The Rereading/Rewriting Process: Theory and Collaborative, On-line Pedagogy

Chapter in Intertexts: Reading Pedagogy in College Writing Classrooms, Marguerite Helmers, editor. Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002.
Please respect the rights of the authors.

Marcel Cornis-Pope and Ann Woodlief
Virginia Commonwealth University, Fall 2000

To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem. It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object. Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written. [. . .]Yet this only is reading, in a high sense, not that which lulls us as a luxury and suffers the nobler faculties to sleep the while, but what we have to stand on tip-toe to read and devote our most alert and wakeful hours to.
HENRY DAVID THOREAU, Walden (101, 4) 
The particular importance of network textuality, that is, textuality written, stored, and read on a computer network appears when technology transforms readers into reader-authors or "wreaders," because any contribution, any change in the web created by one reader, quickly becomes available to other readers. The ability to write within a particular web in turn transforms comments from private notes, such as one takes in margins of one’s own copy of a text, into public statements that, especially within educational settings, have powerfully democratizing effects. 
GEORGE P. LANDOW, Hyper/Text/Theory (14) 

1. Theory: Models of Critical Rereading/Rewriting

The act of reading, as defined by Wolfgang Iser, is a process of "becoming conscious": "The constitution of meaning not only implies the creation of a totality emerging from interacting textual perspectives [. . .] but also, through formulating this totality, it enables us to formulate ourselves and thus discover an inner world of which we had hitherto not been conscious" (The Act of Reading 58). Critical reading in this perspective is no longer an ancillary activity, passively receiving the "imprint" of the text, but in Wolfgang Iser’ well-known formulation "a dynamic process of recreation" (The Reading Process" 279) which allows the reader to formulate "alien" thoughts and perspectives but also to question existing perspectives and norms (The Act of Reading 147). In reading reflexively, the reader both actualizes the text, giving it significance, and constitutes herself as a reading subject. The interpretation of a particular text is thus "completed in the self-interpretation of a subject who henceforth understands himself better, who understands himself differently, or who even begins to understand himself" (Ricoeur 194-5). 

These theoretical insights have been reinforced and aided by the new hypertext and networked communication technologies developed over the past ten to fifteen years. These technologies have allowed readers to interact with the text more closely, highlighting its associative and dissociative impulses and enriching its structures with layers of annotations, linked intertexts, and "winding paths" of circulating signifiers. Electronically-assisted textual analysis can result in "perceptual and conceptual breakthroughs," replacing the linear logic of reading and writing with the creative "logic of patterning" (Travis 9). Hypertextual criticism stimulates interactive authorship, transforming "readers into reader-authors or ‘wreaders,’ because any contribution, any change in the web created by one reader, quickly becomes available to other readers" (Landow 14). Textual interpretation becomes thus an act of "rewriting," both individual, in which a particular reader mediates the relationship between text, author and culture; and collective in which an interpretive community negotiates not only its reading of a particular text but also its interpretive habits and ideological views. Ideally, the reader’s rewriting will also foreground the text’s own "rewriting or structuration of a prior historical or ideological subtext" (Jameson 35). 

In articles and protocols based on Marcel Cornis-Pope’s book Hermeneutic Desire and Critical Rewriting (see Woodlief on-line papers; also Cornis Pope, 2000), we recommend a re-creative pedagogical model of literary interpretation based on strategies of rereading/rewriting as part of a community of readers. These strategies, we argue, can benefit students in several ways: a) helping them move beyond mere text consumption and channeling their interpretive abilities into more active modes of critical analysis and construction; b) allowing students to experience the complex dynamic of interpretation in its gradual unfolding from experiential first reading, to critical rereading and formal analysis; c) making them more aware of the naturalized conventions that participate in their construction of meaning, and of their potential for renewal. Reading and writing become inseparable in this perspective, part of a critical dialectic that both interprets and reperforms the text. 

