A Timely Utterance

Paul Dowling

Every self-conscious act or utterance imagines itself the kiss of creator and created, structure and event, langue and parole, competence and performance (but which is which?) And there is anxiety; is this the kiss of my lover, or of Judas; does it wake me, or am I forever dream(t/ing)/betray(ing/ed)? All too often I sense that it's the kiss of Midas the necrophiliac. None of this is new, but it overtures our interrogation of our tribalisms, our alliances and oppositions and, as such, it is one of several points of departure, which is to say, points of entry into our discourse, where it functions also as a semantic shibboleth. Once under way, we may look around for alternatives. Halliday and Mathiessen (2004), for example, introduce the relationship between climate and weather as a metaphor for that between linguistic system and linguistic text. This is fine, so long as we recognise that system and text are already seeds of doubt for the faithless Orpheus. Geoffrey Hartman (from whose object and title I borrow my own) seems to want to distinguish between intertextual field and sense-experience:

I have offered a mildly deconstructive reading: one that discloses in words "a 'spirit' peculiar to their nature as words" (Kenneth Burke). Such a reading refuses to substitute ideas for words, especially since in the empiricist tradition after Locke ideas are taken to be a faint replica of images, which are themselves directly referable to sense-experience. One way of bringing out the spirit peculiar to words, and so, paradoxically, making them material 'emphasizing the letter in the spirit' is to evoke their intertextual echoes. Ideas may be simple, but words are always complex. Yet the construction of an intertextual field is disconcerting as well as enriching because intertextual concordance produces a reality-discord, an overlay or distancing of the referential function of speech, of the word-thing, word-experience relation. Even though the fact of correspondence between language and experience is not in question (there is a complex answerability of the one to the other), the theory of correspondence remains a problem. (Hartman, 1987; pp. 159-160).

The production of an intertextual field is always autobiographical, always retrospective, always a synchronising of departed sense-experiences.

Gunther Kress wants to distinguish between speech/writing and image:

The two modes of writing and of image are each governed by distinct logics, and have distinctly different affordances. The organisation of writing—still leaning on the logics of speech—is governed by the logic of time, and by the logic of sequence of its elements in time, in temporally governed arrangements. The organisation of the image, by contrast, is governed by the logic of space, and by the logic of simultaneity of its visual/depicted elements in spatially organised arrangements. To say this simply: in speaking I have to say one thing after another, one sound after another, one word after another, one clause after another, so that inevitably one thing is first, and another thing is second, and one thing will have to be last. Meaning can then be—and is—attached to 'being first' and to 'being last', and maybe to being third and so on. (Kress, 2003; pp. 1-2)

Yet, if we concur with Heidegger (1962)—or, for that matter (and mutatis mutandis), Ong (1982)—that temporality is the mode of our being, then simultaneity—I shall say synchronicity—might be understood as a way of covering our tracks. I recall the rather cute (if not entirely original) device in the film, Truly, Madly, Deeply (Minghella, 1991). Here, bereavement (a dead lover) could not be closed in the diachronic, being arrested by persistent nostalgia that, in effect, established an edenic synchronicity. The cute device consisted of a rotation in the diegesis whereby the synchronic rotated onto the diachronic (the appearance of the lover's ghost) allowing the mythical eden to be dismantled, upon which achievement the rotation was reversed. Synchronicity is always edenic (or utopian) and this applies to the synchronicity claimed in the inscription of an image or writingÑincluding autobiographiesÑthe work being presented in its entirety to facilitate any order of reading. It also characterises the poetic devices that facilitate synchronicity in oral cultures (Ong, 1982). Referring to this latter point, we might say that in terms of its form, poetry (whether spoken or written) has a tendency towards greater synchronicity than does prose, though anaphora or cataphora in either is synchronising, mythologising. Having made something of an encampment here, I shall initiate my own mythologising with a structuring of textual mode beginning, as seems most apt, with some analysis by my colleague, Gunther Kress.

