Introduction: popular textualities

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Author: Kenneth Womack
Date: Summer 2007
From: College Literature(Vol. 34, Issue 3)
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Document Type: Essay
Length: 3,077 words
Lexile Measure: 1670L

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This special focus section considers the intriguing interconnections that exist between popular culture and the allied disciplines of textual criticism and bibliographical studies. In particular, it addresses the many ways in which we are only just beginning to formulate a critical vocabulary for describing--much less comprehending--the increasingly fluid nature of textuality. How, indeed, do textual theory and bibliographical scholarship inform our understanding of cultural artifacts, their popularization, and their reception into the cultural and critical main--especially in a rapidly shifting marketplace in which text, more often than not, does not find its materiality in the pages of a book? As cultural studies continues to challenge our conceptions of the borders of literary and textual studies, issues regarding the nature of what constitutes a text have become increasingly significant in our post-print culture. In addition to involving such controversial subjects as the interrelationships between high and low culture and the component differences between material and nonmaterial texts, the essays in this special focus section explore the manner in which we receive and interpret a wide variety of texts--from works of popular serial fiction and the transhistorical literary imagination through film adaptation and popular music. (1)

How do textual theory and bibliographical analysis account for the textuality of such a wide array of authorial (and, in some cases, nonauthorial) forms, particularly in terms of the Byzantine nature of their construction, production, and dissemination? Perhaps even more significantly, how do we approach the act of teaching this important aspect of textual theory to new generations of students for whom textuality has become an increasingly diffuse and convoluted concept--a generation for whom textual stability is becoming progressively more irrelevant? For many contemporary "readers," the concept of narrative-driven works of art, whether they be artifacts of high or low culture, concerns the nature and rapidity of its systems of distribution, its value determined almost entirely by the end-user's capacity for negotiating its acquisition, its storage, and the ease of its consumption. A century ago, the textuality of narrative was delivered to users almost universally via the physical properties of the traditional book, magazine, and newspaper forms. Within a scant few decades, books were joined by the radio airwaves as principal means of textual distribution, to be followed, in short order, by cinema and television. The advent of computer technology transformed, in rapid and radical fashion, existing forms of distribution while acting as the catalyst for new eras of textuality as witnessed by the evolution of digital storage media that have irrevocably altered the ways in which we consume not only books, but all manner of music and video in the process.

This incredible shift in the production, distribution, and consumption of our cultural artifacts--our popular textualities, if you will--necessitates an ongoing interrogation of text and its multiplicities of variation. The ideology of text, in and of itself, is deceptively simple. Mikhail M. Bakhtin's working definition of text includes "any coherent complex of signs" (1986, 103). For Roland Barthes, the text exists as a locus...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A166937171