Ideally, the reader should pursue an uninterrupted interpretative process, with an active, transformative rereading already implied in first reading. But that rarely happens for most students whose first—and last—reading is sequential and naturalizing. First reading can at best yield an incomplete interpretation wherein students "perform one synthesis, rather than various syntheses and tend to settle too soon, too quickly" for a resolution (Mariolina Salvatori, "Reading and Writing a Text," 659). First reading is sequential, superficial, and mimetic, according to Michael Riffaterre’s account. Only a second and separate retroactive reading can produce "significance" by identifying and reconfiguring the various perspectives of the text (Riffaterre, Semiotics of Poetry, pp. 81ff). That second reading often requires interaction with a larger community of readers to transcend a strong but superficial first reading. In most theoretical models of critical reading, the transition from a naturalized, early response, to a self-conscious critical interpretation requires a stage of rereading

In phenomenological perspective (Wolfgang Iser, Georges Poulet) there is a significant difference between the "noetic" aspect of reading (the experiencing of a text in the time-flow of reading) and the "noematic" (the work actualized at the end of reading). First reading experiences the work in process, as lacunary, variable, unfinished. Only at the end of reading the work takes on "the relative momentary stability of an overall ‘noema’" (Horst Ruthrof, The Reader’s Construction of Narrative, 75). Even a "subjective" approach to reading such as David Bleich involves the reader in two different phases of "symbolization" (actualization) of text. The first phase corresponds roughly to an unreflective (and not yet written down) experiential response; the second phase of "resymbolization" involves a retrospective negotiation of first reading responses that makes use of language "as complex explanation" (Subjective Criticism 65-6) and of the input of the interpretive community to fine-tune and understand one’s reactions to a text. Likewise, in Norman Holland’s "transactive model," reading has an unconscious (reactive-associative) and a conscious (critical-transformative) component. Readers are involved in an ongoing process of (self-)exploration whose role is to socialize and transform the fantasy material found in texts and in the reader’s mind. In all these models rereading (performed individually or in dialogue with a community of other readers) contributes to a restructuring and deepening of vision. 

A pedagogy grounded in activities of rereading/rewriting can convert a naturalized first reading into a creative critical production. The activities of rereading refocus the reader’s attention on the text’s rhetorical devices and ideology usually missed in first reading. In re- reading we are "thrown into language, into its flow and surprises," compelled "to recognize that [they] are part of that flow, of that ‘writing’" (Kaufer and Waller 83). While first reading depends primarily on the expectation of pleasure (of a vicarious or hermeneutic kind), rereading draws on critical self-awareness, the "appreciation of the story through an analysis of the ways in which it achieves its initial effects" (Leitch, "For [Against] a Theory of Rereading," 494). Enjoyment is not absent from rereading, but it entails the transformation of the "pure," self-contained pleasure of vicarious experiencing, into the more structured and engaged pleasure of intellectual experiencing which connects the reader to the broader contexts of his culture. A successful reading can emerge from this interplay of naive absorption and critical reexamination, participation, and self-reflection. If properly performed, rereading can enrich and pluralize interpretation, establishing a more responsible, collaborative relation with the text. As Roland Barthes (S/Z 15-16) put it succinctly, rereading "alone saves the text from repetition (those who fail to re-read are obliged to read the same story everywhere)." 

Reading critically is a complex activity that requires noticing, relating, and interrogating, all of which entail careful rereadings of various levels of the text. Theorists have traditionally assumed that this is an individual activity. However, even in the most traditional class it is not, as the professor is drawing the students’ attention to details and questions raised by the greater (scholarly) reading community. Often students’ own readings are muted in this familiar recourse to "authorities." Networked, hypertextual criticism encourages students to perform these interrelated operations as a reading community in a nonlinear field, bridging reading with writing, and response with interpretation. Their interpretation can thus share the advantages of multilinear organization, open-endedness, greater inclusion of nontextual information, and interactive collaborative authorship. 

2. Pedagogy: Enacting a Hypertextual and Collaborative Reading Process

The best reading is a recursive process in which the reader returns to a text after a first reading, focusing on significant passages and details, tracing patterns and developing ideas, asking probing questions, and building on fertile ambiguities and gaps. Dealing with the words of the text, the effective reader must also generate his own words to capture some of this process, as writing and thinking are vitally linked. He must work to surmount his own biases, to find ways of noticing new details and patterns which go beyond his own personal and cultural experiences and join a community of readers. 

The practical and pedagogicalquestion is how can this process of rereading be modeled and enacted to a significant degree by each student in the composition or literature class? There are powerful limits of time and attention, and most students resist going beyond the quick first summative reading. What we have discovered is that this reading process can be enacted better than one might expect, with the aid of Web or network linked computers, well developed teaching protocols, and extensive response writing. 