In a recent seminar contribution to a masters course that I run, Kress showed two transparencies showing what he referred to as signs, both relating to the world's largest land mammal. I don't have his slides, so I'll replace them with my own (I hope he won't mind) in Figure 1 and Figure 2. In the seminar, Kress compared the signs along the following lines:

The imaginative work in writing focuses on filling words with meaning—and then reading the filled elements together, in the given syntactic structure. In image, imagination focuses on creating the order of the arrangement of elements which are already filled with meaning. (Kress, 2003; p. 4)

He also made the point, introduced in the earlier extract, about the temporal and spatial basis of the logics of writing and image respectively. Now, it seems to me to be unhelpful to my own ends to refer to Figure 2 as a sign. This is because I want to reserve that term for a moment[1] of an already established (that is, mythologised) system. Rather, I want to refer to Figure 2 as a text. In this case, it is a unique articulation of selections from a relatively weakly coded repertoire, which includes the range of my facility in the use of a marking pen.

But Figure 1 was also produced as an articulation of selections. It was created in MS Word as the result of a sequence of selections from menus. First I selected the Comic Sans MS font, then its point size, then upper case, then the letters comprising the word, ELEPHANT. Described thus, it seems clear that Figure 1 should also be regarded as a text. The distinction between these two texts is that Figure 1 was authored via the deployment of selection principles operating on a relatively strongly coded (which is to say, highly reliable) register or registers, whereas Figure 2 was authored via the deployment of realisation skills enabled by a relatively weakly coded repertoire. I would tend to place Figure 3 closer to Figure 2 than to Figure 1, in this schema, even though it is still in written mode. Reading—I shall say audiencing—the three texts in the way I would expect (to the extent that authoring entails the prediction of audience response) would be described in the same way. Thus reading Figure 1 would entail principles of selection from a strongly coded register or registers, whereas reading Figure 2 and Figure 3 would involve, in this case, recognition skills enabled by a weakly coded repertoire. It is important, at this point, to stress that I realise that the prediction of audience response in this way is very far from being an infallible science. All three of these texts need to be written (authored/audienced) and it may be useful to refer to this process as 'filling with meaning' (though I shall not use this expression in my own formulation). However, the distinction that Kress needs to make, whilst helpful in starting me on my own way, is possible only by constituting them as signs rather than as texts.

The temporal/spatial distinction that Kress makes is also helpful, but his particular formulation steers me a little too close for comfort to the language of essentialism. Instead, I want to propose that we may seek to identify in the authoring/audiencing of texts strategies that emphasise the diachronic and strategies that emphasise the synchronic. A diachronising strategy will tend to highlight a sequence. The organising of printed text in a novel and the arrangement of letters in the wordprocessed or handwritten word, 'elephant', entail diachronising strategies. A synchronising strategy will tend to make multiple elements of a text available at the same time. An image, such as that in Figure 2 deploys synchronising strategies, although Kress & Van Leeuwen (1996) might want to argue that the left-to-right orientation of the drawing signals a direction within a western semiotic system (and, in this respect, the drawing is operating as a sign as well as a text). Poetic devices such as rhythm and rhyme as well as anaphoric and cataphoric references in prose and poetry also operate as synchronising strategies and synchronicity is, of course, the mode of operation of memory. There is clearly a sense in which texts cannot be authored/audienced purely in the diachronic. Nevertheless, we might usefully differentiate between categories of text in pointing at the different strategies that they foreground (or, rather, that we might foreground in their analysis); this is illustrated in Figure 4.

This is not an essentialising analysis. We might illustrate this by considering the category, film. The medium clearly presents us with a digital sequence of images, generally experienced as an analogue diachrony. In respect of the specifics of the images, we might describe the film as a sequenced realisation (authoring) or selection (audiencing) from a weakly coded repertoire. These strategies place the film in the top righthand cell. However, films may deploy strategies that synchronise and this is particularly apparent in the film Timecode (Figgis, 2000), which consists of a single take on four synchronised cameras displayed on a split screen; this aspect of the film would be located in the bottom righthand cell of Figure 4. Stronger coding might enable us to locate a film within a specific genre (action, film noir, western, etc) and the sequencing of shots (close-up, mid-range, long-shot) would shift back into the diachronic so that these strategies would operate in the lefthand bottom and top cells respectively. All films will deploy all of the strategies, but are likely to weight them differently in different aspects. Because of its unfamiliarity, Timecode seems to foreground weakly coded synchrony, whilst Russian Ark (Sokurov, 2002)—also shot in a single, unedited take, but using a single camera—foregrounds weakly coded diachrony.

