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Seven interactive essays on digital nonlinear storytelling
edited by Matt Soar & Monika Gagnon

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Reading Voice

Interactive works that are orientated to action and perception require users, not readers, and interactive projects that embrace the interval and the ‘zone of indetermination’ lie toward the affect image, and such works must be listened to to be read. These works have a voice.

To read a work. There is a sense of ’read’ that we have learnt via our structural and poststructural touchstones that all things ‘say’ and so are ‘texts’ and therefore capable of being ‘read.’ In these terms we can read a database narrative, its software, and the platform itself. When we ‘read’ something in this manner reading is performed as an external act which is the expression of a particular type of hermeneutic critical force. When I read, for example, a building I am not just recognising the building as a building but am deliberately and self consciously inserting it into the discourses of architecture, town planning, and urban design. While I can read in this manner I don’t have to for the building to be a building. 

However, there is a pragmatic sense of ‘to read’ where the quality of an intending voice, a trace of narrated presence is what matters as is the case when I read a novel. Here two things matter immediately. The first and most obvious is that this is the purpose of the novel. Unlike the building the novel matters first of all as something to be read for it to be a novel. The second is that in reading I am obligated to participate in a hermeneutic dance of intentional horizons. The novel has something to say, in itself, and to some extent I have decided to listen, except to listen I also must talk back. That is, there is always an interval, a zone of indetermination present when I read in this everyday manner between what the text says, what I think it says, and what it does.

This claim could be dismissed by misjudging its simplicity as naivety. Before we do so we would do well to give it the seriousness that it might deserve. A novel is a thing that must be read, literally, for it to be a novel. I don’t have to do this in the example of the building. I can interpret the latter if I wish, with whatever level of sophistication I have available to me, but I don’t have to read it in this hermeneutic sense to use the building. In the novel this would be analogous to working out how to open its cover and finding the first page. For the novel to be more than a bound sheaf of pages I must read it. Open myself and it to a zone of indetermination and the interval that falls between what the work might say and what I think it is doing. 

This is the pragmatic sense of reading. On the other hand the theoretical reading of things as ‘texts’ identifies discourses that we layer upon the fabric of things. I can elect to read in this way or not. However, in the case of the novel there is always the possibility of a zone of indetermination. Always an opportunity for an interval of some scale. This is what it means to read in the pragmatic sense of reading. It can involve the uncovering of what is concealed, the application of theory using sophisticated language and frameworks, but underwriting this is the imperative where I must actually read where reading involves not knowing what will be (what will happen, how, in this particular work) from the perspective which I and it provide.

Narrative voice is what lies in this interval. In the case of the building there is an attention to instrumentality that means we can, if we wish, not pay attention to voice. It is made, but it has not necessarily spoken. 

Interactive works that are orientated toward the action and perception images require users, not readers, while interactive projects that embrace the interval lie toward the affect image and such works must be listened to to be read. Such works have voice.
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