In his thoughtful chapter on reading in Walden, Henry David Thoreau insists that the best reading "requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object." For him, reading skills are best created by careful translation of works in Greek and Latin, the "originals," paying intense attention to language. The path we recommend to "athletic reading" is different in kind—involving teamwork rather than the classical languages—but not in spirit. 

In our experience, (re)reading reflectively and collaboratively comes close to that "athletic"desideratum. The time-honored image of the scholar in his closet or library corner, surrounded by books and carefully preparing his own responses for a future audience, does not work for most students, especially as they begin the rereading process, although it may work well for their professors versed in literary discourse and well-aware of ways to unearth the complex possibilities of meaning. We must remember that even the lone scholar is not alone, for she or he can imagine many different interpretive voices, based on their previous readings. This resource is not available to students who generally hear only the dim voices of teachers who may have presented oversimplified interpretations for the sake of later testing. But without hearing multiple voices pointing out different passages, different questions, and different readings, students have difficulty unearthing their own voices, or seeing what sort of agendas may be governing—and limiting—their own readings. Theoretically, a teacher can generate a number of readings in a discussion class. Practically speaking, this does not happen as well as we hope, and many readings never come to light. 

In our effort to define a more adequate pedagogy of (re)reading, we have started from the following assumptions: 

  • Students need to read, write, reread, and rewrite, exploring questions related to each genre/work in order to think critically about a text;
  • To keep this reading/writing process from becoming too subjective (and wandering far from the text), it needs to be done collectively and comparatively, negotiating questions and meanings within a larger interpretive community. Students come to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their individual readings gradually, when challenged by other readings and responses to their own reading, and so learn to develop stronger and more persuasive interpretations;
  • Every student must participate fully in order for the class dynamic to work, and in order to develop the strongest, most detailed readings of a work;
  • Students must have as much information about biographical, socio-cultural and historical contexts and as many explorative questions related to the text as possible, but presented in a voluntary, timely fashion (e.g. they should have it available when they "ask" for it);
The teacher's role in this pedagogy is not that of an "authoritative interpreter" but rather that of a coach and facilitator who can deliver useful information and respond as one member of this community of readers. 

The computer offers a number of ways in which readings of a work can be heard/seen, considered, compared, and even discarded, and meanings can be negotiated by every member of a class, not just by a few vocal ones. It also offers a prime tool for accomplishing what we all consider crucial—one cannot think through the reading of any work clearly without putting those thoughts into words, preferably written words which can be polished and revised. Reflection requires putting thoughts into words, and the sharing of those words in turn leads to further reflection, "piggybacking," explaining, and clarifying those thoughts. Many teachers have long thought that collaborative writing is essential for learning how to write, yet it is just as essential for learning how to read, and the computer offers an effective collaborative environment for the reading—rereading—writing—rewriting process to develop. 

In a typical undergraduate literature class taught by us over the past six years, students meet twice or three times a week in a LAN-networked computer lab to read, write, and converse mostly electronically, achieving a level of interaction that cannot be reproduced in a traditional classroom. Our tools for navigating the world of "hypertrails" were first a Window-based hypertexting program, GUIDE, and now the Internet, with Netscape Composer. Our tools for electronic interaction are W. W. Norton’s CONNECT and discussion forums, enabling the literature class to function as an interpretive community, exchanging interpretations that are individually persuasive and collectively aware of the larger conventions at work. 

The electronic technologies encourage students to read in a multisequential and exploratory fashion, producing "hypertextual" criticism (annotating, cross-referencing, and linking texts), and communicating among themselves throughout the reading and writing process. The thematic structure of our introduction to literature course follows two "natural" progressions that are gradually "denaturalized": a progression of texts, from those we "naturalize" more easily such as narrative and visual images, to those which elicit more complex processing, such as poetry and drama; and one of criticism, moving from naturalized first readings, to reflexive rereading, critical analysis and self-analysis. By segmenting the critical process into discrete steps, students are made aware of their choices and helped, through carefully designed reading and writing protocols, to readjust their interpretive approaches after each stage. 

a) First Readings

The first reading is the point where most students begin and end, except for the few who have already learned how to begin rereading on a first reading. Students who come to understand just how a first reading works for them—and for others—are generally ready to perform an experiential reading and move on to more critical rereading. 