Kress bases his theorising of mode on its materiality. Here, he refers to the physical qualities of the mode, again invoking the space-time differentiation:

The logic of space leads to the spatial distribution of simultaneously present significant elements; and both the elements and the relations of the elements are resources for meaning. The logic of time leads to temporal succession of elements, and the elements and their place in a sequence constitute a resource for meaning. (Kress, 2003; p. 45)

Thus space-based and time-based modes exhibit different 'affordances'. Appropriately, in a materialist theory, he also places the body in a central position:

The affective affordances of sound are entirely different to those of sight or those of touch; sound is more immediately tangibly felt in the body than is sight, but certainly differently felt. (Kress, 2003; p. 46)

I'm not sure that this differentiation resonates with my own experiences. To me, sound and visual stages feel very similar to each other, whether in the background or foreground of my attention, and extremes in either perceptual channel generate the same kinds of pain. Certainly, sight and sound can signify physical distance in a way that touch, taste and smell do not, though this may be more semiotic than physical given that all involve material contact of some form.

Kress makes interesting empirical observations, here. Howwever, for my purposes, the limitation of the theory lies in its empiricism and, in the above pair of extracts, its risk of unsutured dualismÑthe affordances of the material of the text/the affordances of the perceptual apparatus; empiricism seems particularly problematic when dealing with the perceptual apparatus itself. We may restart with a more analytic theory on the basis of the following observation: no authoring or audiencing, and so no text, is possible in the absence of some synchronising apparatus. As I have indicated above, the synchronising apparatus that is always present is that of memory. As Hayles (1999) points out, a theory of text that ignores its materiality is inadequate, but this materiality must address, in some form at least, the embodiment of the text, which is to say, its embodiment in memory. This being the case, we might differentiate texts on the basis of their mnemonic facilities, but the resulting analysis would not coincide with Kress's space-based/time-based modes. Rhyming and rhythmic spoken poetry may be highly mnemonic as, in some sense, is a novel (the whole of the book is generally present for backwards and forwards reference); a visual text may vary in respect of its mnemonic properties, different features of regions being more or less strongly marked out, etc. I do not choose to establish my own organisational language as a theory of memory or as a dualistic theory of matter and perception, but as a sociology. I shall justify my description of my language as sociology at the end of this paper. As a point of entry into it, however, I have chosen the analysis of textual modes introduced in Figure 4 and reproduced in Figure 5 using more general terms for the categories of strategy.

I shall describe textual mode as a complex—organised in Figure 5—of cultural strategies. Now, I want to go further than to produce a typology of cultural strategies. Kress has similar ambitions in associating the advancement of multimodal representation with actual and potential shifts in relations of power between author and audience. Referring to the WWW homepage of the Institute of Education, he points out that:

... there are eleven 'entry points', which themselves respond to or perhaps reflect the interests of potential 'visitors' [...] The significant point [...] is that 'reading' is now a distinctly different activity to what it was in the era of the traditional page. Reading is the imposing of the reader's order on this entity, an order which, while of course responding to what is here, derives from criteria of the reader's interest, disposition and desire. This is reading as ordering. Even when I have decided to enter via a category on the menu, it is my choice which category I choose to enter. (Kress, 2003; p. 138)

