This is fun, Eric and Mick. I've never been able to accept the phrase, "death of the author" and all that is meant by it. I certainly haven't seen the hypertext yet that has removed an author. Even the most progressive stuff, Eastgate's collections, come with authors attached and intact. In the piece I wrote for the soon to be released issue of Kairos, I use the term 'author' to refer to anyone who contributes to a web site. In the main I was referring to what would usually be called collaborators or co-writers. In this sense that's a group of two or more that decides to co-write a piece and then the members plan out the work. But in web sites which allow readers to interact in some way, each reader becomes a part of the piece. The piece's authority--its argument and what it means, or what it can mean (if we want a reader response shade)--changes everytime someone adds to the matrix by contributing a comment or creating a link. Thus what the author of a hypertext is a cumulative entity, but only when the hypertext allows this to be so. The value of this accumulation depends upon how well it can be navigated. I think this is where hypertext falls down. In part, as Joyce has written, this is to be expected. He knew not everyone would be able to wade into Afternoon, A Story as easily as they enter into a book. In part, that has to do with simply technologic barriers--figuring out the hypertext and what you can do with the technology, be it StorySpace or the WWW. In part, however, it has to do with time and attention. Hypertext of the kind we are imagining, that's cumulative and shifting, and intertextual and where readers can become writers, requires more time than reading a book. One of the benefits of books is that they are edited down, restricted, and confined. One of their pleasures is they provide a beginning, a middle and an end. One of the nice things about a works cited on paper is that because you come across it miles from the nearest library, you may as well finish the essay you're reading before you go off and chase down a source. So I don't think we'll have hypertexts that are entirely cumulative, entirely democratic and entirely authorless. We will have degrees of expansion and inclusion, but I think there will always be some center place, some starting point, though one does not always have to enter through that point. I think it's a matter of gravity and alignment, of orbit and from whence (to mix the metaphor) the web spins. Whether its maps or homepages, there needs to be some intelligible navigational system. There's always going to be some organizing principle. How that principle becomes and the person who or group that makes it become will be the primary author, the shapers, the architects, the storytellers, the map makers, the collectors, the add your own metaphor, who(m) hold the piece together. In many ways I think the author is more alive now and more important now than ever before. I think that if people don't learn more about the technology of hypertext, the literacy of hypertext, and don't develop the sensibility and habits of mind and time to move in and become part of hypertext, they're at greater risk, because of hypertext's greater complexity, of becoming a prisoner to it. As cowed by people were by print and as timid as many of our students are to challenge books, at least those are forms that are recognizeable and can be countered by different arugments--the benefit of free speech. But if hypertext makes speech so free that it becomes a babble, and people can't follow what's being said, or if hypertext is more controlled than even print has been, we're in trouble. So it's necessary to teach critically, of course, and necessary for students to have courses on the Net, with StorySpace in classrooms, and to learn this new literacy. Faigley's warning from last year (captured in most re- cent _CCC_) goes to this point. I think lurking behind this as well are issues of class, leisure, time and access, attention, and need. All the utopic and ideal and hopeful odes to hypertext won't amount to much until we find a way to account for and address these issues. The risk is that hypertext will end up like other technologies that promised hope and a new era of human thought and interaction: radio, television, cable. Will we in 30 years be calling all this a vast wasteland?
Answer to Porush