“Is there a Fish in this web page?” Page last edited: 04/29/2013 12:48:34 PM

        A former English 215 told me in an email that the manga he chose to analyze using Cultural Criticism have somewhat unusual “bibliographic information” because they are offered for free on the Internet even though they are copyrighted information, and they appear transiently in many places.  This is an even more unstable form of “text” than that produced in the pre-print manuscript era, or pamphlets surreptitiously produced during the eras of religious controversy after the Reformation.  In Elizabethan England, for instance, the “Martin Marprelate” controversy generated at least a dozen tracts and counter-tracts, many published pseudonymously with no or false publishers’ information.  (See Annina Jokinen’s helpful Luminarium Encyclopedia entry for a short description of the kerfuffle.)  At least in their case, however, each anonymous tract is a stable “text,” printed in ink on paper in a known “edition” that we can read in many different rare book collections, confident that we all are reading the same “text.”  In the context of Stanley Fish’s “Is there a text in this class?” essay, the online pirate manga may well produce a third way to read that prolific question.  Does a digital text you once read still exist to be read, in the form in which you read it, for your readers?  (Consult the date-time stamp above to determine the consequences of that question for this particular web page.)

        To jog your memory, Fish says utterances have meaning in "institutionally nested" communities of interpretation to which we "always already" belong because we cannot read outside the "CI" within which we learned the langue itself.  We can resist (Fetterly) by joining new CIs but we cannot read "outside" a CI.  We might illustrate the "nesting" of textual perception/meaning this way, where each "T" forms another text/context unit generated by a different IC: (T1 (T2 (T3))).   The T1 form of the question (understood by Fish's New-Criticial-teacher-colleague "under the rubric 'first day of class'") can be paraphrased something like “did you assign a specific book I should buy for this course?” The T2 form (as understood by Fish's former student-deconstructionist) is “do you teach that texts have determinant meaning or are we going to talk about the endless play of signifiers?”  

        The T3 which the student’s pirate-manga introduces looks like this under the rubric of "Internet transience": “does the text have any fixed material form or are we never again to be sure we are looking at the same text that others are interpreting?”   With no “authority” standing behind the pirate copy of the manga, we cannot tell whether it is all and only the text it purports to be.  Like any typical manuscript era text, pirate online copies of any text may be "deficient," missing sections or degraded in image quality, or “superficient,” containing material added by others as they passed it on to the next web site.  Ultimately, from a New Criticism perspective, we must ask whether the “e-text” really exists, at all.  Is it just a transient “tweet” which leaves no permanent Derridian trace behind, unless it is being archived by the Library of Congress?  For web pages, the archival alternative is "The Way-Back Machine."  Those of you seeking eternal fame in prose or poetry might well ask yourselves what the future holds for your life’s work. 

        Re: the title of this note, "Is there a Fish in this web page?," look at the "page last updated" applet that appears at the top of the page, and ask yourself whether the text above will still be on this web page the next time you read it again, this phrase in red being the one added most recently, though not the same as the one I added in 2012==neither changes the assertions made above or their supporting data and reasoning.