This contrasts with the 'traditional page', which, in English, conventionally, has a single point of entry, the top lefthand corner. Kress's book includes an image of the homepage that was current in 2002. Figure 6 shows the equivalent page at the time of writing (February 1995)—it hasn't changed much. In fact, Kress has rather misrepresented the page which is always framed in a browser window, which will often include additional 'entry points', as in Figure 7. I can go even further by pointing out that the browser is framed by a computer 'desktop', for example as in Figure 8 and, indeed, the computer is framed by the physical and social context in which it is being viewed. At the point of Figure 8, I am in much the same position with the IoE page as I would be with this page in Microsoft Word, which is currently active on my screen. I may re-enter my authoring (or audiencing) at any point on this page, that is, at the beginning or end of any character or space or by highlighting any single block of text, or by selecting from the menu options in the header or by selecting a word from the dictionary pane or typing into its search field. Alternatively, I may select another open window, including the image of the IoE page, though the browser is currenly offline as I am on the front seat of the upper deck of a London Bus (which has now broken down, so I have had to transfer to another, which move has inspired another entry out of linear sequence). Then, of course, I might close my computer and select another item from my bag or look out of the window or at my fellow passengers and so forth. In other words, authoring and audiencing have always been very open activities. Furthermore, the 'traditional page' has a single conventional entry point only if it is a page of a very particular kind, say a novel. This is a common generalisation (see Kaplan, 2000), but one that is not necessarily appropriate; telephone directories, diaries, shopping lists, restaurant menus, bus timetables and so forth have been around for quite a while and I would imagine that the Domesday Book was probably rarely read and not intended to be read from beginning to end in a linear fashion. The linearising aspects in some texts are often diachronising strategies, to be sure, but they do not determine audiencing and may indeed facilitate navigation as is the case in the ordering in a dictionaryÑin this case, linearity is a synchronising strategy and not a blueprint for reading.

Mt question is not concerned with whether authoring/audiencing is open or closed—both have always been open—but with what the authoring/audiencing activity is about, what is it for. From a sociological point of view—my sociological point of view—linguistically-oriented theory—and this certainly includes Norman Fairclough's Critical Discourse Analysis (Fairclough, 1995, Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999) as well as Kress's treatment of multimodality—has a tendency to begin in the wrong place. Unlike Fairclough (see Dowling, 2004a), Kress is careful not to claim to be able to read social relations of power from cultural texts after the fashion of scientific marxism. On the other hand he is unashamedly optimistic about the potential transformative 'affordances' of the new modes of communication:

The combined effects on writing of the dominance of the mode of image and of the medium of the screen will produce deep changes in the forms and functions of writing. This in turn will have profound effects on human, cognitive/affective, cultural and bodily engagement with the world, and on the forms and shapes of knowledge. The world told is a different world to the world shown. The effects of the move to the screen as the major medium of communication will produce far-reaching shifts in relations of power, and not just in the sphere of communication. Where significant changes to the distribution of power threaten, there will be fierce resistance by those who presently hold power, so that the predictions about the democratic potentials and effects of the new information and communication technologies have to be seen in the light of inevitable struggles over power yet to come. It is already clear that the effects of the two changes taken together will have the widest imaginable political, economic, social, cultural, conceptual/cognitive and epistemological consequences. (Kress, 2003; p. 1)

It is difficult to see around the marketing—framed in the language of technological determinism—particularly in the final sentence. Sociologically, such a position has long been seen as untenable (see, for example, Dowling, 1991). I should also add that I find the treatment of power as something that is held rather than something that is constitutive of subjectivity is unhelpful, particularly in the absence of any further theorising of this category.

