I came across a post about a new Interactive Book app: Frankenstein, and sent it to my father. I knew he studied Frankenstein at one point and was curious what he thought. He replied with “Good Readers and Good Writers,” an essay by Nabokov. (My father is an English Professor at UT Austin which is why he has things like essays by Nabokov lying around).
My father intro-ed the essay:
The problem I have with [the Frankenstein app] is the problem that I have with the way most people read (or misread). As the article says, “the options have more to do with personality and interpretation, beliefs and ideas. As a result of the reader’s choices, the characters seem more like him- or herself, with a concurrent ratcheting up of emotional investment.” This is exactly what “minor readers” do with the work of “minor authors,” according to Vladimir Nabokov.
Nabokov lays out what makes a good reader (and a good writer) and I think much of what he says flies in the face of what we are taught as interactive designers and what we’ve come to expect as digital consumers. There very notion that there are good readers and bad readers or, to a lesser degree, major and minor authors, upends the notion of “democratized” art, or that we can all be good at everything. It’s been established at this point that there is, and will always be, a need for “experts” and “professionals” and I don’t think it sounds old-fashioned to say that there are major and minor artists. Perhaps they now need to make room for more amateur producers, but it’s a large enough (cyber-)space.
My question is how do we — as interactive designers, as platform builders, and engagement facilitators — encourage visitors/readers/audience members not only to engage with content, but to engage with it well. How can we encourage them to be good, not bad, readers? How can we teach them to read, not just relate?
This shift in thinking articulates my hang-ups with completely dissolving authority in artistic spaces (like museums) and why I was so relieved to hear Koven Smith speak up for experts within the museum space (paraphrased: expertise is what the museum has to offer to the conversation among the visitor, the object, and the curator). It is this curator/exhibit-designer role who can teach visitors how to look at a work of art. I understand the difference between a novel and a painting, and Nabokov speaks directly to the difference in his essay, but its interesting to think of facilitating reading, not relating. So much, I think, of interactive design is focused on “How do we get the visitor to relate the the object so that she will have a personal connection.” Nabokov makes clear that the personal connection is not the only, and may not be (he is more definitive) the best kind of interaction to encourage.