The Pleasures of the Text

Armando Manalo, English 111, Autumn 1997

By calling this little piece "The Pleasures of the Text," am I not appropriating, almost plagiarising, the title of a celebrated text by Roland Barthes? It is true: one cannot read Michael Joyce's Afternoon without experiencing the writerly and that upsurge of hypertextual/sexual sentiment Barthes calls jouissance. But my appropriation has a more ambitious purpose than the desire to copy out of a lack of imagination. Rather, the addition of the "-s" at the end of "Pleasure" has (personal) significance as it characterises, exemplifies, (my reading) of Afternoon.

First (and I shall return to an important word in my first phrase), the "-s" connotes a deliberate deployment of a certain almost-ness : that thin, undecidable line between plagiarism and originality. My desire to suggest almost-ness, is perhaps my desire to reflect (my reading of) Afternoon: an endlessly sensual text that, due to its very undecidability, almost achieves closure.

My title for this piece, like Joyce's text, inhabits a position of liminality -- "that thin line" as I called it earlier, or the Hymen as Derrida would have it. Liminality, that position "in-between", is not only undecidable, but playful. This playfulness manifests itself in Joyce as he bluntly addresses us with questions - "love or death?", "the lady or the tiger?" - that tickle indecision and produces more pleasure. The (non) desire to construct defined textual limits and categories is indeed the very condition of the writerly and jouissance. "It was very masturbatory," writes Joyce "the sense of warm familiarity, the willingness to extend." To extend, to move beyond, fixedness is the pleasure of his text.

This last quotation is perhaps also the best route back to my title and the obvious. The "-s" also denotes the plural, the excess. But do we know how many "pleasures" is indicated in the title? It doesn't matter in the end. The "-s" suggests not only only undecidability, but also the possibility of indefinite multiple pleasures. The "-s" is thus the supplement, and in a sense, masturbatory (did not Derrida show the same for Rousseau?). In reading Michael Joyce, I thus experienced feelings of excess, and transgressions that moved beyond the textual to the hypertextual, to spaces of undefinable subjectivity, and (un)familiar pleasures.

Afternoon Discussion overview Hypertext Cyberspace Web