Posted by: Steven Harris | January 21, 2008

Writerly Book

Can I say that I have been contemplating Roland Barthes without eyes rolling? Who knows? But I have been contemplating RB and thinking that his ideas do not seem to have the prevalence and commerce that they ought to these days. I am thinking especially about his concepts of the “readerly” versus the “writerly” text. In this era of the read/write Web, it seems a lot of what Barthes spoke about is coming into being. Note this passage from S/Z (p. 4):

“Because the goal of literary work (of literature as work) is to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text.”

A readerly text, in Barthes’ system, is a work that places few demands on the reader. Its story washes over the reader, as it were, with “ready-made” themes and meanings. A writerly text, Barthes believed, was a higher order of work altogether, a work of literature, as you can see from the previous quote. A writerly text allows (or demands) work from the reader. It grants some space where the reader can create part of the story herself, part of the meaning. Barthes was thinking primarily about style and genre, rather than format or technology, but it seems there are many recent technological developments (aside from wikis) that point toward a more ready adoption of the writerly mode.

Institute for the Future of the Book: in addition to their blog If:book, the folks at the Institute are running a number experiments concerning the networked book. These include several works in progress where readers can provide input directly to the author. They also make available “Comment Press” a blog theme that allows paragraph-by-paragraph commentary by readers of any text.

Book Glutton: is a web-based e-book reader that enables real-time and asynchronous commentary of a specific text with other readers. One can become part of a general read of a classic text, or form a reading group with limited membership. The reader itself has a really elegant design, with simple, straightforward controls. Eventually, users will be able to upload their own files to Book Glutton.

Amazon Kindle: this is not an obvious member of the writerly mode, but the wireless connectivity and annotation abilities offer some interesting possibilities. A user, for example, can send files wirelessly to the devise through a specific email address. (The files are actually converted by Amazon to the Kindle format and then sent to the device.) Multiple email addresses can be authorized to send files to a single device. A group of users could conceivable authorize one another and then share writing or commentary on writing with others in the group.



  1. wow that is interesting. I remember studying Barthes in a comp lit class but I had never considered his relevance to the field of libraries.

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