For me, though, the central problem lies in the fetishising of the text as a cultural product, or even as a cultural process. We can, after all, see multimodal, multi-entry-point texts in all kinds of activities and they are not all (if ever) appropriately associated with a shift of authority from author to audience. The US government TIMSS website at http://nces.ed.gov/timss/, for example, provides a great deal of information that is open to exploration following diverse routes and links. None of this exploration, however, allows any alternative authoring of the official discourse of what I have referred to as mathematicoscience (Dowling, in press). On the contrary, its very openness and accessibility substantially contribute to the globalising of the accountability of public education to what is, basically, curricularised onanism; multimodalised mathematicoscience certainly offers no direct or indirect lines of access to the reauthoring of the global order. Even 'unofficial' popular culture hypermedia sites exhibit strong authorial authority vis a vis their audience-contributors. Silent Hill Heaven, for example, is a site for fans of the 'horror survival' video game, Silent Hill. Although the site includes forums in which fans may sound-off their criticisms of each version of the game, the site clearly serves the marketing interests of the game's manufacturers by providing both free market research and sustaining the fan community. Furthermore, rigorously enforced rules impose strong principles of classification on what can be posted, where, and by whom. I might also add that, despite its multimodal form, a diachronising feature that requires gamers to return repeatedly to a central room in the game space in version 4 of the game is the source of considerable dismay amongst many of the fans (see Whiteman, 2005, for an original analysis of some of these aspects of the game). The IoE website is certainly far more facilitative than the printed prospectus in respect of audience navigation. What this might be expected to achieve, however, is the maximal accessibility of the institution's academic products; no amount of information will enable a potential student to re-write that institution's offer, nor a past student to re-author the grading of their examination.

Simply providing a typology or grammar of multimodal texts will not generate a sociology; we need to look somewhere else. The schema that I have introduced in Figure 5 is about textual mode, but it organises these as strategic resources that may be deployed in the formation, maintenance and destabilising of social relations in the form of oppositions and alliances; any sociologically adequate language must get closer to this territory. The schema in Figure 5 is a small part of a more general organisational language (see Dowling, 1998; 2001a,b; 2004a,b,c; Dowling & Brown, 2000) part of which structures answers to the question, how are these oppositions and alliances formed, maintained and destabilised in terms of autopoietic action. The language sets out to describe what strategies are available to authors in constructing communicative acts in which they seek to retain the principles of evaluation of audience performances—pedagogic relations—or in which they delegate authority over these principles to their audience—exchange relations. In general terms, we might describe the IoE site from the author's perspective as exhibiting pedagogic relations in terms of content (which is clearly non-negotiable) and exchange relations in terms of navigation. In keeping with this description, textual mode on the site shifts to printing (strongly coded, diachronising) mode at those points that are directly concerned with content, such as the printed text under the heading, 'Over 100 years of excellence in education'; (strongly coded, synchronising) mapping headings and search engine [2] hand over control to the audience in respect of the sequencing of content. The images ('painting')—for example, the long shot of the IoE building, a woman (student, staff, member of the general public) reading on the grass in the sun, another (probably) looking at a computer screen, activities in what might be teaching rooms—in fact do not seem to me to convey much in the way of meaning at all in relation to the academic activity that contextualises them, but are, in contrast to the verbal text, vague, to say the least. They all seem to present activity of a form that is consistent with (but no more than this) the intellectual, but, further than that, make of them what you, as audience, will; exchange relations/synchronic, but weakly coded mode; not all images are the same.

My description of autopoietic action—the how in relation to the formation, maintenance and destabilising of oppositions and alliances—is always constituted from (my construction of) the perspective of the author. This also includes the active reading by the empirical audience, in circumstances in which this is available as text. I describe the answer to the question, what oppositions and alliances are formed, maintained and destabilised, as structure that is emergent upon autopoietic action. I am interpreting this structure as emergent rather than generative, so that it looks different from different perspectives. Structural synchronising, nevertheless, is what we, as temporal be(com)ings do to the sociocultural, constituting regularities that are thereby available for recruiting in and by autopoietic action. Halliday's and Mathiessen's weather/climate metaphor is quite apt, here; there is, of course, always going to be play between the constructions of emergent climate or of emergent oppositions and alliances from different perspectives and this is the basis of dynamism in the system as a whole.

I have described the photographs on the IoE homepage (Figure 6) as weakly coded. In discussion, one reader—an overseas research student at the IoE—suggested that these images were typical of the kinds of images to be found in the prospectuses and on the websites of universities, so that, in effect, they conveyed no meaning at all apart from the identification of the IoE as a university school. This student was deploying a recognition skill that is enabled by a weakly coded repertoire itself emergent upon her history of autopoietic action in audiencing such texts. The extent to which this reading is generalisable is an empirical question that addresses the level of its institutionalisation, which is one aspect of emergent structure. I refer to another aspect of emergent structure as its level of discursive saturation. This category relates to the intellectual/manual character of the division of labour and is defined as a measure of the extent to which the principles of a practice are available within discourse. Whether or not the student's reading of the IoE website is strongly institutionalised, it seems clear that its principles are more likely to be tacit than explicit so that any elaboration would be likely to be limited to listings of (or pointing to) equivalent images rather than principled definitions.

