Welcome to the Carnival: A Play of Electronic Discourse

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Merna Wells

    Comparative Literature - University of Witwatersrand

Work text
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Welcome to the Carnival: A Play of Electronic Discourse
Merna Wells
Comparative Literature, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
Keywords: Carnival, Electronic, Discourse

In many arenas, particularly that of pedagogy, the use value of new forms of electronic discourse is currently under question. Indeed, whether these forms constitute a new discourse at all is a fundamental historical and philosophical question which needs to be answered. While CD ROMs are usually classified as 'reference' tools and considered of some educational value, other forms, such as Multiple User Domains or CD ROM games, are often considered to be leisure activities engaged in by adolescents with little, if not adverse, educational value. Yet the 'users', not only children, but especially adults, of these addictive electronic mediums is on the increase. Moreover, the increasingly important role these mediums are playing in human life is evidenced by their history. For example, from the relative obscurity of text based Dungeons and Dragons games, known only by a few fantasy enthusiasts, Multiple User domains are now widely used in the Internet environment. This suggests that such mediums are perhaps not transient fads, but in fact something more significant such as new forms of discourse which demand serious study and evaluation.
The research presented here is being done towards a PhD. in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, and is based on just this hypothesis and is a response to the scepticism surrounding the value of these forms. The research is entitled 'The concept of Literature in Cyberspace: Reading Multimedia CD ROMs and on-line Multiple User Domains as Discourse' and focuses on the relationship that the two electronic forms bear to traditional forms of discourse as elucidated by theorists such as Michel Foucault and Mikhail Bakthtin.

On the one hand Foucault has elucidated a series of 'procedures of discourse control' which he sees as operative within discourse of a certain episteme (The Order of Discourse). This involves three categories, namely, 'procedures of rarefaction', control of the speaking subject, and prohibition. With the last of these, Foucault suggests that the 'true discourse' of scientific realism has traditionally been privileged and that it is against this dominant discourse that all others are measured. Part of the research hypothesis is that this true discourse is being reinstated or extended today in the naturalising multimedia format of, for example, 'reference CD ROMs'.

By contrast, Multiple User Domains appear to be continuing a tradition of what Bakhtin has called 'novelistic discourse' (From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse). With its asynchronicity, many users, and fictional form, Multiple User Domains have been described as a 'kind of electronic masquerade party' which is strongly reminiscent of the 'carnival' from which novelistic discourse emanates (Slouka.1996:46-7). Bakhtin argues that the latter form has, however, traditionally tended to subvert the dominant discourse. Hence part of the research is interested not only in tracing the resemblances and differences between these two forms and traditional discourse but also in elucidating the relationships which they bear to each other. Whether MUDs are as subversive as suggested by the decentralising influence of the Internet (which has proliferated despite attempts to control it both by business and governments), and the apparent 'counterculture' it hosts, forms a central question in the research. These are thus some of the questions which are to be raised in the poster presentation proposed for the conference.

The presentation will be realised both as a World Wide Web page entitled 'Carnival: A Play of Electronic Discourse', and as a hardcopy printout of a Microsoft Powerpoint presentation. The purpose of the Web site is to invite interaction from users to enable both the research and the site, as a creative demonstration of some of the possibilities of electronic discourse, to grow. For example, a MUD link on the home page will provide a space for discussion and exchange of ideas about the topic and the site. Email responses re. the former will also be invited in the site introduction. The MUD site will also be linked to other interesting MUD sites and will include hypertext links to text and images, as suggested above, exploring the title concept. In this way the research project aims to actively explore, represent and analyse both the 'live' and multimedia facilities of electronic discourse.

Foucault. Michel. 1991. The Order of Discourse. In Young. Robert. Untying the Text. London: Routledge.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1988. From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse. In Lodge. David. Modern Criticism and Theory.

Slouka. Mark. 1996. War of the Worlds. London: Abacus.

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at Queen's University

Kingston, Ontario, Canada

June 3, 1997 - June 7, 1997

76 works by 119 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ALLC (9), ACH/ICCH (17), ALLC/EADH (24)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC