Anna Wheeler

Spring 2016

In her essay “Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?” Hito Steyerl claims that

“the internet is not dead. It is undead and it’s everywhere.”

In his essay “The Death of the Author” Roland Barthes writes:

“It is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the Reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.”

The figure of the reader and the figure of the user have, at different times, been placed on the consumer side of a consumer-producer opposition. The term “user” was coined by developers to describe a certain type of consumer– one that knew how to navigate the platforms being developed, but not enough to develop these themselves. In literary theory, the reader was not considered an agent in creating a text until Barthes introduced the reader as an actor in literary discourses to the world. Over time, different critics (particularly in Reader Response Theory) made more room for the reader and the reader’s responses to texts as a creative entity. I place these evolving conceptions of the reader in conversation with what writings exist on the user because while I do not seek to equate them, I believe that they do have productive things to say to each other.

In comparing the figure of the reader and that of the user, I introduce the term “critical bricolage,” which refers to a type of creation based in consumption. Critical bricolage encompasses the hunting, gathering, scavenging, and then compiling, collecting, and curating of content by the reader and user — it is how they create their own space and respond to an environment that didn’t leave one for them. Critical bricolage manifests in the form of literary response for the reader. In the case of the user, critical bricolage changed as the environment of the internet changed, and continues to change. Because of this, I spend more time with recent examples of critical bricolage in the context of the user; I primarily focus on the work of user-artists like Guthrie Lonergan, William Boling, LIllian Schwartz, Cory Arcangel, James Bridle, and Jodi.