I have described the student's practice as the deployment of a skill, which is to say, the realisation of an attributed competence—attributed, that is, in and by the establishing of an emergent regularity of practice. We may consider the level of institutionalisation at any level of analysis. We might, for example, consider the reliability of the student's responses—to what extent are repeated readings self-similar. A high level of reliability would indicate strong institutionalisation at the level of the individual. Alternatively, we might consider the extent to which readings by different individuals are self-similar. Here, a high level of self-similarity within a specific category of individuals would indicate strong institutionalisation within that category and may lead us to postulate the existence of an alliance of some form (alliances, in my conception, may be alliances of identification and need not necessarily be explicitly organised). Where a form of reading is reliable with respect to an individual, but does not generalise to a broader category, then the practice is clearly not institutionalised above the level of the individual. In such cases, the reading would be interpreted by a general audience as an idiosyncrasy, a performance rather than an expression of competence; I shall use the term 'trick' to refer to such instances.

Both skills and tricks are characterised by low discursive saturation (DS-) and are differentiated by their degree of institutionalisation above the level of the referent subject (often, the level of the individual). My own organisational language—part of which I am introducing in this paper—is weakly institutionalised to the extent that it is available, as a functional language, to a comparatively small number of individuals. On the other hand, my intention in this paper is to render its principles explicitly available within discourse, to constitute it as high discursive saturation (DS+). Thus, it might be referred to as idiolect and, as with a DS- trick, it is likely to be widely regarded, in terms of its specificity, as a performance rather than as an expression of competence. Systemic Functional Linguistics, by contrast, is now well established, which is to say, strongly institutionalised, internationally and is clearly DS+ as is readily apparent from even an amateur's perusal of Halliday and Mathiessen (2004). We may legitimately refer to SFL as a discourse in its own right and, for example, papers accepted for presentation at its international conferences are legitimately regarded as (potential) expressions of competence in this discourse.

The categories of emergent structure and autopoietic action that I have now introduced are summarised in Figure 9 and Figure 5. I need to introduce two caveats before concluding. Firstly, there is a clear resonance between my category, institutionalisation and Basil Bernstein's category, classification and, indeed, I have formerly used the term classification in my own language. However, the differences in general methodology between my own and Bernstein's work (see Dowling, 1999) seem to necessitate a distinct term. Bernstein's is clearly (and despite his half-hearted protestations in Bernstein, 1995) a structuralist analysis in which the principles of classification are generated by the organisation of power in society and are fundamental in the sense of constituting a kind of substantive social competence; hence his pedagogic device (Bernstein, 1990, 1996, 2000), which is inspired by Chomsky's language acquisition device. Classification is also associated with practices of insulation, which I have never found to be helpful (see Dowling, 1999). For me, social structure is emergent upon and not generative of autopoietic action so that there is a sense in which structure is constituted as a resource in action. This is consistent with some poststructuralist and postmodern approaches, though it is not necessarily helpful to place too much reliance on such classifications.

I have long had a problem with Bernstein's category, framing. This is generally because the differentiation in level of analysis that is necessary in order to speak about classification and framing separately is usually ignored and often transgressed in Bernstein's own writing and in that of others drawing on his work. If more careful attention is paid to level of analysis, then the category classification can do the work of both. I have, here, introduced the category coding as a strategic option in the authoring and audiencing of texts. It clearly relates to institutionalisation, but they are distinct in that the latter, as an emergent feature, serves as a resource for coding. I can make a text using potato printing, selecting characters from a set of embossed potato-halves painted with powder colour. Such a strategy clearly exhibits strong coding, but is weakly institutionalised not least by virtue of its extreme localisation in time and space (especially in the summer). I might also add that, to the extent that a primary school student is permitted unconstrained to make their own embossings, then the lesson might, in this respect, anyway, be regarded as exhibiting weak framing in a Bernsteinian analysis.