As a rule, a first reading is emotional, selective, and generally uncritical. The reading process relies heavily on sequential and holistic procedures, on "naturalization" (Jonathan Culler), "consistency-building" (Iser), "selective attention" (Louise M. Rosenblatt). Readers look for closure and coherence, singling out solid clues and eliminating problematic ones. Especially with fiction, students smooth over contradictions and follow the narrative to settled conclusions even when they distrust the narratorial voice. On the other hand, they find stories that thwart such expectations disappointing, obscure, and "dry." Responses often responses begin with "I like" or "I don’t like" as the reader accepts or resists the situation, characters or ideas. Sometimes the first reading is performed purely for pleasure, both of a vicarious experiential kind and of an ideological kind, as the reader finds a desirable position he can identify with and through which he can "inhabit" the world of the text. Plot or the reconstruction of "what happens" is of primary importance at this stage. In the process of constructing the "story line," much is often missed or read over as a distraction. 

Although superficial, this first reading is essential. If words or actions are misunderstood or missed, the story may be distorted. Making personal connections is equally crucial, as this is the kind of drive that makes for devoted readers. And yet, such a reading is only a beginning. Making it a basis for a more thoughtful rereading requires that the student put his or her response into words, and share those words with other readers in a supportive, collaborative environment. In short, even at this stage, it is necessary to be an active reader/writer. Writing on-line, whether in a forum discussion format or an e-mail list, means that each student "speaks" and is "listened to" as he or she responds to the reading. 

Practically speaking, writing first reading responses on-line requires preparation, especially at the beginning of a class, as students are unaccustomed to having to take this responsibility. We've programmed them well to come to class and wait to "see what it means." Frequently students have to be reassured that it is acceptable to acknowledge what "I think." It is equally important for students to write under their own names, in our opinion, not anonymously or with a pseudonym, taking responsibility and credit for their own ideas. The computer format seems to offer enough feeling of anonymity for the shyest students, even under their own names. 

Bad "chat" habits are discouraged from the beginning—no abbreviations, full sentences with appropriate capital letters, etc. Generally it's reasonable to ask students for at least a "screen's worth" of response and ask for a subject line (generally an option in the forum format) which is a question or a topic. Students should be encouraged to quote key passages in their responses (copying from an on-line text can help). 

It helps to offer leading questions to students, either generic or focused on the work, to consider during first reading, especially at the beginning of the course. There will be far fewer "I like" and "I dislike" responses with such direction. Our questionnaires sometimes begin with a "pre-reading" section that requires the students to focus on their expectations, experiences, and preconceptions they bring to the process of reading. According to "reception" theorist Hans Robert Jauss studying the "horizon of expectations" (20ff) that readers and texts activate is crucial to the process of interpretation. The term "horizon of expectations" designates an area of "collective" assumptions, genre conventions and cultural ideologies shared by texts and readers. In reconstructing a work's original "horizon of expectation," our reading can foreground the cultural contexts activated by a work and participate in their reformulation. Similarly, by examining their own expectations as readers, students can begin to understand the interests, experiences and preconceptions that they bring to the process of reading. 

Here is an example of a pre-reading questionnaire for the reading of literature: 


  • What assumptions do you have about the author of the text? |Have you read any of his/her other works?
  • Knowing when, where, and by whom this story/poem was written, what are your expectations of theme, character treatment, techniques?
  • What type of story do you expect, judging from the title of this piece? What suggestions/expectations does the title convey? Read the first page (stanza, etc.) and comment on the probable direction of this literary text. What new meanings has the title acquired for you?
  • What are your dominant feelings before reading this text? Are you looking forward to reading a text by this particular author? Does the author, genre, type of literature appeal to you?
  • What are your general expectations from reading? Does it matter if you read for pleasure or for "study"? Do you use different techniques and assumptions in reading "for pleasure'?
  • Are you aware of any of your strengths and weaknesses in reading 
The pre-reading questions help students "locate" themselves as readers. These questions are followed by first reading protocols that help students locate themselves as readers in a particular text. These protocols are designed to slow down and disrupt the linear progress of first reading, enhancing the students’ self-consciousness about reading. The types of questions students are invited to consider are designed to foreground points of tension both within the text, and between the text and the interpretation we impose on it. The first reading questionnaires encourage students to pay more attention to textual details, gaps, rhetorical strategies, and language "clues," moving them beyond a naturalized first reading. Students may be given questions to consider as they read, such as this general protocol on poetry:
General: What is the poem about (in a rough paraphrase)? What is its story or argument? What is happening, where, when, and to whom? Who is speaking, about what and to whom? 

