Friday, March 23, 2012

Textual Dimensions: Space and Time

To quote an old favourite, 'a text is not a line of words releasing a single "theological" meaning (the "message of the Author-God") but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash' (Roland Barthes, 'The Death of the Author', Image, Music Text, p. 146 [here:]). Barthes' article, and a great deal of subsequent agonizing by critics, places the author in the background and the onus on the reader. I don't agree with Barthes's view, but this quotation alone provides us with a theory that can work well for determining the nature of every text, including those where authorship is the key element of textness (such as Dickinson, Shakespeare, and even Kurt Cobain's Journal); the theory is that of Text as 'multi-dimensional space'. We already know a text 'is not a line of words'; it is anything where there is an intention of meaningful communication. Within the space of Text, conceived of as cogently as possible, all components of Text exist simultaneously.

3-D Wireframe Image

The multi-dimensional space of textual fulfilment is a literal and metaphorical space: literal, in the sense that one might gather up every instantiation of an individual set of text (all editions, all performances, all the epitextual material belonging, for example, to Moby Dick) into one space; metaphorical, because this space can incorporate all of a text's potential for interpretation, including the tricky issue of what we've been--rather dead-endingly--calling 'aura' (after Benjamin). Perhaps if we imagined this space as a pyramid

3D reflected pyramid

we'd be able to hierarchise our textual components, too, so that the dominant textual element could rise to the pinnacle. For some magazines, it might be their ephemeral nature; their lack of authorship per se; their time-boundedness. For oral text, it would be the transience or paratextuality or immediacy. For Dickinson, it would be 'AUTHORity'. 

What Barthes's 'multi-dimensional space' permits, even though this wasn't his intention, presumably, is the conceptualisation of textual fulfilment. Hovering within this space is Benjamin's (impossible?) aura, though this is negligible in some texts' case, and absolutely dominant in others. Perhaps 'aura' can be replaced with 'textual celebrity', 'textual notoriety': simply another element of textness, appended to Context or Epitext?

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