you can no longer take the "text" to be an idealized abstract site of formal interplay” (Ciccoricco 2012 np). However, Ciccoricco does go on to answer this challenge by referencing I. A. Richards’ famous statement, “a book is a machine to think with” (Richards 1). By developing a close reading that includes the material Ciccoricco proposes a re-evaluation of it as a method of analysis that is related to the re-creation that takes place in all reading. This close reading of digital literature includes a focus on the meaning-making machine that is the material work. It is the contention of the following study that the material specifics of the digital work as a text are dominated by the spatial in a system that is both interpreted and interacted with, for the purposes of narrative formulation.

Close reading can explain the interpretive possibilities as well as the changes brought about by reader interaction with  the spatial and multimodal dimensions of digital works of literature. In order to analyze such interaction and interpretation, my close reading follows Jan Van Looy and Jan Baetens’ method whereby

Reading is always an act of dismembering, or tearing open in search of hidden meanings. ‘Close’ as in ‘close reading’ has come to mean ‘in an attentive manner’, but in the expression ‘to pay close attention’, for example, we still have some nearness […] when it comes to close reading the text is never trusted at face value, but it is torn to pieces and reconstituted by a reader who is always at the same time a demolisher and a constructor (9-10).

Van Looy and Baetens’ material metaphor of dismemberment combines design and address in the creation of narrative. “The text is never trusted at face value” and reading follows a process of interpretive interaction (“pay close attention”) and physical process (“torn to pieces”). Opening the digital text and its interpretation include a presence for the reader within its spatial structures, searching for an epiphany in its “hidden meanings”. In opening up these works as spaces, and studying closely how they can be navigated and re-arranged, it is the material components that guide interpretation. The material elements combine in the design of space in perspective and the emphases of the monumental. This process is a combination of “a pre-digital historical conception of close reading and the sort of materially-conscious hermeneutics that digital textuality requires” (Ciccoricco 2012 np). I demonstrate the combination of traditional close reading with an interpretive awareness of the material in my attention to the spatial possibilities of the digital works.

My close reading combines the material components of the digital texts in its focus on the spatial. David Ciccoricco describes such a reading as the “close analysis of the individual components that comprise its topology” (Ciccoricco 2012 np). Ciccoricco argues “scholars of digital textuality are determined to move away from the dominant paradigm of a textual topography, and instead speak more accurately of textual topology” (2012 np).  This contrast between topography and topology is important for understanding how I apply close reading to the spatial dimensions of the digital works. Topography "originally meant the creation of a metaphorical equivalent in words of a landscape. Then, by another transfer, it came to mean representation of a landscape according to the conventional signs of some system of mapping. Finally, by a third transfer, the names of the map were carried over to name what is mapped" (Hillis Miller 3-4). Thus topography represents space, but is not spatial of itself, with the three examples cited by Hillis Miller (i.e. metaphorical equivalent, representation and the name of what is mapped) being instances of  symbols standing-in for a physical entity. Thus topography is not interactive in the sense space is in the digital works, where the search for Van Looy and Baeten's "hidden meanings" demands a level of interaction that does not operate just on the level of the symbolic. Rather, it is necessary to combine interaction and interpretation in a close reading of the digital texts on the level of topology.

The linearity of topography can be contrasted with textual topology, or  “the material form of network narrative” (Ciccoricco 2007 57), as my focus of close reading the digital interactive works. Hanjo Bresseme qualifies this network as how “structure, texts, images and sounds can be mapped onto and inserted into each other […]. The various media are no longer framed in and thus framed off from each other”  (34). The interdependent framing results in an interactive space

The hypermedia topology is characterized by a conflation of and oscillation between surface and depth, because although the textual traces always appear superficially on the user’s screen […], hypermedial space consists of a multiplicity of levels and layers that are successively folded onto this surface that is, furthermore, used for both reading and writing purposes that thus conflates not only the surface and depths but also the active and the passive onto one spatial plane (Bresseme 34-35).

It is precisely the movement between surface and depth that is realized in reading perspective, focus and the monumental in the digital works of my study. I contend that like all forms of space, the hypermedial is profoundly material in its “multiplicity of levels and layers that are successively folded” (35).[1] I combine the interpretive materiality of surface and depth, levels and layers with the dismemberment of Van Looy and Baetens to create an interactive form of close reading that interprets spatial dynamics in design and address.

By combining topology with the dismembering of the text I devise a close reading that includes the written word and image as well as the spatial dynamics of the navigable, interactive and ergodic in the digital texts. In this way my close reading follows the idea that any analysis of interactive narrative works “must consider the formal, material, and discursive elements of each work as at once distinct and inseparable, each integrated toward the production of meaning” (Ciccoricco 2012 np). The formal is present in the prefaces to the digital texts as prescriptive guides and authorial instructions for reading. The material is made a part of the interpretation of the text in its design. The discursive operates in addressivity and indicates the limited range of responses that can be made to them by the reader. The spatial provides a frame for the integration of these “formal, material, and discursive elements of each work”, and this is what my close reading takes up. I argue throughout my study that the spatial represents a juncture between the materiality and the interpretive possibilities of the digital works. The point of Ciccoricco’s argument, that "digital media do not dispossess us of an interpretive reading practice" (np), strengthens my approach that finds the spatial as interactive and dominant in the formation of narrative. 

In my close reading of the digital works I analyze formal, material and selected discursive elements according to how they are produced by the spatial. Both material and addressive criteria are parts of close reading in the “consideration of the formal, material, and discursive elements of each work as at once distinct and inseparable, each integrated toward the production of meaning” (Ciccoricco 2012 np). The monumental, place, addressivity and perspective are ‘the individual components that comprise its topology’ in my close reading of the spatial. My focus on these elements aligns with Ciccoricco argument that, “it is also necessary to extend discourse of 'spatiality' as it pertains to reading and rereading. It is necessary, that is, to move over and away from the ‘Line’ and into the space of the network ” (Ciccoricco 2007 44). It is precisely this movement from the line of conventional narrative discourse, into the governance by the spatial of interaction with the digital works that is the subject of the following close readings. The shift in analysis from “the ‘Line’” to networked and interactive elements is accomplished through my adaption of the spatial theories of Henri Lefebvre. Space in the digital works is coded according to Lefebvre's concepts of representation of space and representational space.

[1] Bresseme references the “immateriality of the texts” (35), but this seems to contradict the concept of hypermedial space characterized by surface, depth, levels and layers.

Works Cited

Bresseme, Hanjo. 'One Surface Fits All: Texts, Images and the Topology of Hypermedia”. Text and Visuality: Word & Image Interactions 3. Martin Heusser, Martin Heusser, Michèle Hannoosh, Leo Hoek, Charlotte Schoell-Glass & David Scott (Eds.). Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1999. 33-43. Print.

Ciccoricco, David. “The Materialities of Close Reading: 1942, 1956, 2009”. Digital   Humanities Quarterly, 2012 Volume 6 Number 1. 16 August 2012. Web. 25 August 2012

Ciccoricco, David.  Reading Network Fiction. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007. Print.

Hillis Miller, Joseph. Topographies. Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1995. Print.

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Oxford: Basil-Blackwell, 2007. Print.

Richards, I.A. The Principles of Literary Criticism. London: Trubner, 1926. Print. 

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