Free Association: What personal associations come to your mind as you read? What associations with other literary readings? What words, images or phrases stand out to you? What do you identify most with? What do you "recognize" as parallel to your own experience? What conflicts with your perspective or experience?

First Questioning: What seems to be unclear? Are there lines you have to re-read in order to untangle their implications? Any words or allusions you can't decipher easily? Any words or phrases which don't seem to fit or are surprising in the context? Are there gaps in the story or argument you’ve reconstructed? Is there anything you would like to know that you think would help in understanding the poem? 

Preliminary Interpretation: What (in fairly simple terms) do you think the poem/poet is trying to argue/do? 

The first reading questionnaires for fiction need to be equally detailed, alternating between text-specific questions and more general interpretive tasks, such as in the following protocol focused on Flannery O’Connor’s "A Good Man is Hard to Find": 
  • What details of plot interest you and why, what is your response to them? Are there parts of the story which do not seem to fit? Are you shocked by the ending? At what point did you see a change of tone and foreshadowing of the violent end?
  • What is your response to the different characters in this story, especially the grandmother? How much of the family interaction and plot action is she responsible for? Do you feel sympathy for her? Did you identify with any character during reading? How did this identification affect your understanding of the story? 
  • What "gaps," contradictions, unresolved questions in the story's plot, characterization or overall structure have you found?
  • What expressions and clusters of images stick in your memory; what is their role in foreshadowing and building theme?
  • What associations (with personal experiences and other readings) has the text triggered?
  • Are you aware of a narrator in this story, how reliable or biased is he/she?
  • What would you say are some of the more important ideas and attitudes expressed in this story? How important is the Southern setting for understanding the characters and their motivation? How much are the grandmother's pretensions of "being a lady" and her attachment to the past keys to the action?
  • What techniques or aspects of style have you enjoyed most, which have caused most problems for you? Would you consider this a "dark comedy"? Do you find the family's interactions realistic or funny?
Such lines of questioning need be explicit only in the beginning of a semester, as students develop more active reading habits. The first reading process can be rehearsed in class, with the students being asked to take notes during their reading, perhaps on an electronic "Notepad." In a later phase, students can be asked to respond to the reading protocols on their own and bring to class their written responses to post on-line. Verbalizing one’s reading is crucial. As David Bleich has argued, "Our knowledge of our behavior can become available only through language and thought. We are thus motivated to acquire self-awareness, which in turn gives us the capacity to regulate and to produce further, more complicated, more adaptive motives to govern growth" (Subjective Criticism, 1981, p. 64). As part of the ensuing discussion, students are required to read through and respond to other students’ responses, whether in the group as a whole or in smaller groups.

Clear cut "credit" for this activity is generally necessary; old habits are hard for them to break. The teacher should be active but not too "loud" in these on-line discussions once they begin, pointing out productive ideas, asking questions, suggesting directions or supporting quotes, and waiting for students to jump in and answer questions or respond to clear misreadings. Previous (edited) forums from other classes can be posted during the discussion to give students ideas about how to proceed into the often-novel territory of active reading. In our experience, students will soon begin to "stretch" to match the more articulate responses, even if the teacher says very little on-line.

Perhaps the most important task enacted in a first-reading discussion, whether on-line or in person, is to push against premature interpretive closure and to open new possibilities that students can explore in their re-reading. Just the range of responses (and offering a forum from another class certainly enhances that range) accomplishes much of that. However, at the beginning of a class—when students are preferably responding to shorter works—it is useful for the teacher to write an overview of the session after it is complete. Not only can ideas be pulled out for further exploration, but the way in which the discussion is accomplishing the usual goals of first reading can be explored in some detail.

b) Re-Readings

The reading process has to be experienced in all its complexities which, for Stanley Fish, involve "the making and revising of assumptions, the rendering and regretting of judgments, the coming to and abandoning of conclusions, the giving and withdrawing of approval, the specifying of causes, the asking of questions, the supplying of answers, the solving of puzzles" (158-9). The whole purpose of rereading is to allow these complexities, both in the text and in our interpretive dynamic, to come to the fore.

