What Matters Who Writes? What Matters Who Responds?

Andrea Lunsford, Rebecca Rickly, Michael Salvo, and Susan West

The notion of "reader functions" is particularly intriguing when applied to teachers, I think, for it gives us a strong interpretive frame for interrogating the way we function as gatekeeper when we read for grades, and so on. Indeed, the thrust of Foucauldian analysis--up until his very latest works--was toward demonstrating the futility of dwelling on questions like "who writes?" and "who responds?," showing over and over again the ways in which the larger discourses of society craft both what we think we write and how we think we read and/or respond. Thus far I have been sketching in very rapidly some of the theoretical work in literary and composition studies that has challenged traditional conceptions of who writes and who responds. (Example: how much of this essay am "I" writing? How much is Lisa writing with me? How much is Becky? Michael? How much of this essay comes from the words and work of Foucault and others? How much comes from my taking on the role assigned to me: keynote speaker? How much comes from the language of the academy, the conventions of academic discourse that lead me to stay "on topic" instead of veering off to tell you about my most current worries and fears and sadnesses? Second example: how much of "my" response to our reading of this conference is shaped and coded by what is acceptable and what is not; by what kinds of subjects are valued in our field and what kinds are not....and so on?) But beyond the examples I've just provided, and beyond the mostly theoretical work in our field of English studies, the electronic revolution presents massive challenges to received notions of autonomous, free-willed, stable, uniquely creative "authors" and equally autonomous, free-willed, stable, uniquely creative "readers" or "responders." Indeed, in cyberspace, reader/responder and author/writer often merge, voices collapse and multiply, often belonging to no single source--or even to a person, and familiar notions of textuality and especially of where meaning resides are all called into question. In many ways, the traditional labels of "reader," "writer," and "text" don't even name useful distinctions anymore. In a long and fascinating essay in the current issue of Wired,  for example, Esther Dyson argues that value will no longer reside in content (text) or in the producer of the content (author) or even in the user of the content (reader)--but in the relationships surrounding and nurturing the movement of content through networks of users and producers (182-84).
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Postmodern (un)grounding * Collaboration * Copy(w)right/Ownership * Possible Futures

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