J. M. Pressley
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typewriterReactions to Bolter

My reaction to Bolter's Writing Space is mixed. Bolter is certainly a revolutionary; my questions concern his status as a visionary. Is he a prophet of electronic thought, or is he merely another composition theorist too enthralled with Derrida and Dadaism? Does the revolution in thought brought about by Guttenberg's press bear ultimate fruition in the Information Age? And what are the new roles, responsibilities, and functions of the reader in this new paradigm?

I'll start by saying that my original idea for this response was to create a fully hypertextual document with asides and footnotes that could be read (or ignored) at the reader's whim. Unfortunately, I have not had the wherewithal to accomplish that task, which could have been viewed as either demonstration by example or satire, depending upon what experience the reader wished to bring to the text. C'est la vie.

There are a number of interesting points to be gleaned from Writing Space. I understand his reasoning and think highly of the intent behind creating a more inclusive canon of thought. The democratic appeal of this notion is well-taken. And the idea of e-text being a different animal than the printed page is worthy of examination. However, my reaction to much of Bolter's writing is this: is it a revolution of content, or is it a revolution of organization and accessibility? Ultimately, Bolter is more excited with hypertextuality than content.

I found myself wondering if Bolter views the act of reading as much of an act of self-expression as that of writing. Obviously each reader brings an individual experience to a text when reading it. Yet Bolter creates generalizations about both writers and readers with which I can't agree. Either writing is self-expression, regardless of the "writing space", or it isn't. If the writer wishes to include the reader as more of an active participant in the work, then that is authorial license—and a valid part of this self-expression. But taken to an extreme logical conclusion, if we blur the line between author and audience into non-existence, what value of self-expression remains to the writer? I'm unconvinced that reading (however active) becomes a viable substitute for writing in terms of expressing identity.

Bolter also glosses over a few potential pitfalls of his theory. One such quote that struck me is on page 238, "The Electronic Hiding Place.":

"There is another, more positive way to view the loss of a stable core for our culture. Although we do lose the satisfaction of belonging to a coherent cultural tradition, we gain the freedom to establish our own traditions in miniature."

I may admittedly be taking this the wrong way; however, this quote strikes me as a little blasū given the fragmentation of society that this suggests, even encourages. In a world in which we increasingly face identity crises, Bolter seems to suggest with the above quote that the solution is to abandon ourselves to isolationist enclaves of narrow self-interest factions. Couldn't this be seen as shallow?

With that, I'm off my soapbox.


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