Many students, especially in lower-level undergraduate courses, have rarely reread a work except to find patterns, theses, or research questions for assignment papers; yet without productive and conscious rereading, these papers are likely to be thin and oversimplified. First reading often yields an incomplete, impressionistic interpretation that tends "to settle too soon, too quickly" the text. Having little more than first reading responses to depend on, readers will resort in their written "explications" to a literalist, "blocked" pattern approach: "they lift various segments out of the text and then combine them through arbitrary sequential connections (usually conjunctions)—a composing mode that is marked by a consistent restriction of options to explore and develop ideas." (Salvatori, "Reading and Writing a Text," 659).

Rereading, on the other hand, allows us to retrace and analyze our first reading responses, relating them back to the text's generic and cultural features, but also to the assumptions and experiences that we bring to the text. Rereading should be more self-conscious, explorative, reformulative. At its best, re-reading is a slow-motion, imaginative experience which involves reading "into" the work for discovery and interactive recreation. To some degree, this kind of reading is a form of re-writing, teasing out new implications, finding "otherness" as well as self-discovery, connecting with other texts and experiences. Rereading makes us conscious of the "presentational aspects" of a text—rhetoric, literary, cultural implications—and how they affect us. 

One way of making rereading more conscious is to organize it around specific questions that call for a written comparison between first and second reading, between response and critical interpretation. Readers can be asked to reexamine their position toward the story after second reading, to ponder some of the exclusions, distortions, misreadings they have perpetrated during first reading. They can also be asked to speculate on how successfully they have attended to details, how closely they have monitored the progress of the story through inferences, predictions, and connections. 

This is an example of a general re-reading protocol on fiction that might be handled either in a reading journal or, more collaboratively, in an on-line discussion.

  • How did the story's general purport and orientation change after second reading?
  • What aspects of the story have you "misremembered," adapted to conform to your first reading?
  • What possibilities of the text have you ignored (not account for) during earlier reading?
  • What "mysteries" or "gaps" in the narrative have you tried to settle and how successfully?
  • What aspects in the story are still unresolved, what questions unanswered?
  • Who did you identify with during first reading, and how did this identification change in subsequent rereadings?
  • Have your generic or thematic expectations about the story changed?
  • Is the story more/or less satisfying after second reading, and why?
  • As you begin to sort out the textual "evidence" in support of an interpretation of the story, which details do you find useful, and which seem difficult to resolve with your interpretation?
  • Has this approach to reading given you more confidence in your judgments and helped you understand the intricate details of the text better?
Another rereading protocol, focused in this case on a poetic text, can be built from questions such as these:  Exploring the text
Read the poem slowly and "outloud" several times. Look up any words you are unsure about, noting different meanings, synonyms, antonyms, linguistic roots as relevant, including allusions you don't know (such as references to classical mythology or the Bible). Note any images in the poem and experience them in sensory as well as intellectual terms.

Exploring patterns
What is/are the metrical pattern(s) of the poem? Where are there breaks in the pattern? Are there any repeated words, phrases, or images? Does the poem rhyme? Is it a regular rhyme scheme? Are there any approximate or off-rhymes? 

Questioning the text
Where are the gaps or ambiguities of syntax or meaning in the poem? Are there any hints of a subtext which conflicts or questions the surface text? 

Exploring the author's and work's general repertoire (adapted afterMcCormick, Waller, Flower, 16-27) 
What do you know about the author and the personal conditions under which he/she wrote? What can you deduce from the poem? How do you think age, gender, race, social or financial status of the author might be relevant to the poem? What else do you know about the time, the place, and social, cultural, and/or political conditions of the work? Which of these might be relevant to this particular text? 

Exploring the author's and work's literary repertoire (adapted afterMcCormick, Waller, Flower, 16-27) 
What are the literary conventions and expectations of the time which affect this work in terms of genre and form, rhetorical strategies, imagery, meter (or lack of it), etc. Do you know any other works by this author? If so, what patterns and ideas seem to recur in those works that you think may be in this one? 

