Blog Post

Reader 2.0: Why it isn't Virginia Woolf's Judith Shakespeare



reader 2.0  (n):   a person who becomes a collaborative entity of digital text by actively    

                                      engaging, visibly annotating, and creating dialogue 


           readership 2.0 (n) : a dismantling of the binary between author and reader  by imbuing

                                         readerly acts with an increased value that emerges from  

                                        the presence of readers 2.0 and their contributions in new digital modes



Ive always been taken with Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. In fact, since the first time I read it at 15, I havent been able to make it through a year without referencing it in a class or paper (and here, I am starting early for 2011). I am intrigued by Woolf's praise and push for the sanctity of space and her urge to re-imagine and revise history.


However, as I began to investigate readerly identity while writing the introduction to my senior thesis, I realized that while Woolf's Judith Shakespeare gave female writers an inheritance, she did not affirm female readers. Judith Shakespeare became a point on a linear temporal history for female writers to refer to, but what about all of the women reading about Judith Shakespeare's revisioned history? I began to question why it is we undervalue readerly labor and the possibilities of its networks.


In my summer 2010 research project, Reader 2.0: Readerly Identity in the Digital Age, I argue that the reader is relegated to the subordinate space of the margin in traditionally bound codex texts. As a result, she becomes the nameless bastard of literary culture buried under the hierarchy of author, editor, and publisher. The very act of writing in the margins circumvents boundaries as the reader adds to the text in a process of continual republishing. My interest lies in the way that marginalia contribute to the disruption of such clearly defined textual roles.


Through the advent of digital publishing and networking 2.0, readers are empowered by the ability to fashion their own identities; thus remaking readership into a communal reclamation within the text. The malleable layout of online texts urges us to reconsider our relationship to the reader/author binary. Platforms such as CommentPress invest the reader with authority by introducing the capacity to name herself. The identity of the reader lends more weight not only to the her opinion but also to the act of reading. Once an author is named, we hold a higher standard of accountability and responsibility to the position of author; thus, the role of the reader morphs into one which is more consciously authoritative. 


Up until the advent of online archives, access to marginalia was restricted by physical limitations. There was only so much space in each margin and circulation of a readers thoughts was bound by the movement of text from hand to hand. New media is rapidly generating the roots of a significant shift, one that will expand the definitions and functions of marginalia and grant more authority to its creators.


Digital media provides the capacity to make acts of reading more visible and accessible, and therefore, more public. The elements of the text, such as the comments, which become part of the text itself allow the reader to push back on the authorial and editorial constraints. A website then not only archives the opinions of the source author, but allows the reader to curate these thoughts and add her own. The site becomes richly layered with an extensive history of readership 2.0--a readership which more closely models Chaucer's communal pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales than Woolf's Judith Shakespeare.



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