This schema that I have introduced in this paper forms part of an organisational language that attempts a sociological rather than a linguistic analysis of texts. The organisational language is sociological because it foregrounds social relations, which is to say, it is centrally concerned with the formation, maintenance and destabilising of oppositions and alliances of social actors and with the realisation and recognition of these oppositions and alliances in cultural practices as instanced in cultural texts. I have described the text that is my paper as I- and DS+. It is clearly strongly coded and the summarising tables, Figure 5 and Figure 9 are clearly synchronising strategies; my paper is, at least in part, a mapping. How, then, does it resist betrayal as or by necrophiliac, faithless mythologising? Well, of course, it does not, entirely. But Judas, Midas, Orpheus were all denied that which they most desired, which is to say, their diachrony, their becoming, their lives, precisely because their utterances of grief were not timely, but synchronising in a lost or imagined perfection. My language has no Edens and no Utopias and, though synchronising, is no more than an instrument on which to play. That music will always be diachronising, will always be performance and, so long as it is not repeated too often, may at least offer timely relief from stultifying institutionalisation.

Appendix: The garden of forking paths

I have described the synchronising strategies that construct Edens and Utopias as, ultimately, necrotising. We can see just how just how fatal they are if we push them as far as they will go in a nihilistic reading of Jorge Louis Borges' 'Garden of Forking Paths.' Here is the central problematic, explained by the main protagonist in the story:

In all fictions, each time a man [sic] meets diverse alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the work of the virtually impossible-to-disentangle Ts'ui Pen, the character chooses simultaneously all of them. He creates, thereby, 'several futures,' several times, which themselves proliferate and fork. (Borges, 1998; p. 125)

Now, this kind of fiction operates on the basis of some concept of causality. There are nodal points at which decisions must be made and what follows is dependent upon the decision, hence the proliferation of the garden of forking paths. This works rather well in fiction because what fiction does is rarify the nodal pointsÑonly certain points in the fiction entail decisions, so that the resulting garden is highly labyrinthine, but imaginable, even if not realisable. In practice, the author makes choices on behalf of his/her characters in suggesting a storyline (fabula); the problematic of Borges' story is that the plot (sjuzhet) does not unambiguously index a storyline; although the plot appears to follow a single trace of choices, inferences made about the storyline seem to suggest that this trace is not unbroken; it is as if the short story that has been presented has been compiled from different possible stories, different paths in the garden. The denouement seems to propose that it is the linearity of time that limits us to a single choice at each node; the short story is a kind of narrative equivalent of one of M.C. Escher's engravings, which seem to say something similar about space.

In what we might care to describe as reality, of course, there is no limitation on the proliferation of nodal points; at every point on the continuum of our lives—let's say, at least, our waking lives—we might have acted otherwise. In effect, this consideration proposes an infinity of synchronic planes, each constituting the instantaneous state of a universe at a given point on a particular time line. Thus, each plane might be said to carry its own history; a switch to another plane is a switch to an alternative history. The hypersystem that is the system of all synchronic planes consequently subsumes the temporal and effectively eradicates time; all that there is is a field of all possibilities that is defined relationally—a kind of super-langue, there is no parole; all that we are is static nodes. Time and space are inaugurated by the relational nature of the hypersystem; we have no past, no future, there is no we, me, you, nothing at all; the big bang becomes a big puff. Of course, we may not care to take this particular path.


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Russian Ark. (2002). Aleksandr Sokurov (Dir.)

Timecode. (2000). Mike Figgis (Dir.)

Truly, Madly, Deeply. (1991). Anthony Minghella (Dir.)



[1] See Laclau & Mouffe (1985) for a resonant discussion on differentiating between the categories, moment and element.

[2] The search engine is strongly coded because it will accept only standard characters and synchronising because it gives simultaneous access to all pages containing the input string.