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The Riderly Text: The Joy of Networked Improv Literature

Critical Writing
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2015
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This essay aims to discuss literary pleasure, new media literacy, and networked improv literature (netprov). In particular, the author will discuss the challenges of "close-reading" the Speidishow, a netprov enacted via Twitter (and a constellation of supplementary web-based media) over a period of several weeks. In the process of trying to understand the dynamics of reading on Twitter, the author of this essay created a Twitter account, @BrutusCorbin, and consulted with the writers about plot structure. Through active engagement with the fictional world, Corbin quickly became embroiled in a sub-plot. Seeking distance from the active plots which Corbin was involved in, his author created two new characters, @FelixMPastor and @FrannyCheshire, to explore different aspects of the fictional world. Pastor and Cheshire were subsequently dragged into the story, as well. This piece will dig into the concept of the "readerly" and "writerly" text as identified by Roland Barthes in S/Z and The Pleasure of the Text and settle on a third term: "the riderly text." Identifiying in social media consumption the culture of casual contribution (via the circulation of links, liking, sharing, retweeting, and commenting), I argue that Barthes' initial designation of popular, default practices as "readerly" can be applied to the "writerly" performances of such reading encapsulated in new media literacies as occasions for superficial forms of closure and public displays of consent or dissent for or against its determined content. In this milieu, the netprov arrives as "riderly" form, requiring "writerly" performance as an occasion for "readerly" engagement, but offering plurality, not in the text that precedes its current state of publication, but in the improvisational character of its progression. Thus, the critical reader must be at once read in the denotated world as it progresses (and its profusion of authority) and write the connotations into its atmosphere. The net result is a compromised criticism, of the sort you are reading, in which conventional critical distance collapses for the sake of interpretation. In its place, however, the riderly text opens a critical distance to process, platform, and the conditions of discursive authority in social media.

(Source: Author's abstract in Hyperrhiz)

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Scott Rettberg