• Oral Tradition and Internet Technology by John Miles Foley

What is a text in the Pathways Project?

For the purposes of the Pathways Project, the term “text” refers to a tAgora item, an objective and static thing. It is ownable and available asynchronously as a whole entity. It is exchanged under applicable rules, very often under stringent copyright laws rather than Creative Commons licenses or open source agreements. A text does not vary within limits. It supports trekking through lines and pages and volumes, not surfing through networks as in the oAgora and eAgora (after all, even morphing books can morph only to a limited degree). It is conventionally the creation of a single individual, rather than the product of distributed authorship. Most basically, with the exception of the reader’s own individual trajectory of discovery and reception, reality does not remain in play within texts.

Still, and in harmony with the Pathways Project policy of avoiding oversimplification and respecting diversity within all three agoras, let’s be sure to emphasize that “text” also designates a broad spectrum of possibilities. All the way from symbols of/on clay in the third millennium BCE to static eFiles in pixels, the genus of text consists of many different, culturally defined species. But in one way or another, they all occupy the tAgora, which contrasts markedly with the fundamentally homologous oAgora and eAgora.

Textless agoras

Thus defined, texts cannot exist in the oAgora or the eAgora. The closest we can come to oAgora texts is an audio or video facsimile of a performance, but in fact these multimedia reflections don’t really belong to the oral marketplace. Why not? Well, you can’t navigate them because they have no pathways. Nor do they sponsor interactivity or variation within limits. Similarly, true texts can’t prosper in the electronic marketplace, for precisely the same reasons.

With these things in mind, how broadly does the term and idea of “intertextuality” apply across the three agoras?

Etymological background

As one perspective, consider that the word derives from two distinct and well-known roots. Inter straightforwardly means “between,” stemming from Latin, while the history of “text” is more complex. Its Proto-Indo-European root, *tek, signifies “make,” and has many ancient Greek derivatives. But Latin textus, the past participle of texere (“to weave”), means literally “a thing woven.” In Later Latin it narrows considerably to indicate a “written account, content, characters used in a document,” and then in fourteenth-century English comes to mean “wording of anything written.” Once woven, texts are difficult or impossible to unweave (thus the miracle of Penelope’s unweaving the “text” of Laertes’ shroud to hold her suitors at bay for twenty years in Homer’s Odyssey).

Intertextuality depends on textual ideology

If we ideologically condone the myth that knowledge, art, and ideas can be contained in brick-and-mortar artifacts, then we can hypothesize interrelationships between and among the works so contained. An early novel, construed as a self-contained entity, can easily be understood as exerting influence on a later novel, for example. As we further concretize and locate those works = texts by specifying their individual authors and historical-cultural contexts, we can begin to construct a relationship of intertextuality to explain them. “Between-texts” becomes an operative field for inquiry and interpretation.

But not so in the oAgora or eAgora. If reality remains in play, and in these two agoras that amounts to the central algorithm of communication, then we’re simply not dealing with texts. Only if we’re willing to subscribe to the twin illusions of object and stasis can we conjure the kinds of fixed items to which the “inter” in “intertextuality” refers. The presence of pathways, which support co-creativity and distributed authorship, is anathema to this “between-texts” approach.

In the end, texts and intertextuality are possible only in the tAgora. In the oAgora and eAgora the operative dynamic is recurrence rather than repetition, variation within limits rather than fixity, and built-in contingency rather than freestanding authority. If we propose to transact responsible agora-business, then we must we prepared to become citizens of multiple agoras.

Words, worlds, and multiple fluency

Pathwayless texts constitute one very viable world, familiar and extremely useful, and we must not sell short a marketplace that has made such enormous difference to homo sapiens from early December of our species-year onward. But navigation through networks is another world altogether, an oWorld that long preceded writing technology and an eWorld that, although only very recently discovered, is already opening tremendous new vistas for thinking, expressing, transmitting, and learning.

To put it as directly as possible, tWords aren’t the same as oWords or eWords. Fluency in all three agora-languages—giving each one its due—must be our goal.