Matching up your own personal, literary, and general repertoires
What expectations do you have for the genre and the subject represented by this poem? How does it meet or disappoint those expectations? How do your relevant personal experiences (as recorded in your free association) match or clash with those suggested in the poem? Are they so strong that they might block your ability to respond to the poem? What differences (from the author) in age, race, gender, social or political status, etc. might color and shape your reading of this poem? 

One traditional sign of a careful rereading is underlining and annotating copiously a text. But what if a text had unlimited margins in which more than one reader could write, question, respond, mark patterns, make comparisons? What if each of these readers could also explore—in the vicinity of the text—his or her own changing responses to the story, stepping back to look at what is happening in this process? In other words, what if a text offered unlimited space for a community of readers, acting alone and in concert, to explore its nuances and patterns, to propose interpretations and pose open questions?

The tools for enacting such a re-creative and interactive re-reading/re-writing in the vicinity of a text are available on the computer and the Internet, especially if one begins with a text in electronic form. Readers can write notes, responses, and questions in a file and link them electronically to elements in the text and share them with other readers, whether in on-line papers or interactive forums. A similar process can also be done, albeit more slowly and awkwardly, with response papers and notebooks shared by students. Technology can help refine the student’s techniques of note-taking. Hypertext programs like GUIDE, StorySpace, Common Space, and Netscape Composer allow students to annotate the text directly, embedding definitions, comments and questions in linked files. This technique provides ample opportunity for commenting (practically every word can be associated with an annotation, becoming a becoming a "yielding word"), but also can allow the clustering of annotations around particular key words, or a reading of all class annotations together to assess the density of comment that a particular passage has received. We urge students to annotate in a way that invites audience participation, asking thought-provoking questions and suggesting explorative tasks rather than providing answers.

Again, most students need models to understand how they may enact the rereading process on their own. We have had success in offering students on-line study hypertexts (annotated and interlinked literary pieces) which they read and respond to, sorting out their information, asking questions, noticing patterns, and making new connections as more experienced readers are wont to do. For example, a first reading of Kate Chopin’s "The Story of an Hour" would provide for student response in a forum, in which students would be asked to pull out (copy and paste) key words, passages, and images to discuss and pose questions. Then they would read through a study hypertext, which presents frames with a highlighted text on the left and linked notes and open questions that offer different interpretive possibilities for the story. There are also linked files that present related information about the author, her time and place, as well as several Chopin stories with similar themes and a range of student comments about the story. After reading this, students join in an on-line forum in which they add their own comments and rationales for their own readings. The range of ideas suggested by the students in the forum is at least as important as the hypertext itself.

It has been our experience that students quickly learn from reading such hypertexts and the accompanying discussion the kind of noticing and questioning of information that they need to do on their own. They also learn that critical writing is in itself a form of hypertexting, combining annotating, with reconfiguration, linking, relating, and intertextual comparison. The computer technology allows students to experienced the critical process in all its complexity, moving from readers to creators of hypertexts.

c). Hypertextual Critical Writing

The interactive critical pedagogy we have been describing should give students ample opportunity to move from reading to writing, and from understanding to reformulation, so as to experience a stronger mode of cultural construction. Writing is already involved through first reading and rereading, from (hypertextual) annotations and short explorations of repertoires to more elaborate written responses that reflect on the reader’s questions, reactions, and interpretations of a text. Moving from reflexive response to more formal interpretation, students are encouraged to engage the text through a "multisequential" approach which enables them to explore the rich internal linkages that a literary text develops, and to further connect this text to other relevant "intertexts" (biographical, historical, narrative). They are taught, in other words, to do "hypertextual criticism."

