Exploring Literary Gaps in S. by Doug Dorst and J. J. Abrams

2:00 PM, Thursday 16 Aug 2018 (1 hour)
This presentation aims at discussing the bridging of the gap between authorship and readership in the storyworld of S. that allows the readership to actively engage in and add to story’s online content. The storyworld of S. is composed of many elements: the physical book is at once a novel called Ship of Theseus written by Straka in 1949; a set of margin notes written by two readers, Jen and Eric; and insert materials that are placed in between the pages. On the internet, the characters have social media profiles that continue to update the storyworld beyond the publication of the physical book. Additionally, there are materials produced exclusively to the Internet, such as the blog Eotvos Wheel about Straka's candidates, and the Radio Straka transmissions. Moreover, as the readership grows, new materials are added on the Internet, blurring the gap between what is fan made and what is “official” storyworld material. Connecting all these narrative levels is Straka's mystery identity, which readers try to solve.
The readership is a prominent motif in this work, as the two main characters are readers themselves. Jen and Eric are reading Ship of Theseus, interpreting it, analyzing it, and looking for clues of Straka’s identity. Moreover, they are highly qualified readers, both are English students, familiar with the historical context of the book, and can understand its intertextual references. Jen and Eric are quite literally the textual representation of its implied readership, presenting a reading guide of the storyworld. This subject position is that of the close reader, detective-like, which can be then actualized by the readers on the Internet. Readers can try to solve ciphers, and analyze the online content; they can also add to the mystery, interact with characters, and trigger events in the storyworld. As reader-users, they are assuming an active role and helping shape the storyworld in a manner that goes beyond the physical printed book.
By expanding the storyworld to the Internet, S. is positioned in a hypertextual framework. The online environment demands interactivity from readers, incentivizing the creation of blogs dedicated exclusively to solving the mystery of the storyworld, like Zort70 with the blog SFiles22; Mystimus with Thoughts on 'S' by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst; and Clare Fish with Monkeys & Rabbit Holes. The position of such readers is clearly inside the storyworld, because they are furthering the storyline by interacting with characters and receiving clues themselves. For instance, blog users received other versions of the Chapter Ten anonymously. These variations prompted other readers to deliberate on their “official” status of fan fabrication, further bridging the gap between authorship and readership, as these distinctions seem irrelevant in this case. Ultimately, S. is a non-linear, collaborative, and intertextual narrative that blurs the boundaries between readers and writer, by demanding participation of the readers.
Université de Montréal

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