October 19, 2011
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Dryden: Any Person

The man in black walks to the lectern and begins. “Today’s reading is the second clause the the Dryden Minifesto.”

II) Any person.

Interaction manifests itself through recognition, sympathy, and witness as much as through impersonation, perception, and exploration. Apprehension of character is participatory design.

Apprehension of character: it it not sufficient that there be characters, that they populate the narrative. We must apprehend them. And we do not merely see what is written, what is placed before our eyes by the author; we conspire with the writer to create the character. Reading, we design characters.

Diane Greco once explained that, to make a character lovable, you need only take steps to ensure she has no interior life, and that everyone loves or wants to love her. The writer sets the table, and the reader supplies the meal.

This was true when Homer recalled the bitter anger of a proud subordinate, and it was still true when Will himself was Hamlet’s ghost. It is, indeed, participatory design; we don’t do it ourselves, we can’t choose anything, but we bring a lot to the table. The reader needs to work ; she always has.

Recognition, sympathy, witness: interaction. When we speak of interaction, we usually talk about mouse clicks and touches, commands, intentional gestures. Or we discuss the absence of interaction, the film unrolling, the world unraveling, or things unfolding as they should. But sympathy, too, is interaction. Sympathy is the door in the wall behind which lie the delights of new media, and its absence often leads to unhappy, hostile reading.

Here endeth the lesson.