This type of criticism shares the advantages of hypertextuality: multilinear or networked organization, open-endedness, greater inclusion of nontextual information, interactive authorship, etc. More importantly, hypertextual criticism is a form of "participatory" criticism, bridging reading with writing, response with interpretation, questioning with argument. In that sense, hypertextual criticism has been anticipated by a number of directions in "poststructuralist" theory. Even before hypertextual programs became available, Jacques Derrida wrote his criticism in the form of elaborate "notes" and parallel commentaries, often sharing the page with the literary text itself. Feminist critics like Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous or Adrienne Rich developed a mode of criticism that is part autobiography and part interpretation, part argument and part narrative; postmodern writers like Robert Coover, Raymond Federman, Grace Paley, Joanna Russ developed hybrid genres they called "critifiction" (novel-essays). These hybrid, multileveled texts make it more difficult to establish where the literary text ends and criticism begins; boundaries are called into question, genre features rethought, the creative play of language allowed more freedom. The techniques of hypertextuality can also be recognized in modern literature: in the free associations and complex referencing (linking) of T.S. Eliot's poems, in the parallel (simultaneous or contrastive) narratives of Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Graham Greene, in the collage assemblages of W. C. Williams, e. e. cummings and Henry Miller, and so on. Hypertextual criticism allows students to interact with the text within its structure or in its immediate vicinity: annotating and interrogating it, surrounding it with information and other intertexts, linking its images into patterns, navigating its various semantic paths. Another effect of hypertextual reading/writing is that it allows students to explore a text on their own, by clicking on italicized words or phrases to see what is embedded in them, or by navigating linked texts at their own leisure. The teacher is still sharing information, insights and questions, but he is much less intrusive or "authoritarian," remaining essentially "behind" the text.

The nuts and bolts of hypertexting are still somewhat awkward and dependent on available software. We began with the GUIDE program, in which students could easily take an on-line text and create a critical hypertext in stages, beginning with thematic and lexical annotations (in pop-up notes) on first reading, continuing with internal links on rereading, and finishing with more complex "expansions" that contained linked "intertexts" and the students’ own critiques. However, this program was not compatible with either WORD or html files, and so could not take full advantage of Web resources or be easily used outside of the computer classroom. Also, adding the collaborative element or forums was awkward, requiring other programs, such as Norton’s CONNECT, that were also generally limited to the constraints of the computer classroom.

However, as more students have good personal access to the Web, outside of the constraints of time and place of the class, it has become clear that the Internet is the best platform for this kind of community rereading and hypertextual critical writing, especially with the advent of discussion forums and intuitive html editors such as Netscape Composer and Front Page. The specific ways in which students annotate, create and link files, or work in groups changes each semester, depending on many factors such as level of expertise, the specific computer classroom setup, software availability, and need not be discussed here (we anticipate that the software for such operations, as well as available texts in electronic forms, will be improved and more available in the near future.) What is important, however, is to continue finding ways for students to read and write in a "multilinear," hypertextual mode, and share their rereadings/rewritings of a work in an interactive community of readers. However awkward or complex, the hypertextual and interactive technology allows students to experience the three modes of textualization described by Robert Scholes (Textual Power 24), blending "text-within-text," "text-upon-text," and "text-again-text" in complex critical products that would satisfy visually as well as intellectually. In spite of the difficulties involved in mastering complex programs, students are often willing to move rapidly from reading to writing in hypertext. They prefer the opportunity of creating their own annotations, links and trails, over reading those produced by former classes. They do, however, appreciate the fact that their various projects became part of a corpus of critical hypertexts to be shared with future classes.

It is difficult to discuss hypertextual reading and writing in this linear medium without on-line examples. Any one interested in seeing both teacher and student-generated hypertexts can look at a number of them at Since most of these are used in conjunction with on-line forums or class discussions, most are missing one important element—the on-going contributions of students. Daniel Anderson at the University of North Carolina has created hypertexts with on-line interaction with several hypertexts, such as "The Country of the Pointed Firs" at Woodlief has also developed reading protocols based on these principles for the LitWeb site associated with The Norton Introduction to Literature (7th and 8th editions). 

By themselves, hypertextual and networking technologies do not necessarily guarantee satisfactory critical results. As long as they are used to reinforce old habits of reading/writing or to ask "fairly traditional questions of traditional texts" (Olsen 312), they will deliver modest results. Used imaginatively, however, as part of a new interactive-transformative pedagogy that emphasizes the creative role of a reader, these technologies can be very productive. Even with the awkwardness of present technology, it has become clear for us that students who reread "into" and "behind" a text by filling unlimited margins with their questions and thoughts and then share their interpretations with other readers creates a powerful learning process difficult to enact in the ordinary classroom setting. In the words of Molly Abel Travis, the electronic technologies can provide us with the "interstitial space" where links to others and to alterity can occur. The electronic classroom and hypertextual criticism encourage otherwise often passive students to "careful [interactive] reading," writing and "listening" (132). This is "athletic reading" in twenty-first century style.


Copyright Marcel Cornis-Pope and Ann Woodlief, 2000